Monday, July 31, 2017

Review: Party Girls Die in Pearls

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Kid Konnection: National Geographic Kids' History Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks to Media Masters for providing review copies of these books.

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

Friday, July 28, 2017

Review: Pure Heart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Review: The Summer House

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 24, 2017

Review: Leona - The Die is Cast

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, July 22, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Review: Ginny Moon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 17, 2017

Review: The Force

Summary: The acclaimed, award-winning, bestselling author of The Cartel—voted one of the Best Books of the Year by more than sixty publications, including the New York Times—makes his William Morrow debut with a cinematic epic as explosive, powerful, and unforgettable as Mystic River and The Wire.

Our ends know our beginnings, but the reverse isn’t true . . .

All Denny Malone wants is to be a good cop.

He is “the King of Manhattan North,” a, highly decorated NYPD detective sergeant and the real leader of “Da Force.” Malone and his crew are the smartest, the toughest, the quickest, the bravest, and the baddest, an elite special unit given unrestricted authority to wage war on gangs, drugs and guns. Every day and every night for the eighteen years he’s spent on the Job, Malone has served on the front lines, witnessing the hurt, the dead, the victims, the perps. He’s done whatever it takes to serve and protect in a city built by ambition and corruption, where no one is clean—including Malone himself.

What only a few know is that Denny Malone is dirty: he and his partners have stolen millions of dollars in drugs and cash in the wake of the biggest heroin bust in the city’s history. Now Malone is caught in a trap and being squeezed by the Feds, and he must walk the thin line between betraying his brothers and partners, the Job, his family, and the woman he loves, trying to survive, body and soul, while the city teeters on the brink of a racial conflagration that could destroy them all.

Based on years of research inside the NYPD, this is the great cop novel of our time and a book only Don Winslow could write: a haunting and heartbreaking story of greed and violence, inequality and race, crime and injustice, retribution and redemption that reveals the seemingly insurmountable tensions between the police and the diverse citizens they serve. A searing portrait of a city and a courageous, heroic, and deeply flawed man who stands at the edge of its abyss, The Force is a masterpiece of urban living full of shocking and surprising twists, leavened by flashes of dark humor, a morally complex and utterly riveting dissection of modern American society and the controversial issues confronting and dividing us today. -- William Morrow

At BEA, I was fortunate enough to have dinner with Jennifer Hart (aka Book Club Girl). Of course, I asked her what books she was excited to be working on for the summer/fall; and she said that one of their big ones is THE FORCE by Don Winslow. She told me my dad would love it, but when I saw the buzz surrounding this novel, I decided that I wanted to read it! (I will pass it along to my dad, though, because he will love it... and appreciate that I'm giving him a novel without the expectation of a review!)

THE FORCE tells the story of Denny Malone, a NYC cop who is "the king of Manhattan North." He is both respected and feared, and he's in charge of "Da Force," the elite special force that pretty much can do anything to fight gangs, drugs and guns in the city. Basically, being a cop has been Malone's life-long dream and no one really gets in his way. The thing is that Malone isn't always clean, and recently he crossed a serious line.

Malone and his partners made a major drug bust and ended up stealing millions in cash and drugs... and now everyone, including the Feds, know something's up. The Feds have given him an ultimatum -- either provide information and help trap other officers or go to jail for a very long time. Malone hates that he's betraying his brothers, but he also wants to protect the city, himself and his loved ones. Malone's actions are definitely blurred between good and bad, but the big question is, "Can he use his life-long skills as a cop to save himself?"

I couldn't wait to share my thoughts about THE FORCE with all of you, and now that I'm trying to write my review, I will admit that it's not going to be easy. It's not a typical read for me, although I used to read novels like this much more in my pre-blogging days. However, I am so happy that I decided to pick up this book. THE FORCE has been, without a doubt, my favorite book of the summer. It's nothing short of a masterpiece, and I'm truly in awe of Mr. Winslow's writing talents!

I hardly know where to begin in telling you about THE FORCE. I feel as if I just want to throw out adjectives like amazing and brilliant, but when it comes to specifics, I'm at a loss for words. THE FORCE is a big novel (almost 500 pages), and I was never bored with the story. (That's saying a lot for me because I usually stay away from chunksters!) Furthermore, not only was I not ever bored, I was enthralled with everything Malone said or did.

Malone truly is one of the most memorable characters I've ever encountered in fiction. The complexity of his character, namely the juxtaposition between his good and bad actions, is fascinating. I've seen comparisons to THE GODFATHER (but with cops), and I have to say I totally agree. Malone has so many layers, and while many of his actions are unquestionably disgusting, I loved him. I don't know if I loved him as a human being, but I definitely loved him as a character.

Another stellar thing about THE FORCE is how many twists and turns there were to the story. I could barely keep up with Malone and many of the other characters, and I constantly questioned who was good versus who was bad. At this point, I'm still asking myself that! What I can definitely say is that this novel demonstrated that we all have the capacity to be both good and evil, and nothing is really black or white. Needless to say, this novel gave me quite a bit to think about even after I appreciated the entertaining aspects of the story.

And finally, I was amazed/impressed/blown away by how well the author brought the New York Police Department to life. I sure as heck hope much of what occurred in this novel was a figment of Mr. Winslow's imagination; however, he certainly made it feel real to me. I loved how he captured the relationship between the cops (both the good and the bad), but I also appreciated how well he described the essence of the city and its inhabitants. Truly, the way he described the police force and the relationship with the city (and the politicians) was something special... and the author's research for this novel is nothing short of outstanding.

I could go on and on about this novel for quite a long time, but I just wanted to tease you with enough to make you pick up this book. Needless to say, I loved this novel and would love to discuss it with others -- think amazing book club pick! As far as I'm concerned, if you even think you might enjoy a novel about a "good" cop gone "bad," then THE FORCE is a must-read 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, July 15, 2017

Kid Konnection: Heartwood Hotel Series

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 in a new chapter book series starring an adorable mouse!

Summary: When Mona the Mouse stumbles across the wondrous world of the Heartwood Hotel in the middle of a storm, she desperately hopes they’ll let her stay. As it turns out, Mona is precisely the maid they need at the grandest hotel in Fernwood Forest, where animals come from far and wide for safety, luxury, and comfort. But the Heartwood Hotel is not all acorn soufflĂ© and soft moss-lined beds. Danger lurks, and as it approaches, Mona finds that this hotel is more than a warm place to spend the night. It might also be a home.

This delightfully enticing start of a new chapter book series tells a tale of friendship, courage, and community, with exquisite black-and-white illustrations throughout. -- Disney Hyperion

Summary: Mona the mouse has finally found a place to call home, the cozy Heartwood Hotel, where she works as a maid and sleeps snuggled up in a room with her best friend. Following the festive St. Slumber celebration, most of the guests have settled in to hibernate, and the staff is looking forward to a relaxing winter. But disruptions abound, from a difficult duchess to a mysterious midnight snacker. As the snow stacks higher, Mona will have to gather friends both old and new to keep the peace, finding help in some of the most unexpected places. 

The second book in the enchanting Heartwood Hotel series, The Greatest Gift will warm your heart with its endearing characters and exquisite illustrations. -- Disney Hyperion

A TRUE HOME and THE GREATEST GIFT by Kallie George and illustrated by Stephanie Graegin are the first two books in the new Heartwood Hotel series, and I have to say that I found them to be delightful. Kids who enjoy stories about animals are going to love them, and I will even admit that I was charmed by the little mouse named Mona.

A TRUE HOME kicks off the Heartwood Hotel series by introducing Mona, the little mouse. Mona is all alone in the middle of a storm when she discovers the Heartwood Hotel. She is desperate for a place to stay, and she's even willing to work for her keep. Luckily for Mona, the hotel was in need of a maid!

Heartwood Hotel is a safe haven for all types of animals. There are rooms that cater to the various types of creatures including birds, squirrels, and even skunks! There are also plenty of hotel employees who not only clean the rooms, but also make food and provide entertainment. Even though Mona knows that her stay there is only temporary, she falls in love with the place and the animals... and she hopes that Heartwood Hotel will become her new home!

THE GREATEST GIFT picks up where A TRUE HOME ended. I don't think I'm giving too much away to say that Mona does end up staying at the hotel and working as a maid. In this second book in the series, Mona is settling into her new home and making some special friendships. She is even part of the St. Slumber celebration -- the feast before many of the animals hibernate for the winter. This is the slowest time for the hotel, and the animals are looking forward to a calm winter.

However, a rabbit duchess shows up and the staff finds her quite demanding, and there is a mysterious stranger who seems to be sneaking food from the kitchen. The animal folks at the hotel are pretty forgiving, but when the food levels dwindle to almost nothing, someone needs to get to the bottom of the mystery. Fortunately, Mona once again saves the day!

A TRUE HOME and THE GREATEST GIFT are adorable chapter books aimed at kids ages 9 - 12, or early chapter book readers. Truth be told, I think it will appeal to younger readers too. The stories are adorable and would make terrific read-aloud books for parents and teachers. The books also have some precious illustrations which are the perfect complement to the sweet stories.

I will admit that I'm not usually a huge fan of books about animals. (I know, I know!) However, I found these books to be adorable. I loved Mona and the other animals who live and work in the hotel, and I especially appreciated their (mainly) sweet interactions with each other. The books had some terrific messages... and they are definitely funny and uplifting.

The publisher decided to release both A TRUE HOME and THE GREATEST GIFT at the same time so readers wouldn't have to wait for a book two! I found it interesting that they have also planned an accelerated publishing schedule with the intention of keeping kids hooked on the adventures of Heartwood Hotel.

I'd be remiss if I didn't share with you the adorable website devoted to the series. There are lots of fun extras including finding your perfect room, meeting the staff, checking out the current menu or making your own, and seeing the events schedule. In addition, there are some crafts and other activities that your kids will enjoy!

I highly recommend the Heartwood Hotel series to youngsters. The characters are so charming, and the stories will definitely provide some important lessons about friendship and helping others!

Thanks to the publisher 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!

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Review: Hello, Sunshine

Summary: From Laura Dave—the author of the “addictive” (Us Weekly), “winning” (Publishers Weekly) and critically acclaimed bestseller Eight Hundred Grapes—comes a new novel about the secrets we keep…even from ourselves.

Sunshine Mackenzie has it all…until her secrets come to light.

Sunshine Mackenzie is living the dream—she’s a culinary star with millions of fans, a line of #1 bestselling cookbooks, and a devoted husband happy to support her every endeavor.

And then she gets hacked.

When Sunshine’s secrets are revealed, her fall from grace is catastrophic. She loses the husband, her show, the fans, and her apartment. She’s forced to return to the childhood home—and the estranged sister—she’s tried hard to forget. But what Sunshine does amid the ashes of her own destruction may well save her life.

In a world where celebrity is a careful construct, Hello, Sunshine is a compelling, funny, and evocative novel about what it means to live an authentic life in an inauthentic age. -- Simon & Schuster

I'm a big fan of author Laura Dave, so I was extremely excited that her latest novel HELLO, SUNSHINE arrived in my mailbox prior to my beach vacation. This novel about the fall from grace of a celebrity chef sounded like an ideal summer read... and it was the first book I picked out of my large stack to read by the waves!

HELLO, SUNSHINE tells the story of Sunshine Mackenzie, a woman who seemingly has it all. She's a celebrity chef with a huge social media following, and she has a terrific husband who wholeheartedly supports her and her career. She's even has her own television show. However, when she discovers that she's been hacked, all her dirty secrets are revealed!

Sunshine's perfect life suddenly isn't so perfect. Her husband leaves her, she loses her television show, and her fans turn on her. She doesn't seem to have any options except to return to her childhood home where her estranged sister and niece have been living. It's only when Sunshine hits rock bottom that she can clearly see the truth about herself and what she wants out of life.

HELLO, SUNSHINE was a fantastic beach book! It was an extremely fun read, kind of like chick lit for grownups; however, it also touched upon some very serious and relevant issues in today's society. In fact, I picked up the novel hoping to be entertained with a woman's fall and eventual redemption, and I definitely was... but I also thoroughly appreciated how thought-provoking this novel was when it came to social media and honesty. And that's probably what I liked the most about HELLO, SUNSHINE. It was an insightful look at how we portray ourselves in this age of social media.

Sunshine was an extremely interesting character. I will admit that I didn't always like her very much, but I did like what she represented. She was a complex character who definitely symbolized what can go wrong when you start telling others (and yourself!) lies about yourself. This novel definitely featured the pitfalls when you start with just one little fib or exaggeration. As most of us realize, one little lie is usually just the beginning... and the coverup ends up requiring quite a few more.

I also enjoyed that Sunshine didn't just feel sorry for herself and give up. Rather, she began forging new relationships (namely with her niece) and trying to fix old ones that had been damaged (like the one with her sister.) In addition, she began a low-level job in the kitchen of a hard-nosed chef and worked her butt off. Even when things seemed pretty dismal for Sunshine, she persevered and tried to make amends for her past. And that's where the redemption aspect of the novel took place, and that's also when I started liking and rooting for Sunshine!

My favorite aspect of HELLO, SUNSHINE, though, was how this novel explored the subject of reality and self-awareness in a world full of social media. Don't get me wrong, I love Twitter and Facebook even though I'm not a huge poster. I enjoy following my friends' lives and seeing pictures and accomplishments of their kids; however, there have always been times that I think it's interesting to see the spin they put on their public lives. In fact, I often wonder if the people with the best posts on Facebook are truly living those perfect lives. This novel definitely explores that and more!

Because of a hacker, Sunshine is forced to confront what she's been posting on all of her social media outlets. Ultimately, that's a really good thing for Sunshine because she realizes how difficult it's been to live the life she's created... not actually experienced. She learns to be authentic and live her life for herself and those she are close to rather than her millions of fans; and in the process, she repairs relationships from her past and begins to love herself.

I think HELLO, SUNSHINE would make an excellent book club selection. I wasn't able to find a reader's guide, but I don't think you'd need one. There are so many topics to discuss from celebrity personas, to dysfunctional families, to love, to honesty, to second chances. You also will definitely want to explore social media and the effects it has on our society, our kids, and even ourselves.

HELLO, SUNSHINE is a fun and thought-provoking read. Highly recommended!

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

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Giveaway: The Dollhouse

Summary: Fiona Davis’s stunning debut novel pulls readers into the lush world of New York City’s glamorous Barbizon Hotel for Women, where in the 1950s a generation of aspiring models, secretaries, and editors lived side by side while attempting to claw their way to fairy-tale success, and where a present-day journalist becomes consumed with uncovering a dark secret buried deep within the Barbizon’s glitzy past.

When she arrives at the famed Barbizon Hotel in 1952, secretarial school enrollment in hand, Darby McLaughlin is everything her modeling agency hall mates aren’t: plain, self-conscious, homesick, and utterly convinced she doesn’t belong—a notion the models do nothing to disabuse. Yet when Darby befriends Esme, a Barbizon maid, she’s introduced to an entirely new side of New York City: seedy downtown jazz clubs where the music is as addictive as the heroin that’s used there, the startling sounds of bebop, and even the possibility of romance.

Over half a century later, the Barbizon’s gone condo and most of its long-ago guests are forgotten. But rumors of Darby’s involvement in a deadly skirmish with a hotel maid back in 1952 haunt the halls of the building as surely as the melancholy music that floats from the elderly woman’s rent-controlled apartment. It’s a combination too intoxicating for journalist Rose Lewin, Darby’s upstairs neighbor, to resist—not to mention the perfect distraction from her own imploding personal life. Yet as Rose’s obsession deepens, the ethics of her investigation become increasingly murky, and neither woman will remain unchanged when the shocking truth is finally revealed. -- Dutton

Today is the paperback release date for THE DOLLHOUSE by Fiona Davis! I read and reviewed this book when it first came out in hardcover, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. In fact, I loved how the story went back and forth between the 1950s New York City and present-day, and it was especially appealing to me that there was a bit of a mystery incorporated into the stories. I also thought Ms. Davis did an outstanding job bringing 1950s New York, and particularly the Barbizon Hotel, to life.

THE DOLLHOUSE received some major publicity attention including reviews and features in Time, Family Circle, People, US Weekly, USA Today, The Associated Press, TheSkimm, New York Post, and PopSugar; and I truly believe it would make an excellent book club selection. Here's the link to the discussion guide with fifteen thought-provoking questions.

I'm thrilled to say that I have a copy of the new paperback version (isn't it gorgeous?) to share with one lucky reader courtesy of the publisher. To enter, just fill out the form below before July 24th at 11:59 p.m. EST. I will randomly select and notify the winner the following day. This contest is open to those of you with U.S. addresses only. Good luck!

Monday, July 10, 2017

Review: What You Break

Summary: Former Suffolk County cop Gus Murphy returns to prowl the meaner streets of Long Island’s darkest precincts with a Russian mercenary at his back in the stunning second installment of Reed Farrel Coleman’s critically acclaimed, Edgar-nominated series.

Gus Murphy and his girlfriend, Magdalena, are put in harm’s way when Gus is caught up in the distant aftershocks of heinous crimes committed decades ago in Vietnam and Russia. Gus’s ex-priest pal, Bill Kilkenny, introduces him to a wealthy businessman anxious to have someone look more deeply into the brutal murder of his granddaughter. Though the police already have the girl’s murderer in custody, they have been unable to provide a reason for the killing. The businessman, Spears, offers big incentives if Gus can supply him with what the cops cannot—a motive.

Later that same day, Gus witnesses the execution of a man who has just met with his friend Slava. As Gus looks into the girl’s murder and tries to protect Slava from the executioner’s bullet, he must navigate a minefield populated by hostile cops, street gangs, and a Russian mercenary who will stop at nothing to do his master’s bidding. But in trying to solve the girl’s murder and save his friend, Gus may be opening a door into a past that was best left forgotten. Can he fix the damage done, or is it true that what you break you own…forever? -- Putnam

A little over a year ago, I reviewed WHERE IT HURTS by Reed Farrel Coleman. It was the first book in his Gus Murphy series, and I adored the novel. Gus Murphy was a dark and complex character, and I quickly understood why Mr. Coleman was such an accomplished writer. His prose and his ability to weave a mystery are stellar... so it was no surprise that I wanted to read the second book in the series, WHAT YOU BREAK.

WHAT YOU BREAK returns with ex-cop Gus Murphy. Gus is currently working as a van driver and part-time security guard at a hotel near the airport; however, he can't seem to stay away from fighting crime. This time, Gus's friend (and ex-priest) Bill introduces him to Spears, a wealthy man who wants the murder of his granddaughter solved. The man responsible for her death is a gang member and currently in prison for the crime, but Spears wants Gus to figure out the motive because the cops consider the case closed.

As if that's not enough, Gus is a witness for the murder of a new customer at the hotel... a man who had just met with is good friend and co-worker Slava. Gus felt something was off, so he followed the man... and then saw the cold-blooded murder. Slava's background has always been a secret to Gus, but Gus has always suspected that there's more to Slava's past that he'd ever admit; and now Gus finds himself knee-deep in trying to save Slava from a dangerous Russian mercenary.

I thoroughly enjoyed WHAT YOU BREAK and I've come to really like Mr. Coleman's writing. His characters and books are rather dark, and probably something you'd expect Booking Pap Pap to read and review, but I've found that I really appreciate his story-telling skills. In both books, I've been impressed with is complicated mysteries, as well as the twists and turns; and I like how the different storylines eventually come together.

One of my favorite things about these books in the Gus Murphy series is the character of Gus. Gus is a terrific character and I find him so intriguing. Gus is not only an ex-Suffolk County cop, but he's also a man suffering from severe grief after the sudden death of his teenage son. His all-encompassing grief has caused him to lose his wife and family, and he's a bit of a pitiful man at times. Although he's broken, I just love him. He's smart and funny (at times) and so very complex... and there's no doubt that he still has all of his cop instincts.

Another aspect of this novel that I really like is how he brings the setting to life. The book takes place on Long Island and he definitely shows its underbelly with his descriptions of the airport, buildings, streets, and gangs. Like Gus, the Long Island shown in this novel is damaged and has fallen from its former past glory.

I was also extremely impressed with the mysteries in WHAT YOU BREAK. I have a feeling that a more perceptive reader might have figured things out a bit earlier than I did, but I was kept guessing for the majority of the novel. I love how the stories eventually came together, and I'd say that I was satisfied with the conclusion. Because the novel was fairly dark, I like that everything wasn't wrapped up neatly with a big red bow -- it just wouldn't have fit the tone of the book.

WHAT YOU BREAK isn't the typical mystery that I feature on Mystery Mondays, but it's a very good one that will appeal to fans of noir. I highly recommend WHAT YOU BREAK and I look forward to future installments in the Gus Murphy series.

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

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

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Kid Konnection: Lights, Camera, Middle School!

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 middle grade book starring the popular character Babymouse.


It’s a new kind of book for Babymouse! Fans of Dork Diaries, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and James Patterson’s Middle School books, this is going to be epic. . . .

For Babymouse, middle school is like a monster movie. You can never be sure who’s a friend and who’s an enemy, and the halls are filled with mean-girl zombies. Instead of brains, the zombies hunger for stuff—the perfect wedge sandals or the right shade of sparkly lip gloss—and they expect everyone to be just like them.

But Babymouse doesn’t want to fit in—she wants to stand out! So she joins the film club to write and direct a sweeping cinematic epic. Will making the film of her dreams turn into a nightmare?

Thanks to Babymouse, middle school gets schooled in this hilarious new series from bestselling authors Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm. -- Random House

I love Babymouse, so I was thrilled to learn that this character is now starring in middle grade graphic novels. LIGHTS, CAMERA, MIDDLE SCHOOL! is the first book in the BABYMOUSE TALES FROM THE LOCKER series by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm, and it's sure to be a hit. This book encompasses everything fans have come to know and love about Babymouse, namely adorable illustration and lots of humor!

Babymouse is discovering that middle school isn't all it's cracked up to be. It's kind of like a scary monster movie with the spooky creatures in the halls and zombie girls; and Babymouse feels like she has to run for her life! There is a lot of pressure to fit in, but Babymouse would rather stand-out. (Isn't that just typical for Babymouse?)

Like most animals, Babymouse is trying to find a sport or club that she wants to join. After a great deal of consideration, she decides to join the film club. She is tasked with writing and directing a movie that will be viewed by her entire class. Needless to say, Babymouse is thrilled to have this responsibility; however, she quickly learns that it's not easy to be in charge. She has a diva starring in her movie, budget constraints, and more! Will making a movie prove to be even more difficult than navigating middle school?

I loved LIGHTS, CAMERA, MIDDLE SCHOOL!, but of course, I did. It's written by none other than the sister/brother duo Jennifer and Matthew Holm. They are absolutely amazing, and together, they create some very entertaining novels. I think Mr. Holm's illustrations are the perfect complement to Ms. Holm's text. and I love how much humor they incorporate into the books with both their writing and drawings.

I think LIGHTS, CAMERA, MIDDLE SCHOOL! is an ideal read for middle grade readers, especially those who like graphic novels with short chapters. The story is definitely entertaining, namely due to the humor; and even the most reluctant of readers will like this book. The text is relatively large and there are illustrations on every page, so it's not intimidating in the least. In fact, it's a great introduction for readers ready to embark on early chapter books.

I'm going to put my mom hat on for the next paragraph! I loved that there were some valuable lessons included in Babymouse's story. Babymouse learned so many things about socializing, organizing, and managing, but she also learned a great deal about herself. I have a feeling that many kids will relate to Babymouse and her attempts to stand out in a crowd... and find herself along the way!

LIGHTS, CAMERA, MIDDLE SCHOOL! is a terrific addition to the Babymouse library as well as a great start to a new series. Fans of the Dork Diaries and Wimpy Kid books will love this book. Highly recommended!

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

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

Friday, July 7, 2017

Review: Plum Deluxe Tea

I love tea! Hot in the winter and iced in the summer, but anyway you "brew" it, I love tea! So when Andy, the owner of Plum Deluxe, contacted me about sampling some of his teas, I jumped at the chance.

The teas were all amazing, but more on that later. First, I want to tell you a little bit about this very special company:

Plum Deluxe was created as a tribute to the owner's mother, who lost a "brave 6-year battle with breast cancer but never forgot to enjoy the little things in life." (Truthfully, I was already sold when I read that!) They hand-blends all of their teas in small batches at their studio in Portland, Oregon. All of their tea blends are organic, non-gmo, and free of chemicals and sulfites... and they support local and USA farmers wherever possible. In addition, they have have a wonderful philanthropy program.

Plum Deluxe teas are available exclusively on their website. I found plenty to like, but I loved that they have a tea of the month club. It's only $10/month and subscribers receive 1 oz of a custom seasonally-perfect artisan loose leaf tea made just for the club. Subscribers also enjoy access to a private tea lover’s community, tea-inspired recipes, discounts on extra teas and supplies, and other surprises.
Spiced Berry Refresher Black Tea
I was fortunate enough to receive three samples! The first one I tried was the Spiced Berry Refresher Black Tea - a bold tea with blackberry and pomegranate flavors especially made for iced tea. I made a glass (using my cool little Zoku) and it was delicious. I drink my teas black and it had just the right amount of tart and sweet. I immediately made an entire pitcher after finishing my one glass!
Coconut Macaron Dessert Tea
I also received a delicious Coconut Macaron Dessert Tea which was a terrific surprise because I am a huge fan of anything that tastes like coconut. As you can see from the picture above, there is real coconut in this tea. I had a glass of this in the afternoon as a little pick-me-up on a dreary day. It was amazing!!!
Reading Nook Blend Black Tea
And last but certainly not least was the Reading Nook Blend Black Tea. Is that not the most adorable tea blend for book lovers? I'm already thinking of how serving this at my next book club meeting! As you can see, this is a gorgeous blend of black tea with rosebuds, chamomile, and lavender. They also add a little bit of love and gratitude to make it extra-special for reading, writing, and conversation. This tea was delicious too, but by my third sample, I'd come to expect great quality from Plum Deluxe.

Overall, I can't recommend Plum Deluxe teas enough. The selection of teas is incredible, and the tea of the month club would be such a great gift. Highly recommended!!!

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Review: Beach House for Rent

Summary: Bestselling author Mary Alice Monroe returns to her beloved Isle of Palms to tell the poignant, charming story of two women, one summer, and one very special beach house.

When Cara Rutledge rents out her quaint beach house on Isle of Palms to Heather Wyatt for the entire summer, it’s a win-win by any standard: Cara’s generating income necessary to keep husband Brett’s ecotourism boat business afloat, and anxiety-prone Heather, an young artist who’s been given a commission to paint birds on postage stamps, has a quiet space in which to work and tend to her pet canaries uninterrupted.

It isn’t long, however, before both women’s idyllic summers are altered irrevocably: the alluring shorebirds—and the man who rescues them—begin to draw Heather out of the shell she’s cultivated toward a world of adventure, and maybe even love; at the same time, Cara’s life reels with sudden tragedy, and she wishes only to return to the beach house that had once been her port amidst life’s storms. When Heather refuses to budge from her newfound sanctuary, so begins the unlikeliest of rooming situations. While they start out as strangers, as everything around the women falls apart they learn that the only thing they can really rely on is each other.

And, like the migrating shorebirds that come to the island for the summer, these two women of different generations must rediscover their unique strengths so by summer’s end they, too, can take flight in ways they never imagined possible. -- Gallery Books

I'm still catching up on writing reviews for the books I read while we vacationed in the Outer Banks last month. One that I loved (and was truly a perfect beach read) was BEACH HOUSE FOR RENT by Mary Alice Monroe. I have only read one of Ms. Monroe's novels prior to this one, and I have to say that I should be reading everything she's written. I truly enjoy her characters and her stories.

BEACH HOUSE FOR RENT tells the story of Cara Rutledge, a middle-aged woman who lives on the Isle of Palms. She and her husband need a little money to support his ecotourism boat business, so they decide rent out Cara's family home to Heather, a woman who has been selected to paint bird photos for USPS stamps. Heather has always had anxiety issues; however, they got much worse after an accident a few years ago that took the life of her mother. She basically intends to stay to herself, take care of her canaries, and of course, paint some of the gorgeous shorebirds that visit Isle of Palms.

Things don't exactly work out as both women had planned. Cara experiences a major tragedy that sets her life on a totally different course, while Heather finds that she's attracted to the guy who works on her beach house and rescues birds. Cara just wants to break the lease and return to the comfort of her mother's home, but Heather, enjoying her budding romance, isn't quite ready to leave.

With so much change in both women's lives, Cara and Heather end up discovering a bond of friendship that helps them both find inner strength... and the ability to move forward in challenging times.

I just adored BEACH HOUSE FOR RENT! It's a touching story about two very likable women... and it takes place at the beach. What more can you ask from a summer book? I really appreciated how Ms. Monroe created two very memorable characters, each with their own set of flaws; and the messages in her story were extremely heartwarming.

In addition, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention how much I liked how the author incorporated her love for nature and animals into the novel. There was a very interesting element of the book that dealt with one of the characters volunteering for an organization that helped save shorebirds. Ms. Monroe does a ton of conservation work herself, and it's obvious in this novel that it's one of her passions.

One thing that stood out to me in the novel is that there were some very difficult issues addressed. Cara's character is still reeling from the loss of her mother when another sudden tragedy occurs. The way grief was portrayed through Cara's character was so gut-wrenching... and so real. I was extremely impressed with Ms. Monroe's writing when it came to sharing Cara's grief with the reader. At times, I could almost feel her pain!

And then, Heather had her own set of issues that were equally well presented. Heather also suffered from grief after losing her mother years ago. I love that the characters shared these feelings and that was one of the reasons they understood each other so well. However, Heather's major problem was that she suffered from severe anxiety -- I'm talking severe! It was so enjoyable to see how her newfound love made her feel comfortable enough to take some chances again.

Of course, I'm a sucker for stories about female friendship; and at its heart, BEACH HOUSE FOR RENT was just that. Even though a few decades separated these two women, they were still able to become friends. And together, they were better for it. They were able to overcome some of the obstacles in their lives and learn to live again!

BEACH HOUSE FOR RENT is the fourth book in her Beach House series if I'm not mistaken; however, it was the first one I've ever picked up. Trust me when I tell you that this book totally works as a stand-alone! Having said that, I am curious to read the first three novels in the series. I honestly don't know why I haven't been reading Ms. Monroe's novels for years. (Thanks Kathy for introducing them to me!)

I think BEACH HOUSE FOR RENT would make a fabulous book club pick. The setting alone makes it a wonderful summer read, but the characters will give you plenty to discuss. There is a reader's guide available with fifteen questions along with some ways to enhance your book club experience. Some of the topics you might want to talk about include grief, love, guilt, the healing quality of pets, mother/daughter relationships, anxiety, and, of course, friendship.

Overall, I think if you're on the lookout for a terrific beach/pool book, then BEACH HOUSE FOR RENT should be in your bag. Highly recommended!

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