Thursday, June 30, 2016

Review: In Twenty Years

Summary: Twenty years ago, six Penn students shared a house, naively certain that their friendships would endure—until the death of their ringleader and dear friend Bea splintered the group for good. Now, mostly estranged from one another, the remaining five reluctantly gather at that same house on the eve of what would have been Bea’s fortieth birthday.

But along with the return of the friends come old grudges, unrequited feelings, and buried secrets. Catherine, the CEO of a domestic empire, and Owen, a stay-at-home dad, were picture-perfect college sweethearts—but now teeter on the brink of disaster. Lindy, a well-known musician, is pushing middle age in an industry that’s all about youth and slowly self-destructing as she grapples with her own identity. Behind his smile, handsome plastic surgeon Colin harbors the heartbreaking truth about his own history with Bea. And Annie carefully curates her life on Instagram and Facebook, keeping up appearances so she doesn’t have to face the truth about her own empty reality.

Reunited in the place where so many dreams began, and bolstered by the hope of healing, each of them is forced to confront the past. -- Lake Union Publishing

One my favorite books of the summer (so far!) is IN TWENTY YEARS by Allison Winn Scotch. Ms. Scotch has always been one of my go-to authors for entertaining novels, and this one is no exception. IN TWENTY YEARS is available tomorrow; and if you are a fan of women's fiction, they you won't want to miss it.

IN TWENTY YEARS tells the story of six Penn students who all lived together and thought their relationships with each other would never weaken. Unfortunately, they learn that's not the case when their group "leader" Bea unexpectedly dies. Twenty years later, Bea's lawyer asks them to come back to their college dwelling, and they all come (albeit reluctantly) out of respect for their friend.

Needless to say, many things have changed in the last twenty years. A few of the friends are estranged, some are still holding torches for each other, and their personal lives are far from perfect. Catherine and Owen were college sweethearts and ended up getting married and having two kids. Catherine is the CEO of her own company (think Martha Stewart) and feels so much pressure to be successful. It has ended up getting in the way of her marriage to Owen. Meanwhile, Owen is resentful that she is never home while he's given up his career to be with the kids.

Lindy is a famous pop star who is realizing that it's not easy to be 40 in this industry. She's pretty much a mess trying to decide what to do about her music career (she's tired of singing other people's pop songs), but she's also at a major crossroads in her personal life. She's seeing both a man and a woman, and she's not sure if she wants relationships with either of them!

Colin is a plastic surgeon to the stars. He is handsome, wealthy, and living in Los Angeles; and he also has his fair share of gorgeous women. However, things aren't as great as they seem! He is still reeling from the end of his relationship with Bea, and he's having a hard time keeping the secret to himself.

Finally, there's Annie. Poor Annie. She wants the ideal life with the perfect husband and young son so much so that she tries to capture every moment on Instagram and Facebook. Needless to say, sometimes the people with the "best" lives on Facebook are really trying to hide the truth. Annie knows her husband isn't faithful despite Annie's best efforts to look and act perfect, and she is still pining for what could have been...

Bea definitely knew her friends and what each one of them would need in their lives. By bringing them together for one weekend, they were each able to look at their own selves as well as discover the importance of each other in their lives; and ultimately, they were able to face the past while also looking towards the future.

I really enjoyed IN TWENTY YEARS. It had everything I've come to love about an Allison Winn Scotch book. It was entertaining, had great characters, and it was also insightful about life. I honestly couldn't put down this book!

As you can see from my very long book summary above, this book had some wonderful characters -- six if you include Bea. And I believe she should be counted because she was so integral to the story. I loved how I got to learn so much about each one -- from their college years to the present; and it was interesting to see how much they grew (or maybe didn't really grow) over twenty years. Granted, there were some characters that I definitely liked from the get-go, while other characters took me awhile. However, by the end of the book I had grown to love all of them!

As interesting as I found the characters, I thought their relationships were even more intriguing. I loved seeing how they interacted with each other (and sometimes the significant others in their lives), and I thought it was an extremely smart decision to have a married couple as well as other characters who were still "in love" with each other. I definitely appreciated how well the author portrayed these complex relationships, and I do think these characters and the way they felt about each other will resonate with most (if not all) readers.

And finally, I loved the messages in this story. They weren't heavy handed but they were there if you were looking. There were so many life lessons that readers can see through the lives of these characters, and I think that a few major events (like Bea's untimely death) had major impacts on them that lasted for years. What I enjoyed was seeing how this reunion weekend was almost an "ah ha" moment for each one of them. When they were together, they were forced to reconcile events from their past before they could move forward with their lives. It was both touching and hopeful, and frankly, made for a very good book.

I do think IN TWENTY YEARS would make an excellent book club pick... especially for those groups made up of women in their late 30s and early 40s. I am older than that age range and I loved this book, but I do think it will be especially relatable to women of those ages. I wasn't able to find a formal discussion guide, but rest assured, you won't need one. There are so many themes to talk about including grief, loss, marriage, friendship, career choices, abuse, second chances, feelings of inadequacy, parenting, and secrets.

IN TWENTY YEARS is on a lot of Best Books of the Summer lists and it would definitely be on mine too... if I had one. Highly recommended for fans of women's fiction!

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

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

I've Got Sand in All the Wrong Places Giveaway

Summary: Lisa and Francesca are back with another collection of warm and witty stories that will strike a chord with every woman. This six book series is among the best reviewed humor books published today and has been compared to the late greats, Erma Bombeck and Nora Ephron. Delia Ephron said of the fifth book in the series, Have a Nice Guilt Trip, "Lisa and Francesca, mother and daughter, bring you the laughter of their lives once again and better than ever. You will identify with these tales of guilt and fall in love with them and fierce (grand) Mother Mary." This seventh volume will not disappoint as it hits the humorous and poignant note that fans have come to expect from the beloved mother-daughter duo. -- St. Martin's Press

One upcoming book release that I'm very excited about is I'VE GOT SAND IN ALL THE WRONG PLACES by Lisa Scottoline and Francesca Serritella. I've read this mother/daughter duo's essays in the past, and I have found them to be both hilarious and insightful... and sometimes even touching. It's hard to believe that this is the seventh (yes, seventh!) book that they written together, but it's no wonder they keep writing these essays when they have had so much commercial success and have brought joy to so many readers.

I will be receiving I'VE GOT SAND IN ALL THE WRONG PLACES shortly and can't wait to share my thoughts with you. In the meantime, I have some terrific news. There is a ten winner giveaway going on until July 12th for signed copies of I'VE GOT SAND IN ALL THE WRONG PLACES and DOES THIS BEACH MAKE ME LOOK FAT? as well as a Lily Pulitzer bracelet and wrap. Of course, I would love to win signed copies of the books, but how adorable is that bracelet?

You can enter this great giveaway below or access it directly here. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Review: First Comes Love

Summary: A pair of sisters find themselves at a crossroads in this dazzling new novel from the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Something Borrowed, Where We Belong, and The One & Only. First Comes Love is a story about family, friendship, and the courage to follow your own heart—wherever that may lead.

Growing up, Josie and Meredith Garland shared a loving, if sometimes contentious, relationship. Josie was impulsive, spirited, and outgoing, Meredith hardworking, thoughtful, and reserved. When tragedy strikes, their delicate bond splinters.

Fifteen years later, Josie and Meredith are in their late thirties, following very different paths. Josie, a first grade teacher, is single—and this close to swearing off dating for good. What she wants more than the right guy, however, is to become a mother—a feeling that is heightened when her ex-boyfriend’s daughter is assigned to her class. Determined to have the future she’s always wanted, Josie decides to take matters into her own hands.

On the outside, Meredith is the model daughter with the perfect life. A successful attorney, she’s married to a wonderful man, and together they’re raising a beautiful four-year-old daughter. Yet lately Meredith feels dissatisfied and restless, secretly wondering if she chose the life that was expected of her rather than the one she truly desired.

As the anniversary of their tragedy looms, and painful secrets from the past begin to surface, Josie and Meredith must not only confront the issues that divide them but also come to terms with their own choices. In their journey toward understanding and forgiveness, both sisters discover that they need each other more than they knew—and that in the search for true happiness, love always comes first. -- Ballantine

I have always loved the way that Emily Giffin portrays women in her novels. She just gets it -- if you know what I mean. Her latest novel FIRST COMES LOVE is no different. This book explores the lives of two very different sisters who are still reeling fifteen years after a major tragedy hit their family.

Josie and Meredith are somewhat typical sisters, or at least their childhood relationship was fairly typical. They loved each other, but they sometimes annoyed each other... and they even disagreed. However, one night their brother was killed in an automobile accident, and their lives were forever altered.

Fast forward fifteen years... Josie is a first grade teacher who is still single and ready to give one more guy a chance before deciding, once and for all, that marriage isn't in the cards for her. She is desperate to have a baby, and when she ends up teaching her ex-boyfriend's daughter, she feels an even greater desire. She decides that with or without a husband, she is ready to explore other options!

Meanwhile, Meredith seemingly has it all. She has a generous husband, a successful career as a lawyer, and beautiful four year-old daughter. However, as often is the case with some women, Meredith doesn't feel fulfilled. She isn't sure she wants to have another child and she's not exactly satisfied in her marriage or her career. In fact, she's wondering if she chose the "right" path instead of following her heart and becoming an actress.

As the fifteen year anniversary of their brother's death approaches, secrets from their past come to light. The two sisters feel even more tension in their relationship than normal, and maybe that's because each one of them is struggling with some inner demons. As they both begin to learn about themselves and deal with their life choices, they realize that they actually do love and need each other in many ways.

I really, really enjoyed FIRST COMES LOVE. It's an easy-to-read book that's perfect for the summer months; however, it's definitely not light and fluffy. That's not to say that FIRST COMES LOVE isn't fun though. It's extremely entertaining and there are a lot of funny scenes, but it is also an insightful book about loss, grief, and families. I loved it!

One of the things I appreciated most about FIRST COME LOVE is how well developed both Josie and Meredith were. I honestly can say that I related much more to one of the sisters than the other, but I liked both of them. Having said that, they both drove me crazy too! There were times when I wanted to shake them because I thought they were being so short-sighted... and then I reminded myself that there was a lot of baggage there due to the loss of their brother.

Another aspect of this novel that Ms. Giffin nailed was the relationship between the sisters. Fortunately, my sister and I don't have quite the tense-filled relationship that Josie and Meredith did; however, I'm sure she'd tell you that I drive her crazy sometimes! We also don't have very different personalities, but I know many siblings who do. I'm sure there are a lot of women out there who will relate to the their relationship.

I haven't mentioned this until now, but I thought both Josie's and Meredith's relationships with the other people in their lives were also very well developed. Josie was dating one guy, living with another and trying to find a sperm donor for a baby. Needless to say, she kept things interesting; and I loved the dynamic she had with men in her life. Meredith, on the other hand, was much more stable (in appearances only); and it was very honest how her marriage and motherhood were portrayed.

And finally, I loved seeing how these two women grew throughout the course of the story. Needless to say, the loss of their brother affected them both deeply whether they admitted it or not. However, they also were responsible for a lot of their own decisions regardless of what happened fifteen years ago. It was interesting to see how both women looked closely at their own lives and eventually made decisions that would help them achieve what they achieve happiness. It was extra-special that these insights also helped them to forge a better relationship.

I think FIRST COMES LOVE would make a terrific book club pick! There is a reading guide on the author's website with fourteen questions. Some of the themes you might want to explore include loss, grief, acceptance, marriage, motherhood, sisterhood, families, friendship, goals, career, love, and forgiveness.

Overall, FIRST COMES LOVE will be a treat for fans of Ms. Giffin's, and I'm certain it will bring some new ones into the fold. Highly recommended!

Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for providing an e-copy of this novel.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Review: City of Secrets

Summary: From master storyteller Stewart O’Nan, a timely moral thriller of the Jewish underground resistance in Jerusalem after the Second World War

In 1945, with no homes to return to, Jewish refugees by the tens of thousands set out for Palestine. Those who made it were hunted as illegals by the British mandatory authorities there and relied on the underground to shelter them; taking fake names, they blended with the population, joining the wildly different factions fighting for the independence of Israel. City of Secrets follows one survivor, Brand, as he tries to regain himself after losing everyone he’s ever loved. Now driving a taxi provided—like his new identity—by the underground, he navigates the twisting streets of Jerusalem as well as the overlapping, sometimes deadly loyalties of the resistance. Alone, haunted by memories, he tries to become again the man he was before the war—honest, strong, capable of moral choice. He falls in love with Eva, a fellow survivor and member of his cell, reclaims his faith, and commits himself to the revolution, accepting secret missions that grow more and more dangerous even as he begins to suspect he’s being used by their cell’s dashing leader, Asher. By the time Brand understands the truth, it’s too late, and the tragedy that ensues changes history. A noirish, deeply felt novel of intrigue and identity written in O’Nan’s trademark lucent style, City of Secrets asks how both despair and faith can lead us astray, and what happens when, with the noblest intentions, we join movements beyond our control. -- Viking

I decided to review the novel CITY OF SECRETS by Stewart O'Nan as part of Mystery Mondays, not because it was a traditional mystery but more because it was a unique type of thriller. Many would find that this novel is probably more literary fiction than thriller, but in many ways, it has all of the elements of a great suspense story. And since Mystery Mondays is "my" feature, I decided that it works!

CITY OF SECRETS takes place in Jerusalem in 1945 immediately following World War II. During this time, Jerusalem was under British occupation; and many Jewish refugees were sneaking into Palestine. The British Mandatory authorities were trying to track them down, so these people were forced to take new names and hope the underground provided cover for them. One such person was Jossi Brand, a Latvian Jew, who was the only survivor in his family after the horrors of the concentration camps.

Brand is now a taxi driver who works with the Haganah, a Jewish resistance group who is fighting for the independence of Israel. He is no longer the man he was prior to the war. He is wracked with guilt and loneliness, and he tries to find comfort in Eva, a prostitute who is also a survivor. He decides to focus his life on the dangerous missions that the Haganah carries out; however, he is never quite sure who or what to trust... or even what role he is being asked to play.

As tensions mount and Brand begins to realize the truth of his "friend" and leader, he realizes that it might already be too late. His cell plays a major role in an event that will forever change history in the battle for Jewish independence.

I thought CITY OF SECRETS was an excellent novel. There is no doubt that Mr. O'Nan is an amazing writer. His prose is eloquent and his characters are richly developed, and he managed to create a suspense filled novel. However, this novel rose to the next level for me because it was also incredibly interesting. I wasn't familiar with much of the history referenced in this novel including the bombing of the King David Hotel. (I probably should be embarrassed to admit that!)

I actually finished CITY OF SECRETS when I was in the car traveling to Washington, DC, for our vacation a few weeks ago. I was truly blown away by this book, so much so that I began researching the actual historical events that took place in this novel. I think I drove my family crazy reading to them what I was discovering about the British Mandate, the various Jewish resistance movements, and even the bombing of the King David Hotel and the potential political fallout. If a book moves me to start learning and continue thinking, then I consider that a great thing!

But that's not the only reason I appreciated this novel so much. Mr. O'Nan's writing is outstanding. I was deeply impressed with how he portrayed all of the historical parts of this novel. It was apparent that he did his research. I also loved how the tension in the story just kept building. Honestly, I couldn't put down this book once things got going!

However, even more impressive was how he created these intriguing characters and brought them to life. Brand was extremely complex and I definitely felt a great deal of compassion for him. Not only did he lose his entire family in the concentration camps, but he was attempting to move on... all alone, in a new country, hiding from authorities, with no one to trust. He was even forced to change his name. Brand was grasping to start over while also trying to hold on to the man he was before the war. It was extremely sad to consider Brand's new way of life, and I was desperate for him to find some happiness.

Another interesting dynamic in CITY OF SECRETS was the relationship Brand had with fellow cell members. On one hand, I was glad that he fell in love with Eva, and was able to learn a little about her past, but on the other hand, I wasn't sure about her real motivations. I certainly was hoping that she shared his feelings.

I also found his relationship with the cell leader, Asher, to be fascinating. Brand drove a cab that was used for many of the group's dangerous activities, and it appeared more and more likely that Asher was manipulating Brand for his own gain. As Brand began to realize things, it became apparent that he couldn't really trust anyone.

I do think CITY OF SECRETS would make a great book club selection. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find formal discussion questions; however, I think there's a great deal to talk about on your own. Some of the themes you might want to discuss include grief, war, the plight of the Jews and the Palestinians after World War II... and today, secrets, love, and many, many moral issues.

Overall, I think CITY OF SECRETS was an outstanding read. Highly recommended to fans of literary fiction, suspense novels, and literary fiction.

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, June 25, 2016

Kid Konnection: Awesome America


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 terrific book that's perfect for the upcoming Independence Day holiday!

Summary: Discover what makes America unique in this comprehensive timeline and photographic overview of American history--pre-Columbus through the present--highlighting the milestone events and important people that have made America awesome.

Perfect for both dip-in reference and longer-form reading, Awesome America is organized into thematic sections, each comprised of bite-sized articles, engaging factoid sidebars, colorful charts, graphics and interactive quizzes to help make learning about American history interesting, interactive, and fun. From America's early history all the way to present day, kids will learn about what it was like to grow up in the 1700's, 1800's, 1900's and today and discover the inventions, innovations, and important social movements great American's have created over the years. -- Liberty Street

I don't know if you're a regular visitor to Booking Mama, but I have been featuring some fantastic kids' books lately if I do say so myself! Seriously though, I am so excited the share with you TIME FOR KIDS AWESOME AMERICA: EVERYTHING YOU EVER WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT THE HISTORY, PEOPLE, AND CULTURE by Katy Steinmetz. This book has been a huge hit in my house. In fact, my son grabbed this book immediately when it arrived and proceeded to read it over the next few days. And that's really saying something for a relatively reluctant reader.

I wholeheartedly agree with Booking Son and I think AWESOME AMERICA is the ideal book to commemorate our great country. This big book makes learning about America fun. It has gorgeous photographs, interesting and fun facts, and easy-to-follow timelines. I truly believe you can read it the whole way through... like my son, or skim through it and just read the highlights.

AWESOME AMERICA really does encompass America's history from the pre-Columbus time period all the way to the present. I don't think I can adequately explain just how much information exists between the covers of this 200+ page book. The book is divided into the following chapters: Our Beginning, Our Government, Our Presidents, Tour the Fifty States, The Land, Coming to America, Moments That Changed America, Civil Rights, Great Americans, Growing Up in America, America's Role in the World, America's Home-Grown Gifts to the World, One of a Kind, and Year by Year. There are also a glossary and index in the back of the book along with some websites where you can visit to learn more!

Most of the facts in AWESOME AMERICA are aimed at kids; however, I am not embarrassed to say that I learned a great deal while reading this book. As a mom, I appreciate that the information is presented in such a friendly manner that kids won't even realize they are learning. Some of the specific things that I liked about the book include summaries of all of the fifty states as well as the brief biographies on famous Americans. I also appreciated the section that showed what life was like for families in each century. I truly could go on and on though about each and every page in this book. There is more interesting information than I can even begin to cover in a brief review of the book.

What I love the most about this book though is the way the information is presented. Every page is different. Some have timelines, some have charts, some have sidebars, some have brief descriptions -- you get the idea. However, what each page has in common are beautiful photographs. As I flip through this book, I am blown away by just how entertaining it is. I just keep turning the pages... it's that addictive!

Overall, I can't rave enough about AWESOME AMERICA. It's an educational book that also makes learning fun. Highly recommended!

Thanks to Blue Slip Media 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, June 23, 2016

Review: Girls on Fire

Summary: On Halloween, 1991, a popular high school basketball star ventures into the woods near Battle Creek, Pennsylvania, and disappears. Three days later, he’s found with a bullet in his head and a gun in his hand—a discovery that sends tremors through this conservative community, already unnerved by growing rumors of Satanic worship in the region.

In the wake of this incident, bright but lonely Hannah Dexter is befriended by Lacey Champlain, a dark-eyed, Cobain-worshiping bad influence in lip gloss and Doc Martens. The charismatic, seductive Lacey forges a fast, intimate bond with the impressionable Dex, making her over in her own image and unleashing a fierce defiance that neither girl expected. But as Lacey gradually lures Dex away from her safe life into a feverish spiral of obsession, rebellion, and ever greater risk, an unwelcome figure appears on the horizon—and Lacey’s secret history collides with Dex’s worst nightmare.

By turns a shocking story of love and violence and an addictive portrait of the intoxication of female friendship, set against the unsettled backdrop of a town gripped by moral panic, Girls on Fire is an unflinching and unforgettable snapshot of girlhood: girls lost and found, girls strong and weak, girls who burn bright and brighter—and some who flicker away. -- Harper

I actually read GIRLS ON FIRE by Robin Wasserman a few weeks ago but have hesitated in writing this review. I'm not really sure what to say, and I definitely don't think I have much to add to the bazillion raving reviews that are already out there. What I can say is that I found this novel to be extremely well written. However, I also found it to be one of the most disturbing books I've ever read. I am pretty sure that's because I am a mom to a teenage girl... and this book doesn't paint teenage girls in a very good light.

GIRLS ON FIRE tells the story of Hannah Dexter and Lacey Champlain. Hannah is a lonely teen who suddenly comes to life when Lacey befriends her after she was seriously bullied. Together they find common ground in their hatred of Nikki, the most popular girl in the school; and Hannah pretty much becomes a major follower of anything and everything Lacey does.

Hannah turns from a quiet girl into one who definitely pushes the envelope. She begins to dress in grungy clothes, listen to Nirvana, worship Kurt Cobain, and even change her name to Dex... because that's what Lacey calls her. As Dex and Lacey become closer, Dex finds that her life is becoming a dangerous "game" concerning both her relationship with Lacey and her hatred of Nikki. The tension builds as Dex finds herself in a dangerous situation, and she is forced to make a terrifying (and life-altering) decision.

I can't really say that I enjoyed GIRLS ON FIRE, but I can definitely say that I appreciated it. I honestly couldn't put down the book which is testament to the author; however, I will also add that it scared the living daylights out of me. The girls in this book were horrible -- a parent's worst nightmare; and their actions gave new meaning to the term "mean girl."

GIRLS ON FIRE isn't for the faint of heart. For most of the book, the characters' actions are bad, but they eventually become even more despicable. And there are more than a few disturbing and even shocking scenes. There is lots of foul language, sex, and violence; and if this book were a movie, it would definitely be rated R. There were times when I was reading this novel that I was downright uncomfortable, both by the language and the subject matter. However, I will admit that nothing made me more out of sorts than these two (or three) girls' behavior.

The story takes place in 1991, right at the height of Nirvana and the grunge movement. I was in high school a few years before this so I appreciated many of the music and fashion references. But that's where the "relating" to this novel ended! I knew "mean" and "bad" girls but they were no even close to the girls in this book -- they were more like sociopaths!

One thing I will definitely say about this book is that it is shocking. And by that, I mean the plot, the characters, and especially the ending. Even as I was reading this novel, I had no idea what was going to happen or what the characters would decide to do. And even when I thought the worst, it was even worse than that!

Overall, GIRLS ON FIRE in an interesting and well-written story about some very disturbed teenage girls. I definitely don't recommend it to those readers who shy away from violence, graphic sex, and bad language; however, I do think there's a big audience out there who will definitely love this twisted story!

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel.
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Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Review: The Arrangement

Summary: Los Angeles, 1934. Mary Frances is young, restlessly married, and returning from her first sojourn in France. She is hungry, and not just for food: she wants Tim, her husband Al’s charming friend, who encourages her writing and seems to understand her better than anyone. After a night’s transgression, it’s only a matter of time before Mary Frances claims what she truly desires, plunging all three of them into a tangled triangle of affection that will have far-reaching effects on their families, their careers, and their lives.

Set in California, France, and the Swiss Alps, The Arrangement is a sparkling, sensual novel that explores the complexities of a marriage and the many different ways in which we love. Writing at the top of her game, Ashley Warlick gives us a completely mesmerizing story about a woman well ahead of her time, who would go on to become the legendary food writer M. F. K. Fisher. -- Viking

I probably shouldn't admit this, but prior to picking up THE ARRANGEMENT by Ashley Warlick, I had absolutely no idea who M.F.K. Fisher was. (Just in case you are in the same boat, she was a famous food writer.) This novel explores not only her life, but also her marriage and her affair with a man named Tim. THE ARRANGEMENT is a beautifully written novel that manages to capture Mary Frances' passions, and it also just happens to be very sensual.

Mary Frances and her husband Al are returning to the states after living in France. She is a bit restless and her marriage seems to be floundering. Her husband, also a writer, is having a hard time with his career; and he's not exactly supporting of Mary Frances' writing. It isn't long until Mary Frances finds herself looking to her husband's close friend Tim. Tim, who is also married, and Mary Frances have a one-night stand; and while they decide to put a hold on their feelings, he is extremely supportive of her writing.

When Tim's wife leaves him for another man, his life is turned upside down. After a trip to the east, he and Mary Frances eventually find comfort in each other and start an all out affair. As strange as it sounds, the threesome end up living together in Switzerland; and Mary Frances finds success as a food writer. Tim and Mary Frances try to conceal their feelings for each other out of respect for Al. They both love him dearly, especially since he's so vulnerable and sensitive.

THE ARRANGEMENT is one of those books that I definitely appreciated, but I'm not sure I loved it. I think had I known who M.F.K. Fisher was or even anything about her writings that it would have helped me to be more interested in her life; however, I did enjoy how well the author told her story. I got the sense that Fisher was a writer who explored the senses especially as they pertained to food, and I feel like this novel also played to the reader's senses.

There were a few stellar things about THE ARRANGEMENT. First and foremost, I enjoyed how well the author brought these three characters to life. They were all extremely complex characters/artists, and it was interesting to see how their lives mixed with their stories. It was apparent to me that the author researched the life of M.F.K. Fisher and was able to incorporate the real life events with her story. I found it extremely interesting to see how Fisher's life in both France, California, and even Switzerland contributed to her writings and eventual success.

But what I enjoyed the most about this novel was how it portrayed this complex love triangle. It was obvious that Mary Frances and Tim has a passionate love affair; however, it was equally obvious how much Mary Frances loved her husband Al... albeit in an entirely different way. I would also argue that Tim very much loved Al as a friend. It was definitely interesting to see the different ways that love was explored in this novel.

THE ARRANGEMENT would make an interesting book club pick especially for those clubs who appreciate literary and/or historical fiction. There is a reading guide available with ten thought-provoking questions that might help to direct conversation. Some of the themes you might want to explore include passion, appetites, food, sex, marriage, trust, loss, grief, friendship, infidelity, secrets, and of course love.

I can't go so far as to say I loved THE ARRANGEMENT but I did appreciate it a great deal. Recommended to fans of literary fiction as well as readers familiar with M.F.K. Fisher's writing.

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

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Review: One True Loves

Summary: From the author of Maybe in Another Life—named a People Magazine pick—comes a breathtaking new love story about a woman unexpectedly forced to choose between the husband she has long thought dead and the fiancĂ© who has finally brought her back to life.

In her twenties, Emma Blair marries her high school sweetheart, Jesse. They build a life for themselves, far away from the expectations of their parents and the people of their hometown in Massachusetts. They travel the world together, living life to the fullest and seizing every opportunity for adventure.

On their first wedding anniversary, Jesse is on a helicopter over the Pacific when it goes missing. Just like that, Jesse is gone forever.

Emma quits her job and moves home in an effort to put her life back together. Years later, now in her thirties, Emma runs into an old friend, Sam, and finds herself falling in love again. When Emma and Sam get engaged, it feels like Emma’s second chance at happiness.

That is, until Jesse is found. He’s alive, and he’s been trying all these years to come home to her. With a husband and a fiancĂ©, Emma has to now figure out who she is and what she wants, while trying to protect the ones she loves.

Who is her one true love? What does it mean to love truly?

Emma knows she has to listen to her heart. She’s just not sure what it’s saying. -- Washington Square Press

For my flight to Florida, I decided to read something "light." I was on my way to a week of theme parks with my family, and I knew I wanted a book that was easy-to-read. I decided to pick up ONE TRUE LOVES by Taylor Jenkins Reid. It was absolutely the perfect choice! In fact, I finished up the novel right as we started to line up to exit the plane.

ONE TRUE LOVES tells the story of Emma Blair. She was happily married to her high school sweetheart Jesse. Both couldn't wait to get away from the pressures and constraints of their home town. They even choose careers that allow them to travel all over the world, and they embraced not being tied down so they could experience adventure after adventure.

On their first wedding anniversary, Jesse is flying over the Pacific for one of his jobs when the helicopter goes missing. The bodies of the other people on the aircraft were found; however, Jesse wasn't. Of course, he was thought to be dead.

Emma's life is turned upside down in an instant. She has lost the love of her life! She decides to return home until she can figure things out. She begins working with her parents in their bookstore (a job she would have sworn she'd never do), and she begins to pick up the pieces of her life.

And then Sam enters the picture... Emma knew Sam back in high school but she wasn't interested in him; however, he might be exactly what Emma needs. He is stable and kind, and Emma finds herself falling in love with him. When he proposes, Emma realizes that she has been given a second chance at happiness.

As Emma's life is finally falling into place, she receives a phone call from Jesse! He's alive and has been surviving on an island in the Pacific for years. He is desperate to come home to her, and Emma is happy to know he's alive; however, she has moved on... and loves Sam.

WOW -- just wow! Emma is forced to make a huge decision that she knows will hurt one of the men in her life. Not only does she have to pick either Jesse or Sam, she also has to figure out who she is and what she wants out of her life.

I adored ONE TRUE LOVES! It was a quick read, not because it didn't delve into some serious issues, but rather because it was so enjoyable to read. I loved the premise of the novel, and I really liked the characters. All in all, it was a terrific summer read!

One of my favorite things about this novel was the character of Emma. Naturally, my heart went out to her for losing her husband and then finding out he was still alive. Emma truly believed Jesse was her soul mate, and she was definitely conflicted when he returned to her. Emma never stopped loving Jesse even though she fell in love with Sam, but her life had moved on while Jesse was (literally) stuck in one place.

While the story appears at face value to be about Emma and who she would pick to spend the rest of her life with, it really was a coming-of-age story for Emma. Emma definitely had changed since the loss of her husband, going from a woman who couldn't wait to leave her hometown and her parents' book store, to one who realized the value of her family, her hometown, and even her parents' business. The "new" Emma definitely wasn't the same one that Jesse left years ago.

I also loved how this book explored love. I think we all remember our first love and just how intense it was. Well, Emma and Jesse's entire relationship was pretty much at that intensity... or at least they thought it was. When Emma fell in love with Sam, it was a different type of love but no less important or valuable. I felt as if the author did a great job of showcasing the different types of love and emotions.

And finally, I liked how I felt when reading this book. I know that sounds strange, but I definitely felt as if I was part of Emma's decision. At first, I couldn't imagine her leaving Sam. And then a few pages later, I couldn't believe she wasn't rushing back to Jesse. I felt Emma's pain and indecision, and I honestly can say that I had no idea what she should do (until the end of the book when Emma was finally figuring things out!)

ONE TRUE LOVES would make a fun book club selection for your group this summer. The book is very entertaining and does pose some interesting questions... not only for Emma but also about love and life in general. I wasn't able to find a discussion guide, but some of the themes you might want to explore include love, the idea of soul mates, grief, family, second chances, and more.

Overall, I thought ONE TRUE LOVES was a really good book. There is an obvious reason that this book is listed on the Best Book of Summer lists by Cosmopolitan, InStyle, Redbook, Us Weekly, PopSugar, Buzzfeed, Bustle, and Brit+Co.Highly recommended to fans of women's fiction.

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

Monday, June 20, 2016

Review: The Other Widow

Summary: The author of The Pocket Wife explores the dark side of love, marriage, and infidelity in this sizzling novel of psychological suspense. Everybody’s luck runs out. This time it could be theirs . . .

It isn’t safe. That’s what Joe tells her when he ends their affair—moments before their car skids off an icy road in a blinding snowstorm and hits a tree. Desperate to keep her life intact—her job, her husband, and her precious daughter, Lily—Dorrie will do everything she can to protect herself, even if it means walking away from the wreckage. Dorrie has always been a good actress, pretending to be someone else: the dutiful daughter, the satisfied wife, the woman who can handle anything. Now she’s going to put on the most challenging performance of her life. But details about the accident leave her feeling uneasy and afraid. Why didn’t Joe’s airbag work? Why was his car door open before the EMTs arrived? And now suddenly someone is calling her from her dead lover’s burner phone. . . . Joe’s death has left his wife in free fall as well. Karen knew Joe was cheating—she found some suspicious e-mails. Trying to cope with grief is devastating enough without the constant fear that has overtaken her—this feeling she can’t shake that someone is watching her. And with Joe gone and the kids grown, she’s vulnerable . . . and on her own.

Insurance investigator Maggie Devlin is suspicious of the latest claim that’s landed on her desk—a man dying on an icy road shortly after buying a lucrative life insurance policy. Maggie doesn’t believe in coincidences. The former cop knows that things—and people—are never what they seem to be.

As the fates of these three women become more tightly entwined, layers of lies and deception begin to peel away, pushing them dangerously to the edge . . . closer to each other . . . to a terrifying truth . . . to a shocking end. -- William Morrow

My book club read THE OTHER WIDOW by Susan Crawford this month. I mentioned last week in my meeting recap post that none of us loved the book, but that we all finished it... and that's not always the case. Personally, I thought the book was just ok. I didn't have strong feelings about it either way; however, I was surprised by the ending so that counts for something.

THE OTHER WIDOW begins with Dorrie, a married woman and mother to a young girl, is riding in a car with her boss Joe. She also happens to be having an affair with him. The weather is pretty bad and the roads are ice when Joe decides to end their relationship. A car plows into Joe's car, immediately killing Joe. (For some reason, his air bag never deployed!) Dorrie's life as she knows it would be ruined if she were found at the scene of the accident, so she decides to run away from the car to protect herself. Soon thereafter, she begins to receive calls from Joe's throw-away phone!

Dorrie doesn't exactly leave the accident without a trace. There are definitely questions involved in the accident; and Maggie Devlin, the insurance investigator and former cop, knows that something about this accident is suspicious. It's her job to get to the bottom of it before the insurance company pays out, but she is also being driven by some baggage from her past.

And finally, there's Karen, Joe's widow. Her life is turned upside down after the death of her husband. She knew that Joe was having an affair, but she is shocked to learn that Joe was also keeping secrets from her about this business. It's not enough to have to mourn her husband, but she also senses that someone is watching her every move.

I truly believe that THE OTHER WIDOW had a lot of potential. I love psychological thrillers; and this novel, which explored marriage, infidelity, and secrets, sounded fantastic. Unfortunately, there were a few things about this novel that kept it from being truly entertaining to me. I didn't love any of the characters, and I felt the plot was a little too "clunky" (that was a word one of my friends used) and predictable.... that is until the surprise ending!

Having said that, there were some things that did stand out to me about this novel. Despite not really feeling an affinity with any of the characters, I did like that the author decided to tell this story in alternating chapters between Dorrie, Maggie and Karen. Not only did it make the story interesting to have different three views of what took place, but I also thought she did a good job of making each woman's voice her own.

In addition, I really liked the surprise (or maybe I should say shocking) ending of the novel. I had a feeling that what I "thought" was going to happen was a little too obvious, but trust me when I say, that I had absolutely no idea that the novel would go "there." No one in my book club say it coming either, so I do give the author a lot of credit for being able to fool the readers.

And finally, I did feel like Maggie, the insurance adjuster, was an interesting character. She was a former member of the police but left after a serious incident. It was apparent that she was not in a good place when the novel begins and that working as an insurance adjuster wasn't fulfilling for her. It was intriguing to see how her character evolved during the investigation of Joe's death and how she finally found purpose in her life.

Overall, I think THE OTHER WIDOW was good but not great. It's a quick read with a great surprise ending. Recommended to fans of psychological thrillers!

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.
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Saturday, June 18, 2016

Kid Konnection: New Releases from Animal Planet


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 new books from the popular Animal Planet Animal Bites series!

Summary: Everything younger readers ages 4-8 want to know about their absolute favorite wild animals that live in nature's extreme ecosystems, packaged in the perfect habitat-by-habitat guide from Animal Planet-the leading global media brand for animal lovers.

With more than 200 gorgeous animal photos of lions, giraffes, ibexes, flamingos, hippopotamuses, and many others, Animal Planet Wild Animals is a fun, habitat-by-habitat guide that provides kids in the first years of schooling with the perfect bite-sized view of their favorite wild animals. Arranged thematically with focus on animal behavior and family relationships, young readers will explore sections about animal bodies, baby animals, food, play time, conservation and more. Special book features designed for this age group include Quick Bites sidebars with cool animal facts, simple infographics, and illustrated maps of life in the African savannah and Amazon rain forest.

For more Animal Bites books, check out Animal Planet Farm Animals, Animal Planet Polar Animals, and Animal Planet Ocean Animals.

A portion of the proceeds will benefit Animal Planet's R.O.A.R. (Reach Out. Act. Respond.) campaign that partners with leading animal organization to make the world a better place for domestic and wild animals. -- Animal Planet

Summary: Everything younger readers ages 4-8 want to know about their absolute favorite farm animals in a habitat-by-habitat guide from Animal Planet-the leading global media brand for animal lovers.

With more than 200 gorgeous animal photos of cows, pigs, sheep, goats, chickens, llamas, and many others, Animal Planet Farm Animals is a fun, habitat-by-habitat guide that provides kids in the first years of schooling with the perfect bite-sized view of their favorite farm animals. Arranged thematically with focus on animal behavior and family relationships, young readers will explore sections about animal bodies, baby animals, food, play time, conservation and more. Special book features designed for this age group include Quick Bites sidebars with cool animal facts, simple infographics, and illustrated maps of life in on the farm and at the petting zoo. -- Animal Planet

Every time I get an Animal Planet book for review, I'm blown away by how amazing they are. Their latest two books, which will be released early next week, are titled ANIMAL PLANET ANIMAL BITES WILD ANIMALS and ANIMAL PLANET ANIMAL BITES FARM ANIMALS by Laaren Brown; and they continue to blow my mind. Why didn't they have books like this when I was a kid?

WILD ANIMALS and FARM ANIMALS have the most unbelievably gorgeous color photographs. Each book has over 200 pictures! I swear I could look the beautiful animals over and over again. However, it's the educational aspect of these books that really speak to me.

Both WILD ANIMALS and FARM ANIMALS are geared towards children ages four through eight, but I think kids (and adults) even older than the target audience will love these books. These books actually offer so much that I believe younger children will get things out of them that differs from older kids and adults. For example, there are colorful tabs in the upper right hand corner of each page spread which "guide your Animal Bites adventure." There are tabs for Where They Live, a specific animal, How They Live, Vista, Big Data, Animal Gallery, Living/Working, and Conservation.

Each book comes in around 80 pages so you can imagine how many photos and how much information lie between the pages. The first thing you will notice on each page is, of course, the colorful photographs of animals; however, there are also small tidbits of data about animal habitats, animal behavior, animal food, and more! This information is presented in simple, easy-to-read sentences so kids can delve into as little or as much as they want. There are also cute Quick Bites sidebars with interesting animal facts, maps, etc.

I really can't rave enough about these Animal Planet books. I've reviewed a few over the past few months, and these books are perfect for animal lovers, young and old alike. Highly recommended!

Thanks to Blue Slip Media 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!

Friday, June 17, 2016

Giveaway: Dory's Adventure

Summary: Every page is a poster in the Finding Dory Poster-A-Page book featuring beloved Disney characters from Dory and Marlin to Bruce the Shark. Finding Nemo fans can relive the underwater adventure, learn a few new things about the meaning of family, and decorate their walls with seven supersized, pull-out posters of their favorite images from Disney-Pixar's new movie, Finding Dory! -- Disney/Time Inc.

We just returned from Disney World a few days ago, and one movie that everyone was talking about is Finding Dory. We were even there for National Speak Like a Whale Day. Today is the release date for this fun movie and I can't wait to see it. Who didn't love Finding Nemo and Dory's scenes?

In honor of the release of Finding Dory, I wanted to share with you the new poster-a-page book called DORY'S ADVENTURE. This adorable book has posters of scenes from the movie Finding Dory on every page. It also has seven large pull-out posters with popular characters including Dory, Nemo, and Bruce the Shark. There is even a poster with six characters that kids can color!

DORY'S ADVENTURE is primarily a collection of assorted posters; however, it also has a few fun pages that relive memorable scenes from the movie. In addition, I liked that there were some pages that taught kids about animals that live in the ocean. For example, there is a page about the Blue Tang Fish that teaches children about their average size, how much they weigh, and why it's called a Blue Tang Fish.

DORY'S ADVENTURE is certain to thrill young fans of Finding Dory!

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

I have a copy of DORY'S ADVENTURE to share with one lucky reader. To enter, just fill out the form below before June 30th 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!


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Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The Booking Mamas' June Meeting

Summary: The author of The Pocket Wife explores the dark side of love, marriage, and infidelity in this sizzling novel of psychological suspense. Everybody’s luck runs out. This time it could be theirs . . . 

It isn’t safe. That’s what Joe tells her when he ends their affair—moments before their car skids off an icy road in a blinding snowstorm and hits a tree. Desperate to keep her life intact—her job, her husband, and her precious daughter, Lily—Dorrie will do everything she can to protect herself, even if it means walking away from the wreckage. Dorrie has always been a good actress, pretending to be someone else: the dutiful daughter, the satisfied wife, the woman who can handle anything. Now she’s going to put on the most challenging performance of her life. But details about the accident leave her feeling uneasy and afraid. Why didn’t Joe’s airbag work? Why was his car door open before the EMTs arrived? And now suddenly someone is calling her from her dead lover’s burner phone. . . . Joe’s death has left his wife in free fall as well. Karen knew Joe was cheating—she found some suspicious e-mails. Trying to cope with grief is devastating enough without the constant fear that has overtaken her—this feeling she can’t shake that someone is watching her. And with Joe gone and the kids grown, she’s vulnerable . . . and on her own. 

Insurance investigator Maggie Devlin is suspicious of the latest claim that’s landed on her desk—a man dying on an icy road shortly after buying a lucrative life insurance policy. Maggie doesn’t believe in coincidences. The former cop knows that things—and people—are never what they seem to be. 

As the fates of these three women become more tightly entwined, layers of lies and deception begin to peel away, pushing them dangerously to the edge . . . closer to each other . . . to a terrifying truth . . . to a shocking end. -- William Morrow 

Last night, our book club met to discuss THE OTHER WIDOW by Susan Crawford. When we picked this book from our list of choices, it was almost a unanimous selection. Needless to say, we had high hopes for this psychological suspense novel. The description made the book sound promising, and it also dealt with the issues of marriage and infidelity which should have provided some material for discussion.

Unfortunately, we didn't end up talking a whole heck of a lot about the novel. Maybe it was a week of vacations and being home with the kids, but our talkative group was even more chatty than normal. We talked about my Disney/Universal vacation last week along with some planned summer camps and vacation plans. Honestly, we were all over the place!

I also think another contributing factor was that none of us loved THE OTHER WIDOW. While we all read the entire book, we agreed that we didn't really connect with (or even like) any of the characters all that much. And while there were some worthwhile twists at the end of the novel (that none of us saw coming), we thought it took a long time to get to that point.

Personally, I think a psychological suspense story can be difficult to discuss at a book club meeting. We've read ones that we've really enjoyed and still found it hard to talk about the characters and their actions. I think we fell into the trap of analyzing the plot points and twists rather than the bigger themes.

Next month, we will be reading JANE DOE JANUARY: MY TWENTY-YEAR SEARCH FOR TRUTH AND JUSTICE by Emily Winslow. I really pushed for this memoir because I thought it sounded fascinating. I'm pretty sure not everyone is as excited to read this one as I am. In fact, one member told me she won't read it... at all.

Summary: Emily Winslow was a young drama student at an elite conservatory in Pittsburgh when she was brutally raped one night in January 1992. Twenty years later, a man was arrested in New York City. His DNA, recorded in the FBI’s criminal database because of an old drug conviction, had been matched to evidence from another 1992 rape that was similar to Winslow’s, and the police were able to link the crimes. The victims—one from January of that year, the other from November—were kept anonymous in the media. This is the story of Jane Doe January.

Now a happily married mother of two living in Cambridge, England, Winslow had longed to face her attacker for years. Highly inquisitive and restless for answers, she turned her career as a crime novelist into a personal investigation—she delved into his past, reconnected with the detectives of her case, and worked with prosecutors in the months leading up to the trial. While preparing to testify back in Pennsylvania for the crime committed against her two decades prior, she was pulled between two very different worlds: a hard-boiled American drama of intense detectives and legal bureaucracy, and her rarefied new world in Cambridge, where the university’s rituals and pervasive formality were both a comfort and a challenge.

Jane Doe January is the intimate memoir of a woman’s traumatic past catching up with her. In her first work of nonfiction, Winslow vividly recounts her long quest to see her case resolved, giving way to a strikingly honest narrative about the surprise possibility of justice after twenty years.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Review: My Fat Dad

Summary: Dawn Lerman spent her childhood constantly hungry. She craved good food as her father, 450 pounds at his heaviest, pursued endless fad diets, from Atkins to Pritikin to all sorts of freeze-dried, saccharin-laced concoctions, and insisted the family do the same—even though no one else was overweight. Dawn’s mother, on the other hand, could barely be bothered to eat a can of tuna over the sink. She was too busy ferrying her other daughter to acting auditions and scolding Dawn for cleaning the house (“Whom are you trying to impress?”).

It was chaotic and lonely, but Dawn had someone she could turn to: her grandmother Beauty. Those days spent with Beauty, learning to cook, breathing in the scents of fresh dill or sharing the comfort of a warm pot of chicken soup, made it all bearable. Even after Dawn’s father took a prestigious ad job in New York City and moved the family away, Beauty would send a card from Chicago every week—with a recipe, a shopping list, and a twenty-dollar bill. She continued to cultivate Dawn’s love of wholesome food, and ultimately taught her how to make her own way in the world—one recipe at a time.

In My Fat Dad, Dawn reflects on her colorful family and culinary-centric upbringing, and how food shaped her connection to her family, her Jewish heritage, and herself. Humorous and compassionate, this memoir is an ode to the incomparable satisfaction that comes with feeding the ones you love. -- Berkley

Father's Day is right around the corner and I thought it would be timely to review MY FAT DAD: A MEMOIR OF FOOD, LOVE, AND FAMILY, WITH RECIPES by Dawn Lerman. Ms. Lerman is now a nutritionist and contributor to the New York Times Well Blog, and it's apparent that her childhood had a lasting effect on her choice of careers.

Dawn Lerman's father was a successful advertising executive (think Mad Men!); however, he was also a constant dieter. He loved food -- to the excess of 8000 calories a day, and he eventually reached the weight of 450 pounds. He tried every new fad diet that he could find, and he even went to Duke University for a severe weight loss program. Meanwhile, Dawn's mother couldn't care less about food. She was more interested in taking Dawn's younger sister to auditions and taking her across the country for her acting career.

Dawn was left alone a lot during her childhood. Fortunately she had a lovely grandma named Beauty. Beauty spent a great deal of time with Dawn learning to cook and appreciating the comfort quality of food. However, when Dawn's father took a job in New York City and the family had to leave Chicago (and Beauty!), Dawn found herself even lonelier. Beauty continued to send her family recipes along with shopping lists and money to purchase the items, and Dawn continued to develop a love of food and cooking.

I really enjoyed MY FAT DAD. It was a wonderful coming-of-age story about a young girl's love of food and family and how it eventually played into her future as a nutritionist. I loved the author's storytelling/writing as well as how she incorporated so many great recipes into the book. I especially liked how these recipes mirrored the food and cooking she mentioned in each of the chapters.

I found Ms. Lerman's story to be very interesting. While this book will appeal to foodies, it will also appeal to fans of memoirs. Ms. Lerman's story was touching. She had an interesting (and sometimes sad) childhood with a very busy father and a distant mother. Much of the family time and efforts revolved around her father's various diets; and as strange as many of them were, Ms. Lerman did develop an interest in healthy living and nutrition as a result.

One thing that made me sad about Ms. Lerman's childhood was how interested her mother was in her younger sister's life and acting career. I credit Ms. Lerman for being totally supportive of her sister -- she wasn't the slightest bit resentful. Her sister did end up having a fair amount of success as a childhood actress, and as a result, her mother was absent from her life much of the time. Dawn was left to her own devices in New York City and even started going to bars and nightclubs at a young age. I think that Ms. Lerman was forced to grow up much quicker than normal kids, but she never complained or portrayed herself as a victim.

Ms. Lerman's knowledge as a nutritionist definitely came in handy when her father was diagnosed with cancer. Upon her suggestion, he eliminated many foods from his diet including dairy and meat. She also incorporated some healthy foods into his eating regime including vegetables and algae. They credit his healthy eating as the reason he is still alive today... and it does make sense.

Probably what I appreciated the most about MY FAT DAD is that the book was a celebration of family and food. I could definitely relate having a loving grandmother who looked at food as a way to please her family. Some of my most treasured memories of my grandmothers involve food and learning their recipes. I'm sure I'm not alone when I say that many readers will enjoy Beauty's recipes and overall outlook on life.

Overall, MY FAT DAD is an entertaining novel about one woman's love affair with food and healthy eating. Highly recommended... especially as Father's Day is only a few days away.

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

Monday, June 13, 2016

Guest Review: The Survivors

Summary: Successful psychologist Cal Henderson has a busy practice in Washington, DC, good friends, and big plans for the future. But he can’t escape a terrible secret.

When he was a boy, his mother murdered his father and two brothers and severely wounded Cal’s best friend, Scottie Glass. Desperate to keep the nightmare at bay, Cal has turned his back on everything that happened that night.

Then on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the traumatic event, Scottie shows up at Cal’s office—edgy, paranoid, but somehow still the loveable kid he once was. Though their lives have taken very different paths, they both believe Cal’s mother couldn’t have been a murderer. She loved them too much, no matter what dark place she found herself in. They set off to dig up the real story.

In his search for answers he uncovers secrets about his mother’s life involving a defense contractor’s dark dealings, a nominee for U.S. Attorney with a questionable past, and a shady corporate billionaire whose sphere of influence seems to include everyone from the Pentagon on down.

Meanwhile, as Cal gets closer to discovering the truth, recovered memories of his childhood push him into a psychological tailspin. -- Seventh Street Books

I just got back from a week at Disney World and Universal last night, so I am extremely grateful that my dad sent me a review of THE SURVIVORS by Robert Palmer that I could post this morning. I'm pooped and will be playing catchup all day if not all week. THE SURVIVORS sounds like one I would have enjoyed so I'm not quite sure why I passed it along to him! I'm having a few regrets after reading his thoughts:

THE SURVIVORS, A Cal Henderson Novel by Robert Palmer begins with eight year old Davie Oaks witnessing his mother’s apparent suicide outside their home. His mother is also suspected of killing his father and two brothers and seriously wounding his best friend, Scottie Glass. Davie, now known as Cal Henderson, is a very successful psychologist who has suppressed the memory of the incident until Scottie Glass shows up in his office on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the murder.

Scotty is an edgy, obsessive-compulsive character who doesn’t believe that Cal’s mother was a murderer and has spent his entire life digging up information about the murders and the people surrounding the incident. He now wants Cal to join his “investigation”.

Cal is drawn into Scottie’s obsession and both men become entangled in a web of intrigue that reveals Cal’s parents involvement with government contracts, patents, lawsuits and kickbacks that puts both their lives in danger. Cal is also thrust into a personally dangerous situation as the pursuit of the truth reveals more and more of his suppressed memories.

Palmer’s main characters, Cal and Scottie, are deeply flawed and very complex while the supporting characters seem to know and care about Scottie and Cal more than either knows. There’s also the interesting twist of a psychologist seeking personal help from other psychologists.

THE SURVIVORS is filled with intrigue and complex plots that earns it’s designation as a suspense thriller. The question at the end is whether Cal can recover from the impact of recalling the suppressed memories. There is a hint in the sub title, a Cal Henderson Novel, which suggests that Cal Henderson may be a leading character in future novels by Robert palmer. This is a great book for that summer beach vacation.

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

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, June 11, 2016

Kid Konnection: Return to the Isle of the Lost & 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 the sequel to the #1 New York Times Best Selling middle grade book THE ISLE OF THE LOST.

Summary: Mal's an expert at intimidating her enemies, but she's broken the habit since leaving her villainous roots behind. So when she and her friends Evie, Carlos, and Jay all receive threatening messages demanding they return home, Mal can't believe it. Sure, she's King Ben's girlfriend now, and she's usually nice to her classmates, but she still didn't think anyone would be silly enough to try to push her around.

The thing is, it kind of worked. Especially since she and her friends have a sneaking suspicion that their villainous parents are behind the messages. And when Evie looks into her Magic Mirror, what she sees only confirms their fears. Maleficent's just a tiny lizard after her run-in with Mal at Ben's Coronation, but she's the worst villain in the land for a reason. Could she have found a way to escape? Whatever's going on, Mal, Evie, Carlos, and Jay know they have to sneak back to the Isle and get to the bottom of it.

Without its infamous leader, the island's even worse than when they left it, but the comforts of home-even a home as gloomy as the Isle of the Lost-can be hard to resist for recently reformed villains. Will the kids be able to beat the evil bubbling at the Isle's wicked core, or will the plot to destroy Auradon succeed? -- Disney/Hyperion

Last year, I had the terrific opportunity to participate in a group interview with Melissa de la Cruz. Her first Disney Descendants novel THE ISLE OF THE LOST was being released, and she shared with us about the challenges she faced writing about "new" Disney characters while also trying to stay true to the originals. I read THE ISLE OF THE LOST last year and really appreciated how well she did both of these things.

Before I tell you about her new novel RETURN TO THE ISLE OF THE LOST, I should probably tell you a little bit about the first book in the series THE ISLE OF THE LOST. Here's how I described it last year:

Have you ever wondered what happened to all the villains at the end of classic Disney movies like Sleeping Beauty, Aladdin, Snow White, and more? Well, THE ISLE OF THE LOST answers that question! The novel picks up 20 years after the villains were defeated and tells the story of what happened to these characters and what they've done since their banishment from the kingdom of Auradon. The villains were sent to the Isle of the Lost, a depressing and isolated place no magic. Unfortunately, the villains haven't really been rehabilitated; and they've managed to pass along some of their not-so-nice traits onto their children. The villains (and their kids) are hoping that the spell will be broken and that they can one day return to Auradon and continue their evil ways! 

I don't want to give too much away, but I think it's fairly safe to say that four of the villains' kids, Mal (daughter of Maleficent), Evie (daughter of the Evil Queen), Carlos (son of Cruella de Vil) and Jay (son of Jafar) discover that just because you were brought up to be bad doesn't mean you have to stay bad!

Ok -- fast forward to the latest Disney Descendants novel which was released on May 24th -- RETURN TO THE ISLE OF THE LOST. This book picks up where the last one left off. Mal, Evie, Carlos and Jay now are living happily in the kingdom of Auradon when they receive strange messages telling them to return to the Isle of the Lost. They suspect their horrible parents are behind the messages. And to make matters worse, there are a lot of strange weather patterns occurring that make them wonder if Maleficent isn't up to trouble again! It seems unlikely that Maleficent could have escaped from her prison; however, the four kids decide that they have to return to the Isle of the Lost to figure out what's going on!

RETURN TO THE ISLE OF THE LOST was just as cute as the original story. I love this cast of characters and I think these books are so clever in featuring Disney offspring. Once again, Ms. de la Cruz has done an excellent job of incorporating interesting Disney tidbits and characters into the story, and I can safely say that her references will please long-time Disney fans... like me!

This novel was fact-paced and action-packed and I do think it will appeal to readers of both sexes. (Having said that, I know my son says it's a princess book!) I love how much the main four characters have evolved from troublemakers to honorable citizens, and I like that they uses their minds and talents to fight evil. Each one of these characters definitely has their own personality, and I think that kids will be able to relate to one or more of them.

Finally, I think RETURN TO THE ISLE OF THE LOST has a lot of terrific messages. Not only have these kids been rehabilitated, but they also have learned a great deal about the meaning of friendship. There are additional messages about learning to trust your instincts, making good decisions, and having confidence that should resonate with both parents and middle grade readers.

Overall, I think RETURN TO THE ISLE OF THE LOST and THE ISLE OF THE LOST are terrific middle grade books. Highly recommended... especially to fans of the Disney movie!

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Giveaway alert: Thanks to the fine folks at Disney/Hyperion, I have copies of both THE ISLE OF THE LOST and RETURN TO THE ISLE OF THE LOST to share with one lucky reader. To enter, just fill out the form below before June 24th 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!



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Melissa de la Cruz (www.melissa-delacruz.com) is the author of the #1 New York Times best seller The Isle of the Lost, as well as many other best-selling novels, including all the books in the Blue Bloods series: Blue Bloods, Masquerade, Revelations, The Van Alen Legacy, Keys to the Repository, Misguided Angel, Bloody Valentine, Lost in Time, and Gates of Paradise. She lives in Los Angeles, California, with her husband and daughter.

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

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