Monday, March 19, 2018

Review: Sunburn

Summary: New York Times bestselling author Laura Lippman returns with a superb novel of psychological suspense about a pair of lovers with the best intentions and the worst luck: two people locked in a passionate yet uncompromising game of cat and mouse. But instead of rules, this game has dark secrets, forbidden desires, inevitable betrayals—and cold-blooded murder.

One is playing a long game. But which one?

They meet at a local tavern in the small town of Belleville, Delaware. Polly is set on heading west. Adam says he’s also passing through. Yet she stays and he stays—drawn to this mysterious redhead whose quiet stillness both unnerves and excites him. Over the course of a punishing summer, Polly and Adam abandon themselves to a steamy, inexorable affair. Still, each holds something back from the other—dangerous, even lethal, secrets.

Then someone dies. Was it an accident, or part of a plan? By now, Adam and Polly are so ensnared in each other’s lives and lies that neither one knows how to get away—or even if they want to. Is their love strong enough to withstand the truth, or will it ultimately destroy them?

Something—or someone—has to give.

Which one will it be?

Inspired by James M. Cain’s masterpieces The Postman Always Rings Twice, Double Indemnity, and Mildred Pierce, Sunburn is a tantalizing modern noir from the incomparable Laura Lippman. -- William Morrow

I always love a good novel by Laura Lippman, so I was extremely excited to learn that her latest novel, SUNBURN, is a little different than her typical books. SUNBURN is psychological suspense story that has definite elements of noir. It's inspired by James M. McCain's novels like The Postman Always Rings Twice and Mildred Pierce (which I read in the description above -- I had no idea!) It's well very written -- that's no surprise; and it's definitely entertaining!

SUNBURN is a gripping psychological suspense story about two individuals who have some serious baggage and lots of secrets. (I have to admit it's a bit difficult to write a summary without giving too much away so I'm going to give a very vague one!) Polly is a waitress who has recently shown up in Belleville, Delaware, while Adam is just passing through. There is an immediate connection between the two, and both decide to stay for awhile -- Polly as a waitress and Adam as the cook. Against all odds, they truly fall in love with each other... and a deadly game of cat and mouse begins!

Both Polly and Adam have no desire to share their darkest secrets about their pasts with each other. In fact, they are both worried that if the other knew the whole story, they'd want nothing to do with them. However, when a person they both know ends up dead under suspicious circumstances, their relationship definitely changes. Can their passion (and even the love they share) survive these events?

I really liked SUNBURN. It's a very smart noir and not really like many books I've read especially any recent memory. Ms. Lippman is a terrific author and she weaves a tightly plotted story that's never dull. There were quiet a few twists that kept me guessing, and I especially appreciated the ending.

One of the best parts of this novel is the characters. Polly and Adam aren't your typical characters in a mystery. They are actually well-developed characters for any novel, nevertheless a mystery; and they are fascinating. Polly and Adam are extremely complex (especially Polly!), and as much as I got to know them, I still wasn't exactly sure I was getting all of the information. I can't rave enough about how special of a writer Ms. Lippman is!

I also loved the way this novel read... if that makes sense. The story was written in third person and had a very cool vibe to it. I realize I'm not explaining this very well, so I just recommend that you read and excerpt. You'll see what I mean! In addition, I thought the ending was brilliant. I was totally shocked with how this story ended, and there were many times throughout this book that I wasn't sure where Ms. Lippman was taking me. I should have just trusted her because I loved how smart (and surprising) the ending was.

I seriously think fans of psychological suspense novels and fans of Ms. Lippman's will love SUNBURN. Highly recommended!

Thanks to the publisher for providing a e-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, March 17, 2018

Kid Konnection: Oh So Pretty 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 few picture books that are visually beautiful.

Summary: A group of beautiful and feisty young wildflowers on skateboards and scooters zoom through the pages of this stunning book, spreading flower seeds as they go. Together they transform their urban environment into a place that is no longer gray, but filled with color and scent. Nature’s magic is revealed in all its glory, embodying Ralph Waldo Emerson’s idea that a weed is “a plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.” Budding environmentalists will respond to the underlying themes of conservation and stewardship of the earth. -- Random House

POPPY, BUTTERCUP, BLUEBELL & DANDY by Fiona Woodcock is hands-down one of the most beautiful picture books I've ever seen. Even the endpaper is lovely! This delightful picture book tells the story of a group of wildflowers who go on adventures, spread their flower seeds, and make the world a more beautiful place!

Polly, Buttercup, Bluebell and Dandy make a gray urban environment more colorful (and fragrant) with their seeds. The author/illustrator of the book brought to life the colorless urban landscape with gorgeous colors of the various flowers. As you can see from the cover art, these flowers look a bit like fairies and are adorable with their sweet little faces.

POPPY, BUTTERCUP, BLUEBELL & DANDY also has some terrific messages about conservation and the environment that will appeal to many parents. There is definitely an underlying message that we can work together to make the world a more special place.

POPPY, BUTTERCUP, BLUEBELL & DANDY is an absolutely gorgeous picture book with a few good messages thrown in too! Highly recommended!

Summary: Actor and New York Times bestselling author Alan Cumming and artist Grant Shaffer imagine what their dogs do when they’re not around—and it’s no surprise that the dogs aspire to lead lives as action-packed and glamorous as their dads’!

Honey and Leon are rescue mutts who love their dads very much. But their dads often have to go away on glamorous and important business, which worries the dogs. Honey and Leon are done staying home and fretting—they’re off on a dad-protecting adventure! Careful to remain incognito, the two pups shadow their dads on a trip across the sea, keeping them out of danger at every turn! How did they survive without Honey and Leon’s protection for this long?!

Alan Cumming and Grant Shaffer wrote this story as a tribute to their own dogs, based on their frequent conversations about what Honey and Leon get up to while they’re away. -- Random House

Another fun picture book with cute illustrations is THE ADVENTURES OF HONEY & LEON. This book is written by the famous actor Alan Cumming and illustrated by Grant Shaffer, and it's their take on what dogs do when their owners aren't home.

THE ADVENTURES OF HONEY AND LEON stars two adorable dogs who are rescue mutts and very grateful to their dads. However, their dads are often away on travel for their jobs; and Honey and Leon worry about them. Isn't it the job of dogs to guard their owners? Rather than just worry and wait, these two dogs decide to go on an adventure to protect their dads.

The minute after their dads leave, Honey and Leon hail a taxi and follow them to the airport. They slip in the back of the plane and end up in a very glamorous (and fun!) place. They followed their dads everywhere including a show, on a yacht, and even a fancy party. When Honey couldn't resist prancing on the red carpet, she gained some instant notoriety. How could these two canines keep their secret from their dads now?

THE ADVENTURES OF HONEY AND LEON is absolutely adorable from the story to the beautiful watercolor illustrations. I loved these two pampered pets and found their adventures to be both fun and funny! Dog owners, both kids and parents, will appreciate the loyalty these two have to their owners. Highly recommended!

Thanks to the publisher for providing review copies of these picture 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, March 14, 2018

Guest Review: House of Spies

Summary: A heart-stopping tale of suspense, Daniel Silva’s runaway bestseller, The Black Widow, was one of 2016’s biggest novels. Now, in House of Spies, Gabriel Allon is back and out for revenge – determined to hunt down the world’s most dangerous terrorist, a shadowy ISIS mastermind known only as Saladin.

Four months after the deadliest attack on the American homeland since 9/11, terrorists leave a trail of carnage through London’s glittering West End. The attack is a brilliant feat of planning and secrecy, but with one loose thread.

The thread leads Gabriel Allon and his team of operatives to the south of France and to the gilded doorstep of Jean-Luc Martel and Olivia Watson. A beautiful former British fashion model, Olivia pretends not to know that the true source of Martel’s enormous wealth is drugs. And Martel, likewise, turns a blind eye to the fact he is doing business with a man whose objective is the very destruction of the West. Together, under Gabriel’s skilled hand, they will become an unlikely pair of heroes in the global war on terror.

Written in seductive and elegant prose, the story moves swiftly from the glamour of Saint-Tropez to the grit of Casablanca and, finally, to an electrifying climax that will leave readers breathless long after they turn the final page.

But House of Spies is more than just riveting entertainment; it is a dazzling tale of avarice and redemption, set against the backdrop of the great conflict of our times. And it proves once again why Daniel Silva is “quite simply the best” (Kansas City Star). -- Harper

I know my dad is a big fan of author Daniel Silva. Mr. Silva's 17th (and latest) book in his Gabriel Allon series HOUSE OF SPIES looks like a good one. It is already a Kirkus Best Book of the Year, #1 NYT Bestseller, #1 USA Bestseller, and a #1 WSJ Bestseller; and I think my dad agreed. Here are his thoughts:

HOUSE OF SPIES is author Daniel Silva's 17th novel featuring Gabriel Allon as the main character. Allon is a rare combination of spy, assassin and art restorer who has been recently promoted from field duty to chief of Israeli intelligence service.

This novel opens with a major ISIS attack on London killing hundreds. The attack is orchestrated by ISIS mastermind Saladin who also is a major adversary of Allon. It appears that after losing significant territory ISIS has transformed itself to inflict as much damage as possible on Europe and the United States. Allon joins forces with France and England, and to some extent the United States, to develop a complex and expensive con to force a France business/drug dealer and his beautiful partner to lead them to Saladin. The plan, which is financed by plundering the bank account of the Syrian ruler, includes using two Israeli agents to portray a Russian gun merchant and his spoiled wife. In an unusual and risky step for the chief of Israeli intelligence service, Allon goes into the field to actively participate in the ruse he has created. What results is an exciting thriller that moves from headquarters in Israel, France and England to Saint-Tropez to the Morocco desert in an effort to save a European city from a dirty bomb attack.

Characters are well developed and many, like assassin turned spy, Christopher Keller, doctor turned spy, Natalie Mazarin, undercover operative, Mikhail Abramov and English art dealer, Julian Isherwood have appeared in prior Silva novels. However, it isn't necessary to read any prior novels to fully appreciate these characters.

Author Daniel Silva does an amazing job of forming a storyline that appears to come right out of today's headlines. His portrayal of the United States as an arrogant, but necessary partner that can't totally be trusted also fits some countries current attitude towards the United States. HOUSE OF SPIES is a thriller that I recommend for anyone interested in this genre.

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

Monday, March 12, 2018

Review: The Escape Artist

Nola is a mystery
Nola is trouble.
And Nola is supposed to be dead.

Her body was found on a plane that mysteriously fell from the sky as it left a secret military base in the Alaskan wilderness. Her commanding officer verifies she’s dead. The US government confirms it. But Jim “Zig” Zigarowski has just found out the truth: Nola is still alive. And on the run.

Zig works at Dover Air Force Base, helping put to rest the bodies of those who die on top-secret missions. Nola was a childhood friend of Zig’s daughter and someone who once saved his daughter’s life. So when Zig realizes Nola is still alive, he’s determined to find her. Yet as Zig digs into Nola’s past, he learns that trouble follows Nola everywhere she goes. Nola is the U.S. Army’s artist-in-residence-a painter and trained soldier who rushes into battle, making art from war’s aftermath and sharing observations about today’s wars that would otherwise go overlooked. On her last mission, Nola saw something nobody was supposed to see, earning her an enemy unlike any other, one who will do whatever it takes to keep Nola quiet.

Together, Nola and Zig will either reveal a sleight of hand being played at the highest levels of power or die trying to uncover the US Army’s most mysterious secret-a centuries-old conspiracy that traces back through history to the greatest escape artist of all: Harry Houdini. -- Hachette

I considered myself extremely lucky to receive an advance e-copy of THE ESCAPE ARTIST by Brad Meltzer. I have loved so many of his books through the years, and I heard that his latest is a special one. I couldn't agree more! I devoured this novel in a little over a day... which is really saying something because I never have the time (or desire) to read a book straight through!

THE ESCAPE ARTIST is Brad Meltzer at his best. In this novel, two unlikely people work together (sometimes!) to get to the bottom of a major government cover-up. Nola Brown is an artist-in-residence with the U.S. Army. When an airplane crashes in Alaska, her body is found and delivered to "Zig" Zigarowski, a military mortician who has major skills at making dead soldiers presentable to their families. Zig recognizes the woman as the young girl who once saved his daughter's life when they were twelve. He is determined to do right by her... and then he realizes that the body he is working on isn't Nola's!

Zig is extremely dedicated to his job, but when he learns that Nola might still be alive, he's determined to find her. He quickly realizes that Nola has grown into a woman who can't stay out of trouble. She has an uncanny ability to see things other soldiers can't; and while it often times saves the lives of others, this past time has put her own life at risk!

Nola and Zig team up (well kind of/sort of -- it's complicated) to uncover secrets at the top levels of the U.S. military and government. And as strange as this sounds, these secrets include a conspiracy that goes the whole way back to Harry Houdini and his assistants.

I adored THE ESCAPE ARTIST! This novel was exactly what I love about thrillers -- a fast-paced story, interesting characters, and a complicated mystery. It was extremely well-written (and well researched), and I loved the blend of history and fiction. Furthermore, I was kept on the edge-of-my-seat with trying to determine who were the good guys and who were the bad guys. It was such a fun read!

There were quite a few things that I appreciated about this novel, but I think one of the true strengths was in the character development. I loved Zig and the way he had so much respect for soldiers and military families. In addition, I ended up really liking how he was so persistent in his attempts to help Nola and to get to the bottom of what the government was hiding -- he was a mortician for goodness sakes -- not exactly a typical hero in a thriller.

However, it was Nola's character that really captured my interest. The book included flashbacks into Nola's childhood to help explain her present state of mind, and what a tragic childhood it was. As an adult, Nola is one tough cookie, and it's no surprise that she is considering what she endured as a child. There were many times that I wasn't quite sure what to make of her, and I think she's one of the most damaged female characters I've ever encountered in this genre.

I didn't spend a lot of time trying to figure things out in this novel -- mainly because I knew I'd be wrong. There was a point when some things started to click, but I definitely didn't have a good grasp of the entire mystery. I loved how everything came together at the end of the novel, and I did end up being quite surprised.

In summary, THE ESCAPE ARTIST was a fantastic novel. I highly recommend it to fans of Brad Meltzer's as well as readers who like a good thriller!

Thanks to the publisher for providing a e-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, March 10, 2018

Kid Konnection: Bedtime Stories

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 few picture books that are perfect for bedtime.

Summary: Babies sleep in cribs. Do big kids? No! Big kids sleep in a big bed.

Every child's life is filled with milestones. Some happen easily; others need a little extra support. Artist and mom Maria van Lieshout has been there. Drawing upon her own experiences, she has created an engaging series of books that are just right for children on the brink of major changes and the caregivers who encourage them. -- Chronicle

I SLEEP IN A BIG BED (BIG KID POWER) by Maria van Lieshout is an adorable book that helps with the adjustment to a big kid bed! I remember that my kids were excited when it was time to leave their cribs, but I also remember that they were a little scared. This very sweet book does a terrific job with building excitement about this major transition (both for kids and parents!), while also explaining that it might be a little scary.

I SLEEP IN A BIG BED is part of the BIG KID POWER series, and even though it's the first book I've ever read from this series, I totally love the idea of having books to help with the changes taking place from baby to toddler. The text is simple and the illustrations are super cute.

All in all -- a fun book to help kids transition from their cribs to big beds.

Summary: An unabridged board book version of the bestselling hardcover, perfect for small hands! The dream train pulls into the station, and one by one the train cars are loaded: polar bears pack the reefer car with ice cream, elephants fill the tanker cars with paints, tortoises stock the auto rack with race cars, and kangaroos stuff the hopper car with balls (while zebras referee). Dreamy illustrations and gentle rhyming text make this a beloved bedtime favorite for budding train enthusiasts everywhere. -- Chronicle

Many of you are familiar with the book STEAM TRAIN, DREAM TRAIN by Sherri Duskey Rinker and Tom Lichtenheld, but it's now available as a board book. This popular story follows the dream train as it pulls into the station and has its cars loaded. The book's sturdy pages are perfect for the littlest train enthusiasts, and the rhyming text is certain to keep them entertained until the very last page.

STEAM TRAIN, DREAM TRAIN is a must-read bedtime book!

Summary: It’s time to go to bed . . . but Monkey is NOT ready. Acclaimed author and illustrator Marc Brown (Arthur) offers a fun and reassuring story about bedtime. 

Every night at bedtime, it’s the same problem. . . . Monkey puts on his pajamas. He brushes his teeth. He makes sure his favorite stuffed toy is safely tucked in. He says “good night!” to Mom and Dad. But no matter what, Monkey is NOT ready to go to sleep. Finally, though, with the help of his big brother, a little imagination, and a few friendly dinosaurs, Monkey might just get ready for bed. -- Knopf

And last but certainly not least is MONKEY NOT READY FOR BEDTIME by Marc Brown. I am a huge fan of Mr. Brown (of Arthur fame), and I think his Monkey series is adorable. In the latest installment, Monkey doesn't want to go to bed. He does his normal bedtime routine but can't fall asleep. Mom and Dad try everything, but every night, Monkey is just not ready for bed.

Of course, Monkey is tired the next day at school and home. Thankfully, Monkey's brother has an idea. Monkey can try to count things really slowly to fall asleep. Monkey begins counting and thinking about dinosaurs (one of his favorite things!); and his vivid imagination takes him on a wild ride... which ends up making Monkey finally ready for bedtime.

The story is very cute and the illustrations are even cuter. Marc Brown is a terrific children's author and Monkey is a fun character. I absolutely love the text in the book -- it's looks like a kid writing in crayon, and Monkey's dilemma is one many kids will relate to.

MONKEY NOT READY FOR BEDTIME is a great book for kids who are having problems falling asleep!

Thanks to the publishers for providing review copies of these picture 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, March 7, 2018

Review: Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk

Summary: She took 1930s New York by storm, working her way up writing copy for R.H. Macy’s to become the highest paid advertising woman in the country. It was a job that, she says, “in some ways saved my life, and in other ways ruined it.”

Now it’s the last night of 1984 and Lillian, 85 years old but just as sharp and savvy as ever, is on her way to a party. It’s chilly enough out for her mink coat and Manhattan is grittier now—her son keeps warning her about a subway vigilante on the prowl—but the quick-tongued poetess has never been one to scare easily. On a walk that takes her over 10 miles around the city, she meets bartenders, bodega clerks, security guards, criminals, children, parents, and parents-to-be, while reviewing a life of excitement and adversity, passion and heartbreak, illuminating all the ways New York has changed—and has not.

A love letter to city life in all its guts and grandeur, Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney paints a portrait of a remarkable woman across the canvas of a changing America: from the Jazz Age to the onset of the AIDS epidemic; the Great Depression to the birth of hip-hop.

Lillian figures she might as well take her time. For now, after all, the night is still young. -- St. Martin's Press

I picked up LILLIAN BOXFISH TAKES A WALK by Kathleen Rooney after seeing a tweet from a famous author (maybe Jennifer Weiner?) recommending the book. If I remember correctly, she compared the main character to her grandmother; and she seemed to love the novel.

LILLIAN BOXFISH TAKES A WALK tells the story of Lillian, and 85 year old woman who is on the way to her party on New Year's Eve 1984. As Lillian takes walks over ten miles around Manhattan, she visits many historic landmarks and meets some interesting people; and along the way, she reminisces about her past and the current state of the world

That is a very simplistic description of the novel, but it really is such an interesting premise. Lillian, an elderly woman, spends the last day of the year on a walking tour of sorts through the streets of New York City. (Keep in mind that 1980s New York City is very different than today's New York City -- this was at the age of the subway vigilante.) Lillian probably should be afraid, but she's a spunky old lady and figures no one will mess with her. As Lillian stops at famous New York bars, restaurants and other landmarks, she engages with some intriguing characters; but she also remembers back over the past 85 years... both fondly and with some sadness.

Lillian is based on the real-life Margaret Fishback, the highest paid female advertising copywriter in the world during the 1930s. Margaret (and Lillian) worked for R. H. Macy's and was also a successful author and poet. The author first learned about Fishback in 2007 from a friend, and she felt an affinity with her. She worked on Fishback's writings and wanted to bring her story to life. What resulted was this book - a fictional account through the character Lillian Boxfish!

If I'm being entirely honest with you, it took me a little while to get into this novel. I have mentioned earlier that I'm finding it hard to read at the pace I would like ever since I started working, but I couldn't really get into Lillian or her stories. However, I stuck with the novel and I could tell that the book was resonating with me more and more. By the end, I was charmed by Lillian and her life story... and I loved that this book was a tribute to a strong woman as well as a great city!

LILLIAN BOXFISH TAKES A WALK is a lovely novel. Lillian is a fantastic character, as are so many of the people she encounters on her walk; and the author did a wonderful job in bringing both her and the city to life! Furthermore, the book was both quirky and funny while also being smart and insightful. All in all, I really enjoyed this novel and recommend it to fans of literary fiction!

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

Monday, March 5, 2018

Review: The Flight Attendant

Summary: Cassandra Bowden is no stranger to hungover mornings. She’s a binge drinker, her job with the airline making it easy to find adventure, and the occasional blackouts seem to be inevitable. She lives with them, and the accompanying self-loathing. When she awakes in a Dubai hotel room, she tries to piece the previous night back together, counting the minutes until she has to catch her crew shuttle to the airport. She quietly slides out of bed, careful not to aggravate her already pounding head, and looks at the man she spent the night with. She sees his dark hair. His utter stillness. And blood, a slick, still wet pool on the crisp white sheets. Afraid to call the police – she’s a single woman alone in a hotel room far from home – Cassie begins to lie. She lies as she joins the other flight attendants and pilots in the van. She lies on the way to Paris as she works the first class cabin. She lies to the FBI agents in New York who meet her at the gate. Soon it’s too late to come clean-or face the truth about what really happened back in Dubai. Could she have killed him? If not, who did?

Set amid the captivating world of those whose lives unfold at forty thousand feet, The Flight Attendant unveils a spellbinding story of memory, of the giddy pleasures of alcohol and the devastating consequences of addiction, and of murder far from home. -- Doubleday

I think I'm in a bit of a reading funk. I have read a lot of good books lately, but none that I have loved. Case in point -- THE FLIGHT ATTENDANT by Chris Bohjalian. I had high hopes for this thriller because I'm a huge fan of Mr. Bohjalian's novels; however, I only thought the thriller/suspense aspect of the story was okay. I mean, I certainly enjoyed this book and I do appreciate his writing and character development. I just didn't love the book like I had hoped.

THE FLIGHT ATTENDANT is about Cassie, a flight attendant who takes full advantage of her traveling schedule and the men she meets. She is quite the drinker and prone to blackouts, but she usually manages to keep her job and life somewhat in check. However during a one-night layover in Dubai, she gets more than she expected when she hooks up with Alex, a financial analyst and one of the first-class passengers.

After a night of partying, Cassie wakes up the next to Alex... but Alex is dead with his throat slashed. She realizes that she drank too much the night before and blacked out, but she honestly can't remember what happened. After a visit from a woman she remembers as Miranda, Cassie thought she left. How in the world did she end up back in bed with him? How did she sleep through his murder? Or worse yet, was she responsible for killing him?

Cassie is afraid to call the police, so she cleans up the room as best she can, wiping down surfaces she touched, and heads back to her hotel to catch the shuttle back to the airport. When her co-workers asked what she did last night, she begins with a small lie. This small lie soon turns into more and more lies, and Cassie finds herself lying to everyone... including the FBI. Can Cassie find out the truth before something even worse happens?

I actually loved the premise of THE FLIGHT ATTENDANT, and I thought the book had great potential. Cassie was an extremely interesting character, and I liked the suspense of not knowing what happened in that Dubai hotel room. In fact, the book quickly lured me in and I was caught up in her story. I had a feeling that Alex's death had something to do with Russia spies, but I had no idea where the book was going to go.

However after a few chapters, I found that Cassie was starting to annoy me with her weaknesses. She drank entirely too much, often times blacking out; and she was quick to go to bed with strange men. Her lies were often times unnecessary (or at least I thought they were), and her decision-making was horrific. She was so self-destructive that I probably should have felt pity for her, but I wanted to shake some sense into her!

Without giving away too much, I thought the story behind the murder was intriguing. It involved another complicated woman with an interesting past. Miranda/Elena was a Russian who was tasked with killing Alex... and she should have killed Cassie too. Her boss wasn't to happy with her for not finishing the job, and she was tasked with making things right. While the author tried to make Elena a somewhat sympathetic character, I still wanted a bit more from her character.

As the novel progressed, I will admit that there were times when I almost liked Cassie and was rooting for her. She really was a pitiful character. I never really thought she was responsible for Alex's murder, but I was hoping that her blackout might serve as a wake-up call and make her change her ways. It seemed like Cassie had to hit rock bottom before she could own her mistakes, but eventually she did redeem herself.

Honestly, I think the strength of the novel was more Cassie's character development that the actual suspense/thriller part of the story; however, I still enjoyed the ride. Recommended to fans of Mr. Bohjalian's books and readers who like a good literary thriller.

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, March 3, 2018

Review: I Am Famous & Giveaway

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

Summary: Kiely knows she is famous! The paparazzi (her parents) follow her every move, documenting with cameras. It’s exhausting being famous, but someone has to do it! She even gets to perform a big song at her grandfather’s birthday. When she messes it up, she’s worried she’s lost her audience forever, but it turns out that no one is as loyal as her fans who love her. -- Albert Whitman & Co.

I AM FAMOUS by Tara Luebbe and Becky Cattie and illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff is a very sweet picture book that kids (and parents) will love. Kids will love the adorable little Kiely who sees herself as a famous celebrity, and parents will appreciate the humor the accompanies being a parent in the age of smartphones!

Kiely already knows she famous! She's always being followed by the paparazzi (who just happen to be her parents) while she eats, plays, and more. And she even has a personal chef, driver, and housekeeper. But when she's asked to perform at her grandfather's birthday party, she learns that it's not easy being in the spotlight. Kiely has a rough time with her big song, and she's worried that she'll lose her audience as a result. However, she learns that her true fans will never stop loving her!

I AM FAMOUS is a really fun book. The story is extremely sweet and also very funny, and the illustrations are spot-on cute! As a mom, I appreciated that the book had some tongue-in-cheek humor for kids and parents (but mainly parents!); and I was happy to see some diversity in a picture book. After reading I AM FAMOUS, some parents might think again about the role that smartphones and social media play in our lives... and especially our kids' lives!

Check out the adorable trailer for I AM FAMOUS:

Giveaway alert: I have a copy of I AM FAMOUS (courtesy of the publisher) to share with one lucky reader. To enter, just fill out the form below before March 16th at 11:59 pm. I will randomly select and notify the winner the following day. This contest is open to those of you with U.S. addresses only. Good luck!

Thanks to Blue Slip Media for providing a review copy of this picture 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, February 28, 2018

Guest Review: The Spy Across the Table

Summary: In this exciting international thriller featuring Japanese antiques art dealer and PI Jim Brodie, a double-murder at the Kennedy Center forces Brodie into a dangerous game of espionage—putting him in the crosshairs of the Chinese, North Korean, and American governments.

Jim Brodie is an antiques dealer, Japan expert, and second-generation private investigator. When two theater friends are murdered backstage at a Kennedy Center performance in Washington, DC, he’s devastated—and determined to hunt down the killer. He’s not the only one.

After the attack, Brodie is summoned to the White House. The First Lady was the college roommate of one of the victims, and she enlists Brodie—off the books—to use his Japanese connections to track down the assassin. Homeland Security head Tom Swelley is furious that the White House is meddling and wants Brodie off the case. Why? For the same reason a master Chinese spy known only as Zhou, one of the most dangerous men alive, appears on the scene: Those murders were no random act of violence.

Brodie flies to Tokyo to attend the second of two funerals, when his friend’s daughter Anna is kidnapped during the ceremony. It is then Brodie realizes that the murders were simply bait to draw her out of hiding. Anna, it seems, is the key architect of a top-secret NSA program that gathers the personal secrets of America’s most influential leaders. Secrets so damaging that North Korea and China will stop at nothing to get them.

Publishers Weekly said, “Readers will want to see more of the talented Jim Brodie,” and The Spy Across the Table is an edge-of-your-seat thriller in Barry Lancet’s wildly popular and highly acclaimed series. -- Simon & Schuster

Booking Pap Pap is in Florida for winter and it seems like he's finally having some time to read! The latest novel is THE SPY ACROSS THE TABLE by Barry Lancet, and it sounds like it was a good one. I think he's read a few in this series and he seems to enjoy the writing and character development. Here are his thoughts:

THE SPY ACROSS THE TABLE is Barry Lancet's fourth book in his series featuring private investigator/antique dealer Jim Brodie as the main character. In this edition two of Brodie's friends, Mikey Dillman and Sharon Tanaka, are murdered during a Kabuki presentation at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. Brodie feels some responsibility to track down the killer since he had arranged the meeting between his two friends. When Sharon's daughter, Anna, is abducted at her mother's funeral, Brodie realizes that the original killings were not a random act of violence. Anna is a software genius working for the NSA and holds many military and security secrets that would be of interest to enemies of the United States. Brodie's mission now changes. He must find Anna and safely return her to her family. Against his better judgement, Brodie finds it necessary to work with the U.S. government.

As in other Lancet novels, Brodie confronts several gangsters and spies. In this case he runs into Japanese gangs, a Chinese spy and unfriendly Homeland Security foes. Brodie travels from Washington to Japan to South Korea to North Korea to China as he follows the trail to Anna's whereabouts. In his pursuit of Anna, Brodie puts himself into a precarious situation and puts his life in real danger.

As with other novels of the series, Lancet includes great character development, a lot of great fight scenes and good old fashioned detective work. In THE SPY ACROSS THE TABLE, Lancet deals with current events including electronic spying and the American, North Korea and China relationships. The author's detail of human trafficking along the Chinese-North Korean border is very informative. Lancet also does his normal good job of providing excellent information on Asian art, history and culture.

THE SPY ACROSS THE TABLE is a timely, intriguing and educational thriller that should be of interest to those who enjoy the thrIller genre.

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

Monday, February 26, 2018

Review: I'll Be Gone in the Dark

Summary: “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark will undoubtedly be stocked in the True Crime section, which is fine, but in so many ways it’s a brilliant genre-buster. It’s propulsive, can’t-stop-now reading, which makes it all too easy to ignore the clean and focused writing.

What readers need to know—what makes this book so special—is that it deals with two obsessions, one light and one dark. The Golden State Killer is the dark half; Michelle McNamara’s is the light half. It’s a journey into two minds, one sick and disordered, the other intelligent and determined. I loved this book.” —Stephen King A masterful true crime account of the Golden State Killer—the elusive serial rapist turned murderer who terrorized California for over a decade—from Michelle McNamara, the gifted journalist who died tragically while investigating the case.

"You’ll be silent forever, and I’ll be gone in the dark."

For more than ten years, a mysterious and violent predator committed fifty sexual assaults in Northern California before moving south, where he perpetrated ten sadistic murders. Then he disappeared, eluding capture by multiple police forces and some of the best detectives in the area.

Three decades later, Michelle McNamara, a true crime journalist who created the popular website, was determined to find the violent psychopath she called "the Golden State Killer." Michelle pored over police reports, interviewed victims, and embedded herself in the online communities that were as obsessed with the case as she was. At the time of the crimes, the Golden State Killer was between the ages of eighteen and thirty, Caucasian, and athletic—capable of vaulting tall fences. He always wore a mask. After choosing a victim—he favored suburban couples—he often entered their home when no one was there, studying family pictures, mastering the layout. He attacked while they slept, using a flashlight to awaken and blind them. Though they could not recognize him, his victims recalled his voice: a guttural whisper through clenched teeth, abrupt and threatening.

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark—the masterpiece McNamara was writing at the time of her sudden death—offers an atmospheric snapshot of a moment in American history and a chilling account of a criminal mastermind and the wreckage he left behind. It is also a portrait of a woman’s obsession and her unflagging pursuit of the truth. Framed by an introduction by Gillian Flynn and an afterword by her husband, Patton Oswalt, the book was completed by Michelle’s lead researcher and a close colleague. Utterly original and compelling, it is destined to become a true crime classic—and may at last unmask the Golden State Killer. -- Harper

When I was in high school and college, I couldn't get enough of true crime books. It doesn't seem like they are quite as popular now or maybe my reading tastes have just changed, but I was so excited to see the buzz for I'LL BE GONE IN THE DARK: ONE WOMAN'S OBSESSIVE SEARCH FOR THE GOLDEN STATE KILLER by Michelle McNamara. I had first heard about this author (and her quest to find the killer) almost two years ago when she unexpectedly died. It was a relatively big story because she was so young and married to the actor/comedian Patton Oswalt.

I'LL BE GONE IN THE DARK tells her story about the exhaustive search Ms. McNamara conducted to find the Golden State Killer. It's been almost thirty years since this man wreaked havoc on California -- first raping and then killing for almost ten years. Ms. McNamara became obsessed with finding out who was responsible for these horrific crimes, and it's an amazing book. One one hand, the crime spree of the Golden State Killer is fascinating (in a horrible way). But equally compelling is Ms. McNamara's story about her desire to solve the crime and the ends she went through to do this. I honestly can say that I've never read a true crime book quite like this... and I mean that in the very best possible way.

I'LL BE GONE IN THE DARK is definitely a must-read for fans of true crime and mysteries. Ms. McNamara not only conducted some amazing research on these crimes and the suspects, but she also presented the stories (both the criminal's and hers) in a well-written and cohesive way. There is no doubt that she was a talented writer, but I think it was her honesty and passion that made this book so special. Unfortunately, she died before she could finish writing it, but her lead researcher and colleague pieced some chapters together; and it made the book even more intriguing... in an odd way.

I totally understood Ms. McNamara's sheer determination to find the killer and how she became obsessed with it. It's hard to believe that for thirty years this criminal has gotten away with these crimes, and I know that it's not just Ms. McNamara who has been driven to solve these crimes. Keep in mind that DNA testing wasn't possible thirty years ago, and some of the testing they had was less than accurate. I thought the explanation of the investigative methods thirty years ago versus what is available today was fascinating. I'd like to think that it wouldn't be possible for someone like the Golden State Killer to elude law enforcement now, but who would think that this killer could have wreaked so much terror without being found even back then?

I highly recommend I'LL BE GONE IN THE DARK for fans of true crime and memoirs. It's a very well written story about two obsessive minds that is absolutely fascinating.

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, February 24, 2018

Kid Konnection: The Boo-Boos That Changed the World

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 very fun and interesting picture book!

Summary: Did you know Band-Aids were invented by accident? Earle Dickson's wife would often cut her fingers while working around the house. As the son of a doctor, Earle set out to create an easier way for her to bandage her injuries. Luckily, he worked for Johnson & Johnson as a cotton buyer. Voila! Band-Aids were born. The end.

Not really! Earle's bosses at the pharmaceutical giant weren't convinced, and it wasn't until the Boy Scouts of America tested Earle's prototype that this ubiquitous household staple was made available to the public. Soon Band-Aids were selling like hotcakes, and the rest is boo-boo history. -- Charlesbridge

THE BOO-BOOS THAT CHANGED THE WORLD: A TRUE STORY ABOUT AN ACCIDENTAL INVENTION (REALLY!) by Barry Wittenstein and illustrated by Chris Hsu is a terrific book that's both fun to read and educational. I never knew the story behind the creation of Band-Aids, but it's one of those neat stories that shows just how creative people can be when they need to solve a problem!

THE BOO-BOOS THAT CHANGED THE WORLD tells the story of Earle Dickson and his wife... and how he invented Band-Aids. Earle's wife was accident-prone. When she was cooking, she often times cut her fingers and had to hold a bandage around the wound. The awkwardness of the bandage made her even more clumsy... causing more accidents. So one day Earle, who worked for a company that manufactured hospital supplies, decided to take adhesive tape and put little small squares of sterile gauze every few inches to create "Band-Aids." Problem solved!

The book then explains how Band-Aids were mass produced and then distributed. It might surprise you that they weren't an overnight sensation. The company even had to give away thousands of Band-Aids (including to our military) before they became a household name. I guess you could say, "the rest is history!"

THE BOO-BOOS THAT CHANGED THE WORLD is a really interesting book about a really interesting invention. I liked learning the background story of this accidental invention, but I also thought the information was presented in a cute way. The author has the book "end" many times, only to have to story continue. It's a funny way to present the information that will keep kids entertained.

In addition, I really enjoyed the historical information in the back of the book. There's an author's note that further explains the history of band-aids as well as the inventor's life. There is also a timeline of Earle Dickson's life and a list of other major medical inventions that occurred in the 1920s and 1930s as well as links to other sites for more on Band-Aids.

If you want even more about THE BOO-BOOS THAT CHANGED THE WORLD and the history of Band-Aids, check out this activity guide and podcast!

Thanks to Blue Slip Media for providing a review copy of this picture 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, February 21, 2018

Guest Review: Dead Wake

Summary: On May 1, 1915, with WWI entering its tenth month, a luxury ocean liner as richly appointed as an English country house sailed out of New York, bound for Liverpool, carrying a record number of children and infants. The passengers were surprisingly at ease, even though Germany had declared the seas around Britain to be a war zone. For months, German U-boats had brought terror to the North Atlantic. But the Lusitania was one of the era’s great transatlantic “Greyhounds”—the fastest liner then in service—and her captain, William Thomas Turner, placed tremendous faith in the gentlemanly strictures of warfare that for a century had kept civilian ships safe from attack.

Germany, however, was determined to change the rules of the game, and Walther Schwieger, the captain of Unterseeboot-20, was happy to oblige. Meanwhile, an ultra-secret British intelligence unit tracked Schwieger’s U-boat, but told no one. As U-20 and the Lusitania made their way toward Liverpool, an array of forces both grand and achingly small—hubris, a chance fog, a closely guarded secret, and more—all converged to produce one of the great disasters of history.

It is a story that many of us think we know but don’t, and Erik Larson tells it thrillingly, switching between hunter and hunted while painting a larger portrait of America at the height of the Progressive Era. Full of glamour and suspense, Dead Wake brings to life a cast of evocative characters, from famed Boston bookseller Charles Lauriat to pioneering female architect Theodate Pope to President Woodrow Wilson, a man lost to grief, dreading the widening war but also captivated by the prospect of new love. -- Crown

I remember when DEAD WAKE: THE LAST CROSSING OF THE LUSITANIA by Erik Larson came out a few years ago. I immediately thought my dad might enjoy it. Here are his thoughts:

In studying world history in high school I learned that the Lusitania passenger ship was sunk by the Germans on May 7, 1915 and was the cause for the United States entry into World War I. But that's not the whole story. In DEAD WAKE, The Last Crossing Of The Lusitania, author Erik Larson goes into great detail in describing the crossing from New York to Liverpool.

He begins the story by pointing out the warnings that Germany posted in the New York papers the morning the Lusitania was to embark on her voyage. Germany reminded readers of the existence of a war zone and that any ship flying the Flag of Great Britain or its allies is at risk of destruction. Even after receiving information of U-boat activity off the Irish coast, ship captain William Turner assured the passengers that the Lusitania was too fast for any German war vessel and was the safest boat on the sea. Larson goes on to give the reader a history of Captain Turner's career and describes many of the more prominent passengers, mainly Americans, traveling on the Lusitania.

At the same time Larson focuses on three additional story lines. First he gives the the reader an insight into President Woodrow Wilson's state of mind at the time. He had lost his wife within the past year and was now smitten by Edith Galt, who would later become his second wife. Wilson also struggled with maintaining the United States position of neutrality? Larson also focuses on submarine U-20 and it's captain Walter Schwieger. U-20 was the submarine that sunk the Lusitania. Larson provides interesting details on the German U-boat warfare at the time. A third and very interesting story line focuses on Great Britain's codebreakers, referred to in the book as Room 40. At the time they were intercepting all communication to and from Germany's U-boats but were very careful not to release so much information that the Germans would become aware of their activity. In telling these stories Larson switches the scene back and forth from New York to Washington to Berlin to London to submarine U-20 and to the Lusitania.

The author gives the reader dramatic detail of the actual torpedo attack and the chaos that followed. He describes the disasters with safety vests and the launching of the life boats. The Lusitania was only 12 miles from shore and amazingly sunk in less than 20 minutes. The author proceeds to discuss several of the 1198 people (123 Americans) who died and actually provides a few stories about some of the survivors and the aftermath of investigations.

Larson describes many factors that had to come together for this disaster to happen. For example a late start from New York, the calm seas, the reduced speed of the Lusitania and lack of a Royal Navy escort and lack of information from Room 40 warning of the submarine U-20 in its path. Larson presents a theory that the latter two issues may have been purposeful actions to draw the United States into the war. If so, it didn't work since the United States did not enter the war until two years after the Lusitania was sunk.

DEAD WAKE is a well written account of the sinking of the Lusitania and will be of interest to anyone who enjoys reading history.

I was happy to see that there's a reading guide for DEAD WAKE. I don't always find them for history/nonfiction books, but this one sounds like it might be interesting to discuss!

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

Monday, February 19, 2018

Review: Blood Sisters

Summary: Three little girls. One accident. A lifetime of lies. From the bestselling author of MY HUSBAND’S WIFE.

Three little girls set off to school one sunny morning. Within an hour, one of them is dead.

Fifteen years later, Kitty can’t speak and has no memory of the accident that’s to blame. She lives in an institution, unlikely ever to leave. But that doesn’t keep her from being frightened when she encounters an eerily familiar face.

Art teacher Alison looks fine on the surface. But the surface is a lie. She’s struggling to make ends meet and to forget the past. When a teaching job at a prison opens up, she takes it, despite her fears. Maybe this is her chance to set things right. Then she starts to receive alarming notes; next, her classroom erupts in violence.

Meanwhile, someone is watching both Kitty and Alison. Someone who never forgot what happened that day. Someone who wants revenge. And only another life will do. . . -- Pamela Dorman Books

I was excited to read BLOOD SISTERS by Jane Corry. I had enjoyed her earlier novel MY HUSBAND'S WIFE, and I was hoping this one was as good. I thought Ms. Corry did a good job with creating interesting characters as well as weaving a suspenseful story, and I knew this novel had already received some good reviews. 

BLOOD SISTERS tells the story of two sisters and how their lives were forever changed after an accident that occurred 15 years ago. Kitty lives in an institution and can no longer speak or even complete the simplest tasks by herself, and she is hard to control because she's prone to violent fits. She doesn't remember the accident but she does have occasional flashbacks that something bad happened to her... especially when she sees a man that seems kind of familiar.

Meanwhile, her older sister Alison is a struggling art teacher who agrees to take a job in a prison to help pay the bills. She's not exactly comfortable with working with the male prisoners, but she's hoping she can make amends for the accident from her past -- one that she believes she's responsible for. It doesn't take long before she starts getting some scary messages, and then violence breaks out in her classroom. 

Both sisters are still haunted by whatever occurred in the past in very different ways, and it seems like someone doesn't want to let them forget....

All in all, I liked BLOOD SISTERS but I'm not sure I loved it. It was a very well written novel with complex characters but something just didn't resonate with me. (I am definitely the odd one out with these feelings.) It's been a few days since I've finished this book, and I still don't know what my problem was. Honestly, I think I might be in a bit of a reading funk.

Having said that, I did appreciate BLOOD SISTERS and I definitely want to give kudos to the author. Ms. Corry wrote a suspenseful novel with quite a few twists, and I thought the pacing of the story was very good. The two sisters' characters were well developed and very interesting, and their relationship (both in the present and the past) was complex.

One of my favorite things about this novel was Kitty's story. She was a sad character, albeit full of anger and frustration, who wasn't able to really know what happened to her... and definitely wasn't able to communicate what she did remember. Her sister Alison, while guilt ridden about her role in the accident, was actually "happy" that her sister couldn't share what happened. When a new technology became available that might help Kitty remember and communicate better, Alison was obviously nervous. As a reader, I enjoyed how the author built the tension and suspense; and I was anxious to learn the secrets from the past!

When the secrets were finally revealed, it was a bit of a disappointment. I don't mean that in a negative way, but I immediately suspected that there was a bit more to the sisters' story... and actually the novel. I was right! There were a few more twists thrown in and one managed to really catch me by surprise. The story ended up being complicated (in a good way!) and I thought the entire book was  well done.

Fans of suspense and mysteries will enjoy THE BLOOD SISTERS. It's a smart mystery with intriguing characters that should keep most readers guessing until the very end.

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, February 17, 2018

Kid Konnection: Toy Academy

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

Summary: Playing is serious business. Welcome to Toy Academy: where toys learn to play. This is where action figures train to battle, stuffed animals study the art of the hug, and collectibles practice standing very, very still.

Though Grumbolt isn't really any of those things, he's determined to fit in. But when the Evil Toy Academy threatens to bring down his school, it's up to Grumbolt to go where no good toy has gone before and prove he's truly a great toy after all.

This laugh–out–loud chapter book by Brian Lynch, the writer of Minions and a writer of The Secret Life of Pets, is a classic in the making. -- Scholastic

I have to admit that the gift box that came with the book TOY ADADEMY: SOME ASSEMBLY REQUIRED by Brian Lynch and illustrated Edwardian Taylor was absolutely adorable. It included a yoyo, lego bricks, a slinky, and a colorful lollipop. I figured it the promo materials were this fun, then the book had to be too. Hint: it was!
TOY ACADEMY is a fantastic new book written by a screenwriter who has worked on some pretty incredible movies including The Secret Life of Pets, Minions, Puss in Boots, and Hop. He has also written some comic books (but I'm not as familiar with them!) It is a hilarious story about a toy academy where toys learn to play. The academy trains action figures so they can battle, stuffed animals so they can hug, and collectibles so they can stand still. Great concept, right?

Grumbolt isn't really certain what type of toy he is. He's kind of a misfit (in the best possible way). A little girl sewed him but he has two different length arms (which make it hard to hug) and two different ears (so he doesn't really fit in with the cats.) He is determined to become the best toy possible for a little kid.

When the Evil Toy Academy starts sabotaging the Toy Academy, Grumbolt wants to help. He decides to sneak into the "evil empire" and save the say... and in the process, be the best toy ever!

I loved TOY ACADEMY. It is the first book in a new series, and I can't wait until the next one! These toys are awesome characters! The book is very funny and even has a few good messages thrown in. It's extremely fast-paced and certain to keep even reluctant readers attentions. It has a fairly large font and lots of adorable illustrations throughout.

The humor in this book is definitely the best part! It's truly a laugh out loud story that even parents will love. In fact, much of the humor is geared towards adults (and might even fly over kids' heads!) I can't rave enough about how creative this book was. The way the author describes these characters is so darn funny. For example, there are wisecracking jokes about the quality of the plastic as well as how long it takes for a transformer-like toy to switch to its other mode.

I loved TOY ACADEMY as a book but I also think this book would make an excellent movie -- let's hope! Highly recommended to middle grade readers!

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this book (and the fun toys!)

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, February 14, 2018

Guest Review: The Whites

Summary: Back in the 1990s, when Billy Graves worked in the South Bronx as part of an anti-crime unit known as the Wild Geese, he made headlines by accidentally shooting a ten-year-old boy while stopping an angel-dusted berserker in the street. Branded as a cowboy, Billy spent years in one dead-end posting after another. Now in his early forties, he is a sergeant in Manhattan Night Watch, a team of detectives that responds to all felonies from Wall Street to Harlem between one a.m. and eight a.m.

Billy’s work is mostly routine, but when Night Watch is called to the four a.m. fatal slashing of a man in Penn Station, his investigation moves beyond the usual handoff to the day shift. And when he discovers that the victim was once a suspect in an unsolved murder—a brutal case with connections to the former members of the Wild Geese—the bad old days are back in Billy’s life with a vengeance. -- Picador

Booking Pap Pap is spending the winter in Florida and he's managing to get a little reading done. One book that he recently read has been out for a few years, but it sounds like it was worth the wait.  It's called THE WHITES by Richard Price; and it has won lots of awards including an NPR Best Book of the Year, a New York Times Book Review Notable Books of the Year, a Washington Post Best Books of the Year, an Best Books of the Year, and an L.A. Times Book Prize - Finalist. It sounds like Booking Pap Pap agrees. Here are his thoughts:

THE WHITES is an entertaining story about police work in New York City. Story begins when lead character Sergeant Billy Graham is sent to investigate a slasher case at Penn Station. Graham runs the night watch, a shift that runs from midnight to 8 am. He typically files his paperwork and turns the cases over to the daylight shift, never to be involved again.

But this case is different. Billy recognizes the victim from his days as a member of the Wild Geese in the mid-1990s before he accidentally killed a young boy and sent his career into a downward spiral. The Wild Geese was a self proclaimed name for seven young, bold cops serving in the South Bronx. The victim was Jeffrey Bannon, a criminal referred to as a White by the Wild Geese. They define a White as one who committed a major crime on their watch and never faced justice. It seems each member is haunted by a personnel White even in retirement. The case spurs Graves to renew contact with the 4 remaining Wild Geese, all retired and active in other occupations. When other Whites begin to perish, Graves begin thinking about the possibility of vigilante justice and is torn as to what to do about it.

The author presents a second narrative that pits Detective Milton Ramos against Graves. They don't know each other but Ramos poses a threat to Graves' family over an incident with his wife many years ago. The storyline builds as Ramos starts playing subtle games with various family members and gradually increases the pressure until he and Graves end up in a confrontation. Author Richard Price writing as Harry Brandt blends the two storylines nicely by using alternating chapters to bring both narratives along simultaneously. The reader gets a good understanding of the pressures building in Graves.

 THE WHITES is a very realistic depiction of the work of policemen. The reader is confronted with the reality that the police work in a very ugly world, and it's not unrealistic to assume some of that ugliness remains with the police. In addition to the police drama, the author utilizes great dialog, good character development, surprises, and some humor to deliver a very entertaining story.

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

Monday, February 12, 2018

Review: Anatomy of a Scandal

Summary: An astonishingly incisive and suspenseful novel about a scandal amongst Britain’s privileged elite and the women caught up in its wake.

Sophie’s husband James is a loving father, a handsome man, a charismatic and successful public figure. And yet he stands accused of a terrible crime. Sophie is convinced he is innocent and desperate to protect her precious family from the lies that threaten to rip them apart.

Kate is the lawyer hired to prosecute the case: an experienced professional who knows that the law is all about winning the argument. And yet Kate seeks the truth at all times. She is certain James is guilty and is determined he will pay for his crimes.

Who is right about James? Sophie or Kate? And is either of them informed by anything more than instinct and personal experience? Despite her privileged upbringing, Sophie is well aware that her beautiful life is not inviolable. She has known it since she and James were first lovers, at Oxford, and she witnessed how easily pleasure could tip into tragedy.

Most people would prefer not to try to understand what passes between a man and a woman when they are alone: alone in bed, alone in an embrace, alone in an elevator… Or alone in the moonlit courtyard of an Oxford college, where a girl once stood before a boy, heart pounding with excitement, then fear. Sophie never understood why her tutorial partner Holly left Oxford so abruptly. 

What would she think, if she knew the truth? -- Atria/Emily Bestler

ANATOMY OF A SCANDAL by Sarah Vaughan is a suspense-filled courtroom drama that delves into the complex issue of rape. It's a timely novel that asks some difficult questions about consent and rape; and it also has a few twists thrown in for fans of mysteries. This book has some amazing reviews (including starred ones!); and while I liked it, I'm not entirely sure I loved it.

In ANATOMY OF A SCANDAL, Sophie, a wealthy woman who seemingly has it all finds her life turned upside-down. She is married to James, a loving father and a successful man who is a junior minister in the British Home Office, and mother to two great kids. However, when James comes home late one night and tells her he's been having an affair with his assistant Olivia, she's devastated. To make matters worse, a few days later James is arrested and Olivia claims that he has raped her.

Kate is the barrister who takes on the prosecution of James. She's considered an expert in prosecuting sex crimes but that hasn't come without its toll. She's 41, divorced and pretty much a workaholic... and she's determined that justice be served to James. While Kate always takes her job seriously, it almost seems as if this crime is personal to her.

This novel takes readers through the courtroom drama that is a bit of a he said/she said; however, it also touches upon some serious issues including the debate between what's consent and what's rape. The story is told through the eyes of Sophie, Kate and James; and it's interesting to see how the story unfolds. In addition, there are flashbacks to Sophie and James' college days when a tragedy occurred that has formed a life-long bond between James and his best friend and current Prime Minister.

Tensions rise throughout the story between all of the characters, and a surprising twist is revealed... although I didn't think it was much of a surprise. In fact, I wouldn't say that the mystery or suspense aspects of this novel are its strong points. Rather, I think the writing and the character development  are the strengths. The mystery of the rape was almost secondary to what happened in the past, and I think the book explored some serious and timely issues (including a political scandal) that will cause readers to think.

Having said that, ANATOMY OF A SCANDAL would make an outstanding book club selection. There is a reading guide with fourteen interesting questions. Some of the themes your group might want to discuss include trust, honestly, secrets, class structure, and choices.

I enjoyed and appreciated ANATOMY OF A SCANDAL and I do think fans of courtroom dramas and literary suspense will enjoy it.

I received an e-copy of this novel from the publisher.

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, February 10, 2018

Kid Konnection: Valentine's Day Edition

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 book is perfect for the upcoming holiday.

Summary: The first day of Valentine’s starts with ONE warm, fuzzy hug. On the second day, the crafts begin with TWO cups of sparkles. On the third day, let’s make our cards with THREE pink pens! Each of the 12 busy days leading up to Valentine’s Day are celebrated in this cumulative rhyming storybook based on “The 12 Days of Christmas.”

Kids will love spotting all the fun ways a family gets ready for Valentine’s Day. And the book includes stickers—perfect treats for each of the 12 days. -- Random House

THE 12 DAYS OF VALENTINE'S by Jenna Lettice and illustrated by Colleen Madden is such a fun way to celebrate Valentine's Day with the little one in your life. This softcover picture book is absolutely adorable with its sweet illustrations and cumulative rhyming story. It kind of reminded me of the Christmas song, "The Twelve Days of Christmas."

Speaking of which, THE 12 DAYS OF VALENTINE'S is the third book in this fun series. There is also THE 12 DAYS OF KINDERGARTEN and THE 12 DAYS OF HALLOWEEN. I've seen these books too, and I promise they are just as cute as THE 12 DAYS OF VALENTINE'S.

THE 12 DAYS OF VALENTINE'S is geared to children ages three to seven years old, but I do think kids on the younger side of this range will appreciate this book the most. I think youngsters will enjoy the repetition (even when parents might not!), but because the story builds on each page, the last few pages do run a little long for toddlers. However, the sweet illustrations and stickers (did I mention stickers?) will help to keep them entertained throughout the entire book.

As a mom, I also like that this book is both entertaining and educational. The book features a busy family preparing for the holiday. Children will love identifying all of the different ways to get ready for Valentine's Day. And because it is so repetitive, it reinforces numbers and counting. For example, the book starts with 1 warm hug, 2 cups of sparkles and goes the whole way through the twelve days until 12 friends smiling.

I think THE 12 DAYS OF VALENTINE'S (and the entire series of books!) is precious. 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, February 7, 2018

Review: Tell Me More (Audio)

Summary: It’s a crazy idea: trying to name the phrases that make love and connection possible. But that’s just what Kelly Corrigan has set out to do here. In her New York Times bestselling memoirs, Corrigan distilled our core relationships to their essences, showcasing a warm, easy storytelling style. Now, in Tell Me More, she’s back with a deeply personal, unfailingly honest, and often hilarious examination of the essential phrases that turn the wheel of life. 

In “I Don’t Know,” Corrigan wrestles to make peace with uncertainty, whether it’s over invitations that never came or a friend’s agonizing infertility. In “No,” she admires her mother’s ability to set boundaries and her liberating willingness to be unpopular. In “Tell Me More,” a facialist named Tish teaches her something important about listening. And in “I Was Wrong,” she comes clean about her disastrous role in a family fight—and explains why saying sorry may not be enough. With refreshing candor, a deep well of empathy, and her signature desire to understand “the thing behind the thing,” Corrigan swings between meditations on life with a preoccupied husband and two mercurial teenage daughters to profound observations on love and loss. 

With the streetwise, ever-relatable voice that defines Corrigan’s work, Tell Me More is a moving and meaningful take on the power of the right words at the right moment to change everything. -- Random House Audio

I decided to listen to TELL ME MORE: STORIES ABOUT THE 12 HARDEST THINGS I'M LEARNING TO SAY by Kelly Corrigan after Kathy's (aka Bermudaonion's) review of it. I have been running more lately and I like to listen to audiobooks while I exercise; however, I usually listen to thrillers. In fact, I rarely listen to (or read for that matter) books like this... but I am so glad I did.

TELL ME MORE was exactly the right book for me at the right time. In this book, Ms. Corrigan chooses phrases that make a difference in her life... and it translates well into readers' lives too. Her book is oh so ever honest -- painfully so at times; and as a mother, wife, daughter, and friend, I could totally relate to her stories. I absolutely love that this book made me laugh and cry (and oh boy did I ever cry!) Honestly, I can't rave enough about this book.

The book is divided into sections by certain phrases that are essential to Ms. Corrigan's life including "I Don't Know," "No", and "I Was Wrong." You might notice that the three phrases I mentioned are ones that aren't always easy to say, but so important to keep the important relationships in our lives running smoothly. For each phrase, Ms. Corrigan told stories from her personal life including hilarious ones about her mother, her daughters and husband, and even her childhood. However, the real beauty of this book was in the touching stories about her friend and her father in their final days.

Ms. Corrigan lost her best friend and her father within a short time period, and as a reader, I could tell that these events rocked her world. I love that, after these losses, she decided to evaluate her own life. It makes me feel like there's hope even after horrible things happen. And because Ms. Corrigan is so insightful and witty, her words made me evaluate my own life. Can you really ask more from a book?

I read a past memoir about Ms. Corrigan's diagnosis of cancer with two little kids; however, I think TELL ME MORE just resonated with me more. I also think that listening to the audio version of the book made a huge difference for me. Ms. Corrigan narrated her story and she did an outstanding job. I think Kathy said it best when she said it felt like a friend sharing her story with her. I appreciated Ms. Corrigan's candor and emotion when it came to her observations on life, and I loved her sense of humor too. All of these things came through loud and clear through the audiobook version.

TELL ME MORE is a wonderful memoir and just might go down as one of my favorite books of the year. Highly recommended!

I downloaded this audiobook from Volumes.