Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Review: Christmas in London

Summary: Set during London's most festive time of year and filled with delicious food Anita Hughes' Christmas in London is about love and friendship, and the season's most important lesson: learning how to ask for and give forgiveness.

It’s a week before Christmas and Louisa Graham is working twelve hour shifts at a bakery on Manhattan's Lower East Side. When a young cooking show assistant comes in from the rain and begs to buy all the cinnamon rolls on her tray, she doesn’t know what to do. Louisa is just the baker, and they aren't hers to sell. But the show burned the rolls they were supposed to film that day; so she agrees.

The next morning, Louisa finds out that her cinnamon rolls were a hit, but the star of the show was allergic, and the whole crew is supposed to leave for London that afternoon. They want Louisa to step in for their annual Christmas Eve Dinner TV special at Claridge's. It’s a great opportunity, and Digby Bunting, Louisa’s famous baking idol, will be there. Even if he does seem more interested in her than her food.

And then there’s Kate, the show's beautiful producer. On their first day in London she runs into the skinny boy she jilted at St. Andrew's in Scotland ten years ago. Now he’s a handsome, brilliant mathematician, and newly divorced. Their familiar spark is still there, but so is the scar of how they left things. Kate and Louisa are busy preparing for the show, but old and new flames are complicating their work. -- St. Martin's Press

I am not getting a ton of reading done right now, but I did make it a priority to read CHRISTMAS IN LONDON by Anita Hughes over the Thanksgiving weekend. First of all, I adore holiday books and wanted to read something light that would get me in the mood for Christmas. Second, I knew I needed to read it early so I could share my thoughts with you in time to get this book before Christmas!

CHRISTMAS IN LONDON tells the story of two women who travel to London the week before Christmas for their jobs and ending up finding love along the way. Louisa is a baker who works long hours in a Manhattan bakery to save enough money to one day open her dream bakery. When Noah, a cooking show assistant, comes in from the rain and wants to buy all of her newly baked cinnamon rolls for the show, Louisa doesn't feel as if she can sell all of the store's specialty. However, Noah gives her an offer she can't refuse!

Louisa is thrilled to learn that her cinnamon rolls were a huge hit, but the star of the show was allergic to her secret ingredient and her lips blew up. Needless to say, the star can't appear on air looking like that... and even worse, she can't go to London to film their annual Christmas Even Dinner TV social at Claridge's. Noah offers Louisa the chance of her lifetime -- he wants her to go to London and film the show. To make things even more tempting to Louisa, her foodie idol Digby Bunting will be there!

Kate is the show's beautiful producer who is extremely career driven. However, her very first day in London provides some distraction for her. She runs into Trevor, her best friend (and love interest) from her days at St. Andrew's in Scotland over ten years ago. He is now all grown up and a famous mathematician... and newly divorced. Both Kate and Trevor still feel the attraction, but there is a lot of leftover baggage from how they parted.

Needless to say, these two women headed to London to help their careers and quickly realize that there are more important things in life than work!

I thought CHRISTMAS IN LONDON was delightful. It's a very sweet story about love and friendship that takes place in a fabulous setting. What could be better than London at Christmastime? I enjoy Ms. Hughes' novels, and I think fans of her books won't be disappointed with this one. I will say that the story is kind of/sort of predictable, but I think that's fine. CHRISTMAS IN LONDON is meant to entertain and tug on the heart strings... and it does!

One of my absolute favorite things about Ms. Hughes' books are the settings. She does a fabulous job of bringing different locations to life, and London in the book sounds positively heavenly. I could visualize the city perfectly with her vivid descriptions, and I loved how she had the characters visit many of the major tourist spots. In addition, Ms. Hughes is so good at describing food. Seriously! I was thrilled when the characters worked in the food industry because I just knew that there would be amazing descriptions of desserts and pastries!

I also really liked both of the main characters in this book as well as their love interests. They were young and very driven, but they also were sensitive and kind. Their romances were sweet and had just enough tension to make them interesting. I'll be the first to admit that I'm not the biggest fan of romance, but these two women's stories were interesting and heartwarming.

CHRISTMAS IN LONDON is a lovely story that's guaranteed to get you in the holiday spirit. Recommended to fans of romance and contemporary women's fiction.

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

Monday, November 27, 2017

Review: A Simple Favor

Summary: She’s your best friend.

She knows all your secrets.

That’s why she’s so dangerous.

A single mother's life is turned upside down when her best friend vanishes in this chilling debut thriller in the vein of Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train.

It starts with a simple favor—an ordinary kindness mothers do for one another. When her best friend, Emily, asks Stephanie to pick up her son Nicky after school, she happily says yes. Nicky and her son, Miles, are classmates and best friends, and the five-year-olds love being together—just like she and Emily. A widow and stay-at-home mommy blogger living in woodsy suburban Connecticut, Stephanie was lonely until she met Emily, a sophisticated PR executive whose job in Manhattan demands so much of her time.

But Emily doesn’t come back. She doesn’t answer calls or return texts. Stephanie knows something is terribly wrong—Emily would never leave Nicky, no matter what the police say. Terrified, she reaches out to her blog readers for help. She also reaches out to Emily’s husband, the handsome, reticent Sean, offering emotional support. It’s the least she can do for her best friend. Then, she and Sean receive shocking news. Emily is dead. The nightmare of her disappearance is over.

Or is it? Because soon, Stephanie will begin to see that nothing—not friendship, love, or even an ordinary favor—is as simple as it seems. A Simple Favor is a remarkable tale of psychological suspense—a clever and twisting free-fall of a ride filled with betrayals and reversals, twists and turns, secrets and revelations, love and loyalty, murder and revenge. Darcey Bell masterfully ratchets up the tension in a taut, unsettling, and completely absorbing story that holds you in its grip until the final page. -- Harper

I am beginning to hate the comparisons to GONE GIRL and THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN. Don't get me wrong -- I enjoyed both of those books, but why oh why do all thrillers with a female protagonist have to be compared to these two books? It's just not fair. I'll admit that I was tempted to push A SIMPLE FAVOR by Darcey Bell aside after reading the description above, but my curiosity got the best of me. The book sounded like one I'd enjoy. Booklist gave it a starred review, and the film rights have already been sold to Fox 2000. Why not give it a try, right?

A SIMPLE FAVOR begins with just that... a simple favor of one mom asking another mom to watch her child. Stephanie, a stay-at-home mom to five-year-old Miles as well as a mommy blogger, was asked by the glamorous Emily to pick up her son Nicky from school and watch him until she can get back. Stephanie considers Emily her very best friend, so of course, she agrees to this "simple favor."

The kicker is Emily doesn't come back nor does she respond to Stephanie's many calls and texts. This behavior isn't typical of Emily, so Stephanie immediately expects the worst. She blogs about the entire experience to her audience of moms while also reaching out to Emily's handsome husband Sean. When Emily is found dead, Stephanie and Sean take comfort in each other. Yep -- you know where this one is going?

Stephanie is happy with her new situation as mom to Nicky and Miles and lover to Sean; however, she does harbor some guilt. She begins to suspect that Emily isn't dead... and that Emily wants revenge for trying to replace her so soon after her "death." Stephanie isn't quite sure what to think about Emily's death or Sean's involvement in it, but she fears her life and her son's life just might be at risk.

A SIMPLE FAVOR was one messed story that I found quite entertaining. I can totally see it as a movie, and as I was reading, I was trying to picture who would be cast as the three principal characters. The novel is fast-paced with lots of twists, and I liked how the author told the story through the eyes of the Stephanie, Emily, and Sean. I also thought the inclusion of Stephanie's blog posts gave some additional insight into the insecurity of Stephanie's character. However, I have to say that the characters were rather unlikable (or at least, that's how I felt), and I really didn't root for them or even care what happened to them for that matter.

One thing I will say about the two women in this story, Stephanie and Emily, is that they were both pretty complex. They had similar dysfunctional childhoods which could have been a bonding experience, and they also had many, many secrets. As a result, I wasn't entirely sure who to believe -- both narrators were a little unreliable. As the novel progressed, I found myself not entirely believing that either of them were realistic characters, but they were interesting!

I would be remiss if I didn't mention that I had an unusual reaction to certain parts of this novel. There were a few times when the plot just didn't seem to ring true to me. I can't put my finger on any specific examples, but I do remember thinking that some of the actions of the characters just didn't make sense. I don't know that these things affected my overall appreciation of this novel, but they did stand out to me enough that I was thinking there were a few plot holes.

If you are willing to suspend reality for a bit and just want to be entertained by a twisted story, then I think you'll enjoy A SIMPLE FAVOR. It's a great blend of secrets, lies, betrayals, and love that I definitely found to be a page-turner!

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, November 25, 2017

Kid Konnection: My Miniature Library

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 delightful set of miniature books that makes the ideal holiday gift!

Summary: My Miniature Library is a kit to make a complete collection of tiny books that you can really read! With stories ranging from illustrated fairytales to well-loved nonsense rhymes and books of butterflies, birds and flowers, plus blank books for you to complete yourself, you'll have everything you need to make a little library of beautifully illustrated books. The books are simple to make – just cut, fold, and glue. The kit comes with a miniature bookshelf to press out and make, and easy-to-follow, fully illustrated instructions. Plus the box transforms into a beautiful library scene! -- Laurence King

I actually have never seen anything like MY MINIATURE LIBRARY: 30 TINY BOOKS TO MAKE, READ, AND TREASURE by Daniela Jaglenka Terrazzini. This boxed set is mined at kids seven years old and up; however, I think any book lover will appreciate this as a gift during the upcoming holiday season. This gift set looks like a large book, but it contains 20 teeny tiny books in a box that you can assemble to look like a home library. There is even a punch-out bookcase you can assemble to hold the tiny books! It's beyond adorable! MY MINIATURE LIBRARY has a fantastic collection of abbreviated versions of fairy tales, classics, natural history volumes, and even ten blank books that are begging for your own budding author's prose. The tiny books include BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, CINDERELLA, SLEEPING BEAUTY, THE FROG PRINCE, and more. I should probably mention that each book does require some assembly using cutting, folding, and gluing skills, so little crafters will enjoy this gift as well.
I am not exactly sure I'm doing a good job of explaining just how adorable this gift box is. I think this video does a much better job than anything I can write... so enjoy! Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this gift set.

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, November 22, 2017

Review: 365 Days of Cookies

Summary: Make life a little sweeter with a cookie for every day of the year from Taste of Home 365 Days of Cookies!

When it comes to smile-fetching sweets you can’t go wrong with cookies! From soft and chewy to crisp and crunchy, the buttery sensations always get thumb-up approval. Now you can satisfy your sweet tooth all year with this brand-new, fun-loving collection, Taste of Home 365 Days of Cookies! Featuring hundreds of full-color photos, this must-see edition offers after-school snacks, coffee-break bites, classroom treats, bake-sale favorites and holiday delights that are perfect throughout the year. You’ll even find cookies that celebrate days such as National Potato Chip Day (March 14), Jelly Bean Day (April 22) and National French Toast Day (November 28). Best of all, a Christmas- Cookies Bonus Section makes this cookbook a home baker’s dream come true! -- T of H Books

Cue the music! It's the most wonderful time of the year!

I think it's safe to say that it's officially the holiday season! I spend a lot of time decorating, shopping and wrapping gifts -- not exactly my favorite parts of Christmas. However, I also spend quite a few hours baking. And by baking, I mean hundreds and hundreds of Christmas cookies!

Of course, I have a few tried and true family favorites that I have to make, but I also try a few new recipes every year. To find my new cookies recipes for 2017, I have to look no further than TASTE OF HOME 365 DAYS OF COOKIES! I love anything and everything Taste of Home-related, and I truly think you can't go wrong when making their recipes.

365 DAYS OF COOKIES is just a terrific cookbook. I am in the holiday mood so my favorite section is the bonus one at the end of the cookbook that is specifically geared towards Christmas cookies, but this cookbook can be used year-round (hence the name of the cookbook!) There are cookie recipes for every occasion you can think of including bake-sale treats, after-school snacks, and more. There are also cookies that commemorate some pretty funny holidays include World Nutella Day and National Gumdrop Day.

I can't rave enough about 365 DAYS OF COOKIES! I'll admit it's a bit overwhelming because there are hundreds of cookie recipes (I mean that in the very best way), but Taste of Home has done a great job in presenting them in a clear way. There are chapters divided into seasons -- Cozy Bites, Celebrate Spring, Summer Fun, Fall Flavors, and the bonus holiday cookie section. Plus, there is a great explanation of cookie-baking basics as well as storage tips in the front of the cookbook. There is even a Short & Sweet icon to identify quick and easy cookie recipes.

One of my favorite things about 365 DAYS OF COOKIES is the full color photographs. Every cookie is pictured with such beautiful photos that it's hard not to get hungry while reading this book. I particularly like the pictures of the decorated cookies -- there are some terrific ideas. Of course, my cookies never look quite like the pro's, but at least I know what I'm aiming for!

I also really like the structure of the cookbook. You're probably thinking what the heck does she mean by "structure?" The cookbook is spiral bound inside of the cover, so it still looks nice on your bookshelf. In addition because it's spiral bound, the cookbook can lie flat while you're using it -- no need to balance a heavy jar to keep the pages open.

There are just so many little details about 365 DAYS OF COOKIES that make it special. I want to mention just a few things that bring this cookbook to the next level for me. There are step-by-step instructions so even rookie bakers can follow. In addition, there are baking tips and how-to's, shipping instructions, and ideas for gifting and displaying. And the index.... what can I say except that it's super friendly. Every cookie recipe is listing by type and major ingredients.

I wanted to share 365 DAYS OF COOKIES with you while you still have plenty of time to get that holiday baking done. When you're out shopping on Friday, remember to pick up a little something for yourself -- I highly recommend 365 DAYS OF COOKIES!

Thanks to Dalyn Miller Public Relations for providing a review copy of this cookbook.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Review: Pekoe Most Poison

Summary: In the latest Tea Shop Mystery from New York Times bestselling author Laura Childs, Theodosia Browning attends a “Rat Tea,” where the mice will play…at murder.

When Indigo Tea Shop owner Theodosia Browning is invited by Doreen Briggs, one of Charleston’s most prominent hostesses, to a “Rat Tea,” she is understandably intrigued. As servers dressed in rodent costumes and wearing white gloves offer elegant finger sandwiches and fine teas, Theo learns these parties date back to early twentieth-century Charleston, where the cream of society would sponsor so-called rat teas to promote city rodent control and better public health.

But this party goes from odd to chaotic when a fire starts at one of the tables and Doreen’s entrepreneur husband suddenly goes into convulsions and drops dead. Has his favorite orange pekoe tea been poisoned? Theo smells a rat.

The distraught Doreen soon engages Theo to pursue a discreet inquiry into who might have murdered her husband. As Theo and her tea sommelier review the guest list for suspects, they soon find themselves drawn into a dangerous game of cat and mouse… -- Berkley

I will be the first to say that my reading has taken a nosedive since I started working part-time. When you add the upcoming holiday prep and football games that I had to watch this weekend, I knew I needed a light, fun book, so I decided to pick up one of Laura Childs' Tea Shop Mysteries -- PEKOE MOST POISON.

I am a big fan of Laura Childs' cozies and I always can count on her to write entertaining novels. She has an uncanny ability to create intriguing mysteries that take place in a great setting. In addition, she has very likable amateur sleuths. Win win, right?

Although I've read quite a few of Ms. Childs' mysteries, I was pleasantly surprised to realize that I had never picked up one of her Tea Shop Mysteries. The main character, Theodosia Browning, owns a tea shop... and I adore all types of tea; and the books take place in Charleston, SC. Given that Ms. Childs' cozies always seem to include recipes and tips, I dug right in.

PEKOE MOST POISON finds Theodosia attending a "Rat Tea" hosted by the socialite Doreen Briggs. The servers were dressed as white-gloved rodents and served the attendees tea and finger sandwiches. You might be asking yourself what a "Rat Tea" is (I sure did!). These parties date back to the early 20th century when the wealthy Charlestonians hosted teas to give attention to rodent control and public health issues.

Doreen's "Rat Tea" turns deadly! At first, it's just a centerpiece catching on fire, but Doreen's husband ends up convulsing... and then dying. It sure seems like poison -- could it be rat poison? Doreen asks Theodosia to begin her own investigation into who would want her beloved husband dead. As Theodosia gets closer and closer to the truth, she finds that whoever is responsible for this murder (and another one!) wants her out of the picture!

I enjoyed PEKOE MOST POISON. It was exactly what I needed to read this busy weekend. It was a quick read with a unique mystery and plenty of suspects. It also had a terrific amateur sleuth in Theodosia -- she's quite the spunky one! All in all, I found this novel lived up to my expectations of a Laura Childs' cozy.

I hate to admit this, but I definitely thought I knew who was responsible for Doreen's husband's death... and I was flat out wrong! I love it when that happens. I think I finally caught on to the murderer and the motive right about the same time that Theodosia did. I liked how the book wrapped up nicely, and I look forward to more of Theodosia's sleuthing as well as her potential romance!

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention how much I enjoyed both the setting of Charleston as well as the setting of the Indigo Tea Shop. The author managed to capture the essence of Charleston with her vivid descriptions of the stores and buildings. I also thought it was so much fun to visualize the tea shop and dream about all of the amazing teas they served there. I especially appreciated that there were recipes included in the back of the book as well as lots of tea tips!

PEKOE MOST POISON is an entertaining mystery that's sure to be a hit among cozy fans as well as tea lovers.

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

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Kid Konnection: Aaron Blabey Books

Every Saturday, I host a feature called Kid Konnection -- a regular weekend feature about anything related to children's books. This week I'm going to share with you two adorable books from Aaron Blabey!

I was so excited to come home to this package a few days ago:
You can't tell from the picture but this is a pretty big box -- like 11"x11" -- and I had a feeling that it was more than just a book. Lo and behold it was a very fun Blabey Christmas surprise!
It not only had two very cute picture books by Mr. Blabey, but it also had Christmas tree and unicorn cookie cutters and an adorable Christmas ornament of Pig the Pug!

Summary: From the award–winning creator of Pig the Pug comes another laugh–out–loud book, filled with holiday cheer! Santa was coming! 'Twas bigger than big!

No one loves Christmas more than Pig. And the world's greediest pug will stay up all night to get his presents! When Pig yips at Santa and finds himself joining in on the flying sleigh ride, things quickly get out of hand in a way that is pure Pig pandemonium. -- Scholastic

PIG THE ELF is so precious! It's cute and funny and, truly, a great picture book for the holidays! I absolutely loved it.

Pig is a grumpy pug; and in the case of this picture book, a greedy little Pig. He and his friend Trevor and getting ready for Santa, and Pig has a very long wishlist. Trevor decides to go to bed like a good little dog, but Pig wants to say up and catch Santa in the act. Santa arrives and, much to Pig's dismay, he doesn't leave as many gifts as Pig was hoping for. The rest of the story finds Pig riding with Santa on his sleigh, and eventually, returning to earth in a very unique fashion!

This is my first experience with Pig and it won't be the last. Pig is a bad little puppy (and I definitely don't think he sets a good example for little ones), but he's also absolutely hilarious. I honestly laughed out loud while reading this book to myself, so I can only imagine how much fun it would be to share with a little one. The rhyming text is an absolute treat and perfect for read-alongs.

PIG THE ELF is sure to be a new Christmas classic! Highly recommended!

Summary: Thelma is an ordinary pony who wishes with all her heart to be a unicorn. Thelma dreams of being a glamorous unicorn. Then in a rare pink and glitter-filled moment of fate, Thelma's wish comes true.

She rises to instant international stardom, but at an unexpected cost. After a while, Thelma realizes that she was happier as her ordinary, sparkle-free self. So she ditches her horn, scrubs off her sparkles, and returns home, where her best friend is waiting for her with a hug.

rom award-winning author Aaron Blabey comes this joyful book about learning to love who you are...even if you don't have sparkles. -- Scholastic

THELMA THE UNICORN is another fantastic book by the very talented Mr. Blabey! This one is super cute too, but it also has a wonderful message for kids.

THELMA is a pony who wants to be something special -- a unicorn! She dreams about the popularity and glamour that would come with being a unicorn, and then one day, her dreams come true. And then one day, Thelma discovers a carrot that she attaches to her head; and by a strange accident, she ends up covered in pink glitter. Voila -- Thelma is a unicorn!

Thelma becomes an instant unicorn celebrity, but she quickly realizes that being popular isn't exactly what she expected. She has fans following her everywhere, and even worse, she has people who don't like her chasing her around too! Thelma remembers the good old days, when she was Thelma the pony; and she decides to go back home -- back to her true self and back to her best friend.

I adored THELMA THE UNICORN! Thelma is a terrific character and such a sweet one too. I loved the humor in the story, and the illustrations were precious (lots of pink and sparkles!) However, it was the moral of the story that I really loved. As a mom, I felt that the message of loving your true self is so important; and it was so nice that Thelma realized that friendship is more important than popularity.

THELMA THE UNICORN is a great addition to home and school libraries. Another Blabey book that I highly recommend!

Thanks to the publisher for providing review copies of these books. #AVeryBlabeyChristmas

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, November 15, 2017

Guest Review: Assassin's Code

Summary: Step aside, Jason Bourne: David Slaton, the perfect assassin, returns for another adrenaline-packed adventure by USA Today bestselling author Ward Larsen in Assassin's Code.

Former assassin David Slaton discovers a cryptic message: on a memory stick, a photograph of the man who will soon assume command of DGSI, France’s elite counterterrorism force. With that country reeling under a wave of ISIS attacks, Zavier Baland will be trusted to make the Republic safe again. The problem—Slaton has seen Baland’s face before. He is Ali Samir, a terrorist Slaton is certain he killed fifteen years earlier. Unable to reconcile this frightening disconnect, he attempts to raise the alarm.

Thousands of miles away, the chief information officer of ISIS tries to keep networks running amid crumbling infrastructure. With the caliphate’s very survival at stake, the leadership commits to a last-ditch gambit: France must be attacked on a massive scale, forcing the West into the battle of the Apocalypse.

Slaton keeps a breakneck pace, traveling to Tel Aviv, Paris, and the deserts of Syria. In the end he uncovers a labyrinthine plot—and one that only he can stop. -- Tor/Forge

I'm totally swamped this week between work, Booking Son's activities, book club and more, so I'm extremely grateful that my dad has been stepping up his game and sending me some reviews. One of his latest books is ASSASSIN'S CODE by Ward Larsen. Here are his thoughts:

ASSASSIN’S CODE is author Ward Larsen’s fourth novel in his series featuring former Israeli Mossad assassin David Slaton. In this installment, the reader finds Slaton living near the Philippines on a boat with his wife and son. As a favor to his wife, Slaton is investigating the disappearance of her friend’s husband when he comes across a message and photograph on a memory stick about Zavier Baland, the man who is in line to become director of DGSI, France’s counterterrorism force. Except Slaton recognizes him as Ali Samir, a terrorist he was certain he killed 15 years ago. 

Naturally, Slaton’s needs to further investigate this seemingly irreconcilable situation. After a stop in Tel Aviv to visit with his old Mossad bosses to gather more information, the trail leads him to Paris and Syria where he learns of a series of complex plots that has him dealing with three distinct problems. He must resolve the Baland situation, he must counter planned ISIS attacks on France and he must stay alive. Strange encounters with the ISIS Chief Information Officer and an ISIS-trained female assassin tests all of Slaton’s numerous skills.

In Assassin’s Code, Larsen has taken these three suspenseful storylines and pulls it all together in an exciting novel with the requisite twists and turns and a very creative ending. By combining Mossad and ISIS with some interesting characters and fast-paced non-stop action, Larsen, has developed a first rate suspense thriller. Even though this is the fourth installment in the David Slaton series, the novel does stand alone. However I think reading the other novels in this series would only enhance the enjoyment of reading ASSASSIN’S CODE.

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

Monday, November 13, 2017

Review: Keep Her Safe

Summary: She's the most famous murder victim in America. What if she's not dead?

Pushed to the breaking point, Cara Burrows flees her home and family and escapes to a five-star spa resort she can't afford. Late at night, exhausted and desperate, she lets herself into her hotel room and is shocked to find it already occupied — by a man and a teenage girl.

A simple mistake at the front desk... but soon Cara realizes that the girl she saw alive and well in the hotel room is someone she can't possibly have seen: the most famous murder victim in the country, Melody Chapa, whose parents are serving natural life sentences for her murder.

Cara doesn't know what to trust — everything she's read and heard about the case, or the evidence of her own eyes. Did she really see Melody? And is she prepared to ask herself that question and answer it honestly if it means risking her own life? -- William Morrow

I recently won a prize pack of books from William Morrow! One of the surprises in the box was the new novel KEEP HER SAFE by Sophie Hannah. I am a big fan of Sophie Hannah's Agatha Christie novels (books actually authorized by the Agatha Christie estate), and I was looking forward to reading her latest book. I admit I'm still scratching my head a bit with this one, though.

KEEP HER SAFE is a mystery surrounding the disappearance/murder of Melody Chapa, a little girl whose parents are serving life sentences for her murder. Cara Burrows is an English woman who flees to a swanky resort in Arizona after a falling out with her husband and two kids. She really just needs a few days to gather her thoughts, but what happens at this spa resort is hardly the break she was hoping for.

When Cara arrives late at night, she is anxious to just get to her room and fall asleep. However, when she opens the door, she discovers that a man and a teenage girl are already staying in the room! She returns to the front desk and is quickly upgraded to a villa, and Cara is finally able to get some much-needed rest. When she wakes up the next day, she learns that she maybe (just maybe) saw Melody Chapa alive and well.

Things in this spa resort get stranger by the minute and Cara isn't quite sure what to make of anyone she meets -- from the hotel employees, to the police investigating the sighting of Melody, to the "friends" she makes. Cara decides to take matters into her own hands and begins her own investigation of sorts into the mystery surrounding Melody. What she learns is extremely confusing and downright shocking... and she finds her life at risk!

I mentioned earlier that I'm torn about KEEP HER SAFE. The book was definitely unlike any mystery I've ever read, and I do read a fair amount of mysteries if I do say so myself. So I give kudos to Ms. Hannah for the uniqueness of this book. However, some of it was just really strange to me. The characters were just that... characters (especially Cara's friend at the resort and the television star who shows up), and much of the story was told through transcripts of an old television series. The plot was very different, and I'll admit I wasn't quite sure what to make of the novel.

And then, I have to say things made much more sense as I continued to read the book. I got used to the was the information was presented, and I even started appreciating the quirkiness of the characters and found some humor in the story. There were times when I wasn't sure that Cara was a reliable narrator, and I enjoyed the questions I had about her as well as other characters that appeared in the story. What I will say is that I am glad I had patience with this novel because everything eventually paid off. I liked how things came together at the end... and everything suddenly added up.

All in all, I found KEEP HER SAFE to be a refreshing mystery, and I give credit to the author for mixing things up a bit. There is no doubt in my mind that Ms. Hannah is a fantastic storyteller who's willing to take some risks in her writing.

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, November 11, 2017

Kid Konnection: Time for Kids -- Big Books of....

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 terrific books from Time for Kids!

Summary: How does a chameleon change colors? How do astronauts train for a space mission? How do diamonds form? How does Wi-Fi work?

The best-selling book in TIME For Kids' Big Book of Questions series is newly revised with updated information, photos, illustrations, and graphics to answer over 500 new questions in popular subject areas: Animals, Space, History, Science, Technology, Sports and more. Presented in an easy-to-follow format, this fun, must-have reference book will appeal to a young child's sense of curiosity. Kids can dive into the book at any point and learn over 1,001 amazing facts to impress their parents, teachers, and friends with their new found knowledge. -- Liberty Street

Summary: Why do we have eyebrows? Why are dogs' noses wet? Why does Earth have a moon? Why are some people color blind?

The best-selling book in TIME For Kids' Big Book of Questions series is newly revised with updated information, photos, illustrations, and graphics to answer over 250 intriguing questions in popular subject areas: Animals, Space, History, Science, Technology, Sports and more. Presented in an easy-to-follow format, this fun, must-have reference book will appeal to a young child's sense of curiosity. Kids can dive into the book at any point and learn over 1,001 amazing facts to impress their parents, teachers, and friends with their new found knowledge. -- Liberty Street

It's never to early to start your holiday shopping, and I think I've found the perfect books for the curious kids in your life -- the BIG BOOK OF HOW and the BIG BOOK OF WHY! These books have been around for awhile and we are huge fans of this series; however, these two newly released editions are updated and revised. The important thing is that they are still a lot of fun and educational because they are full of interesting tidbits (1,001 facts that kids want to know in case you're wondering!)

The BIG BOOK OF HOW and the BIG BOOK OF WHY are must-have reference books for kids ranging from nine to twelve years old. The BIG BOOK OF HOW answers over 500 new questions in the following areas: Animals, Sports, Buildings, Science, Transportation, Home Tech, Technology, Space, the Human Body, You and Your World, and Just for Fun. The book just has so much going on, and the information is presented in a fun and exciting way. Each page addresses a unique question with a variety of answers as well as providing additional related data in information boxes. There are also fun bits of trivia and photos and diagrams.

I skimmed through this book and was amazed by how much interesting facts are in this one book. Here are just a few examples of the types of questions the book addresses: How does the Panama Canal work? How to make a camera obscura? How a virus can make your computer sick? How are computers and other electronics recycled? See what I mean -- so many topics!

The BIG BOOK OF WHY is equally compelling and (if I'm being totally honest) my favorite of the two books! This book answers over 250 "why" questions in the following subjects: Animals, Earth, Space, Humans, Around the World, History, Science, Technology, and Sports. There really is information in this book for kids who are interested in a wide variety of topics.

I have a feeling I was a kid who asked "why?" a lot more than "how?" because this book is so much fun to me... even as an adult! I still find myself asking some of the questions in this book like, "Why do dogs turn around before lying down?" and "Why do some bugs glow in the dark?" I was especially intrigued by the human chapter. You have to admit we are pretty amazing creatures, and this book helps explain some of the cooler things our bodies do like "Why do cuts heal?" and "Why are some people allergic to certain foods?"

I can't rave enough about the BIG BOOK OF HOW and the BIG BOOK OF WHY. They are must-have additions to school and home libraries!

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

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

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Review: My Absolute Darling

Summary: Turtle Alveston is a survivor. At fourteen, she roams the woods along the northern California coast. The creeks, tide pools, and rocky islands are her haunts and her hiding grounds, and she is known to wander for miles. But while her physical world is expansive, her personal one is small and treacherous: Turtle has grown up isolated since the death of her mother, in the thrall of her tortured and charismatic father, Martin. Her social existence is confined to the middle school (where she fends off the interest of anyone, student or teacher, who might penetrate her shell) and to her life with her father.

Then Turtle meets Jacob, a high-school boy who tells jokes, lives in a big clean house, and looks at Turtle as if she is the sunrise. And for the first time, the larger world begins to come into focus: her life with Martin is neither safe nor sustainable. Motivated by her first experience with real friendship and a teenage crush, Turtle starts to imagine escape, using the very survival skills her father devoted himself to teaching her. What follows is a harrowing story of bravery and redemption. With Turtle’s escalating acts of physical and emotional courage, the reader watches, heart in throat, as this teenage girl struggles to become her own hero—and in the process, becomes ours as well.

Shot through with striking language in a fierce natural setting, My Absolute Darling is an urgently told, profoundly moving read that marks the debut of an extraordinary new writer. -- Riverhead

A few months ago, I did a recap of this year's BEA's Editor's Buzz Panel. One of the books that piqued my interest was MY ABSOLUTE DARLING by Gabriel Tallent. When this book was presented, I just knew it was a book that I had to read. It sounded like an amazing coming-of-age story... and I do love those; however, it also sounded like a book that was very intense. What I didn't grasp until I picked up this book was just how intense it was!

MY ABSOLUTE DARLING tells the story of fourteen year old Turtle Alveston. Turtle lives along the norther California coast with her father, and she's pretty much left to her own, free to roam with a gun to protect herself. She attends middle school but she doesn't really have any friends -- mainly because she doesn't want anyone to get close to her and know what's going on ever since her mother died. Her father Martin is a creep... and I mean that in the very worst possible way.

One day Turtle meets Jacob, a high school boy who is funny and has a "normal" life. He sees Turtle for the special person she is, and suddenly Turtle's life takes on a new meaning. She begins to see that there is hope in her life and that she might be able to get away from Martin. However, Martin has a very different opinion of Turtle's new friend and the change he sees in his daughter.

As Turtle begins to flex her wings, she faces challenges that most adults could never even begin to imagine. However, Turtle uses her both the physical and mental survival skills that she's developed through the years to become her own person.

Holy moly! I hardly know where to start when sharing my thoughts about MY ABSOLUTE DARLING. I struggle to find the right words to describe this reading experience. Harrowing, gut-wrenching, painful, and nauseating all immediately come to mind. This book begins with an unbelievably difficult-to-read scene that left me reeling and not quite certain that this book was for me. However, I stuck with it (mainly out of curiosity and an interest in Turtle), and I'm certainly glad I did. This book was pretty incredible!

There is a lot to discuss about this novel, and I fear I will ramble in this review. The writing is both beautiful and disturbing, and fans of literary fiction will love this author's detailed descriptions of Turtle's world. In fact, it's hard to believe that this is Mr. Tallent's first novel. (I can't wait to see what he has in store for his fans next... and make no mistake, Mr. Tallent already has a fan base!) He definitely knows how to tell a story, but the way he evokes feelings in his readers is truly something special.

In addition, the author created one of the most memorable characters that I've encountered in recent years. Turtle is an incredible girl. First and foremost, she's a survivor. After understanding what she was dealing with at home, I find it hard to believe that she could even relate to another human being. She actually broke my heart... over and over again, and I found it truly incredible that she was able to hang onto slivers of hope and move forward. So even though this novel was terribly sad, it was also a beautiful story about strength and resilience and hope.

I do think MY ABSOLUTE DARLING would make a wonderful book club pick; however, I know a few in my club that probably wouldn't be able to read past the first chapter. There are truly so many things to talk about -- both horrific and uplifting -- about Martin, Turtle, and Jacob. However, there are also some universal themes about human nature that are worthy of discussion. including abuse, survival, friendship, second chances, and healing.

All in all, I highly recommend MY ABSOLUTE DARLING for fans of literary fiction and especially coming-of-age novels. It's a difficult read but well worth it!

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

Monday, November 6, 2017

Review: Odd Child Out

Summary: How well do you know the people you love…?

Best friends Noah Sadler and Abdi Mahad have always been inseparable. But when Noah is found floating unconscious in Bristol's Feeder Canal, Abdi can't--or won't--tell anyone what happened.

Just back from a mandatory leave following his last case, Detective Jim Clemo is now assigned to look into this unfortunate accident. But tragedy strikes and what looked like the simple case of a prank gone wrong soon ignites into a public battle. Noah is British. Abdi is a Somali refugee. And social tensions have been rising rapidly in Bristol. Against this background of fear and fury two families fight for their sons and for the truth. Neither of them know how far they will have to go, what demons they will have to face, what pain they will have to suffer.

Because the truth hurts. -- William Morrow

I was excited to learn that Gilly Macmillan had written a new book! I enjoyed both of her earlier novels because they were a mix of mystery and literary fiction; and her latest novel ODD CHILD OUT is once again a compelling mystery blended with some intriguing characters and relationships. All in all, I liked this novel quite a bit and still consider myself a fan of her work.

ODD CHILD OUT is an interesting look at a mystery surrounding two teenage boys who are best friends. Noah, who has been dealing with cancer for years and recently learned that he only has a few months to live, is found unconscious in Bristol's Feeder Canal. A witness say his friend Abdi was there when Noah fell into the canal; however, Abdi has totally shut down and is unable (or unwilling) to tell anyone what happened.

Detective Jim Clemo (from WHAT SHE KNEW fame) is back at his job after a leaving of absence. He gets assigned this case because it initially appears that it's a high school prank gone wrong. However, tensions in the community escalate because Abdi is the prime suspect who happens to be a Somali refugee; and this case becomes quite the public sensation. Can Clemo battle demons from his own past while navigating the two teens' families... and eventually solve this tragic mystery?

ODD CHILD OUT was in intriguing read and pretty darn timely given the tensions in the community against refugees. And while I did enjoy this book, I'll admit that I felt the "literary" aspects of the novel were much stronger than the mystery ones. Of course, I was curious about what happened to Noah as well as the secondary mystery surrounding Abdi's family; however, I didn't find these issues to be the strengths of the novel. Rather, I appreciated the author's portrayal of teen friendships and how their families reacted to the unfortunate events.

One thing I found interesting about this novel was that the author chose Noah (who was unconscious in a coma) to tell his own story from his hospital bed. I enjoyed how it gave insight into his character and his past relationship with both his parents and Abdi. In addition, I enjoyed getting Clemo's perspective on the case. I remember him from WHAT SHE KNEW, and I liked that he was back, with all of his issues and insights, in this novel.

Another aspect of this novel that I appreciated was how the author brought Somalia to life -- both the good and especially the bad -- as well as the plight of a refugee in a new country. Noah's father was a professional photographer who traveled to Somalia, and his photography exhibit demonstrated some of the horrors of the camps. In addition, Abdi's parents' stories and their struggles were described in difficult terms. I found it interesting how the author merged the two families' stories... and then revealed the secrets behind their lives.

As I mentioned earlier, I think the real strength of ODD CHILD OUT was the relationship between the boys and the portrayal of the families. As a result, this novel would make an interesting book club selection. This novel is extremely timely given the plight of refugees in our world, and I think this book humanizes them in an important way. In addition, there is a reading guide with ten thought-provoking questions. Some of the themes you might want to discuss include family dynamics, secrets, friendship, forgiveness, guilt, sickness, and the role of the media.

I enjoyed ODD CHILD OUT and consider myself a big fan of Ms. Macmillan's. I recommend this novel to fans of literary and domestic suspense.

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, November 4, 2017

Kid Konnection: Space-Themed Picture Books

Every Saturday, I host a feature called Kid Konnection -- a regular weekend feature about anything related to children's books. This week I'm going to share with you two picture books that both take place in outer space -- one that's true and one that's make-believe!

Summary: NASA astronaut Scott Kelly was the first to spend an entire year in space! Discover his awe-inspiring journey in this fascinating picture book memoir (the perfect companion to his adult book Endurance) that takes readers from Scott’s childhood as an average student to his record-breaking year among the stars.

Scott Kelly wasn’t sure what he wanted to be when he grew up. He struggled in school and often got in trouble with his twin brother, Mark.

Then one day Scott discovered a book about test pilots and astronauts that set him on a new path.

His new focus led him to fly higher and higher, becoming first a pilot and then an astronaut, along with his brother—the first twin astronauts in history. But his greatest accomplishment of all was commanding the International Space Station and spending nearly a year in space, which set the record for the longest spaceflight by an American.

This story of an ordinary boy who grew up to do extraordinary things is perfect for children, fans of Scott’s adult book Endurance: A Year in Space, A Lifetime of Discovery, aspiring astronauts, and anyone who has ever tried to defy the odds. It will amaze and inspire you. -- Crown

MY JOURNEY TO THE STARS by Scott Kelly (with Emily Easton) and illustrated by Andre Ceolin is a wonderful picture book, especially for those kids who are interested in space and astronauts. Author Scott Kelly actually is a NASA astronaut who spent an entire year on the International Space Station/ISS (the first person to do this!), and he's chronicling his adventures in this picture book.

MY JOURNEY TO THE STARS is a great story about Kelly and his life. The book even goes back in time to when Kelly and his twin brother Mark (also an astronaut) were daring young boys. There are just enough details about his childhood to make children relate to him, and he even describes what it was like to have parents that fought with each other.

Kelly explains that he didn't always know what he wanted to be. He struggled as a student and had difficulties paying attention during school. Fortunately, he had a principal who had faith in him... and we all know how much of a difference a good teacher can make in a child's life. Kelly also shares how he became fascinated with NASA and astronauts worked his way through college, the Navy, and NASA training!

As inspiring as Kelly's story is, I think kids will love when he gets to the "space" stuff! He talks about his adventures in space as well as some of the trials that were conducted with Kelly and his twin brother who lived on Earth. There are lots of fun details like how he slept on the ISS, the various experiments he conducted, and the risks associated with living on a space station.

The awe-inspiring photographs and the illustrations are the perfect complement to this picture book. However, what I loved the most about this book were the messages. Hidden (and sometimes not-so-hidden) in Kelly's story are strong messages about persistence, finding one's way, and turning problems into strengths.

I loved MY JOURNEY TO THE STARS. I highly recommend this picture book for school and home libraries!

Summary: Little Alien is sick. And sick is extra-terrestrial bad when you have two scratchy throats, five ears that hurt, and three runny noses. Splatch! Sputter! Spurt! Luckily Mama and Daddy Alien have an arsenal of lunar decongestants and meteor showers on hand to make him feel a little better (not to mention a Milky Way milkshake to help the medicine go down). Even so, the family’s alien pooch, Mars Rover, can’t stand to see his little buddy feeling out of sorts. Can a loyal pup’s funny tricks finally coax a smile?

Ahhh-flying-saucer-shooting-star-CHOO! Laughter is the best medicine when you’re a little alien feeling under the weather. -- Candlewick Press

ALIENS GET THE SNIFFLES TOO! AHHH-CHOO! by Katy S. Duffield and illustrated by K.G. Campbell is very, very cute! This book is aimed at preschoolers and it's a fun story about what happens when a little alien gets a cold!

We all hate being sick, but just imagine if you were a little alien. Instead of one stuffed-up nose, you had three! And forget about a sore throat -- Little Alien has two! And ear aches take on a whole new meaning when you have five ears! Needless to say Little Alien is pretty miserable.

Mama and Daddy Alien do their best to help their little one. The provide lunar decongestants, a Milky Way milkshake, and Shooting Star Ear Drops... but nothing seemed to help. That is, until Little Aliens best friend Mars Rover stepped in. Will the adorable puppy help get Little Alien to forget how sick he really is?

I thought ALIENS GET THE SNIFFLES TOO! AHHH-CHOO! was seriously adorable. The story is funny and I'm certain little ones will like it (especially the after-effects of the lunar decongestants!), and the illustrations are just precious. The book is silly enough that maybe (just maybe) it could make your kids forget their troubles the next time they are sick!

Giveaway alert: There are two great giveaway opportunities!!

  • One grand-prize winner will receive a out-of-this-world alien backpack with a signed copy of Aliens Get the Sniffles Too! along with tissue packs, toy mini aliens, and space pencils. 
  • Ten lucky runners-up will receive a copy of Aliens Get the Sniffles Too! To enter, click here.

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

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

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Guest Review: In the Name of Honor

Summary: Home from Iraq, a lieutenant kills his commanding officer—was it self-defense or premeditated murder? An enthralling novel of suspense about the high cost of war and secrets

The McCarrans and the Gallaghers, two military families, have been close for decades, ever since Anthony McCarran—now one of the army's most distinguished generals—became best friends with Jack Gallagher, a fellow West Pointer who was later killed in Vietnam. Now a new generation of soldiers faces combat, and Lt. Brian McCarran, the general's son, has returned from a harrowing tour in Iraq. Traumatized by wartime experiences he will not reveal, Brian depends on his lifelong friendship with Kate Gallagher, Jack's daughter, who is married to Brian's commanding officer in Iraq, Capt. Joe D'Abruzzo. But since coming home, D'Abruzzo also seems changed by the experiences he and Brian shared—he's become secretive and remote.

Tragedy strikes when Brian shoots and kills D'Abruzzo on their army post in Virginia. Brian pleads self-defense, claiming that D'Abruzzo, a black-belt martial artist, came to his quarters, accused him of interfering with his marriage, and attacked him. Kate supports Brian and says that her husband had become violent and abusive. But Brian and Kate have secrets of their own, and now Capt. Paul Terry, one of the army's most accomplished young lawyers, will defend Brian in a high-profile court-martial. Terry's co-counsel is Meg McCarran, Brian's sister, a brilliant and beautiful attorney who insists on leaving her practice in San Francisco to help save her brother. Before the case is over, Terry will become deeply entwined with Meg and the McCarrans—and learn that families, like war, can break the sturdiest of souls. -- Henry Holt

Booking Pap Pap is coming through with his reviews... finally! I'm just kidding but I will admit that every review he writes helps a lot now that I'm working. His latest read was IN THE NAME OF HONOR by Richard North Patterson. Mr. Patterson is an author that my father and I have been reading for years. I'm not sure how we both missed this novel which came out about six years ago, but better late than never! Here are his thoughts:

IN THE NAME OF HONOR by Richard North Patterson has it all – great characters, military issues, compelling courtroom action, family drama and a love story.

Lieutenant Brian McCarran is home from Iraq and is accused of killing his commanding officer, Captain Joe D’Abruzzo. To complicate matters, Brian is the son of Army Chief of Staff, Anthony McCarran and D’Abruzzo’s wife, Kate Gallagher and her family are closely tied to the McCarran family. Among other things, General McCarran was a close friend of Kate’s father who was killed in Viet Nam and also is Kate’s Godfather.

Paul Terry, an outstanding military attorney, is assigned to defend Brian in his high profile court martial trial even though it might interfere with his plan to leave the military for a lucrative job with a Wall Street firm. The story is further complicated when Brian’s sister, Meg, a beautiful and successful San Francisco attorney joins the defense team as Brian’s co-counsel.

D’Abruzzo’s aggressive behavior toward his wife and Brian’s response to D’Abruzzo’s actions toward him show signs of PTSD (Posttraumatic Stress Disorder) from their Iran experiences. PTSD becomes the defense tactic that Terry decides to use in Brian’s defense. Testimony by Brian, Meg, General McCarran and a PTSD expert provides great courtroom drama as the suspense builds steadily throughout the trial to a most surprising conclusion. As Paul Terry moves the trial forward he learns more and more about the McCarran and Gallagher families, all of which impacts the trial outcome.

 Author Patterson provides the reader with a detailed look at military law and how a court martial might actually proceed. Through the trial testimony, Patterson also gives the reader a look into PTSD, how it impacts our military personnel and how it is dealt with (or not) by the military. Patterson obviously did a lot of research into military law and PTSD to provide the detail that made his story so real and current.

IN THE NAME OF HONOR is a nice combination of legal thriller with its riveting courtroom action, and human drama with its stories of romance, love of country and love of family.

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