Monday, October 16, 2017

Review: Unraveling Oliver

Summary: In this “compelling, clever, and dark” (Heat magazine) thriller, a man’s shocking act of savagery stuns a local community—and the revelations that follow will keep you gripped until the very last page. This work of psychological suspense, a #1 bestseller in Ireland, is perfect for fans of Patricia Highsmith and Ruth Ware.

“I expected more of a reaction the first time I hit her.”

So begins Liz Nugent’s astonishing debut novel—a chilling, elegantly crafted, and psychologically astute exploration of the nature of evil.

Oliver Ryan, handsome, charismatic, and successful, has long been married to his devoted wife, Alice. Together they write and illustrate award-winning children’s books; their life together one of enviable privilege and ease—until, one evening after a delightful dinner, Oliver delivers a blow to Alice that renders her unconscious, and subsequently beats her into a coma.

In the aftermath of such an unthinkable event, as Alice hovers between life and death, the couple’s friends, neighbors, and acquaintances try to understand what could have driven Oliver to commit such a horrific act. As his story unfolds, layers are peeled away to reveal a life of shame, envy, deception, and masterful manipulation.

With its alternating points of view and deft prose, Unraveling Oliver is “a page-turning, one-sitting read from a brand new master of psychological suspense” (Sunday Independent) that details how an ordinary man can transform into a sociopath. -- Scout Press

One of the highlights of this year's BEA was attending the Editor's Buzz panel. All of the books presented looked terrific, but one that definitely appealed to me was the psychological suspense novel UNRAVELING OLIVER BY Liz Nugent. This book had already been published to great critical acclaim in Ireland a few years back, and it even hit number one on the bestseller list.

UNRAVELING OLIVER begins in quite a dramatic way. Oliver has just beaten his wife Alice, seemingly out of nowhere; and she might not even live to tell her side of the story. Oliver is a handsome man who also happens to be a successful children's author -- not exactly your typical abuser. His wife is the illustrator for his  books, and by all accounts, she's a very nice woman. What could ever have taken place that Oliver felt the need to beat Alice into a coma?

The novel begins with Oliver's account of events, and I have to admit that I thought this novel was going to be another book by an unreliable narrator. (And you know I'm not always fond of these stories because I sometimes feel manipulated.) However, UNRAVELING OLIVER was definitely different... in a good way! Oliver did provide his story in various chapters; however, so did many other people who had encountered Oliver at some point in his life.

The true mystery of this novel isn't what happened to Alice. Rather it's why did Oliver snap one day and beat her? The majority of this novel is made up of stories told by individuals who knew Oliver, both from the present and his past. As these stories are revealed to the reader, it becomes apparent that Oliver has some serious baggage from his past; and it's these past events (and the secrets surrounding them) that triggers Oliver to psycho snap on Alice.

I thoroughly enjoyed UNRAVELING OLIVER. I found it to be very well-written, and I was definitely hanging onto every word. I liked that the story was fast-paced and that it was told through the eyes of quite a few characters, and I definitely liked how the Oliver's secrets came to light. However, there was one small thing that kind of bothered me. It takes place at the end of the novel when Alice is learning about Oliver's past. Something happens that is just a little too convenient for me. It didn't really affect my appreciation of the story, but it was something that seemed too easy... if that makes sense.

In summary, UNRAVELING OLIVER is a well-written and fast-paced psychological thriller. I enjoyed the surprise twists and that it was different than most suspense novels out there. Highly recommended!

I received a copy of this novel at this year's BEA.

Mystery Mondays is a regular feature where I review all types of mystery books -- traditional mysteries, suspense/thrillers, and even cozies! Please feel free to share your thoughts on any recent mystery books that you've read.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Kid Konnection: Atlas of Dinosaur Adventures

Every Saturday, I host a feature called Kid Konnection -- a regular weekend feature about anything related to children's books. This week I'm going to share a book that is perfect for the dinosaur lover in your life!

Summary: From the team behind the best-selling Atlas of Adventures comes this prehistoric journey of discovery. Travel back in time to lock horns with a triceratops, stalk prey with a T-Rex, and learn to fly with a baby Pteranodon. With hundreds of things to spot and facts to learn, this is the biggest Atlas adventure yet! -- Wide Eyed Editions

ATLAS OF DINOSAUR ADVENTURES: STEP INTO THE PREHISTORIC WORLD FOR AN ADVENTURE WITH HISTORY'S MOST AMAZING DINOSAURS AND REMARKABLE REPTILES by Emily Hawkins and illustrated by Lucy Netherland is one amazing book... especially for kids who love maps and dinosaurs! This giant book (and I mean giant-- it's actually 11" x 14") is not only educational, but it also takes kids on a dinosaur adventure!

The ATLAS OF DINOSAUR ADVENTURES is 94 fun-filled pages. It's full of fantastic illustrations of all types of dinosaurs and reptiles, and it takes kids back-in-time to discover what it was like when dinosaurs roamed the Earth. There is lots of information about dinosaurs, which isn't unusual for a kids' book; however, this one is extra-special because it also takes kids all over the world to the different countries where dinosaurs lived.

I think my thirteen year old son is a little old for this book, but it would have been a huge hit a few years ago. My son never had the dinosaur-bug like so many other kids, but he did (and still does) have a love of geography. The beautifully drawn maps alone would have attracted him to this big book, and I have a feeling that he would have wanted to learn more about dinosaurs because the information is presented in such a reader-friendly way.

The ATLAS OF DINOSAUR ADVENTURES is divided into chapter by continent, and then within each continent, there are sections on various countries where dinosaurs and reptiles lived. Each page has drawings of many prehistoric creatures, and there are small "chunks" of text in different fonts. Some of the text is more general about how the dinosaurs lived, while other sections are more a bit more detailed and geared towards a slightly older crowd. Even though this book is rather long for the younger readers, there are so many pictures that I think kids of all ages will find something to love.

All in all, the ATLAS OF DINOSAUR ADVENTURES is a terrific book for kids who love dinosaurs  and maps. Highly recommended for home and school libraries.

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

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

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Review: Class Mom

Summary: Laurie Gelman’s clever debut novel about a year in the life of a kindergarten class mom—a brilliant send-up of the petty and surprisingly cutthroat terrain of parent politics.

Jen Dixon is not your typical Kansas City kindergarten class mom—or mom in general. Jen already has two college-age daughters by two different (probably) musicians, and it’s her second time around the class mom block with five-year-old Max—this time with a husband and father by her side. Though her best friend and PTA President sees her as the “wisest” candidate for the job (or oldest), not all of the other parents agree.

From recording parents’ response times to her emails about helping in the classroom, to requesting contributions of “special” brownies for curriculum night, not all of Jen’s methods win approval from the other moms. Throw in an old flame from Jen’s past, a hyper-sensitive “allergy mom,” a surprisingly sexy kindergarten teacher, and an impossible-to-please Real Housewife-wannabe, causing problems at every turn, and the job really becomes much more than she signed up for.

Relatable, irreverent, and hilarious in the spirit of Maria Semple, Class Mom is a fresh, welcome voice in fiction—the kind of novel that real moms clamor for, and a vicarious thrill-read for all mothers, who will be laughing as they are liberated by Gelman’s acerbic truths. -- Henry Holt

My days of elementary school are long gone -- thank goodness I have a seventh grader and a freshman in college. This wasn't planned, but I had twelve straight years of elementary school... and that means a lot of volunteering time. Don't get me wrong. I am extremely grateful that I had the opportunity to help my kids' teachers, but I was a room mom for ten straight years! So it should come as no surprise that a book about a room mom appealed to me.

CLASS MOM by Laurie Gelman is a satiric look at what it's like being a mom who signs up to help out teachers with field trips, parties, and more! I have to tell you that there was way too much about this book that I related to, and I know I'm not alone. Our school is super intense when it comes to just about everything, but especially parties; and I have a few friends who I'm sure wish they could communicate like the head room mom in this novel.

CLASS MOM tells the story of Jen Dixon, an mom who decides to volunteer for her son's kindergarten class. She had two daughters to two different men during her wild days, but they are both away at college and she's now settled down with a husband and a young son. There's no doubt that Jen has the "wisdom" that comes with being an "older" mom, but it takes more than wisdom to deal with a young teacher and today's parents! (Trust me!)

I found CLASS MOM to be a very entertaining read. The first few chapters of this book were laugh out loud funny, and I just knew I had to share this book with one of my good friends. (We were co-head room moms for five years straight, and I think we could almost write a book!) I loved Jen's emails to the parents, and I about died when she timed their response times. (I so wish I had thought of that!) As funny as I found her to be, I'm not so sure that her humor was appreciated by all of the parents.

As far as I'm concerned Jen just had a little more perspective than most of the other parents, but her attitude did ruffle some feathers. She actually ended up with more hassle than she ever imagined, but it wasn't all work and no play. True, she did have to deal with the intense "allergy mom," parents with no sense of humor, and issues with getting others to volunteer. However, she also had some great friends and even re-discovered her high school crush. But I'd say all in all, being a class mom was definitely more than she signed up for!

I have a friend who was a co-room mom with me for five years straight, and I can't wait to put this book into her hands. She actually would be someone who'd send out emails like Jen, and she's even done a few things that probably never crossed Jen's mind! While we never had quite the degree of issues that Jen had (especially being attracted to ex-crushes), we certainly had our fair share of hassles. But one thing's for sure, we could throw a heck of a party!

As funny as CLASS MOM was, it was also an insightful look at being a parent in today's society. While I did laugh a lot, there were also some serious topics in this novel. I truly appreciated that the author tackled some real issues, and I loved that she created a character like Jen that was both hilarious and reflective. All in all, CLASS MOM was a great read that I highly recommend to all of you room moms (and room mom wannabes) out there!

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

Monday, October 9, 2017

Review: The Deep Dark Descending

Summary: Homicide Detective Max Rupert never fully accepted his wife’s death, even when he believed that a reckless hit and run driver was the cause.

But when he learns that in fact she was murdered, he devotes himself to hunting down her killers. Most of his life he had thought of himself as a decent man. But now he’s so consumed with thoughts of retribution that he questions whether he will take that last step and enact the vengeance he longs for.

On a frozen lake near the US-Canadian border, he wrestles with a decision that could change his life forever, as his hatred threatens to turn him into the kind of person he has spent a career bringing to justice. -- Seventh Street Books

Allen Eskens is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors. I've loved every book he's ever written, and his latest novel THE DEEP DARK DESCENDING is no exception. This book is dark and gritty and it's absolutely fabulous. THE DEEP DARK DESCENDING has already received a starred review from Kirkus, and it was featured as a "Best New Book" in this week's Entertainment Weekly.

THE DEEP DARK DESCENDING stars a character you might know from the 2016 novel THE HEAVENS MAY FALL. It's Max Rupert, a homicide detective who learns that his wife's death from a hit and run wasn't an accident. He's already tormented by her death, but when he realizes that someone (or someones) wanted her dead because she knew too much, he's out for revenge.

Max doesn't have any friends, outside of his partner in the police force; and he's determined to solve this crime by himself. In addition to Max's quest to figure out his wife's murder, he and his partner Niki are also working on an unusual case. The mayor's chief of staff appears to be guilty of trying to set his dead girlfriend's body on fire... and in the process, he caught himself on fire too!

As Max gets closer to the truth about his wife's death, his desire for revenge seems to overtake his reason in the matter. Will Max ultimately become a man like the ones he has spent his life putting behind bars?

Wow! I honestly loved this novel so much. It's the fourth book I've read by Allen Eskens, and I think he just keeps getting better. I will admit that THE DEEP DARK DESCENDING was a little darker than I was expecting; however, the story was fast-paced and so well told that I actually appreciated the changes in Max's character. Mr. Eskens brought Max so fully to life that I totally understood his thoughts and actions and even his manic behavior!

THE DEEP DARK DESCENDING takes place over just a few days, with chapters alternating between Max working on the crimes and the fast forwarding to when Max has a man held captive near a frozen lake on the U.S./Canada border. The tension in the story just keeps building to the amazing conclusion, and I will say that I definitely wasn't disappointed in the ending. Maybe a little surprised, but definitely not let down.

Trust me when I say that Mr. Eskens can write characters and mysteries like few authors out there. His books are so darn easy to read -- even this one which was definitely depressing. He creates memorable characters who force their way into your brain and heart, and he makes readers feel their pain. In the case of Max, I could even feel his anguish as he tried to decide what to do with the man who was responsible for his wife's death.

I would love for book clubs to read THE DEEP DARK DESCENDING. It is a mystery and I know some groups shy away from discussing mysteries; however, this novel is really deep. Max is an incredibly complex character, and his actions are worthy of discussion. In addition, there is a reading guide with some very thought-provoking questions.

All in all, THE DEEP DARK DESCENDING is an excellent mystery, and it just might be Mr. Eskens' best one to date. I hope he keeps them coming because I can't get enough of his novels!

I received a copy of this novel at this year's BEA.

Mystery Mondays is a regular feature where I review all types of mystery books -- traditional mysteries, suspense/thrillers, and even cozies! Please feel free to share your thoughts on any recent mystery books that you've read.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Kid Konnection: Listen - How Pete Seeger Got America Singing & 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 a beautiful picture book with some very important messages.

Summary: Listen.
There was nobody like Pete Seeger.
Wherever he went, he got people singing.
With his head thrown back
and his Adam’s apple bouncing,
picking his long-necked banjo
or strumming his twelve-string guitar,
Pete sang old songs,
new songs,
new words to old songs,
and songs he made up.

In this gorgeously written and illustrated tribute to legendary musician and activist Pete Seeger, author Leda Schubert highlights major musical events in Mr. Seeger's life as well important moments of his fight against social injustice. From singing sold-out concerts to courageously standing against the McCarthy-era finger-pointing, Pete Seeger's life is celebrated in this bold book for young readers with gorgeous illustrations by Raúl Colón. -- Roaring Brook Press

LISTEN: HOW PETE SEEGER GOT AMERICA SINGING by Leda Schubert and illustrated by Raul Colon is a very special picture book. It's aimed at children 5 -9 years old, and I think that kids and parents alike will appreciate both the illustrations and the information in this gorgeous picture book.

LISTEN: HOW PETE SEEGER GOT AMERICA SINGING celebrates the life of Pete Seeger, a singer, songwriter, and activist. It has already received a starred review from Kirkus, and it's no surprise to me. This picture book is heartwarming with its messages of hope and perseverance... and the difference one person can make. And I think so many of these messages are important in our society especially in our current political environment.

I loved how the author told Mr. Seeger's story. She incorporated some of his lyrics as well as many of his song titles (and she used a different color text to make them stand out.) In addition, she provided information about his personal causes and activism to make the story interesting. Finally, she included enough tidbits aboutt his personal life to make him more real to the readers.

Besides the beautiful illustrations and very special story, I appreciated the extra pages at the end of the book. There is an author's note which gives insight into why the author decided to write LISTEN. In addition, she provided a very detailed time line as well as recommended books and recordings for children. If you'd like to see and hear some of Mr. Seeger's videos and recordings, click here.

There is no doubt that LISTEN: HOW PETE SEEGER GOT AMERICA SINGING would be a wonderful addition to both personal and school libraries. I can totally see teachers using this book as a tool to teach children about activism as well as music. This picture book happens to have Common Core connections as well as a terrific teacher's guide.

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

Giveaway alert: I have a copy of LISTEN: HOW PETE SEEGER GOT AMERICA SINGING to share with one lucky reader. To enter, just fill out the form below before Friday, October 20th 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!


Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Giveaway: The Adventurers Guild

Summary: Few ever asked to join the Adventurers Guild. . . . Their members often died young. In one of the last cities standing after the world fell to monsters, best friends Zed Kagari and Brock Dunderfel have high hopes for the future. Zed desperately wishes to join the ranks of the Mages Guild, where his status as Freestone’s only half elf might finally be an asset. Brock, the roguishly handsome son of merchants, is confident he’ll be welcomed into the ranks of the Merchants Guild. But just as it seems the boys’ dreams have come true, their lives take a startling turn . . . and they find themselves members of the perilous Adventurers Guild. Led by the fearsome Alabasel Frond, the guild acts as the last line of defense against the Dangers–hungry, unnatural beasts from otherworldly planes. And when the boys uncover a conspiracy that threatens all of Freestone, Zed, Brock, and their new allies–Liza, a fierce noble, and Jett, a brave dwarf–must prove their worth once and for all. This start of a thrilling new series is sure to be a hit with readers who like their fantasies clever and action-packed, with tons of humor and heart. -- Disney-Hyperion

I am anxiously awaiting the arrival of my copy of THE ADVENTURERS GUILD from Disney-Hyperion, but I didn't want to wait to share this book (and great giveaway) with you! THE ADVENTURERS GUILD is the first book in a new series by Zack Loran Clark and Nick Eliopulos, two editors living in New York who joined forces to write this fantasy story. Based on the publishers' description, this middle grade novel sounds like it's perfect for kids who love action and adventure stories.

THE ADVENTURERS GUILD was just released yesterday and it's already generating some positive buzz -- Kirkus gave it a starred review. I am definitely looking forward to reading this novel. It sounds like the perfect blend of action with a quirky cast of characters. When you throw in the humor and fantasy elements, it truly does sound like a great novel for 9 -12 year olds.

If you'd like to learn more about THE ADVENTURERS GUILD: #ADVENTURERSGUILD
Follow Disney-Hyperion on Twitter and Instagram
Like Disney-Hyperion on Facebook

Giveaway alert!

To celebrate the release of THE ADVENTURERS GUILD, I have a fantastic giveaway courtesy of Disney/Hyperion! One winner will receive the following:

  • copy of The Adventurers Guild
  • branded bookmark
  • plus branded baseball cap and hoodie
To enter, just fill out the form below before Tuesday, October 17th 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!

Monday, October 2, 2017

Review: Book of Judas

Summary: From hard-hitting New York Daily News columnist Linda Stasi comes Book of Judas, a riveting religious thriller featuring beloved protagonist Alessandra Russo.

When her infant son is placed in mortal danger, New York City reporter Alessandra Russo is forced to save him by tracking down the missing pages of the Gospel of Judas, a heretical manuscript that was unearthed in Al-Minya, Egypt, in the 1970s. The manuscript declares that Judas was the beloved, not the betrayer, of Jesus.

The Gospel disappeared for decades before being rediscovered, rotted beyond repair, in a safety deposit box. Rumors insist that the most important pages had been stolen—pages that Alessandra now must find, if they even exist.

Do the lost pages contain a secret that will challenge Christianity's core beliefs about the creation of life, or that might hold the power to unleash Armageddon? What if such explosive documents fell into the hands of modern-day terrorists, dictators, or religious fanatics?

Alessandra plunges into a dark world of murder, conspiracy, and sexual depravity...and most importantly, a race against the clock to save her own child.

In this exciting follow-up to The Sixth Station, award-winning journalist Linda Stasi brings her formidable investigative skills, big city street smarts, and fast-flying pen to a thriller that will leave readers breathless. -- Forge

I read a variety of series, but somehow I missed the first book in the Alessandro Russo series by Linda Stasi. I figure it's better late than never, so when I read the description for BOOK OF JUDAS, the second novel in the series, I jumped at the chance to read it. This novel is an action-packed thriller, starring a female protagonist; and it will definitely appeal to fans of THE DAVINCI CODE and similar novels.

BOOK OF JUDAS has at its backdrop the Gospel of Judas, and specifically the missing pages from the manuscript with some controversial assertions. This document states that Judas was not actually the betrayer of Jesus. Rather, he was the beloved and the one whom Jesus entrusted to set up the events for his crucifixion. Talk about turning Christianity and churches' doctrine upside-down! However, it was also rumored that this manuscript might have the power to unleash Armageddon... and what would happen if it ended up in the wrong hands?

The Gospel was discovered in Egypt in the 1970s, but then it disappeared before being rediscovered in a safety deposit box in New Jersey. The manager of the bank where it was found just happened to be Alessandro's childhood friend's father. So when this man dies, his son ends up with the valuable documents and he asks Alessandro, an investigative journalist, for help.

Alessandro, a new mother, is anxious to chase this story and prove that she's still got it -- that she hasn't lost her intensity as a newspaper writer. However, when her friend is considered a person of interest in his father's death, she feels an urgency to sell the artifact for his legal fees. Alessandro decides to leave her infant son with her friendly (but odd) neighbors and head to Egypt to meet with a mysterious priest and sell the documents.

When she arrives in Egypt, she is terrified to learn that her son is in danger. The action at this point in the novel escalates, and Alessandro finds herself in mortal danger too. Fortunately, a blast from the past appears to help her; and together, they try to save the world... and get home in time to save Alessandro's son!

I enjoyed the fast-paced story in BOOK OF JUDAS, and I even enjoyed the background story on the Gospel of Judas. It was a quick read, with plenty of action as well as a historical angle, that made the story quite entertaining. However, it did have a slight supernatural slant that I didn't exactly appreciate. I wouldn't say this genre is one of my favorites as far as thrillers go, but I do think it's an overall good book with interesting characters.

As far as the mystery goes, it was a pretty good one. I wouldn't say that I was surprised by any part of this novel -- I felt as if I pretty much knew what was coming before it was revealed in the novel. But I would say that it's still exciting enough to appeal to a variety of thriller fans. I actually think BOOK OF JUDAS would make a great movie!

Ms. Stasi is an award winning journalist who writes for The New York Daily News and previously at The New York Post. I think she has made the transition to thriller author very well. She has created some interesting characters, and she does a good job with the pacing of the novel. In addition, she provided enough historical information (both factual and embellished) to make the mystery intriguing. All in all, BOOK OF JUDAS was an entertaining read.

I mentioned earlier that BOOK OF JUDAS is the second book in the series... and I don't always like starting in the middle of a series. Rest assured, this book works very well as a stand-alone. The author does a terrific job of catching up the reader to some pertinent events, and I had a feel for the characters from the get-go. I will admit that I'm tempted to read the earlier novel THE SIXTH STATION because the premise for that one sounds good too!

Overall, I think BOOK OF JUDAS is an entertaining read and will definitely appeal to fans of this suspense genre.

I received a copy of this novel from Get Red PR.

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, September 30, 2017

Kid Konnection: Cookiesaurus Rex

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 hilarious picture book about a spunky dinosaur cookie!

Summary: As soon as Cookiesaurus Rex comes out of the oven, he declares that he is King of All Cookies. He should be frosted before all of the standard-shaped cookies, in a nice bright green. But the other cookies are getting sprinkles, or shiny stars, or even gumdrops . . . WAIT ONE STINKIN’ STOMPIN’ MINUTE! Cookiesaurus wants a do-over. Problem is, he might not end up with the kind of “do” he wants. Readers will love the funny back-and-forth between this cheeky cookie and the hand that frosts him. See who gets his licks in at the end! -- Disney Hyperion

COOKIESAURUS REX by Amy Fellner Dominy and Nate Evans is one of the cutest picture books I've ever seen. It's got a little bit of something for every young reader starting with cookies and dinosaurs (what kids don't like either cookies or dinosaurs?), and then it continues with a variety of adorably decorated cookie characters.

COOKIESAURUS REX is guaranteed to be bring giggles to children and parents alike. The book is geared towards little ones three to five years old, but the story (and illustrations by AG Ford) are so silly that I think readers of all ages will smile. The book begins when Cookiesaurus Rex is just an undecorated sugar cookie, but a sugar cookie with sass. He can't wait to be decorated with frosting and maybe even sprinkles and stars. However, Cookiesaurus Rex is disappointed to see that the decorating plans for him aren't exactly what he had in mind... and he's not afraid to let everyone know it!

After Cookiesaurus Rex becomes an assortment of cookie designs including a ballerina, a superhero, a clown, and a ninja, and even a baby (with a chocolate chip trail representing poop!), he finally takes matters into his own tiny hands. Cookiesaurus Rex can only bask in his glory for a brief time, though, because the hand that decorates him has the last word (or should I say lick?!)

COOKIESAURUS REX is precious. I love everything about this book and I desperately wish I had a little one to share this book with. The banter between the cookie and the decorator is hilarious, and the illustrations are fantastic -- the perfect complement to the story. This picture book is definitely a must-read! Highly recommended!

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

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

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Guest Review: Ring of Fire

Summary: Former Delta Force officer and New York Times bestselling author Brad Taylor delivers a relentlessly fast-paced, gripping thriller featuring Taskforce operators Pike Logan and Jennifer Cahill as they come face-to-face with an insidious threat to strike terror into the heart of America.

Fifteen years ago, in order to win a contract in the Kingdom, a desperate defense contractor used a shell company to provide a bribe to a wealthy Saudi businessman. Now a powerful player in the defense industry, he panics when the Panama Papers burst onto the public scene. Providing insight into the illicit deeds of offshore financing, they could prove his undoing.

To prevent the exposure of his illegal activities, he sets in motion a plan to interdict the next leak, but he is not the only one worried about spilled secrets. The data theft has left the Taskforce potentially vulnerable, leaving a trail that could compromise the unit. Back in the good graces of the new president, Pike Logan and Jennifer Cahill are ordered to interdict the next leak as well, in order to control the damage.

Unbeknownst to either group, the Saudi has been using the shell company to fund terrorists all over the world, and he has a spectacular attack planned, coinciding with the fifteenth anniversary of 9/11. The information Pike and Jennifer uncover will put them on the trail of the imminent threat, but it’s one that they might be unable to stop.

Called Ring of Fire, it will cause unimaginable destruction across the United States, and the ensuing chaos and terror will distract the Taskforce from a truth no one sees: Ring of Fire was only the beginning, and the danger is far from over. -- Dutton

Booking Pap Pap is back with a review... and so is Brad Taylor with his latest Pike Logan novel RING OF FIRE. It's the eleventh book in this action-packed series, and I think my dad enjoyed it quite a bit. Here are his thoughts:

RING OF FIRE is Brad Taylor’s 11 novel in his Pike Logan series and the third one I have reviewed. Pike Logan is the team leader of a secret American counterterrorism unit called the Taskforce that answers only to an Oversight Council that includes the President and a group of 13 individuals from various branches of the U.S. government.

In RING OF FIRE, Pike and his team are asked to intercept the release of the Panama Papers and avoid potentially damaging information that could compromise the Taskforce. The Taskforce is unaware of the efforts of a powerful defense contractor who is also working to stop the leak of the Panama Papers because of information about illegal offshore accounts that could prove harmful to his company.

Pike’s team discovers these offshore accounts and follows the trail that leads to a wealthy Saudi businessman who is planning attacks on U.S. shipping that would coincide with the fifteenth anniversary of 9/11. Pike must unravel this mystery in time to avert the planned attacks.

As with his other books in the Pike Logan series, the author deals with real world issues in a believable and informative way. His ability to cleverly blend fact and fiction gives RING OF FIRE a credible story line. Taylor’s Delta Force experience and his thorough research is apparent as he informs the reader with his detailed knowledge of terrorists and their methods.

Taylor’s characters are well developed. The Taskforce team is now quite familiar to anyone who has read several of the books in the series. However, a new reader might have a difficult time understanding the team’s relationships since Taylor has done very little in this novel to explain any of the background of the team members. I also found Pike operating closer to the edge of the rules governing the task force than in past novels that I have read. As long as he is successful, all seems to be forgiven. The secondary characters in the novel are very interesting. For example, there is a Somali-American member of a sleeper cell who is a drone expert; a South African mercenary who follows similar leads as the Taskforce and runs into Pike’s team; a potential new member to the Taskforce is put into action and the Moroccan brothers who work in a filthy leather cleaning operation and desire to be Jihadists. 

The RING OF FIRE is a good mixture of terrorism, technology and military-type action that is blended nicely in a fast-paced suspense thriller.

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

Monday, September 25, 2017

Review: The Late Show

Summary: #1 New York Times bestselling author Michael Connelly introduces Renee Ballard, a fierce young detective fighting to prove herself on the LAPD’s toughest beat–the Late Show.

Renee Ballard works the midnight shift in Hollywood, beginning many investigations but finishing few, as each morning she turns everything over to the daytime units. It’s a frustrating job for a once up-and-coming detective, but it’s no accident. She’s been given this beat as punishment after filing a sexual harassment complaint against a supervisor.

But one night Ballard catches two assignments she doesn’t want to part with. First, a prostitute is brutally beaten and left for dead in a parking lot. All signs point to a crime of premeditation, not passion, by someone with big evil on his mind. Then she sees a young waitress breathe her last after being caught up in a nightclub shooting. Though dubbed a peripheral victim, the waitress buys Ballard a way in, and this time she is determined not to give up at dawn. Against orders and her partner’s wishes, she works both cases by day while maintaining her shift by night.

As the investigations intertwine, Ballard is forced to face her own demons and confront a danger she could never have imagined. To find justice for these victims who can’t speak for themselves, she must put not only her career but her life on the line.

Propulsive as a jolt of adrenaline and featuring a bold and defiant new heroien, The Late Show is yet more proof that Michael Connelly is “a master of the genre” (Washington Post). -- Little Brown

One of my very favorite authors in the whole wide world is Michael Connelly. I anxiously await each of his latest novels, and I'm never, ever disappointed. His latest novel, THE LATE SHOW, once again delivers... and it introduces a new female lead! What more could a fan of his ask for?

THE LATE SHOW features Renee Ballard, a young detective who is now working the midnight shift in Hollywood -- not exactly a coveted beat. She once had a promising career as a detective, but after a sexual harassment claim against her supervisor, she was demoted to that shift. It's not a fulfilling job, so when two unique cases happen to occur under her watch, she desperately wants to follow them through until conviction.

The first case is a transgender prostitute who ends up getting almost beaten to death and then left in a parking lot. It seems like the assault was premeditated, and there are a few clues which Renee wants to pursue. Second, a waitress in a nightclub is brought to the same emergency room where Renee is with the first victim. She is barely alive after being shot, and even though she seems to be a peripheral victim, Renee is able to work her way onto the case.

Renee is supposed to turn both of these crimes over to other officers, but she's determined to keep them for herself. Acting against orders from her supervisor and advice from her partner, she works both cases during the day while also working her normal shift on "the late show." As Renee gets closer to discovering the truth, she has to confront some difficult baggage from her past. In addition, the risks she's taking to solve these crimes end up affecting not only her job but also her life!

I loved, loved, loved THE LATE SHOW. It's not really a surprise that I'm gushing over Mr. Connelly's latest novel. I always gush over his novels. But I am thrilled that he introduced a new character that is so intriguing. While Renee is very different than Harry Bosch (one of my favorite characters in fiction), she has a few things in common with him that makes her a terrific detective. She's an extremely good cop who is battling some inner demons, and she also sees herself as being in a fight against the higher ups in the force. I loved the complexity of her character, both personally and professionally; and no one does the inner struggle of cops better than Michael Connelly.

Another great thing about THE LATE SHOW are the mysteries in this novel. Renee is working two crimes and both are integral to the plot. (The poor gal doesn't sleep for pretty much the entire novel.) The assault case against the transgender was one that showed both Renee's compassion as a cop as well as her fantastic detective skills. I actually thought it was the "secondary" mystery to the novel, but it ended up providing some terrific tension towards the end of the novel. The second mystery about the nightclub shooting was Connelly at his best. This case ended up delving into squad politics and some unethical cops in the force... and I was truly surprised by the resolution!

I don't really have much more to say about THE LATE SHOW. I devoured this book despite having a crazy week, and I highly recommend it to fans of mysteries!

I received a copy of this novel from the local public library.

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, September 23, 2017

Kid Konnection: It's Not Jack and the Beanstalk & 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 that is a twist on a classic fairytale.

Summary: Jack is not fond of the bossy narrator of his fairy tale! When Jack is told to trade his beloved cow Bessie for some magic beans, throw the beans out the window, climb the ENORMOUS beanstalk that sprouts overnight, and steal from a GIANT, he decides this fairy tale is getting out of control. In fact, he doesn’t want to follow the story line at all. Who says Jack needs to enter a life of daring, thievery, and giant trickery? He takes his story into his own hands—and you’ll never guess what happens next!

With laugh-out-loud dialogue and bold, playful art (including hidden fairy tale creatures for kids to find), this Jack and the Beanstalk retelling will have children rolling with laughter till Bessie the cow comes home. -- Two Lions

IT'S NOT JACK AND THE BEANSTALK by Josh Funk and illustrated by Edwardian Taylor is not your typical fairytale. While the book begins with the traditional Jack and the Beanstalk story, it quickly becomes apparent to the reader that this picture book is definitely "not Jack and the Beanstalk." This take on the the classic kids' story is a hilarious look at Jack's encounter with the Giant!

In IT'S NOT JACK AND THE BEANSTALK, Jack is a bit annoyed by the narrator of the story. He's a bit bossy and likes things just-so. Jack isn't so sure that he wants to obey the narrator's directions. I mean, Jack does have a point -- why would he trade his cow for some magic beans? Then, why wouldn't he just eat the beans? And finally, why in the world would he climb a huge plant?

Jack tries to change the story to better suit his needs; however, the narrator makes sure that Jack stays on track...  at least as much as he can. Jack definitely has a mind of his own, and when he eventually takes over the story, the ending is a fun and silly twist for young readers!

I laughed quite a bit while reading IT'S NOT JACK AND THE BEANSTALK. It is a very fun take on the story, and Jack is a piece of work. I think adults will definitely appreciate the humor (although some of it might fly right over younger kids heads), and elementary age children will find Jack's antics to be very silly -- especially his references to not wearing pants and toots!

I thought the way this book was presented was extremely cute. The story goes back and forth between Jack and the narrator (with a few other characters chiming in!). The narrator's voice is in traditional text, while Jack's voice is written in speech bubbles. In addition, they banter throughout the entire book reminding me a bit of a parent and child (just sayin'). Regardless of how you take it, the narrator and Jack provide some funny entertainment.

I also enjoyed the illustrations which were the perfect complement to the story. The pictues are brightly colored, and the characters have proportionately large eyes which allow the illustrator to show their feelings. All in all, they are as silly as the story!

I think   IT'S NOT JACK AND THE BEANSTALK is a very entertaining picture book. If you'd like to learn more about the book, check out a book trailer, collector’s cards, and more at

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

Thanks to the fine folks at Two Lions, I have a copy of IT'S NOT JACK AND THE BEANSTALK to share with one lucky reader. To enter, just fill out the form below before Friday, October 6th 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!

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Review: The Trust

Summary: The newest novel from Ronald H. Balson, the international bestselling author of Once We Were Brothers, finds private investigator Liam Taggart returning to his childhood home for an uncle's funeral, only to discover his death might not have been natural.

When his uncle dies, Liam Taggart reluctantly returns to his childhood home in Northern Ireland for the funeral—a home he left years ago after a bitter confrontation with his family, never to look back. But when he arrives, Liam learns that not only was his uncle shot to death, but that he’d anticipated his own murder: In an astonishing last will and testament, Uncle Fergus has left his entire estate to a secret trust, directing that no distributions be made to any person until the killer is found. Did Fergus know, but refuse to name, his killer? Was this a crime of revenge, a vendetta leftover from Northern Ireland’s bloody sectarian war? After all, the Taggarts were deeply involved in the IRA. Or is it possible that the killer is a family member seeking Fergus’s estate? Otherwise, why postpone distributions to the heirs? Most menacingly, does the killer now have his sights on other family members?

As his investigation draws Liam farther and farther into the past he has abandoned, he realizes he is forced to reopen doors long ago shut and locked. Now, accepting the appointment as sole trustee of the Fergus Taggart Trust, Liam realizes he has stepped into the center of a firestorm. -- St. Martin's Press

I was extremely excited to see that Ronald H. Balson had a new book in his Liam Taggart and Catherine Lockhart series. THE TRUST is the fourth book in this series, and I have thoroughly enjoyed the prior two that I've read ONCE WE WERE BROTHERS and KAROLINA'S TWINS -- you can read my review here and here. Obviously, I need to get my hands on a copy of SAVING SOPHIE because I love these characters and I love these books!

THE TRUST mainly stars Liam, although fans of Catherine will be happy to know that she does make a few cameo appearances. This novel begins when Liam learns that his Uncle Fergus back in Northern Ireland has died. Liam and his uncle have been estranged for years, but Liam decides to return home to say goodbye. Upon his arrival, he discovers that his uncle was murdered... and that he had a feeling that it would happen.

Liam isn't exactly greeted warmly by his family when he returns home. No one (minus one cousin) is happy he's there because of the huge fallout when Liam left. Imagine their reactions when they learn that Uncle Fergus left all of his assets in a trust until his killer is found... and that Liam was appointed the trustee.

In addition to dealing with many angry relatives, Liam is forced to face some baggage from his past including his relationship with his uncle, the loss of his parents, his role in a spy for the U.S. government, and even the end of an engagement. Even more important, Liam wants to get to the bottom of who is responsible for his uncle's murder. His uncle and all his brothers were heavily involved with the IRA, so Liam wonders if it could be someone with a grudge from the past?

As Liam gets more involved and closer to discovering the truth, the stakes get higher. Members of his family start getting killed -- one at a time, and even Catherine and his young son are at risk. Liam has to balance the memories of his past with the events of present day and find the killer before he loses everything!

I found THE TRUST to be a highly entertaining mystery! I honestly love Liam and Catherine and I think Mr. Balson reinforced that he knows how to weave a historical fiction mystery. In the case of the TRUST, Mr. Balson takes the reader to Northern Ireland and even back in time to when the IRA was in full force. I have always found Ireland's history to be fascinating (especially after visiting the Belfast and seeing the walls dividing the neighborhoods), so I loved the backdrop of this novel.

I also found the mystery angle of the story to be a great one. I honestly changed my mind at least ten times about who I thought was responsible for the murders. And while I'd like to say that I figured out everything before it was revealed, I'd be lying. I was on the right track, but I definitely didn't get everything right. Good thing I wasn't the one that needed to solve the mystery before my family members were all killed!

One of my favorite things about Mr. Balson's novels are the characters of Liam and Catherine. They've come a long way in four books and are now parents of a baby boy. Liam and Catherine are a fantastic couple and they definitely complement each other both personally and professionally. Even though this novel was about Liam and his Irish family, Catherine still managed to keep him or track from the States; and I love that it's her intuition that is always right!

THE TRUST really delved into Liam's past and I so appreciated learning more about him. Not only was it interesting to read about his childhood and even his years as an agent for the U.S. government in Ireland, but I found the parts about his fiancee to be enlightening too. I really felt as if the author did a terrific job in developing Liam's character, and it definitely brought this mystery to the next level for me.

I am an even bigger fan of this author and this series after reading THE TRUST. You can definitely start with the TRUST -- it does work as a stand-alone novel -- but I recommend reading the entire series. The books are a wonderful blend of historical fiction, mystery, and drama... and you don't want to miss out on them!

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

Monday, September 18, 2017

Review: Best Day Ever

Summary: In the bestselling, page-turning vein of The Couple Next Door and The Dinner, Kaira Rouda weaves a gripping, tautly suspenseful tale of deception and betrayal dark enough to destroy a marriage…or a life.

“I glance at my wife as she climbs into the passenger seat, and I am bursting with confidence. Today will be everything I’ve promised her…and more…”

Paul Strom has the perfect life: a glittering career as an advertising executive, a beautiful wife, two healthy boys and a big house in a wealthy suburb. And he’s the perfect husband: breadwinner, protector, provider. That’s why he’s planned a romantic weekend for his wife, Mia, at their lake house, just the two of them. And he's promised today will be the best day ever.

But as Paul and Mia drive out of the city and toward the countryside, a spike of tension begins to wedge itself between them and doubts start to arise. How much do they trust each other? And how perfect is their marriage, or any marriage, really?

Forcing us to ask ourselves just how well we know those who are closest to us, Best Day Ever crackles with dark energy, spinning ever tighter toward its shocking conclusion. -- Graydon House

Books like BEST DAY EVER seem to be the new rage. I have read quite a few thrillers lately about some pretty messed-up families; however, I do believe that this novel by Kaira Rouda stands out. It tells the story of one family who seemingly has it all, but underneath the surface, they are living in a nightmare of sorts.

Paul Strom has a wonderful career as an advertising executive. He lives in a grand home, is married to a beautiful woman, and has two great kids. Life should be perfect for this family, but appearances can be deceiving.

Paul's wife Mia has been sick for awhile, so Paul decides that he wants to give his wife the "best day ever" and take her on a romantic weekend to their lake house. However, as Paul and Mia are in route to their vacation home, the tension between them rises... and escalates into a shocking finale!

I have to say that I enjoyed BEST DAY EVER quite a bit. It's definitely a fast-paced psychological suspense story, and I can guarantee that Paul and Mia will remain in your thoughts for sometime. The majority of the story is told in Paul's voice, and he's a piece of work. Actually, he's a sociopath that couldn't be more selfish and horrible (although in fairness to Paul, he did have a difficult childhood.)

One of the things I enjoyed the most about this novel was how the story unfolded. The book begins with a husband and wife leaving for a romantic getaway weekend. The reader might sense that there is something brewing below the surface, but it doesn't seem all that out of the ordinary for a few chapters. As Paul tells more of his story, and becomes much more honest and forthcoming, it becomes apparent to the reader just how twisted he really is.

Mia, on the other hand, appears to be a woman who doesn't really see her husband for the horrible man he is. She's overwhelmed with her mysterious illness and parenting her two young sons, and it's almost if she doesn't have the energy or desire to see through Paul's lies. However, Mia isn't as weak as she first appeared. I don't want to give too much away, but suffice it to say that it's entirely possible that Paul has met his match with his wife!

Another thing I really enjoyed about this book was the pacing of the novel. Overall, I'd say that the the book was fast-paced, but about half-way through, it really took off for me. The culmination of the all that tension that was building from the first chapter just exploded. I loved how manic the story (and Paul) became, and I found the ending to be pretty darn satisfying. What I liked even more was that the ending was left a little open-ended, so I'm not entirely sure that these characters won't be back in a future book.

BEST DAY EVER is an exciting story about a husband and wife and the secrets between them. Highly recommended for fans of domestic suspense and psychological thrillers.

Thanks to the Get Red PR and Wunderkind PR for providing review copies 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, September 16, 2017

Kid Konnection: Hockey Then to Wow!

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 another great book from Sports Illustrated Kids.

Summary: Hockey: Then to WOW! shows readers how the cool sport has evolved from the early days of its 19th century origins to the game as it is today. Using NHL action photographs, illustrations, stories, and trivia, the book is a journey through time both for hockey fans and those new to the game. Kids will learn how basic equipment has changed from a ball to a puck and how the evolution of game strategy has transformed the sport, players, and equipment. Players throughout history are stacked up against each other in every position so fans can dream up the perfect fantasy team with Wayne Gretzky playing alongside Patrick Roy and Stan Mikita. A fun-filled section of the book explores everything fan culture-from the best ice rinks, to the iconic hockey sweater and the hockey haircut along with key aspects of the toughest sport around. -- Sports Illustrated Kids

Hockey has really taken off in our area in recent years. I grew up in the South and I didn't know any kids who played this sport, but it seems like it's gaining popularity every year here in Central PA. Why I enjoy watching the occasional Penn State hockey game, I don't know a heck of a lot about the sport past the basics. That's why I found SPORTS ILLUSTRATED KIDS HOCKEY THEN TO WOW! to be a great resource for me.

Of course, HOCKEY THEN TO WOW! isn't geared towards middle-aged adults, but it is a quick and fun look at the sport. It's actually aimed at kids ages nine to twelve, but I would say that kids of any age would enjoy aspects of this picture book. HOCKEY THEN TO WOW! is a terrific book that does a great job of introducing hockey to newbies.

HOCKEY THEN TO WOW! shows kids just how much hockey has changed since it was created in the early 19th century. It delves into the the rules, the equipment changes, the origins of the players, the passion of the fans, and more. This book is so interesting, not only because of what it teaches, but because it has amazing color photographs that almost pop off the page. (The creators of this book cut around the figures to give it this fun appearance!) The book also provides information in many unique ways including time lines, graphs, and charts. I love the overall look and feel of this book because it's both fun and educational!

Another great thing about HOCKEY THEN TO WOW! is that it has loads of hockey trivia. I found this part of the book to be especially interesting because I don't know much about the sport. Outside of knowing the major players and teams in hockey, I really know next to nothing. I liked seeing the various graphics about hockey player's record setting achievements, and I also appreciated learning the basic rules of the game. Kids like Booking Son who love sports history will definitely embrace the sections that provide statistics and records.

Overall, HOCKEY THEN TO WOW! is a great book to introduce hockey to kids (and some adults!). It is highly entertaining because of the way the information is presented, and it also has some fantastic full color photographs. 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!

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The Booking Mamas' September Meeting

Summary: The breakout novel from the critically acclaimed author of the short story collections Who I Was Supposed to Be and Why They Run the Way They Do—when a middle school girl is abducted in broad daylight, a fellow student and witness to the crime copes with the tragedy in an unforgettable way.

What happens to the girl left behind?

A masked man with a gun enters a sandwich shop in broad daylight, and Meredith Oliver suddenly finds herself ordered to the filthy floor, where she cowers face to face with her nemesis, Lisa Bellow, the most popular girl in her eighth grade class. The minutes tick inexorably by, and Meredith lurches between comforting the sobbing Lisa and imagining her own impending death. Then the man orders Lisa Bellow to stand and come with him, leaving Meredith the girl left behind.

After Lisa’s abduction, Meredith spends most days in her room. As the community stages vigils and searches, Claire, Meredith’s mother, is torn between relief that her daughter is alive, and helplessness over her inability to protect or even comfort her child. Her daughter is here, but not.

Like Everything I Never Told You and Room, The Fall of Lisa Bellow is edgy and original, a hair-raising exploration of the ripple effects of an unthinkable crime. It is a dark, beautifully rendered, and gripping novel about coping, about coming-of-age, and about forgiveness. It is also a beautiful illustration of how one family, broken by tragedy, finds healing. -- Simon & Schuster

Last evening, my book club met to discuss THE FALL OF LISA BELLOW by Susan Perabo. I haven't been doing these meeting recaps now that we aren't one of Book Club Girl's book club; however, this meeting was so much fun that I had to share it with you! We were fortunate enough to have the author, Susan Perabo, join us... and it was one of our best meetings in fifteen years.

Prior to the announcement that we would be reading THE FALL OF LISA BELLOW, I had already read and loved the novel -- you can read my review here. While I was under the impression that this book would be a thriller and, therefore, perfect for my Mystery Mondays feature, it was definitely more of a literary fiction book. And while it did have an element of a mystery, it was truly a look at how one family was coping with a tragedy. And a fantastic look at that!

I loved having the opportunity to talk with Susan last night about... pretty much everything. She is an professor at Dickinson College, so she's only a half hour away. I honestly wish we hadn't waited so long to invite her. She was extremely gracious, both when we complemented her and challenged her; and I appreciated her honestly. I had already loved this novel, but I appreciated it even more after hearing her thought processes for the characters and the major events in the book.

One of the highlights of the evening was learning why Susan chose to write the ending the way she did. I don't want to give anything away, but suffice it to say that some of the feedback she's received wasn't always positive. Many readers didn't appreciate that the novel wasn't tied up neatly with a big red bow. Her reasons for doing this made total sense to me, but I have a feeling that not everything was as okay with it as I was. What I do think everyone walked away with from the meeting last night was how much thought went into every decision in the novel. So even if they didn't agree, they understood and respected her artistic decisions!

Another interesting part of the evening was learning about her writing process for this novel. THE FALL OF LISA BELLOW wasn't the book that she was "supposed" to write. She actually thought she'd write one about Little League baseball and the families that are involved in the sport. (She's a huge baseball fan!) However, when she tried to write this book, she couldn't get anything down on paper. What she did feel she could write was THE FALL OF LISA BELLOW because these characters kept floating around in her mind. Once she committed to this novel and these characters, it only took her six months to write... and it obviously was meant to be!

Of course, we didn't only talk about the novel -- that wouldn't be typical of my book club. Any time you get a bunch of moms together, you always end up talking about kids and parenting. However, this fit perfectly into the discussion of this novel. The mother character in this novel, Claire, definitely is a controversial one. Ms. Perabo has received some pretty interesting feedback in criticism of her. Ironically enough, I loved her and found her to be the most realistic character in the novel -- or at least the one that resonated with me the most. Everyone in my book club agreed with me! Naturally, the discussion of Claire led to some talk about our own lives; and isn't that one of the reasons we all read and belong to book clubs? There is nothing better than reading a well-written novel, thinking about it long after we finish, and then discussing it with friends!

All in all, I had a fantastic time last night and I highly recommend reading THE FALL OF LISA BELLOW. The hardcover is available now and the paperback is coming out in the spring. There is even a reading guide with fifteen questions.

I also want to suggest that maybe your book club invite an author (in person or via Skype) to a future meeting. It's guaranteed to be a special discussion and just might give your regular monthly meetings a little boost!

Monday, September 11, 2017

Review: Good Me Bad Me

Summary: Milly’s mother is a serial killer. Though Milly loves her mother, the only way to make her stop is to turn her in to the police. Milly is given a fresh start: a new identity, a home with an affluent foster family, and a spot at an exclusive private school.

But Milly has secrets, and life at her new home becomes complicated. As her mother’s trial looms, with Milly as the star witness, Milly starts to wonder how much of her is nature, how much of her is nurture, and whether she is doomed to turn out like her mother after all.

When tensions rise and Milly feels trapped by her shiny new life, she has to decide: Will she be good? Or is she bad? She is, after all, her mother's daughter. -- Flatiron Books

The past few weeks, I've seen the novel GOOD ME BAD ME by Ali Land popping up everywhere -- especially my Facebook feed. I was drawn to the cover, but the description made this book irresistable to me. I was a big fan of the television series Dexter, and I loved the psychological aspect of the character. I had a feeling that I'd feel the same way about this book.

GOOD ME BAD ME tells the story of Milly, a teenage girl whose mother is a serial killer. Milly saw some pretty scary things and decided that the best thing would be to turn her mother into the police. She is now living under a new identity with a foster family, but Milly is tormented because she still loves her mom.

Life isn't exactly easy for Milly despite living with a wealthy family and attending a good exclusive school. Her new "sister" is less than thrilled that she's there, and she doesn't exactly fit in with the other girls at school. As her mother's trials approaches, Milly is nervous/excited about seeing her and testifying, but she's even more worried about the girls at school discovering her identity.

As the tension in the novel ratchets up, Milly becomes more and more conflicted between the good aspect of her personality that did the right thing by turning her mother in and the bad aspect that resembles her mother.

Sounds pretty good, right? And GOOD ME BAD ME is fantastic! It's hard to believe that this novel is Ms. Land's debut. It's that good. The story is suspenseful and the writing is outstanding. There is no doubt that Ms. Land is one talented writer, and I look forward to more of her books in the future. She's definitely one to watch out for!

There are so many positive things to say about GOOD ME BAD ME, but what really stood out to me was the premise of the story. How intriguing is it to write this story from the mind of a teen-age girl who turned her mother in for being a serial killer! In addition, I was so happy that even though Milly wasn't the most reliable of narrators, I didn't feel manipulated by her like I often do.

Another fun thing about this novel was that it delved into the nature vs. nurture debate. I was attracted to that question of Millie's personality, although I'd argue that watching your mom kill little kids puts her at risk for both nature and nurture personality issues. In addition, I appreciated the wild ride of Millie's internal tug-of-war -- the struggle between being good and bad, and I loved the constant doubts about her that I had while reading this book!

And finally, I really liked Ms. Land's writing style. The book was highly readable, and that's a credit to not only the story, but the way it was told. In addition, I thought this psychological suspense novel was very smart... and gave me quite a bit to think about. One thing I definitely appreciated was how the author wove the themes of LORD OF THE FLIES into the novel. The comparison of the characters in the play with the girls in the school is extremely interesting. I also enjoyed how the author showcased that all families have secrets... even the ones that look perfect.

I probably don't even need to say this, but GOOD ME BAD ME would make a terrific book club selection. There is a reading guide with twelve intriguing questions. Some of the themes you might want to explore include hereditary behavior, nature vs. nurture, second chances, family dynamics, secrets, bullying, and forgiveness.

In summary, GOOD ME BAD ME is a disturbing and suspenseful novel that entertained me from the first page. Highly recommended to fans of psychological thrillers!

I received a copy of this novel at this year's BEA.

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, September 9, 2017

Kid Konnection: There's a Monster in Your Book

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 and adorable picture book written by a YouTube star!

Summary: Shake, wiggle, and tickle the monster out of this book—an interactive bedtime read-aloud by a YouTube star, musician, and children’s book author!

With the irresistible pull of Hervé Tullet’s Press Here and the charm of The Monster at the End of This Book, Tom Fletcher’s inviting interactive read-aloud will have kids tilting, spinning, and shaking the book to get the adorable little monster out! That’s right! He’s out of the book . . . and in their room somewhere. Uh-oh!!

The co-author of the Dinosaur That Pooped series has created a monster that readers will fall in love with—and want to play with—again and again! It will get your own little monster tuckered out and snuggled in!

Tom Fletcher has a huge social-media presence, with over a million followers on Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube. His videos “Buzz and the Dandelions” and “My Wedding Speech” went viral and have been viewed tens of millions of times all over the world. -- Random House

The cover alone of THERE'S A MONSTER IN YOUR BOOK by Tom Fletcher and illustrated by Greg Abbott won me over. How darn cute is this little blue monster? I'm happy to say that the cuteness overload on the cover is just the beginning. This picture book aimed at little ones 3 - 7 years old is absolutely delightful, and I'm pretty sure kids are going to have a blast with this little guy.

The premise of THERE'S A MONSTER IN YOUR BOOK is just that -- there's a blue monster with pink horns living between the pages of this picture book. As you read this book to you kiddo, he or she can try to get rid of him by shaking, tilting, and even spinning the book. When the monster finally leaves the book (and is on the loose in your child's bedroom!), you begin to think that maybe he's better off back where he started -- right in the middle of the book! Can your child lure him back to the book in time for bedtime?

I love this book! If you read the publisher's description of THERE'S A MONSTER IN YOUR BOOK above, you might have recognized the comparison to two of my all-time favorite books PRESS HERE and THE MONSTER AT THE END OF THIS BOOK (starring furry, lovable Grover!). I don't disagree with that assessment, but THERE'S A MONSTER IN YOUR BOOK is terrific in its own right. The interactive text is fun for children, and the book is pretty exciting for a bedtime story... although I have a feeling that playing with this monster may not have been the best choice for a relaxing bedtime routine. On the other hand, maybe all of the excitement will poop out your children!

THERE'S A MONSTER IN YOUR BOOK is written by Tom Fletcher, the same Tom Fletcher who is a YouTube sensation with over one million followers on Twitter, YouTube and Instagram -- @TomFletcher. I think it's pretty obvious that he's found great success as a musician, but I also think he's definitely on to something when it comes to writing picture books!

All in all, THERE'S A MONSTER IN YOUR BOOK is an extremely fun book that I highly recommend to preschoolers... and their parents!

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

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