Saturday, December 31, 2016

Kid Konnection: Tinyville Town 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 a few picture books from a very special new series.

Summary: The Tinyville Town series, new from New York Times bestselling author and illustrator Brian Biggs, launches with three books: Tinyville Town Gets to Work!, a world-establishing picture book that introduces the town and its many residents, and two board books, I’m a Veterinarian and I’m a Firefighter. The series is set in a cozy community where the people are kind, everyone says hello when they’re walking down the street, the bus is always on time, and all the townsfolk do their part to keep things running smoothly. Everyone has a job to do in Tinyville Town. With a nod to the busy world of Richard Scarry and the neighborhood feel of Sesame Street, this new series will become a favorite read for preschoolers and is ideal for story time and class discussions about occupations and community helpers. Tinyville Town is a growing, thriving city full of interesting people. They can’t wait to show readers around!

In I’m a Firefighter, we see what it’s like in a day in the life of a town firefighter. As soon as the fire alarm rings, Fireman Charlie is ready to go, go, go! When he’s not fighting fires, there’s plenty to do, like cook meals for the crew, Charlie’s favorite job of all. Firefighters are perennially popular with young readers. This is an ideal read for fire prevention lessons and as a tribute to local hero firefighters. -- Abrams Appleseed

Summary: In I’m a Veterinarian, we see what it’s like in a day in the life of a town animal doctor. Tinyville Town’s veterinarian begins her day at home with her two cats, two dogs, and one fish. Once at work, she examines a firefighter’s dalmatian, who is not feeling well at all. Follow along as the vet runs tests and makes a surprising discovery! This book will comfort a child bringing a beloved pet to the vet for the first time, and satisfy an inquisitive child’s curiosity about what an animal doctor does, how they are able to diagnose so many different kinds of pets, and how their office is different from their own doctors.

Every town has at least one vet office, and Tinyville’s is the one kids will want to visit again and again. -- Abrams Appleseed

Summary: In Tinyville Town Gets to Work!, we see the evolution of a construction project to solve a problem. When there is a traffic jam on the Tinyville Town bridge, the residents decide to work together to build a new one. By following the hard work of the engineers and construction workers, readers will get to meet many different people in the town while watching the exciting new bridge take shape. The large picture book format and Biggs’s bright art brilliantly show the bridge, which was extensively researched to make it authentic for readers.

Every town has a bridge, and a trip over Tinyville’s new one will be fun for kids time and time again. -- Abrams Appleseed

I am so excited to share with you three books in a new series by best-selling author and illustrator Brian Biggs -- TINYVILLE TOWN: I'M A FIREFIGHTERTINYVILLE TOWN: I'M A VETERINARIAN, and TINYVILLE TOWN GETS TO WORK! These three books are perfect for preschool age kids and have some great messages. I love them!

The Tinyville Town series are guaranteed to remind you a little bit of Richard Scarry's Busytown books. They showcase the town of Tinyville and its residents as well as how they contribute to making Tinyville a great place to live. The people are nice and polite, the town is clean, and everyone contributes to make it a happy place. What's even more exciting is that these books feature a diverse cast of characters!!!

There are three books available now with the plan for more in the future. There are two board books that teach kids about various jobs -- I'M A FIREFIGHTER and I'M A VETERINARIAN. (I'M A LIBRARIAN is next!); and one picture book titled TINYVILLE TOWN GETS TO WORK! All three are adorable.

I'M A FIREFIGHTER and I'M A VETERINARIAN have cute illustrations and only a few words on each page making them perfect for the younger crowd. There are lots of details in the illustrations which make them extra-fun, and the stories introduce little ones to the professions of firefighter and vet. Children will also appreciate seeing different images and citizens of Tinyville as well as following these people in their daily jobs. I especially liked the I'M A VETERINARIAN book because there is a little surprise for the reader, and I think children will appreciate understanding what it's like for an animal (and its owner) to visit a pet doctor.

TINYVILLE TOWN GETS TO WORK! is another adorable book. This one is is a full-size picture book and has a few more words per page and as well as more detailed illustrations, but I still think it's perfect for preschoolers. This book gives readers an inside look at this fantastic town and introduces a variety of its townspeople including a baker, a bus drive, a trash collector, the mayor, and more.

TINYVILLE TOWN GETS TO WORK! demonstrates what happens when this small town finds itself facing the problem of a traffic jam. The mayor, whose job is solving problems, decides (with a little help from the town's residents) that they need a bridge. The mayor meets with and engineer and city planner, and they decide on a plan for a new bridge. Many different people come together to create this beautiful bridge including a demolition crew, ironworkers, a road crew. Together they build the Tinyville Town Bridge! I love how this book shows how everyone in the town came together and used their special talents to solve the crisis -- what a great concept!

Overall, I was very impressed with the Tinyville Town books and think they are a must-have at preschool and home libraries. Highly recommended!

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!

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Kid Konnection: The Way the Cookie Crumbled

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 cute book for early readers that's especially pertinent considering the amount of cookies I've been baking for Christmas.

Summary: C is for cookie in this fact-tastic nonfiction Level 3 Ready-to-Read that explores the history of cookies, part of a series about the history of fun stuff!

Did you know that Queen Elizabeth I used to have gingerbread cookies molded into the shapes of her favorite advisers? Or that Girl Scouts used to bake the cookies they sold themselves? Or that if you stacked all the Oreos ever made, they would reach to the moon and back five times? Become a History of Fun Stuff Expert on the super-sweet history of cookies and amaze your friends with all you’ve learned in this fun, fact-filled Level 3 Ready-to-Read!

A special section at the back of the book includes Common Core–vetted extras on subjects like science, social studies, and math, and there’s even a fun quiz so readers can test themselves to see what they’ve learned! Learning history has never been so much fun! -- Simon Spotlight

THE WAY THE COOKIE CRUMBLED by Jody Jensen Shaffer and illustrated by Kelly Kennedy is a very fun way for early readers to learn about something all kids love... cookies. This 48 page Ready-to-Read book is a Level Three book aimed at kids in grades one through three, and it's officially a Lexile ® NC930L if you're interested.

THE WAY THE COOKIE CRUMBLED is a terrific early reader book. In fact, it will make your kid a "History of Fun Stuff Expert" on cookies. This book teaches kids about the history of cookies and begins about ten thousand years ago when people mixed grain with water to make something that resembled a cracker. It follows cookies through the Middle Ages when bakers started including spices to their recipes to the early 19th century when baking soda and baking powder were introduced. The book continues with a chapter about cookies "catching on in America" and even teaches readers about the invention of the chocolate chip cookie.

There are so many fun facts in this book! One of my favorite parts was the section on the world's most popular cookie. I don't want to give it away, but I can definitely say that this store-bought cookie is extremely popular in my house. I can barely keep them in stock! There are also fun tidbits about other famous cookies including Fig Newtons, Girl Scout cookies, and fortune cookies.

THE WAY THE COOKIE CRUMBLED also has some great information in the back of the book. There is a section on cookies around the world with illustrations and definitions as well as a section on the science behind baking cookies. There is also a section that teaches kids how to double a recipe for chocolate chip cookies. And the book ends with a fun little quiz on the history of cookies. This is seriously one great fun and delicious book!

Thanks to the author 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, December 21, 2016

Guest Review: Fields of Battle

Summary: In the wake of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the 1942 Rose Bowl was moved from Pasadena to Durham, North Carolina, out of fear of Japanese attacks on the West Coast. It remains the only Rose Bowl game to ever be played outside of Pasadena. Duke University, led by legendary coach Wallace Wade Sr., faced off against underdog Oregon State College, with both teams preparing for a grueling fight on the football field while their thoughts wandered to the battlefields they would soon be on.

As the players and coaches prepared for the game, America was preparing for war. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill met to discuss the Allied strategy in Europe; a discussion that would change the lives of the boys and men on the field in Durham.

Finally, on New Year’s Day 1942, under dark gray skies and occasional rain, the two teams clashed on the gridiron in front of a crowd of 56,000, playing one of the most unforgettable games in history. Shortly afterward, many of the players and coaches entered the military and would quickly become brothers on the battlefield. Scattered around the globe, the lives of Rose Bowl participants would intersect in surprising ways, as they served in Iwo Jima and Normandy, Guadalcanal and the Battle of the Bulge. Four players from that Rose Bowl game would lose their lives, while many more were severely wounded. In one powerful encounter on the battlefield, OSC’s Frank Parker saved the life of Duke’s Charles Haynes as he lay dying on a hill in Italy. And one OSC player, Jack Yoshihara, a Japanese-American, never had the chance to play in the game or serve his country, as he was sent to an internment camp in Idaho.

In this riveting an emotional tale, Brian Curtis sheds light on a little-known slice of American history and captures in gripping detail an intimate account of the teamwork, grit, and determination that took place on both the football fields and the battlefields of World War II. It was a game created by infamy and a war fought by ordinary boys who did the extraordinary. -- Flatiron

When I received a copy of FIELDS OF BATTLE: PEARL HARBOR, THE ROSE BOWL, and THE BOYS WHO WENT TO WAR by Brian Curtis at this year's SIBA, I knew it was exactly the type of book that my dad would enjoy. Little did I know that he already knew a bit about the background of the event -- how funny is that? Here are his thoughts:

FIELDS OF BATTLE: PEARL HARBOR, THE ROSE BOWL, AND THE BOYS WHO WENT TO WAR by Brian Curtis, it brought back fond memories of my many trips to the personal care home to visit my mother.  On nearly every visit, a resident named Mary would remind me that she graduated from Duke University and asked if I was aware that the only Rose Bowl football game played outside of Pasadena, California, was played at Duke University.  After reading FIELDS OF BATTLE I now know that her information was correct, that the game was played in 1942 between Oregon State and Duke and that Oregon State won.  I also learned that the game was moved to Duke’s home field at the last minute because of security fears on the West Coast after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor.

Author Brian Curtis uses the first part of the book to discuss the state of college football at the time and dives deeply into the players, coaches, each school’s football season, and the tremendous effort involved in moving the game.

Curtis then moves his focus to World War II as many of the game’s participants joined the conflict immediately after the game.As Curtis shares the stories of the football players turned soldiers we learn that their stories are a microcosm of the larger war. Several died, many were wounded, some were heroes and those that came home suffered from depression, alcoholism and family strife. The author shares some intimate stories with the reader such as an Oregon State player who shared a cup of coffee with the Duke coach in a foxhole; the Oregon State player who rescued a Duke player who was seriously wounded on the battlefield; and the Oregon State player of Japanese descent who was forbidden to travel to the Rose Bowl and spent the entire war in an internment camp.

Although I found sections of the book difficult to read, the author’s contrast of the Rose Bowl battle with WWII did clearly deliver the message that, contrary to many football fans’ beliefs, a football game is not war.

Through a tremendous amount of research and good story-telling, author Brian Curtis was able to deliver an account of heroism, bravery, unselfishness and leadership that is synonymous with the Greatest Generation.

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

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Giveaway: Jimmy and Fay

Summary: In the midst of Prohibition, Jimmy Quinn joins forces with screen siren Fay Wray to take on a King Kong–size case of extortion.

It’s March 2, 1933. King Kong is premiering at Radio City Music Hall, and Fay Wray is about to become the most famous actress on earth. So what's she doing hanging around a rundown Manhattan speakeasy? This Hollywood scream queen has come to see Jimmy Quinn, a limping tough guy who knows every gangster in New York—and does his best to steer clear of them all.

A blackmailer has pictures of a Fay Wray lookalike engaged in conduct that would make King Kong blush, and Fay's movie studio—with the cooperation of a slightly corrupt NYPD detective—wants the threat eliminated. Jimmy tries to settle the matter quietly, but stopping the extortion will cut just as deeply as Fay's famous scream, ringing from Broadway all the way to Chinatown.

Jimmy and Fay is the 3rd book in the Jimmy Quinn Mysteries, but you may enjoy reading the series in any order. -- Mysterious Press

I am always looking for a good mystery for my Mystery Mondays feature, and JIMMY AND FAY: A JIMMY QUINN MYSTERY by Michael Mayo just might fit the bill. This novel is the third in the Jimmy Quinn mystery series and sounds terrific. It's a story that takes place in the 1930s during the Prohibition and involves a mystery surrounding Fay Wray, the actress who starred in King Kong, and a blackmailer with some dirty photos.

Unfortunately, I haven't been reading all that much these past few weeks, and I knew I wouldn't get a chance to read this one any time soon. So... instead of a review, I'm offering you something even better -- a copy of JIMMY AND FAY! To enter, just fill out the form below before January 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!

Thanks to Saichek Publicity for providing the giveaway copy of this novel.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Review: Dear Amy

Summary: In Helen Callaghan’s chilling, tightly-spun debut novel of psychological suspense, a teenage girl’s abduction stirs dark memories of a twenty-year-old cold case...

Margot Lewis is a teacher at an exclusive high school in the English university town of Cambridge. In her spare time, she writes an advice column, “Dear Amy”, for the local newspaper.

When one of Margot’s students, fifteen-year-old Katie, disappears, the school and the town fear the worst. And then Margot gets a “Dear Amy” letter unlike any of the ones she’s received before. It’s a desperate plea for rescue from a girl who says she is being held captive and in terrible danger—a girl called Bethan Avery, who was abducted from the local area twenty years ago…and never found.

The letter matches a sample of Bethan’s handwriting that the police have kept on file since she vanished, and this shocking development in an infamous cold case catches the attention of criminologist Martin Forrester, who has been trying to find out what happened to her all those years ago. Spurred on by her concern for both Katie and the mysterious Bethan, Margot sets out—with Martin’s help—to discover if the two cases are connected.

But then Margot herself becomes a target. -- Harper

DEAR AMY by Helen Callaghan sounded like just the kind of book I enjoy. A psychological suspense novel that linked a current kid napping with a twenty year old one. However, I just didn't "feel" it like I had hoped. I don't know if it's that I'm distracted by holiday planning right now and just not in the mood for reading, or whether the novel DEAR AMY wasn't just my cup of tea. Regardless, I thought this book was just okay.

DEAR AMY tells the story of Margot Lewis, a teacher at a fancy high school in Cambridge as well as the advice columnist for the local newspaper. When Katie, one of her students mysteriously disappears one day, people fear the worse. And then, things get even stranger in this town when Margot receives a "Dear Amy" letter. This letter is from Bethan Avery, a girl for was kidnapped twenty years ago and still hasn't been found.

Margot wonders if this letter is some kind of hoax, but when the local police tie the handwriting to Bethan, Margot can't help but become involved with the case. She hopes she can help save not only Bethan but also Katie. With the help of the criminologist Martin Forrester, Margot tries to figure out if these two cases are connected and she can save the girls before the kidnapper acts again!

As I mentioned earlier, DEAR AMY wasn't my favorite thriller, but it could be that I'm just not in the mood for reading right now. I do think the author had a strong storyline and there were times when I really enjoyed the writing and tension that she created; however, that was offset by a few things -- namely, the use of an unreliable narrator.

If you are a regular reader of Booking Mama, then you know that I am a bit tired by unreliable narrators after the huge success of THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN. I enjoy it... if it's done well, but there are times when I feel manipulated by this storytelling technique. In the case of DEAR AMY, I felt manipulated.

In addition to my issues with the narrator, I also figured out the major twist in the story before I was even halfway through. Believe me, I don't think I'm particularly astute, but I definitely could see where the story was going to go. I'm not sure I can really say much more than that without giving away a few spoilers. Let's just say that as the narrator became more and more unhinged, I began to question everything about her (as I'm sure was the author's intent), but I also knew what was going to happen to her.

As I reflect back on this review and the book, I'm concerned that my words sound much harsher than I intended. DEAR AMY isn't a bad book or one without merit. Instead, it just wasn't one of my favorites in this genre. There are definitely some readers that will appreciate this novel, and I recommend it to fans of stories with unreliable narrators and surprise endings.

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, December 17, 2016

Kid Konnection: National Geographic Science 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 more great books from National Geographic that are perfect for holiday gifts.

Do you know a kid who loves science? Then I have the perfect books for this holiday season! National Geographic has published two big (and I mean big) books about science. SCIENCE ENCYCLOPEDIA: ATOM SMASHING, FOOD CHEMISTRY, ANIMALS, SPACE, AND MORE! and HOW THINGS WORK: DISCOVER SECRETS AND SCIENCE BEHIND BOUNCE HOUSES, HOVERCRAFT, ROBOTICS, AND EVERYTHING IN BETWEEN are incredible reference books for those curious readers who want to learn more about the world around them!

Summary: Food chemistry, atom crashing, wave power, and robots. These are just a few of the topics covered in this fantastic new science encyclopedia, which presents a comprehensive overview of physical and life sciences from A to Z. Super smart and kid-friendly, it’s packed with full-color photographs, weird-but-true facts, amazing statistics, do-it-yourself experiments, plus profiles of scientists and National Geographic explorers who rock the world of science. Keep up with the changes happening all around us with this stellar science reference book. -- National Geographic

Words can't begin to express just how amazing the SCIENCE ENCYCLOPEDIA is! This book is coffee table gorgeous with all of the larger-than-life full color photographs that I've come to know and love from National Geographic. And that's even before the 300+ pages of information about a wide variety of science topics. This book is almost too good to be true for science enthusiasts.

The SCIENCE ENCYCLOPEDIA isn't just for kids. It's geared towards kids ages 8 to 12, but I think there's plenty for adults to learn between the pages of this book. The book covers a wide variety of subjects and is divided into two parts -- Physical Science and Life Science. Those sections are then divided into chapters. Physical Science contains the following chapters: Matter, Forces and Machines, Energy and Electronics. Life Science has The Universe, Life on Earth, The Human Body, and Planet Earth. See what I mean about how much this book covers?

SCIENCE ENCYCLOPEDIA is so appealing whether you read it from beginning to end or use it as a reference book. The information is presented is a fun and reader-friendly manner. There are lots of graphics and different types of text boxes to keep things interesting. And of course, the color photographs make the book even more appealing!

Highly recommended for school and home libraries!

Summary: Ever wanted to take apart the microwave to see how it works? Were inspired to open your computer and peek inside? Are you intrigued by how things work? So are we! That's why we're dissecting all kinds of things from rubber erasers to tractor beams. Read along as National Geographic Kids unplugs, unravels, and reveals how things do what they do. Complete with "Tales from the Lab," true stories, biographies of real scientists and engineers, exciting diagrams and illustrations, accessible explanations, trivia, and fun features, this cool book explains it all. -- National Geographic

HOW THINGS WORK by T.J. Resler is another educational, yet fun, book about science. I'm not exactly the ideal audience for this book because my brain just doesn't work like that, but this book will certainly appeal to kids ages 7 - 10 who are budding engineers. Truth be told, I actually found many pages in this book to be fascinating despite my reluctance to figure out how anything works!

HOW THINGS WORK is actually a very cool book and covers quite a few interesting topics. The book is divided into the following chapters -- BEAM ME UP, HOME IS WHERE THE FRIDGE IS, SCHOOL OF COOL, EXTREME FUN, and HERE TO THERE. Those chapter names are a bit cryptic. Basically, the book teaches kids about various machines work. However, this book also offers much more than that. There are biographies of famous scientists, diagrams, illustrations, photographs and more!

There are many things to like about HOW THINGS WORK, but one of my favorite parts was the section on how glue sticks. It answers some basic questions like, "What does it take to hold things together?, Why doesn't it get stuck inside it's bottle", and Why does glue dry up?" The chapter explains adhesion and cohesion and provides some interesting fun facts about glue!

Overall, HOW THINGS WORK is definitely a fun way to learn about so many things we take for granted in our daily lives (or at least I take for granted)! Definitely recommended for future scientists and engineers or anyone who is curious about "how things work."

Thanks to the Media Masters 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!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Booking Mamas' December Meeting

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

Last night, we met to discuss FORTY AUTUMNS: A FAMILY'S STORY OF COURAGE AND SURVIVAL ON BOTH SIDES OF THE BERLIN WALL by Nina Willner. I was really excited to read a memoir because we almost always read women's fiction, but it was an interesting choice for our December (i.e. holiday!) meeting.

I actually hosted this month's meeting, and I was determined that we would at least try to discuss the book. Eight of us attended and I think only a few of us read the entire book. I don't think that's a slight against the book because those of us who finished it really enjoyed it. I think it's more a testament to the hectic nature of the season!

I am proud to say that we did discuss the book -- mainly to acknowledge how surprised we were by what occurred to this family. Most of us are old enough to remember the Berlin Wall and especially when it came down; however, I don't think any of us understood just how horrific it was to families in Germany. I pulled out the discussion questions (all twenty of them!), and we did go through a few of them. We found that we spent more time discussion the different ways the family members handled the events, and we were very impressed with the strength of Oma and Opa.

And since it was our Christmas book club meeting, we had our annual book swap. We run this like a White Elephant or Yankee Swap with everyone getting to open a new or used book or having the opportunity to steal a book someone else already opened. Unfortunately, this year there was no stealing -- boo. I think that's because I'm the only one who ever steals and I was happy with my Dennis Lehane novel THE GIVEN DAY.

We did have a bit of an unusual swap this year because one of our newest members decided to provide a little excitement to the swap. As were all opening the books, I noticed that she was very red and giggling quite a bit, but heck, that's just Sharon! Well much to our amazement, she wrapped a very dirty book... with actual photos! Let's just put it this way, the "Better than Sex Cake" that I made for dessert took on any entirely new meaning! We had quite a few laughs (and even some snorts from Sharon herself!), and Sharon is still chuckling because the rest of us took the swap seriously. Imagine that? A book club that actually took a book swap seriously!
Next month, we chose to read OUR HEARTS WILL BURN US DOWN by Anne Valente. This book looks like a powerful read, and Refinery29 has already called it a Best Read for October and Ploughshares has said it's one of the "Most Necessary Books for the End of 2016." My only concern is that I'm not sure everyone will want to read such a serious book about grief and loss over the holidays, but we'll see!

Summary: The lives of four teenagers are capsized by a shocking school shooting and its aftermath in this powerful debut novel, a coming-of-age story with the haunting power of Station Eleven and the bittersweet poignancy of Everything I Never Told You.

As members of the yearbook committee, Nick, Zola, Matt, and Christina are eager to capture all the memorable moments of their junior year at Lewis and Clark High School—the plays and football games, dances and fund-drives, teachers and classes that are the epicenter of their teenage lives. But how do you document a horrific tragedy—a deadly school shooting by a classmate?

Struggling to comprehend this cataclysmic event—and propelled by a sense of responsibility to the town, their parents, and their school—these four "lucky" survivors vow to honor the memories of those lost, and also, the memories forgotten in the shadow of violence. But the shooting is only the first inexplicable trauma to rock their small suburban St. Louis town. A series of mysterious house fires have hit the families of the victims one by one, pushing the grieving town to the edge.

Nick, the son of the lead detective investigating the events, plunges into the case on his own, scouring the Internet to uncover what could cause a fire with no evident starting point. As their friend pulls farther away, Matt and Christina battle to save damaged relationships, while Zola fights to keep herself together.

A story of grief, community, and family, of the search for understanding and normalcy in the wake of devastating loss, Our Hearts Will Burn Us Down explores profound questions about resiliency, memory, and recovery that brilliantly illuminate the deepest recesses of the human heart. -- William Morrow

Monday, December 12, 2016

Review: The Gates of Evangeline

Summary: When New York journalist and recently bereaved mother Charlotte “Charlie” Cates begins to experience vivid dreams about children in danger, she’s sure that she’s lost her mind. Yet these are not the nightmares of a grieving parent. They are warnings that will help Charlie and the children she sees, if only she can make sense of them.

After a little boy in a boat appears in Charlie’s dreams, asking for her help, she finds herself entangled in a world-famous thirty-year-old missing-child case that has never ceased to haunt Louisiana’s prestigious Deveau family. Armed with an invitation to Evangeline, the family’s sprawling estate, Charlie heads south, where new friendships and an unlikely romance with the estate’s landscape architect—the warm and handsome Noah Palmer—bring much-needed healing. But as she uncovers long-buried secrets of love, money, betrayal, and murder, the facts begin to implicate those she most wants to trust—and her visions reveal an evil closer than she could have imagined.

A Southern Gothic mystery debut that combines literary suspense and romance with a mystical twist, The Gates of Evangeline is a story that readers of Gillian Flynn, Kate Atkinson, and Alice Sebold won’t be able to put down. -- Putnam

Just last week, I was offered the chance to review THE SHIMMERING ROAD by Hester Young. The book is a sequel to THE GATES OF EVANGELINE which I remember hearing great things about at BEA two years ago. THE GATES OF EVANGELINE was actually a Publishers Weekly and Suspense Magazine Best Book of 2015, and I am so happy to say that I finally read it. The book was fantastic, and I can hardly wait until THE SHIMMERING ROAD is released!

THE GATES OF EVANGELINE tells the story of Charlie Cates, a magazine journalist who is still reeling from the death of her young son. Charlie is consumed by grief when she begins having very realistic dreams about children in danger. These children actually beg for Charlie to help them, and she is determined to properly interpret their words so she can save them!

One young boy appears in her visions that eventually leads Charlie to Louisiana and the Deveau family. Gabe, the youngest child in the family went missing over thirty years ago, and the case was never solved. Charlie ends up getting hired to write a book about the disappearance, and she actually lives on the grounds of the family's massive estate. While Charlie planned on spending her time getting to know the family and conducting research, she finds herself in a romance with a landscape designer who is working on the grounds.

Charlie does make some startling discoveries about the Deveaus' past including some major secrets and some major betrayals. She even begins to suspect that there might have been a murder, but she doesn't know how all of this information will help with the little boy who appears in her dreams. As she becomes more involved with the Deveaus and learns more about their family history, she ends up questioning who she can trust as well as her her own instincts.

I absolutely devoured THE GATES OF EVANGELINE. It was exactly the book I needed at this totally hectic time of the year. I admit that I was a bit concerned that I wouldn't like the Southern gothic aspect of the novel or the "supernatural dreams;" however, I found the novel so well written... and believable that I actually embraced even these parts of the story. In addition, I loved the character of Charlie and rooted for her to save these children who were reaching out to her in her dreams!

Charlie is definitely carrying some very heavy baggage. She was divorced after her husband cheated on her, and even worse, she lost her young son of a brain hemorrhage. She was wracked with grief, but also guilt; and my heart almost broke for her. When she began receiving these visions from young children, Charlie had a purpose again. She couldn't save her own son but maybe she could help others. Charlie evolved a great deal throughout the 400 pages of this novel, and I loved being along for her journey!

In addition to loving the character of Charlie, I have to say that the mystery surrounding the disappearance of Gabe was outstanding. What started as a disappearance of a youngster soon included a murder and more! I was definitely kept guessing through the many twists and turns of the plot, and I honestly only figured out one angle of the story. The rest came as a pretty good surprise to me.

THE GATES OF EVANGELINE would make an excellent discussion book for your next book club meeting. I loved the complexity of Charlie's character and think there's plenty to discuss about her. In addition, there is a reading guide with eight thought-provoking questions. Some of the themes you might want to explore are faith, fate, chance, grief, loss, friendship, love, secrets, culture differences, and more.

I totally loved THE GATES OF EVANGELINE and I'm just thrilled that it's part of a trilogy! That means I will have two more chances to experience Charlie's adventures and Ms. Young's terrific writing.

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, December 10, 2016

Kid Konnection: Gift Ideas from National Geographic Kids

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 great books from National Geographic that are perfect for holiday gifts.

Summary: Sure, you know T-Rex was the meat-eating king and brontosaurus munched on leaves, but what else was on the dino dining menu during the Mesozoic era?

Meet the 'vores: carnivores, piscivores, herbivores, insectivores, "trashivores," "sunivores," and omnivores like us.

Readers will be surprised and inspired to learn about dino diets and they'll get to explore how scientists can tell which dinosaurs ate what just from looking at fossils. Journey through artist and author Hannah Bonner's whimsical world to learn how the dinosaurs and their contemporaries bit, chewed, and soaked up their food. -- National Geographic Kids

DINING WITH DINOSAURS: A TASTY GUIDE TO MESOZOIC MUNCHING by Hannah Bonner  is so cute! I wasn't quite sure what to expect from this picture book, but I ended up loving it. This book is extremely educational (which, as a mom, I loved), and it's entertaining too! It's the best of both worlds.

DINING WITH DINOSAURS teaches children (and their parents!) about what dinosaurs ate. It sounds like it could be boring (do I dare say that?), but with the terrific illustrations, it was anything but. The colorful drawings are all labeled with definitions and other interesting tidbits. There are even little comic strips titled "Ask a Scientist" thrown in for an even better way to learn.

In addition to lots of information about what dinosaurs eat, there is a great deal of information about dinosaurs and other plants and animals from the past. I discovered that there are actually six types of "vores" including carnivores, insectivores, herbivores, piscivores, sunivores, and trashivores! I also learned how their bodies were designed differently depending on their particular diet.

Overall, DINING WITH DINOSAURS is a fantastic book for kids who are interested in dinosaurs. Highly recommended!

Summary:Poaching and war damaged an isolated wilderness in West Zambia, reducing its lion population to just one: Lady, the last lioness. Witness Lady's fight for survival in this evocative narrative on the decline, fall, and rebirth of the Liuwa Plains. Follow Lady as she grapples with a landscape altered by human hands and discover how both Lady and humankind restore balance to the environment. 

More than a story about one brave lion, Rise of the Lioness offers a great introduction to life science by looking at the workings of an ecosystem, the methods of scientists and environmentalists, and explaining the interconnection between the plant, animal, and human systems. -- National Geographic Kids

Another fantastic book I recently read is RISE OF THE LIONESS: RESTORING A HABITAT AND ITS PRIDE ON THE LIUWA PLAINS by Bradley Hague. I have to admit that the photos in this book captured my heart. National Geographic is known for its amazing photographs, and this book definitely lives up to that reputation. Lions are such majestic creatures and this book certainly features their beauty.

Author Bradley Hague actually traveled to Zambia, Africa, to see the famed Lady of Liuwa and her family of lions. Lady was actually the only lioness left in the Liuwa Plains because of poaching. This book tells her story by teaching kids about the history of the Liuwa Plains and how Lady survived the changes to her home as well as the intrusion of humans.

As if Lady's story isn't amazing enough, this book also is a great way for readers to learn about the study of life science. There is detailed information about how an ecosystem works as well as the complicated relationship between plants, animals, and humans. This book is geared towards an 8 - 12 age range, but I think even older kids (and adults) will find it fascinating.

RISE OF THE LIONESS is both a beautiful book and an interesting story. A must-have for libraries and classrooms!

Summary: Classic stories and dazzling illustrations of princesses, kings, sailors, and genies come to life in a stunning retelling of the Arabian folk tales from One Thousand and One Nights and other collections, including those of Aladdin, Sinbad the Sailor, and Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. The magical storytelling of award-winning author Donna Jo Napoli dramatizes these timeless tales and ignites childrens' imaginations. -- National Geographic Kids

And last but certainly not least is TALES FROM THE ARABIAN NIGHTS: STORIES OF ADVENTURE, MAGIC, LOVE, AND BETRAYAL by Donna Jo Napoli and illustrations by Christina Balit. This book is both big and beautiful (think coffee table book!) and contains many Arabian folk tales.

Many of you will recognize the stories and characters in the book like One Thousand and One Nights as well as Aladdin, Sinbad, and Ali Baba; however, this is a great way to introduce them to your children. These action stories royalty and adventures are bound to entertain kids of all ages. There are even reference materials for kids who want to learn more!

Needless to say, I found these stories to be extremely entertaining, but the illustrations are what make this book extra-special. The artwork is absolutely gorgeous -- both colorful and detailed, and I just love looking through the pages of this book. The drawings are almost magical!

In summary, TALES FROM THE ARABIAN NIGHTS is a wonderful collection of Arabian folk tales that also happens to have some pretty beautiful illustrations!

Thanks to the Media Masters 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!


Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Review: The Other Einstein

Summary: In the tradition of The Paris Wife and Mrs. Poe, The Other Einstein offers us a window into a brilliant, fascinating woman whose light was lost in Einstein’s enormous shadow. It is the story of Einstein’s wife, a brilliant physicist in her own right, whose contribution to the special theory of relativity is hotly debated and may have been inspired by her own profound and very personal insight.

Mitza Maric has always been a little different from other girls. Most twenty-year-olds are wives by now, not studying physics at an elite Zurich university with only male students trying to outdo her clever calculations. But Mitza is smart enough to know that, for her, math is an easier path than marriage. And then fellow student Albert Einstein takes an interest in her, and the world turns sideways. Theirs becomes a partnership of the mind and of the heart, but there might not be room for more than one genius in a marriage. -- Sourcebooks

I have been on the lookout for a good historical fiction book for some time. While I don't love the king/queen books, I do enjoy "learning" through fiction. When I first heard about THE OTHER EINSTEIN by Marie Benedict, I thought this book really had potential. This novel gives insight into Albert Einstein's first wife, and I found it both interesting and heartbreaking.

THE OTHER EINSTEIN tells the story of Mitza Maric, a young woman who was ahead of her time in so many ways. Despite having a severe limp, Mitza and her father were determined for her to receive a quality education -- not an opportunity most women has in the late 1800s. Mitza moves to Zurich to attend a prestigious university and study physics, and she's the only woman in any of her classes. She is met with mixed behavior from the instructors and the male students, but one student in particular, a Mr. Albert Einstein, is drawn to her. He turns Mitza's life upside down, and everything she thought she ever wanted is called into question.

Albert convinces Mitza to follow her heart, and it proves to be her downfall. They both put Albert's career first (he is the man after all); however, Mitza soon learns that her difficult choices have led to her unhappiness. Albert's immaturity, selfishness, and even lies hurt Mitza beyond belief, and she's forced to decide whether she can continue to make these sacrifices for a man who doesn't seem to give anything back.

As I had hoped, I really enjoyed THE OTHER EINSTEIN. It was an interesting story about a brilliant woman who thought she could have it all. Unfortunately, it didn't quite work out that way for her. I definitely appreciated how the author brought Mitza to life and even how she presented Albert Einstein as an extremely complicated (and difficult) man. And while I'm not a big fan of romances, I enjoyed how the author portrayed their relationship and the challenges they faced.

I was definitely impressed with how well the author merged fact with fiction in this novel. It was apparent that she conducted a great deal of research, and I loved that the subject matter was one that I knew nothing about. I also loved how she came up with the idea to write about Mitza. Her son was reading "Who Was Albert Einstein?" and it mentioned that Einstein had a wife who was also a physicist. That was just enough to trigger her curiosity... and the writing of THE OTHER EINSTEIN.

THE OTHER EINSTEIN would make a terrific book club selection. The book is not only interesting but really explores a woman who made sacrifices for love. Needless to say, there are many relevant themes that will resonate with readers including a woman who felt the conflict between a career and a family. I was thrilled that they publisher included a discussion guide in the back of the hardcover version of the novel (not something you see everyday!) Some of the topics you might want to further explore include gender, betrayal, a quest for understanding, love, grief, guilt, independence, and second chances.

Overall, I enjoyed THE OTHER EINSTEIN a great deal. Highly recommended to fans of historical fiction and books with strong female characters.

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

Monday, December 5, 2016

Review: Security

Summary: The terrible truth about Manderley is that someone is always watching. 

Manderley Resort is a gleaming, new twenty-story hotel on the California coast. It’s about to open its doors, and the world–at least those with the means to afford it–will be welcomed into a palace of opulence and unparalleled security. But someone is determined that Manderley will never open. The staff has no idea that their every move is being watched, and over the next twelve hours they will be killed off, one by one. 

Writing in the tradition of Edgar Allan Poe and Stephen King, and with a deep bow to Daphne du Maurier, author Gina Wohlsdorf pairs narrative ingenuity and razor-wire prose with quick twists, sharp turns, and gasp-inducing terror. Security is grand guignol storytelling at its very best. 

A shocking thriller, a brilliant narrative puzzle, and a multifaceted love story unlike any other, Security marks the debut of a fearless and gifted writer. - Algonquin

During the month of December, with all of the holiday prep, I tend to have a hard time finding the time to read... or even the desire to read. So I thought I'd pick up a book that was a little different than my normal reading fare. The book I selected was a thriller called SECURITY by Gina Wohlsdorf, and it truly was unlike any book I've ever read.

SECURITY takes place at the Manderley Resort, a beautiful hotel on the coast of California that is almost ready to open. It's an exquisite hotel with lots of amenities, but it also claims that it will have security unlike any other hotel in the world. In fact, it appears that the heightened security means that everyone and everything is being watched.

That becomes very apparent in the first few pages of SECURITY as the workers in the hotel are getting brutally murdered one by one in quick succession. And when I say "brutally," I mean "brutally." (Note: This book isn't for the faint of heart.) The manager of the hotel, Tessa, isn't aware of any of these happenings. She's too preoccupied with her job and dealing with the surprise appearance of her foster brother who she hasn't seen for over a decade.

As the murder victims keep piling up (sometimes literally), the tension in the story builds. The clues about the murderer or murderers (?) are gradually revealed, but even more surprising is the identity of the narrator of the story who is watching over the murders from a bank of security cameras. The conclusion is startling and jarring... and terrorizing, and I can guarantee that readers will never look at security the same way again!

OK -- I hardly know where to begin in my review for SECURITY. It truly is one of the strangest and most disturbing books I've ever read, and I'm not entirely sure I enjoyed the story. It was extremely graphic and gross; and at times, the book bordered seemed like a horror movie to me. What I can definitely say is that I appreciated the creativity of the plot and writing, and I really enjoyed the just now much this book surprised me... on so many levels.

One thing I absolutely loved about this novel was how unique it was. Initially, I wasn't exactly sure I was following the book. I couldn't get a grip on who was seeing what, but then, it became clear that the story was being viewed through security cameras. How original, right? And to even make the story more intriguing, the author sometimes used two, three or even four columns to show what was happening simultaneously from the different security camera views. I also found myself questioning who was actually watching all of these murders taking place. Let me just say, I found the answer to that question to be very, very interesting... and shocking!

Another interesting aspect of this story is that there was almost a love story of sorts taking place while all of these people were being murdered. Tessa seemed to be a workaholic and extremely capable in managing the hotel, and then her long-lost foster brother Brian came into the picture. It was apparent almost immediately to me that there were some seriously unresolved issues and that maybe there was even a romantic spark between the two. As the murders were occurring on different floors of the hotel, Tessa and Brian were trying to work through their complicated past. I found this to be an odd juxtaposition to the bloody murders.

Finally, I feel as if I should mention that this book was extremely shocking -- from the romance, to the mysteries, to the amount of gore, and so on. I admit that I did appreciate being surprised over and over again. I read a lot of thrillers and it's not always easy to surprise me, nevertheless shock me! However, I also was surprised by how much humor was in the story. Granted, a lot of the humor was pretty dark, but the book was actually funny.

Overall, I'm definitely glad I read SECURITY if for nothing else than it was so darn original. I'm not sure I'd say I loved the story or that I'd recommend it to all of my friends, but there's definitely a certain reader that will think SECURITY is one of the best books they've read this year!

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, December 3, 2016

Kid Konnection: Lucy & Andy Neanderthal

Every Saturday, I host a feature called Kid Konnection -- a regular weekend feature about anything related to children's books. This week I'm going to share with you a middle grade graphic novel that's both fun and educational!

Summary: From the author of the New York Times bestselling Jedi Academy books comes a hilarious graphic novel series about two young cave kids living 40,000 years ago.

Lucy and Andy are a sister and brother who get into trouble much like any sister and brother. Only difference? Lucy and Andy live in the Stone Age! Discover their laugh-out-loud adventures as the Paleo pair take on a wandering baby sibling, bossy teens, cave paintings, and a mammoth hunt. But what will happen when they encounter a group of humans?

Includes extra information about Neanderthal life that’s sure to appeal to future paleontologists and science phobes alike! And don’t miss Lucy and Andy’s next outing, Lucy & Andy Neanderthal: The Stone Cold Age — coming soon! -- Crown

I've been wanting to pick up the middle grade graphic novel LUCY & ANDY NEANDERTHAL by Jeffrey Brown ever since I saw the review on Bermuda Onion's blog. Booking Son is a big fan of Mr. Brown's Jedi Academy series, so there was that. Plus, I thought the cover and illustrations looked adorable.

LUCY & ANDY NEANDERTHAL tells the story of brother and sister team, Lucy and Andy. They are pretty typical siblings -- they definitely like to argue and fight; and there is always competition between the two. They have some interesting encounters like sneaking out for a mammoth hunt and losing their baby brother... and even meeting humans!  Despite living in the Stone Age, I do think their actions will resonate with a lot of readers.

I have to say that there's a lot to like about LUCY & ANDY NEANDERTHAL! It's a terrific book for middle grade readers, even the reluctant ones. The illustrations are fantastic and the storylines are entertaining. There is also a ton of silly humor which I promise will bring a smile to your kid's face. And last but not least (and maybe my favorite part of the book)... there is some great information on the history of Neanderthal life.

In addition to the comic strip panels which tell Lucy and Andy's story, there are pages at the end of each section which show two scientists studying and discussing Neanderthals. There are also notes throughout the book with offer some teaching moments. I love that these parts of the book provide information about the Stone Age; and kids will be having so much fun, they won't even realize that they are learning!

I was excited to learn that LUCY & ANDY NEANDERTHAL is the first book in the series. The next book will be called LUCY & ANDY NEANDERTHAL: THE STONE COLD AGE. I honestly enjoyed this book so much that I was left wanting more. These characters are engaging, and it's a great way to learn about science and history.

LUCY & ANDY NEANDERTHAL is a winner and should be a must-have in classrooms and libraries. Highly recommended to middle grade readers ages 8 - 12.

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, December 1, 2016

Review: Small Great Things

Summary: Ruth Jefferson is a labor and delivery nurse at a Connecticut hospital with more than twenty years’ experience. During her shift, Ruth begins a routine checkup on a newborn, only to be told a few minutes later that she’s been reassigned to another patient. The parents are white supremacists and don’t want Ruth, who is African American, to touch their child. The hospital complies with their request, but the next day, the baby goes into cardiac distress while Ruth is alone in the nursery. Does she obey orders or does she intervene?

Ruth hesitates before performing CPR and, as a result, is charged with a serious crime. Kennedy McQuarrie, a white public defender, takes her case but gives unexpected advice: Kennedy insists that mentioning race in the courtroom is not a winning strategy. Conflicted by Kennedy’s counsel, Ruth tries to keep life as normal as possible for her family—especially her teenage son—as the case becomes a media sensation. As the trial moves forward, Ruth and Kennedy must gain each other’s trust, and come to see that what they’ve been taught their whole lives about others—and themselves—might be wrong.

With incredible empathy, intelligence, and candor, Jodi Picoult tackles race, privilege, prejudice, justice, and compassion—and doesn’t offer easy answers. Small Great Things is a remarkable achievement from a writer at the top of her game. -- Ballantine Books

One of my highlights from this year's SIBA was the dinner on Saturday night. Jodi Picoult was scheduled to speak about her new novel SMALL GREAT THINGS. This book deals with an extremely serious and relevant issue in America today -- race relations and prejudice; and her speech brought the audience to a standing ovation. She didn't hold back on the realities of what she learned while writing this book, and I can guarantee that every single person that was there went home that night and thought about what she said!

Most of us have probably read a Jodi Picoult novel, and we know that she's never been one to shy away from controversial topics, but she brings it to a new level with this novel. SMALL GREAT THINGS tells the story of two women -- one white and one black, whose lives are brought together when one is charged with a serious crime.

Ruth Jefferson, an African American woman, has been a labor and delivery nurse for over twenty years and is considered by everyone who has worked with her to be an extremely competent. One day, Ruth tends to a newborn only to discover later that the parents, who happen to be white supremacists, have requested that she not touch their child white child. Of course, the hospital complies. However, when the child goes into cardiac arrest and Ruth is alone with the baby, she faces a life or death decision that also could have major ramifications on her own life!

Normally, Ruth would immediately begin CPR; however, she hesitates because of the parent's orders. Ruth eventually tries to save the child but it's too late. The parents end up charging her with murder. Kennedy McQuarrie, a white woman who is certain that she's not prejudice, takes her case; and she offers some advice that rubs Ruth the wrong way. Kennedy does not thing Ruth should mention the "race card" during the trial. She's certain that it's not a way to win the case.

Ruth and Kennedy both have to learn to trust each other... and it's not easy for either of them. Kennedy learns some valuable lessons about race in our country as well as some meaningful things about her own beliefs, while Ruth is determined to keep her son's life as normal as possible. Can these two women find common ground and save Ruth from going to jail for murder?

I enjoyed SMALL GREAT THINGS and I will definitely say that it gave me a great deal to think about. I always say that if a book can teach me something or (even better) make me think, then it's a winner in my mind. SMALL GREAT THINGS is unlike any book about blacks and whites that I've ever read, and I think it's especially important during the current climate in our country. I walked away from this book questioning my own behavior and challenging myself to be a better person, and I suspect that almost every reader will have the exact same reaction.

That's all I'm going to say about my reaction to the novel; however, I do want to talk about the story... and what I appreciated. First of all, I loved the set-up -- a black nurse being charged for the murder of a white baby that she was told not to touch. Evidently, Ms. Picoult ripped this plot from the headlines, with some changes; and I thought it was extremely intriguing. The moral dilemma that Ruth faced is almost unimaginable to me, and I thought the Ms. Picoult did it justice in her writing.

I also really enjoyed how Ms. Picoult decided to tell this story. She wrote the story from the viewpoints of both Ruth and Kennedy; and I think by writing it this way, she gave additional insight into the characters' and their actions. While I appreciated Ruth's voice and I did understand her feelings, I really enjoyed Kennedy's chapters. As a white woman, I think I could better relate to Kennedy... and I absolutely loved how much she learned about herself throughout the course of the novel. It was in Kennedy's part of the story that I truly began to think about my own behavior.

Another important part of SMALL GREAT THINGS was how much insight I got into Ruth's life. By most accounts, she had many achievements. Despite losing her husband at a young age, she had a successful career and lived in a "nice" neighborhood. She also was a single mother of a teenage son who was a really good kid. I wrongly assumed that her life was pretty complete, and I never realized her fears about bringing up a black man in today's society. Even though she worked with and lived with whites, she never really felt accepted... and she exactly fit in with her family either. In many ways, she was living between two worlds.

Some of the most poignant scenes in the novel were when Ruth tried to explain to Kennedy how difficult it is being black. There is one scene in particular when Ruth and Kennedy go shopping, and Ruth is treated very differently because she's black. It was an a-ha moment for Kennedy... and me too; and it was a major game-changer for the direction that Kennedy was taking in the trial.

Finally, I appreciated that Ms. Picoult also explored the white supremacist side of the novel. It's unbelievable scary for me to think that people like this exist, but I know the reality. Ms. Picoult interviewed many people for this story, including some former white supremacists; and I thought it was extremely interesting to see where they are coming from. As much as I was disgusted by their beliefs, I was glad to see that Ms. Picoult showed that they, too, can change... although I'm not sure that actually happens all that much.

Needless to say, SMALL GREAT THINGS would make a fascinating book club pick with the right individuals. It won't be an easy discussion, but it will be an important one, especially in this day and age. There is a reading guide with fourteen thought-provoking questions. Some of the themes you might want to explore include prejudice, race relations, privilege, friendship, family, guilt, change, redemption, self-awareness, and equity vs. equality.

Overall, SMALL GREAT THINGS is a powerful novel and one that could possibly change readers' lives. Highly recommended.

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