Friday, September 30, 2016

SIBA -- Day 4 Sunday

SIBA was definitely winding down on Sunday, and Kathy and I decided to we didn't need to rush over to Savannah first thing in the morning. Instead we had a leisurely breakfast in Hilton Head before Kathy had to drive over "the bridge." We took another stroll around the showroom floor and managed to collect a few more books!

We were gearing up for the Moveable Feast of Authors which was part of #ReadSavannah. Kathy had told me how much fun the Moveable Feast was, and it certainly didn't disappoint. During our lunch, we had ten authors come by our table and talk to us about their book for ten minutes each. Kathy and I got there relatively early, and I noticed that Liane Moriarty was sitting all by herself. Of course, I scrambled over to sit next to her, and we were lucky enough to get closer to a half hour with her instead of just the ten minutes. In case you're wondering, she was extremely sweet!

There were so many amazing authors in attendance and these are the ones we were lucky enough to meet:

Liane Moriarty -- TRULY, MADLY, GUILTY
Robert Olen Butler -- PERFUME RIVER
Kathleen Glasgow -- GIRL IN PIECES
Kelley French -- JUNIPER

Naturally, there were some books that appealed to me more than others, but I found each and every speaker to be interesting. I am especially excited about two YA titles -- GIRL IN PIECES and THE THOUSANDTH FLOOR; and as strange as it sounds, I thought ORIGINAL GANSTAS sounded fascinating.

Kathy and I headed back to Hilton Head and stopped along the way for shipping materials. I had quite a few books to ship back to Pennsylvania, and I wanted to box them up so it wouldn't be so much work on Kathy. We had a blast looking through our stash of books and comparing. I will admit that we were both a little giddy being surrounded by all these amazing books.

In addition to the books I've already mentioned in these four SIBA recap posts, there are quite a few more that I was thrilled to receive including:

CRUEL BEAUTIFUL WORLD by Carolyn Leavitt -- I read this one right away and it was amazing!
THE WANGS VS. THE WORLD by Jade Change -- I'm reading this one right now.
I'LL TAKE YOU THERE by Wally Lamb -- One of my all-time favorite authors.
A LOWCOUNTRY WEDDING by Mary Alice Monroe -- I met her at a party and loved her.
DARKTOWN by Thomas Mullen -- Sounds like a great thriller.
LITTLE DEATHS by Emma Flint -- Another one perfect for Mystery Mondays.

Needless to say, I have so many books sitting on my shelves that I'm dying to read. If only I could forget my obligations and read full-time!

Fortunately, we had some time in the evening to take a walk along the beach. Kathy's family's condo is about a five minute walk to the beach, and we hadn't had even a spare minute to visit it. There were two weddings going on which were fun to see, and sand dollars were everywhere. I don't think I've ever seen one prior to the bleaching and drying out process!
And that's pretty much a wrap on my trip to SIBA! Kathy and I woke up at the crack of dawn on Monday morning and she drove me 2 1/2 hours to the Columbia airport so I could catch my flight home. I had an amazing time -- there really is nothing like Southern hospitality, and I couldn't wait to see my family; however, it was bittersweet because I had to say goodbye to my friend.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

SIBA -- Day 3 Saturday

Kathy and I woke up bright and early Saturday morning because we had purchased tickets to the Taste of Harper Collins Breakfast. We arrived early enough that we were seated at a table with two of the authors who were speaking. That's right! Kathy and I sat at the same table as YA author Sara Zarr and Christina Baker Kline, author of ORPHAN TRAIN!!!!

The Harper Collins breakfast was definitely one of the highlights of SIBA. Of course, it didn't hurt that I got to chat with Sara Zarr and hear about the movie that's being made from one of her books. Squeeze! However, all five speakers were outstanding. The event was hosted by Harrison Scott Key, author of THE WORLD'S LARGEST MAN, and he was absolutely hilarious. I felt bad for the person who had to follow him, but Kevin Wilson, author of PERFECT LITTLE WORLD was fantastic and very funny too. Next up was Sara Zarr, author of the new novel GEM & DIXIE. She spoke from the heart and brought me to tears -- I can't wait to read this one! Then, Christina Baker Kline spoke about her book A PIECE OF THE WORLD. Naturally, I'm dying to read it because I adore her books. Finally, we heard from Peter Swanson, whose new book HER EVERY FEAR, sounds great. All in all, I came out of this breakfast knowing that I had to read these five books!

Kathy and I took to the show room floor. While it's much smaller than what I'm used to at BEA, I loved it! All of the reps were extremely friendly. Because the crowds were so much less than BEA, they actually had time to talk about the books they are excited about for the upcoming season. I'd like to say that I showed some restraint, but I'm a sucker for a good book pitch or two!!! Kathy has the same problem, and I enjoyed being an enabler to her book collection.

It was another gorgeous day in Savannah and not too hot, so Kathy and I took to walking around the city. I'm not sure there were many more sights for us to see because we had already done so much walking, but we did manage to hit an ice cream parlor that had caught my eye on a prior day. It's called Leopold's Ice Cream, and it was adorable. I felt as if I had traveled back in time to another generation. The shop was next to a theatre so the decor was heavy on the movie posters and photos of Hollywood stars, and the ice cream was delicious.

After our ice cream settled and we walked a bit more, we decided to try the Crystal Beer Parlor for lunch. We definitely were lucky in picking this restaurant. Crystal Beer Parlor is a historic restaurant that's over 83 years old and was one of the first places to serve alcohol after Prohibition was lifted. I loved the look of the restaurant -- it was an old grocery store prior to be turned into a restaurant; and my salad was delicious. The beer menu wasn't too shabby either.
Of course, we hit the showroom floor later in the day to see if there were any new books available. We also noticed that we missed a publisher or two that we wanted to see. Then, we headed over to The Public Kitchen and Bar for a SheReads Cocktail Party. The party was held on a rooftop bar and it was so nice just to have a drink and visit with some fellow bloggers. We met up with Sandy and Heather, and it was fun to talk about the conference and books as well as life in general.

Our last event of the day was the Saturday Supper featuring Jodi Picoult, Robert Hicks, Beth Macy and David Arnold. I was fascinated by the story behind Beth Macy's new novel TRUEVINE, and I was charmed by Mr. Arnold whose new YA book KIDS OF APPETITE sounds great. Of course, the speaker we all wanted to hear was Ms. Picoult. Her new book is called SMALL GREAT THINGS, and it deals with a very sensitive (and timely) topic - racism. Her speech, which focused on race relations, was very well received; and she definitely made every person there think... which I'm pretty sure was her intent.

And that was pretty much a wrap for SIBA Saturday! Kathy and I had no problems getting out of the garage on Saturday night because we learned our lesson and parked outside. It was a very long day and I think we both had book overload, but I loved every minute of it!

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Review: The Royal Nanny

Summary: Based on a seldom-told true story, this novel is perfect for everyone who is fascinated by Britain’s royal family—a behind the scenes look into the nurseries of little princes and the foibles of big princes.

April, 1897: A young nanny arrives at Sandringham, ancestral estate of the Duke and Duchess of York. She is excited, exhausted—and about to meet royalty. . . . So begins the unforgettable story of Charlotte Bill, who would care for a generation of royals as their parents never could. Neither Charlotte—LaLa, as her charges dub her—nor anyone else can predict that eldest sons David and Bertie will each one day be king. LaLa knows only that these children, and the four who swiftly follow, need her steadfast loyalty and unconditional affection.

But the greatest impact on Charlotte’s life is made by a mere bud on the family tree: a misunderstood soul who will one day be known as the Lost Prince. Young Prince John needs all of Lala’s love—the kind of love his parents won’t…or can’t…show him.

From Britain’s old wealth to the glittering excesses of Tsarist Russia; from country cottages to royal yachts, and from nursery to ballroom, Charlotte Bill witnesses history. The Royal Nanny is a seamless blend of fact and fiction—an intensely intimate, yet epic tale spanning decades, continents, and divides that only love can cross. -- William Morrow

A few weeks ago, my book club discussed THE ROYAL NANNY by Karen Harper. I wrote a brief recap of our meeting here but promised to share my thoughts at a later time. Well, now's that time. I am pretty sure everyone in my book club enjoyed THE ROYAL NANNY more than I did. It's not that there is anything wrong or inherently bad about this novel. I just never would have picked it up in the first place -- it wasn't my first or even second choice.

And that's the beauty of book clubs. One of the reasons I started a book club was the hope that it would push my to read novels outside of my comfort zone -- or my normal reading fare. And that's exactly the case with THE ROYAL NANNY. Everyone in my book club seemed to like this novel so it was interesting to see the book through their eyes.

THE ROYAL NANNY is actually based on a real character named Charlotte Bill, known to the royals as LaLa. In 1897, she joined the British royal family as their nanny and decided to sacrifice her own happiness for the sake of the children. The children's parents weren't exactly hands on, and Charlotte had to provide love, support, discipline, and more. Keep in mind she was preparing the future kings of England and she took her job very seriously. That meant that Charlotte chose to put the family first over her own desire to be a wife and a mother.

I didn't not like THE ROYAL NANNY, but I didn't love it either. Having said that, I can appreciate the novel for quite a few reasons. First and foremost was the way the author imagined Charlotte. While Charlotte was a real character, there isn't a whole heck of a lot of information about her on record. I guess that's a historical novelist's ideal situation, right? She had enough details to form a basis for her character, but it also gave her a lot of leeway to interpret Charlotte's life.

Another thing I appreciated about this novel was that the story was told in Charlotte's voice. Charlotte was an interesting character and I think the book benefited from seeing things through her eyes. She obviously felt an obligation to these children (and the entire family!), and she was devoted to them beyond anything I could ever imagine. In fact, there were times that I was upset with her for giving up so much in her life. I just wanted her to find some personal happiness rather than always putting the royal family first.

And finally, I thought it was interesting in how Ms. Harper portrayed the various members of the royal family. I admit to not knowing a heck of a lot about the royals, but I knew enough to recognize some of the traits she described like Bertie's stutter and George's strong personality. I should probably note that a few members of my book club knew much more about these characters, and they were impressed too!

We found a fair amount to discuss about THE ROYAL NANNY. There is a reading guide in the back of the paperback book; however, I wasn't able to find an on-line link to it. Some of the themes you might want to discuss include love, duty, sacrifice, parent/child relationships, motherhood, arranged marriages, and loss.

Overall, I think many people will love THE ROYAL NANNY. It's a touching story about a woman who was willing to give up everything for the love of others. Recommended to readers of novels about the royal family and fans of Downton Abbey.

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

SIBA -- Day 2 Friday

Kathy and I decided that we'd sleep in on Friday because we nothing planned but a little sightseeing in the morning. Ha ha! If you know Kathy and me at all, you probably know that we aren't very good at sleeping in or relaxing for that matter. We managed to sleep past 7:00 (which is pretty good!) and decided to head to Savannah.

When we arrived, we definitely had plans to investigate parking garages. Since we weren't planning on staying too late that night, it wasn't a major issue; however, we knew Saturday night would be one. We found an outdoor one very close to the hotel. It was perfect because we could just walk a block, cross the street and put our books in the car!

I mentioned last week that I loved Savannah, and Friday morning couldn't have been more gorgeous. The temperature was mild and we decided to just walk around and take in the sights. Savannah is a terrific walking city, and we managed to hit a few of Kathy's favorite shoe stores. We also decided to eat at Paula Deen's The Lady and Sons Restaurant... because you have to do that when in Savannah!
The Lady and Sons Restaurant
The building is an old factory and I thought it was extremely cool. The food, on the other hand, was just okay. Maybe that's because I'm not a huge fan of Southern food, or it's possible that I just ordered the wrong thing. The highlight was discovering that we had just missed Paula and her sons who were all there for a photo shoot!

Next up, Kathy and I decided to tour the Juliet Gordon Low Birthplace. I admit total ignorance that I didn't even know who Juliet Gordon Low was; however, Kathy gently reminded me that she was the founder of Girl Scouts. What can I say? It's been a long time since I was a Brownie. This tour was one of my favorite parts of the trip. There were three of us on the tour with two tour guides! The house was spectacular, as was Gordon Low's life. There was even a very fun interactive library. I left wanting to know more about this interesting woman's life!
Juliet Gordon Low Birthplace
Out first planned event at SIBA was at 2:00. While I was enjoying seeing Savannah and visiting with Kathy, I was excited to meet authors and hear about their books. SIBA took over an entire restaurant in the Hilton De Soto and turned it into a Signaround. Basically, you just walked up to an author sitting at a table and they signed a book for you. While it was a bit crowded, we had no issues meeting every author on our list... and a few more! Some of the terrific books I managed to gather were:

THE MIGHTY ODDS by Amy Ignitor
AMONG THE LIVING by Jonathan Rabb

We did a little more of touring Savannah, including taking a peek at the First African Baptist Church which was organized in 1773; and we also walked around the City Market. Since we ate lunch so early, we decided to have an early dinner at The Treylor Park. Kathy had heard this restaurant had a good beer list and an interesting menu, and I was definitely game. I ordered a sandwich I'm confident that I would only get in the south. It was a grilled apple pie sandwich with cheddar, cinnamon apples, and bacon served on brioche. I added chicken to it so I'd get some protein and just in case it was too sweet. Never did I imagine that it would be a big old hunk of fried chicken! 
Treylor Park
We finished dinner just in time to head back to SIBA for the Rep Pix panel. This was definitely a treat! It was a one hour panel and each rep was given two minutes -- yes, two minutes with no exceptions -- to pitch their favorite books for the upcoming season. I loved this format and I couldn't take notes fast enough although I admit I was a bit overwhelmed! I compiled a huge list of books to look for on the show floor and add to my must-read pile! 

Immediately after the Rep Pix panel, we headed downstairs to the First 180 Days Party... and what a party it was. The room was packed beyond belief, but the lines to see the authors weren't too long. Despite trying to show some restraint, I still got excited when I saw all of those books! I grabbed some must reads including many I heard about at the Rep Pix panel. Here's a brief list of books that I can't wait to read:

THE DRIFTER by Christine Lennon
THE RIVER OF KINGS by Taylor Brown
THE BOOK OF POLLY by Kathy Hepinstall
GIRL IN DISGUISE by Greer Macallister

After loading our stash into the car, we decided to head back to Hilton Head and get some rest. We needed to get up bright and early the next morning because we had to be at the SIBA breakfast by 7:30!

Monday, September 26, 2016

Review: Closed Casket

Summary: "What I intend to say to you will come as a shock..."

With these words, Lady Athelinda Playford -- one of the world's most beloved children's authors -- springs a surprise on the lawyer entrusted with her will. As guests arrive for a party at her Irish mansion, Lady Playford has decided to cut off her two children without a penny . . . and leave her vast fortune to someone else: an invalid who has only weeks to live.

Among Lady Playford's visitors are two strangers: the famous Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, and Inspector Edward Catchpool of Scotland Yard. Neither knows why he has been invited -- until Poirot begins to wonder if Lady Playford expects a murder. But why does she seem so determined to provoke a killer? And why -- when the crime is committed despite Poirot's best efforts to stop it -- does the identity of the victim make no sense at all? -- William Morrow

I was so excited to discover that there is another "Agatha Christie" novel out there. No, I don't mean a new book written by Ms. Christie. Rather, it's a new book based on Agatha Christie's novels written by the talented writer, Sophie Hannah. I read THE MONOGRAM MURDERS a few years ago and thought Ms. Hannah did an excellent job of capturing the essence of Ms. Christie's novels, and CLOSED CASKET is another terrific mystery!

CLOSED CASKET is a complex story that will have readers scratching their head from the very start. Lady Athelinda Playford, a famous children's mystery writer, has invited both Hercule Poirot and Edward Catchpool, a Scotland Yard detective who is also the narrator of the novel, to her home with no explanation. At dinner the first night, she tells her two children, along with her other guests, that she's decided to change her will. Rather than leaving her fortune to her two children, she's decided to leave it all to her secretary Joseph Scotcher. As if that's not surprising enough, Mr. Scotcher is suffering from Bright's disease and only has a few weeks to live.

It dawns on Poirot and Catchpool that maybe Lady Playford has invited them to her house to prevent her own murder. However, when Scotcher is found brutally murdered in the parlor, things get even more confusing. Why would someone kill Scotcher when he is gravely ill? Things become even more complicated when there is a witness to the beating, and her story doesn't seem to add up. It's up to Poirot and Catchpool to conduct their own investigation... while staying out of the way of the the real inspector.

And truly that's just the beginning of the twists and turns in CLOSED CASKET. Nothing was really as it seemed especially pertaining to the character of Joseph Scotcher. Needless to say, I had no idea what the heck occurred at Lady Playford's estate; and I loved how convoluted the mystery was. Perhaps my favorite part of this entire novel was when the murderer was finally revealed. Everything suddenly made sense (as it should in a well-written mystery), and I was totally surprised by the motive!

Once again, I have to give a tremendous amount of credit to Ms. Hannah. It can't be easy to write an Agatha Christie novel, but I think she's outdone herself with this one. I actually felt as if I could be reading a novel by Ms. Christie; and I loved the well-plotted story, the interesting characters, and the humor she included in the story. She even managed to capture the essence of the quirky Belgian detective Poirot.

Overall, I love that Sophie Hannah has taken on the challenge of writing Agatha Christie novels. I will continue to read every single one she writes because I love these well-written and smart mysteries! Highly recommended.

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel.

Mystery Mondays is a regular feature where I review all types of mystery books -- traditional mysteries, suspense/thrillers, and even cozies! Please feel free to share your thoughts on any recent mystery books that you've read.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Kid Konnection: Lost on Hope Island

Every Saturday, I host a feature called Kid Konnection -- a regular weekend feature about anything related to children's books. This week I'm going to share with you a middle grade book written by award winning and best-selling adult author.

Summary: Lost on Hope Island: The Amazing Tale of the Little Goat Midwives is an adventure story without villains, zombies or fire-breathing dragons. The book asks the real question “What if I were shipwrecked -- could I survive?” A page-turner for young readers or a family read-a-loud-book, Lost on Hope Island will give fans of Harman’s previous USA Today best selling books an opportunity to discuss, with their children, the topics of birth, death, racial diversity, climate change, loneliness, courage, family and hope. -- Flying Squirrel Press

A few years ago, I reviewed THE MIDWIFE OF HOPE RIVER by Patricia Harman. I really enjoyed this book and it was apparent that Ms. Harman, a midwife herself, truly understood the important of midwives. She has now taken her knowledge of midwifery as well as her writing talent to the middle grade crowd. Her new book, LOST ON HOPE ISLAND: THE AMAZING TALE OF THE LITTLE GOAT MIDWIVES, is an intriguing read that's perfect for those kids who are interested in adventure stories.

LOST ON HOPE ISLAND tells the story of Trillium and Jacob, two kids who find themselves alone on a deserted island after their family's boat capsizes. I say deserted but they do encounter a herd of little goats... and an abandoned house. Trillium, the narrator of the tale, is the older of the two; and she tries her best to provide food and shelter to her younger brother until their parents (or really anyone) finds them. Life certainly isn't easy for these kids, but they show an amazing amount of strength and hope!

Trillium is a fantastic character! She's smart and courageous and extremely resilient despite facing one problem after another. She develops an interesting relationship with the various goats on the island, and she even helps them during birthing season and when they get sick. I'm sure that young readers will find many things to admire in Trillium, and I'm willing to bet that they will also find a few of her traits in either themselves or their friends.

The book was filled with simple, black and white, illustrations by Trillium Stone (the narrator of the story); and I thought they were a nice addition to the book. They help bring the story to life... and give younger readers a little break from all of the words. They also highlighted Trillium's love of nature and art. Another thing I appreciated was that the author included a few text boxes with step-by-step instructions for things that Trillium "figured out" while living in the wild like How to Milk a Goat and How to Make a Tin Lantern.

The story was left rather open-ended, and the author did provide an Afterword with a few hints as to the future of the children. Suffice it to say, I suspect LOST ON HOPE ISLAND is only the first volume in new series of books; and I look forward to seeing what eventually happens to Trillium and Jacob.

THE GOATS OF HOPE ISLAND would certainly be an interesting book to discuss either at home or in the classroom. The story is definitely intriguing and brings up quite a few interesting dilemmas that the kids face. It also touches upon some serious issues like courage, birth, death, isolation, fear, diversity, nature/environment, and hope.

Overall, I think LOST ON HOPE ISLAND will definitely appeal to young readers who enjoy an "real" adventure story -- two kids surviving all alone out in the wild. It will also appeal to adults who are looking for a clean story with good messages to share with their kids.

Thanks to JKS Communications for providing a review copy of this book.

If you'd like to participate in Kid Konnection and share a post about anything related to children's books (picture, middle grade, or young adult) from the past week, please leave a comment as well as a link below with your name/blog name and the title of the book! Feel free to grab the little button too!

Thursday, September 22, 2016

SIBA -- Day 1 Thursday

Last weekend, I had the privilege to attend the SIBA (the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance)  Trade Show. Kathy, aka Bermudaonion, and I missed out on attending this year's BEA in Chicago; so when we realized that attending SIBA in September in Savannah might be possible, we made plans. I basically bought my airplane ticket and she handled the rest. She drove almost 6 hours roundtrip on Thursday to pick me up at the airport in Columbia, SC, and then take me to her family's condo in Hilton Head where we stayed for the next four nights. Then she drove another six hours to take me back to the airport on Monday. She truly is an amazing friend... and she's also a whole lot of fun!

Even though the conference wasn't in full force on Thursday, we headed to Savannah to do a little sight seeing. Kathy also drove back and forth between Hilton Head and Savannah each day -- about an hour drive. What a trooper! She also managed to stay calm as she drove over the Talmadge Bridge eight times!!! I think it's safe to say that she's not exactly comfortable with driving over a bridge that high and that steep, but she persevered! I thought the bridge was beautiful, but Kathy definitely doesn't like it. I wasn't even allowed to breathe, nevertheless talk to her, while driving over it!
Despite growing up in the South, I had never been to Savannah. It was absolutely delightful. I loved everything about it and definitely want to go back some day. Kathy and I didn't have a whole lot of time in Savannah on Thursday, but we managed to walk around the city and along the riverwalk... and catch up on everything!

One of the highlights of Thursday was eating dinner at Gryphon, the restaurant run by SCAD, the Savannah College of Art & Design. Kathy has been there a number of times and just knew I'd love it. She was right! It is a wonderful cafe that serves sandwiches and salads, and they even have tea service. We opted to get a light dinner and a pot of Tropical Green Tea. My sandwich was delicious, but I think I would have loved anything there because the restaurant itself was so charming. The building was an old pharmacy with lots of dark wood and stained glass globe lights. It's also chock full of old books. They even bring your check in an old book!
After dinner, we hopped on a trolley to attend a Beach Party on Tybee Island at Mary Kay Andrews' house hosted by St. Martin's Press. Oh my goodness was her house ever lovely! It was an older home decorated to the nines with antiques. -- see the picture on the right. It was even featured in a spread in HGTV magazine if that gives you any idea how amazing it was. I honestly can't believe how gracious she and her husband were to have all of us there. Honestly, Mary Kay Andrews is one of the kindest, most humble, authors I've ever met. I just loved her!
MKA's Beach Houses on Tybee Island

The food and drinks were amazing as well. Ms. Andrews' has a cookbook coming out next year, so all of the food and mixed drinks were recipes from her cookbook. Everything I had was delicious and so pretty. It was nice to finally meet Ms. Andrews -- I have been a big fan of hers for years -- as well as to catch up with some booksellers, publicists, and authors like Mary Alice Monroe, Ariel Lawhorn, and Mary Beth Whalen. 
Enclosed porch where food and drink were served.
After the party, the trolley returned us to Savannah where Kathy and I still had to face an hour drive back to Hilton Head. And this is where our story gets interesting -- it's always something when Kathy and I travel together. We parked in a city operated parking garage in Savannah close to the hotel where SIBA was taking place. Earlier in the day, I asked Kathy if she thought the garage would be open when we got back. My husband actually got locked into a garage a few months ago in downtown Harrisburg, so it was in the back of my mind. She kind of chuckled (I think that's the best word) and said, "Of course, not!" Well by now I'm sure you see where this is going! When we got back to our car and drove to the exit, everything was closed. And by that, I mean that big metal grate was down! We had to call security and someone came to let us out. He was none too happy and just waved us out. He probably couldn't get rid of us fast enough!

The rest of the evening was uneventful (except for the drive back across the Talmadge Bridge. By now, I knew not to say anything at all. I was pooped because I had been up since 4:00 that morning and couldn't wait to hit the sack. I knew Friday was going to be another busy day and I needed my beauty sleep!

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Guest Review: Infamy

Summary: The “rock-solid” (Kirkus Reviews) prosecutor Butch Karp and his wife, Marlene Ciampi, return to solve the suspicious murder of a US Army colonel and battle corruption at the highest levels of the United States government in this novel by New York Times bestselling author Robert K. Tanenbaum.

Intrigue, murder, corruption, and dramatic courtroom battles combine to make Infamy another must-read in Robert K. Tanenbaum’s “tightly-written” (Booklist) legal thrillers. When a former Army veteran suddenly murders a colonel in New York, he claims that he had to do it because he was being used in mind control experiments. Surprisingly, a top Wall Street criminal defense lawyer, one with ties to the White House, decides to defend the killer, arguing that his client suffered from post-traumatic stress from his tours in Afghanistan and that it’s his patriotic duty to assist him.

As New York District Attorney Roger “Butch” Karp prepares a murder case against the veteran, he meets with investigative reporter Ariadne Stupenagel, who suspects that one of her sources for a story on high-level government corruption was a victim in the shooting. This points not to a random act of violence, but a hired killing that goes to the top levels of our nation.

In this fast-paced thriller, Karp goes up against corruption so powerful that he, his family, and his friends are in danger if he intends to prosecute those responsible for the murder of an FBI whistle-blower. Filled with edge-of-your-seat action, stunning plot twists, and, “solid courtroom scenes” (Kirkus Reviews), Infamy will keep you guessing until the very end. -- Gallery

I have just returned from a wonderful time at SIBA in Savannah, GA with Kathy (aka Bermudaonion) and I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed this week. Thankfully, my father provided me with a review just in time! His latest read is INFAMY by Robert K. Tanenbaum, and here are his thoughts:

INFAMY, by Robert K. Tanenbaum is the 28th book in the series featuring New York District Attorney, Roger “Butch” Karp as the main character. In this latest novel, Karp becomes involved in the mysterious murder of a U.S. Army Colonel in a New York park by a former army vet who served under the colonel. When a top Wall Street attorney with White House ties volunteers to defend the former soldier, it signals to Karp that there might be more to this case than he initially thought. With the help of a well-connected journalist, Karp learns about a secret Middle East operation referred to as “Mirage” that is connected to the Colonel’s murder. Karp follows the clues and soon finds himself battling murder, threats against his family and corruption at the highest levels of the U.S. Government.

Author Robert Tanenbaum opens INFAMY with a prologue that describes a court scene where the prosecution and defense are awaiting a verdict from the jury. The author uses this scene to introduce the important characters in the book except the defendant. He then moves back eleven months to begin the story. In an interesting approach, Tanenbaum gradually reveals the plot and the guilty party to the reader and the story then revolves around Karp’s effort to prove it in court. Although the author relies more on the plot and court room drama to carry the story, he does manage to present an interesting mix of characters including his wife, his daughter and her fiancĂ©, a Taos Indian tracker, a journalist, a Vietnamese gangster, his best friend and a New York City detective. The reader gradually learns the role each character plays in bringing the defendant to justice.

While we witness examples of the manipulation of people and the government by an elite few, in INFAMY, Tanenbaum takes it to a level that is possible but likely a little far-fetched. INFAMY features intrigue, corruption, murder, power and dramatic court scenes with plenty of twists and turns to hold the reader’s interest. Although INFAMY is the 28TH book in the Karp series, it really stands on its own. Anyone who enjoys the legal thriller genre will like this book.

Thanks to Booking Pap Pap for his review and thanks to FSB Associates for providing a review copy of the novel.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Giveaway: The Girl on the Train Movie

Summary: Based on the thriller that shocked the world. 

The Girl on the Train, in theaters October 7. 

Emily Blunt, Rebecca Ferguson, Haley Bennett, Justin Theroux, Luke Evans, Allison Janney, Edgar Ramirez, Lisa Kudrow and Laura Prepon star in DreamWorks Pictures’ The Girl on the Train, from director Tate Taylor (The Help, Get on Up) and producer Marc Platt (Bridge of Spies, Into the Woods). 

In the thriller, Rachel (Blunt), who is devastated by her recent divorce, spends her daily commute fantasizing about the seemingly perfect couple who live in a house that her train passes every day, until one morning she sees something shocking happen there and becomes entangled in the mystery that unfolds. 

Based on Paula Hawkins’ bestselling novel, The Girl on the Train is adapted for the screen by Erin Cressida Wilson. The film’s executive producers are Jared LeBoff and Celia Costas, and it will be released by Universal Pictures. 

Rated R

I am so excited that The Girl on the Train will be hitting theaters on October 7th -- only a few weeks away! My friend and I have started going to movies while our kids are at school, and I'm pretty sure this will be one we make a point to see right away. I read the novel almost two years ago -- you can read my review here, and I really enjoyed it. My book club even read it, and I think it's safe to say that we were all intrigued by the story.
The movie has a great cast including Emily Blunt, Allison Janney, Justin Theroux, and Lisa Kudrow; and it's directed by Tate Taylor. I'm sure you remember him from The Help! I am curious to see how true the movie stays to the book and how much it differs. And I am already excited to take about it with my book club friends.

Doesn't this trailer just draw you in?

I am absolutely thrilled to be able to offer a fantastic The Girl on the Train prize pack! Thanks to Universal Pictures, one Booking Mama reader will receive the following:
  • $25 Fandango gift card for a night at the movies with The Girl on the Train 
  • Black Sling Bag, Luggage Tag & Lip Balm
To enter, just fill out the form below before Tuesday, October 4th at 11:59 p.m. EST. This contest is open to those of you with U.S. addresses only. Good luck!

Visit all THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN websites 
Visit the Official Site
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Monday, September 19, 2016

Review: In a Strange City

Summary: New York Times bestselling author Laura Lippman’s Tess Monaghan must put her PI skills to the ultimate test when she falls into the crosshairs of a psychopath who knows everything about her. For the past fifty years on the birth date of Edgar Allan Poe, a person wearing a cloak has placed three roses and a half bottle of cognac on the writer’s gravesite. PI Tess Monaghan has never witnessed the event. But when John P. Kennedy, an eccentric antiques dealer, asks her to uncover the identity of the caped visitor, who he believes has duped him with the sale of an inauthentic antique, Tess decides to hold vigil on the night the cloaked stranger is expected to make an appearance. But the custom takes on a bizarre, fatal twist when two cloaked figures arrive. The imitator leaves his tribute and then makes his escape…after shooting the first visitor.

Warning bells tell Tess to steer clear of this case. But when roses and cognac appear on her doorstep, Tess’s curiosity is piqued. She soon discovers that John P. Kennedy has vanished into thin air and much of what he told her was questionable. Then the identity of the shooting victim comes to light, and all clues seem to point to the possibility he was the target of a hate crime. But Tess isn’t convinced. What was his connection to the decades-long Edgar Allan Poe tradition and to the killer? When more cryptic clues are left at her home, Tess realizes that someone is watching her every move...someone who’s bent on killing again. -- William Morrow

When I picked up IN A STRANGE CITY by Laura Lippman, I didn't realize that it was a re-release. At first, I was a little disappointed. But then I realized that, while I've read quite a few of her novels, there are still a lot of them for me to explore... and that made me much happier. I think Ms. Lippman is officially a must-read author for me and maybe even one of my favorites!

IN A STRANGE CITY is an early novel in the Tess Monoghan series. I've come to know and love Tess through the more recent books, so it was nice to get to know her when she was a bit younger and a bit more inexperienced as a private investigator. Of course, she still had all the necessary skills to solve complex crimes!

John P. Kennedy, aka piggy man, is an antiques dealer who comes to Tess asking for some help in finding a missing bracelet that once belonged to the Baltimore legend Betsy Bonaparte. He thinks the person responsible for stealing the bracelet is none other than the mysterious cloaked man who shows up every year at Edgar Allen Poe's gravesite on Poe's birthday. Tess thinks Kennedy is nut and declines the case; however, her curiosity about Poe's visitor is piqued so she and her boyfriend decide to stake out the cemetery hoping to catch a glimpse of him.

Surprise. Surprise. There are two visitors that night and one is killed! If you know anything about Tess, then you know she's not going to just let this go even if it means crossing a policeman who thinks she's hiding something. When the victim of the shooting is identified, it looks like it might be a hate crime, but Tess has her doubts. Tess begins her own investigation to discover: why was this man killed, is he tied to the missing bracelet, how is the Poe visitor involved, and more? However, Tess might be in for more than she bargained for when she begins receiving some mysterious notes and realizes that someone out there knows her every move!

IN A STRANGE CITY was a fantastic read! I absolutely devoured this intriguing mystery and once again realized that Ms. Lippman is just a terrific author... as if I still had any question, right? The mystery is fantastic, and I honestly was scratching my head the entire book. The story was full of interesting characters and plot twists, and I have to say it just might be my new favorite Tess novel.

One thing I absolutely loved about this novel was the story surrounding Poe. I am always impressed with how Ms. Lippman brings the city of Baltimore to life, and she definitely outdid herself in this book. She explored the tradition of the Poe visitor, a cloaked man who leaves a bottle of cognac and three roses on Poe's grave each year on his birthday; and the event is just strange enough that it lent itself perfectly to a murder mystery.

Another thing Ms. Lippman did really well was introduce some intriguing characters to this story. Not only was there a detective who had it in for Tess, but there was also a "friend" from Tess's past that played an important role in hate crime aspect of the murder. In addition, there was also another female P.I. that worked with Tess to solve the murders. She and Tess didn't exactly get along, and I thought their shared scenes were smart and funny!

Finally, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention how fantastic the mystery was -- I think I already mentioned this but it's worth mentioning again. The murder plot was so complex and smartly written, and I was extremely impressed. The cast of characters who were involved were just that... characters; and their eccentricities definitely made the story more enjoyable. I also loved that I was surprised because lately I've done a pretty good job in figuring out mysteries.

All in all, I thought IN A STRANGE CITY was an excellent mystery... and it's perfect for the upcoming Halloween season because of the Poe background. Highly recommended to fans of the Tess Monoghan series as well as mystery lovers!

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel.

Mystery Mondays is a regular feature where I review all types of mystery books -- traditional mysteries, suspense/thrillers, and even cozies! Please feel free to share your thoughts on any recent mystery books that you've read.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Kid Konnection: Extreme Wildfire

Every Saturday, I host a feature called Kid Konnection -- a regular weekend feature about anything related to children's books. This week I'm going to share with you another fantastic book from National Geographic Kids.

Summary: In one moment, there’s a simple spark, and then roaring flames surge 200 feet into the air, devouring forests. Trees, from root to canopy, are burned to the ground. Airtankers and helicopters hover above, executing an air attack. Brave firefighters, equipped with flame resistant suits, leap from helicopters onto the treetops and descend to the blazing forest floor.

In this book, young readers will learn about the ecological impacts of wildfires, the ins and outs of fire science including tactics for prevention and containment, cutting-edge technology used to track wildfires and predict fire behavior, and about the impressive skill, survival tactics, and bravery required to control a wildfire. Also included are expert tips, fun facts, and breathtaking photos taken by the author. -- National Geographic Kids

National Geographic Kids has done it again! They've managed to offer yet another educational book about a topic that fascinates children. This time, the book is about wildfires and it's titled EXTREME WILDFIRE: SMOKE JUMPERS, HIGH-TECH GEAR, SURVIVIAL TACTICS, AND THE EXTRAORDINARY SCIENCE OF FIRE by Mark Theissen with Glen Phelan.

Unfortunately, wildfires have been in the news way too much over the past few weeks. Every time an image from one appears on our television, I just stop in tracks and feel like crying. It's hard to believe how "wild" these fires are -- it's absolutely terrifying. Maybe my fear is also one of the reasons that I was so interested in this book.

EXTREME WILDFIRE is an in-depth book about wildfires geared towards kids. The book explains the science behind wildfires as we all as the various ways that firefighters can battle them. In addition, it provides information about the ecology of a wildfire and how we must live with them. Of course, it's a National Geographic Kids book so there are some amazing (and I mean amazing!) photographs of wildfires!

As interesting as wildfires can be, I still think an entire 100+ book about them could be a little dry (pardon the pun!) However, I have nothing but good things to say about EXTREME WILDFIRE. The information is presented in such a fun way that it makes kids want to keep reading... and therefore keep learning. The fascinating photographs are certain to capture young readers' interest as will the  variety of graphics on each page spread. For example, there are small sections of tips titled Fire Fact, Fire Smarts, Notes From the Field, and more that provide additional information on fires.

As a mom, I can't stress how fantastic it is that books like EXTREME WILDFIRE exist. I love discovering educational books. The problem is that my son often times doesn't find them quite as interesting as I do. However, with the National Geographic Kids books, he is always willing to give them a chance. Maybe the photographs are the initial draw, but the kid-friendly format for the information doesn't hurt a bit either!

I was so impressed with EXTREME WILDFIRE and suspect that kids will be too! Highly recommended!

Thanks to Media Masters for providing a review copy of this book.

If you'd like to participate in Kid Konnection and share a post about anything related to children's books (picture, middle grade, or young adult) from the past week, please leave a comment as well as a link below with your name/blog name and the title of the book! Feel free to grab the little button too!

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Guest Review: Ghosts of War

Summary: World War is on the horizon in New York Times bestselling author Brad Taylor’s tenth heart-pounding Pike Logan thriller.

The Taskforce has stopped countless terrorist threats across the globe, operating outside of US law to prevent the death of innocents. But now, along the fault lines of the old Iron Curtain, the danger is far greater than a single attack. With Russia expanding its influence from Syria to the Baltic States, the Taskforce is placed on stand-down because of the actions of one rogue operator.

Meanwhile, Pike Logan and Jennifer Cahill travel to Poland, hired to verify artifacts hidden for decades in a fabled Nazi gold train, only to find themselves caught amid growing tensions between East and West. A Russian incursion into Belarus under the facade of self-defense is trumped by a horrific attack against the United States, driving NATO to mobilize even as it tries to determine who is behind the strike.

On the brink of war, Pike and Jennifer discover that there is a separate agenda in play, one determined to force a showdown between NATO and Russia. With time running out, and America demanding vengeance, Pike and Jennifer race to unravel the mystery before a point of no return is reached. Unbeknownst to them, there is another attack on the way.

One that will guarantee World War III. -- Dutton

Booking Pap Pap is back! I am so glad that he's helping me out when I'm away at SIBA in Savannah.  His latest read was GHOSTS OF WAR by Brad Taylor. Here are his thoughts:

GHOSTS OF WAR is author Brad Taylor’s tenth novel in the Pike Logan series. This is the first book of the series that moves away from the threat of terrorism as the main theme.

The novel opens with Pike Logan’s counterterrorism unit called the Taskforce having been ordered to stand-down due to the actions of a rogue agent. While waiting for new orders, Pike and team member, Jennifer, are contacted by Israeli agents, Aaron and Shoshana, to assist them in verifying some artifacts found in Poland from the fabled World War II German “Ghost Train”. The Israeli agents first appeared in Taylor’s novel, THE INSIDE THREAT, which I previously reviewed and suggested that these two characters might appear in future Pike Logan novels. It seems that the Israelis are not the only ones interested in the artifacts and Pike and Jennifer are soon involved in an international crisis precipitated by a Russian incursion into Belarus under the guise of self-defense. To complicate things even further, the head of a major Russian crime syndicate is trying to destabilize U.S.-Russian relationships in order to increase his power. At the same time there is a brazen attack against the United States that puts Russia, United States and NATO on high alert. Pike Logan must unravel this mystery before the standoff results in World War III.

Author Brad Taylor shows a very good understanding of world affairs and meshes fact and fiction nicely in his novel. It’s apparent that much research has been done as you read his detailed narrative of the various locations in the novel from Russia to Poland to Belarus. Taylor’s prior experience as a Special Forces Operator gives him a unique ability to get into the technical aspects of both the strategic and tactical detail of warfare. If I have one criticism it is that I found it easy to get bogged down in some of the technical detail.

Taylor also does a good job of mixing real and fictional characters in this novel with Vladimir Putin playing a significant role. Putin is not presented in the best light and his desire to reunite states of the former Soviet Union is front and center. The most interesting character development is in the relationship between the Israeli agents. Although GHOSTS OF WAR stands on its own as a suspense thriller, this is one time I think it is beneficial to read THE INSIDE THREAT to fully understand the developing relationship between Aaron and Shoshana.

GHOSTS OF WAR is a good mixture of military action, history and technology in a fast-paced suspense thriller with plenty of twists and turns that should interest readers of this genre.

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel and to Booking Pap Pap for his review.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The Booking Mamas' September Meeting

Summary: April, 1897: A young nanny arrives at Sandringham, ancestral estate of the Duke and Duchess of York. She is excited, exhausted—and about to meet royalty. . . .

So begins the unforgettable story of Charlotte Bill, who would care for a generation of royals as their parents never could. Neither Charlotte—Lala, as her charges dub her—nor anyone else can predict that eldest sons David and Bertie will each one day be king. Lala knows only that these children, and the four who swiftly follow, need her steadfast loyalty and unconditional affection.

But the greatest impact on Charlotte’s life is made by a mere bud on the family tree: a misunderstood soul who will one day be known as the Lost Prince. Young Prince John needs all of Lala’s love, the kind of love his parents won’t—or can’t—show him. -- William Morrow

Last night, our book club met to discuss THE ROYAL NANNY by Karen Harper. To be honest, I wasn't exactly thrilled with this selection, but a few of my friends said they enjoyed the novel.  I am not a big fan of books about the royals, and I'm pretty sure that was the reason for my reluctance to read it. Unfortunately, I waited until the last minute and had to read the majority of the novel on Sunday.

I ended up liking THE ROYAL NANNY but not loving it -- I'll review the book after I return from my mini-vacation to SIBA. Most of the members of my book club enjoyed it more than I did so maybe it was just me. To be honest, I'm not really sure it was the ideal book club selection, although fortunately we were able to find quite a few things to discuss.

One thing we all agreed on was that the novel reminded us a little bit of Downton Abbey because we were able to see how the haves and the have-nots mixed. While we did have some different views on the story, most of us appreciated seeing royal life through the eyes of the nanny. We agreed that the author did a fantastic job of portraying the dedication and sacrifice that Lala made for the children... even when it meant she missed out on a normal life.

There was some discussion on how the book ended. I don't want to give too much away, but there were a few members who were disappointed with like the ending. THE ROYAL NANNY was based on the real Charlotte Bill, and the author claimed that she tried to keep the story fairly true to Lala's. However, there admittedly was a fair amount of fiction in the story. One member commented that she thought it was odd what the author felt compelled to keep "true" versus the fictional life she created for Lala.

Overall, our group enjoyed THE ROYAL NANNY and we did have a fun evening. A big thanks to our hostess who had a wonderful spread including Crack Cake as well as a delicious Mediterranean Dip!

Next month, we will be reading THE PERFECT GIRL by Gilly Macmillan. I am super excited about that we picked this one. I first heard about THE PERFECT GIRL when the fine folks at Harper Collins presented it as part of their fall preview. I couldn't wait to read it then and I'm even more excited now because of what I heard last evening. A few women in our group have already read it and their feedback was extremely positive.

Summary: From Gilly Macmillan, the international bestselling and Edgar Award nominated author of What She Knew, comes this whip-smart, addictive, and harrowing novel of psychological suspense—perfect for fans of Paula Hawkins and Kimberly McCreight.

“With tightly drawn characters, a fascinating storyline and absolutely exquisite narration, The Perfect Girl is sure to keep readers up all night. Gilly Macmillan proves once again to be a master of the written word and is quickly becoming one of my go-to authors. Literary suspense at its finest."—Mary Kubica, New York Times bestselling author of Pretty Baby Zoe Maisey is a seventeen-year-old musical prodigy with a genius IQ. Three years ago, she was involved in a tragic incident that left three classmates dead. She served her time, and now her mother, Maria, is resolved to keep that devastating fact tucked far away from their new beginning, hiding the past even from her new husband and demanding Zoe do the same. Tonight Zoe is giving a recital that Maria has been planning for months. It needs to be the performance of her life. But instead, by the end of the evening, Maria is dead. In the aftermath, everyone—police, family, Zoe's former solicitor, and Zoe herself—tries to piece together what happened. But as Zoe knows all too well, the truth is rarely straightforward, and the closer we are to someone, the less we may see.

Unfolding over a span of twenty-four hours through three compelling narratives, The Perfect Girl is gripping, surprising, and emotionally complex—a richly layered look at loyalty, second chances, and the way secrets unravel us all. -- William Morrow

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Review: The Story of a Brief Marriage

Summary: Two and a half decades into a devastating civil war, Sri Lanka’s Tamil minority is pushed inexorably towards the coast by the advancing army. Amongst the evacuees is Dinesh, whose world has contracted to a makeshift camp where time is measured by the shells that fall around him like clockwork. Alienated from family, home, language, and body, he exists in a state of mute acceptance, numb to the violence around him, till he is approached one morning by an old man who makes an unexpected proposal: that Dinesh marry his daughter, Ganga. Marriage, in this world, is an attempt at safety, like the beached fishing boat under which Dinesh huddles during the bombings. As a couple, they would be less likely to be conscripted to fight for the rebels, and less likely to be abused in the case of an army victory. Thrust into this situation of strange intimacy and dependence, Dinesh and Ganga try to come to terms with everything that has happened, hesitantly attempting to awaken to themselves and to one another before the war closes over them once more.

Anuk Arudpragasam’s The Story of a Brief Marriage is a feat of extraordinary sensitivity and imagination, a meditation on the fundamental elements of human existence—eating, sleeping, washing, touching, speaking—that give us direction and purpose, even as the world around us collapses. Set over the course of a single day and night, this unflinching debut confronts marriage and war, life and death, bestowing on its subjects the highest dignity, however briefly. -- Flatiron Books

There are a few books I read that I have absolutely no idea how I'm going to review them. The latest one that is giving me a few issues is the novel THE STORY OF A BRIEF MARRIAGE by Anuk Arudpragasam. I saw this book appear on some must-read fall list, and I just knew I had to read it. I ended up reading the novel in one afternoon -- it's less than 200 pages, and it was an incredibly powerful read.

THE STORY OF A BRIEF MARRIAGE takes place in Sri Lanka during their civil war. Dinesh is one of the evacuees who is being pushed towards the coast by an advancing army. The evacuees have set up a camp with a makeshift hospital, but the living conditions are horrible. The camp is under attack and the evacuees never know when a bombing will take place.

Like everyone else, Dinesh is just trying to stay alive. He helps at the hospital as much as he can, and he's created a "home" for himself away from the others, under an old fishing boat. One day, an elderly man approaches Dinesh and asks him if he'd be interested in marrying his daughter, Ganga. He hopes that the marriage will help save both of their lives because the couple would be less likely to be called by the rebels to fight as well as less likely to be abused if the rebels lose their fight.

These two virtual strangers decide to marry and then attempt to learn a bit about each other... and make sense of their lives during this horrific civil war.

THE STORY OF A BRIEF MARRIAGE packs a powerful punch! It's a book that touches your heart while you're reading it and definitely makes you appreciate your life; however, it also makes you think long after you finish it -- always a sign of a good book. I thought the characters, especially Dinesh, were well-drawn; and I was very impressed with this author's debut effort.

Despite reading THE STORY OF A BRIEF MARRIAGE in one afternoon, it wasn't quick read for me. That probably doesn't make much sense, but let me explain. The topics in this novel were heavy and often times disturbing. I definitely had to take time to read them because they were difficult to process. In addition, there were a few times when I found the pacing of the book to be a little slow. These sections weren't enough to really take away from my appreciation of the novel, but I did notice that some parts moved faster than others.

The thing that impressed me the most about this novel was how well the author captured the human spirit. The evacuees in this camp were facing a living nightmare every single day, not knowing if they'd even live to see another. That Dinesh and Ganga managed to find each other and even find some beauty in their situation is incredibly heartwarming. The novel showed the resilience of humans, and despite it's sadness, I found it to represent hope.

Overall, THE STORY OF A BRIEF MARRIAGE is a beautiful novel. I highly recommend it to fans of literary fiction.

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Review: The Couple Next Door

Summary: It all started at a dinner party. . .

A domestic suspense debut about a young couple and their apparently friendly neighbors—a twisty, rollercoaster ride of lies, betrayal, and the secrets between husbands and wives. . .

Anne and Marco Conti seem to have it all—a loving relationship, a wonderful home, and their beautiful baby, Cora. But one night when they are at a dinner party next door, a terrible crime is committed. Suspicion immediately focuses on the parents. But the truth is a much more complicated story.

Inside the curtained house, an unsettling account of what actually happened unfolds. Detective Rasbach knows that the panicked couple is hiding something. Both Anne and Marco soon discover that the other is keeping secrets, secrets they’ve kept for years.

What follows is the nerve-racking unraveling of a family—a chilling tale of deception, duplicity, and unfaithfulness that will keep you breathless until the final shocking twist. -- Pamela Dorman Books

I read THE COUPLE NEXT DOOR by Shari Lapena a few weeks ago, and I'm still trying to figure out my thoughts. The book began with a bang for me and I honestly couldn't put the book down. However, the intensity and excitement didn't last for me. So while I wouldn't go so far as to say I didn't enjoy the novel, I will say that I was a bit disappointed with the second half of the novel.

THE COUPLE NEXT DOOR tells the story of Anne and Marco Conti, a "happily" married couple with a young baby girl named Cora. One night, they go to a dinner party with their neighbors and leave their baby at home by herself! Before you think to poorly of this couple, it's important to know that Cora was in bed, they were right next door, and they were checking on her every half hour. However, the unthinkable happened... when they arrived home that evening (more than a little drunk), their door was open and the baby was gone!

Police arrive at the scene and, naturally, they assume that the parents are involved. The detectives in charge of the case, Rasbach and Jennings, discover some clues around the house that lead them to believe that the parents are hiding something. However, Rasbach also believes that the parents are genuinely distraught over the loss of their child. The detective throws around a lot of ideas, but nothing seems to really add up.

As Anne and Marco work with the detectives to find their daughter, it becomes clear to the reader that neither one is being entirely honest with the other... or the cops. Will their darkest secrets be revealed in time to save their daughter?

I have to say that the premise for THE COUPLE NEXT DOOR is terrific! When I first began this novel, I was extremely impressed with the author's writing and the overall feel of the novel. I wasn't entirely sure what to believe or who to believe... and I loved that feeling. I think I read the first half of the book in one sitting.

And then, it began to fizzle a bit for me. The suspenseful writing of the first 100+ pages took a back seat to the detective's theories about the parents. Like the detective, I was trying to figure out what the heck was going on, but reading every one of his ideas just became a little tedious and jumbled.

That being said, there were more than a few twists in this novel that did keep the action moving. I was quite surprised by a couple of them, and the one at the end proved to be especially shocking. I will admit to figuring things out (for the most part) fairly early on in the story, and I suspect that I won't be alone. The characters and the plot just seemed a little too obvious; however, the author did manage to throw some twists into the predictable nature of the book.

Overall, I think THE COUPLE NEXT DOOR was a good read -- just not a great one. Recommended to fans of suspense and mysteries.

I received an e-copy from the publisher and Netgalley.

Mystery Mondays is a regular feature where I review all types of mystery books -- traditional mysteries, suspense/thrillers, and even cozies! Please feel free to share your thoughts on any recent mystery books that you've read.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Kid Konnection: The Curse of the Were-Hyena

Every Saturday, I host a feature called Kid Konnection -- a regular weekend feature about anything related to children's books. This week I'm going to share with you a fun middle grade book that's the start of a new brand-new series!

Summary: What do you do when your favorite teacher starts turning into a were-hyena?

a) Flee in terror?

b) Try to cure him?

c) Bring him carrion snacks?

Mr. Chu, the coolest teacher ever, has developed some very unusual habits, like laughing hysterically for no reason, sniffing people’s homework, and chasing chickens. When best friends Carlos and Benny decide to find out what’s happening to him, they get caught up in some moonlight madness. And it looks like just the beginning of the weirdness that has arrived in the town of Monterrosa. . . . This first entry in a silly, sassy, and suspenseful new series will leave readers howling with laughter. -- Disney Hyperion

I know you shouldn't judge a book but its cover, but in the case of THE CURSE OF THE WERE-HYENA by Bruce Hale, it's a pretty good idea. This book cover isn't quite what it first appears. The cover changes depending on how you move the book. It can look like the were-hyena as pictured above or the teacher who changes into the were-hyena. Too cute!

THE CURSE OF THE WERE-HYENA is the first book in the Monstertown Mystery series, and I think it's a great start. At first, I thought this book might be fun for youngsters... but for me, not so much. However, I was pleasantly surprised by just how entertaining this book was.

THE CURSE OF THE WERE-HYENA tells the story of two kids, Carlos and Benny, whose teacher turns into a were-hyena! Mr. Chu is a teacher and he's adored by his students. However, one day he starts acting very funny. Out of the blue, he laughs hysterically and has terrific reflexes, and his sense of smell seems to be in overdrive. Carlos and Benny know something is up and want to get to the bottom of the strange new incidents that are occurring in their hometown.

With the help of the owner of the comic store (an ex-wrestler who now gets around in a wheelchair), they realize that Mr. Chu was bit by a were-hyena and will become one if he's not cured before the next full moon.

I admit I was skeptical -- I'm not the biggest fan of fantasy, but THE CURSE OF THE WERE-HYENA was adorable. It was extremely funny and also a bit of a mystery, and the main characters are totally likable (and diverse!) I'm pretty certain that middle grade readers are going to love it! Thankfully, it's the first book in a new series so I have a feeling readers will get to see more of Carlos and Benny and some very strange creatures!

As a mom, I just loved the creativity of the story. Since the boys (and one special African American karate girl) were in a crunch to save their favorite teacher, the scenes were action-packed and full of many strange twists. I will also tell you that there are enough typical boy jokes (you know what that means!) to keep the laughs coming!

As cute as this book was, I love love love that there is a discussion guide that is aligned to common core standards. I have a feeling if students could read books like this as part of school, many more would love reading. There are also some cute activities including a mask and a fun quiz!

THE CURSE OF THE WERE-HYENA is a great start to what is sure to be a very fun series for middle grade readers!
Giveaway alert: The Full Moon of the Were-Hyena Howling Good Giveaway!
  • Ten winners will receive a copy of Bruce Hale’s The Curse of the Were-Hyena. 
  • Four Grand Prize winners will receive The Curse of the Were-Hyena plus an advance reading copy of the second book in the series, Mutant Mantis Lunch Ladies! 
  • And as a bonus, Grand Prize winners will also get a signed photo of Bruce Hale disguised as a were-wolf! 
Click here to enter.

Thanks to Blue Slip Media for providing a review copy of this novel.

If you'd like to participate in Kid Konnection and share a post about anything related to children's books (picture, middle grade, or young adult) from the past week, please leave a comment as well as a link below with your name/blog name and the title of the book! Feel free to grab the little button too!