Saturday, April 22, 2017

Kid Konnection: The Kelly Twins Books & 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 two fun books for early readers.

Summary: Second-graders Arlene and Ilene Kelly are twins — identical twins to be exact — and they love being a pair. They love to dress alike, they have identical pet ferrets, and they do everything together. But being a twin is not always easy. When a set of triplets comes to school, Arlene and Ilene wonder whether triplets are more special than twins. At Halloween, on different streets in identical witch costumes, some neighbors think that the girls are one person trying to get extra candy. And when Arlene gets sick and has to visit the hospital, the twins each find out what it’s like to be one instead of two. But whether they’re together or apart, Arlene and Ilene know they’re lucky to have each other.

Johanna Hurwitz invites readers into the world of the funny, lovable Kelly twins, who are truly two of a kind. -- Candlewick

I rarely pick up early reader books, but I thought the Kelly Twins series by Johanna Hurwitz and illustrated by Tuesday Mourning looked adorable. The first book in the series, THE TWO AND ONLY KELLY TWINS, introduces twin sisters Arlene and Ilene; and youngsters are sure to be entertained by them.

Arlene and Ilene love being twins. Unlike many sisters, they want to do everything together and they even enjoy dressing alike; however, they soon feel a little threatened by their unique twin status when triplets enroll at the school. THE TWO AND ONLY KELLY TWINS definitely demonstrates the fun in their relationship, but it also showcases that separate identities are important... especially when it comes to getting Halloween candy. In addition when Arlene has to go to the hospital for emergency surgery, the two sisters discover that their lives sometimes must follow separate paths.

Summary: Arlene and Ilene love so many things about being identical twins. They like sharing a room, sharing friends, and wearing matching outfits. But they’re in different classes at school, and one twin has a scar that the other one doesn’t. One morning, their friends Monty and Joey point out a new difference that takes the sisters by surprise and gets them thinking: if they are identical twins, why are there differences between them at all? Their tongues must be the same, so why do they like different kinds of ice cream? Why does Arlene wear pink nail polish while Ilene thinks it’s silly? Why is Ilene sleeping soundly when Arlene is awake, wondering how she can be sure that she is Arlene, not Ilene? Revisit the funny, lovable characters from The Two and Only Kelly Twins and take a peek at the wonders — and puzzles — of being an identical twin.

What’s the same about identical twins — and what’s different? Sleepovers, poetry projects, and new haircuts are in play as seven-year-old Arlene and Ilene start coming into their own. -- Candlewick

The new book in the series is DOUBLE OR NOTHING WITH THE TWO AND ONLY KELLY TWINS. Like the first book, this story provides more realistic adventures of Arlene and Ilene; however, this book really starts showing that these two girls aren't one and the same -- they definitely are starting to have their own (and often times different) opinions.

In DOUBLE OR NOTHING, Arlene and Ilene still love being identical twins, but others are starting to recognize their differences. Even though they look exactly alike to most people, they realize that they are their own person. One has a scar and one doesn't, and they like different foods and even different colors. In this second book in the series, the girls really start to come into their own as their self-awareness about what it means to be a twin becomes more apparent.

I thought THE TWO AND ONLY KELLY TWINS and DOUBLE OR NOTHING were cute books for early readers. Both books have short chapters and simple text so even the earliest of readers will have success at independent reading. In addition, there are lots of cute illustrations to break up the words for even the most reluctant of readers.

I think children will definitely like these adorable characters. Arlene and Ilene are both sweet kids and their thoughts and emotions should resonate with most youngsters, especially twins. As a mom, I appreciated that their day-to-day activities are realistic as are their interactions with others.

If you're interested in learning more about the author, check out this video interview with the NYPL.

I think the Two and Only Kelly Twins series are perfect for readers who are ready for their first chapter books. Highly recommended.

Thanks to Blue Slip Media for providing review copies of these books.

Giveaway alert: One lucky winner will receive both books featuring the Kelly twins -- THE TWO AND ONLY KELLY TWINS and DOUBLE OR NOTHING WITH THE TWO AND ONLY KELLY TWINS. To enter, just fill out the form below before Friday, May 5th 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, April 21, 2017

Guest Review: Most Dangerous Place

Summary: Defending a woman accused of murdering the man who sexually assaulted her, Miami lawyer Jack Swyteck must uncover where the truth lies between innocence, vengeance, and justice in this spellbinding tale of suspense—based on shocking true-life events—from the New York Times bestselling author of Gone Again. According to the FBI, the most dangerous place for a woman between the ages of twenty and thirty is in a relationship with a man. Those statistics become all too personal when Jack Swyteck takes on a new client tied to his past.

It begins at the airport, where Jack is waiting to meet his old high school buddy, Keith Ingraham, a high-powered banker based in Hong Kong, coming to Miami for his young daughter’s surgery. But their long-awaited reunion is abruptly derailed when the police arrest Keith’s wife, Isabelle, in the terminal, accusing her of conspiring to kill the man who raped her in college. Jack quickly agrees to represent Isa, but soon discovers that to see justice done, he must separate truth from lies—an undertaking that proves more complicated than the seasoned attorney expects.

Inspired by an actual case involving a victim of sexual assault sent to prison for the death of her attacker, James Grippando’s twisty thriller brilliantly explores the fine line between victim and perpetrator, innocence and guilt, and cold-blooded revenge and rightful retribution. -- Harper

Booking Dad is getting his groove back. He's home from his various vacations, so he's finally catching up on some reviews. The latest book he's read and enjoyed is MOST DANGEROUS PLACE by James Grippando. Here are his thoughts:

Attorney Jack Swyteck is waiting at the airport to meet an old friend, Keith Ingraham and his wife Isabelle Bornelli who arrive in Miami from Hong Kong for their daughter’s hearing surgery. Instead Jack finds himself defending Isabelle who is arrested at the airport for the murder of the man, Gabriel Sosa, who allegedly raped her 12 years ago.

From that moment on, author James Grippando’s MOST DANGEROUS PLACE, A Jack Swyteck Novel, moves at a rapid pace in sorting out the truth in this legal thriller based on a true story. The story becomes more complicated as Grippando adds more characters and more mystery to the case.

For example, Isabelle’s father Filipe interjects himself into the case for personal reasons and tries to direct the case to benefit him. Isabelle’s ex-boyfriend, David Kaval, who was involved in the murder of Sosa and is serving prison time for another crime, cuts a deal with the DA and agrees to testify against Isabella. Manual Espinosa, a slick attorney, manages to get bail for Isabelle when Jack failed to do so, and works his way onto the defense team. To complicate things further, Isabelle’s husband Keith is charged with accessory to the murder. Additionally, Isabelle seems unwilling or unable to tell the complete story about what happened 12 years ago. Only as Jack discovers new information from his own investigations can he go back to Isabelle and Keith to learn more of the full story.

Although the characters are well developed and add significant depth to the story line, the story is really about sexual assault and the way it impacts the victim, the perpetrator, their families and how the victim handles any recourse.

MOST DANGEROUR PLACE is a fast moving story where the author is continually adding new information and surprises to keep the reader guessing. I recommend MOST DANGEROUS PLACE to anyone who enjoys the legal thriller genre.

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

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Review: A Giving Heart

Summary: A beautiful artist-drawn coloring book with Scripture created to encourage, inspire, and delight Christian mothers.

This beautifully rendered adult coloring book will offer Christian moms a perfect way to enjoy moments of peaceful creativity as they color 46 gorgeously intricate pictures and meditate upon God's word. Filled with lovely botanical scenes, charming designs, and intricate patterns, the images and words of this book will remind mothers of their special place in the hearts of their loved ones and the wonderful purpose God created in them. -- Faith Words

Mother's Day will be here before you know it, and I know the perfect gift idea. It's A GIVING HEART: A COLORING BOOK CELEBRATING MOTHERHOOD by Stephanie Corfee, and it's just a beautiful (and thoughtful) sentiment to share with moms.

There are 46 detailed pictures in A GIVING HEART to color complete with different types of flowers, vines, birds, and designs. There are even pages with adorable little houses and coffee drinks. What makes this coloring book extra special (and therefore perfect for mothers) is that there are inspirational messages throughout. Many of the pages include motivational quotations from the bible that celebrate the wonder of being a Christian mother.

A GIVING HEART is absolutely gorgeous. It really is one of the nicest coloring books I've ever seen -- so nice that I was immediately inspired to start coloring a page. I'm obviously not very good, but here's what I've done so far:
There is no doubt that A GIVING HEART would be an extremely thoughtful gift for mothers this upcoming Mother's Day. The book is a beautiful reminder to moms of how much they are valued and loved. Highly recommended!
Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this coloring book.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Review: The Day I Died

Summary: From the award-winning author of Little Pretty Things comes this gripping, unforgettable tale of a mother's desperate search for a lost boy. 

Anna Winger can know people better than they know themselves with only a glance—at their handwriting. Hired out by companies wanting to land trustworthy employees and by the lovelorn hoping to find happiness, Anna likes to keep the real-life mess of other people at arm’s length and on paper. But when she is called to use her expertise on a note left behind at a murder scene in the small town she and her son have recently moved to, the crime gets under Anna’s skin and rips open her narrow life for all to see. To save her son—and herself—once and for all, Anna will face her every fear, her every mistake, and the past she thought she'd rewritten. -- William Morrow

THE DAY I DIED by Lori Rader-Day is classified as a mystery/psychological suspense novel; however, I think I'll most remember it as an in-depth look at the toll an abusive relationship can take on a person. That's not to say that the mystery aspect of this novel wasn't intriguing, because it most certainly was. I'm just saying that the strength of this story came with the character of Anna Winger and her attempts to come to terms with her past.

Anna Winger is the narrator of THE DAY I DIED. She is a handwriting expert who keeps a fairly low profile. Through the years, she and her son Joshua have moved from small town to small town trying to hide from her ex-husband who once abused her. When Anna is asked to help with a case for a missing toddler, the crime hits a little too close to home for her.

Meanwhile, Joshua, now a surly teenage, is beginning to act out. The sheriff, with whom Anna is working with on the case... and feeling quite the attraction to, notifies her about Joshua's involvement in painting graffiti around town. Things between Anna and Joshua escalate, and Joshua eventually goes missing too. Anna's involvement in both cases of the missing kids brings a lot of intense feelings to the forefront and forces her to face many of the demons from her past.

I really enjoyed THE DAY I DIED, and I can definitely see why Ms. Rader-Day is an award winning author. (In fact, I can't wait to read her earlier novels -- I think I even have an autographed one in my basement!) She definitely knows how to tell a story, and her talent in bringing to life characters is nothing to scoff at. After I finished this novel, I was extremely impressed with how real she made the fears and emotions of a battered woman; and I would say that it's definitely the strength of this book.

As far as mysteries go, I did appreciate the dual storylines of the missing kids. Since one was a toddler, I was naturally more interested in how this child just went missing. I kind of had a feeling what happened to Joshua and knew he was responsible for some of his actions. Having said that, I was curious about how both stories were going to be resolved. However, if I have one issue with this book (and it's a slight one), I thought how the two stories came together was just a little too coincidental. Don't get me wrong, the author didn't make the resolutions convenient or an easy way out. It was just a little too coincidental that both kids ended up in the same town.

I do think the author did a good job of bringing to life the character of Anna. She was a terrific narrator and I really grew to appreciate her voice. Notice I said "grew." Anna was difficult to get a grip on early in the novel. She was brusque and almost unlikable. However, I definitely warmed up to her as the story went on... and I even ended up liking her quite a bit once I got to know her. I always did enjoy her social commentary though and found her to be funny in a sarcastic way.

THE DAY I DIED actually did make me think quite a bit... and it was more than the whodunnit aspects of the novel. Anna's personality and psyche were such a result of her past, and it was so interesting to learn about her. I have to commend the author for making Anna's experiences with domestic violence so real and almost terrifying in a quiet way. (I know that doesn't make sense but you have to read the book -- Ms. Rader-Day has major skills with prose!)

Overall, I really enjoyed THE DAY I DIED. It's a terrific literary mystery that will give you something to think about for days after finishing the book. Highly recommended.

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, April 15, 2017

Kid Konnection: Vampirina at the Beach & 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 in an already popular series.

Summary: When the summer moon is full, a beach trip is an epic way to spend the night.

With her signature poise, Vampirina and her clan gear up for a festive time at the beach. Keeping her ballet lessons in mind, Vampirina demi-pliés on a surfboard, leaps for a volleyball, and finishes each competition with style, even if she doesn’t always come out on top.

Readers will shout “Brava!” for this third gracefully ghoulish picturebook by duo Anne Marie Pace and LeUyen Pham. -- Disney/Hyperion

I am so excited to share with you a book that I recently received from Disney/Hyperion! It's called VAMPIRINA AT THE BEACH written by Countess Anne Marie Pace and illustrated by Mistress of the Night LeUyen Pham, and it's too darn cute! VAMPIRINA AT THE BEACH is actually the third book in the Vampirina series, so I'm a little late to the game... but better late than never!

VAMPIRINA AT THE BEACH stars none other than Vampirina. She and her friends decide to head to the beach on a summer evening when the moon is full. Once they are there, Vampirina decides to make the most of the trip; and she participates in lots of fun beach activities like surfing, playing in the waves, building sand castles, snorkeling, and more! Her skills as a ballerina shine through, and she has a great time even when she doesn't always succeed.

As a mom, I loved this book. It's very cute but it's also got some solid messages. There are some sound recommendations (including a few safety tips) for readers to heed on their next beach vacation. In addition, Vampirina remembers some good advice from her teacher and incorporates her lessons into her adventures.

I just adore Vampirina -- she makes me smile. She is too cute and that's no doubt a credit to Ms. Pham. I have always loved her illustrations, especially the Freckleface Strawberry series; and she has brought to life an adorable little vampire. Each page is full of cute color illustrations that provide plenty to look at for readers. In addition, the pictures of Vampirina's ghastly friends are hilarious.

It didn't surprise me to learn that Vampirina is coming soon to your living room. There is a little sticker on the cover of the book that says Vampirina is coming to Disney Junior. I sure wish my daughter were younger because I love this character. Highly recommended!

Giveaway alert: OK -- hold onto your hats. This is one great Vampirina giveaway!

Meet Vampirina Ballerina!

One winner receives:

  • Vampirina Ballerina 
  • Vampirina Ballerina Hosts a Sleepover
  • Vampirina at the Beach
  • plus a branded beach ball and tumbler!
To enter, just fill out the form below before April 28th 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!

Official Site + Social Media
Visit the Official Site
Follow Disney-Hyperion on Twitter and Instagram
Hashtag #VampirinaBallerina

Review copy and prizing provided by Disney-Hyperion.

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, April 12, 2017

Guest Review: A Second Winter

Summary: Set in Denmark in the darkest days of World War II, The Second Winter is a cinematic novel that, in its vivid portrayal of a family struggling to survive the German occupation, both captures a savage moment in history and exposes the violence and want inherent in a father’s love.

It is 1941. In occupied Denmark, an uneasy relationship between the Danish government and the Germans allows the country to function under the protection of Hitler’s army, while Danish resistance fighters wage a bloody, covert battle against the Nazis. Fredrik Gregersen, a brutish, tormented caretaker of a small farm in Jutland laboring to keep his son and daughter fed, profits from helping Jewish fugitives cross the border into Sweden. Meanwhile, in Copenhagen, Polina, a young refugee from Krakow, finds herself impressed into prostitution by Germans and Danes alike. When Fredrik steals a precious necklace from a helpless family of Jews, his own family’s fate becomes intertwined with Polina’s, triggering a ripple effect that will take decades and the fall of the Berlin Wall to culminate. -- Other Press

I picked up a copy of THE SECOND WINTER by Craig Larsen at last year's SIBA. While the book did appeal to me, I had a feeling that my dad might enjoy it (and get to reading it before I could!) Here are his thoughts:

THE SECOND WINTER by Craig Larsen is a story about how the lives of everyday people are impacted by war. The book opens in 1969 when Angela Schmidt, a concert pianist with the Munich symphony visits her aunt in East Berlin. Her aunt gives her a package from her late father, Hermann, who was a photographer with the German army. Angela was hopeful the package would tell her something about her father who never returned home from the war. She later opens the package to find a series of photographs and a sapphire necklace.

The story then flashes back to 1938 where a young Polish-Jewish girl, Polina, is trying to live a normal life in occupied Poland. Her life changes dramatically in 1940 when she witnesses her family being arrested by the by the Nazis. Polina moves in with an aunt and uncle and suffers terrible abuse. She runs away and is picked up by a group of German soldiers who use her for sex. By 1941 Polina is a teenage prostitute in Nazi occupied Copenhagen. Hermann Schmidt, a good family man before the war, is obsessed with Polina and purchases her from her pimp and sets her up in an apartment.

The reader is then introduced to Fredrik Gregerson. Fredrik is the black sheep of a respected Danish family who ekes out a living on a farm in rural Denmark. Fredrik is a cruel brutal man and the sole parent of his children, Oskar and Amalia. As a means of earning extra cash he works to smuggle Jews out of Denmark to escape the war. He shows no sympathy toward the Jews and on one such trip Fredrik steals a suitcase full of jewels from a Jewish family. When the police come to the farm to investigate Fredrik’s role in a local murder, he fears they will discover the jewels and sends Oskar off to Copenhagen to sell them. Oskar sells most of the jewels to Hermann Schmidt and leaves a sapphire necklace as “payment” for Polina who he takes back to the farm. Polina is ambivalent about Oskar’s apparent love buts holds an unusual attraction toward Fredrik. This situation cannot end well and Oskar takes Polina and leaves the farm.

Using World War II as a backdrop, THE SECOND WINTER is a story about how far people will go to survive a crisis. The author has done a very good job of describing the horrors of war through the behavior of the characters. Although Polina is the character that the reader follows from the very beginning of the book, the story is not about her but about how the war changed the character of the men who meet her.

THE SECOND WINTER tells a suspenseful story that is as depressing as war itself. It is a sad story with an unhappy ending. I would not be surprised to someday see this story made into a movie.

I should probably share that my father wasn't sure that his review of THE SECOND WINTER "gives it justice" because it's a "very deep book." As a result, I'm guessing that this novel would make a terrific book club discussion. I was thrilled to find a link to ten discussion questions. Some of the themes you might want to explore include war, heroes, morality, and fatherhood.

Thanks to Booking Pap Pap for his review.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Review: Never Let You Go

Summary: Eleven years ago, Lindsey Nash escaped into the night with her young daughter and left an abusive relationship. Her ex-husband, Andrew, was sent to jail and Lindsey started over with a new life.

Now, Lindsey is older and wiser, with her own business and a teenage daughter who needs her more than ever. When Andrew is finally released from prison, Lindsey believes she has cut all ties and left the past behind her. But she gets the sense that someone is watching her, tracking her every move. Her new boyfriend is threatened. Her home is invaded, and her daughter is shadowed. Lindsey is convinced it’s her ex-husband, even though he claims he’s a different person. But has he really changed? Is the one who wants her dead closer to home than she thought?

With Never Let You Go, Chevy Stevens delivers a chilling, twisting thriller that crackles with suspense as it explores the darkest heart of love and obsession. -- St. Martin's Press

I am sad to say that I wasn't an early adopter of Chevy Stevens' novels; however, once I read my first one, I was a fan. In fact, I have promised myself that I'll read anything and everything she writes -- she's that good. Her latest novel NEVER LET YOU GO didn't disappoint. It's a tightly woven, fast-paced novel that I found quite disturbing (in a good way!)

NEVER LET YOU GO tells the story of Lindsey Nash, a single mother who left her abusive husband Andrew in the middle of the night around eleven years ago. She and her daughter Sophie started a new life in a new town, while her husband went to jail for a killing a woman while driving under the influence. Sophie barely remembers her father, but now that she's a teenager, she's definitely curious about him.

Lindsey thinks she has done a pretty good job with starting over after leaving her husband. She owns her own cleaning business, which is pretty successful; and she's done a good job in bringing up her daughter. However, Andrew has been released from prison... and she kind of thinks someone might be watching her. Lindsey is pretty uncomfortable and takes a few precautions, but things really escalate when she finds out the Sophia has had contact with her father. She's even met with him a few times!

Lindsey is certain that her ex-husband is behind all of the strange things that are happening to her; however, Sophie isn't quite sure what to believe. She trusts her mom and her fears, but she also knows that her father's stories are pretty convincing and he swears he's a changed man.

In addition to her concerns about Andrew, Lindsey is also worried about her daughter. Not only is she sneaking around to meet with Andrew, she's also in a new relationship with a teen boy. Moms worry enough as it is when their daughter are dating; however, Lindsey is worried that he seems to share some traits with her ex-husband.

Tensions rise in NEVER LET YOU GO as stranger and stranger things begin to happen to Lindsey. Lindsey is certain her ex is behind these incidents; however, readers (and eventually Lindsey) will begin to question who is responsible for these acts.

I enjoyed NEVER LET YOU GO quite a bit, and I would definitely classify it as a page-turner. I loved how Ms. Stevens told this story -- going back and forth between the present and the past as well as using both Lindsey and Sophie as narrator. In addition, the tension of this novel just kept building page after page... and it ended with a pretty shocking conclusion.

I say pretty shocking because I am proud to say that I figured out where this novel was going about two thirds of the way through. I wasn't a hundred percent sure and didn't figure out all of the details, but I had a sneaking suspicion about who was behind the very strange actions. What I will say is that I absolutely loved how everything was eventually revealed. It really was a well-constructed and well-told story.

One of the things I appreciated about NEVER LET YOU GO were the characters. I thought both Lindsey and Sophie were terrific... and very realistic characters. Ms. Stevens did a great job in capturing the essence of each character and her voice in the alternating chapters, and I definitely felt an affinity towards both of them. I totally "got" Lindsey's fear and suspicion about Andrew, and I also understood Sophie's desire to get to know her dad.

Another aspect of this novel that I really enjoyed was how it toyed with me... and that does include the surprise ending. I loved following both Lindsey and Sophie's thought processes, but it was the way that the author captured the feelings of terror in Lindsey that was so well done. I honestly felt Lindsey's pain and was so uncomfortable for her. This might sound kind of strange, but this book actually scared me a bit!

Overall, I found NEVER LET YOU GO to by typical Chevy Stevens. It was a well-written thriller that definitely kept me on the edge of my seat! Highly recommended!

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, April 8, 2017

Kid Konnection: Soldier Song

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 non-fiction picture book about the Civil War.

Summary: Amid the fearsome battles of the Civil War, both Union and Confederate soldiers were urged onward by song.

There were songs to wake them up and songs to call them to bed,
Songs to ready them for battle and to signal their retreat,
Songs to tell them that their side was right, and the other wrong . . .

And there was one song that reminded them all of what they hoped to return to after the war.

Defeated in the battle of Fredericksburg, Virginia, the Union soldiers retreated across the river. There, a new battle emerged as both armies volleyed competing songs back and forth. With the Christmas season upon them, however, Federals and Confederates longed for the same thing. As the notes of “Home, Sweet Home” rose up from both sides, they found common ground for one night.

Interwoven with soldiers’ letters and journal entries, this is a true story of duty and heartbreak, of loyalty and enemies, and of the uniting power of music. Debbie Levy’s moving text and Gilbert Ford’s vibrant, layered illustrations come together to create an unforgettable tale of American history. -- Disney/Hyperion

I have reviewed a lot of fantastic picture books through they years, but I'm always excited when I stumble upon one that is a little different. That is definitely the case with SOLDIER SONG: A TRUE STORY OF THE CIVIL WAR by Debbie Levy and illustrated by Gilbert Ford. This picture book isn't your typical picture book. First of all, it's non-fiction; and secondly, it's 80 pages and aimed at the 9 - 12 age range.

SOLIDER SONG is book about the Civil War, admittedly a horrible time in our country's history. However, this picture book shares a different light on the war by featuring the important role that music played during the time period. In fact, I would say that this book is not only educational but also expresses a feeling of hope.

The Civil War has always been one of my favorite history subjects. As a kid, I devoured stories about the Civil War -- remember ACROSS FIVE APRILS? And as an adult, I'm still drawn to books that take place around this time period. And that was initially the appeal of SOLDIER SONG. However as I read this book, I was excited to learn that it highlights a little known story that took place during the siege of Fredericksburg.

During the Civil War, both Union and Confederate troops sang many songs. Some were to wake them up or call them to bed, some were used to signify battle or retreat, and some were moral boosters. SOLDIER SONG tells the story of when the troops shared their songs with each other... and realized that they had more in common in they first thought. The especially bonded over one song -- Home, Sweet Home.

I absolutely treasured SOLDIER SONG. For starters, it's a beautiful book with a beautiful message. However, I was truly blown away by how Ms. Levy told this story. The book provides lots of historical information about the war, and it also highlights real soldiers' letters, journal entries, and song lyrics to bring the time period to life for young readers. There are also pages at the back of the book with additional details about the Battle of Fredericksburg, famous people at the battle, and the history of Home, Sweet Home.

In addition to the wonderful story, the illustrations by Mr. Ford are absolutely stunning. You might recognize his work from THREE TIMES LUCKY and MR. LIMONCELLO'S LIBRARY; however, he's really outdone himself with SOLDIER SONG. This illustrations are absolutely beautiful and the perfect complement to the story.

I believe SOLDIER SONG should be part of every classroom library. There's an excellent educator's guide which will help teachers and librarians share this story with readers. Not only does this guide include some discussion questions, but it also shares information about the life of a soldier and some primary sources. The activities align with Common Core State standards for English Language Arts for grades 4 and 5.

I honestly can't recommend SOLDIER SONG enough. It's a truly incredible book.

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, April 5, 2017

Review: The Fall of Lisa Bellow

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

I don't know why I was thinking that THE FALL OF LISA BELLOW by Susan Perabo was a thriller (maybe the cover?); and while it did have a bit of a mystery aspect to the story, this novel ended up being a beautiful example of literary fiction. Quite honestly, I was extremely impressed with Ms. Perabo's writing and I thoroughly enjoyed this novel.

THE FALL OF LISA BELLOW tells the story of the fallout after an armed robbery at a sandwich store. Meredith Oliver is a 13 year old girl who randomly decides to stop at a neighborhood deli after school one day. When she gets there, she finds that Lisa Bellow, the most popular girl in the school (and, truth be told, a bit of a mean girl) is also there. Much to her shock, a masked man enters the shop and demands for her and Lisa to drop to the floor. He then grabs Lisa and takes off in a car while leaving Meredith behind.

Meredith is, of course, deeply affected by the crime. While physically she is fine, her mental state is a bit of a mess; and she winds up spending most of her time in her room... not wanting to discuss what happened. Her parents, Mark and Claire, are relieved that their daughter is still with them; however, they struggle with trying to help their daughter heal. Meanwhile, Meredith is trying to come to terms with her own version of survivor's guilt; and she escapes to an imaginary world to help her cope.

THE FALL OF LISA BELLOW really does a wonderful job of delving into the dynamics of a family who is facing a tragedy, so it's no surprise that I adored this book. (I do love me a good story about a dysfunctional family!) I absolutely loved the characters in this novel as well as how fully developed they were. Truly, THE FALL OF LISA BELLOW is a very special and thought-provoking book.

First and foremost, I found the character of Meredithto be extremely well-written. I love the basis for this novel -- what happens to the girl who's left behind, and I thought Ms. Perabo did a stellar job in bringing Meredith's character to life. I found her to be extremely realistic and her mechanisms for coping with the tragedy almost haunted me with their desperation.

I also really liked Meredith's brother and her father Mark. As is the case in any family, when something happens to one person, it affects everyone. I found the way the author portrayed these two men to be so true, and it was very interesting to see how each one of them dealt with Meredith.

However, it was the character of Claire that really resonated with me. As a mother to two children, I found her to be so genuine... even (and maybe especially) in her weaknesses as a wife and mother. Claire only wanted what was best for Meredith, but she quickly realized that she couldn't "reach" her. Needless to say, my heart broke for both of them. I also really appreciated how the author provided so much of a backstory for Claire. You see, Meredith's trauma wasn't the first one that this family experienced. Meredith's older brother was a promising baseball star who had suffered a devastating eye injury, so Claire already had some experience in dealing with a "broken" child. I loved how she wanted to not only help them but also protect them.

You are probably reading this review and thinking that THE FALL OF LISA BELLOW is one major downer... but you'd be wrong. Somehow, Ms. Perabo managed to infuse lighter moments, and even some truly funny ones, into the story. Furthermore, she demonstrated hope and resilience for each of the characters.

THE FALL OF LISA BELLOW would make an outstanding book club selection. Seriously, you need to consider this book! There is a reading guide available with fifteen questions as well as some recommendations for enhancing your book club meeting; and many of the questions reference some of the more literary aspects of the story. Some of the themes you might want to explore include parent/child relationships, guilt, coping mechanisms, change, forgiveness, and healing.

All in all, I loved THE FALL OF LISA BELLOW. Highly recommended to fans of literary fiction!

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

Monday, April 3, 2017

Review: The Cutaway

Summary: The Cutaway draws you into the tangled world of corruption and cover-up as a young television producer investigates the disappearance of a beautiful Georgetown lawyer in this stunning psychological thriller, perfect for fans of Paula Hawkins and Gillian Flynn.

When brilliant TV news producer Virginia Knightly receives a disturbing “MISSING” notice on her desk related to the disappearance of a beautiful young attorney, she can’t seem to shake the image from her head. Despite skepticism from her colleagues, Knightly suspects this ambitious young lawyer may be at the heart of something far more sinister, especially since she was last seen leaving an upscale restaurant after a domestic dispute. Yet, as the only woman of power at her station, Knightly quickly finds herself investigating on her own.

Risking her career, her life, and perhaps even her own sanity, Knightly dives deep into the dark underbelly of Washington, DC business and politics in an investigation that will drag her mercilessly through the inextricable webs of corruption that bind the press, the police, and politics in our nation’s capital.

Harkening to dark thrillers such as Gone Girl, Luckiest Girl Alive, and Big Little Lies, The Cutaway is a striking debut that will haunt you long after you reach the last page. -- Atria 37 Ink

I love me a good psychological thriller and THE CUTAWAY by Christina Kovac sure fit the bill. THE CUTAWAY has already received a starred review from Publishers Weekly, and I can certainly see why. This debut novel by a former newsroom manager is a fast-paced, tightly-woven story that definitely kept me guessing.

THE CUTAWAY tells the story of Virginia Knightly, a television producer for the number one station in Washington, DC. When she receives a missing person notice for Evelyn Carney, a beautiful young lawyer, she becomes caught up in the events surrounding her disappearance. She has a feeling that there is more to this story than the typical missing person case, and she suspects that those involved might be part of DC's powerful and elite.

Virginia basically takes on this case without the support of her television station, especially the new manager who starts firing her staff and even takes over her job. Her investigation also forces her to cross paths with a DC detective... who also happened to be her one-time ex. In the process of uncovering the truth behind Evelyn's murder, Virginia crosses paths with many of DC's elite including powerful lawyers and even an assistant U.S. attorney (who just happens to be a suspect!)

Nothing is what is seems for Virginia and she quickly realizes that her sources may not be trustful. She discovers that DC business, news, and politics can be nasty -- no real surprise there. However, as she gets closer to the truth, she realizes that her own life might now be at stake!

THE CUTAWAY is definitely an intriguing thriller, especially for fans of all things DC. Not only does the book have a suspenseful mystery surrounding the disappearance of a woman, but it also provides an inside look into DC news, business, and politics. I am a huge news junkie so I found the inner workings of the news station especially interesting. However, I will also gladly state that the mystery was a darn good one.

As is the case with any psychological thriller I read, I love the possibility for twists and turns... and THE CUTAWAY definitely had those. Virginia Knightly was a terrific narrator and I sure hope to see more of her in future books (hint... hint!) I loved her intelligence and courage, and I also appreciated that the author created an interesting (and complicated) back story for her. In addition, I admired her sense of loyalty to her staff as well as her determination to get to the bottom of who was responsible for murdering Evelyn.

If I had one small issue with THE CUTAWAY, it was that it took me a bit to get used to the author's writing style... or maybe I should say Virginia's voice. Now it's entirely possible that I was distracted while reading this book because that seems to be the case with my life right now; however, I found myself re-reading some passages a few times because I wasn't exactly sure what Virginia was saying. Usually these snippets had to do with Virginia's personal thoughts about the station or news coverage, so it's possible that that world was entirely new to me and I had to just get used to her style.

I was really happy to find a reading guide on-line for THE CUTAWAY. It actually would make for a fun book club discussion. Some of the themes you might want to discuss include DC as the setting for the story, the similarities between Virginia and Evelyn, parent/child relationship, love, journalistic ethics, career choices, and the concept of justice.

Overall, I think THE CUTAWAY is a great start to a promising career for Ms. Kovac. Recommended for fans of psychological suspense and news junkies.

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, April 1, 2017

Kid Konnection: Fun & Educational 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 books that are both fun and educational!

Summary: Get them talking this Easter with this educational and fun book for their basket that explores essential words with colorful pictures.

Cleverly designed in a large trim size to inform and entertain, this board book is the start of your baby's learning adventure and introduces them to primary concepts like colors, animals, food, and so much more.

Crystal-clear photos show the wonder of the real world, from baby's body to baby's food, while delightful illustrations foster learning, from penguins playing in the snow to a mouse climbing a ladder. Clear word labels encourage pointing, naming, and talking, aiding in early identification and language skills.

With its sturdy board book format and 14 themed pages covering all the familiar things little ones are interested in, 100 First Words is the perfect first book for parents and babies to share. -- DK Publishing

I absolutely loved DK books! They always seem to make learning fun and 100 FIRST WORDS is no exception. 100 FIRST WORDS is an oversized picture book that teaches little ones about colors, their body, food, animals, and more. Each page spread features two different concepts with adorable illustrations and photographs. There are only a few words per page so it's ideal for the youngest of readers.
As you can see from the page spread pictured above, this book is positively adorable... and educational. 100 FIRST WORDS is exactly the type of book that both of my kids adored. It has lots of fun images to explore, and parents will appreciate the sturdy board pages. 100 FIRST WORDS is definitely durable, and that's important because I have a feeling that kiddos will want to look at this book over and over again.

100 FIRST WORDS is priced below $10 and would make a great addition to Easter baskets! Highly recommended!

Summary: Discover the world's smallest adventures with this beautifully illustrated journey around the world from the award-winning team behind Atlas of Adventures.

Explore seven continent maps and learn about the best small-scale adventures on Earth – whether you’ re taking a ride on the world's largest miniature railway, sending a letter with the world's smallest post office or cruising coral reefs with the smallest seahorse, this book brings together best miniature adventures from the four corners of the globe. -- Wide Eyed Editions

You might remember a few months ago that I reviewed a very cool (and very big) book called ATLAS OF ANIMAL ADVENTURES. Well, now I'm going to share with you a companion book called ATLAS OF MINIATURE ADVENTURES: A POCKET-SIZED COLLECTION OF SMALL-SCALE WONDERS by Lucy Letherland and written by Emily Hawkins. This small 64 page book takes readers around the world and shows them some of the smallest adventures.

ATLAS OF MINIATURE ADVENTURES is so cute because of its compact size, but it also has loads of interesting information... about "mini marvels." While there are many books that celebrate the big adventures in life, this book showcases some of life's "little wonders" including tiny animals to miniature model villages, and even small toys.

ATLAS OF MINIATURE ADVENTURES takes readers on a tour of the world by visiting different continents and different countries. For example while in Africa, readers learn about the world's smallest primate; and while in North America, kids can discover one of the world's largest model railways which resides in Flemington, New Jersey.

I think ATLAS OF MINIATURE ADVENTURES has a little something for everyone (see how I did that?) The book explores topics from a variety of fields including animals, buildings, and tourist spots. There is even an adorable dollhouse featured that has teeny tiny silver cutlery, works of art, and diamond-encrusted chandeliers.

ATLAS OF MINIATURE ADVENTURES is a very cute book that's really unlike any other children's  book I've seen. Highly recommended!

Thanks to the publishers for providing a review copies of these books.

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

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Review: The Mother's Promise

Summary: All their lives, Alice Stanhope and her daughter, Zoe, have been a family of two, living quietly in Northern California. Zoe has always struggled with crippling social anxiety and her mother has been her constant and fierce protector. With no family to speak of, and the identity of Zoe’s father shrouded in mystery, their team of two works—until it doesn’t. Until Alice gets sick and needs to fight for her life.

Desperate to find stability for Zoe, Alice reaches out to two women who are practically strangers but who are her only hope: Kate, a nurse, and Sonja, a social worker. As the four of them come together, a chain of events is set into motion and all four of them must confront their sharpest fears and secrets—secrets about abandonment, abuse, estrangement, and the deepest longing for family. Imbued with heart and humor in even the most dismal moments, The Mother’s Promise is an unforgettable novel about the unbreakable bonds between mothers and daughters and the new ways in which families are forged. -- St. Martin's Press

Mother's Day is right around the corner. Well, it's really about six weeks away, but I recently read a novel that I think would make a wonderful mother's day gift. The book is THE MOTHER'S PROMISE by Sally Hepworth, and it's a story that celebrates all types of mothers.

THE MOTHER'S PROMISE tells the story of Alice Stanhope and her daughter Zoe. Alice is a single mother and her life revolves around Zoe. These two have depended on each other with little help from others... and that includes Zoe's father whom she's never met. All moms are protective of their children, but Alice is extremely protective Zoe because she has severe social anxiety disorder.

Things become even more complicated for these two when Alice receives a terminal cancer diagnosis. She has no family or friends to turn to, and she's extremely concerned about Zoe's future. As Alice gets weaker, she finds that she must reach out to two virtual strangers to help with Zoe -- Kate, a nurse, and Sonja, a social worker. While trying to help Alice and Zoe, Kate and Sonja must also face some insecurities about themselves and their own families. These four women are brought together by an unfortunate event; however, they pull together for Zoe's sake... and in the process, they learn about the strength of women and especially mothers.

THE MOTHER'S PROMISE is some novel. It's beautiful and heartwarming, but it's also touching. I ended up crying towards the end of this book, and that's not something I do with regularity. I have to say that I really enjoyed this novel, but it wasn't an easy book for me to read. Books about terminal cancer are always difficult to process, but a mother leaving her child (and a sensitive one at that) was especially heartbreaking for me.

I knew fairly early on that Alice and Zoe's part of this novel would be the primary one; however, I wasn't expecting the other characters to have their own in-depth storylines. In fact, I was impressed with how well the author developed all four of these characters. The novel was written in alternating chapters about each of the characters' stories, and I appreciated getting an inside look into each women's life and thoughts. Kate was a nurse who was desperate to have a baby. She and her husband (who already had children) were willing to do almost anything to have a child... until he wasn't. And Sonja had an odd (and honestly, pretty abusive) relationship with her husband.

As you can probably tell by now, this novel had its dark moments because it delved into some pretty serious topics including a terminal illness, a crippling social anxiety disorder, an abusive marriage, and infertility. But before you write off this book as being one big cry fest, I want to tell you that there were light moments in this novel... just like real life. I actually found myself laughing at parts of this book. There were also a few surprises and twists thrown in too. In addition, the author did a beautiful job of showing the bond between mothers and daughters.

THE MOTHER'S PROMISE isn't the first book I've read by Ms. Hepworth. That would be THE SECRETS OF MIDWIVES which I also enjoyed -- you can read my review here. One thing I can definitely say about Ms. Hepworth is that she isn't afraid to tackle difficult issues. What impressed me so much about this novel though was how genuine she made these women. I could feel their pain and my heart broke for each one of them. Furthermore, I learned a lot about these serious issues and thought the author portrayed them in a realistic way.

THE MOTHER'S PROMISE would make an excellent book club pick especially for groups with moms. The book delves into so many serious issues (I think I mentioned most of them above), but the real crux of the novel was the bond between women and especially mothers and daughters. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find discussion questions; however, I'm not sure you would need a formal guide because there is so much to talk about.

THE MOTHER'S PROMISE would make a wonderful gift for the women (and especially mothers) in your life. Highly recommended!

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

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Review: Opening Belle

Summary: Maureen Sherry’s funny insider novel about a female Wall Street executive also trying to be a mother and a wife is a “compulsively readable…cheeky—and at times, romantic—battle-cry for any woman who’s ever strived to have it all and been told by a man that she couldn’t” (Entertainment Weekly).

It’s 2008 and Isabelle, a thirty-something Wall Street executive, appears to have it all: the sprawling Upper West Side apartment; three healthy children; a handsome husband; and a job as managing director at a large investment bank. But her reality is something else. Her work environment resembles a frat party, her husband feels employment is beneath him, and the bulk of childcare logistics still fall in Belle’s already crowded lap.

Enter Henry, the former college fiancé she never quite got over; now a hedge fund mogul. He becomes her largest client, and Belle gets to see the life she might have had with him. While Henry campaigns to win Belle back, the sexually harassed women in her office take action to improve their working conditions, and recruit a wary Belle into a secret “glass ceiling club” whose goal is to mellow the cowboy banking culture and get equal pay for their work. All along, Belle can sense the financial markets heading toward their soon-to-be historic crash and that something has to give—and when it does, everything is going to change: her marriage, her career, her bank statement, and her colleagues’ frat boy behavior.

Optioned by Reese Witherspoon who called it “smart, biting, and honest,” Opening Belle is “funny, relevant, and often shocking….Even if your own life is far from a fairy tale, it will allow you to laugh, learn, and maybe even lean in—to hug your own family a little closer.” (The Washington Post). -- Simon & Schuster

I like what's known as "insider books" -- books that give an inside view into a certain occupation or organization, and that's probably why OPENING BELLE by Maureen Sherry appealed to me. This novel was written by a one time female executive on Wall Street, and it tells the story of a woman trying to have it all in a man's world. Many (many) years ago, I was a finance major in college and very interested in stories about careers on Wall Street. I was hoping that this book would be nice and juicy! And it was... but it was also surprisingly (to me!) deep.

OPENING BELLE tells the story of Isabelle, a 30-something mother of three and a Wall Street executive. She lives in a big Upper West Side apartment with a handsome husband, and she has a job which brings in a lot of money. It might seem like she has it all; however, her husband is a bit of a bum and her office basically consists of a bunch of frat boys. As any working mom can relate, Belle is struggling to do a good job at work while also maintaining a sense of normalcy in her house.

Belle's life isn't easy to begin with and then things get really interesting when Belle's ex fiance Henry shows up. He is a hedge fun mogul, and his job causes him to work very closely with Belle. Belle has never truly gotten over Henry and especially the way they broke up, so when Henry tries to woo Belle back, she begins to have doubts about her current situation. Meanwhile, the women in Belle's office decide to take matters into their own hands when it comes to the "good old boy" network; and Belle senses impending doom with the markets! Belle's life is pretty much on an insane crash course, and Belle has to make some choices if she wants to save herself!

I found OPENING BELLE to be terrific! I loved getting an insider's view into Wall Street and corporate finance in the mid 2000s, but I also loved getting a look at Belle's life. The world Ms. Sherry described wasn't too far from what I had imagined (or read about), and I did find the juicy details to be extremely interesting. However, OPENING BELLE was so much more than just a scandalous tell-all book about Wall Street. It actually was a deep look at a conflicted woman who tried to have it all... like so many working moms out there.

I am so glad that Ms. Sherry has stepped away from Wall Street to become a author. She definitely told a great story and has some major skills as a writer. I loved Belle and I think many women will relate to her struggles... and her perseverance. I found OPENING BELLE to be highly readable, and I didn't want to put it down. I think that's a testament to Ms. Sherry's writing style and character development.

I actually really appreciated that the novel was written in Belle's voice. Belle's insights (and therefore Ms. Sherry's insights) were so wise and, at times, very funny. I have a feeling that some of Belle's stories might have been versions of ones that Ms. Sherry experienced. I also loved that Belle was such a complex character. She was far from perfect, but she always tried to do her best at everything. I thought the author did a good job in developing the relationships in her life including ones with her husband, Henry, and even the women she worked with.

I think OPENING BELLE would make a fun book club selection. I was happy to find a link to discussion questions on the author's website. Some of the topics you might want to discuss include working moms, sexism, parenting, marriage, adultery, harassment, wealth, second chances, equal pay to name just a few. I know women my age will want to discuss Belle and her choices as well as the way she interacted with others.

Overall, OPENING BELLE was a very good read. I loved the juicy gossip of Wall Street, but I loved even more the character of Belle and how she was portrayed. Highly recommended!

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

Monday, March 27, 2017

Review: Follow Me Down

Summary: Mia Haas has built her life far from the North Dakota town where she grew up, but when she receives word that her twin brother is missing, she is forced to return home. Back to the people she left behind, the person she used to be, and the secrets she thought she’d buried.

Once hailed as the golden boy of their town, and now a popular high school teacher, Lucas Haas disappears the same day the body of one of his students is pulled from the river. Trying to wrap her head around the rumors of Lucas’s affair with the teen, and unable to reconcile the media’s portrayal of Lucas as a murderer with her own memories of him, Mia is desperate to find another suspect.

All the while, she wonders: If he’s innocent, why did he run?

As Mia reevaluates their difficult, shared history and launches her own investigation into the grisly murder, she uncovers secrets that could exonerate Lucas—or seal his fate. In a small town where everyone’s lives are intertwined, Mia must confront her own demons if she wants to get out alive. -- Forge

I am always on the lookout for new (or new-to-me) authors to feature in my Mystery Mondays posts, so it just made sense for me to pick up FOLLOW ME DOWN by Sherri Smith. The book's description sounded right up my alley, and there is just something about the cover (which ends up being extremely pertinent to the novel!) FOLLOW ME DOWN is the Ms. Smith's debut fiction title; however, she is better known as the Canadian writer S.L. Smith. So I guess, in a way, Ms. Smith falls under the new-to-me writer!

FOLLOW ME DOWN tells the story of Mia Haas, a woman who fled her hometown for Chicago to make a living as a pharmacist. For the most part, Mia has shed her past and her troubled mother; however, when she receives a call that her twin brother Lucas has gone missing, she returns home. Mia learns that her brother is the suspect in the death of one of his female high school students, and she's determined to prove his innocence.

Going back home for Mia is never easy, and this time the stakes are much higher as she searches for Lucas. The pain from Mia's past challenges with her brain damaged mother come rushing back, and Mia's trouble with a drug addiction do too. Mia can't believe that Lucas had an affair with one of his students, or even worse, murdered her; however, the police department isn't even looking at other suspects. It doesn't help that the cop in charge has had some past dealings with Mia's family.

Mia begins her own informal investigation by talking to family and friends, and she even finds herself doubting Lucas -- if he's so innocent, then why did he run away rather than stay and fight? As Mia's investigation begins turning up details about her brother's life, she suddenly realizes that her own past  might not be what she always believed. Can Mia come to terms with her past and her addiction while also proving Lucas's innocence?

I really enjoyed FOLLOW ME DOWN! It was a fast-paced story with quite a few twists and turns, and I can honestly say that I had no idea whether Lucas was innocent or guilty. Or course, I wanted to believe in him, but the evidence was pretty damning! Like Mia, I began doubting Lucas's innocence; however, I also got to the point where I wasn't exactly sure if I could trust Mia. I didn't think of her as a bad person, but she was depending more and more on prescription drugs to help her cope with everything... and I just felt like her state-of-mind was questionable at best.

FOLLOW ME DOWN was Ms. Smith's debut thriller, and I have to say that I was very impressed with her storytelling as well as her character development. I especially appreciated the pacing of the novel -- it was definitely hard to put down; however, her character development was pretty strong too. Mia was extremely complex, as was her relationship with her past; and I thought the author did a fantastic job of showing the issues with a small town and the citizens' small town mentality.

It won't come as a surprise that the truth about Lucas is eventually revealed. However, the ending ends up having almost as much to do with Mia as Lucas... and I'm not even sure I realized how much her past was a mystery to the reader. I appreciated how the stories all came together, and I found the entire novel to be both intriguing and suspenseful.

All in all, I'd say that Ms. Smith has quite the future if she wants to write more thrillers! I definitely recommend FOLLOW ME DOWN to fans of mysteries/psychological thrillers.

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

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

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Kid Konnection: We're All Wonders

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 new picture book based on a beloved middle grade novel.

Summary: The unforgettable bestseller Wonder, soon to be a major motion picture, has inspired a nationwide movement to Choose Kind. Now parents and educators can introduce the importance of choosing kind to younger readers with this gorgeous picture book, featuring Auggie and Daisy on an original adventure, written and illustrated by R. J. Palacio.

Over 5 million people have fallen in love with Wonder and have joined the movement to Choose Kind. Now younger readers can meet Auggie Pullman, an ordinary boy with an extraordinary face, and his beloved dog, Daisy.

Countless fans have asked R. J. Palacio to write a book for younger readers. With We’re All Wonders, she makes her picture-book debut as both author and artist, with a spare, powerful text and striking, richly imagined illustrations. Palacio shows readers what it’s like to live in Auggie’s world—a world in which he feels like any other kid, but he’s not always seen that way.

We’re All Wonders may be Auggie’s story, but it taps into every child’s longing to belong, and to be seen for who they truly are. It’s the perfect way for families and educators to talk about empathy and kindness with young children. -- Knopf

One of my all-time favorite middle grade books was WONDER by R. J. Palacio. I know I'm not alone! This book won tons of awards and inspired a nationwide movement called Choose Kind. It's   even coming to the big screen in 2017 in a movie starring Owen Wilson, Julia Roberts, and Jacob Tremblay to name a few of the fantastic cast. And last but not least... WONDER is the inspiration behind the new picture book WE'RE ALL WONDERS! How exciting is that?

WE'RE ALL WONDERS is a terrific picture book aimed at ages four to eight which means that you can now share the outstanding messages from WONDER to kids at an earlier age. It's written and illustrated by none other than R. J. Palacio, and it's positively precious. I am almost embarrassed to admit this, but this picture book brought tears to my eyes. It's that special!

WE'RE ALL WONDERS features Auggie and his dog Daisy. As many of you already know, Auggie is a little boy with a very unique face. He knows that he has the same feelings as other kids, and he even does the same activities. However, Auggie looks different and feels insecure as a result. Despite hearing his mother tell him he's a "wonder," Auggie sees how other people stare at him and hears what they say. (And now I'm crying!)

Auggie has his own special way of dealing with the hurt. He puts on his helmet and blasts off into outer space with Daisy. It's from here that Auggie gathers perspective and realizes that there are billions of people in the world. People who are different... just like him. Furthermore, Auggie accepts that he can't change the way he looks, but maybe people can change the way they see him and others. (More tears!)

WE'RE ALL WONDERS is beautiful -- from the story, to the illustrations, to the messages. I love Auggie and his story, and this book makes it simple enough for kids of all ages to understand. Not only does this picture book attempt to show the importance of acceptance and tolerance (which is especially relevant in today's world!), but it also provides comfort to those kids who look or feel different from their peers. It really is pertinent to everyone!

I adore WE'RE ALL WONDERS and can't rave enough about it. This picture book really is one of the best picture books I've ever seen. It's a must-read for all kids and parents, and I know it is a book that can make a difference in kids' lives.

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

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

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Guest Review: A Murder of Crows


For years, every intelligence agency in the world has been chasing the elusive terrorist known only as The Moroccan. But when James Hicks and his clandestine group known as the University thwart a bio-terror attack against New York City and capture The Moroccan, they find themselves in the crosshairs of their own intelligence community.

The CIA, NSA, DIA and the Mossad are still hunting for for The Moroccan and will stop at nothing to get him. Hicks must find a way to keep the other agencies at bay while he tries to break The terrorist and uncover what else he is planning.

When he ultimately surrenders information that leads to the most wanted terrorist in the world, Hicks and his team find themselves in a strange new world where allies become enemies, enemies become allies and the fate of the University - perhaps even the Western world - may hang in the balance.

Can Hicks and the University survive an onslaught from A MURDER OF CROWS? -- Polis

Booking Pap Pap is traveling again! After coming home for a few days after his five weeks in Florida, he's now in China beginning a three week cruise. Fortunately, he got some reading and writing done on his last vacation. Here are his thoughts about A MURDER OF CROWS by Terrence McCauley.

Like many thrillers written today, A MURDER OF CROWS by Terrence McCauley encompasses terrorism and technology. This story begins with James Hicks, a member of the clandestine group known as the “University”, thwarting a bio terror attack and capturing highly sought-after terrorist, Bajjah, aka Moroccan.

Hicks is ordered by the head of the University (in keeping with the theme he is known as the Dean), to use all available techniques to break Bajjah. When the interrogation of Bajjah leads to the world’s most wanted terrorist, Jabbar, the University ops to chase the leads surrendered by Bajjah rather than follow their normal practice of turning such leads over to one of the intelligence agencies. This puts the University at odds with nearly all intelligence agencies in the world including the CIA, NSA and the Mossad. These agencies, normally friendly with the University, seemingly will stop at nothing to get the information gleaned by Hicks. With the help of the University’s ultra-advanced computer system called OMNI, Hicks is able to evade several attempts on his life as he chases the leads. Hicks efforts are further complicated when the Dean makes a critical decision that directly impacts Hicks.

Although the author introduces many characters in the novel, they are all really secondary to Hicks and the OMNI system. If a system like this really exists, we should all be concerned.

One of the most curious aspects of the novel is the title, A MURDER OF CROWS. The best explanation I found came from the 15th century when the phrase referred to the idea that the appearance of crows was an omen of death.

A MURDER OF CROWS is fast paced action-filled thriller that utilizes the requisite twists and turns before finishing with a surprise ending. Anyone who is a fan of thriller novels will enjoy A MURDER OF CROWS.

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