Saturday, September 30, 2017

Kid Konnection: Cookiesaurus Rex

Every Saturday, I host a feature called Kid Konnection -- a regular weekend feature about anything related to children's books. This week I'm going to share with you a hilarious picture book about a spunky dinosaur cookie!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Guest Review: Ring of Fire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 25, 2017

Review: The Late Show

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Kid Konnection: It's Not Jack and the Beanstalk & Giveaway

Every Saturday, I host a feature called Kid Konnection -- a regular weekend feature about anything related to children's books. This week I'm going to share with you an adorable picture book that is a twist on a classic fairytale.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks to the fine folks at Two Lions, I have a copy of IT'S NOT JACK AND THE BEANSTALK to share with one lucky reader. To enter, just fill out the form below before Friday, October 6th at 11:59 p.m. EST. I will randomly select and notify the winner the following day. This contest is open to those of you with U.S. addresses only. Good luck!

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

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Review: The Trust

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 18, 2017

Review: Best Day Ever

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks to the Get Red PR and Wunderkind PR for providing review copies of this novel.

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

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Kid Konnection: Hockey Then to Wow!

Every Saturday, I host a feature called Kid Konnection -- a regular weekend feature about anything related to children's books. This week I'm going to share with you another great book from Sports Illustrated Kids.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The Booking Mamas' September Meeting

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

What happens to the girl left behind?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 11, 2017

Review: Good Me Bad Me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Kid Konnection: There's a Monster in Your Book

Every Saturday, I host a feature called Kid Konnection -- a regular weekend feature about anything related to children's books. This week I'm going to share with you and adorable picture book written by a YouTube star!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Review: News of the World

Summary: It is 1870 and Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd travels through northern Texas, giving live readings to paying audiences hungry for news of the world. An elderly widower who has lived through three wars and fought in two of them, the captain enjoys his rootless, solitary existence. 

In Wichita Falls, he is offered a $50 gold piece to deliver a young orphan to her relatives in San Antonio. Four years earlier, a band of Kiowa raiders killed Johanna’s parents and sister; sparing the little girl, they raised her as one of their own. Recently rescued by the U.S. army, the ten-year-old has once again been torn away from the only home she knows. 

Their 400-mile journey south through unsettled territory and unforgiving terrain proves difficult and at times dangerous. Johanna has forgotten the English language, tries to escape at every opportunity, throws away her shoes, and refuses to act “civilized.” Yet as the miles pass, the two lonely survivors tentatively begin to trust each other, forging a bond that marks the difference between life and death in this treacherous land. 

Arriving in San Antonio, the reunion is neither happy nor welcome. The captain must hand Johanna over to an aunt and uncle she does not remember—strangers who regard her as an unwanted burden. A respectable man, Captain Kidd is faced with a terrible choice: abandon the girl to her fate or become—in the eyes of the law—a kidnapper himself. Exquisitely rendered and morally complex, News of the World is a brilliant work of historical fiction that explores the boundaries of family, responsibility, honor, and trust. -- William Morrow

I am extremely late in writing this review for NEWS OF THE WORLD by Paulette Jiles. My book club read this book over the summer, and even though I've had this book for months, I didn't get around to reading it until a few days before our meeting. Boy, was I missing out. I probably don't need to tell you this because NEWS OF THE WORLD was a finalist for the National Book Award, but this book is fantastic -- one that is not to be missed.

NEWS OF THE WORLD tells the story of Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, an older man who travels through Texas reading the news to paying audiences. He is a widow and has fought in two wars, yet he is fairly content with his travels and job. However one day, he is offered $50 to deliver a young girl to her relatives in San Antonio, and his life is drastically changed.

The young girl named Johanna was kidnapped four years ago by the Kiowa Indians in a raid where they killed her parents and sisters, and she's been living with them ever since. She has recently been traded for by the U.S. Army, but she has no memories of any family but her Kiowa one. Needless to say, this poor girl speaks no English, is a terrified and a bit wild.

Captain Kidd and Johanna make a dangerous 400 mile journey together which is difficult and frustrating for both of them; however, throughout the course of their travels, they learn to trust each other and even depend on each other for their survival.

However, when they arrive in San Antonio, the reunion with Johanna's family doesn't go quite as expected. Her aunt and uncle, whom she doesn't even remember, are bitter and resentful about having another mouth to feed. Captain Kidd is forced to make a horrible decision -- to leave Johanna with her family or take her and become a criminal in his own right.

I loved NEWS OF THE WORLD and my book club members agreed. This novel is beautiful -- from the gorgeous prose, to the complex characters, to the touching story. It's a relatively short novel, coming in at a little over 200 pages, and it's truly amazing what Ms. Jiles accomplished in so few pages. Each word is meaningful and, basically, perfect... and I honestly can't recommend this novel enough.

There really is so many positive things to say about this novel, but I'll focus on just a few of my highlights. One of my absolute favorite things about this novel was Captain Kidd. He's an extremely interesting character because of his life experiences, but also because of how he handles Johanna. Captain Kidd is a pretty old man for the 1870s, and he had no idea what he was getting into when he said he'd return Johanna to his family; however, he was also a principled man who was determined to do his best for the girl. I absolutely adored him!

Another wonderful thing about this book was the relationship that developed between Captain Kidd and Johanna. The way these two managed to grow closer as they traveled together was extremely heart-warming. At first, they realized that their relationship was mutually beneficial for survival, but then they actually became quite fond of each other.

I also loved Ms. Jile's writing. Not only did she create an interesting story with complex characters, but she wrote with such beautiful prose. I've read books by this author before, and I've always had major respect for her, but she outdid herself with this novel. There is no doubt that this book was worth of being a National Book Award Finalist!

And finally, I loved how NEWS OF THE WORLD explored some interesting ethical issues. There is a great deal to think about (and discuss) in this novel, but none more special than delving into Captain Kidd's dilemma when he returned Johanna to her relatives. Some other interesting themes from this novel include the history of Native Americans in our country, parent/child relationships, and trust. There is also a reading guide available with eleven thought-provoking questions if your book club members like to use a formal guide.

In summary, NEWS OF THE WORLD is a beautiful novel that I highly recommend for fans of historical and literary fiction.

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

Monday, September 4, 2017

Review: The Address

Summary: Fiona Davis, author of The Dollhouse, returns with a compelling novel about the thin lines between love and loss, success and ruin, passion and madness, all hidden behind the walls of The Dakota—New York City’s most famous residence.

After a failed apprenticeship, working her way up to head housekeeper of a posh London hotel is more than Sara Smythe ever thought she’d make of herself. But when a chance encounter with Theodore Camden, one of the architects of the grand New York apartment house The Dakota, leads to a job offer, her world is suddenly awash in possibility—no mean feat for a servant in 1884. The opportunity to move to America, where a person can rise above one’s station. The opportunity to be the female manager of The Dakota, which promises to be the greatest apartment house in the world. And the opportunity to see more of Theo, who understands Sara like no one else…and is living in The Dakota with his wife and three young children.

In 1985, Bailey Camden is desperate for new opportunities. Fresh out of rehab, the former party girl and interior designer is homeless, jobless, and penniless. Two generations ago, Bailey’s grandfather was the ward of famed architect Theodore Camden. But the absence of a genetic connection means Bailey won’t see a dime of the Camden family’s substantial estate. Instead, her “cousin” Melinda—Camden’s biological great-granddaughter—will inherit almost everything. So when Melinda offers to let Bailey oversee the renovation of her lavish Dakota apartment, Bailey jumps at the chance, despite her dislike of Melinda’s vision. The renovation will take away all the character and history of the apartment Theodore Camden himself lived in…and died in, after suffering multiple stab wounds by a madwoman named Sara Smythe, a former Dakota employee who had previously spent seven months in an insane asylum on Blackwell’s Island.

One hundred years apart, Sara and Bailey are both tempted by and struggle against the golden excess of their respective ages—for Sara, the opulence of a world ruled by the Astors and Vanderbilts; for Bailey, the free-flowing drinks and cocaine in the nightclubs of New York City—and take refuge and solace in the Upper West Side’s gilded fortress. But a building with a history as rich—and often tragic—as The Dakota’s can’t hold its secrets forever, and what Bailey discovers in its basement could turn everything she thought she knew about Theodore Camden—and the woman who killed him—on its head.

With rich historical detail, nuanced characters, and gorgeous prose, Fiona Davis once again delivers a compulsively readable novel that peels back the layers of not only a famed institution, but the lives—and lies—of the beating hearts within. -- Dutton

One of the books I was most excited to receive at this year's BEA was THE ADDRESS by Fiona Davis. I had thoroughly enjoyed her first novel THE DOLLHOUSE, and I really appreciated how Ms. Davis blended modern day and past stories while also weaving a terrific mystery. In addition, I loved how she brought the Barbizon Hotel for Women to life, almost making it another character in its own right!

Sometimes when I like a book so much, I'm almost afraid to read the author's next one. I'm sure you know what I mean -- it juts might not live up to my expectations. However, I am thrilled to say that I found Ms. Davis' second novel THE ADDRESS to be highly entertaining. This time, she tells the stories of two women, separated by 100 years, who both live in The Dakota, the Upper West Side apartment building widely known as the home of John Lennon and the place where he was assassinated. Once again, there is also a compelling mystery at the heart of the novel.

It's 1885 and Sara Smythe is an Englishwoman who is hard at work trying to become the head housekeeper of a swanky London hotel. Her fortunes change one day when she saves the life of a guest's young daughter. After that, Theodore Camden is very impressed with her and wants her to come to New York to work at the state of the art apartment building that he's designing. Needless to say, she jumps at the chance to be the manager of The Dakota... and for a better life in America.

Fast forward to 1995 and Bailey Camden, an interior designer, is just getting out of rehab for her drug and alcohol problem. Despite her grandfather being the ward of Theodore Camden and his wife, Bailey has no money because her grandfather wasn't a blood relation and, therefore, didn't inherit any money... and also because she blew everything she ever had on her party girl lifestyle.

Bailey's cousin, Melinda, though, gains to inherit the family fortune; and she asks Bailey to redo her lavish apartment in The Dakota. With no other options, Bailey accept the offer despite having issues with Melinda's tacky taste. As Bailey is working on the renovation that is basically eliminating all of the historic elements of the apartment, she also starts to think about the building's past including the murder of Theodore Camden by a crazy woman named Sara Smythe. When she discovers some trunks in the basement, Bailey really begins to delve into this mystery and, in the process, learns some shocking things about her family's past!

I loved THE ADDRESS and I can guarantee that fans of Ms. Davis' first novel THE DOLLHOUSE won't be disappointed. There are many great things about this novel, but I particularly love how the author created stories surrounding two very different women divided by 100 years while also linking  their lives with one interesting mystery. The novel has a little bit of something for every reader. At it's heart, this story is a mystery but it's also a great example of historical fiction... and there's even a bit of romance thrown in!

At first glance, I didn't think Sara and Bailey had all that much in common. Of course, I could see that these two women's lives where somehow connected through Theodore Camden; however, one was a lower class woman from England and the other was a girl living the fast life in Manhattan. It actually ended up that these woman had some similar themes running through their lives. Of course, both women lived in the opulence of The Dakota, but they each were struggling to fit in and find their places in their respective worlds.

As far as mysteries go, I liked the one surrounding Sara and Bailey's stories. I knew there had to be more to the story than a "crazy" Sara killing the man who offered her a job and a new life in America.  However, I also knew fairly early on that there was something off about Bailey's heritage too. I wouldn't say I was necessarily surprised by how Bailey's story was resolved, but I did find the truth behind Sara's life to be pretty interesting.

I also really loved all of the history woven into the story, especially the parts about the history of The Dakota. Ms. Davis, once again, did a wonderful job of bringing life to the building; and I honestly count the posh apartment building as another character in the story. She also included enough famous people and stories into the book to keep fans of historical fiction happy.

I think THE ADDRESS would make a fantastic book club selection. I know my friends would love it! There is a reading guide with eleven thought provoking questions along with a recipe for a Manhattan  -- one of my favorite cocktails. Some of the themes you might want to explore include secrets, family dynamics, wealth, addictions, recovery, class structure, and mental illness.

All in all, I loved THE ADDRESS and highly recommend it to fans of historical fiction and mystery!

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

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

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Kid Konnection: Lucy & Andy Neanderthal - The Stone Cold Age

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 the second book in the Lucy & Andy Neanderthal graphic novel series.

Summary: Neanderthal siblings Lucy and Andy are back to their paleo pranks. This time, they have to put up with more than just each other—the cave is feeling awfully cramped since the humans moved in. They’re in the Ice Age, and legroom comes at a real premium!

Jeffrey Brown skillfully blends humor and history with paleontologist sections: Timeline of Key Discoveries, Ice Age Fact vs. Fiction, Silly Cavemen Myths, and more. -- Crown Books for Young Readers

Lucy and Andy, everyone's favorite Neanderthal duo, are back in LUCY & ANDY NEANDERTHAL: THE STONE COLD AGE. I loved the first book in this graphic novel series for its blend of hilarious storytelling and science facts. Plus, who doesn't enjoy bestselling author/illustrator Jeffrey Brown's adorable illustrations?

In THE STONE COLD AGE, Lucy and Andy find themselves in a somewhat uncomfortable home situation. Not only is their cave crowded after the homo spies arrive on the scene, but it's also really cold... like Ice Age cold.

It's no surprise that I loved THE STONE COLD AGE. It's a quick read and perfect for reluctant readers. Plus, it's both funny and educational -- the best of both worlds for a middle grade book. Lucy and Andy are fantastic characters (especially Andy!), and their adventures are always exciting. Maybe the best thing I can say about this book is how excited Booking Son was when he saw it on my desk. He's not always a big fan of graphic novels, but this is one series that he enjoys!

As a mom, I really can't rave enough about these books. I have always had an interest in anthropology, and I don't remember learning much about Neanderthals in school. The Lucy and Andy series is a terrific way for today's kids to learn about the past. Much of the book focuses on the Ice Age, but there is even information about climate change and the effects it is having on us today.

The majority of the book is about Lucy and Andy's adventures, but at the end of each chapter, modern day anthropologists chime in with some fun facts about that time period. In addition, the end of the book has some terrific resources including a Timeline of Key Discoveries, Ice Age Fact vs Fiction, and Silly Caveman Myths. There is even a preview of Book 3 which comes out in summer 2018.

If you haven't seen this middle grade graphic novel series, then I highly recommend checking it out. Without a doubt, THE STONE COLD AGE belongs in home and school libraries.

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

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