Monday, October 16, 2017

Review: Unraveling Oliver

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Kid Konnection: Atlas of Dinosaur Adventures

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Review: Class Mom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 9, 2017

Review: The Deep Dark Descending

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Kid Konnection: Listen - How Pete Seeger Got America Singing & Giveaway

Every Saturday, I host a feature called Kid Konnection -- a regular weekend feature about anything related to children's books. This week I'm going to share a beautiful picture book with some very important messages.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Giveaway alert: I have a copy of LISTEN: HOW PETE SEEGER GOT AMERICA SINGING to share with one lucky reader. To enter, just fill out the form below before Friday, October 20th at 11:59 p.m. EST. I will randomly select and notify the winner the following day. This contest is open to those of you with U.S. addresses only. Good luck!

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


Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Giveaway: The Adventurers Guild

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

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

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

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

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

  • copy of The Adventurers Guild
  • branded bookmark
  • plus branded baseball cap and hoodie
To enter, just fill out the form below before Tuesday, October 17th at 11:59 p.m. EST. I will randomly select and notify the winner the following day. This contest is open to those of you with U.S. addresses only. Good luck!

Monday, October 2, 2017

Review: Book of Judas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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