Monday, August 21, 2017

Review: Killers of the Flower Moon

Summary: In the 1920s, the richest people per capita in the world were members of the Osage Indian nation in Oklahoma. After oil was discovered beneath their land, they rode in chauffeured automobiles, built mansions, and sent their children to study in Europe.

Then, one by one, the Osage began to be killed off. The family of an Osage woman, Mollie Burkhart, became a prime target. Her relatives were shot and poisoned. And it was just the beginning, as more and more members of the tribe began to die under mysterious circumstances.

In this last remnant of the Wild West—where oilmen like J. P. Getty made their fortunes and where desperadoes like Al Spencer, the “Phantom Terror,” roamed—many of those who dared to investigate the killings were themselves murdered. As the death toll climbed to more than twenty-four, the FBI took up the case. It was one of the organization’s first major homicide investigations and the bureau badly bungled the case. In desperation, the young director, J. Edgar Hoover, turned to a former Texas Ranger named Tom White to unravel the mystery. White put together an undercover team, including one of the only American Indian agents in the bureau. The agents infiltrated the region, struggling to adopt the latest techniques of detection. Together with the Osage they began to expose one of the most chilling conspiracies in American history.

In Killers of the Flower Moon, David Grann revisits a shocking series of crimes in which dozens of people were murdered in cold blood. Based on years of research and startling new evidence, the book is a masterpiece of narrative nonfiction, as each step in the investigation reveals a series of sinister secrets and reversals. But more than that, it is a searing indictment of the callousness and prejudice toward American Indians that allowed the murderers to operate with impunity for so long. Killers of the Flower Moon is utterly compelling, but also emotionally devastating. -- Doubleday

I rarely read non-fiction, so I was excited when my book club decided to read KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON: THE OSAGE MURDERS AND THE BIRTH OF THE FBI by David Grann. I first heard about this book during my visit to SIBA last September, and the story sounded almost unbelievable to me. I had to wonder why I had never heard about the horrific events surrounding the Osage Indian nation in the 1920s.

KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON is a jaw dropping story about the richest people per capita in the world in the 1920s -- the Osage Indian nation. They struck oil on their land and many of the Osage lived a life of luxury... until they started being killed off one by one. Mollie Burkhart's family was hit especially hard as her mother and sisters were poisoned and shot; however, most members of the nation were affected in one way or another by the deaths.

When the death toll reached 24, the FBI decided to take the case. It was one of their first major homicide investigations and it didn't go well. FBI director, J. Edgar Hoover decided to assign a former Texas Ranger named Tom White to solve the case. White assembled an undercover team that tried to immerse themselves into the region and figure out what the heck was going on. The story becomes more and more amazing as they discover clues during their investigation!

I am still reeling from KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON! It truly is an amazing story that's not only shocking but also extremely sad. I can't believe that not one of the members of my book club had ever even heard of what happened to the members of the Osage Nation, and I think they says quite a bit about our country's relationship with Native Americans... but more on that later.

The reactions on this book were mixed among my book club friends. All of us agreed that the story is truly remarkable (I am running out of adjectives!), but some of us appreciated the book more than others. I will admit that I felt as if the story carried the book, but I understand some of the issues with the writing. There were parts that were a bit dry, but it is non-fiction so I was fine with that. Others not so much!

KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON has received tons of great reviews, and I think I heard that there are plans for a movie. It is definitely a story that needs to be heard. As my friends and I discussed this book, we couldn't help but focus on how our country treated Native Americans, and especially the Osage Nation. It was a horribly sad time in our nation's history, and I would like to think we've learned from it and changed, but...

As a fan of crime books, I actually enjoyed the parts of the book that focused on the FBI and their investigation techniques. It was a fascinating time with lots of changes. Keep in mind that it wasn't far removed from the Wild West! It was interesting to see an early J. Edgar Hoover's management techniques, as well as Tom White's devotion to the case.

Overall, I highly recommend KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON. It's definitely going to be one of the most unbelievable true stories that you will read this year!

I received a review copy via Net Galley.

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, August 19, 2017

Kid Konnection: National Geographic Kids U.S. Atlas

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 atlas for kids.

Summary: Kids will have fun learning about every U.S. state in this amazing atlas, packed with maps, stats, facts, and pictures. National Geographic's world-renowned cartographers have paired up with education experts to create maps of the 50 states, U.S. territories, and Washington, D.C., that pinpoint the physical features, capitals, and towns and cities of each state. Discover the latest data and trends along with colorful photography of each state and the people who live there.

Key points reflect the latest information about land and water, people, and places. Lively essays cover each region of the country. Eight specially themed maps on nature, population, energy, climate, and more, delve deeper into key issues. State birds and state flags add to the high visual interest. This is a great reference for home and school with all the basics kids need to know to succeed in middle school, high school, and beyond. -- National Geographic Kids

National Geographic Kids has done it again, but that really shouldn't be a surprise if you regularly follow my blog. Their latest release is NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC KIDS UNITED STATES ATLAS, and it's fantastic. This oversized paperback book, aimed at ages 8 - 12, is a Parent's Choice Award Winner as well as a terrific resource for home and school libraries!

This atlas is perfect for kids (and adults) who want to know more about the U.S.A.! Not only does it have over 75 maps, including ones for each of the 50 states, but it is full of facts, photos, and statistics about the United States. I know I say this all of the time, but National Geographic Kids makes learning fun.

The book is divided into sections based on regions -- The Northeast, The Southeast, The Midwest, The Southwest, The West, and The Territories. Within each section, there are maps that you'd expect from an Atlas with physical and political data, but there are also lots of photographs and fun facts about the areas. Each state within the region is then broken down with specific maps and economic information. There truly is so much to look at on each page!

I really enjoyed the beginning section of the atlas. It teaches kids how to use the atlas, but it also provides some very cool maps of the U.S. including a physical one, a natural environment one, a natural hazard one, a political one, a climate one, and a population one. It even features Washington D.C., the nation's capital.

Overall, I can't rave enough about the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC KIDS UNITED STATES ATLAS! It's a book filled with so much important information, but it's presented in a way that makes discovering things about our country fun. Highly recommended!

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, August 18, 2017

Review: Busy Family 2018 Planning Calendar

Summary: Keep your family's schedule organized and track up to five family members while enjoying charming season artwork by Alison Cole. The large calendar grid, colorful reminder stickers, and handy storage pocket make it fun and easy to manage everyone all year long! -- Rock Point Gift & Stationery

I mentioned yesterday that school starts for both of my kids on Monday. That means my daughter will be a freshman at Penn State, and my son will be starting seventh grade. Needless to say, we are definitely in back-to-school mode which means over the next 10 months, I'll be making lots of lists and tracking many activities.

And that's where the BUSY FAMILY 2018 PLANNING CALENDAR will come in handy! This 17-month calendar (which runs from August 2017 through December 2018) has everything a busy family needs to be organized. This wall calendar is really adorable... and of course, practical. Each month has a large calendar grid with different colored lines on each day. These lines can be used for each family member's activities, but I just like that they make my to-do list easier to read.

The BUSY FAMILY 2018 PLANNING CALENDAR is a terrific. The whimsical artwork is positively adorable with different scenes for the various months. For example, August has some sea creatures while January has some woodland animals. In addition to the cute artwork, the calendar includes reminder stickers for birthdays, doctor and dentist appointments, half-days, and more. There are also fun stickers for school breaks, family fun time, and vacations. And this might just be my favorite "mom" part of the calendar -- there are stickers for chores and dinner that are large enough to customize.

I love the BUSY FAMILY 2018 PLANNING CALENDAR and I think it would be a great help to busy families! Highly recommended!

Thanks to the publisher for providing a sample of this calendar.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Review: Color for Calm All Year Long 2018

Summary: Our lives become busier with each passing day, and as technology escalates, so does our access to work, obligations, and stress. Constant stimulation and expectation have left us burnt out and distanced from the present moment. Color for Calm All Year Long 2018 offers over 300 coloring templates all designed to help you get coloring and get relaxed throughout the year.

This boxed calendar has a unique feature of five double sided colored pencils attached to the back stand. This will make it easy to color yourself calm all year long! -- Rock Point Gift & Stationery

With school starting for both of my kids on Monday, I'm definitely starting to think about fall and football! But it also means that the holidays are right around the corner, and I do like to get a head-start on Christmas shopping. One gift that I always received as a kid (and tend to buy for my own children) is a yearly calendar.

The COLOR FOR CALM ALL YEAR LONG 2018 is a really great box calendar that has a different coloring template for each day of the year. Not only can you color a different calming image every day, but this boxed set also includes a set of 5 double-sided colored pencils that attach to the base. The designs by Carrie Stephens are absolutely adorable and guaranteed to give you at least a few minutes of "calm" each day as you color the calendar page... you know, before life gets crazy!

I know it's still August, but it's never to early to discover fun (and reasonable) gifts for the holiday season. I just love the COLOR FOR CALM ALL YEAR LONG 2018 calendar, and I think it's both a practical and entertaining gift for the person in your life that needs a little calm in their life... and really, who doesn't need a little calm?

Thanks to the publisher for providing a sample of this calendar.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Review: Goodbye, Vitamin

Summary: Her life at a crossroads, a young woman goes home again in this funny and inescapably moving debut from a wonderfully original new literary voice.

Freshly disengaged from her fiancé and feeling that life has not turned out quite the way she planned, thirty-year-old Ruth quits her job, leaves town and arrives at her parents’ home to find that situation more complicated than she'd realized. Her father, a prominent history professor, is losing his memory and is only erratically lucid. Ruth’s mother, meanwhile, is lucidly erratic. But as Ruth's father’s condition intensifies, the comedy in her situation takes hold, gently transforming her all her grief. Told in captivating glimpses and drawn from a deep well of insight, humor, and unexpected tenderness, Goodbye, Vitamin pilots through the loss, love, and absurdity of finding one’s footing in this life. -- Henry Holt

I wasn't entirely sure what to expect when I picked up GOODBYE, VITAMIN by Rachel Khong. All I knew was that it was appearing on some Best of Summer lists, and it had a unique cover and title. It ends up that this book is pretty unique in its own right.

GOODBYE, VITAMIN tells the story of Ruth, a thirty-year old woman whose fiancé has recently broken up with her. After receiving a call from her mother, she decides to quit her job and return to her childhood home for the holidays. What greets her there is startling -- her father, an esteemed history professor, is suffering from memory loss and in denial; and her mother is trying to cope with things in some unusual ways.

Moving back in with the parents at 30 years old with no job and no fiancé is never ideal, but Ruth has an interesting take on her life. GOODBYE, VITAMIN is her story, both touching and funny; and it definitely gives readers a glimpse into the things that life can throw your way... and how important it is to keep things in perspective.

I thoroughly enjoyed GOODBYE, VITAMIN, and I am extremely impressed with Ms. Khong's writing. The novel is written in Ruth's voice and readers get a peak into her life through vignettes. What starts as brief accounts of her life, full of stories about her parents and her father's memory loss, eventually turns more insightful as Ruth begins to reflect on her own past. It's almost as like Ruth's memories become more important in her life as her father's disappear.

I really can't express how much of a pleasant surprise Ms. Khong's writing was to me. I didn't have a lot of exceptions, but I ended up being really moved by how well she brought this story to life. I had a grandmother who suffered from Alzheimer's so parts of Ruth's story really resonated with me. And I'll be the first to admit, that Alzheimer's is a terrible disease for both the victim and the family; however, it's true that my family has many hilarious memories of my grandmother's behavior. I think we had to laugh or we'd go crazy, and the author certainly captures those feelings in this story.

Finally, I want share how much I loved so many of the messages in this novel. There weren't in your face themes, but they were messages that stayed with me long after finishing this book. It's true that we see our parents in a different light the older we get, and Ruth certainly saw her father differently that she did as a child -- and that was both good and bad for her. But this novel also focused on universal themes like loss, love and family; and I especially appreciated how insightful the story and characters were.

I highly recommend GOODBYE, VITAMIN to fans of literary fiction and especially those that enjoy novels about families.

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

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Kid Konnection: Duck and Hippo Lost and Found & 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 an adorable picture book with some familiar faces.

Summary: Duck and Hippo have a picnic and a new adventure!

Duck and Hippo invite their friends Turtle, Elephant, and Pig to a picnic at their favorite pond. Yippee! It’s time to dance and sing, swim and eat. Everyone brings goodies to share…except Hippo. He didn’t bring ANYTHING. So Hippo sets off into the forest to find some berries. But he is gone a long time, and Duck begins to worry that Hippo is lost. What should his friends do to find him? Join Duck and Hippo on another fun adventure! -- Two Lions

The cute characters Duck and Hippo are back in DUCK AND HIPPO LOST AND FOUND by Jonathan London and illustrated by Andrew Joyner. In this picture book installment, Duck and Hippo invite their friends to a picnic at their favorite pond. Duck brings an basket of goodies, while Elephant brings peppermint peach juice and a watermelon. Pig brings a pizza and Turtle brings chips, paper products and a blanket. Everyone contributed to the fun... everyone that is except Hippo! Hippo felt as if he couldn't join in their celebration because he forgot to bring something to the picnic.

Hippo gets the bright idea to pick some wild berries in the forest, but it took him quite awhile to return. His friends get concerned and head off in search of Hippo. Nighttime is rapidly approaching and the critters still can't find Hippo because Hippo is still searching for the berries. When they finally find Hippo, he's naturally relieved to see his friends... and he even gives each one of them a berry. They return to their picnic site and the festivities (and eating) can finally begin!

I thought DUCK AND HIPPO LOST AND FOUND was another cute depiction of these two friends' adventures. The story is very sweet and the illustrations are the perfect complement to the fun text. Once again, Duck and Hippo demonstrate the power of friendship... friendship between two unlikely characters, and I think both parents and kids will appreciate the messages in this picture book.

I think Duck and Hippo and their friends are adorable, and I love how much fun their stories are. There is quite a bit of humor incorporated into this story, especially through Hippo's words and actions. In addition, the illustrations so cute. They are bright and whimsical, and I think they convey the personalities of the various characters. All in all, I think DUCK AND HIPPO LOST AND FOUND is a picture book little ones will love!

If you can't get enough of Duck and Hippo, then check out these free downloadable activity pages.

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

I'm excited to say that I have a copies of DUCK AND HIPPO LOST AND FOUND and DUCK AND HIPPO IN THE RAINSTORM to share with one lucky reader. To enter, just fill out the form below before Friday, August 25th at 11:59 p.m. EST. I will randomly select and notify the winner the following day. This contest is open to those of you with U.S. addresses only. Good luck!

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

Friday, August 11, 2017

Review: Lost and Found Sisters

Summary: From New York Times bestselling author Jill Shalvis comes her first women's fiction novel—an unforgettable story of friendship, love, family, and sisterhood—perfect for fans of Colleen Hoover, Susan Mallery, and Kristan Higgins.

They say life can change in an instant…

After losing her sister in a devastating car accident, chef Quinn Weller is finally getting her life back on track. She appears to have it all: a loving family, a dream job in one of L.A.'s hottest eateries, and a gorgeous boyfriend dying to slip an engagement ring on her finger. So why does she feel so empty, like she's looking for a missing piece she can't find?

The answer comes when a lawyer tracks down Quinn and reveals a bombshell secret and a mysterious inheritance that only she can claim. This shocking revelation washes over Quinn like a tidal wave. Her whole life has been a lie.

On impulse, Quinn gives up her job, home, and boyfriend. She heads up the coast to the small hometown of Wildstone, California, which is just a few hours north, but feels worlds apart from Los Angeles. Though she doesn't quite fit in right away, she can't help but be drawn to the town’s simple pleasures…and the handsome, dark-haired stranger who offers friendship with no questions asked.

As Quinn settles into Wildstone, she discovers there's another surprise in store for her. The inheritance isn't a house or money, but rather something earthshattering, something that will make her question everything she thought she knew about herself, about her family. Now with a world of possibilities opening up to Quinn, she must decide if this new life is the one she was always meant to have—and the one that could finally give her the fulfillment she's searched so long for. -- William Morrow

I'm not a reader of romance novels, but I guess Jill Shalvis is a huge fan favorite! I've been hearing about her for years, and I'm amazed by not only her following but how much she's written. Ms. Shalvis has written nine different series. That's not novels -- that's series! Amazing! Her latest story, LOST AND FOUND SISTERS is actually her first foray into women's fiction, and I figured it was high time for me to give her books a try!

LOST AND FOUND SISTERS is touching story about a women who discovers that her life is a lie -- basically, she isn't who she thought she was! Quinn Weller is a chef who seemingly has it all. She has a terrific family, a great job in an L.A. restaurant, and a gorgeous boyfriend. However, life hasn't always been this great. Quinn has worked hard to bounce back from her sister's death in a car accident.

One day, Quinn's life turns upside down when a lawyer tracks down Quinn and reveals a secret that makes Quinn question everything. He surprises Quinn by revealing that she has a mysterious inheritance from someone she never knew, and this information throws Quinn into a tailspin. She ends up dropping almost everything from her life and heads north to the small town of Wildstone. It's very different than L.A., but Quinn feels like she belongs there. Of course, the hot stranger who shows up doesn't hurt either!

Quinn doesn't inherit a house or money. Rather, it's a small cafe that needs some work. Quinn also learns that she has a teenage sister named Tilly who basically is all alone. Now, Quinn has to face that her life is far different from what she's thought... and decide if her new life in Wildstone is the right one for her.

LOST AND FOUND SISTERS is a heartwarming story about loss, family, and second chances... with some romance thrown in. I understand that this novel is classified as women's fiction, and rightly so, but there is enough romance thrown in to please Ms. Shalvis' fans (I think -- I'm definitely not an expert on romance novels!)

I liked LOST AND FOUND SISTERS, but I don't know that I'd say I loved it. It's certainly entertaining and I couldn't help but like Quinn... and I was definitely interested in everything going on in her life. However, it's not a book that's likely to stay with me. Overall, I guess I'd say that it was a fun summer read!

There were a couple of things that stood out to me about LOST AND FOUND SISTERS. I actually liked most of the characters in the novel. Quinn was a lot of fun, although I did feel sorry for her at times. It seemed like she was not even over the loss of her sister when she had to face that her parents were keeping some pretty big secrets from her. I definitely liked her love interest Mick (and his smelly dog) as well as many of the quirky people who resided in Wildstone. I even liked the "supernatural" appearance of Quinn's dead sister Beth!

I also appreciated the theme of sisterhood in this novel. Obviously, Quinn didn't set out to find a replacement for her sister, but she ended up discovering that she had Tilly. Quinn's devotion to Tilly was certainly admirable -- it's never easy to raise a teenager, and I had to love her sense of responsibility for her. I also liked seeing how Quinn depended on Beth (or Beth's ghost!) to help guide her to do what was right.

Finally, it was fairly obvious to me that Ms. Shalvis is a writer of all things romance. There were more of those scenes that most women's fiction books (which makes it a good summer read!); and while I'm not really a good judge of love scenes, I could tell that these were way above average. She did a great job of creating chemistry between Quinn and Mick, but she also described their love for each other in a sweet (and sometimes passionate!) way.

There is a reading guide in the back of LOST AND FOUND SISTERS to help enhance book club discussions although I wasn't able to find an on-line link. Some of the topics you might want to discuss include Beth's ghost and the effect it had on Quinn, parent/child relationships, sisterhood, family, friendships, second chances, loss, grief, love, and forgiveness.

LOST AND FOUND SISTERS is a sweet (and fun) story about sisters, family, friendship, and love. I think fans of Ms. Shalvis' will enjoy this book as well as readers looking for a good escape read.

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

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Guest Review: A Divided Spy

Summary: Thomas Kell thought he was done with spying. A former MI6 officer, he devoted his life to the Service, but it has left him with nothing but grief and a simmering anger against the Kremlin.

Then Kell is offered an unexpected chance at revenge. Taking the law into his own hands, he embarks on a mission to recruit a top Russian spy who is in possession of a terrifying secret. As Kell tracks his man from Moscow to London, he finds himself in a high stakes game of cat and mouse in which it becomes increasingly difficult to know who is playing whom.

As the mission reaches boiling point, the threat of a catastrophic terrorist attack looms over Britain. Kell is faced with an impossible choice. Loyalty to MI6—or to his own conscience? -- St. Martin's Press

Booking Pap Pap is finally back -- it's been awhile! His latest read is A DIVIDED SPY by Charles Cumming. Here are his thoughts:

Thomas Kell, a retired British M16 spy, has been depressed since the death of his girlfriend/agent a year earlier and wants nothing more than to avenge her death. He sees an opportunity for vengeance when he learns that the Russian agent responsible for her death may be vulnerable to an effort to turn him. It seems that Russian agent, Alexander Minasian, currently married to the daughter of a powerful Russian oligarch is also in a homosexual relationship with a German business man. Delivering Minasian to M16 would satisfy Kell’s desire for vengeance. His ex-boss at M16, Amelia Levene, reluctantly agrees to Kell’s plan but offers little enthusiasm or manpower support.

As Kell approaches Minasian and they play their game of cat and mouse, they show signs of mutual mistrust as well as mutual respect. As a sign of Minasian’s willingness to cooperate on at least a minimum level, he shares some information with Kell about a possible terrorist attack in a British city. It appears that Shahid Khan, a British born son of a Pakistani immigrant has been radicalized by ISIS and plans a serious attack in the British sea coast city of Brighton.

When Kell reports this information, M16 hesitates to act on it believing that Kell is being used by Minasian. Kell is now divided (thus the book title). Does he continue to satisfy his personal thirst for vengeance by working Minasian or does he attempt to stop a possible attack that threatens thousands of people? Author Charles Cumming nicely weaves these two seemingly independent issues in an exciting spy novel that contains the requisite danger and twists and turns.

I found it interesting that Kell is not the only character that is divided in this story. Minasian is divided between love for his wife and his homosexual tendencies and Shahid Khan is divided between his death mission and the love he has for the woman he met in Brighton.

A DIVIDED SPY is the third book by Charles Cumming featuring M16 agent Thomas Kell but definitely stands on its own. Not having read the prior novels, a little more background on Kell may have actually been helpful. Kell appears to leave M16 for real this time my guess is that a fourth book seems unlikely.

If you’re into spy novels, A DIVIDED SPY should be added to your reading list.

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

Monday, August 7, 2017

Review: Bring Her Home

Summary: In the breathtaking new thriller from David Bell, bestselling author of Since She Went Away and Somebody I Used to Know, the fate of two missing teenage girls becomes a father’s worst nightmare….

Just a year and a half after the tragic death of his wife, Bill Price’s fifteen-year-old daughter, Summer, and her best friend, Haley, disappear. Days later, the girls are found in a city park. Haley is dead at the scene, while Summer is left beaten beyond recognition and clinging to life.

As Bill holds vigil over Summer’s bandaged body, the only sound the unconscious girl can make is one cryptic and chilling word: No. And the more time Bill spends with Summer, the more he wonders what happened to her. Or if the injured girl in the hospital bed is really his daughter at all.

When troubling new questions about Summer’s life surface, Bill is not prepared for the aftershocks. He’ll soon discover that both the living and the dead have secrets. And that searching for the truth will tear open old wounds that pierce straight to the heart of his family… -- Berkley

It's hard to believe that I've been doing Mystery Mondays for quite a few years now and haven't yet reviewed a book by David Bell. I have read that he's a "skilled storyteller" (Houston Chronicle), and I even remember one of his books being featured at the Speed Dating Panel at BEA. Well, I finally discovered for myself what all the fuss was about while reading his latest book BRING HER HOME.

BRING HER HOME tells the disturbing story of a father who is living an absolute nightmare. Around 18 months ago, Bill Price's wife was found dead after a freak household accident. Naturally, nothing is the same for him and his daughter Summer; however, recently they've been having a bit of a difficult time communicating. Bill doesn't think it's that out of the norm... until Summer goes missing. Three days later, they find the girls in a park -- Haley is dead and Summer was beaten so badly that she's fighting for her life.

Bill won't leave his daughter's side, despite her being unconscious and basically unresponsive. She will only utter the word, "no." And Bill can't make sense of what she's trying to tell him. Bill begins to wonder what happened to his daughter... or if this beaten girl is even really his daughter!

As police begin investigating Summer's life and what could have happened to her, Bill is forced to face that he doesn't truly know his daughter -- she's been keeping some secrets from him. Bill decides that he has to get to the bottom of what happened to his daughter... even if that means he reopens some painful wounds from his past!

I enjoyed BRING HER HOME quite a bit, and I understand why Mr. Bell is an award-winning writer! This novel was a true-page turner and the twists and turns were top-notch. There were so many major surprises in this novel. I was shocked with the first one (and pretty impressed), only to find that there were more in store. There is no doubt that Mr. Bell takes his readers on a wild ride!

One thing that impressed me with BRING HER HOME was how well Mr. Bell made Bill's pain so real. I can't imagine losing a wife and then just a few months later going through this tragedy with his daughter. Of course it would be easy to feel bad for Bill; however, the author made Bill a complex character. He definitely had some anger management issues, and truth be told, I didn't always like him... or even trust him. I liked that I had some doubts about the main character in this novel.

In fact, I had an overall sense of unease while reading this book... I mean that in a good way though. Needless to say, as a mom of a teen, this book's subject matter was disturbing for me -- not only what happened to the girls, but also that Summer had so many secrets from her dad. However, it also the sense of nervousness I had surrounding Bill and many of the secondary characters. I thought they were possibly shady and their actions struck me as strange at times. Bill, especially, was so erratic -- wavering between anger and sadness -- and so desperate that I was constantly on edge.

Despite thinking this novel was a fast-paced thriller, I did have a few slight issues with BRING HER HOME, though. I'm not sure I can articulate my thoughts, but there were times when I thought the characters were almost too insightful. For example, Bill's sister just seemed to figure things out that I thought were a stretch... and she did it quite a few times. This wasn't a major complaint for me, but it did strike me as a bit too convenient.

BRING HER HOME would make an interesting book for book clubs if you're looking for a thriller to read. I was happy to find a reading guide with ten thought-provoking questions. Some of the themes you might want to explore include secrets, father/daughter relationships, anger management, family ties, denial, marriage, memories, and trust.

Overall, I think BRING HER HOME is an intriguing thriller with lots of twists and turns. I definitely recommend this novel to fans of Mr. Bell's as well as readers who enjoy suspense novels.

Thanks to Get Red PR and 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, August 5, 2017

Kid Konnection: The Football Fanbook & Giveaway

Every Saturday, I host a feature called Kid Konnection -- a regular weekend feature about anything related to children's books. This week I'm going to share with you a timely book for football fans! 

Summary: So you’re a football fan and now you want to take your passion for the game to the next level? Sports Illustrated Kids The Football Fanbook is just what you need. A key addition to every young sports fanatic’s library, The Football Fanbook is filled with fun trivia and unique lingo to impress your friends, illustrated behind-the-skills how-to’s, important game-winning strategies, and much more. Readers will sound like experts in no time. -- Sports Illustrated Kids

When August hits, there is definitely building excitement for the Booking Mama Family -- it's almost football season! We are huge Penn State football fans; and now that Booking Daughter will be a freshman there, we finally decided to bite the bullet and get season tickets. My husband and Booking Son are major fantasy football players, so Red Zone is on non-stop in our house every Sunday. In fact, our fall weekends kind of revolve around football.

So when THE FOOTBALL FANBOOK: EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO BECOME A GRIDIRON KNOW-IT-ALL by Gary Gramling arrived, Booking Son was beside himself. Truth be told, I wasn't entirely sure he'd be interested in it because he already considers himself a "gridiron know-it-all." However, he was extremely excited because "this book has stats." Actually, THE FOOTBALL FANBOOK is aimed at kids who are interested in the sport, and it's a little more detailed that some of the other kids' sports books that I've covered on this blog.

THE FOOTBALL FANBOOK is an excellent book full of trivia about football and the teams... and it does include lots of statistics. In fact, the first chapter is titled Know These Numbers -- the starts and figures NFL fans should recite by heart. It is followed by these chapters: Obscure Facts, Skills to Master, Think Like a Coach, He Reminds Me Of..., Team Tidbits, and Talk the Talk. There is plenty of football lingo and even some coaching terms and strategies for kids wanting to go to the next level with football knowledge.

As a mom, I liked quite a few things about this book too. First, I love that it's aimed at an older audience. The book is geared for kids, but it goes way beyond the basics. There really aren't a lot of kids' sports books like this one. I also loved the overall look and feel of this book. There are so many colorful photographs and unique ways to teach kids about the game. For example, there are charts, graphs, and illustrations which provide the basics, but there are also some really funny captions and explanations that make learning fun!

I had to grab this book out of my son's room to prepare this review. Usually, he waits until I review a book before claiming it but I think he couldn't help himself with THE FOOTBALL FANBOOK. It really is the perfect book for him... and other kids who love sports. I highly recommend this book for home and school libraries!

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

Lucky for you, I have a copy of THE FOOTBALL FANBOOK to share with one lucky reader. To enter, just fill out the form below before Friday, August 18th at 11:59 p.m. EST. I will randomly select and notify the winner the following day. This contest is open to those of you with U.S. addresses only. Good luck!

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

Friday, August 4, 2017

Review: The Shark Club (Audio)

Summary: A warm and wonderfully vivid novel about taking second chances—in life and in the sea

One summer day on the beach in Florida, two extraordinary things happen to Maeve Donnelly. First, she is kissed by Daniel, the boy of her dreams. Then, she is bitten by a blacktip shark.

Eighteen years later, Maeve has thrown herself into her work as a world-traveling marine biologist discovering more about the minds of misunderstood sharks. But when Maeve returns home to the legendarily charming and eccentric Hotel of the Muses where she was raised by her grandmother, she finds more than just the blood orange sunsets and key lime pies she’s missed waiting for her.

While Maeve has always been fearless in the water, on land she is indecisive. A chance meeting on the beach with a plucky, irresistible little girl who is just as fascinated by the ocean as Maeve was growing up leaves her at a crossroads: Should she re-kindle her romance with Daniel, the first love she left behind when she dove into her work? Or indulge in a new romance with her colleague, Nicholas, who turns up in her hometown to investigate an illegal shark-finning operation?

Set against the intoxicating backdrop of palm trees, calypso bands, and perfect ocean views, The Shark Club is a story of the mysterious passions of one woman’s life: her first love and new love; the sea and sharks that inhabit it. -- Penguin Audio

Just when I think I've reviewed all of my "beach books," I find another one! I know, I know -- you'd think I'd be more on top of the books I've read this summer. I have a bit of an excuse with this one because it's an audio book... so it wasn't in my need-to-be reviewed pile. The book is called THE SHARK CLUB by Ann Kidd Taylor, and it's been on almost every recommendation list for the summer.

THE SHARK CLUB is a great summer read because it primarily takes place at a beach in Florida, but it's also a fun escape read because it deals with family, love and second chances. Maeve Donnelly is a marine biologist who travels the world researching sharks. Her choice of professions is interesting, to say the least, because she was actually bit by a shark as a kid... right after she was kissed by the love of her life, Daniel.

Maeve and Daniel continued a romance for years and were even engaged to be married until they weren't. Maeve threw herself into her career, often times becoming closer to sharks than people. When Maeve returns home to her grandmother's hotel (which just happens to have a literary theme - LOVE!), she is looking forward to the comfort of her hometown; however, she quickly realizes that she can't escape her past. In fact, she actually runs into a little girl who is fascinated by the ocean and sharks only to learn that she is Daniel's daughter.

Maeve is planning to leave at the end of the summer to continue her work with sharks, but she finds herself still drawn to Daniel despite recently starting something with her co-worker Nicholas. Needless to say, she has some major decisions to make like should she try again with Daniel? Should se stay back in Florida and give up her career aspirations? Would she be happy marrying Daniel and being a mother to Hazel?

As if Maeve doesn't have enough going on with her personal life, there is also something sinister going on in this idyllic beach setting. Someone is killing tons of sharks so they can sell their fins. Naturally, Maeve is outraged and decides to investigate on her own (and with the help of Nicholas who just happens to show up) even if it means that her life is in danger!

I really enjoyed THE SHARK CLUB and it was a definitely a fun way to kill time on my morning walks and runs! The story is perfect for the summer (so hurry up and read it!), and it has just the right blend of romance and action (although it's really more about Maeve and her self-awareness journey.) I found myself really liking so many of the characters (even the secondary ones) in this novel from Maeve, to Hazel, to Nicholas, to Maeve's grandmother. And of course, I loved the hotel with all of its literary references!

I admit I was pleasantly surprised by the depth of this novel. At first glance, it kind of sounds like a chick lit book (not that there's anything wrong with that!) However, Maeve's journey in this novel is actually pretty insightful. She and her brother lost their parents at a young age, and their deaths affected each one of them very differently. In addition, Maeve's return to her home forced her to confront some unfinished business from her past. I appreciated how the author delved into her psyche and how she learned from the mistakes she made.

Another aspect of the novel that I enjoyed was the mystery surrounding who was responsible for the illegal shark finning operation. It wasn't a major storyline but it was an interesting one with a few surprises thrown in. I also liked how the author made sharks likable... and almost lovable through Maeve's voice.

As far as audio books go, I thought Emily Rankin did a great job. She totally captured the essence of Maeve which was definitely her strength, but she also did a good job with the other characters. The novel is a little under 10 hours, and I thought it flew by! And if you know me, then you know it takes me forever to read an audio book!

THE SHARK CLUB is a truly enjoyable read and I can see what it received so much praise. Highly recommended for fans of women's fiction!

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

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Review: The Bookshop at Water's End

Summary: The women who spent their childhood summers in a small southern town discover it harbors secrets as lush as the marshes that surround it…

Bonny Blankenship’s most treasured memories are of idyllic summers spent in Watersend, South Carolina, with her best friend, Lainey McKay. Amid the sand dunes and oak trees draped with Spanish moss, they swam and wished for happy-ever-afters, then escaped to the local bookshop to read and whisper in the glorious cool silence. Until the night that changed everything, the night that Lainey’s mother disappeared.

Now, in her early fifties, Bonny is desperate to clear her head after a tragic mistake threatens her career as an emergency room doctor, and her marriage crumbles around her. With her troubled teenage daughter, Piper, in tow, she goes back to the beloved river house, where she is soon joined by Lainey and her two young children. During lazy summer days and magical nights, they reunite with bookshop owner Mimi, who is tangled with the past and its mysteries. As the three women cling to a fragile peace, buried secrets and long ago loves return like the tide. -- Berkley

I thought I was caught up with reviews on what I call "beach" books, but I found another one in my need-to-be reviewed pile! It's called THE BOOKSHOP AT WATER'S END, and it's by Patti Callahan Henry. This novel is a story about female friendship, second chances, and love; and I found it to be sweet summer read.

THE BOOKSHOP AT WATER'S END tells the story of three women who escape to the town of Watersend, South Carolina, for one summer. As children, Bonny and Lainey spent their summers together enjoying the water, the local bookshop and even boys... until things took a turn for the worst. Lainey's mother mysteriously disappeared, and things were never the same for either one of them.

Bonny is now a middle-aged woman who returns to Watersend to get away from her real life. Her marriage is in shambles and her teenage daughter Piper has been having some trouble at college. However, it was the mistake she made as an emergency room doctor that has truly turned her life upside down. She hopes by going back to her childhood river house that she can clear her head and figure out what she should do with her life.

Meanwhile, Bonnie asks her best friend Lainey to join her. Lainey hasn't been back since the her mother disappeared because of the painful memories, but she and her two children come to stay with Bonnie. Lainey has never gotten over why her mother left her, and she's spent her entire life searching for the truth... even at the expense of her family. Piper also needs a break from her issues at college, and she agrees to stay the summer and watch Lainey's children.

Each of these three women is dealing with their fair share of pain, and there is a sense of hope that they can find some peace. Bonnie and Lainey find themselves slipping into many of their childhood behaviors while Piper finds a new love interest. Many secrets from the past come to light as Mimi, the owner of the bookshop, shares what she knows. Can these three woman find some happiness (and closure) as they spend their days together in this idyllic setting?

I enjoyed THE BOOKSHOP AT WATER'S END quite a bit. At its heart, it's a sweet story about the power of female friendship as well as second chances; and I found it to be both entertaining and heart warming. Quite frankly, it's a great book to put in your beach or pool bag for these last few weeks of summer.

One of my favorite things about this novel was the setting. I fell in love with Watersend and I loved how the author brought the small river town to life. It's been almost two months since I spent some time near the water, and I will say that it was a terrific escape to spend a few hours with these characters in Watersend. The town, and especially the bookstore, sounded so quaint; and I loved some of the small town's residents too!

Another thing that made THE BOOKSHOP AT WATER'S END so special was the message about the power of friendship. I appreciated these three woman and their share of baggage, but I really enjoyed how they lifted each other up. It wasn't always smooth sailing for these three even when it came to friendships and mother/daughter relationships; however, ultimately I think these three woman were better off because of they supported each other.

I do think THE BOOKSHOP AT WATER'S END would make a great book club selection especially for groups who appreciate women's fiction. They is quite a bit of drama, but also a sense of calm once the women start living their daily lives in the river town. They are some beautiful messages about friendship, healing, and second chances; and there are also some interesting characters to discuss. There is a reading guide located in the back of the book to help with your discussion.

Overall, I thought THE BOOKSHOP AT WATER'S END was a sweet escape read for the summer. I recommend it for fans of women's fiction and especially ones who enjoy books with a beach setting.

Thanks to Tandem Literary for providing a review copy of this novel.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Review: Party Girls Die in Pearls

Summary: The New York Times bestselling author of Bergdorf Blondes takes us back to the decadent 1980s in this comic murder mystery set in the tony world of Oxford University. It’s 1985, and at Oxford University, Pimm’s, punting, and ball gowns are de rigeur. Ursula Flowerbutton, a studious country girl, arrives for her first term anticipating nothing more sinister than days spent poring over history books in gilded libraries—and, if she’s lucky, an invitation to a ball.

But when she discovers a glamorous classmate on a chaise longue with her throat cut, Ursula is catapulted into a murder investigation.

Determined to bag her first scoop for the famous student newspaper Cherwell, Ursula enlists the help of trend-setting American exchange student Nancy Feingold to unravel the case. While navigating a whirl of black-tie parties and secret dining societies, the girls discover a surfeit of suspects. From broken-hearted boyfriends to snobby Sloane Rangers, lovelorn librarians to dishy dons, none can be presumed innocent—and Ursula’s investigations mean that she may be next on the murderer’s list.

Clueless meets Agatha Christie in this wickedly funny tale of high society and low morals, the first book in Plum Sykes’ irresistible new series. -- Harper

As part of my Mystery  Mondays posts, I am always trying to discover new-to-me authors and especially new-to-me series. So when I heard that Plum Sykes, author of BERGDORF BLONDES, wrote the first book in her Oxford Girl Mystery series, I knew I had to read it. The book is called PARTY GIRLS DIE IN PEARLS... and isn't the cover adorable?

PARTY GIRLS DIE IN PEARLS tells the story of Ursula Flowerbutton, a country girl who arrives to Oxford with some pretty lofty expectations of college life. She doesn't exactly fit in with the many rich and privileged kids who attend the school, but that's okay. She's planning on doing a lot of studying and joining many clubs. Having said that, she did bring her grandma's old gown in the hopes of being invited to a ball or two!

Things aren't entirely as Ursula expected at Oxford, especially when one of the most beautiful and popular girls is found murdered in a professor's quarters. Ursula is fascinated by the crime, and when she's assigned to cover the murder for the student newspaper, she's pretty sure she can make her mark at Oxford is she can only solve the crime. Fortunately, the American exchange student from New Jersey, Nancy Feingold, is more than willing to help Ursula.

It seems like the murder victim has made quite a few enemies, and Ursula's quest isn't exactly easy. There are many possible suspects including a boyfriend, ex-boyfriends, jealous friends, and even a professor. With her Nancy Drew like skills, Ursula gets closer to discovering the killer... and possibly putting herself in danger!

I really enjoyed PARTY GIRLS DIE IN PEARLS! It takes place in the 1980s at Oxford University. Right there, I was hooked because the characters were from my generation (I started college in 1987), and who doesn't love a setting like Oxford? The book is actually a pretty funny mystery with lots of sarcasm and satire. I think PARTY GIRLS DIE IN PEARLS is a terrific start to the series!

Ursula is a very likable amateur sleuth. She's a country girl, who at first glance, doesn't exactly fit into the culture of Oxford. However, she's a smart cookie and very persistent. I immediately found her to be charming, and I liked her interactions with her fellow students. I have no doubt that there's a great deal the author can do with her character in future installments.

As a child of the 1980s, I absolutely adored that the book took place during that period. Nancy, Ursula's American friend, is from New Jersey; and she's definitely "80s Jersey" right down to the tight dresses, bold eyeshadow, and big hair. I loved all of the 1980s references and found so many of them to be spot on... and terribly funny!

Finally, I really liked the humor incorporated into PARTY GIRLS DIE IN PEARLS. It's kind of an unusual book for the mystery genre. It's definitely got some cozy elements but it's actually much smarter because of the satire. In fact, I thought the various characters, especially the secondary ones, were extremely entertaining. Ursula's insight into the Oxford culture and everything that came with it were both insightful and hilarious.

Overall, I enjoyed PARTY GIRLS DIE IN PEARLS for a number of reasons, and I am looking forward to next book in the series. I definitely recommend this novel for fans of Ms. Sykes as well as readers looking for a modern, funny Nancy Drew type book!

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, July 29, 2017

Kid Konnection: National Geographic Kids' History Books

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

Summary: What's so weird about U.S. presidents? Plenty! Did you know that Abraham Lincoln was a great wrestler? That Ulysses S. Grant got a speeding ticket while riding his horse—twice! Or that Benjamin Harrison was afraid of electricity? And let's not forget that President McKinley had a pet parrot that whistled "Yankee Doodle Dandy" duets with him. In this new single-subject Weird But True book, you'll have a blast learning that there's a lot of substance—and weirdness—in every president's past. -- National Geographic Kids

WEIRD BUT TRUE KNOW-IT-ALL! U.S. PRESIDENTS by Brianna Dumont is an ideal book for kids who are interested in U.S. history, and especially the presidents. What's so fun about this book is that it's full of interesting trivia about the United States presidents, and these tidbits are a little odd!

I love WEIRD BUT TRUE KNOW-IT-ALL! U.S. PRESIDENTS. Not only are there interesting fun facts about the position of U.S. president, but there are also specifics about each of the 45 presidents. The book begins with some intriguing (and little known) facts including when the White House was renovated for new technological advances like running water, telephone, electric lights, and computer. There were also some fun facts like the taxpayers don't pay for personal expenses like toothpaste and mouthwash for the president.

The book is then divided into sections for each of the 45 presidents. There is quite a bit of information about each president, but I suspect most kids will appreciate the "weird but true!" facts. For example, George Washington wore dentures made of hippo tusks and human teeth! And Andrew Jackson fought in as many as 100 duels! Having said that, the bios on each president are a terrific resource for kids to learn a bit about our country and its presidents.

I really appreciated how this information is presented. Granted, there is a fair amount of text about each man; however, there is also enough graphics, text boxes, photos, illustrations and fun facts to keep even reluctant readers interested. Honestly, I think there are many ways to approach this book... and all of them are both fun and educational!

I highly recommend WEIRD BUT TRUE KNOW-IT-ALL! U.S. PRESIDENTS for budding history lovers... and their parents! It's a great addition to home and school libraries.

Summary: Discover history through the eyes of one of the smartest, funniest, and coolest figures from America's past. This book presents 50 of Benjamin Franklin's famous "wise words" from Poor Richard's Almanack, his personal letters, and other writings, with sage advice on everything from good citizenship and manners to friendship and being happy. Sayings are paired with hilarious illustrations and witty translations for modern audiences. It's a great go-to for inspirational and innovative ways to practice mindfulness, industriousness, and self-improvement. -- National Geographic Kids

BENJAMIN FRANKLIN'S WISE WORDS: HOW TO WORK SMART, PLAY WELL, AND MAKE REAL FRIENDS by K.M. Kostyal and illustrated by Fred Harper is another fantastic book by the folks at National Geographic Kids. This hardcover book, aimed at kids ages 8 - 12, is a great introduction to all things Ben Franklin.

BENJAMIN FRANKLIN'S WISE WORDS does make learning about Ben Franklin fun. Most kids probably don't realize that Ben Franklin was a pretty interesting (and dare I say, "Cool?") guy, and there's no doubt that he was pretty insightful on a variety of subjects. He's said some famous things that are still being quoted today.

BENJAMIN FRANKLIN'S WISE WORDS is divided into the following chapters: Tranquility, Industry, Order, Humility, Resolution, Sincerity, and Moderation; and it provides many of his words about these subject matters from his writings, the Poor Richard's Almanack, and letters. It also provides some wise advice about basic human behavior including having proper manners, being a good friend, and even working to be happy.

Ben's words still stand the test of time (with a few translations!) and I love so much of his advice. This book would probably be entertaining and informative with just his words; however, I loved the adorable illustrations that are included in this book. They truly complement Ben's clever text and make the book all the more fun!

All in all, I think BENJAMIN FRANKLIN'S WISE WORDS is a wonderful book for today's kids to explore! Highly recommended!

Thanks to 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!

Friday, July 28, 2017

Review: Pure Heart

Summary: Troylyn Ball and her husband, Charlie, an engineer and real estate developer, had spent their entire lives in Texas. But after a near fatal trip to the emergency room with their non-verbal, wheelchair-bound son Marshall, they admitted the dust and the heat were too dangerous. To save their boys, the Balls cashed out, sold their beloved farm, and moved to Asheville, North Carolina.

Nearing fifty, Troy thought her chance at adventure had passed. But in this booming little Appalachian Mountain city of hippies, farmers, artisans, and retirees, she unexpectedly discovered a support network and something she’d never had in twenty-five years of providing round-the-clock care for her special needs boys: the freedom to pursue her own dreams. She struck up a friendship with a legendary eighty-year-old raconteur from the mountains, met his friends, and soon found herself in a rickety country shack with an ingeniously inventive retired farmer trying to create the best recipe ever for traditional mountain moonshine.

But when the real estate bubble burst and the collapse of her husband Charlie’s new venture in Asheville left them deeply in debt, Troy realized her ten-year business plan for Troy & Sons Platinum Whiskey wasn’t enough. If she was going to save her family—and she was definitely going to save her family—she needed to become the most successful woman in the legal whiskey business. And she needed to do it fast, before the bank took her house, her business, and everything she’d worked so hard to achieve.

Full of eccentric characters and charming locations—from a "haunted" cabin in the mountains to the last farm in the world to grow heritage Crooked Creek corn—Pure Heart is a charming story of a woman who set out to find a purpose in the most unexpected of places, and ended up finding happiness, contentment, and a community of love and respect. -- Dey Street

PURE HEART: A SPIRITED TALE OF GRACE, GRIT, AND WHISKEY by Troy Ball with Bret Witter first caught my eye at last year's SIBA conference. Maybe it was because next to the book display, there were people handing out shots of whiskey? I have to admit that Ms. Ball's story intrigued me. A mother to three sons, two with severe disabilities, decides to start her own moonshine business!

Troy Ball is quite the character! She's definitely one of the most persistent individuals I've ever encountered in a non-fiction book, and I found her story so inspiring. Not only was she an incredible mother -- she pretty much provided 24 hour a day care to her special needs sons, but she also decided at almost 50 (gasp!) to start her own business. And she didn't just start a business, she researched moonshine and developed her own special recipe... and became the first woman distiller of whiskey in the world.

Ms. Ball's story is definitely an interesting one! And it's definitely about more than starting a whiskey company. I was impressed and inspired (and a bit in awe) by how she handled every difficult thing that came her way. A life long Texan, she and her husband realized they had to pick up and move to a climate better suited to their kids, and that means they had to start over with their family business. She tended to her children in a way that is almost unfathomable to me, and she also managed to deal with some pretty huge financial issues.

When she finally decided it was time for her to do something for herself, she thought maybe it was making and selling moonshine. Of course, her family's money problems kind of forced the issue for Ms. Ball. With the passion she showed for everything in her life, she began meeting with old moonshiners to discover their secrets. She even researched the best ingredients, forged relationships with suppliers, and worked in a metal building trying to perfect her recipe. Once she had her whiskey recipe down, she focused on bringing the product to market which is a fairly difficult task in North Carolina.

I enjoyed PURE HEART quite a bit. Ms. Bell's story is an interesting as it is inspiring. As someone approaching her 50s, I loved that she was able to do accomplish everything with her business; and the message that it's never to late to discover your passion was something I needed to hear. I recommend this book to fans of inspirational memoirs, but also readers who are interested in the distilling of liquors and the challenges a small business owner can face.

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

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Review: The Summer House

Summary: When Flossy Merrill summons her children to the beloved family beach house to celebrate their father’s eightieth birthday, both cherished memories and long-kept secrets come to light in this charming and lyrical novel from the author of The Lake Season and Mystic Summer.

Flossy Merrill has managed to—somewhat begrudgingly—gather her three ungrateful grown children from their dysfunctional lives for a summer reunion at the family’s Rhode Island beach house. Clementine, her youngest child and a young mother of two small children, has caused Flossy the most worry after enduring a tragically life-altering year. But Samuel and his partner Evan are not far behind in their ability to alarm: their prospective adoption search has just taken a heart-wrenching turn. Only Paige, the eldest of the headstrong Merrill clan, is her usual self: arriving precisely on time with her well-adapted teens. Little does her family know that she, too, is facing personal struggles of her own.

No matter. With her family finally congregated under one seaside roof, Flossy is determined to steer her family back on course even as she prepares to reveal the fate of the summer house that everyone has thus far taken for granted: she’s selling it. The Merrill children are both shocked and outraged and each returns to memories of their childhoods at their once beloved summer house—the house where they have not only grown up, but from which they have grown away. With each lost in their respective heartaches, Clementine, Samuel, and Paige will be forced to reconsider what really matters before they all say goodbye to a house that not only defined their summers, but, ultimately, the ways in which they define themselves. Featuring McKinnon’s “sharp and evocative” (Kirkus Reviews) voice, this warm-hearted novel is perfect for fans of Elin Hilderbrand and Mary Alice Monroe. -- Emily Bestler Books

I can't believe how quickly the summer is flying by. It's almost August and that means sending my daughter off to college -- Ack! I was looking at the pile of books that I need to review, and I decided that I better feature another one of those "beach" books that I read while on vacation. (I think this might be the last breezy read for a few weeks.) The novel is THE SUMMER HOUSE by Hannah McKinnon, and it's a good one.

THE SUMMER HOUSE tells the story of the Merrill family. The matriarch, Flossy, asks all three of three of her adult children to come to their Rhode Island beach house to celebrate their father's 80th birthday. They agree to come, albeit a bit begrudgingly, and Flossy attempts to bring them all together for one final summer vacation at their summer home.

It would only make for fun fiction if the family is somewhat dysfunctional... and Ms. McKinnon doesn't disappoint. Everyone in this book is dealing with some issues. Clementine is probably the most troubled child. She is the youngest daughter and mother of two young kids and has recently lost her husband in a surprising tragedy. Samuel is her son who is also dealing with some pain. He and his partner Evan want to adopt a child, and the process has been extremely disappointing. Finally, there's Paige, the eldest child, who does her best to control her life (and everyone else's around her.) She's also dealing with some serious stuff but does her best to hide it.

Flossy knows all three of her children are hurting, and she hopes this summer vacation helps them to heal. However, she also plans on selling the house and isn't quite sure how her kids will take the news. Knowing it's the final summer in that home, everyone reflects on their childhood memories and discovers what's truly important in their lives.

I really enjoyed THE SUMMER HOUSE! I am always drawn to books about dysfunctional families, and the Merrill family definitely fit the bill. Of course, the beach location didn't hurt -- and by that I mean the setting of the story and where I was when I read the book! I appreciated each of the characters' plights, and I liked that they were somewhat complex characters. Each one of them definitely had their faults, but I still managed to feel sympathy for all of them.

One thing I thought the author did really well was explore sibling relationships. These three children, despite being adults, were still holding onto some major issues from the past. It was a little surprising to me how much they cared about, what seemed to me to be, minor incidents from their childhoods; however, I do think there was some reality in their actions. It seemed like the minute they entered that beach house, they returned to their childhood personas.

What I appreciated even more, though, was that they continued to grow and evolve as adults throughout the course of the novel. I will admit at the out start that they were all a bit self-centered -- some more than others and some for better reasons than others, but they eventually came around and realized how much they loved (and needed) each other. While the drama surrounding their lives was pretty entertaining, I liked that the book ended in a touching (and satisfying) way.

THE SUMMER HOUSE would make a great book club book. There is a reading guide with 15 questions in the back of the book, but I couldn't find an on-line link. Some of the themes you might want to discuss include loss, aging, the house as a character, healing, second chances, family traditions, and emotional baggage.

I found THE SUMMER HOUSE to be a terrific beach read. It will definitely appeal to fans of Elin Hilderbrand and Dorothea Benton Frank, and I think it's a great addition to your pool or beach bag!

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

Monday, July 24, 2017

Review: Leona - The Die is Cast

Summary: This best-selling Scandinavian thriller follows its troubled heroine as she investigates a high-profile robbery for Stockholm’s Violent Crimes Division.

Naked and bloody, a seven-year-old girl walks into a bank in central Stockholm in broad daylight and gets away with millions. Leona Lindberg of Stockholm’s Violent Crimes Division agrees to work on the case. With a long, distinguished history on the police force, she seems the perfect choice. But Leona is grappling with difficult issues of her own—a gambling addiction, a strained marriage—that could jeopardize the investigation. As she struggles to keep the volatile pieces of her life under control, the line between right and wrong becomes increasingly unclear, and even irrelevant.

This is a hardboiled crime novel, filled with unexpected twists and turns, featuring an unusual heroine. Leona makes for gripping reading while challenging feminine norms and questioning what is behind the choices we make. -- Other Press

I accepted a pitch for LEONA: THE DIE IS CAST by Jenny Rogneby prior to attending this year's BEA; however, when after actually meeting the stunning Ms. Rogneby,  I knew this was one book that I had to read. It actually was the only mystery/thriller I packed for my beach vacation, and I'm so glad I included it. This book is something special!

LEONA: THE DIE IS CAST is already a best-selling novel in Scandinavia and the beginning of a new series stars Leona Lindberg, a complicated police officer in Stockholm's Violent Crimes Division. This book tells the unbelievable story of a seven year old girl who walks into banks, demands money, and ends up walking out of the bank with millions... and she just happens to be naked and covered in blood. Do I even need to tell you that LEONA: THE DIE IS CAST is a bit dark and creepy?

Leona Lindberg agrees to take on this high profile and difficult case. At 34 years old, she's a police veteran and has a pretty good solve rate so it makes sense for her to be in charge. However, it becomes apparent to the reader fairly early on that Leona is a bit of a mess. Her marriage is in trouble, her job is very demanding, her son is very ill, and she appears to have a gambling problem. Just trying to juggle these things makes Leona's life very difficult, and her actions make it difficult to discern whether she is on the right or wrong side of the law.

I thoroughly enjoyed LEONA, but I'm not exactly sure what that says about me. This novel is definitely twisted... and truth be told, I'm a bit surprised that someone as delightful as the author wrote something so dark. Having said that, she did work as a criminal investigator in the Stockholm City Police Department so she probably saw some pretty bad things there.

One of my favorite things about LEONA: THE DIE IS CAST was Leona herself. Leona is a fantastic character and so darn complicated that I'm still not quite sure what to make of her. She definitely had some baggage from her past that made her present life pretty difficult, and it seemed like she couldn't make the right choices despite knowing that they were detrimental to her personal life and her career. In fact, she was extremely hard to even like or root for, but I was interested in her all the same.

As far as mysteries go, I think it's safe to say that  LEONA: THE DIE IS CAST has more twists and turns than I could almost process. I mean that in the best of ways though. I loved that I was constantly surprised because it made for one highly entertaining story (if at times a little unbelievable), and I am so glad that this novel is the first in the series because I'm dying to see what's in store for Leona in the next book!

All in all, I think LEONA: THE DIE IS CAST is a great start to a new series. I definitely recommend this novel to fans of psychological suspense and 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.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Kid Konnection: The Big Book of Why Activity Book & Giveaway

Every Saturday, I host a feature called Kid Konnection -- a regular weekend feature about anything related to children's books. This week I'm going to share with you a fun activity book by Time for Kids.

Summary: Hidden pictures, dot-to-dot, mazes, trivia, crosswords, and funny fill-ins are just some of the engrossing activities readers will find in this full-color game book jam-packed with more than 300 photographs and illustrations. Like picture puzzles? Try finding an out-of-place cell phone in a famous Civil War photograph. Think you know about tornadoes? Figure out this word scramble and learn even more! Love word searches? There's one based on the theme of every chapter in the popular book TIME For Kids Big Book of Why. Whether kids are on a summer family road trip, on the plane to grandma's house, or settling into a bunk at sleepaway camp, the Big Book of Why Activity Book is the perfect companion.

Featured topics include sports, animals, history, science, tech, and more! The dozens of different activities include hidden pictures, mazes, word search, trivia Q-and-A, funny fill-ins, dot-to-dot, crosswords, coloring pages, and pictograms. -- Liberty Street

There's a new addition to the best-selling Time for Kids fact book series the Big Book of Why that looks like a lot of fun. It's called the BIG BOOK OF WHY ACTIVITY BOOK, and it's full of hands-on activities like hidden pictures, dot-to-dot, mazes, crosswords, and more. It's the ideal summer fun book for kids ages 8 - 12.

The BIG BOOK OF WHY ACTIVITY BOOK is extremely entertaining. There are more than 300 color photographs and illustrations in addition to the many activities and puzzles. The basic idea of this activity book is that it "answers big questions about how the world works." The book is divided into chapters so kids can delve into one subject matter or jump around to sections (or activities) that appeal to them. For example, there are chapters on animals, space, humans, history, technology and sports to name a few.

Not only are there fun games and activities, but there are also sections that provide some interesting tidbits about the various subject matters. But truthfully, I think most kids are going to love filling out the various puzzles and activities. There are mad-lib type fill-ins, spot the differences, acrostics, matching, mazes, and much much more! Needless to say, the BIG BOOK OF WHY ACTIVITY BOOK makes learning fun.
Unfortunately, my son is a tad too old for this fun book; however, my nephew is the perfect age... and he has a birthday coming up. I can't wait to see what he thinks about this entertaining (and educational) activity book. I suspect kids are going to absolutely adore this book, and I highly recommend it as a way to keep your kids learning (and playing) this summer.

I have a copy of the BIG BOOK OF WHY ACTIVITY BOOK to share with one lucky reader. To enter, just fill out the form below before August 4th at 11:59 p.m. EST. I will randomly select and notify the winner the following day. This contest is open to those of you with U.S. addresses only. Good luck!

Thanks to the 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!

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Review: Ginny Moon

Summary: Ginny is a recently adopted teenager with autism. She has a new home, new parents, and a new last name.

Before Ginny arrived at her new house, she spent years living in danger with her birth-mother. Her world is a much better, safer place now, and everyone tells her that she should feel happy. But Ginny is stifled. Her voice is pushed down. Silenced. Bottled up for too long now. It’s ready to burst.

Ginny is desperate to get back to where she came from, back to what she left behind. Because something heartbreaking happened there—something that only Ginny knows—and nothing will stop her from going back to make it right. She’ll even get herself kidnapped.

Ginny Moon is an illuminating look at one girl’s journey to find her way home. In this stunning debut, Benjamin Ludwig gives a voice to the voiceless, reminding us that often we only hear those who speak the loudest, and there’s much to be learned by opening up our ears and our hearts. -- Park Row Books

I had heard some positive buzz about the novel GINNY MOON by Benjamin Ludwig; however, it wasn't until Adriana Trigiani recommended this book to me that I decided to give it a try. I love coming-of-age stories and GINNY MOON is definitely a unique one. This novel explores an autistic young girl's desire to find her birth mother, and I found it to be a terrific read.

Ginny is a 14 year old autistic girl who has been recently adopted by Maura and Brian, her forever parents, after living in foster homes for years. The first nine years of her life were pretty difficult -- Ginny lived in constant danger of being abused by her birth mother, but now Ginny seems to have the stability she needs. However, when Maura gives birth to a baby girl, Ginny's behavior becomes very erratic and Maura fears for the safety of her family.

Living with Ginny has never been particularly easy, but Maura and Brian did their very best. Ginny is not only autistic, but she is also deeply scarred from an incident from her childhood. the details are sketchy, but Ginny wants to know what happened to her "baby doll." According to Ginny, she took care of her "baby doll" and when the police arrived one day to her house, she stuffed the doll into a suitcase and never had the chance to go back and get it. Ginny is desperate to find her birth mother and the baby doll, and she's willing to go to extreme measures to find them... even it that means being kidnapped!

I actually read GINNY MOON while I was on vacation, and I have to say that I found it very entertaining. The novel was both funny and heartbreaking, and I am happy to say that it was eventually heartwarming too. This book is Mr. Ludwig's debut novel and he's definitely got some serious talent when it comes to storytelling and creating memorable characters. I should have known that Adriana wouldn't lead me wrong!

You can't help but fall a little bit in love with Ginny. She's a fantastic character and I think the author did a terrific job in bringing a 14 year old autistic girl to life. The story is told in her words and I was incredibly impressed with how realistic she seemed. Ginny experienced more in her 14 years than most people experience in a life-time. The author said that her was inspired to write about Ginny after he and his wife adopted an autistic young girl and he witnessed how much she wanted to return to the place she came from. It's evident to this reader that he is a pretty special guy... and he truly understands his characters.

One thing that surprised me a bit about this novel is how dark parts of it were. I can't express the horrors that Ginny faced as a young girl and how much they traumatized her. I found it to be extremely sad and more than a little disturbing. What amazed me about this novel though is how the author managed to incorporate so much humor into a depressing story. The book really did make me both laugh and cry, and I loved how the novel ended!

What I enjoyed most about this book, though, were the messages in the novel. As bad as Ginny's birth mother was, there was so much good in this story. Brian, her forever dad, was an incredibly patient and kind man... and Ginny was so lucky to have him. The novel really featured how fostering and adoption can save both parents' and kids' lives. In addition, I loved how this novel portrayed autism. I will admit that I had some preconceived notions that were shot... and I loved that! Finally, I loved how this story showed what can happen when a child has a supportive family.

Needless to say, I think GINNY MOON would make a terrific book club selection. There is a reading guide available with eleven interesting questions. Some of the themes you might want to explore include adoption, family, love, sacrifice, fear, obsession, abuse, and autism. I believe that Ginny is such an intriguing character and worthy of quite a bit of discussion.

Overall, I think fans of coming-of-age stories as well as readers who enjoy stories about dysfunctional families will enjoy GINNY MOON. Highly recommended!

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