Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Review: Among the Living

Summary: A moving novel about a Holocaust survivor’s unconventional journey back to a new normal in 1940s Savannah, Georgia

In late summer 1947, thirty-one-year-old Yitzhak Goldah, a camp survivor, arrives in Savannah to live with his only remaining relatives. They are Abe and Pearl Jesler, older, childless, and an integral part of the thriving Jewish community that has been in Georgia since the founding of the colony. There, Yitzhak discovers a fractured world, where Reform and Conservative Jews live separate lives–distinctions, to him, that are meaningless given what he has been through. He further complicates things when, much to the Jeslers’ dismay, he falls in love with Eva, a young widow within the Reform community. When a woman from Yitzhak’s past suddenly appears–one who is even more shattered by the war than he is–Yitzhak must choose between a dark and tortured familiarity and the promise of a bright new life.

Set amid the backdrop of America’s postwar south, Among the Living grapples with questions of identity and belonging, and steps beyond the Jewish experience as it situates Yitzhak’s story within the last gasp of the Jim Crow era. That he begins to find echoes of his recent past in the lives of the black family who work for the Jeslers–an affinity he does not share with the Jeslers themselves–both surprises and convinces Yitzhak that his choices are not as clear-cut as he might think. -- Other Press

After visiting Savannah for this year's SIBA convention, I knew I wanted to read AMONG THE LIVING by Jonathan Rabb. This novel takes place in Savannah in the late 1940s; and after falling in love with the city, I was curious to see how Savannah would be portrayed. In addition, the description of this novel was intriguing to say the least -- a Holocaust survivor immigrating to the United States.

AMONG THE LIVING tells the story of Yitzhak Goldah, a survivor of the concentration camps in Nazi Germany. Two years after his release, he moves to Savannah to live with Abe and Pearl Jesler, his only known relatives. Abe and Pearl are an older couple without children, and they are anxious to introduce Yitzhak into their closely knit Conservative Jewish community in Savannah.

Yitzhak has a bit of a culture shock to say the least when he arrives in Savannah. He quickly realizes that there is an interesting dynamic between the Reform and Conservative Jews -- basically they live entirely separate lives; and he doesn't really feel their differences are all that important considering what he's lived through in Germany.

In addition, Yitzhak's life is further complicated when he falls in love with Eva, a widow with a young son whose husband died in the war. Eva's family is part of the Reform community, and their relationship is quite controversial. And then a woman from Yitzhak's past shows up, one whom he thought was dead; and he is forced to decide whether he wants to go back to his past life or start a new one with Eva.

I am really torn about AMONG THE LIVING. Overall, I liked the book and found the writing to be pretty special. And for the most part, I appreciated the complexity of the novel (more on that later!) However, it was almost as if there was too much going on. There were a few storylines that I thought weren't exactly necessary, and maybe even took away from the quiet beauty of the novel.

My description of AMONG THE LIVING doesn't really encompass everything the book is about. There is a storyline concerning Abe Jesler and his shoe business that I didn't really enjoy. It has to do with an illegal business, and while I understand why it was in the story, I felt as if it was a bit of a departure from the rest of the story. Maybe it was because I so enjoyed the parts of Yitzhak's assimilation (or lack thereof in some cases) into Savannah's society, but I found myself wanting more of that rather than the Abe's business troubles.

I actually found Yitzhak's character to be incredibly well written. I loved seeing the challenges he faced when he arrived in the South. For example, one of the first things the Jeslers did was Americanize his name -- just think about that. In addition, the longtime Jewish community is Savannah was totally separated based on whether they were Reform and Conservative. Naturally, Yitzhak falls in love with someone outside of the Jeslers' community, and he's perplexed as to why these Jews should have such differences. Heck, he survived a concentration camp and these people can't socialize together because their religious views are different?

Another aspect of the story that I really, really liked was how the author juxtaposed what the Jews in Europe experienced with what the blacks in the South experienced. Granted, there are some major differences but there are quite a few similarities too. I found it particularly interesting that Yitzhak could relate more to the blacks in the story than the Jews. All in all, I thought these race issues provided a lot of food for thought.

This might sound a bit shallow in a book about such serious issues, but I loved that Savannah was the setting. I had no idea that there was such a prominent Jewish community in the city, one that had been there since the founding of the colony. What I found so much fun, though, was that the characters actually visited places that I went to during my trip to Savannah like Leopold's ice cream shop and the Crystal Beer Parlor.

I do think AMONG THE LIVING would make an interesting book club selection. I was happy to find a reading guide with eleven thought-provoking questions. There are so many huge issues to discuss including race, religion, and class; and I have no doubt that you could analyze Yitzhak's life and decisions for some time.

Overall, I enjoyed AMONG THE LIVING and found the character development and writing to be very good. It also delved into some very interesting concepts that will make you think long after finishing the book.

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

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Review: Paris for One

Summary: Nell is twenty-six and has never been to Paris. She’s never even been on a romantic weekend away—to anywhere—before. Traveling abroad isn’t really her thing. But when Nell’s boyfriend fails to show up for their mini-vacation, she has the opportunity to prove everyone—including herself—wrong. Alone in Paris, Nell finds a version of herself she never knew existed: independent and intrepid. Could this turn out to be the most adventurous weekend of her life? Funny, charming, and irresistible, Paris for One is quintessential Jojo Moyes—as are the other stories that round out the collection. -- Pamela Dorman Books

It sure seems like you can't go wrong with a book from the Pamela Dorman imprint. Maybe one of the reasons I'm so fond of her books is because she publishes Jojo Moyes! Ms. Moyes' latest book, PARIS FOR ONE & OTHER STORIES, is a little bit of a departure for her -- but not really! While it's a collection of stories instead of a full length novel, the main themes are still about women and love.

PARIS FOR ONE begins with a novella called... "Paris for One," and then is followed by eight short stories. "Paris for One" tells the story of Nell, a young woman who has never been to Paris but has always dreamed of having a romantic weekend there. She books a trip with her boyfriend (who we learn pretty early on is a bit of a jerk!), and he decides not to show up last minute -- last minute like Nell is already there! Instead of rushing home, Nell decides to prove to everyone that she can have a wonderful time without worrying about every little thing. She makes the best of Paris... and even meets a guy!

The following eight short stories have similar themes to "Paris for One." They are focus on women who aren't exactly content in their lives and searching for something more. There is a story about a woman who meets a former lover at a dinner party and learns that things weren't quite how she remembered. Another story tells about a husband and wife who go away for a much-needed long weekend, and the wife ends up discovering what's important to her. And there is one story (my favorite actually) that shows what happens when one woman wears another woman's shoes for the day!

I have to admit that I enjoyed the novella more than most of the stories. That could just be my bias because I'm not a huge fan of short stories, but I definitely liked it the most. I think the character of Nell just captured my heart... and it's possible that I could relate a bit to her. "Paris for One" was such a sweet story about a woman who discovered the potential of living and love. And it had all the trademarks of a Jojo Moyes love story -- romance, humor, and charm.

Overall, I think PARIS FOR ONE & OTHER STORIES is a fun read... and perfect for this time of year when you just need a little escape from the hectic nature of the season. I highly recommend this book for fans of Jojo Moyes and readers who enjoy sweet stories about love and women.

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

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Kid Konnection: Little Babymouse and the Christmas Cupcakes

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 book that's sure to put you in the Christmas spirit!

Summary: Graphic-novel darling Babymouse makes her picture-book debut in a Christmas story . . . all about cupcakes! (Typical.)

Thank goodness Babymouse ate all of the Christmas cookies her mom made for Santa. Now she can make him something he really wants—CUPCAKES! But wait . . . what’s that rumbling in the other room? OH NO! A DRAGON!!!!! Can Sir Babymouse defeat her fiery foe and save Christmas?! Or at least save a cupcake or two? Maybe not. . . .

Jennifer and Matthew Holm bring us Babymouse’s very first full-color adventure! With signature Babymouse humor, comic book–style panels, and oodles of pink-frosted cupcakes, new readers and devoted fans alike will find plenty to love. -- Random House

It's officially the Christmas season and I thought it would be timely share with you the adorable picture book LITTLE BABYMOUSE AND THE CHRISTMAS CUPCAKES by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm. Many of you already know Babymouse from the terrific graphic novel series, but now little ones can "meet" Babymouse for themselves.

In LITTLE BABYMOUSE AND THE CHRISTMAS CUPCAKES, Babymouse is only four years old and she already has a vivid imagination. She has already eaten all of the Christmas cookies that her mother made for Santa, so Babymouse decides to make Santa cupcakes instead. She's so excited about the cupcakes that she can't even wait for her mom to help her, but then she hears a dragon in the other room! Babymouse takes on the dragon, and all that fighting makes her very hungry. Will there be any cupcakes left for Santa?

LITTLE BABYMOUSE AND THE CHRISTMAS CUPCAKES is so cute. It's a little departure for the author/illustrator team because it's a full color picture book instead of a graphic novel for early readers, but I think it's going to be a success with the younger crowd. The story is just the right amount of silliness and excitement, and the irresistible illustrations appear in a comic book-style panels.

I found LITTLE BABYMOUSE AND THE CHRISTMAS CUPCAKES to be a whole lot of fun, and   I'm certain new and old fans of Babymouse will not be disappointed!

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!

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Guest Review: Assassin's Silence

Summary: USA Today bestselling author Ward Larsen's celebrated protagonist, assassin David Slaton, returns for another breathless adventure in Assassin's Silence

Every so often, a great assassin novel comes along: Brad Meltzer's The Fifth Assassin, David Baldacci's The Hit, Daniel Silva's The Kill Artist. Now Ward Larsen brings us Assassin's Silence, featuring David Slaton, hero of Larsen's Assassin's Game and the award-winning The Perfect Assassin.

When it comes to disappearing, David Slaton has few equals. Police in three countries have written off trying to find him. His old employer, Mossad, keeps no forwarding address. Even his wife and son are convinced he is dead. So when an assault team strikes, Slaton is taken by surprise. He kills one man and manages to escape.

Half a world away, in the baleful heat of the Amazon, an obscure air cargo company purchases a derelict airliner. Teams of mechanics work feverishly to make the craft airworthy. On the first flight, the jet plunges toward the ocean.

The CIA assesses the two spectacles: a practiced killer leaving a trail of bodies across Europe, and a large airplane disappearing without a trace. The two affairs are increasingly seen to be intertwined. Langley realizes the killer is a man long thought to be dead, and the lost airliner has been highly modified into a tool of unimaginable terror.

When their worst fears are realized, Langley must trust the one man who can save them: David Slaton, the perfect assassin. -- Tor/Forge

I have to give my dad credit for picking up ASSASSIN'S SILENCE by Ward Larsen. It's the third novel in the series, and often times, it's difficult to pick up a book part-way through a series. However, it sounds like it worked as a stand-along. Here are his thoughts:

ASSASSIN’S SILENCE is author Ward Larsen’s third novel in his series featuring Israeli Mossad assassin David Slaton as the main character. The novel’s opening prologue describes a scene where radioactive material is discovered in the ruins of a bombed-out Syrian village. The story then moves to Slaton living a life as a stone mason on the island of Malta after faking his death to protect his wife and the child he’s never seen. Even his wife believes he is dead. Surprisingly, an enemy learns of his new identity and Slaton must escape from an attack on his life. Slaton’s training naturally puts him on a hunt to find the who and why of the attack. His search takes him to Europe and the Middle East where Slaton has left a trail of bodies. He also realizes his family could also be in danger and sets a plan in motion to project them. At the same time, an old airliner sitting at a remote airport in Brazil is quickly purchased, refurbished and then it mysteriously disappears off the coast of Brazil. Each of these events draws the attention of the CIA and the more they learn, the more they realize the events are not mutually exclusive. The CIA and David Slaton must work together to prevent a horrendous terror attack.

Ward Larsen has taken several different suspenseful storylines with an interesting cast of characters and skillfully pulls it all together in an exciting novel. The combination of the CIA, an ex-Mossad agent and his family, radioactive material and a mysterious plane crash mesh nicely into a first rate thriller. Among all the twists and turns, Larsen saves his best for last and closes this classic thriller with a great finish. Anyone who enjoys thrillers will like ASSASSIN’S SILENCE. Although the novel stands on its own I believe reading the prior David Slaton novel would only increase the enjoyment in reading ASSASSIN’S SILENCE.

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

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Review: I'll Take You There

Summary: In this radiant homage to the resiliency, strength, and power of women, Wally Lamb—author of numerous New York Times bestselling novels including She’s Come Undone, I Know This Much is True, and We Are Water—weaves an evocative, deeply affecting tapestry of one Baby Boomer's life and the trio of unforgettable women who have changed it.

I’ll Take You There centers on Felix, a film scholar who runs a Monday night movie club in what was once a vaudeville theater. One evening, while setting up a film in the projectionist booth, he’s confronted by the ghost of Lois Weber, a trailblazing motion picture director from Hollywood’s silent film era. Lois invites Felix to revisit—and in some cases relive—scenes from his past as they are projected onto the cinema’s big screen.

In these magical movies, the medium of film becomes the lens for Felix to reflect on the women who profoundly impacted his life. There’s his daughter Aliza, a Gen Y writer for New York Magazine who is trying to align her post-modern feminist beliefs with her lofty career ambitions; his sister, Frances, with whom he once shared a complicated bond of kindness and cruelty; and Verna, a fiery would-be contender for the 1951 Miss Rheingold competition, a beauty contest sponsored by a Brooklyn-based beer manufacturer that became a marketing phenomenon for two decades. At first unnerved by these ethereal apparitions, Felix comes to look forward to his encounters with Lois, who is later joined by the spirits of other celluloid muses.

Against the backdrop of a kaleidoscopic convergence of politics and pop culture, family secrets, and Hollywood iconography, Felix gains an enlightened understanding of the pressures and trials of the women closest to him, and of the feminine ideals and feminist realities that all women, of every era, must face. -- Harper

I'm going to preface this review by stating that I adore Wally Lamb. I have read all of his novels and loved them, and I also had the opportunity to meet him at a Harper Collins BEA party one year. I was a little out of sorts, but I remember him being extremely friendly and gracious... and pretty good at holding a conversation with a crazy fan!

So it goes without saying that I was extremely excited to get my hands on a copy of his latest novel I'LL TAKE YOU THERE. This book stars Felix Funicello  (remember him from WISHIN' AND HOPIN'?), and it is being released in tandem with an app version for the iPad and iPhone. I haven't seen the app -- I've only read about it on USA Today's website -- but the basic gist is that it will have "audio dramatization, soundtrack, film clips and 360-degree gallery."

It sounds a little crazy but I imagine it will work for I'LL TAKE YOU THERE because the background of this story (which is also a little crazy) takes place in an old vaudeville theater. Felix, who is preparing for the Monday night movie club that he hosts, is greeted by the spirit of Lois Weber. For those of you who don't know Ms. Weber (like me!), she was a female movie director from the silent film era who was way ahead of her time. Ms. Weber takes Felix on a film journey as scenes from his youth are presented on the theater's big screen. Other famous figures from the film industry show up to "talk with" Felix too!

As Felix watches some of the important movies from his past, he is able to see various women who had an impact on his life. He reflects on his relationship with his sisters, especially Frances who had some pretty major issues during her teen years. In addition, he "meets" Verna, a young woman who wanted to be the 1951 Miss Rheingold but ended up dying far too young. These scenes are interwoven with present day conversations between Felix and his adult daughter Aliza, a writer for a New York magazine who is conflicted between her views on women and her role at the magazine.

All in all, I enjoyed I'LL TAKE YOU THERE but it wasn't my favorite Wally Lamb novel. While I definitely appreciated that this novel explored the issues women have faced through the years, I didn't really understand why he used the ghosts and movies to convey these messages. I would have much preferred for Felix to just narrate these women's stories (although I'm not sure how he would have discovered the truth behind these women without the movies.) I guess what I'm saying is that I enjoyed the women's stories. I just didn't love the vehicle Mr. Lamb used to bring them to Felix's attention.

Maybe it's because the ghost and movie aspect just felt a little fake to me. These scenes had some silly aspects to them which didn't exactly jive with some of the more serious themes of the story. Mr. Lamb has never been one that shied away from painful issues, and this book was no exception. I don't want to give too much away, but there were some really important topics discussed in this novel including adoption, anorexia, mental illness, and unwanted pregnancy.

One interesting thing that was included in the novel was a magazine article written by Felix's daughter about the history of the Miss Rheingold contest. I guess I'm too young, but this marketing campaign was a pretty big deal back in the day. A Brooklyn based beer company had regular old people vote for a Miss Rheingold each year for over two decades. I found her article to be very interesting because of the history of the competition but also because it says a lot about how far women have come through the years. I also appreciated that Mr. Lamb used the Miss Rheingold story to link the present day with one of the past female characters.

Overall, I found I'LL TAKE YOU THERE to be a beautiful tribute to women and feminism by one of my very favorite authors. While I didn't love every single aspect of this book, I still think it's worth the read. I'm also very curious to check out how the app works with the story.

I received a copy of this novel at the 2016 SIBA trade show.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Review: Fidelity

Summary: A gripping debut novel from “the FBI’s First Lady” (Vanity Fair) Jan Fedarcyk, featuring a brilliant young Special Agent named Kay Malloy, whose assignment to the Counterintelligence Program in New York City has devastating consequences—both personal and professional.

Kay Malloy always knew hers would be a life of service. Following the tragic death of her humanitarian parents, Kay and her brother, Christopher, were raised in a world of wealth and culture by their godparents. With ambition and selflessness, Kay joins the FBI to honor her parent’s legacy, even while Christopher’s life grows increasingly aimless.

Paramilitary and male-dominated, the FBI could be an intimidating employer to anyone less confident, devoted, and insightful than Kay. But after early success in the Violent Crime Program in Baltimore she struggles working counterintelligence in New York. When Kay is assigned to investigate the loss of Russian government double agents, she sees this as her chance to prove herself. As pressure mounts and conflicting leads cloud the investigation, Kay discovers she must make the impossible choice between those she loves and the country she’s sworn to protect.

Filled with vivid detail from retired FBI Special Agent Jan Fedarcyk, Fidelity is both a thrilling, authentic look into the workings of the FBI and the gripping story of one woman’s fight to honor both love and duty. -- Simon & Schuster

I try to read a variety of mysteries/thrillers for Mystery Mondays, so I was excited to discover a debut author -- Jan Fedarcyk. Ms. Fedarcyk is a former FBI Special Agent and Former Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI'S New York Office, and her new novel is titled FIDELITY. I figured if nothing else, they book should be pretty authentic, right? FIDELITY is the first novel in the Kay Malloy series, and I think it's a pretty good beginning.

FIDELITY tells the story of Kay Malloy, a young officer who has recently been assigned to the Counterintelligence Program in New York City after having success and making a big bust in Baltimore's Violent Crime Program. She's very excited about her new assignment, but little does she know, that this job could have devastating effects on her career... and her life.

Kay is assigned to investigate Russian government double agents. It sounds kind of glamorous, but she quickly learns that her job involves a lot of research and drudgery. However, Kate is devoted and wants to prove herself. She's always the last one to leave the office. As Kate becomes more involved in the investigation, the lines become blurry; and Kate has to decide where her loyalty lies -- with her country or her family!

I enjoyed FIDELITY and think Ms. Fedarcyk is on to something with this series. Kay is a likable and interesting character, and I do look forward to seeing more of her crime-solving skills in the future. Since this is the first novel in the series, the author did spend some time establishing Kay's character. There was background information on Kay's childhood and the loss of her parents to a violent crime. As a result, Kay always wanted to work for the FBI and give back to her country. I definitely appreciated how the author wove the events from Kay's childhood into the present day story.... and that's all I can really say about that without giving away some spoilers.

Another aspect of FIDELITY that I really enjoyed was getting an inside look into the FBI. All to often, the FBI's mission is portrayed as a much more exciting than it really is. I have a feeling that the tedious work that Kay did in the novel is much more representative of reality. There is a tremendous amount of grunt work involved by agents before they can make a bust, and this novel certainly helped to increase my appreciation of their jobs.

Finally, I liked the overall mystery (or should I say mysteries?) in FIDELITY. There were a few twists, especially at the end, that I appreciated a great deal. While I did see one of the surprises coming, I thought the author did a terrific job of revealing the plot twists. Having said that, I do believe the last part of the novel was a bit rushed. I just think the pacing of the ending was a bit quicker than the rest of the story. But truly, that's a small issue -- it didn't take away from my enjoyment of the book.

Overall, FIDELITY is a strong start to a new series. I loved the strong female character of Kay, and I thought the author brought a credible voice to the novel.

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, November 19, 2016

Kid Konnection: A List of Cages & 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 touching young adult book that is getting rave reviews!

Summary: When Adam Blake lands the best elective ever in his senior year, serving as an aide to the school psychologist, he thinks he’s got it made. Sure, it means a lot of sitting around, which isn’t easy for a guy with ADHD, but he can’t complain, since he gets to spend the period texting all his friends. Then the doctor asks him to track down the troubled freshman who keeps dodging her, and Adam discovers that the boy is Julian–the foster brother he hasn’t seen in five years.

Adam is ecstatic to be reunited. At first, Julian seems like the boy he once knew. He’s still kind hearted. He still writes stories and loves picture books meant for little kids. But as they spend more time together, Adam realizes that Julian is keeping secrets, like where he hides during the middle of the day, and what’s really going on inside his house. Adam is determined to help him, but his involvement could cost both boys their lives.

First-time novelist Robin Roe relied on life experience when writing this exquisite, gripping story featuring two lionhearted characters. -- Disney-Hyperion

I am so excited to share with a new young adult novel titled A LIST OF CAGES by Robin Roe. It's not available until January 10, 2017, but it's never too early to talk about a book this special. And special it is! I don't read as much YA as I'd like, but A LIST OF CAGES encompasses what I love best about this genre. It's a touching story about friendship with two very special characters!

A LIST OF CAGES tells the story of two boys -- Adam, a popular senior in high school who also has ADHD and Julian, a freshman who has had a difficult past. Adam is excited to be an aide to the school psychologist, mainly because it's an easy elective. However, one day he is asked to find a boy who hasn't been keeping his meetings with the psychologist. Adam is both surprised and happy to discover that he already knows the boy. Surprise -- it's Julian, the foster brother who Adam hasn't seen for years.

In many ways, Julian is still the same young boy that Adam knew and loved. Adam takes Julian under his wing and encourages the youngster. He even introduces him to his friends. However, Adam notices that Julian is acting odd (odder than normal), and he suspects that Julian is hiding something. Being the nice kid that he is, Adam is determined to help Julian -- not knowing that discovering the truth might have detrimental affects on both of them!

I really enjoyed A LIST OF CAGES. It's an extremely touching story with friendship as the central theme. I loved the messages in this novel, but I also have to admit that the story just about broke my heart. This novel isn't always easy to read and it will make you uncomfortable at times, but it's so worth it. I really can't recommend this novel enough to teens!

One of my absolute favorite things about this book is the characters. Adam and Julian are both incredible kids in very different ways, and I guarantee they will embed themselves into your heart. (You will also think about both of them long after finishing the pages of this novel.) Adam is an extremely mature kid and very loyal; and I absolutely loved how he took a troubled Julian under his wing. And Julian... Julian is just a great kid whose experienced more in his 14 years than any kid should ever have to.

I absolutely loved how well Ms. Roe brought Adam and Julian to life. She made them extremely real to me; and as a result, I felt as if I knew them. I think that's what made this book so special to me. I could feel the pain these two characters were feeling as well as their moments of happiness. I became so vested in their lives and I honestly cared about what happened to them... even though they were just fictional characters.

Another wonderful thing about A LIST OF CAGES was how it portrayed friendship. Adam and Julian most certainly had a special relationship, and it just epitomized how important friendship can be... for all of us. I think we all have gone through a difficult time in our life when we have depended on a friend to help us through it. And goodness knows, Adam certainly was "there" for Julian when he needed him the most!

I don't want to get into politics ever on my blog -- this is my happy place -- but there was one sentence in this book that really resonated to me:

"Hate ricochets, but so does kindness."

I LOVE THIS and I found it especially meaningful over the past ten days or so. There is just so much anger in our country right now -- on both sides, and it makes me so discouraged. However, this one quote, six small words, made me feel hopeful. If we all just try to do some small acts of kindness (they don't have to be a huge as Julian's), maybe it will "ricochet"... and eventually kindness will overwhelm all of the hate. It's worth a shot, and I know I'd rather be hit with kindness any day than all of this anger!

I do think A LIST OF CAGES would be a terrific book club selection for teens. In fact, this book would be great for a classroom discussion too! There are so many relevant themes for today's teens including friendship, loyalty, abuse, secrets, loss, grief, second chances, and compassion. 

Overall, I think A LIST OF CAGES is an outstanding read. It's certainly accumulating a lot of starred reviews and deservedly so! Highly recommended.

Official Links + Social Media
Follow Disney-Hyperion on Twitter and Instagram
Follow Robin Roe on Twitter

Thanks to Disney-Hyperion for providing a review copy of this novel.

Giveaway alert: I have two copies of A LIST OF CAGES to share with one lucky reader and their friend courtesy of the publisher. To enter, just fill  out the form below before December 2nd 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!

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Review: The Girl in the Castle

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

Yesterday I shared with you my book club's thoughts about our November read THE GIRL IN THE CASTLE by Santa Montefiore, the first book in the Deverill Chronicles. Today, I thought I'd share mine. For the most part, I agreed with my friends; however, there were a few things that stood out to me about the book.

THE GIRL IN THE CASTLE tells the story of three very different women who lived in Ireland in the early 20th century. This novel focuses primarily on Kitty Deverill, who lives in a castle in West Cork, Ireland, as her family members have done for years. She is the youngest of four children and her mother wasn't particularly happy for her arrival. As a result, she is very close to her grandmother, a special woman who, like Kitty, has the special gift of seeing the ghosts of ancestors that resided in the castle.

Kitty's family is Anglo-Irish and very wealthy. This proves to be an issue because Kitty's two best friends are Irish Catholic; however, Kitty considers herself 100% Irish. She enjoys the company of her best friend Bridie, the cook's daughter, and Jack O'Leary, the town vet's son. Eventually, she and Jack fall in love despite their different backgrounds and the problems that will follow. As Jack becomes more involved with the Irish revolt to throw over British rule, Kitty wants to help the cause. Despite her background, she ends up running messages and weapons to the rebels; however, some in the resistance resent her and her family. Her home comes under attack as does Kitty's own life!

The novel also explores Bridie, the young girl who is best friends with Kitty despite her modest (and Catholic) background. Brodie is a loyal friend to Kitty but has always longed for the wealth and glamour of Kitty's life. When Bridie discovers that Kitty has feelings for Jack, she feels especially betrayed. She ends up turning to a much older man for comfort, and Bridie finds herself in serious trouble. Bridie eventually ends up heading to America for a job with a crochety old woman!

And finally, to a lesser extent, the novel follows Kitty's English cousin Celia. Celia definitely had a role in this story as she tried to find an acceptable husband for marriage; however, I suspect that she will have a much larger role in the next novel.

One thing I really liked about THE GIRL IN THE CASTLE were the characters. I especially enjoyed seeing how these women grew from young girls to mature women. It was interesting to see how their lives were affected by things outside of their control and how they managed to deal with these problems. In particular, I loved Kitty. At the beginning of the novel, I could tell that she had great qualities, yet I felt sorry for her because her parents weren't exactly hands on. Thank goodness she had a terrific relationship with her grandmother... who was another wonderful character. As the novel progressed, Kitty's strength and loyalty were tested and she definitely lived up to what I expected.

Another great thing about this novel was the setting. It's Ireland for goodness sake! I mentioned this yesterday, but I really appreciated the author's ability to bring Ireland to life for the readers. I visited this country two years ago and absolutely fell in love with it. It truly is so beautiful and so green, and I thought Ms. Montefiore did a wonderful job of describing its beauty and rich history. She even managed to include some of the Irish folklore which is such an important part of the culture.

I also liked that the book told the story of how the Irish fought for their independence from the crown. I've been interested in this topic ever since I read TRINITY back in college, and I appreciated that it was covered in this novel. It's a small gripe, but I kind of wish there had been even more details about the fighting. It really is a fascinating period of history.

I do think THE GIRL IN THE CASTLE was a good pick for a book club discussion. I wasn't able to find a discussion guide, but our group tends not to use one anyway. We managed to discuss a few things like the characters' traits and the way the book ended; however, I think we could have delved more deeply into the topics of Irish history and culture as well as the themes of friendship, loyalty an love.

Overall, I enjoyed THE GIRL IN THE CASTLE and I think I'll pick up the next book in the trilogy when it's available. I recommend this novel to fans of historical fiction as well as readers who enjoy books that take place in Ireland.

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

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The Booking Mamas' November Meeting

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

Last night we met to discuss THE GIRL IN THE CASTLE by Santa Montefiore. We actually had a small group (just about half of us), but it was nice to have a more intimate setting to discuss the book. Our hostess outdid herself and I'm still smiling from her selection of goodies. She served tons of homemade spring rolls (both shrimp and chicken) as well as a beautiful cheese plate. However, her desserts were unbelievable. She made a traditional Australian dessert called a lamington which is a light cake coated in chocolate and covered in coconut, and my favorite -- homemade scones with strawberry preserves and fresh clotted cream. Oh my!!!! I almost want to head over this morning to have leftovers with my coffee!

Enough about the food! But honestly I think the food and visiting with friends was probably the highlight of our meeting. None of us loved THE GIRL IN THE CASTLE, although none of us hated it either. I will speak more to my feelings about the novel later when I review it, but I will try to summarize a few of our general thoughts now.

Quite a few of us enjoyed the book but we did have a few issues. The ending was definitely a problem for some. THE GIRL IN THE CASTLE is the first of a trilogy and the ending was left open-ended -- of course. However, I think a few of us wanted a bit more closure. I guess it will be up to each of us to decide whether we want to find out what happens to the characters in the next novel, and I do think a few of us will continue with the series.

Another member commented on how much she enjoyed the descriptions of the locations and the characters  -- they made her want to travel to Ireland! She also appreciated the historical narrative and learning more about the early moments of the IRA. Personally, I loved the details about the Irish countryside. I visited Ireland two years ago and it definitely brought back memories of the country's beauty.

One thing most of us agreed on was that the novel was fairly predictable... until it wasn't. The ending did have a bit of a surprise which leads nicely into the next book; however, we felt as if the rest of the novel didn't have many surprises. In fact, there were quite a few times when we all agreed that we knew exactly what was going to happen to a few of the characters.

All in all, I'd say we had a great time at our November meeting!

Next month, we will be reading FORTY AUTUMNS: A FAMILY'S STORY OF COURAGE AND SURVIVAL ON BOTH SIDES OF THE BERLIN WALL by Nina Willner. I am really looking forward to reading a nonfiction book. I think we all too often get into the habit of picking a fiction title, and don't get me wrong, I love fiction. However, this story sounds pretty amazing. Truth can be stranger than fiction!

It's hard to believe that December is right around the corner! I am hosting our next meeting and we will have our traditional book swap. It's a fun way to get a new-to-us book (or steal one from another member), and we can celebrate another successful year as a book club!

Summary: In this illuminating and deeply moving memoir, a former American military intelligence officer goes beyond traditional Cold War espionage tales to tell the true story of her family—of five women separated by the Iron Curtain for more than forty years, and their miraculous reunion after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Forty Autumns makes visceral the pain and longing of one family forced to live apart in a world divided by two. At twenty, Hanna escaped from East to West Germany. But the price of freedom—leaving behind her parents, eight siblings, and family home—was heartbreaking. Uprooted, Hanna eventually moved to America, where she settled down with her husband and had children of her own.

Growing up near Washington, D.C., Hanna’s daughter, Nina Willner became the first female Army Intelligence Officer to lead sensitive intelligence operations in East Berlin at the height of the Cold War. Though only a few miles separated American Nina and her German relatives—grandmother Oma, Aunt Heidi, and cousin, Cordula, a member of the East German Olympic training team—a bitter political war kept them apart.

In Forty Autumns, Nina recounts her family’s story—five ordinary lives buffeted by circumstances beyond their control. She takes us deep into the tumultuous and terrifying world of East Germany under Communist rule, revealing both the cruel reality her relatives endured and her own experiences as an intelligence officer, running secret operations behind the Berlin Wall that put her life at risk.

A personal look at a tenuous era that divided a city and a nation, and continues to haunt us, Forty Autumns is an intimate and beautifully written story of courage, resilience, and love—of five women whose spirits could not be broken, and who fought to preserve what matters most: family.

Forty Autumns is illustrated with dozens of black-and-white and color photographs. -- William Morrow

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Review: The Waiting Room

Summary: The Waiting Room unfolds over the course of a single, life-changing day, but the story it tells spans five decades, three continents, and one family’s compelling history of love, war, and survival

As the daughter of Holocaust survivors, Dina’s present has always been haunted by her parents’ pasts. She becomes a doctor, emigrates, and builds a family of her own, yet no matter how hard she tries to move on, their ghosts keep pulling her back. A dark, wry sense of humor helps Dina maintain her sanity amid the constant challenges of motherhood and medicine, but when a terror alert is issued in her adopted city, her coping skills are pushed to the limit.

Interlacing the present and the past over a span of twenty-four hours, The Waiting Room is an intense exploration of what it means to endure a day-to-day existence defined by conflict and trauma, and a powerful reminder of just how fragile life can be. As the clock counts down to a shocking climax, Dina must confront her parents’ history and decide whether she will surrender to fear, or fight for love. -- Harper Perennial

If I'm being entirely honest, I wasn't sure what to expect from the new novel THE WAITING ROOM by Leah Kaminsky. I read the book's description and thought I had a feeling for it; however, it was entirely different from what I thought. That's not to say that it was different in a bad way, but even a week later, I'm still having a hard time processing the novel. I just don't know how I felt about the story. There were some things I really liked about Ms. Kaminsky's debut novel, and there were things that just didn't work for me...

The entire story in THE WAITING ROOM takes place in one day. Dina, the daughter of two Holocaust survivors, grew up in Australia and moved to Haifa where she lives with her husband and son. Needless to say, the Holocaust was always a huge part of her upbringing; and even though her mother has died, she's still trying to remind Dina of her painful past. (Yep -- the character of her mom appears throughout the novel as a ghost.)

On this particular day, a very pregnant Dina wakes up to a report of a possible terrorist attack in her hometown of Haifa which is normally a relatively safe place to live. Of course, she is concerned but her fears become almost all-consuming. She doesn't want to let her son go to school even as she heads to her job as a doctor, and she seems to be overwhelmed as the violence of her family's past merges with her current life. Tension builds in the story as Dina becomes more frantic, and it's apparent that something big is going to happen.

This review is really difficult to write for me. I don't know if my description did justice to the book, and I'm also having a hard time articulating my feelings for the novel. On one hand, I found the author's presentation to be clever; and on the other hand, I didn't really appreciate any of the characters. I found the mother's constant prodding to be annoying at times, but I did understand why she kept appearing to Dina. I felt for Dina as the violence of her past became a possible reality in her present, but I didn't always enjoy the descriptions surrounding Dina's day. See what I mean? I am all over the place and obviously conflicted with my feelings about THE WAITING ROOM.

So I guess I will focus on what I did appreciate about the novel. I really enjoyed the major themes of the story. For the most part, I liked how the author created a sense of urgency in the novel, and I thought she effectively conveyed the fear of living in a world where terrorism exists. I also thought she did a very nice job in showing the fragility of human life, especially in the way she juxtaposed the loss of life with a pregnant Dina.

In addition, although I didn't always love the appearance of Dina's mother, I appreciated that the author was tying the present to the past for Dina. These scenes made Dina really examine the plight of her parents as well as how she wants to deal with the potential threat in her life. They also made the reader think about the themes of memory and survival.

Overall, I'm pretty confused about THE WAITING ROOM, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. While I didn't love every aspect of it, I appreciated it... and the novel made me think. And honestly, that's not a bad thing for a book to make a reader do!

Thanks to FSB Associates for providing a review copy of this novel.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Review: Darktown

Summary: The award-winning author of The Last Town on Earth delivers a riveting and elegant police procedural set in 1948 Atlanta, exploring a murder, corrupt police, and strained race relations that feels ripped from today's headlines.

Responding to orders from on high, the Atlanta Police Department is forced to hire its first black officers, including war veterans Lucius Boggs and Tommy Smith. The newly minted policemen are met with deep hostility by their white peers; they aren’t allowed to arrest white suspects, drive squad cars, or set foot in the police headquarters.

When a black woman who was last seen in a car driven by a white man turns up dead, Boggs and Smith suspect white cops are behind it. Their investigation sets them up against a brutal cop, Dunlow, who has long run the neighborhood as his own, and his partner, Rakestraw, a young progressive who may or may not be willing to make allies across color lines. Among shady moonshiners, duplicitous madams, crooked lawmen, and the constant restrictions of Jim Crow, Boggs and Smith will risk their new jobs, and their lives, while navigating a dangerous world—a world on the cusp of great change.

Set in the postwar, pre-civil rights South, and evoking the socially resonant and morally complex crime novels of Dennis Lehane and Walter Mosley, Darktown is a vivid, smart, intricately plotted crime saga that explores the timely issues of race, law enforcement, and the uneven scales of justice. -- Atria/37 Ink

I am super excited to share with you my thoughts about DARKTOWN by Thomas Mullen. This is one of the books I brought back with me from my trip to SIBA; and after reading the description, I knew it was going to be one of the first ones I read. Let me just say -- DARKTOWN didn't disappoint. This police procedural was a terrific thriller and a wonderful example of literary fiction. I really can't say enough good things about this novel.

DARKTOWN takes place in the late 1940s in Atlanta -- right after the first black men were hired as policemen; however, many of the issues written about in this novel are as timely as ever. The book explores racism and corruption in a police department while also delving into a troubling murder mystery.

Boggs and Smith, two black cops, are the last people to see a young black woman before she is found dead. These two men last saw her in the car with a white man who was driving recklessly; however, they weren't able to cite him because of the color of their skin. No one in the Atlanta police department, especially Dunlow who is "responsible" for the case, seems to be very interested in discovering the truth behind a black woman's murder, so Boggs and Smith are determined to solve the case.

Boggs and Smith know that they are going to ruffle some feathers with their investigation; and as a result, they decide to keep it as hidden as possible. While Dunlop wants nothing to do with them, his young partner Rakestraw may be more willing to look into the woman's murder. The thing is, Boggs and Smith aren't quite sure if they can trust Rakestraw -- his partner hates the blacks on the force and is Rakestraw willing to go against him?

As Boggs and Smith become more involved in the murder mystery, they run up against an ugly underworld of moonshiners, madams, crooked cops, and more. They also find their hands tied by the constant constraints of the police department and the Jim Crow laws that are in place. Can Boggs and Smith (maybe with the help of Rakestraw) solve this woman's murder while keeping their jobs and maybe even their lives?

I loved DARKTOWN! I mean I seriously thought this book was amazing. It was a very good murder mystery with lots of shady characters and many twists and turns; however, it was an even better example of literary fiction. I loved the basic premise of the novel -- the troubles that the first black men faced when they were hired back in the late 1940s in Atlanta. And I loved even more how well it explored the concept of racism in our country.

It doesn't seem all that long ago, but in many ways the treatment of the eight black police officers amazed me. I understand this was pre-civil rights and things were bad in the South, but these men were not allowed to arrest white criminals, drive police cars, wear their uniforms to and from the courthouse, or even walk into the police headquarters -- they had their own "space" in a dingy YMCA. In this novel, a few of these men were even war heroes... and yet they came home to this racist behavior. Unbelievable!

Another thing I appreciated about this book was the writing. I thought Mr. Mullen did an outstanding job of bringing the setting to life as well as the characters. As much as I liked seeing how difficult it was for Boggs and Smith to do their jobs, as well as how they personally coped with the racism, I also found the character of Rakestraw to be extremely interesting. He was a white officer who was torn between working with his dirty partner and doing the "right" thing. He almost didn't fit in with either the white or black cops. In addition, I found the dialogue to be realistic and I also really appreciated the pacing of the story. I honestly couldn't put this one down!

And finally, a really impressive aspect of this novel was the mystery itself. It was a good one -- that's for sure. It was more complex that it first appeared to me, and I really appreciated how Boggs and Smith investigated it and eventually discovered the truth. There was an intriguing complexity to the case, and coupled with the theme of racism and the terrific writing, it was a very entertaining and thought-provoking novel.

Overall, I enjoyed DARKTOWN very much and highly recommend it to fans of mysteries and literary fiction.

I received a copy of this novel at the 2016 SIBA.

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, November 12, 2016

Kid Konnection: Just Imagine & Play Activity 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 two very fun activity books!

Summary: Welcome to the bustling construction site!

Have you ever wanted to be in charge of your own construction site? With this awesome interactive activity book, you can! Unfold this book, and there's your stand-up play scene. Customize your construction site with the reusable stickers and punch-out, stand-up characters, and you're ready for action! What you build on your construction site is up to you! Use dump trucks, excavators and bulldozers to move dirt and build houses and skyscrapers. Includes a 48-page activity book with cool facts about construction tools and vehicles, puzzles, and games, plus the punch-out characters, reusable stickers, and a fold-out construction site scene. -- Quarto

Summary: Welcome to the rustic, sunny farm!

Have you ever wondered what life is like on the farm? Find out with this fun and sunny interactive activity book! Unfold this book, and there's your stand-up play scene. Customize your farm with the reusable stickers and punch-out, stand-up characters, and you're ready for action. What kinds of animals you have on your farm and what you grow is up to you! Gather eggs, feed the pigs, milk the cows, plant the crops; it's never a dull day on the farm! Includes a 48-page activity book with cool facts about farm vehicles and animals, puzzles, and games, plus punch-out characters, reusable stickers, and a fold-out barnyard scene. -- Quarto

I was absolutely delighted when I received review copies of ON THE SITE ACTIVITY BOOK and ON THE FARM ACTIVITY BOOK! These two books brought me back to my childhood because they are exactly the types of books that I loved as a kid. Both activity books are geared for children ages 3 to 6, and they are interactive -- meaning they are designed for young readers to "play" with them.

With ON THE SITE and ON THE FARM, kids can unfold the books and have an automatic stand-up play scene. Then, they can punch out stand up machines or characters to use with the play scene. There are also reusable stickers which make the possibilities endless for make-believe.

In addition to these play scenes, these books also have fun facts about construction tools/vehicles and farm animals/machines. I especially liked that there were little puzzles and games including dot-to-dot, mazes, sudoku, and more!

I highly recommend both ON THE SITE and ON THE FARM, and at $9.95 each they are perfect for gifts. In fact, I can't wait to give them to the little boys I babysit each week. I just know they are going to love them!

Thanks to Quarto 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, November 10, 2016

Review: A Gentleman in Moscow

Summary: He can’t leave his hotel. You won’t want to.

From the New York Times bestselling author of Rules of Civility—a transporting novel about a man who is ordered to spend the rest of his life inside a luxury hotel

In 1922, Count Alexander Rostov is deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal, and is sentenced to house arrest in the Metropol, a grand hotel across the street from the Kremlin. Rostov, an indomitable man of erudition and wit, has never worked a day in his life, and must now live in an attic room while some of the most tumultuous decades in Russian history are unfolding outside the hotel’s doors. Unexpectedly, his reduced circumstances provide him entry into a much larger world of emotional discovery.

Brimming with humor, a glittering cast of characters, and one beautifully rendered scene after another, this singular novel casts a spell as it relates the count’s endeavor to gain a deeper understanding of what it means to be a man of purpose. -- Viking

I was extremely excited to begin reading A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW by Amor Towles. I really enjoyed his last novel RULES OF CIVILITY, and I thought the description of this book sounded intriguing. Plus it was getting some stellar reviews.

A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW tells the story of Count Alexander Rostov, a Russian aristocrat who had never worked a day in his life. In 1922, the Bolshevik tribunal sentenced him to live under house arrest in the Metropol, a ritzy hotel near the Kremlin. For many years, Rostov lived in a suite in this hotel, but he was now banned to a small attic room. Rostov was now forced to keep a daily routine for himself to keep his sanity and to make new friends with the hotel staff. He makes a very special friend in a young girl named Nina, the daughter of a bureaucrat; and Rostov realizes that his life can be meaningful despite being confined to a hotel for the rest of his life.

Nina eventually grows up and moves away from the hotel; however, she comes back years later asking Rostov for a favor. This favor requires Rostov to once again turn his life upside down and shows just how much Rostov has grown as a man... and just how much he's willing to sacrifice for those he loves.

I ended up loving A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW! However, that wasn't always the case. I had some issues getting into the story, and I'm not entirely sure why. It could have been what was going on in my life for those few days. Having said that, once I hit my stride, I couldn't put this novel down. I thought is was smart, charming, and touching... and it definitely exceeded my expectations.

One thing I loved about the novel was the character of Rostov. At first he was a bit pretentious (and maybe that's why it took me a bit to really get into the novel), but he grew so much as he learned to accept and appreciate the world around him. He became a kinder, gentler man who made some terrific friends with the hotel staff; and more importantly, he learned what was really important in life and how to live his life with a purpose.

I also loved so many of the supporting characters -- from the various people who worked for the hotel, to Nina, to Nina's daughter. Each one of these characters that Rostov encountered throughout his decades of house arrest helped to make him a better man. I loved the humor in their interactions as well as the warmth in their relationships; and through their stories, so much insight into human nature was offered.

An interesting aspect of this novel was that it almost entirely took place in one setting -- the Metropol Hotel. I would actually argue that the hotel became another character in the story! Another interesting thing about the book was that there wasn't even much discussion of the political environment in Russia that was taking place right across the street. Rather, the novel focused on Rostov and his relationships... and how he changed as a result of them.

A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW would make a wonderful book club pick, although it might be a bit long for some groups. I wasn't able to find a discussion on the publisher's website, but I did find this one with seven questions. Some of the themes you might want to discuss are the political environment in Russia through the years, friendship, family, imprisonment, love, art, and sacrifice.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW and highly recommend it to fans of literary fiction.

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

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Review: Here's to Us (Audio)

Summary: Three romantic rivals. One crowded house. Plenty of room for jealousy.

Laurel Thorpe, Belinda Rowe, and Scarlett Oliver share only two things; a love for the man they all married, Deacon Thorpe--a celebrity chef with an insatiable appetite for life--and a passionate dislike of one another. All three are remarkable, spirited women, but they couldn't be more different. Laurel: Deacon's high school sweetheart and an effortlessly beautiful social worker; Belinda: a high-maintenance Hollywood diva; and Scarlett: a sexy southern belle floating by on her family money and her fabulous looks. They've established a delicate understanding over the years--they avoid each other at all costs.

But their fragile detente threatens to come crashing down after Deacon's tragic death on his favorite place on earth: a ramshackle Nantucket summer cottage. Deacon's final wish was for his makeshift family to assemble on his beloved Nantucket to say good-bye. Begrudgingly, Laurel, Belinda, and Scarlett gather on the island as once again, as in each of their marriages, they're left to pick up Deacon's mess. Now they're trapped in the crowded cottage where they all made their own memories--a house that they now share in more ways than one--along with the children they raised with Deacon, and his best friend. Laurel, Belinda, and Scarlett each had an unbreakable bond with Deacon--and they all have secrets to hide.

Before the weekend is over, there are enough accusations, lies, tears, and drama to turn even the best of friends--let alone three women who married the same man--into adversaries. As his unlikely family says good-bye to the man who brought them together--for better or worse--will they be able to put aside their differences long enough to raise a glass in Deacon's honor? -- Hachette Audio

Every summer, I look forward to reading Elin Hilderbrand's new beach book! This summer it was titled HERE'S TO US, and I received an audio copy for review. I am the first to admit that I tend to read books more quickly in print form; however, this audio book took me an especially long time to read. I think my summer schedule (or lack thereof) was one of the reasons, but I also didn't really enjoy this Hilderbrand book like I normally do.

HERE'S TO US reads a little bit like The Real Housewives of Nantucket or maybe I should say The Real Ex-Wives of Deacon Thorpe. Deacon Thorpe was a famous chef and restaurant owner who had his fair share of demons including drugs, alcohol and women. Ironically enough, he died unexpectedly after he came clean!

A few weeks after his death, his two ex-wives and current estranged wife as well as his children all arrive at Deacon's Nantucket beach house to celebrate the man's life. It probably shouldn't surprise you that Deacon's ex's don't get along... at all... and that's putting it mildly. There's Laurel, his first wife and high school sweetheart, who continued to "keep in touch" with Deacon even after he left her for Belinda, an Oscar winning actress. Belinda is everything you'd think (if you think the worst) about a Hollywood actress. She was incredibly selfish and vain and bitter about her divorce from Deacon. And then there was Scarlett, a young Southern girl who was Belinda and Deacon's nanny. It was obvious that there would be plenty of opportunity for drama with these three women and their kids living in a small beach house.

When the three women all arrive at Deacon's favorite place in the world, they learn from Deacon's best friend (and business manager) that the cottage is willed to all three of them! If that's not bad enough, the house is in foreclosure and they need to come up with a ton of money if they want to save it. As the family remembers Deacon's life (both the good and the bad), many secrets are brought to light that could forever change the way these women look at their lives... and the meaning of family.

I really wanted to like HERE'S TO US, but it just didn't work for me. I thought the premise sounded fun, especially for a beach book; and maybe it would have been if I had read it in a day or two while lying by the beach. However, I listened to it while I walked and ran; and it just wasn't intriguing enough for me to make an effort to come back to it. Evidently, it's me though. The novel has four stars on Amazon, so I have a feeling that this book just didn't resonate with me for some reason.

I don't want to bash this novel just because it didn't work for me, but I do want to give you a reason or two why I didn't enjoy this book as much as some of Ms. Hilderbrand's books. If I had to sum it up in one word, I'd say "characters." I just didn't like many of them, and I actually couldn't stand quite a few of them. Now I know I don't have to like the characters to appreciate a book, but this was more extreme. The pettiness and selfishness of the characters was over-the-top -- just too much and too stereotypical.

Having said that, a few of the characters did show growth in the story; and I appreciated that. It was just a long way for me to get to that point. Ultimately, I liked how things worked out for most of the characters, but I will say it was fairly predictable. I still think that's okay because a book like this (i.e. a breezy beach book) because that's what readers expect; however, I did feel as if the ending of the book had a much quicker pace than the rest of the story.

One thing many readers will enjoy is the vivid descriptions that Ms. Hilderbrand uses to describe her characters and the setting. She does a great job in detailing the characters' appearances and clothes and an even better job of bringing the town Nantucket to life. And as far as food goes, this book will keep foodie readers very happy. She does a wonderful job of describing some decadent dishes and even includes a few recipes!

I actually listened to HERE'S TO US rather than reading it, and it might have made a difference in my appreciation of the story. That's not a knock against the narrator Erin Bennett because I thought she did a fine job. Rather, I'm just not a huge fan of listening to books unless they knock me off of my feet!

Overall, HERE'S TO US was not my favorite of Ms. Hilderbrand's novels; however, I do think her loyal fans will enjoy the story.

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

Monday, November 7, 2016

Review: Fractured

Summary: Welcome, neighbor!

Julie Prentice and her family move across the country to the idyllic Mount Adams district of Cincinnati, hoping to evade the stalker who’s been terrorizing them ever since the publication of her bestselling novel, The Murder Game. Since Julie doesn’t know anyone in her new town, when she meets her neighbor John Dunbar, their instant connection brings measured hope for a new beginning. But she never imagines that a simple, benign conversation with him could set her life spinning so far off course.

We know where you live…

After a series of misunderstandings, Julie and her family become the target of increasingly unsettling harassment. Has Julie’s stalker found her, or are her neighbors out to get her, too? As tension in the neighborhood rises, new friends turn into enemies, and the results are deadly. -- Lake Union

I was pleasantly surprised by the novel FRACTURED by Catherine McKenzie. I had read one of her books a few years ago, but it was more women's fiction or chick lit, if you will. FRACTURED is more of a  psychological thriller, and I really enjoyed the mystery as well as the twists!

FRACTURED tells the story of Julie Prentice, a mother of two and best-selling author. She and her family have moved from Washington to a quaint neighborhood outside of Cincinnati because their life has been terrorized by a stalker since the success of her debut novel, THE MURDER GAME.

Julie tries to settle into her new neighborhood but she finds it difficult... that is until she meets John Dunbar while running one day. The two hit it off immediately and there's definitely some chemistry between them. Julie quickly learns that the some of her neighbors aren't exactly thrilled with her actions. The author of the community newsletter even begins making rules as a result of Julie's behavior. She's beginning to wonder if moving to Cincinnati was right for her and her family.

Julie has no real intention of having an affair with John; however, she is hoping that by making a friend, her life will be happier. But she quickly realizes that her relationship with John brings some unexpected problems. The reader isn't exactly sure what went wrong, but there are clues throughout the story that give insights into a major tragedy of sorts that involves both Julie and John's families. As the truth is gradually revealed, the tension in the story builds and there are a few twists along the way that make the conclusion very satisfying.

I really liked FRACTURED. I'm always up for an entertaining psychological thriller, and FRACTURED definitely fit the bill. I found the characters to be interesting and well developed, and I appreciated how the suspense in the story continued to build. And just when I thought I knew what happened, there was a twist or two that threw me for a loop. All in all, a very good mystery.

One thing that definitely impressed me about the novel was the author's creativity in inventing this story. The main character, Julie, wrote a novel titled A MURDER GAME that was loosely based on something that took place when she was in law school. It became an instant best-seller for the character, and it ended up being closely tied to some of the incidents in this novel.

In fact, THE MURDER GAME novel in FRACTURED was actually based on an earlier (yet unpublished) novel that Ms. McKenzie wrote about a group of friends from law school and a game they played about how to create the perfect murder. Ten years later, one of the friends is accused of a murder that has more than a few things in common with one from their game. And ironically, another one of the friends is responsible for prosecuting the case.

The entire time I was reading FRACTURED, I wanted to read Julie's book THE MURDER GAME... and now I can!  Ms. McKenzie recently released THE MURDER GAME by Julie Prentice as an e-book! I have already purchased it! Isn't it cool how there's a book within a book?

In addition to her creativity, I also really appreciated how well Ms. McKenzie made me think. Of course, there is the question of what really happened in the novel which is interesting enough on its own. However, I was even more impressed with how she made me question the people surrounding Julie, namely her neighbors. There was also food for thought on marriage, friendship, envy and more! I couldn't find a discussion guide, but I do think FRACTURED would make an interesting book to discuss with friends.

I also enjoyed how she chose to write this story. I really liked the clues that something major happened and how the truth was eventually revealed. However, I also liked that she used both Julie and John's voices to tell the story. It was definitely interesting to get both of their viewpoints, and I liked how she wove their stories together.

Overall, FRACTURED was a well-written psychological thriller that will leave you thinking long after you finish it. Highly recommended to fans of mysteries and novels about the human psyche.

Thanks to Goldberg McDuffie Communications 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.