Monday, October 31, 2016

Review: Crepe Factor & Giveaway

Summary: The Winter Market in the French Quarter is in full swing, but murder isn’t taking a holiday in the latest from the New York Times bestselling author of Parchment and Old Lace…

The holidays are a busy time for scrapbook shop owner Carmela Bertrand—but not so hectic that she doesn’t have time to enjoy browsing the booths at the Winter Market with her best friend Ava. The last thing the ladies expect to see is a lurching man stabbed by a serving fork, dying in front of them.

The victim is loathed restaurant critic Martin Lash, who posted his scathing reviews on the Glutton for Punishment website. And the prime suspect is New Orleans restauranteur Quigg Brevard—who was seen giving the critic a tongue-lashing minutes before someone stuck a fork in him. An old flame of Carmela, Quigg asks for her help, which does not please her current beau, Detective Edgar Babcock, to say the least.

Before her relationship is the next victim, Carmela needs to find a murderer who had no reservations about punishing the culinary curmudgeon… Berkley

It's been quite awhile since I've reviewed a cozy mystery by Laura Childs and Terrie Farley Moran, but I thought Halloween would be the perfect time to feature one. Ms. Childs' latest is CREPE FACTOR, and it's part of her Scrapbooking Mystery series. I thought this book was a lot of fun! The characters are likable, the mystery was interesting, and the book takes place in New Orleans. What more could you ask for in a cozy?

CREPE FACTOR's beginning scene takes place at the Winter Market in the French Quarter, and it's only a matter of minutes before the murder takes place. And it's a gruesome one that involves a serving fork and a man's neck! See why I wanted to feature this book on Halloween even though it actually takes place near the holidays?

Carmela Bertrand, part-time sleuth and owner of a cute scrapbooking store in New Orleans, and her friend Ava are walking around the Winter Market when they hear a disagreement break out between two men. Just minutes later, one of the men involved staggers up to them with a serving fork coming out of his neck (think Frankenstein type walk); and Carmela finds herself once again right smack dab in the middle of a murder mystery.

The victim is Martin Lash, a local restaurant critic. His reviews aren't exactly nice or tactful, and he's definitely made his fair share of enemies... including restaurant owner and winemaker Quigg Brevard. Quigg was the man last seen arguing with Martin... and he also happens to be an ex beau of Carmela's. Martin immediately asks Carmela for help even though she is currently dating a detective with the New Orleans police force.

Carmela is reluctant to get involved... well kind of, but she can't really help herself even if that means upsetting her boyfriend. Can Carmela save her ex while also holding on to her current guy?

CREPE FACTOR was a really entertaining mystery. I loved Carmela and her wacky friend Ava, and the setting of New Orleans also added to my enjoyment. The mystery was intriguing as well; and while I didn't figure out all of the specifics, I had a pretty good idea that one of the side stories was involved. All in all, Ms. Childs' has to be one of the best at writing novels in the cozy genre!

Besides being a truly enjoyable story, CREPE FACTOR also has some fun sections in the back of the book. Because Carmela is the owner of a scrapbooking store, there are some easy-to-follow scrapbooking, stamping, and craft tips. In addition, there are some terrific recipes for cranberry muffins, barbecued ribs, dog cookies, pork roast, lemon chicken, and more!

I highly recommend CREPE FACTOR to fans of cozy mysteries! It's a smart mystery with terrific characters and a perfect setting!

Giveaway alert: Ms. Childs has agreed to send one very lucky Booking Mama reader a copy of CREPE FACTOR. To enter, just fill out the form below before November 13th at 11:59 p.m. EST. I will randomly select and notify the winner the following day. This contest is open to those of you with U.S. addresses only. Good luck!

Thanks to the author 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, October 29, 2016

Kid Konnection: NubeOcho Picture Books

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 some adorable picture books from a new-to-me publisher, NubeOcho!

Summary: Once upon a time, the female elephants
had a different skin color than the male elephants.
It was pink. Candy pink.

In order to get that color, they had to eat only peonies and anemones.
These flowers were not very recommended as food,
but they gave their skin that candy pink color.

Little Daisy did not like to eat flowers...

The book created by Adela Turin 40 years ago to promote equality
between boys and girls arrives for the first time in the United States.
A must. -- NubeOcho

CANDY PINK by Adela Turin and illustrated by Nella Bosnia is unlike any children's book that I've read in recent memory... maybe ever. It tells the story of a tribe of elephants whose female members eat flowers so they can be pink. It's not that the flowers are even good for the elephants. It's just that they make them candy pink... and therefore beautiful.

Little Daisy didn't like to eat flowers despite the desperate pleas from her father. She also didn't appreciate that the little boy elephants were allowed to eat grass and play in the fields, and she had dress in pink accessories because she was still gray. You see, Daisy remained gray even though she ate the flowers. As a result, her mom was very sad and her dad was very mad! Her father even accused her of being a rebel!

Daisy's parents finally decided to give up the constant nagging about her gray color and Daisy thrived! She got rid of her pink accessories and started to feel free. The other girl elephants weren't quite sure what to make of Daisy, but they eventually followed in her footsteps. And guess what? Suddenly it wasn't so easy to tell the boy elephants from the girls ones.

CANDY PINK is a terrific way to introduce gender issues to you child. The book was originally written 40 years ago, and it's just now being published in the United States. It explores feelings of being different and even isolated as well as how hard it is sometimes to just be yourself. I think the many positive messages in this picture book about acceptance, tolerance, and individuality are important to share with children in today's society.

Highly recommended!

Summary: Bogo the fox lived in the branches
of a great, big tree.
One day he decided to invent amazing things
so that he could have everything he wanted.

Can a fox fly, breathe under water or see at night like an owl?
A book to help us realize that our own characteristics are unique. -- NubeOcho

BOGO: THE FOX WHO WANTED EVERYTHING by Susanna Isern and Sonja Wimmer is another great addition to NubeOcho's Fall 2016 line. This picture book tells the story of Bogo, a fox who wanted to be special. He envies the other animals and their special talents, so he decides to invent items that would give him everything he's ever wanted. For example, he wants to see like an owl on a moonless night so he creates night glasses from bat tears. Needless to say, none of his inventions actually worked!

One night after Bogo had given up on his inventions (and seemed to be suffering from some pretty severe depression), he used his "special talents" to save his forest friends. He used his acute senses of smell and sight, as well as his cunning and speed, to warn them that there was a pack of wolves nearby. All of his friends were quite impressed with Bogo, and he realized that he already had special qualities that make him unique!

BOGO: THE FOX WHO WANTED EVERYTHING is an entertaining story filled with lots of humor -- Bogo's ideas are a little crazy! However, it's also an adorable picture book filled with so many wonderful messages. The themes of jealousy, diversity, and self-doubt are all explored, but the overall messages (and maybe the most important ones) are self confidence and acceptance. I loved this book!

Summary: The elephant has a very long trunk.
With it he helps all his friends,
but the hippopotamus always mocks him
and says: “That’s not normal!’’

But what is “normal”?

What does it mean to be “normal”?
A laugh-out-loud story about differences, diversity, friendship and acceptance. -- NubeOcho
But what is "normal"? -- NubeOcho

And last but not least, I received a review copy of THAT'S NOT NORMAL by Mar Pavon and Laure du Fay. Like the first two books, THAT'S NOT NORMAL has a some terrific messages while also being a fun story. I especially enjoyed the whimsical illustrations. Isn't the elephant on the cover absolutely adorable?

Elephant has a very long trunk.... and "That's Not Normal!" He uses his very long truck for a variety of things like showering and drying his baby and helping Old Monkey climb trees. Most of the animals in the jungle appreciated Elephant and his trunk; however, Hippopotamus kept reminding everything that the long trunk wasn't normal.

One day, Hippopotamus's baby ran off after a grasshopper, and lots of drama ensued. Fortunately, Elephant, with his very long trunk was able to save the day... and Hippopotamus realized that what he considered "not normal" just might be "normal."

This picture book definitely focuses on self-confidence and diversity by showing that being different is a strength, not a weakness. However, I also love how it teaches children about kindness. Hippopotamus wasn't very nice to Elephant, yet Elephant was a wonderful friend who helped out Hippopotamus when he needed it the most.

Overall, I really loved THAT'S NOT NORMAL! I highly recommend this book for libraries and classrooms.

Thanks to the publisher for providing review copies of these books.

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, October 27, 2016

Review: Be Light Like a Bird

Summary: After the death of her father, twelve-year-old Wren finds her life thrown into upheaval. And when her mother decides to pack up the car and forces Wren to leave the only home she's ever known, the family grows even more fractured. As she and her mother struggle to build a new life, Wren must tackle issues with the environment, peer pressure, and bullying. More than that, she must cope with the difficulty of forgiving those who don't deserve it as she discovers what it means to be a family and the secrets and lies that can tear one apart. -- Capstone

While I always seem to enjoy a good middle grade novel, I find that I don't read them near as much as I'd like. So when Monika Schroder asked me if I would like to review her latest novel BE LIGHT LIKE A BIRD, I jumped at the chance. This novel seemed to epitomize everything I love about middle grade books. It's a sweet coming-of-age story about a young girl who is trying to cope with the loss of her father.

BE LIGHT LIKE A BIRD tells the story of Wren, a twelve year old girl whose father has recently died in an airplane accident. Naturally her life is turned upside down, but things get even worse when her mother decides to pack them up and move... and move again... and move again. Wren's relationship with her mother begins to feel the stress of their lives, and Wren finds comfort in a rather odd (and sad) way. She buries the dead animals that she finds on the road.

When Wren and her mother finally settle in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, Wren finds herself in a new school with no real friends. She finds a sanctuary in a Pete's Pond, a place where she can watch and draw birds -- a hobby she used to do with her father. Unfortunately, Pete's Pond is scheduled to become a landfill. When Wren is assigned a school project, she teams up with Theo, another boy who doesn't have many friends. Together, they fight to save Pete's Pond and its wildlife from destruction. In the process, Wren learns some important lessons about life and family... and she begins the path towards healing!

I really enjoyed BE LIGHT LIKE A BIRD! The story is incredibly sweet and entertaining, yet it also managed to delve into some important issues for middle grade readers. Wren was a wonderful character who touched my heart, and I loved seeing how much she matured by the end of the story. I also really appreciated that this novel explored the difficult issues of grief and bullying while also leaving readers with a sense of hope. There are just so many things to like about this story.

I truly loved how this book explored the theme of grief. I would hope that some young readers would find comfort (or at least relate) a bit to Wren. The grief she was experiencing at the beginning of the novel almost broke my heart. She was burying dead animals for some sort of closure, for goodness sake! But I also liked how the author showed how grief manifested in Wren's mom. I think it was a great message to show that everyone deals with loss differently. And that we don't always understand the reasons why a person acts the way they do.

Another wonderful thing about this novel was how it explored the ideas of family and friendship. Wren was definitely feeling alone after the loss of her father and her mother's strange behavior, and her attempts to fit in with the popular girls at school didn't help matter. However, she found a friend in Theo, a boy who lived with his father because his mom died when he was younger. These two learned to trust and find comfort in each other, and I loved how their friendship was depicted.

Finally, I appreciated that the author chose to tell a side story that dealt with the environment and conservation. Not only were these important topics for a middle grade book, but I loved how Wren and Theo decided actually do something about the destruction of Pete's Pond. They worked together to bring this issue to the attention of their townspeople and politicians... and actually ended up making a difference!

As much as I enjoyed BE LIGHT LIKE A BIRD, I have to say that it was a little predictable; however, that didn't bother me at all. It's important to keep in mind that the novel was written for middle grade readers -- not discerning adults. It's supposed to have a happy ending with most things being resolved; and I have to say that if things didn't work out for Wren, I would have been disappointed.

I highly recommended BE LIGHT LIKE A BIRD for book clubs and the classroom. There is a discussion guide available with twelve thought-provoking questions. Some of the themes you might want to explore include grief, loss, new starts, friendship, family, environmental concerns, action, closure, and forgiveness.

Overall, BE LIGHT LIKE A BIRD is a wonderful middle grade novel. Highly recommended!

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

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Review: The Next

Summary: Is there a right way to die? If so, Joanna DeAngelis has it all wrong. She’s consumed by betrayal, spending her numbered days obsessing over Ned McGowan, her much younger ex, and watching him thrive in the spotlight with someone new, while she wastes away. She’s every woman scorned, fantasizing about revenge … except she’s out of time. Joanna falls from her life, from the love of her daughters and devoted dog, into an otherworldly landscape, a bleak infinity she can’t escape until she rises up and returns and sets it right—makes Ned pay—so she can truly move on.

From the other side into right this minute, Jo embarks on a sexy, spiritual odyssey. As she travels beyond memory, beyond desire, she is transformed into a fierce female force of life, determined to know how to die, happily ever after. -- St. Martins Press

Ok -- here's a new premise for you. A woman dies from cancer and she's determined to get revenge on her ex boyfriend. Yes -- you heard that right. That's the basic gist of the new novel THE NEXT by Stephanie Gangi. A ghost wreaks "ghostlike" havoc on her ex's life while also playing mother to her two adult daughters.

THE NEXT tells the story of Joanna DeAngelis, a woman who is dying from cancer much too early. Rather than spend what little time she has left with her two daughters, she is obsessed with rage against her younger ex-boyfriend Ned. She is fixated on her phone and follows Ned's life as he dates a glamorous and successful woman. She's furious enough at him for leaving her, but when she discovers that his girlfriend is pregnant with Ned's baby, she can't even think straight. She begins fantasizing about revenge, and that's exactly what she decides to do when she passes to the "other side."

After her death, Joanna does some major damage to Ned in an effort to make him pay for his indiscretions. However, she does so at the expense of her daughters. They are dealing with feelings of guilt and grief, and Joanna doesn't even realize how much pain they are in because she's too concerned with revenge. Joanna eventually does find satisfaction in making Ned realize his mistakes, and she is able to move on in her death. Fortunately, her daughters learn how to live in a world without their beloved mother being physical present.

I enjoyed THE NEXT but I'm not sure I loved it. It was definitely a unique premise, and I found many of the scenes with Joanna's ghost and Ned to be pretty darn funny; however, I was a little uncomfortable with the intensity of Joanna's scorn. I spent much of the novel wanting her to realize the pain that her daughters were in and turn her efforts to helping them instead of hurting Ned.

I do think THE NEXT was extremely well written. I loved Ms. Gangi's character development, and I found her insights to be spot on and very witty. I also appreciated how much humor she was able to incorporate into the novel. I laughed and laughed at a few of Ned's scenes; however, I also was touched by the grief that her girls were experiencing. It was definitely a unique mix of feelings, and all were handled equally well.

What I enjoyed most about THE NEXT was how it featured the theme of loves. Love is definitely a recurring them, and love is experience is so many different forms. There is obsessive love, unrequited love, self love, parent/child love, romantic love, and even doggie love. Personally, I loved how the book explored all of these forms of love!

THE NEXT would be an interesting selection for book clubs. Fortunately, there is a reading guide available with eleven questions. Of course you will want to discuss Joanna's behavior, but Ned and her daughters are interesting in their own rights too. Some of the other themes you might want to explore include revenge, death, grief, music, social media, and peace.

All in all, I enjoyed THE NEXT and recommend it to fans of smart stories about family relationships.

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

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Review: Home Field

Summary: The heart of Friday Night Lights meets the emotional resonance and nostalgia of My So-Called Life in this moving debut novel about tradition, family, love, and football. As the high school football coach in his small, rural Maryland town, Dean is a hero who reorganized the athletic program and brought the state championship to the community. When he married Nicole, the beloved town sweetheart, he seemed to have it all—until his troubled wife committed suicide. Now, everything Dean thought he knew is thrown off kilter as Nicole’s death forces him to re-evaluate all of his relationships, including those with his team and his three children.

Dean’s eleven-year old son, Robbie, is withdrawing at home and running away from school. Bry, who is only eight, is struggling to understand his mother’s untimely death and his place in the family. Eighteen-year-old Stephanie, a freshman at Swarthmore, is torn between her new identity as a rebellious and sophisticated college student, her responsibility towards her brothers, and reeling from missing her mother. As Dean struggles to continue to lead his team to victory in light of his overwhelming personal loss, he must fix his fractured family—and himself. When a new family emergency arises, Dean discovers that he’ll never view the world in the same way again.

Transporting readers to the heart of small town America, Home Field is an unforgettable, poignant story about the pull of the past and the power of forgiveness. -- William Morrow

I don't think you can read HOME FIELD by Hannah Gersen and not make some comparisons to Friday Night Lights. In fact, I saw on the author's website that the television show actually influenced her when writing this novel. I love pretty much enjoy anything that has to do with football; and since I also love novels about dysfunctional families, I figured HOME FIELD would be a good match... and it was. I enjoyed this one quite a bit.

HOME FIELD tells the story of Dean, a high school football coach and father of three. Dean's life was seemingly perfect. He married the town sweetheart Nicole and had the job of his dreams. He even won the state football championship for his high school. However, the unthinkable happened -- his wife committed suicide and Dean is left to navigate life and fatherhood on his own.

As hard as it is to deal with the loss of his wife, Dean is also having to help his children deal with the void in their lives. Dean, who spent most of his waking hours coaching or thinking about coaching football, is now having to deal with his two young sons because his stepdaughter Stephanie has left town to attend Swarthmore. Robbie, the 11 year old, is acting out by running away from school; and Bry, the 8 year old, doesn't really understand what's going on and turns to his aunt's fundamentalist church as a way to cope. Nicole always handled most of the issues with the kids and then Stephanie filled in, and Dean is completely lost in how to handle his sons.

Meanwhile, Dean isn't taking his wife's death very well either. Dean discovers that coaching the all-important high school football team in this town and parenting his children is just too much for him; and he is forced to take a step back from his coaching duties. As Dean does his best to keep his family together, he also has to help them (and himself) move forward.

I really liked HOME FIELD. I was both entertaining and touched by the story. In addition, I was impressed with the author's writing as well as her character development -- these people were so flawed yet likable, and I thought she did an amazing job of bringing a small town and its cast of characters to life. All in all, it was a quality read and the characters' stories stuck with me after I finished the novel.

What really impressed me, though, was how well the author handled the subject of grief. Ms. Gersen did a wonderful job in making the pain these characters were feeling real to the reader. At times, the sense of grief was almost overpowering to me. It was incredibly difficult to see how each family member tried to deal with it in his or her own way. Personally, I found Stephanie's ability (or inability) to handle her mother's death to be the most painful. For some reason, her desire to leave the small town and start her own life while also feeling the guilt of leaving her brothers was just so incredibly sad. I couldn't get her character out of my mind.

While the main theme of HOME FIELD was definitely dealing with loss, I also appreciated how the author showed that the family was eventually able to cope and even move on. The book was sad, of course, but it also left me with feelings of hope. I don't want to say that everything was wrapped up neatly with a big red bow, but I did leave the pages of this book thinking that everything could be okay for these characters. Not that everything would be necessarily easy for them, but there was a sense that they could be happy in the future.

I do think HOME FIELD would make a terrific book club selection. There is a reading guide available with eleven interesting questions. Some of the themes you might want to explore include grief, loss, guilt, home, family, acceptance, and forgiveness. I have a sense that many readers will relate to the characters' intense feelings of loss, so it could be a meeting that requires tissues!

I found HOME FIELD to be a beautiful novel about loss and resilience. I definitely recommend it to fans of stories about dysfunctional families.

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

Monday, October 24, 2016

Guest Review: Free Fall

Summary: Pilots with no control…

High above the Adirondack Mountains, a commuter flight to New York City turns into a rolling, twisting nightmare, plunging from the sky before the crew regains control. Then, in London, a jetliner crashes into the runway, killing fifteen people.

Investigators with no answers…

Reporter Kate Page believes something beyond mechanical—or human—error is behind the incidents that have air investigators baffled. But the mystery deepens as teams scramble to pinpoint a link between the tragedies, and Kate receives an untraceable message from someone boasting responsibility and threatening another event.

A looming disaster…

As Kate, the FBI and the NTSB race to find answers, the shadow figures behind the operation launch their most devastating plan yet, and time ticks down on one of the greatest tragedies the world has ever known. -- Mira

I have to be honest. There is no way I would ever read FREE FALL by Rick Mofina. The premise of an airplane going out of control with no explanation is way too scary for me. Lucky for me, Booking Pap Pap read it instead. Here are his thoughts:

In FREE FALL by Rick Mofina, the main character is reporter Kate Page who works for a newswire service. While in the office on the weekend fine tuning a news article, Kate hears on the scanner a report about a New York commuter flight that has malfunctioned sending the passengers into a panic. Kate immediately heads for LaGuardia airport to learn as much as she can about the flight. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is quick to identify the problem as pilot error but the pilots insist that the advanced operating system failed. As the investigation is taking place, another airliner with the similar operating system crashes while landing in London killing several passengers. Pilots again say the operating system failed but investigators again lean toward pilot error. Investigators insist that the two accidents occurring so close together is a coincidence. As Kate tries to find a common thread in the two incidents, she receives an email from a party claiming responsibility and threatens even more death and destruction. Kate reports the email to the FBI but aviation authorities insist it’s a hoax and claim airplane operating systems cannot be hacked or controlled remotely. All parties are concerned about reporting the story without the full facts and causing panic in the airline industry. Kate continues to chase the story as she confronts resistance from her own editors, the FBI and the NTSB. Kate’s efforts result in her and her family becoming targets. Soon the FBI, Kate and the NTSB get on the same page and work together to try to avert a major disaster.

Author Rick Mofina does a great job of weaving all the characters into the story while maintaining a high level of intensity. Mofina makes the storyline even more realistic when he goes into great details in describing the work of an airline disaster investigation and follows the work of the FBI in trying to solve the case. Although the characters are well developed, they are not the story. The story is the airlines, the sophisticated operating systems and the question as to whether they can be hacked. What results is a chilling fictional account of an issue that we all can relate to. Is airline travel safe?

FREE FALL is a complex thriller that centers on a subject that is too real. I suggest that you don’t do what I did. I read this thriller before getting on an airplane.

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, October 22, 2016

Kid Konnection: Atlas of Animal Adventures

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 an awesome book that's perfect for the animal lovers in your life!

Summary: From the team behind the best-selling Atlas of Adventures. Head off on a journey of discovery, with this book that collects together nature’s most unmissable events from between the two poles, including epic migrations, extraordinary behaviours, and Herculean habits. Find hundreds of things to spot and learn new facts about every animal. -- Quarto Publishing Group

ATLAS OF ANIMAL ADVENTURES is a giant (11 inches x 15 inches) picture book that is written by Rachel Williams and Emily Hawkins and illustrated by Lucy Letherland. It is as gorgeous as it is informative, and it is just a terrific way for kids ages six to nine to learn about animals and the world.

ATLAS OF ANIMAL ADVENTURES is a great book that is so much fun to look through. Even the endpapers are adorable -- the ones at the beginning are filled with hundreds of bird illustrations and the ones at the end with sea creatures. The book begins with an atlas of the world with some cute illustrations of the animals that live on each continent and ocean. The book is then divided into chapters by continent with detailed information about animals and their unique habitats.

I absolutely love ATLAS OF ANIMAL ADVENTURES! The book is gorgeous to look at with Ms. Netherland's drawings; however, I was impressed with all of the information it contains. Each page is primarily filled with illustrations (which kids will love), but they do include a brief explanation of a specific animal and its traits. There are also close-up drawings of the animal as well as interesting tidbits about other animals that live in the same area. For example in the Africa section, there is a page spread devoted to hippos in Botswana; and in the Australia section, there is a page spread devoted to the platypus which also includes a little bit about the azure kingfisher.

The last pages of the book are devoted to something I know my kids would have loved! There is a "Can You Find?" section that includes adorable illustrations of objects and animals that kids can search for throughout the 80+ pages. I had fun myself going back and looking for a few!

Overall, ATLAS OF ANIMAL ADVENTURES is a wonderful addition to any home or school library. It's fun and educational! What more can you ask for in a kids' book?

Thanks to the publisher 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, October 20, 2016

Review: The Guineveres

Summary: To four girls who have nothing, their friendship is everything: they are each other’s confidants, teachers, and family. The girls are all named Guinevere—Vere, Gwen, Ginny, and Win—and it is the surprise of finding another Guinevere in their midst that first brings them together. They come to The Sisters of the Supreme Adoration convent by different paths, delivered by their families, each with her own complicated, heartbreaking story that she safeguards. Gwen is all Hollywood glamour and swagger; Ginny is a budding artiste with a sentiment to match; Win’s tough bravado isn’t even skin deep; and Vere is the only one who seems to be a believer, trying to hold onto her faith that her mother will one day return for her. However, the girls are more than the sum of their parts and together they form the all powerful and confident The Guineveres, bound by the extraordinary coincidence of their names and girded against the indignities of their plain, sequestered lives.

The nuns who raise them teach the Guineveres that faith is about waiting: waiting for the mail, for weekly wash day, for a miracle, or for the day they turn eighteen and are allowed to leave the convent. But the Guineveres grow tired of waiting. And so when four comatose soldiers from the War looming outside arrive at the convent, the girls realize that these men may hold their ticket out.

In prose shot through with beauty, Sarah Domet weaves together the Guineveres’ past, present, and future, as well as the stories of the female saints they were raised on, to capture the wonder and tumult of girlhood and the magical thinking of young women as they cross over to adulthood. -- Flatiron Books

There sure has been a lot of buzz about THE GUINEVERES by Sarah Domet; and after finishing it, I totally understand why. This novel about four teenage girls, all named Guinevere, takes place in a convent; and in many ways, is a coming of age story. I thought this novel was extremely well done, and the writing was certainly something special.

THE GUINEVERES tells the story of four Guineveres -- Vere, Gwen, Ginny, and Win. Each girl arrived at The Sisters of Supreme Adoration convent within a few years of each other and become fast friends. They were all left at the convent by their families (with little explanation) and never really had any contact with them. Thankfully, they had each other.

Each girl definitely has their own personality, but they all complement each other. One thing they have in common, though, is a desire to leave from the convent and live in the real world. The girls come up with a hysterical plan to hide in one of the floats during the annual festival as a means of escape. Unfortunately, the nuns figure out their plan... that float was darn heavy for a nun to pull! And their punishment is to work in the convalescent ward tending to soldiers and the elderly.

When one of the girls at the convent is allowed to leave as a nurse to a recovering soldier, the girls come up with another brilliant escape plan. They each pick out a comatose soldier to tend to with the hopes that the soldiers will fall in love with them. They spend hours caring for these men and are certain that they will recover... and take the girls with them when they leave the convent.

I really appreciated THE GUINEVERES! It was a terrific story and truly unlike anything I've ever read, although I have seen some comparisons to THE VIRGIN SUICIDES. It's hard to believe that this is Ms. Domet's debut novel. The writing is so polished and so smart. I'm definitely looking forward to more of her stories in the future.

I am pretty certain that I haven't been able to convey just how well written this book is. I feel as if Ms. Domet accomplished quite a bit with this novel, and I loved how well she told these girls' stories. The background stories of the girls' path to the convent were gradually revealed, and I found them to be heartbreaking. As I learned the history of these girls and their parents, it helped to explain their characters' personalities and motivations. In addition, I loved that we discovered what happened to the girls after they left the convent and were out in "the real world."

I also love how the author wove the themes of Catholicism into the novel. Of course, there were nuns and an alcoholic priest whose stories were intriguing (and a bit funny!) However, I appreciated that each of the chapters were named after important events in the Catholic faith such as the Ascension, Advent, the Assumption and more. Even more interesting was the author's choice to intersperse a few small chapters on the lives of special female saints like Saint Cecelia and Saint Christina the Astonishing. I know this sounds a little crazy, but it all worked!

All in all, my favorite part of this novel was the character development of these four girls. While they all had very different personalities, somehow they all seemed like one. Maybe it's because they all were deserted by their families and they felt trapped in the convent. Or possibly it's because they all had the same dreams of falling in love and escaping. However, I think the author's choices in style also had a major effect on this feeling. While Vere was the primary narrator, she often times used the first person plural to describe their stories. It was a really interesting use of words that most definitely conveyed a unity between the girls.

I'm sure it won't surprise you ant THE GUINEVERES would make a terrific book club selection. There is a reading guide available with 22 (wow!) questions, and they are really, really good ones! I think I touched upon many of the themes, but some things you might want to discuss include the feeling of being trapped, friendship, grief, wishes, gender norms, faith, war, wonder, pain, memories, family, and hope.

THE GUINEVERES is a fantastic novel for fans of literary fiction. Highly recommended!

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

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Review: This Was Not the Plan

Summary: From the acclaimed author of The Darlings comes a “funny, bittersweet, and ultimately uplifting look” (Sarah Pekkanen) at fatherhood, love, and family life.

Charlie Goldwyn’s life hasn’t exactly gone according to plan. Widowerhood at thirty-three and twelve-hour workdays have left a gap in his relationship with his quirky five-year-old son, Caleb, whose obsession with natural disasters and penchant for girls’ clothing have made him something of a loner at his preschool. The only thing Charlie has going for him is his job at a prestigious law firm, where he is finally close to becoming a partner.

But when a slight lapse in judgment at an office party leaves him humiliatingly unemployed, stuck at home with Caleb for the summer, and forced to face his own estranged father, Charlie starts to realize that there’s more to fatherhood than financially providing for his son, and more to being a son than overtaking his father’s successes.

At turns heartbreaking and hilarious, This Was Not the Plan is a “sparkling and heartfelt” (Bookpage) story about loss and love, parenthood, and friendship, and what true work-life balance means. -- Touchstone

After I finished reading THIS WAS NOT THE PLAN by Cristina Alger, I realized that I don't read a lot of feel-good books. Or at least, I haven't read a lot of them lately. It might be related to the amount of thrillers that I've read in recent years, but I can't remember the last time I smiled after finishing the last page of a novel. THIS WAS NOT THE PLAN definitely warmed my heart!

THIS WAS NOT THE PLAN tells the story of Charlie Goldwyn, a man who has been dealt his fair share of heartache. He lost his wife in a tragic accident and was left with a toddler son. Fortunately, Charlie's sister serves as the primary caregiver for his son Caleb because Charlie works non-stop as a high power attorney. And I mean non-stop! The novel begins with Charlie working three straight days (or something crazy like that!). Despite leaving his son with virtually no mother or father, he can't stop now because is fairly certain that he is on track to become a partner in the firm.

However, when Charlie attends a company party and over imbibes, he speaks out against the companies his firm defends and ends up losing his job. In what seems like an unfortunate twist of events, Charlie ends up spending lots of time with his quirky five year old son. He also finds himself facing some painful events from his past... and discovers that there's more to life than just work.

I really enjoyed THIS WAS NOT THE PLAN, and I admit that I fell a little in love with Charlie and Caleb. Charlie was an extremely well drawn character who evolved so much throughout this novel. It was difficult not to root for him; and while I was pretty sure how this book would end, I didn't mind the predictability of the story one bit! And Caleb was just an adorable boy who was also a bit different from his classmates. He loved the colors pink and purple, had his own sense of fashion, and also happened to not have a lot of friends. I adored how Charlie accepted his son for who he was. Even when Charlie was a very attentive father, I knew he still loved his son... he just didn't know how to be a father.

And part of the reason Charlie wasn't a hands-on father was that Charlie didn't grow up with a dad. His mom got pregnant with a married, high-power attorney (See any similarities there? Can you say daddy issues?) and chose to bring up Charlie and his sister on her own. Charlie never knew the entire story and spend 35+ years upset with his father for neglecting him. He also spent a major part of his life trying to perfect to prove to his father that he didn't need him. I enjoyed seeing how the relationship with his father eventually played out in this novel; however, I will admit that I preferred the dynamics between Charlie and Caleb.

One thing I absolutely adored about THIS WAS NOT THE PLAN was how it ended. Remember when I mentioned that the book was kind of/sort of predictable? Well, I basically knew that Charlie would end up realizing that work isn't as fulfilling as being a parent, brother, and son. However, I have to say that I thought how the author chose to end the novel was clever. I don't want to give too much away, but Charlie didn't get everything he wanted... and Ms. Alger definitely didn't wrap up his entire story with a pretty red bow. Having said that, the novel did end rather open-ended or at least I sure hope the ending is up to interpretation!

I also really appreciated how this book tugged on my heartstrings while also making me laugh. There really is a lot of humor in this novel. I found myself laughing quite a bit at Caleb (in a good way), and I thought the scene where Charlie embarrassed himself was hysterical. And there were many more truly funny scenes and characters. However, as a mom who decided to stay home with her children, I also found this novel to extremely touching. My heart went out to Charlie. He sure had a lot of hang ups, but he was a good man just trying to do the best he could.

THIS WAS NOT THE PLAN would make a great book club selection. I was excited to find a reading guide with ten quality questions as well as a few suggestions for how to enhance your book club meeting. Some of the themes you might want to discuss are grief, guilt, parenting, father/son relationships, second chances, work/life balance, the definition of family, friendship, happiness, acceptance, love, and healing.

Overall, I enjoyed THIS WAS NOT THE PLAN so much. Highly recommended to readers who enjoy family dramas and sentimental stories.

Thanks to Get Red PR and the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

I Won, I Won, I Won!!!

A few weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to be invited to the Harper Collins Winter 2017 Blogger Presentation. I enjoy these presentations because I learn about the new releases straight from the marketing teams' mouths. It's so fun to see their excitement for the books, and of course, I'm always looking for great book suggestions!

This presentation was even amazing! I discovered so many new books that I have to read from the various Harper Collins' imprints. However, the absolute highlight for me was winning one of the raffles. At the end of the presentation, each imprint gives away a prize. I just happened to win the very best one -- or at least the best one in my opinion! It was from Tavia at William Morrow books. And it was a huge prize pack of books and other goodies!

I received so much from the fine folks at William Morrow that I had to break out the photos. The first photo shows some of the books I received including Christina Baker Kline's new novel A PIECE OF THE WORLD. I also received a signed first edition of NEWS OF THE WORLD by  Paulette Jiles! This book is one of the 2016 National Book Award Finalists -- woo hoo!
I also was thrilled to receive copies of Greg Iles' Natchez Burning trilogy including the new one -- MISSISSIPPI BLOOD which comes out in March! I loved NATCHEZ BURNING -- you can read my review here, and I've been recommending this novel (and the entire series!) to everyone I come in contact with. The tote bag in the photo was a nice surprise too. It's really big and heavy... which comes in handy given all the books they sent.
Finally, I received some fantastic book-related gifts! I love my Moleskine notebook. It's a gorgeous green and I will be using it often. And last but certainly not least, I received a $100 gift card to Out of Print. This website has so many book themed products that I'm having a hard time trying to decide what to order. If you have any suggestions, please leave them in the comments section!
I can't even express how excited I was to win this William Morrow books raffle -- thank you @WmMorrowBooks. I am a huge fan of their novels, and I can't wait to read all of them! 

Monday, October 17, 2016

Review: Natchez Burning

Summary: From #1 New York Times bestselling author Greg Iles comes the first novel in his Natchez Burning trilogy—which also includes The Bone Tree and the upcoming Mississippi Blood—an epic trilogy that interweaves crimes, lies, and secrets past and present in a mesmerizing thriller featuring Southern lawyer and former prosecutor Penn Cage.

Raised in the southern splendor of Natchez, Mississippi, Penn Cage learned all he knows of duty from his father, Dr. Tom Cage. But now the beloved family doctor has been accused of murdering the African American nurse with whom he worked in the dark days of the 1960s. Once a crusading prosecutor, Penn is determined to save his father, but Tom, stubbornly invoking doctor-patient privilege, refuses even to speak in his own defense.

Penn's quest for the truth sends him deep into his father's past, where a sexually charged secret lies. More chilling, this long-buried sin is only one thread in a conspiracy of greed and murder involving the vicious Double Eagles, an offshoot of the KKK controlled by some of the most powerful men in the state. Aided by a dedicated reporter privy to Natchez's oldest secrets and by his fiancée, Caitlin Masters, Penn uncovers a trail of corruption and brutality that places his family squarely in the Double Eagles' crosshairs.

With every step costing blood and faith, Penn is forced to confront the most wrenching dilemma of his life: Does a man of honor choose his father or the truth? -- William Morrow

I am so excited to share my thoughts with you about a fantastic novel NATCHEZ BURNING by Greg Iles! Believe me when I tell you that I don't usually recommend 800+ page novels. In fact, I rarely read books that long because I'm intimidated by them. However, I had heard so many wonderful things about this author that I decided to give it a try. Let me just say... I couldn't put it down! And 800 pages seemed like nothing!

NATCHEZ BURNING is the first book in Mr. Iles' Natchez Burning trilogy. The second book is titled THE BONE TREE (which I will be reading in the very near future) and the final installment is MISSISSIPPI BLOOD which will be released early next year. Needless to say, I'm hooked on this series and can't say enough good things about NATCHEZ BURNING. In fact, I was excited to learn that this novel is actually the fourth one starring Penn Cage, so there's plenty more books for me to read. Woo Hoo!

NATCHEZ BURNING is a big book and I don't just mean because it's so long. It's big because it covers so much -- from family drama, to crimes, to lies, to secrets, to murder, to secret organizations, and more! It's a complex novel that goes back and forth between the present and the past, and it's extremely well-written. I don't know if you can tell but I thought this book was outstanding! Ha Ha!

The novel stars Penn Cage, a lawyer and now mayor of his home town Natchez, Mississippi. When he discovers that his father, the small town doctor who is as close to a hero as any mere mortal can be, is accused of murdering his African American nurse who he worked with way back in the 1960s. Penn is determined to prove his father's innocence, but his father is being less than helpful and doesn't want to talk about her death... or his past.

So Penn sets out to find out the truth on his own and digs into his father's past. He discovers that his father has his own set of secrets including a possible relationship with his nurse. As difficult as it is to face the truth about his father, he's even more disturbed to learn that his hometown has some very dark secrets too, including the Dark Eagles, a secret organization that is an offshoot of the KKK... and even more brutal than the KKK ever was.

Penn works together with the award-winning journalist (who also happens to be his fiancee) Caitlin as well as another very courageous journalist who has been investigating the history of the Dark Eagles for some time. While they are all determined to reveal the members of the Dark Eagles for what they've done, they quickly realize that these are very dangerous men who are more than willing to do what's necessary to anyone and everyone who gets in their way.

NATCHEZ BURNING is just an incredible novel. I loved the characters (or at least the good guys!) and I loved the complexity of the story. I honestly can't remember reading a novel that encompasses this much in a very long time. What truly stood out to me is just how amazing Mr. Iles is as a writer and storyteller. I loved how he told this story on a macro level, but I also was impressed with his prose and his dialogue.

I am just touching the surface of this novel and hope I'm not doing it a disservice. There is no way I can go into the complexities of the mystery or the characters. However, I will say that I was blown away by how well the author navigated going back and forth between the present and the past. Often times in a novel that switches back and forth, I prefer one time period and its stories to the other. That wasn't the case in this book. I loved Penn as he delved into learning the truth about his father, but I also loved the flashbacks to 1960s Natchez. Mr. Iles brought this time period to life in an incredibly honest way... even though it was brutal and disturbing at times.

I also was extremely impressed with the mystery aspect of this novel. It is a good one with some big time twists. However, what made the novel so special to me wasn't the actual mystery. Rather, it was just how smart this book was on so many levels. While the mystery was the central theme of the story, it was about so much more than just figuring out what happened to Dr. Cage's nurse. The book explored a complex man in Dr. Cage as well as Penn's relationship with him. It also does a fantastic job of showing the ethical dilemmas that Penn faced while learning the truth about his dad. In addition, the book explores such complex issues such as assisted death, racism, small town life, violence, and much much more.

I feel as if my review could go on for pages because there truly is so much to discuss about this novel. As a result, I would love to talk about this book (and probably the other two as well) with my book club. It truly is an ideal book club selection, although I do think many groups will be reluctant to select an 800+ page novel. In addition to talking about the great mystery, there is so much to say about the various characters. I also think it would be interesting to make some comparisons to what is going on in our country today. Some of the other themes you might want to explore include ethical dilemmas, race relations, secrets, family dynamics, truth, corruption, and more!

I loved NATCHEZ BURNING and will be reporting back to you soon with my review of THE BONE TREE. In the meantime, I can't recommend this book enough... so what are you waiting for? You have plenty of time to read the first two books in this trilogy before the final installment will be released in March!

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, October 15, 2016

Kid Konnection: Star Wars Poster-A-Page & Giveaway

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 poster book that's perfect for the Star Wars fan in your life!

Summary: The creatures, ships, and droids of Star Wars are some of the most beloved and collected "characters" of the Skywalker Saga. Wookiees and Tusken Raiders; the Death Star and the Millennium Falcon; R2-D2 and B1 Battle Droids-all the fan favorites are represented in this new collection of posters featuring memorable quotes and moments, character galleries, fun facts, and much more from the first six Star Wars films.

Every page is a poster in this full-color collection, plus fans get six additional supersized, fold-out posters, and one special color-in poster they can make all their own. The Poster-A-Page series offers kids the opportunity to bring their favorite friends and stories into their homes and onto their walls, and to become part of their world. -- Time Inc./Liberty Street

I know it's only the middle of October, but I admit that I'm thinking about Christmas gifts. I haven't purchased many presents yet, but I am starting my lists. If you're offended that I'm already talking Christmas here at Booking Mama and it's not even Halloween, please don't stop reading! Just substitute "birthday gift ideas" because I've found an awesome book and it's less than $13 -- less than $10 if you order here.

The book I am so excited about is STAR WARS CREATURES, SHIPS & DROIDS POSTER-A-PAGE. This isn't your typical book. Rather, it's a collection of posters. This full size paperback book includes loads of Star Wars posters including seven giant, full color pull-out posters. There is even a coloring page poster which features fan favorites like Yoda, R2-D2, C3PO and more!

As terrific as the various posters are, this book also includes some fun Star Wars trivia. There are recognizable quotes, blurbs with fun facts, details about the characters, and more! There are even brief specifications of the various ships that appear in the Star Wars movies. I guarantee even the most avid Star Wars fans will find a lot to appreciate in this book.

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

I am so excited that I have a copy of STAR WARS CREATURES, SHIPS & DROIDS to share with one lucky reader. To enter, just fill out the form below by October 28th at 11:59 p.m. EST. I will randomly select and notify the winner the following day. This contest is open to those of you with U.S. addresses only. Good luck!

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!

Friday, October 14, 2016

Review: The Wangs vs. The World & Giveaway

Summary: A hilarious debut novel about a wealthy but fractured Chinese immigrant family that had it all, only to lose every last cent—and about the road trip they take across America that binds them back together.

Charles Wang is mad at America. A brash, lovable immigrant businessman who built a cosmetics empire and made a fortune, he’s just been ruined by the financial crisis. Now all Charles wants is to get his kids safely stowed away so that he can go to China and attempt to reclaim his family’s ancestral lands—and his pride.

Charles pulls Andrew, his aspiring comedian son, and Grace, his style-obsessed daughter, out of schools he can no longer afford. Together with their stepmother, Barbra, they embark on a cross-country road trip from their foreclosed Bel-Air home to the upstate New York hideout of the eldest daughter, disgraced art world it-girl Saina. But with his son waylaid by a temptress in New Orleans, his wife ready to defect for a set of 1,000-thread-count sheets, and an epic smash-up in North Carolina, Charles may have to choose between the old world and the new, between keeping his family intact and finally fulfilling his dream of starting anew in China.

Outrageously funny and full of charm, The Wangs vs. the World is an entirely fresh look at what it means to belong in America—and how going from glorious riches to (still name-brand) rags brings one family together in a way money never could.

· One of Entertainment Weekly's Most Anticipated Titles of 2016
· A Fall 2016 Barnes & Noble Discover Pick
· A Publishers Lunch Fall 16 Buzz Book
· A The Millions Most Anticipated Book
· One of Library Journal’s “Five Big Debuts” for Fall 16 -- HMH

As many of you already know, I attended SIBA last month. One of the most talked about books was THE WANGS VS. THE WORLD by Jade Chang. It was described to me as a family road trip starring a Chinese family who is facing hard times and wants to recover their rightful land back in China. What???? Now, that sounded like an original premise!

I came home from SIBA to discover that THE WANGS VS. THE WORLD is getting even more buzz. It's getting terrific reviews and it's one of Entertainment Weekly's Most Anticipated Titles of 2016 along with receiving a starred review from Publishers Weekly. You can check out the book description above to see more accolades!

So it was with much anticipation that I picked up THE WANGS VS. THE WORLD last week. And I have to say, I was not disappointed. This book lived up to its crazy description and I enjoyed it for so many reasons. Quite honestly, I am shocked that this is Ms. Chang's debut novel. It is so smart and witty and even kind of/sort of heartwarming!

THE WANGS VS. THE WORLD tells the story of The Wangs. Charles Wang was living the American dream...until he wasn't. He immigrated from China to establish a successful cosmetic company and he made a boatload of money. When the financial crisis leaves him with next to nothing, Charles takes his maid's car (he doesn't even have a car!) and sets out with his wife and two children to drive across the United States to his other daughter's house in the Catskills. He decides that his family's land in China is still rightly his and wants to go back to China to claim it!

That's kind of a very high level description of this book. Truly, there's so much more to this story. Charles is definitely a brash man who isn't afraid of going after what he wants, but the rest of his family are also unique characters in their own right. There's Barbra (she named herself after Streisand!), his second wife; Andrew, his college age son who wants to be a stand-up comic; Grace his high school daughter who is a successful fashion blogger; and Saina, his artist daughter who has left the New York art world in the wake of embarrassment.

While I most definitely enjoyed THE WANGS VS. THE WORLD, I am finding it difficult to clearly articulate the essence of this novel. It literary is a crazy ride that takes the Wangs from Los Angeles, to Arizona, to New Orleans, to Alabama to Saina's home in the Catskills. There are hilarious adventures in each city that give the readers some insight into the characters. For example, Andrew is an aspiring comedian who wants to use each stop on the road trip as a way to practice his stand-up. The novel includes his hit and miss routines and how Andrew dealt with them, but it also included Andrew's relationship with an older woman and the fallout!

The chapters that detailed the family's road trip were juxtaposed with Saina's life in rural New York. The reader learns her background story about her past relationship as well as her shameful exit from the New York City art world. In addition, there is a bit of a love triangle involving Saina. She is torn between feelings for her past (untrustworthy) boyfriend and her new (very sweet) boyfriend. It's an interesting side story that just added to my enjoyment of the novel and this family's trials and tribulations.

However, what I enjoyed the most about THE WANGS VS. THE WORLD was how smart this book was. I loved how the author used Andrew's comic routine to poke fun (or highlight!) some terrific observations about life and especially being an immigrant in this country. In addition, I loved how the author was able to include so much humor into the story, and yet still made readers think. The characters were insane and not always likable, but (and this is a big but) I thought one of the book's messages was the importance of family. Even though this family had lost every material thing in their lives, they still had each other... for better or worse. I think it's safe to say that I laughed a lot at these zany characters, but I also found myself rooting for them!

I do think THE WANGS VS. THE WORLD would make a great book club selection. There is a reading guide available with ten interesting questions. Some of the topics you might want to further explore include wealth, the American dream, immigration, racism, art, love, gender, sibling relationships, and family dynamics.

Overall, I thought THE WANGS VS. THE WORLD is a very special book... and truly unlike anything I've ever read. Highly recommended!

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

Giveaway alert: I have a copy of THE WANGS VS. THE WORLD to share with one lucky reader courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. To enter, just fill out the form below by October 26th at 11:59 p.m. EST. I will randomly select and notify the winner the following day. This contest is open to those of you with U.S. addresses only. Good luck!

Visit the Official Site
Follow on Instagram: @hellojadechang | @hmhbooks | @thewangsbook
Follow on Twitter: @thejadechang | @hmhbooks
Like HMH Books on Facebook

For more information about Jade Chang, check out this:
Author Q&A
National Tour Schedule

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Review: Karolina's Twins

Summary: She made a promise in desperation

Now it's time to keep it

Lena Woodward, elegant and poised, has lived a comfortable life among Chicago Society since she immigrated to the US and began a new life at the end of World War II. But now something has resurfaced that Lena cannot ignore: an unfulfilled promise she made long ago that can no longer stay buried.

Driven to renew the quest that still keeps her awake at night, Lena enlists the help of lawyer Catherine Lockhart and private investigator Liam Taggart. Behind Lena’s stoic facade are memories that will no longer be contained. She begins to recount a tale, harkening back to her harrowing past in Nazi-occupied Poland, of the bond she shared with her childhood friend Karolina. Karolina was vivacious and beautiful, athletic and charismatic, and Lena has cherished the memory of their friendship her whole life. But there is something about the story that is unfinished, questions that must be answered about what is true and what is not, and what Lena is willing to risk to uncover the past. Has the real story been hidden these many years? And if so, why?

Two girls, coming of age in a dangerous time, bearers of secrets that only they could share.

Just when you think there could not be anything new to ferret out from World War II comes Karolina's Twins, a spellbinding new novel by the bestselling author of Once We Were Brothers and Saving Sophie. In this richly woven tale of love, survival and resilience during some of the darkest hours, the unbreakable bond between girlhood friends will have consequences into the future and beyond. -- St. Martin's Press

I am a sucker for historical fiction books that take place around World War II. A few years ago, I read and thoroughly enjoyed ONCE WE WERE BROTHERS by Ronald H. Balson -- you can read my review here. Somehow, I missed Mr. Balson's second novel SAVING SOPHIE (although I do have it somewhere). I decided to go ahead and read his latest release KAROLINA'S TWINS. Once again I was impressed with Mr. Balson's writing... and now I absolutely have to read SAVING SOPHIE! This man can really tell a story!

KAROLINA'S TWINS tells the story of Lena Woodward, a widow in her 80s who came to the U.S. from Poland after World War II. She has had a good life living with her husband and son in Chicago, but she made a promised years ago that she's compelled to fulfill. She wants to find the twin daughters of her friend Karolina who died in the Holocaust. However, her son doesn't want his mother drudging up all of these horrible memories. He wants control of her affairs (and her money) and is trying to have her deemed mentally incompetent.

And that's where the husband and wife team of Catherine Lockhart and Liam Taggart enter the picture. You might remember this couple from Mr. Balson's prior novels. Catherine is an attorney and Liam is a private investigator, and they have received some notoriety for solving difficult Holocaust cases. Lena hires these two to help her find Karolina's twins.

The novel unfolds as Lena incrementally reveals her story to Catherine. She describes her special friendship with Karolina as well as her unbelievable past in Nazi-occupied Poland. The reader learns that Lena and Karolina were sent to work in a clothing factory and that Karolina's German lover provided the girls with food that kept them alive. Eventually, the two girls are sent to a work camp (not without some intervention from Karolina's boyfriend). This camp isn't quite a bad as a concentration camp, but it's still horrific; and Karolina and Lena are told that the Nazis will take the twins and kill them. Together, they come up with a plan to save the twins that might cause them both to lose their lives in the process.

As Catherine learns more and more about Lena's past, she realizes that Lena doesn't seem to be suffering from dementia; however, she does feel as if Lena might not be telling her the entire story. Can Catherine and Liam piece together the truth and help Lena find the twins... and can they do it in time to save Lena from her son's attempt to have her declared mentally incompetent?

I found KAROLINA'S TWINS to be a riveting read, and I have to say that I'm a fan of Mr. Balson's storytelling abilities. I was definitely intrigued by Lena's story, and I feel as if the author did a remarkable job of bringing the horrors of the Holocaust to life. I will admit to appreciating Holocaust survival stories, and Lena's story was quite remarkable.

I also really liked the role that Catherine and Liam played in the novel. This couple is a fantastic team both personally and professionally; and I love how they work together to discover the truth. Catherine played a larger role in this novel because she was the one who spent hours listening to Lena's story, and I appreciated how the author drew parallels between her and Lena. Catherine is expecting her first child so she could definitely relate to Lena's desire to find the twins and keep her promise to Karolina.

I don't want to give too much away about this story, but I will admit that I figured out the "twist" or "twists" fairly early on in my reading. I don't think I'm especially perceptive, but I did suspect where the novel was going. That's not to say that figuring things out took away from my enjoyment of the novel or Lena's story; however, I wish I could have been more surprised.

I think KAROLINA'S TWINS would make an outstanding book club selection. There is a reading guide available with ten thought-provoking questions. Some of the themes you might want to explore include parent/child relationships, friendship, sacrifices, guilt, grief, loss, pregnancy, motherhood, dementia, aging, religion, faith, war, memories, and secrets. I also think it would be interesting to discuss the various characters and the roles they played in Lena's story.

Overall, KAROLINA'S TWINS is a must-read novel for fans of World War II and Holocaust stories. Highly recommended.

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

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Booking Mamas' October Meeting

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

Last night, the Booking Mamas met to discuss THE PERFECT GIRL by Gilly Macmillan. I really enjoyed this novel and already shared my thoughts with you earlier this week. It was interesting to discover that our group had some very different opinions about the book -- from liking it quite a bit to barely being able to finish it. Honestly, I wasn't surprised that everyone didn't enjoy it as much as I did, but I was a little surprised that anyone felt that negatively towards it.

I had high hopes for our discussion of THE PERFECT GIRL. I actually thought there was quite a bit to discuss about the various characters and their actions; however, that wasn't the case of us last night. To be honest, it wasn't a very productive book club meeting unless you count catching up with each other since last month. There are discussion questions for the novel -- which are pretty darn thought-provoking; however, we never even looked at them.

The meeting started right off the bat with a discussion about the ending of the novel. There were some slightly different interpretations about who knew what. I can't really say too much more or I'll give away a MAJOR spoiler. We also discussed what we thought happened to each of the characters after the last page of the novel. I thought that was interesting and I can't really remember us doing that very often over the last 15 years.

Next month, we will be reading THE GIRL IN THE CASTLE by Santa Montefiore. We had quite a few choices this month that looked good so the decision wasn't easy. Each member listed their top three choices, and while THE GIRL IN THE CASTLE wasn't everyone's first choice, it was in everyone's (or almost everyone's) top three.

I am super excited about this selection. Ms. Montefiore is an international bestseller and I've never read one of her novels. I can't wait to see what all the fuss is about. Also, the story takes place in Ireland! I visited Ireland a couple of years ago and fell in love with this beautiful country. I'm hoping this novel will take me back!

Summary: International sensation Santa Montefiore presents the first book in a trilogy that follows three Irish women through the decades of the twentieth century—perfect for fans of Kate Morton and Hazel Gaynor.

Born on the ninth day of the ninth month in the year 1900, Kitty Deverill is special as her grandmother has always told her. Built on the stunning green hills of West Cork, Ireland, Castle Deverill is Kitty’s beloved home, where many generations of Deverills have also resided. Although she’s Anglo-Irish, Kitty’s heart completely belongs to the wild countryside of the Emerald Isle, and her devotion to her Irish-Catholic friends Bridie Doyle, the daughter of the castle’s cook, and Jack O’Leary, the vet’s son, is unmatched—even if Jack is always reminding her that she isn’t fully Irish. Still, Jack and Kitty can’t help falling in love although they both know their union faces the greatest obstacles since they are from different worlds.

Bridie cherishes her friendship with Kitty, who makes her feel more like her equal than a servant. Yet she can’t help dreaming of someday having all the wealth and glamour Kitty’s station in life affords her. But when she discovers a secret that Kitty has been keeping from her, Bridie finds herself growing resentful toward the girl in the castle who seems to have it all.

When the Irish revolt to throw over British rule in Southern Ireland, Jack enlists to fight. Worried for her safety, Jack warns Kitty to keep her distance, but she refuses and throws herself into the cause for Irish liberty, running messages and ammunition between the rebels. But as Kitty soon discovers, her allegiance to her family and her friends will be tested—and when Castle Deverill comes under attack, the only home and life she’s ever known are threatened.

A powerful story of love, loyalty, and friendship, The Girl in the Castle is an exquisitely written novel set against the magical, captivating landscape of Ireland. -- William Morrow

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Review: Hungry Heart

Summary: Jennifer Weiner is many things: a bestselling author, a Twitter phenomenon, and an “unlikely feminist enforcer” (The New Yorker). She’s also a mom, a daughter and a sister, a former rower and current clumsy yogini, a wife, a friend, and a reality-TV devotee. In her first essay collection, she takes the raw stuff of her life and spins it into a collection of tales of modern-day womanhood as uproariously funny and moving as the best of Nora Ephron and Tina Fey. Born in Louisiana, raised in Connecticut, educated at Princeton, Jennifer spent years feeling like an outsider (“a Lane Bryant outtake in an Abercrombie & Fitch world”) before finding her people in newsrooms, and her voice as a novelist, activist, and New York Times columnist.

No subject is off-limits in these intimate and honest stories: sex, weight, envy, money, her mother’s coming out of the closet, her estranged father’s death. From lonely adolescence to modern childbirth to hearing her six-year-old daughter say the f-word—fat—for the first time, Jen dives deep into the heart of female experience, with the wit and candor that have endeared her to readers all over the world.

Hilarious and moving, Hungry Heart is about yearning and fulfillment, loss and love, and a woman who searched for her place in the world, and found it as a storyteller. -- Atria

I wasn't entirely sure that I wanted to read the new book HUNGRY HEART: ADVENTURES IN LIFE, LOVE, AND WRITING by Jennifer Weiner. I consider myself a pretty big fan and I think I've read all of her adult novels. However, I will admit that they are hit and miss for me the past few years. The thing is, Ms. Weiner is a somewhat controversial figure in her public life... or should I say on Twitter; and I don't always agree with how she conveys her message (even when I do agree with her message!) Truth be told, I wasn't sure I'd like 400 pages of her story.

Well count me wrong! I actually enjoyed HUNGRY HEART quite a bit, and I give major kudos to Ms. Weiner for being so honest. Don't get me wrong, Ms. Weiner can be hilarious. (Proof in point is her debut novel GOOD IN BED which I loved!) And I did find HUNGRY HEART to be very funny. However, it was her honestly in dealing with the more serious issues in her life that really captured my interest. She delved into her relationship (or lack thereof) with her father, her mother's decision to come out as a lesbian, her weight issues, her divorce, and more!

After finished HUNGRY HEART, I felt as if I understood Ms. Weiner much better; and I even understand her tendency to lash out sometimes on social media. Just because she is a public figure and best-selling author, I guess I assumed that her life was pretty amazing. Don't get me wrong, she does have a pretty great life (as she will admit), but she also dealt with some pretty serious issues in her past that have affected her. And that goes back to my respect for how much she was willing to share in this story. She didn't always portray herself in the best light. Not even close.

When I say that Ms. Weiner was honest in this story, I mean brutally honest. I don't want to portray her as some hero because I suspect that many of her readers will have experienced similar problems; however, I do think that her openness about her challenges might help other women who read HUNGRY HEART. She openly describes some pretty ugly times in her life and how she managed to bounce back. There is no doubt that Ms. Weiner was shaped by the sum of her experiences, and she probably is a better writer as a result.

Overall, I definitely appreciated HUNGRY HEART, and I highly recommend it to her fiction fans as well as other female readers who enjoy a good memoir.

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