Saturday, May 27, 2017

Kid Konnection: Sticker Pictures

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 activity books that are guaranteed to keep your kids busy this summer.

Summary: Take coloring to the next level with these bright, geometric color-by-number templates of your favorite animals. Sticker Pictures: Animals is filled with 14 simple polygonal images to color. Use the included stickers along with crayons, colored pencils, and markers to fill in each image, and watch your inner artist grow! -- Walter Foster, Jr.

Summary: Take coloring to the next level with these bright, geometric color-by-number templates of your favorite pets. Sticker Pictures: Pets is filled with 14 simple pixel images to color. Use the included stickers along with crayons, colored pencils, and markers to fill in each image, and watch your inner artist grow! -- Walter Foster, Jr.

STICKER PICTURES: ANIMALS and STICKER PICTURES: PETS are terrific craft books that are perfect for kids ages 5 - 8 years old. I know coloring books are all the rage, but I had two kids who hated to color. These sticker books would definitely have been more their speed.

STICKER PICTURES: ANIMALS and STICKER PICTURES: PETS are a great concept in activity books. Basically, these books each contain 14 simple images to "color." And by "color," I mean decorate with stickers. There will be a few spaces left after the stickers are placed to actually color with colored pencils, crayons, or makers.

These STICKER PICTURES book look like so much fun. The ANIMALS book has polygonal images, while the PETS book has pixel images. I think younger kids might appreciate the PETS book more because the graphics all consist of same-sized squares which are easier to decorate -- all they have to do is match the color of the square. The ANIMALS book has different polygon shapes in different colors that are also numbered, so this book requires kids to match the numbers to the picture. (Having said that, the shapes are separated by picture so it's not really all that complicated!)

With summer rapidly approaching, I think these craft books will keep kids entertained for hours! Highly recommended!

Thanks to the Quarto Group for providing review copies of these books.

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


Monday, May 22, 2017

Review: Little Girl Gone

Summary: On a frozen night in an affluent Minneapolis neighborhood, a baby is abducted from her home after her teenage babysitter is violently assaulted. The parents are frantic, the police are baffled, and, with the perpetrator already in the wind, the trail is getting colder by the second.

As family liaison officer with the Minneapolis P.D., it’s Afton Tangler’s job to deal with the emotional aftermath of terrible crimes—but she’s never faced a case quite as brutal as this. Each development is more heartbreaking than the last and the only lead is a collection of seemingly unrelated clues. But, most disturbing of all, Afton begins to suspect that this case is not isolated. Whoever did this has taken babies before—and if Afton doesn’t solve this crime soon, more children are sure to go missing . . . -- Berkley

I am a big fan of the cozy writer Laura Childs and have reviewed many of her books here on Booking Mama. Many of you might not know this, but Laura Childs is actually a pen name for Gerry Schmitt. Ms. Schmitt has taken a departure from her cozy series to write a mystery/suspense novel titled LITTLE GIRL GONE. This book is the first in a new series starring Afton Tangler.

LITTLE GIRL GONE begins one cold night when a teenage girl is babysitting a little baby. Things take a dangerous turn when the babysitter is assaulted and the baby is kidnapped, and the Minneapolis police department is left with little, if any, clues about the violent crime.

Afton Tangler is a family liaison officer with the police department, and she has been assigned to work with the grieving parents. Afton, a single mother of two, is desperate to prove herself to her superiors in the hopes that she can one day move up to an officer position in the department. However, this case is proving to be rather challenging with little clues that make any sense.

As Afton becomes more involved with this disturbing case, she realizes that this incident might only be one kidnapping in a much larger crime spree. Time is of the essence before something happens to this baby as well as additional ones!

I enjoyed LITTLE GIRL GONE quite a bit. I definitely thought the mystery was disturbing, and I liked that it was more complex than I first guessed. I also enjoyed the character of Afton and how the author balanced her personal and professional lives. She is definitely a very likable character and one that I wouldn't mind seeing more of in the future.

I guess because I'm used to reading Ms. Schmitt's cozy novels, I wasn't exactly expecting this book to be so dark and even gruesome. I don't mean that the entire book is scary, but there is a violent crime to begin the novel and the characters responsible are more than a little disturbing. Ms. Schmitt has also included a side story of doll making and taxidermy which I admit I found a little creepy... but also a little interesting.

I do think my favorite thing about LITTLE GIRL GONE was the character of Afton. I guess that's a good thing because this novel is the first in a series starring her! I definitely liked Afton and how persistent she was at solving the crime; however, I also enjoyed the scenes with her family, her co-workers, and even her potential love interest. I will admit that I was impressed with her crime-solving capabilities, especially as she figured out connections that weren't necessarily apparent to others.

The next book in the Afton Tangler thriller will be out in August and I'll be sure you let you know what I think closer to the book's publication date. In the meantime, make sure you check out LITTLE GIRL GONE. It's a suspenseful mystery with more than a few twists and turn, and I definitely recommend it to fans of mysteries!

Thanks to the author 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, May 20, 2017

Kid Konnection: Fun (but 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 instructional (but still entertaining!) kids' books.

Summary: Ready for a road trip? Get the scoop on the nifty fifty from North to South and coast to coast.

Through the pages of this book you can travel to all 50 states, from Alabama to Wyoming, to discover the history, geography, and culture that make each one great. With more than 100 kid-friendly maps by illustrator Aaron Meshon, full-color photographs, and fun facts galore, this state-by-state guide is perfect for exploring your own state, uncovering new places, and digging into the history of the United States of America.

A great resource for school reports and general curiosity, kids will learn the story of the people who lived on the land before European settlement; how each state joined the Union; the natural resources and people that make it unique; and the industry and agriculture that drive it today. 50 States supports cross-discipline learning in U.S. history, geography, natural history, and cultural studies. -- Liberty Street

When Booking Son first saw 50 STATES (TIME FOR KIDS), his eyes lit up. This compact little guide is right up his alley with its interesting tidbits about the 50 states. As a mom, I love that the information is presented in such a way that makes learning fun!

50 STATES is a terrific resource for children (and adults) who want to learn a bit about the United States of America. It begins with a few pages explaining the United States pre-European settlement. It outlines the various tribal nations with a little bit of history about each one. Then, the book teaches kids about European settlement and Westward Expansion before delving into specifics about each of the 50 states.

The book has separate pages for each of the 50 states but also includes fun facts about Washington, D.C. and the U.S. territories and commonwealths. In addition, the end of the book has some interesting information about the various sections of states (i.e. the northeast, the south, the midwest, etc.) And finally, there are some suggestions for additional resources for those kids who still want more!

One thing that really makes 50 STATES special is how the information is presented. There are loads of maps/illustrations by Aaron Meshon that complement the text in addition to full-color photos and fact-filled sidebars. There are also a few paragraphs for each state about its history as well as the natural resources, geography, and special events. Basically, it's a handy guide for summer travels!

I learned quite a bit from 50 STATES and I highly recommend it to kids who want to learn more about the U.S.A.

Summary: The fourth book in the fan-favorite Rookie Book series, Sports Illustrated Kids explains the most popular sport in the world to its youngest fans.

The ref blows the whistle, the striker approaches for kickoff, feet fly-a soccer match is underway! With a fun mix of Sports Illustrated action photography, simple text, a full glossary of terms, and awesome graphics, My First Book of Soccer introduces readers to the world's favorite game. Kids (and probably a few adults, too) will learn how the clock counts "up" and never stops, what an offside means, what's up with those yellow cards, and how kicks become a gooooaaaallll!

Illustrated "rookie" characters appears on every page, guiding the reader moment by moment, and helping to make My First Book of Soccer an ideal shared reading experience between parents and their little rookies before, during, and after the game. -- Liberty Street

MY FIRST BOOK OF SOCCER (SPORTS ILLUSTRATED KIDS) is the fourth book in the hilarious Rookie Book series, and it is certain to appeal to fans of these books. Like the first three books in the series, MY FIRST BOOK OF SOCCER teachs kids (and possibly some adults!) about the most popular sport in the world -- soccer.

I absolutely adore MY FIRST BOOK OF SOCCER and I think it's a terrific way to introduce the sport to little ones. I know when my kids started playing soccer at five years old, they had no idea what they were doing. I am pretty sure this book would have helped... at least a little!

For those of you not familiar with these books, MY FIRST BOOK OF SOCCER uses full-color photographs along with a little bit of cartoons to explain the sport in the simplest of terms. The book is so much fun to fun to read with the characters and their speech balloons. It's both educational and very entertaining. Plus it's actually really funny!

I loved the Rookie Books and especially MY FIRST BOOK OF SOCCER!

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

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

Friday, May 19, 2017

Review: All the Best People

Summary: An intricately crafted story of madness, magic and misfortune across three generations from the author of The Middle of Somewhere and House Broken…

Vermont, 1972. Carole LaPorte has a satisfying, ordinary life. She cares for her children, balances the books for the family’s auto shop and laughs when her husband slow dances her across the kitchen floor. Her tragic childhood might have happened to someone else.

But now her mind is playing tricks on her. The accounts won’t reconcile and the murmuring she hears isn’t the television. She ought to seek help, but she’s terrified of being locked away in a mental hospital like her mother, Solange. So Carole hides her symptoms, withdraws from her family and unwittingly sets her eleven-year-old daughter Alison on a desperate search for meaning and power: in Tarot cards, in omens from a nearby river and in a mysterious blue glass box belonging to her grandmother.

An exploration of the power of courage and love to overcome a damning legacy, All the Best People celebrates the search for identity and grace in the most ordinary lives. -- Berkley

I'll admit that I was a bit reluctant to pick up ALL THE BEST PEOPLE by Sonja Yoerg. I actually really like this author and her writing style, but I was concerned about the subject matter of the novel. It deals with mental illness and I had a grandmother who suffered from Alzheimers. I was worried that I wouldn't be able to handle a story about a mother gradually losing her mind, nevertheless one where that same character was concerned about inheriting her mother's illness.

However, I am happy to say that I did pick up ALL THE BEST PEOPLE, and I thought it was a very well written novel. That's not to say that I wasn't a bit uncomfortable at times with what was taking place, but the writing and character development were very well done... and it was worthwhile read.

ALL THE BEST PEOPLE tells the story of three generations of women. It takes place in 1972 in Vermont when Carole LaPorte is a mother of three who also helps her husband run their auto shop. She gradually realizes that her mind isn't what it used to be -- she's even hearing voices; and she's terrified that she's going to be locked into a mental hospital just like her mother Solange was many years ago. Carole's eleven year old daughter Alison is also extremely worried about her mother, and she ends up turning to some unconventional methods to help her cope.

ALL THE BEST PEOPLE is an insightful look into these three characters' lives that is guaranteed to touch reader's hearts... and make them think. The novel mainly goes back and forth between Carole's and Solange's stories, but there is also some focus on how Alison is handling everything. All in all, I felt as if the author did a good job in transitioning effortless between the characters' stories as well as the different time periods.

I was a bit surprised with how much these characters affected me. Of course, I couldn't help but be reminded at times of my grandmother, but Carole (and even Solange) were extremely real to me. And even little Alison made a way into my heart. I found the mother/daughter relationships in the story to be very real and very touching, and I loved the over-arching themes in the novel.

Another aspect of the novel that I really appreciated was how the secrets in the story were revealed. There were some moments of surprise in the book that caught me off guard (and also broke my heart); and I loved how I was so caught off-guard. However, as sad as this novel was for me, I did feel a sense of hope upon finishing the book... and maybe that's what I loved the most.

ALL THE BEST PEOPLE would make a terrific book club selection. There is a discussion guide in the back of the book, but I wasn't able to find a link to the questions. Some of the themes you might want to explore include the symbolism of water, secrets, mother/daughter relationships, class conflict, marriage, nature vs. nurture, magic, and more.

I truly enjoyed ALL THE BEST PEOPLE and I recommend it to fans of women's fiction.

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

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Review: Before the Rain Falls

Summary: After serving seventy years in prison for the murder of her sister, Eula, Della Lee has finally returned home to the Texas town of Puerto Pesar. She’s free from confinement—and ready to tell her secrets before it’s too late.

She finds a willing audience in journalist Mick Anders, who is reeling after his suspension from a Boston newspaper and in town, reluctantly, to investigate a mysterious portrait of Eula that reportedly sheds tears. He crosses paths with Dr. Paloma Vega, who’s visiting Puerto Pesar with her own mission: to take care of her ailing grandmother and to rescue her rebellious younger sister before something terrible happens. Paloma and Mick have their reasons to be in the hot, parched border town whose name translates as “Port of Regret.” But they don’t anticipate how their lives will be changed forever.

Moving and engrossing, this dual story alternates between Della’s dark ordeals of the 1940s and Paloma and Mick’s present-day search for answers―about roots, family, love, and what is truly important in life. -- Lake Union

With seventeen days and counting until my daughter's high school graduation, reading and writing reviews isn't exactly the same priority it's been for me for almost a decade. When I'm not getting ready for the parties and many events, I do try to read. Notice the word "try." I'm not having much luck focusing on books right now... or finding time to write reviews, but I did want to take the time to share with you a book that came out yesterday called BEFORE THE RAIN FALLS by Camille De Maio.

BEFORE THE RAIN FALLS tells the story of three complex individuals whose lives intersect in a small Texas town. First, there's Della Lee, an elderly woman who has served 70 years for the murder of her sister Eula. She is now a free woman and wants to set the record straight about all of the secrets she's been keeping for almost her entire life. Then there's Mick. Mick is a big city newspaper writer who has recently been suspended and sent away to Puerto Pesar to look into the story of a painting of Eula that appears to be crying. And finally, there's Paloma, a doctor who grew up in Puerto Pesar who has returned to take care of her ailing grandmother and teenage sister.

Mick isn't exactly excited to be assigned this story; however, he quickly realizes that Puerto Pesar does have its advantages -- namely, the beautiful and smart Paloma. He also discovers that Della's life story might be the story he's really supposed to cover. Paloma is torn between starting her new life in New York and taking care of her loved ones when they need her the most. As Mick and Paloma become closer, they both realize important things about each other and, more importantly, what they value in life.

I was pleasantly surprised by BEFORE THE RAIN FALLS. I don't know exactly what I was expecting, but I enjoyed the characters and the story. I also was very impressed with Ms. De Maio's writing. I especially appreciated how she wove the story between the three main characters and also went back and forth between the present and the past. All in all, it was an entertaining and compelling novel.

There were quite a few things that I enjoyed about this novel. First and foremost were the characters. I truly liked all Della, Mick and Paloma; and I found myself rooting for all of them. I also definitely wanted Mick and Paloma's romance to develop! I thought the author did a terrific job in making them multi-dimensional, and their interactions with each other were interesting. I also liked how each one of them evolved by the end of the story.

As a lover of mysteries, I admit that I did enjoy the mystery angle of the novel. I wouldn't classify this novel as a mystery; however, there were definitely some secrets surrounding Eula's death. (And I guess the crying portrait was a mystery too... in a way!) It wasn't a mystery that I spent time trying to figure out -- it was more like secrets were eventually revealed, but I did find the resolution to be satisfying.

Another aspect of the book that I appreciated was how the author brought the setting of a small Texas town to life. In addition, I thought she did a good job of making the earlier time period come alive. I think that the details she incorporated into the novel definitely contributed to my enjoyment of BEFORE THE RAIN FALLS as well as making the characters and their lives more real.

I believe BEFORE THE RAIN FALLS is a special story that will warm the hearts of fans of women's fiction.

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

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Kid Konnection: Cute Picture 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 adorable picture books!

Summary: Reginald’s a T. Rex just as fierce and ferocious as the rest: he’s got a mighty roar, gnashing teeth, and all the speed a dino could need. But when it comes to mealtime, Reg would rather chow down on broccoli, beans, and greens than the juicy steaks his paleo pals prefer. When Reginald realizes how different he is from the others, he hopes to find a place to fit in among the herbivores. He excitedly strikes out in search of a new herd, only to scare away the other dinosaurs as he charges to greet them. But when a falling boulder threatens the safety of Reg’s old T. Rex clan, he’ll show everyone what only a strong, vegetarian Tyrannosaurs rex can do. A celebration of vegetarianism, T. Veg is a rollicking laugh-out-loud tale about being unapologetically yourself. -- Abrams

T. VEG: THE STORY OF A CARROT-CRUNCHING DINOSAUR by Smriti Prasadam-Halls and illustrated by Katherina Manolessou is extremely cute. It's a bright picture book that tells the story of a T. Rex who chooses to be a vegetarian! While other dinosaurs prefer meat, Reginald likes broccoli, greens and carrot cake. It's a cute book that celebrates differences, staying true to one's self, and acceptance!

I thought T. VEG was just precious. I loved the illustrations which were absolutely gorgeous in bright oranges, pinks, greens, and purples; and they fit perfectly with the rhyming text. The entire book had a fun, whimsical feel to it; however, there were also some fantastic messages. Even though Reginald was different than the other T. Rexes and tried to fit in, he realized who he really was and even proved his value to his friends.

The book ends with the cutest page spread which was a celebration of sorts. I especially loved the text:

And then they danced the night away,
Because they KNOW it's true... 
The Best Thing in the World is Being Happy Being YOU!

All in all, T. VEG is a great way to celebrate healthy eating eating as well as diversity` and acceptance!

Summary: The Big Adventures of Tiny House is a story about an old farmhouse that gets recycled into something new: TINY, a little house with a big heart – and WHEELS!

Yes, Tiny may be small, but he lives a BIG life. With the help of Big Truck, he travels thousands of miles across America, seeing the sights and attending the Tiny House Jamboree (yes, that’s a real thing – and it’s AWESOME!). Along the way, he and Big Truck make lots of new friends — like Shiny (an Airstream), Waverly (the houseboat) and Buster (a converted school bus). And Tiny and his friends were printed on recycled paper at a printer here in the USA!

So come along and get to know Tiny as he explores the country and discovers the true meaning of home. -- Inner Flower Child Books

Tiny houses are all the rage, and now they are front and center in the picture book THE BIG ADVENTURES OF TINY HOUSE by Susan Schaefer Bernardo and illustrated by Courtenay Fletcher. This cute book is about an old farmhouse that turns into a tiny house!

I thought THE BIG ADVENTURES OF TINY HOUSE was extremely fun. The story begins with an old farmhouse that once sat in a field of hay. This farm house gets surrounded by a city, so "clever hands" decided to salvage as much as possible from the farm house and turn it into a tiny house... with wheels!

The picture book shows the new tiny house with all of its nooks and crannies. In addition, the tiny house (because it has wheels!) proves that you can be a home even if you're on the move! This little house visits many places including New Orleans where it sees a parade and Texas where it visits a taqueria. Tiny House even meets some fun friends along the way, and most importantly, realizes that home is wherever your heart is!

The illustrations in THE BIG ADVENTURES OF TINY HOUSE, and there is quite a bit to explore on each page. Even little ones will like to check out pages. Older children will appreciate the clever (and rhyming) text. As a mom, I just thought the entire book was special!

Thanks to the publisher and Get Red PR for providing review copies of these books.

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

Friday, May 12, 2017

Guest Review: Bum Luck

Summary: Thirty seconds after the jury announced its verdict, I decided to kill my client.

Second-string linebacker turned trial lawyer Jake Lassiter squares off against his toughest, most unpredictable adversary yet: himself.

The downward spiral begins when Jake's client, NFL superstar Thunder Thurston, is cleared of murdering his wife. Jake didn't expect to win, didn't want to win, since he is sure his client is guilty. When Thurston walks free, Lassiter vows to seek his own kind of justice. Street justice. Vigilante justice.

Law partners Steve Solomon and Victoria Lord can't believe their friend has become so inexplicably obsessed with killing his client. Convinced Jake's unhinged behavior is due to repeated concussions suffered during his pro football career, they beg him to seek treatment. But as Lassiter's raging fixation on vengeance grows, Solomon and Lord wonder if they're too late to help. Is it game over for Jake's career...and his life? -- Thomas & Mercer

Guess who's back? Booking Pap Pap! And this time he's reviewed BUM LUCK by Paul Levine. Here are his thoughts:

BUM LUCK, the twelfth addition to the Jack Lassiter series by author Paul Levine, finds attorney Jack Lassiter regretting the acquittal of his client, an NFL all-pro running back, for the murder of his wife. Jack thought his client was guilty, wanted to lose and now after winning, questions his own morals. He decides to take matters into his own hands and plans to kill or at least frame his client. Jack is so obsessed by this case that his friends, law partners Steve Solomon and Victoria Lord (characters from another Levine series), are concerned that Jack is suffering from brain injuries incurred during his NFL playing days. To reinforce their concerns, Jack suffers from severe headaches and memory problems, but has continually delayed tests that may indicate chronic traumatic encephalopathy (C.T.E.).

To make matters even more interesting, Jack was up against the state’s top homicide trial lawyer who needed a win to accelerate her run to unseat the state’s top attorney, who happens to be Jack’s friend. The consequences of this are interesting as the story plays out.

While pondering his next action regarding the murder case, Jack takes on another case representing a large life insurance company against a mother/ MMA fighter who committed suicide and coincidently may have been suffering from C.T.E. His court room opponents are his friends Solomon and Lord. An expert witness at the trial specializing in C.T.E. influences the case as well as Jack’s attitude about his own health.

Jack Lassiter is an interesting character who walks a fine line in performing his duties as an attorney. He had previously been acquitted of murder, on occasion circumvents the law and has been threatened with disbarment; but, he is tenacious in defending his clients, even one he suspects of murdering his wife. His two lawyer friends, Solomon and Lord add a bit of levity to the story. The inclusion of the C.T.E. issue adds a current theme to the novel and highlights a serious issue the sports world is dealing with.

Although this book is part of an ongoing series it was not necessary to read any of the prior novels to follow the characters and the storyline. BUM LUCK, classified as a legal thriller, is an enjoyable fast paced, easy-to-follow story. Readers of the legal thriller genre will enjoy BUM LUCK.

Thanks to Saicheck Publicity for providing a review copy of this novel.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Review: Commonwealth

Summary: The acclaimed, bestselling author—winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Orange Prize—tells the enthralling story of how an unexpected romantic encounter irrevocably changes two families' lives.

One Sunday afternoon in Southern California, Bert Cousins shows up at Franny Keating's christening party uninvited. Before evening falls, he has kissed Franny's mother, Beverly—thus setting in motion the dissolution of their marriages and the joining of two families.

Spanning five decades, Commonwealth explores how this chance encounter reverberates through the lives of the four parents and six children involved. Spending summers together in Virginia, the Keating and Cousins children forge a lasting bond that is based on a shared disillusionment with their parents and the strange and genuine affection that grows up between them.

When, in her twenties, Franny begins an affair with the legendary author Leon Posen and tells him about her family, the story of her siblings is no longer hers to control. Their childhood becomes the basis for his wildly successful book, ultimately forcing them to come to terms with their losses, their guilt, and the deeply loyal connection they feel for one another.

Told with equal measures of humor and heartbreak, Commonwealth is a meditation on inspiration, interpretation, and the ownership of stories. It is a brilliant and tender tale of the far-reaching ties of love and responsibility that bind us together. -- Harper

I am so late in reviewing COMMONWEALTH by Ann Patchett, and I honestly don't have a good excuse. My book club read this two month's ago for book club, and I liked it... a lot. I think things are just out of control right now with my daughter's high school graduation less that four weeks away -- AHHHHH! I can't keep everything straight and my reading and reviews are definitely reflecting that!

Anyway... back to the book. COMMONWEALTH is a rich story about two families and the effects a chance encounter had on their lives. It all began when Bert Cousins came (uninvited by the way) to Franny Keating's baptism party. Despite being married and a father, Bert falls quickly for Franny's mom, Beverly; and the two share a kiss before the party ends. This kiss ends up breaking up two marriages and forever changing the direction of the lives of everyone involved.

Beverly and Bert marry and moving to Virginia -- far away from their spouses and children who reside in Southern California. All six of the kids end up spending summers together in Virginia and forming long-standing friendships. There are a few normal issues associated with blended families, but for the most part, they all get along and respect each other. However, there is one defining event from their childhood that will forever haunt each one of them.

The book also follows Franny's life, as well as a few of her siblings, and eventually spans almost fifth years. Franny begins an affair with a famous author and shares stories about her family. He ends up writing about the Franny's family and it brings to light many of the family's losses, regrets, and love.

I adored COMMONWEALTH. Of course, what can I really say about Ann Patchett's writing that hasn't already been said. She's nothing short of a genius! What really stood out to me about this novel, though, was how different it was from the other books of hers that I've read. Ms. Patchett's writing skills defy the imagination (or at least mine!) She is just so darn versatile and I'll never cease to be impressed by her prose.

What I loved the most about COMMONWEALTH was how realistically families (and especially blended families) were portrayed. The book begins in the early 1970s and I definitely think Ms. Patchett captured the essence of this time period. She also did a wonderful job in showing how divorce hits these two families. (Remember, this was a time when divorce was relatively rare.) The blending of the families was extremely realistic to me, and I loved the atmosphere she created with the kids all running wild in the summers.

I also really appreciated how the author demonstrated how our childhoods have a lifelong effect on our lives. There is one very important event that occurs in this novel (no spoilers!), and it definitely plays a role in the lives and decisions of the children. As the secrets of these families are revealed (through no fault of their own), each person is forced to face the past and deal with their guilt and regrets.

COMMONWEALTH made a great book club selection; however, I'll admit that we didn't discuss it the way I would have liked. Having said that there are so many things to discuss from the characters and their relationships with each other, to the symbolism of the title. In addition, I think the themes of stories and ownership definitely give some food for thought. There is a terrific reading guide available with seventeen questions. Some of the themes you might want to further explore include divorce, family, love, secrets, loss, grief, regrets, parent/child relationships, the role of stories, and more!

Overall, I found COMMONWEALTH to be an excellent read. Highly recommend for readers who enjoy stories about family dramas as well as fans of Ann Patchett!

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

Monday, May 8, 2017

Review: A Welcome Murder

Summary: Sent to prison for seven years, he is finally released in 1991. All he wants to do is return to his hometown of Steubenville, retrieve the drug money he stashed before he went to jail, and start a new life where no one has ever heard of Johnny Earl.

However, before he can leave town with his money, Johnny is picked up for questioning in the murder of Rayce Daubner, the FBI informant who had set him up on drug charges in the first place. Then his former prison cellmate shows up—a white supremacist who wants the drug money to help fund an Aryan nation in the wilds of Idaho.

Five memorable characters, each with a separate agenda, come together in this layered tale of murder, deceit, and political intrigue. -- Seventh Street Books

I just love it when I discover a new-to-me author. It opens up a whole new world for me -- I think avid readers totally "get" what I'm saying, right? I recently read the novel A WELCOME MURDER by Robin Yocum, and boy oh boy is it ever good! It probably is one of the best mysteries that I've read in quite awhile, and I'm not the only one who thinks this. A WELCOME MURDER has received starred reviews from Booklist, Publishers Weekly, and Kirkus. So if my opinion doesn't quite get you there, then maybe those reviews will!

A WELCOME MURDER tells the story of Johnny Earl, a small Ohio town high school sports star. Unfortunately, those years were probably the best of Earl's life. He thought he'd end up a professional baseball player and certainly not the drug dealer he ended up becoming. He has now served his time and just wants to collect the money he hid before he went to jail... and start a new life.

However (and this is a big one), Earl is a suspect in the death of Rayce Dauber, the man who squealed about Earl to the FBI. It seems like Earl's plan will be delayed, and things get even more interesting when Earl's former cellmate (and white supremacist) wants Earl's drug money to help start a new Aryan nation!

A WELCOME MURDER is more than just Johnny Earl's story; however, the mystery of who killed Rayce is really the heart of the novel. There are four characters besides Earl who actually tell this story in alternating chapters, and they are all fantastic (and truly memorable) characters. This novel has it all -- mystery, intrigue, and humor; and the writing is just terrific!

I loved A WELCOME MURDER... and will be checking out Mr. Yocum's other books. I was definitely impressed with his writing style. It's sharp, smart and totally hilarious at times; and I appreciated how he captured the essence of each character's voice. The characters told their version of events, and it was especially funny when their versions was directly at odds with each other.

One of the best things about A WELCOME MURDER were the characters. Oh my gosh! These characters were horrible -- one more despicable than the next. They were all pretty selfish and certainly had motives for wanting Rayce dead. I just had to laugh at the complete moral depravity of most of them. Everyone seemed to have an angle, and some just played it better than others!

A WELCOME MURDER was primarily a mystery and a very good one at that. The story revolved about the death of Rayce, and I honestly had no idea who was responsible for the murder. There were lots of twists and turns and a very clever ending. In addition, the pacing of the book was outstanding -- it was pretty much "unputdownable!" I truly appreciated that things weren't exactly resolved at the end of the book. I don't want to give too much away, but let's just say that not everyone ends up figuring out the truth. This little town certainly has its fair share of secrets!

In conclusion, I loved A WELCOME MURDER. It's mystery writing at its finest. I highly recommend this book to fans of mysteries!

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, May 6, 2017

Kid Konnection: Lemons

Every Saturday, I host a feature called Kid Konnection -- a regular weekend feature about anything related to children's books. This week I'm going to share with you a terrific middle grade about two kids on a beach for Bigfoot.

Summary: The search for Bigfoot gets juicy in this funny and touching story that’s perfect for fans of Kate DiCamillo’s Flora & Ulysses and Katherine Applegate’s Crenshaw!

Lemonade Liberty Witt’s mama always told her: When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. But Lem can’t possibly make lemonade out of her new life in Willow Creek, California—the Bigfoot Capital of the World—where she’s forced to live with a grandfather she’s never met after her mother passes away.

Then she meets eleven-year-old Tobin Sky, the CEO of Bigfoot Detectives Inc., who is the sole Bigfoot investigator for their small town. After he invites Lem to be his assistant for the summer, they set out on an epic adventure to capture a shot of the elusive beast on film. But along the way, Lem and Tobin end up discovering more than they ever could have imagined. And Lem realizes that maybe she can make lemonade out of her new life after all. -- Crown

I'm sure this has something to do with being a mom, but I love good middle grade stories. So when I first heard about the new novel LEMONS by Melissa Savage, I knew I had to read it. This book sounded like winner in every way... and it was. It's a touching story that's also full of humor and good lessons. All in all, I'd say it might be the best middle grade book of the year!

LEMONS tells the story of Lemonade Liberty Witt (also known as Lem), a young girl who moves to Willow Creek, California, after her mother dies. She not only has to leave behind her home, school, and friends, but she also has to live with her grandfather whom she's never met. Needless to say, Lem isn't very happy.

When she arrives in Willow Creek, she meets Tobin Sky, the eleven year old head of Bigfoot Detectives, Inc. You see... Willow Creek is the Bigfoot Capital of the World, and Tobin is determined to find Big Foot. After a little bit of discussion (not always friendly!), Tobin asks Lem to be his assistant; and together, they spend their summer on a quest to find clues about Big Foot and even get some film of him.

As Lem gets to know both her grandfather and Tobin, she begins to accept her new life in Willow Creek. She also learns some incredibly valuable lessons about family and friendship!

I LOVED LEMONS! Truly, it is one very special book that I can't recommend enough. It's got a little bit of every for young readers including many funny scenes, and parents will love Lem and Tobin and their special friendship. I honestly couldn't put down this book... and that's really saying something for me lately. This book made me laugh and cry, and I have a feeling that LEMONS might become a modern-day classic.

LEMONS is Ms. Savage's debut novel and what a debut it is! The author is a child and family therapist; and not only does she get children, she also can write a heck of a story. The book takes place in 1975 and I definitely think that added to my enjoyment. As a kid who grew up in the 1970s (ahem!), I really enjoyed all of the references to that time period. Ms. Savage definitely brought that time period to life, and I adored that the kids were interacting with each other in a time before technology and video games took over!

In addition, I loved the characters in this book... and I mean loved! Both Lem and Tobin are terrific kids, and I think young readers will definitely relate to them. However, the adults in this story are something special too. At the beginning of the story, Lem is so consumed with the loss of her mother that it broke my heart. I loved that as her friendship grew with Tobin, Lem realized that even though she had been dealt a hand of lemons, she could make lemonade! What a terrific message for kids!

And then there was Tobin. What can I really say about him? He was a unique kid that experienced some bullying, and I think he needed the friendship with Lem as much as she needed it with him. He was a bit unusual and definitely intense about Bigfoot, but as readers will learn, he was also dealing with his fair share of baggage. I absolutely loved how Ms. Savage portrayed their friendship -- the back and forth bickering between the characters was absolutely hilarious.

I do think middle grade readers will also appreciate the Bigfoot storyline. The book is a bit of a mystery and involves some detective work from the main characters. The kids go camping to investigate Bigfoot so there is even a little bit of adventure in the story. Honestly, I think this book has a bit of everything and will appeal to all types of readers... even the reluctant ones.

Overall, LEMONS is a must-read middle grade novel. Seriously, you need to get this book for the kids in your life... and make sure you find time to read it too!

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

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, May 4, 2017

Review: The Orphan's Tale

Summary: A powerful novel of friendship set in a traveling circus during World War II, The Orphan's Tale introduces two extraordinary women and their harrowing stories of sacrifice and survival

Sixteen-year-old Noa has been cast out in disgrace after becoming pregnant by a Nazi soldier and being forced to give up her baby. She lives above a small rail station, which she cleans in order to earn her keep… When Noa discovers a boxcar containing dozens of Jewish infants bound for a concentration camp, she is reminded of the child that was taken from her. And in a moment that will change the course of her life, she snatches one of the babies and flees into the snowy night.

Noa finds refuge with a German circus, but she must learn the flying trapeze act so she can blend in undetected, spurning the resentment of the lead aerialist, Astrid. At first rivals, Noa and Astrid soon forge a powerful bond. But as the facade that protects them proves increasingly tenuous, Noa and Astrid must decide whether their friendship is enough to save one another—or if the secrets that burn between them will destroy everything. -- Mira

I am embarrassed to admit that I've never read a novel by Pam Jenoff. I actually have quite a few on my shelf, but for some unknown (and really dumb) reason, I've never picked up one. That all changed when I decided to read her latest novel THE ORPHAN'S TALE. I was fortunate enough to briefly meet her at last year's SIBA and receiving a signed copy was one of my highlights from the conference.

THE ORPHAN'S TALE takes place during World War II, and you might be thinking,"Oh no! Another book that takes place during World War II?" However, I can promise you that this one is special. It tells the story of sixteen year old Noa, who has been thrown out of her house after becoming pregnant by a Nazi solder, and Astrid, a Jewish woman who is a trapeze performer in a family circus. These two women become unlikely friends and their story is guaranteed to touch your heart.

After giving up her baby, Noa is living and working at a train station -- her family will have nothing to do with her. One day, she discovers a box car filled with Jew infants on their way to a concentration camp, and Noa decides to take one of the babies and runs away into the wintry night. Noa and the baby boy are taken in by a German circus, but the owner tells her she must earn her keep by becoming a trapeze artist.

Astrid, a Jew who is hiding in plain sight from the Nazis, has already lost her family. She has joined up with the same German circus and is tasked with teaching Noa how to fly. The two women have some difficulties (that's putting it mildly), but eventually discover that they care deeply about each other. Their friendship allows them to share secrets with each other and even go to the ends of the earth to protect each other.

I really, really enjoyed THE ORPHAN'S TALE. It's a touching story about two strong women and their friendship; however, it's also a very well researched novel that I found fascinating. As I was reading this novel, I quickly fell in love with the German circus owner who sacrificed his life to protect Jews. Little did I know that this part of the story was based on a real-life man! It was evident to me that Ms. Jenoff did a ton of research on the subject, but that she was also able to effectively incorporate the character in this novel.

I also really appreciated the characters of Noa and Astrid. Astrid was a little rough around the edges at the beginning of the novel, although I totally understood why given her troubled past; and Noa was young, earnest and very sweet. As their relationship progressed and the two women shared their secrets with each other, I found myself loving both of them. They were courageous women who were willing to sacrifice everything for each other.

I totally understand why Ms. Jenoff is such a popular author. She's really good! Not only did I recognize her research and character development, but I also appreciated her storytelling abilities. She wrote this novel in alternating chapters through the eyes of both Astrid and Noa. I thought she did a fantastic job of capturing each woman's voice and individual personality. In addition, I liked how she built suspense throughout the story. It was definitely a page-turner!

It's probably not surprising that THE ORPHAN'S TALE would make a great book club selection. Book clubs tend to enjoy World War II novels, and this one covers two stories (the German circus owner and the box car of Jewish babies) that probably aren't familiar to them. I also think Astrid and Noa are interesting characters and their friendship is ripe for discussion, but some of the minor characters are fascinating as well. I was happy to find a reading guide with seven thought-provoking questions. Some of the themes you might want to explore further include parent/child relationships, sacrifice, love, war, circus life, the symbolism of the title, and more!

Overall, I enjoyed THE ORPHAN'S TALE and highly recommend it to fans of World War II novels and fans of women's fiction!

I received a copy of THE ORPHAN'S TALE at last year's SIBA.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Review: The Beach House Cookbook

Summary: You don’t have to own a beach house to enjoy Mary Kay Andrews’ recipes. All you need is an appetite for delicious, casual dishes, cooked with the best fresh, local ingredients and presented with the breezy flair that make Mary Kay Andrews’ novels a summertime favorite at the beach.

From an early spring dinner of cherry balsamic-glazed pork medallions and bacon-kissed Brussels sprouts to Fourth of July buttermilk-brined fried chicken, potato salad, and pudding parfaits to her New Year’s Day Open House menu of roast oysters, home-cured gravlax, grits 'n’ greens casserole, and lemon-cream cheese pound cake, this cookbook will supply ideas for menus and recipes designed to put you in a permanently carefree, coastal state of mind all year long. -- St. Martin's Press

Last September when I was in Savannah attending SIBA, I had the incredible opportunity to visit Mary Kay Andrews' beach house in Tybee Island. Many of us book lovers hopped on a trolley and took the half hour ride to Tybee Island to attend a party hosted by none other than Mary Kay Andrews herself. This woman is not only one of my favorite summertime authors, but she's also a positively delightful person... and she gives new meaning to the words "Southern Hospitality."

Those attending were lucky enough to get the inside scoop on her new cookbook THE BEACH HOUSE COOKBOOK by Mary Kay Andrews. There were loads of food and drink from the cookbook to sample and I spent hours in awe of this quaint "little" beach house. Needless to say, Ms. Andrews' could just as easily write a decorating book as a cookbook -- she's that special!

The food was delightful and I loved the mix of southern treats and party foods. In addition, the author swore to me that the recipes were all super-easy. Well, eight months later and after getting my hands on a copy of the cookbook, I can attest to that. These recipes are perfect for entertaining... and impressing your guests!

I could pretty much guarantee that I was going to enjoy this cookbook. I am a big fan of Ms. Andrews and I just love the way she makes everyone she encounters feel like a friend. THE BEACH HOUSE COOKBOOK captures the essence of her perfectly. The book begins with a little history about the author's beach houses and her family, and I swear you already feel like you know her. She talks about the importance of family and friends as well as the ways she comes up with her recipes and makes her parties extra-special with little details. However, she stresses that with the help of this book, everyone can entertain like she does!

THE BEACH HOUSE COOKBOOK isn't organized like your typical cookbook. Rather, it's separated into sections by type of dinner or party. For example, there is a section for a Low Country Boil, Christmas Brunch, a Full Moon Party, and (my favorite!) a Book Bash Cocktail Party. Within each chapter, there are both beverage and food recipes including appetizers, sides, and desserts! She really has made it easy to throw together a themed event!

One thing I absolutely adore about this cookbook is that Ms. Andrews writes personal anecdotes before every section and every recipe. Some are stories about the history of the recipe or her family, but she also gives helpful preparation and ingredient advice. The cookbook has a very warm look and feel to it that makes me think it's like a family cookbook... and given Ms. Andrews' hospitality, I tend to think that's exactly what she was going for!

I hate to admit that I haven't tried making any of the recipes yet from THE BEACH HOUSE COOKBOOK. That's more of a testament about my crazy life right now than lack of interest! There are truly so many recipes I want to try from the Low Country Boil to the Lemon Bars, to the Lemon Pecan Green Beans, to the Redneck Caviar, to the Peach and Berry Cobber, to the... well, you get the idea!

Another wonderful thing about THE BEACH HOUSE COOKBOOK (as if I haven't already convinced you it's a fantastic cookbook) is the photography. Unfortunately, I received an ARC of the book so my photographs weren't in color; however, I did receive some full color sample pages so I can attest to the beauty. The photos are big and on every page... which is kind of a must for me to like a cookbook; and I found my mouth watering as I went from one gorgeous page to another.
THE BEACH HOUSE COOKBOOK is an ideal gift for Mother's Day, but it's also the perfect present for a friend... or even yourself! It's a beautiful cookbook with some amazing entertaining ideas. Highly recommended!

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

Monday, May 1, 2017

Review: Escape Velocity

Summary: When does the Con become the Artist? Georgia Griffin has just arrived in Silicon Valley from Piney, Arkansas on very bald tires, having firmly rejected her beloved father’s life as a con artist. Her father is in jail and a certain minister is hugging her mother for Jesus while eyeing Georgia’s little sister, Katie-Ann. Georgia desperately needs to keep her new job as paralegal for Lumina Software so she can provide a California haven for her sister before it’s too late.

While she’s still living in her car, Georgia realizes that incompetence and self-dealing have a death grip on her new company. She decides to adapt her extensive con artist training—just once—to clean up the company. But success is seductive. Soon Georgia is an avid paralegal by day and a masterful con artist by night, using increasingly bold gambits designed to salvage Lumina Software. Then she steps into the shadow of a real crime and must decide: Will she risk her job, the roof over her sister’s head, and perhaps her very soul? -- Steelkit Press

This is a pretty cool story about Susan Wolfe, the author of the novel ESCAPE VELOCITY. She won an Edgar Award twenty seven years ago for her debut novel THE LAST BILLABLE HOUR and hasn't written a novel since! After practicing law as a criminal defense attorney and then as an in-house lawyer for a Silicon Valley high tech companies, she has returned to writing with ESCAPE VELOCITY.

ESCAPE VELOCITY tells the story of Georgia Griffin, a young woman who has recently received her paralegal degree and moved to Silicon Valley. She is trying to start a new life for herself and her teenage sister. Georgia grew up in Arkansas with a father who was a con man, and she is determined not to follow in her father's footsteps. However, it quickly becomes apparent that the apple doesn't fall so far from the tree.

Georgia jumps right into getting to know her new company, and it doesn't take long for her to realize that there are quite a few inept managers running the company. She decides that she can use her "special skills," aka con artist moves, to remedy the problem employees. Things seem to be working out fairly well for Georgia until she discovers a real crime. It's at this point that she has to decide the extent she's willing to go to save the company... and herself!

I found ESCAPE VELOCITY to be a fairly unique read. I tend to read quite a few mystery/thrillers a month, but I can't remember ever reading one quite like this. And it's the unusual nature of the story, as well as the author's ability to weave humor into the story, that made ESCAPE VELOCITY an enjoyable read for me. This novel received a starred review from Publishers Weekly, and I do think it will appeal to many readers.

I don't know if I'd go so far as to say that I loved this book, but I did like it. My only issue with the book was that I thought there was a lot of build up to get to the actual crime/mystery. Having said that, once that part of the story became the focus, I truly enjoyed it; and I found it to be very suspenseful.

One of my favorite things about ESCAPE VELOCITY was the character of Georgia. I found her to be quite entertaining, and I loved her moxie. Her sense of humor and insight into other's behavior was  also terrific. And I adored how she used her acquired skills as a con artist to put all of these questionable managers in place... and eventually save herself!

I sincerely hope that Ms. Wolfe doesn't wait this long before writing another novel! I found her storytelling abilities to be strong, and I loved all of the humor she put into the story. In addition, it was interesting to get an inside look into the inner workings of a high tech company. It was obvious to me that she incorporated her personal experiences into the story, and I bet she's seen quite a bit in her years as a lawyer in Silicon Valley.

Overall, ESCAPE VELOCITY was an exciting read; and I do recommend it to fans of mysteries and suspense!

Thanks to Get Red PR 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.