Monday, May 21, 2018

Review: The Favorite Sister

Summary: When five hyper-successful women agree to appear on a reality series set in New York City called Goal Diggers, the producers never expect the season will end in murder…

Brett’s the fan favorite. Tattooed and only twenty-seven, the meteoric success of her spin studio—and her recent engagement to her girlfriend—has made her the object of jealousy and vitriol from her castmates.

Kelly, Brett’s older sister and business partner, is the most recent recruit, dismissed as a hanger-on by veteran cast. The golden child growing up, she defers to Brett now—a role which requires her to protect their shocking secret.

Stephanie, the first black cast member and the oldest, is a successful bestselling author of erotic novels. There have long been whispers about her hot, non-working actor-husband and his wandering eye, but this season the focus is on the rift that has opened between her and Brett, former best friends—and resentment soon breeds contempt.

The Favorite Sister explores the invisible barriers that prevent women from rising up the ranks in today’s America—and offers a scathing take on the oft-lionized bonds of sisterhood, and the relentless pressure to stay young, relevant, and salable. -- Simon & Schuster

I recently finished my first book on my new Kindle Oasis. It was THE FAVORITE SISTER by Jessica Knoll, and it really has nothing to do with the book other than I love my Kindle Oasis -- see here. And while I loved reading with my Oasis, I think the quality of this novel had a lot to do with it. THE FAVORITE SISTER was a terrific (and oh so ever smart!) mystery!

THE FAVORITE SISTER tells the story of five women who are part of a reality show set in New York city called Goal Diggers. Each of these women is successful in their own right and they've gathered quite the fan base. However, when one of the stars ends up dead, the other women are all under suspicion for her murder!

Brett is definitely the fan favorite and with that comes a lot of jealousy from her co-stars. She is not exactly stick thin like the others, has many tattoos, runs a bike company that helps women and girls in developing nations, and is recently engaged to her girlfriend. All of these things make fans love her, but her co-stars not-so-much.

And then there's Kelly, Brett's older sister and business partner. She's the newest to the cast and not exactly considered worthy to be on the show by the others. She and Brett work closely together on the business, but they also share one very surprising secret from their past.

The other main character is Stephanie, an African American author of erotic novels and a successful memoirist. She is the oldest cast member and feels that her time on the show is limited because no one has ever made it past 35 years old on Goal Diggers. She and Brett were best friends but had some sort of falling out. It looks like the focus of the show this season will be on their friendship... or lack thereof.

When one of the stars is found dead, suspicion runs amok and no one is without some blame. These women find that the "roles" they've been playing on-screen (as well as off) have taken on a new meaning... and one star is certainly to blame!

I thoroughly enjoyed THE FAVORITE SISTER on so many levels. I really appreciated Ms. Knoll's writing style, and I also thought the character development was interesting. In addition, the mystery was a good one. However, I think I most enjoyed the social commentary about women, careers, relationships, and friendships.

One thing that was especially interesting about THE FAVORITE SISTER was how Ms. Knoll chose to tell the story. There were viewpoints from multiple characters as well as chapters that went back and forth between pre and post-murder. I loved how she brought each of these characters to life and the outrageousness of these women made for some very fun reading!

I also have to say that I was kept guessing until the very end. There were clues along the way to lead the reader in certain directions, and there were also some huge surprises about the characters... but the ultimate ending (and by that I mean who was responsible and why) was definitely a surprise. I enjoyed how everything came together by the end of the story, and I thought it was perfectly appropriate for the characters and the book. (That will make more sense after you read it!)

Finally, I loved this book because of the commentary on today's society and especially how women behave in it. The book was very smart, and at times almost uncomfortable, but it was also extremely funny. This story explored what it means to be a successful woman -- the sacrifices that must be made, and it also delved into some insightful ideas about relationships and female friendships. I also loved how it portrayed the reality show and the women's roles on the show. It probably won't surprise you that much of the show was staged, and the line between truth and fiction was definitely blurry.

I enjoyed THE FAVORITE SISTER a great deal and I think fans of both suspense and literary fiction will totally appreciate this novel. Highly recommended!

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

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

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Kid Konnection: StarTalk

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 new book for kids who love astronomy and especially the television show StarTalk!

Summary: This beautifully illustrated companion to celebrated scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson's popular podcast and National Geographic Channel TV show is an eye-opening journey for anyone curious about the complexities of our universe. For decades, beloved astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson has interpreted science with a combination of brainpower and charm that resonates with fans everywhere. In 2009, he founded StarTalk, the wildly popular podcast that became an Emmy-nominated talk show on the National Geographic Channel this year.

Tyson's pioneering, provocative book will take the greatest hits from the airwaves to the page in one smart, richly illustrated compendium. Featuring vivid photography, thought-provoking sidebars, enlightening facts, and fun quotes from science and entertainment luminaries like Bill Nye and Dan Aykroyd, StarTalk reimagines science's most challenging topics -- from how the brain works to the physics of comic book superheroes -- in a relatable, humorous way that will delight fans and new readers alike. -- National Geographic

If I'm being entirely honest with you, I am not very interested in astronomy. I have tried... I even took a 3 credit Astronomy class in college (it was one of my worst grades!) It's just not a subject that I really want to spend time learning. However (and this is a big however!), I think maybe if I had had a book like STARTALK with Neil DeGrasse Tyson as a kid, I might have see things a little differently.

STARTALK is a fantastic resource for children on all things about our universe. It's subtitle even claims, "Everything You Ever Need to Know About Space Travel, Sci-Fi, the Human Race, the Universe, and Beyond" Whew -- that's a lot of information in a 200+ page book. But I can attest that this book will both teach and entertain kids (and a few adults)!

STARTALK is a companion book to the popular podcast hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson and National  Geographic Channel's television show. It really is an absolutely incredible book. It's published by National Geographic so you know that the photography is spectacular, and the descriptions are both insightful and fun to read.

The book is set up in such a reader-friendly way. It's divided into the following chapters: Space; Planet Earth, Being Human, and Futures Imagined. Within each section, there are amazing pictures along with references to the original StarTalk episode so kids can learn even more on the subjects that interest them. There are also quotes (some are pretty darn funny!) from some of the guests on the shows as well as "Think on This" sidebars and lots of great information that will make you a star at the next trivia night.

It's really hard for me to explain just how in depth this book is, but at the same time it's really easy-to-read and easy-to-understand. The amount of photographs make it appealing even to reluctant readers (or grownups who aren't that interested in the topic!) And I suspect that while this book has loads of information, it might just be a starting point for kids who want to learn even more about our universe.

STARTALK is a terrific book and one that I highly recommend to young and "old" alike. At the very least, it's a must-have book for libraries and schools.

Thanks to Media Masters 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!

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Happy Mothers Day... to me!

It's not often that I share things from my personal life, but what I received from my family for Mother's Day was too good not to mention. As many of you know, I started working in September and my reading (and blogging for that matter) has definitely taken a backseat to other things. Not only am I reading less, but I'm not enjoying it like I used to. Well... my husband surprised me with something that has definitely revitalized my love of books. He got me a new Kindle Oasis!

This little beauty is amazing. First of all, it's champagne colored -- so pretty! And it's teeny, tiny and so light that I can throw it into my purse and I hardly know it's there. What's even better is that it's waterproof so I can take it to the pool and the beach. It also has built-in audio so I can download audiobooks to it. I could go on and on. Needless to say, I love it!

Over the past few years, I have been receiving more and more audio downloads than physical books -- much to the relief of my husband. (He is always saying something about some Star Trek show and trouble with tribbles.) At first I was a bit reluctant to give up the feel (and smell) of books; however, my Oasis is winning me over. I've been reading more since Sunday than I've read in months.

In fact, that brings me to the next really cool thing about this e-reader. It doesn't even need to be charged very often (unlike my old clunky iPad that I formerly used with the Kindle app.) I'm still putting it to the test, but they say it only needs to be charged every few weeks. Can you believe that?

I also have to mention how easy it makes it to read. I swear I read faster on the Oasis than I do a real book. There is no glare so it's perfect for day or night reading, and I can't wait to try it outside on a sunny day. Of course, it's been raining non-stop since Mother's Day, so that test will have to wait a few more days.

I love, love, love my Kindle Oasis, and I think even reluctant e-readers (I'm referring to real people, not the device) will appreciate it. I highly recommend giving it a try!

Monday, May 14, 2018

Review: Then She Was Gone

Summary: Ellie Mack was the perfect daughter. She was fifteen, the youngest of three. She was beloved by her parents, friends, and teachers. She and her boyfriend made a teenaged golden couple. She was days away from an idyllic post-exams summer vacation, with her whole life ahead of her.

And then she was gone.

Now, her mother Laurel Mack is trying to put her life back together. It’s been ten years since her daughter disappeared, seven years since her marriage ended, and only months since the last clue in Ellie’s case was unearthed. So when she meets an unexpectedly charming man in a cafĂ©, no one is more surprised than Laurel at how quickly their flirtation develops into something deeper. Before she knows it, she’s meeting Floyd’s daughters—and his youngest, Poppy, takes Laurel’s breath away.

Because looking at Poppy is like looking at Ellie. And now, the unanswered questions she’s tried so hard to put to rest begin to haunt Laurel anew. Where did Ellie go? Did she really run away from home, as the police have long suspected, or was there a more sinister reason for her disappearance? Who is Floyd, really? And why does his daughter remind Laurel so viscerally of her own missing girl? -- Atria

I have been reading Lisa Jewell for much of my adult life. It's been interesting to follow her writing career. Initially, she wrote chick lit style books, albeit smart ones. However, now she is writing psychological thrillers/domestic dramas. I feel as if her writing trajectory has kind of mirrored my reading trajectory, and that's why she's an author whose books I hold near and dear to my heart!

Her latest novel is called THEN SHE WAS GONE, and I really, really enjoyed it. Ellie Mack is fifteen years old and pretty much the perfect daughter. She is a fantastic student and all-around great kid... until she goes missing one day on her way to the library. Her mother Laurel is devastated. Her marriage falls apart as does her relationships with her other two kids. Needless to say, the family is never the same.

Fast forward ten years and Laurel is trying to get her life together. After her daughter's remains are found and the burial is complete, Laurel meets Floyd, a man that's almost too good to be true, at a local cafe. They have an immediate connection and jump into a relationship. Laurel meets both of his daughters, but his youngest one, Poppy, looks so much like Ellie that she can hardly believe it!

While in many ways Laurel is moving on with her life, Poppy's resemblance to Ellie keeps drawing her back into those dark times. She needs an answer to what happened to Ellie. She wonders if Ellie did run away like the police believe, or was she taken under suspicious circumstances. As Ellie questions more about the situation, she also begins to question who Floyd really is and whether Poppy is somehow tied to Ellie....

I found THEN SHE WAS GONE to be a terrific suspense novel. I loved the mystery behind Ellie's disappearance, but I also enjoyed how Ms. Jewell tackled the effects that her disappearance had on the family, especially Laurel. The book was actually well-written on both fronts, the pacing was outstanding, and I think it will appeal to fans of psychological suspense books as well as literary family dramas.

One thing that brought this book to the next level for me was how the author decided to tell the story. The first two sections of the novel were Laurel's story. There were chapters that went back and forth between the present and the past when Ellie was a happy high school student. It also detailed her disappearance and how that event changed the entire dynamic of the family. The last section of the novel actually gave insight into some other characters in the book including Poppy's mother, Floyd, and even Ellie.

Even though I suspected what really happened to Ellie (I'm pretty sure I was supposed to given the clues!), I admit that I was rather shocked by how the novel ended. And I don't just mean one thing. There were a few twists and turns that I didn't see coming. I loved being both right and also surprised by a few things. I'd definitely say that I don't think many readers will figure out all the details surrounding Ellie's disappearance.

I highly recommend THEN SHE WAS GONE. It's a solid psychological thriller that will keep readers guessing, but it's also a smart portrayal of grief, family dynamics, and even hope.

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, May 12, 2018

Kid Konnection: Summer

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 new picture book that's perfect for the summer.

Summary: Just in time for summer, this is the fourth and final book in the David Carter pop-up book series about the seasons. Each spread has a brief verse and depicts flora and fauna commonly found during the summer months. Pictures of strawberries, tomatoes, chipmunks, and more are labeled with simple text, making the book easy for very young readers to understand and enjoy. -- Abrams

I'm a little late to the game on the series of pop-up picture books by David A. Carter, but better late than never, right? The fourth and final book is SUMMER: A POP-UP BOOK, and it's a great way to celebrate the upcoming summer season. I don't know about you, but I'm ready for summer!

Each page in SUMMER includes a fun pop-art picture as well as short, sweet verse so even the littlest of kids can sit through a quick read of this book. In addition, there are adorable illustrations that are labeled with common summer words. For example, there are labels for a variety of plants, fruits, flowers, and birds to name just a few.

I highly recommend SUMMER and I'd love to check out the other three seasonal books in this series.

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!

Monday, May 7, 2018

Review: After Anna

Summary: Riveting and disquieting, After Anna is a groundbreaking domestic thriller, as well as a novel of emotional justice and legal intrigue. New York Times bestselling author Lisa Scottoline keeps readers on their toes until the final shocking page.

Nobody cuts deeper than family...

Dr. Noah Alderman, a widower and single father, has remarried a wonderful woman, Maggie Ippolitti, and for the first time in a long time, he and his young son are happy. Despite her longing for the daughter she hasn’t seen since she was a baby, Maggie is happy too, and she’s even more overjoyed when she unexpectedly gets another chance to be a mother to the child she thought she'd lost forever, her only daughter Anna.

Maggie and Noah know that having Anna around will change their lives, but they would never have guessed that everything would go wrong, and so quickly. Anna turns out to be a gorgeous seventeen-year-old who balks at living under their rules, though Maggie, ecstatic to have her daughter back, ignores the red flags that hint at the trouble brewing in a once-perfect marriage and home.

Events take a heartbreaking turn when Anna is murdered and Noah is accused and tried for the heinous crime. Maggie must face not only the devastation of losing her daughter, but the realization that Anna's murder may have been at the hands of a husband she loves. In the wake of this tragedy, new information drives Maggie to search for the truth, leading her to discover something darker than she could have ever imagined. -- St. Martin's Press

Throughout the years, I've read quite a few novels by Lisa Scottoline. While I enjoy her humorous essay collections, I always look forward to her mysteries. Her latest one is titled AFTER ANNA, and it's a terrific suspense-filled family drama. I've been having a hard time finding time to read, but this was exactly what I needed!

AFTER ANNA tells the story Dr. Noah Alderman and his wife Maggie Ippolitti. Noah is a successful pediatric allergist, a father to a young son, and a widower whose life took a turn for the better when he met Maggie. Together, these three made a happy family... until Maggie's daughter entered their lives.

Maggie lost custody of her daughter Anna when she was only six months old. She never thought she'd see her again, but seventeen years later, Anna contacts her out of the blue. After a brief meeting, Maggie and Anna decide that Anna should leave her prestigious boarding school and move in with Maggie and Noah. And that's where the story gets interesting.

Anna is a beautiful, but manipulative, young woman who threatens Maggie and Noah's marriage. Maggie is full of guilt for not being part of her daughter's life, and she is hesitant to question Anna. That comes at the expense of her marriage and, ultimately, Noah's life. When Noah finds Anna dead at his house, he quickly becomes the main suspect.

Maggie is absolutely devastated for losing Anna so soon after having her back in her life and discovering that her husband might be responsible. It isn't until a strange call comes from Anna's therapist that Maggie starts thinking there might be more to Anna's story. What Maggie learns is both shocking and devastating to her family!

I really enjoyed AFTER ANNA. Of course, I didn't really expect anything less from Ms. Scottoline. She crafted a well written thriller with plenty of tension and drama... and even better, the book had a satisfying ending. I definitely think fans of Ms. Scottoline won't want to miss her latest novel.

I especially appreciated how the story was told. The book alternated between the chapters that occurred both "before" and "after" Anna through the eyes of Maggie and Noah. I enjoyed how the story unfolded with the flashbacks. The back and forth nature of the events helped build tension for the reader, and I thought it was extremely well done.

Finally, I was really happy with the conclusion to this story. The story had a pretty good pace throughout, but the tension really ratcheted up for the ending. There were a few twists (one major one!) that I didn't see coming, and I liked that I was surprised by a few of the characters and their actions. All in all, a highly readable novel!

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, May 5, 2018

Kid Konnection: Dr. Seuss's 100 First Words

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 new book for fans of Dr. Seuss.

Summary: A word book illustrated with images from the works of Dr. Seuss—starring the Little Cats from The Cat in the Hat Comes Back!

This super-sturdy casebound board book introduces babies and toddlers to 100 essential first words and to the artwork of Dr. Seuss! Illustrated with images from his most beloved, classic books (among them One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish, Green Eggs and Ham, and Hop on Pop)—the book also features the Little Cats—the tiny cats from The Cat in the Hat Comes Back—doing something fun on every spread! Perfect for learning and for play, there’s plenty to look at and talk about on each page. -- Random House

DR. SEUSS'S 100 FIRST WORDS is the perfect way to introduce Dr. Seuss and his characters to little ones. This oversized board book is sturdy enough for toddlers, and it's a fun way to learn new words with Dr. Seuss illustrations. The Little Cats from THE CAT IN THE HAT appear throughout along with classic images from some popular Dr. Seuss books including ONE FISH TWO FISH RED FISH BLUE FISH, HOP ON POP, and GREEN EGGS AND HAM.

Each page focuses on on a theme like Farm Animals, Food, Toys, and Pets. There are a few images on each page taken straight from a Dr. Seuss book along with one word descriptions -- much like the cover of the book! I remember how much my kids enjoyed books like this when they were young, and we always enjoyed playing games while reading them. I would ask them to find a word, and they could use the illustrations and a few letters to figure them out.

DR. SEUSS'S 100 FIRST WORDS is a very cute book that kids and parents alike will appreciate. It's a great way to get kids started on Dr. Seuss and his fantastic world of characters!

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!

Monday, April 30, 2018

Review: The High Tide Club

Summary: When ninety-nine-year-old heiress Josephine Bettendorf Warrick summons Brooke Trappnell to Talisa Island, her 20,000 acre remote barrier island home, Brooke is puzzled. Everybody in the South has heard about the eccentric millionaire mistress of Talisa, but Brooke has never met her. Josephine’s cryptic note says she wants to discuss an important legal matter with Brooke, who is an attorney, but Brooke knows that Mrs. Warrick has long been a client of a prestigious Atlanta law firm.

Over a few meetings, the ailing Josephine spins a tale of old friendships, secrets, betrayal and a long-unsolved murder. She tells Brooke she is hiring her for two reasons: to protect her island and legacy from those who would despoil her land, and secondly, to help her make amends with the heirs of the long dead women who were her closest friends, the girls of The High Tide Club—so named because of their youthful skinny dipping escapades—Millie, Ruth and Varina. When Josephine dies with her secrets intact, Brooke is charged with contacting Josephine’s friends’ descendants and bringing them together on Talisa for a reunion of women who’ve actually never met.

The High Tide Club is Mary Kay Andrews at her Queen of the Beach Reads best, a compelling and witty tale of romance thwarted, friendships renewed, justice delivered, and true love found. -- St. Martin's Press

The sticker on my Advanced Review copy of THE HIGH TIDE CLUB says, "Summer begins with Mary Kay Andrews " and that's seriously the truth for me. Every May or so, I read Ms. Andrews' latest novel. This year, she's written something a little different. THE HIGH TIDE CLUB is more of a mystery than a carefree beach book, but there are definitely still elements of Ms. Andrews' writing that fans will appreciate.

THE HIGH TIDE CLUB begins when Josephine Bettendorf Warrick asks Brooke Trappnell to visit her on Talisa Island, the barrier island that she owns and loves. Josephine is 99 years old and doesn't have too much longer to live, and she wants to discuss an important legal matter with Brooke. Brooke's curiosity is definitely piqued but she's also confused because Josephine already works with an established Atlanta law firm.

When Brooke arrives on the island, she sees that Josephine is struggling. Her health is failing as is the condition of her estate. After a few meetings where Josephine tells Brooke her story, she eventually asks Brooke to help her save her island from the people that want to take it away and make changes to it and to help her make amends with the heirs of her long lost friends -- aka the High Tide Club.

Unfortunately, Josephine dies before all of her secrets were revealed -- namely who was the person responsible for unsolved murder that took place about 80 years ago. Brooke doesn't really understand everything that Josephine wanted her to do, but she does her best to bring together Josephine's friends' descendants together. These women who never even knew the others existed come together in to save Talisa Island and uncover the long held secrets of their descendants.

I think fans of Mary Kay Andrews will enjoy THE HIGH TIDE CLUB, but if I'm being entirely honestly, it wasn't my favorite of her books. I liked most of the characters as well as the mystery aspect of the novel, and I even thought there was just enough romance and female friendship to make it an ideal summer read; however, it did take me quite awhile to really get into the story. The book seemed a bit long to me, coming in at over 400 pages; and I found the first third or so to be repetitive.

Having said that, once I got about halfway into the novel, I felt the story began to flow. The pace seemed much faster (maybe because there weren't as many flashbacks to the stories of the original High Tide Club), and there were aspects of the book that just interested me more (like Brooke's personal life and her romances with two men.) I did find the mystery to be compelling, and I appreciated how everything unfolded and them came together (if that makes sense!)

I also really liked some of the characters in this novel. Brooke was probably my favorite, but I also really liked her mother and Varina, the only living member of the High Tide Club. Brooke certainly had her hands full on many levels -- managing her career, getting involved in the mess of Josephine's estate, being a single mother, and even dating; however, she was a no nonsense individual with a good heart. I appreciated that the author gave the reader insight into her life because I found her to be a compelling character... and one I'd like to see again in future books.

As is always the case with a MKA novel, she did a wonderful job in bringing the characters and setting to life. I loved not only the descriptions of Talisa Island but also the decrepit mansion. I could also picture this barrier island and what the house looked like in its days of glory through the use of the flashbacks. Ms. Andrews attention to detail was spot-on in both her physical descriptions of the setting and characters.

And finally, I always love that Ms. Andrews' book have some romance thrown in for good measure. In the case of THE HIGH TIDE CLUB, there was a little fun (and some not-so-fun) male companionship for Brooke. (It definitely was just a minor thread in the story and not over-the-top at all!) However, it's Ms. Andrews' ability to always include the theme of female friendship in the story that really warms my heart. Not only did she demonstrate a great group of friends with the High Tide Club, but she also brought their heirs together for a new set of female friends.

All in all, THE HIGH TIDE CLUB is an entertaining mystery that should be included in many beach bags this summer. Recommend to fans of Mary Kay Andrews and readers who like their mysteries with a little romance and friendship.

Thanks to Tandem Literary 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.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Review: The Family Next Door

Summary: Small, perfect towns often hold the deepest secrets.

From the outside, Essie’s life looks idyllic: a loving husband, a beautiful house in a good neighborhood, and a nearby mother who dotes on her grandchildren. But few of Essie’s friends know her secret shame: that in a moment of maternal despair, she once walked away from her newborn, asleep in her carriage in a park. Disaster was avoided and Essie got better, but she still fears what lurks inside her, even as her daughter gets older and she has a second baby.

When a new woman named Isabelle moves in next door to Essie, she is an immediate object of curiosity in the neighborhood. Why single, when everyone else is married with children? Why renting, when everyone else owns? What mysterious job does she have? And why is she so fascinated with Essie? As the two women grow closer and Essie’s friends voice their disapproval, it starts to become clear that Isabelle’s choice of neighborhood was no accident. And that her presence threatens to bring shocking secrets to light.

The Family Next Door is Sally Hepworth at her very best: at once a deeply moving portrait of family drama and a compelling suburban mystery that will keep you hooked until the very last page. -- St. Martin's Press

I could have easily chosen to review THE FAMILY NEXT DOOR by Sally Hepworth for my Mystery Mondays feature because there is definitely an element of mystery surrounding the main characters in this novel. However, I think this book will appeal more to readers who appreciate well-crafted novels about families and suburban drama.

Essie seemingly has it all -- a great husband, two beautiful daughters, a nice house and a mom who lives nearby and helps with her kids. What more could a woman ask for, right? But things aren't quite what they seem. Essie suffered from a serious breakdown after the birth of her first child, and she even left her baby behind at a public park. She got the help she needed, but with the birth of her second child, she lives with the fear that she will have another breakdown.

And then Isabelle moves onto Essie's street, and Essie suddenly fears different -- more alive if you will. Everyone is curious about a single woman renting in the neighborhood when there are all families who have bought their houses, and even Isabelle's job seems to be a bit of a mystery; however, Essie is charmed. She becomes almost obsessed with spending time with Isabelle despite warnings from her friends and mother, and it's not until later that Isabelle's presence in the neighborhood makes sense.

THE FAMILY NEXT DOOR is a compelling story about women who live in a "'perfect" neighborhood" but have many secrets. Both Essie and Isabelle are definitely not what they seem and definitely represent that appearances can be deceiving. I enjoyed this novel and its characters quite a bit and definitely thought the novel was intriguing. The ending was packed with quite a few surprises and I think many readers will be kept guessing about these women's past actions.

The story was told in alternating chapters through the voices of various characters in the novel, and I thought the author did a good job in bringing each woman's character to life. I felt as if I got to know each of the characters as well as their secrets, and I was definitely vested in each of them.

At its heart, THE FAMILY NEXT DOOR represented that everyone has secrets that threaten to come out no matter how much we try to hide them. Each of the woman in this story were flawed and trying to cope with having imperfect lives which many readers will relate to. However, some of the secrets these woman were hiding were pretty dramatic (much more so that the average woman.) I appreciated the intriguing stories that these woman were hiding, and they definitely made for good reading!

Fans of Liane Moriarty and even the show Desperate Housewives will want to check out THE FAMILY NEXT DOOR.

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

Monday, April 23, 2018

Review: Look for Her

Summary: Lilling might seem like an idyllic English village, but it’s home to a dark history. In 1976, a teenage girl named Annalise Wood disappeared, and though her body was later discovered, the culprit was never found. Decades later, Annalise maintains a perverse kind of celebrity, and is still the focus of grief, speculation, and for one young woman, a disturbing, escalating jealousy. 

When DNA linked to the Annalise murder unexpectedly surfaces, cold case detective Morris Keene and his former partner, Chloe Frohmann, hope to finally bring closure to this traumatized community. But the new evidence instead undoes the case's only certainty: the buried body that had long ago been confidently identified as Annalise may be someone else entirely, and instead of answers, the investigators face only new puzzles. 

Whose body was unearthed all those years ago, and what happened to the real Annalise? Is someone interfering with the investigation? And is there a link to a present-day drowning with eerie connections? With piercing insight and shocking twists, Emily Winslow explores the dark side of sensationalized crime in this haunting psychological thriller. -- William Morrow

I really enjoyed the premise of the novel LOOK FOR HER by Emily Winslow. LOOK FOR HER takes up 40 years after the mysterious disappearance and murder (and unsolved case) of a teenage girl. In  1976, Annalise Wood disappears and the small English village of Lilling has never been the same. Four decades later, she is still an enigma to the community and present in the minds of many... including one woman in particular who is almost jealous of her notoriety.

Morris Keene is back at work for the police force after a traumatic injury albeit in a different role, while his former partner Chloe Frohmann is out on maternity leave. Morris is now working cold cases when a huge break comes in -- there's new DNA on the Annalise crime. He and Chloe decide to work together to get to the bottom of this mystery; however, they quickly learn that the new evidence flies in the face of what everyone has ever thought about Annalise's murder.

Meanwhile, Cambridge University therapist Laurie Ambrose has a strange link to Annalise. She has two new patients who both claim ties to the dead girl, and they seem to know an awful lot about her life as well. When one of them ends up dead, she finds herself right smack dab in the center of the mystery!

Can Keene and Frohmann find Annalise's murderer after all of this time? Is he or she even alive? And how do these two mysterious woman play a role in the investigation?

I liked LOOK FOR HER but I'm not sure I loved it. I've been in a bit of a reading funk lately and that might be why I had a hard time getting into this novel. Once I committed to the book, though, I did enjoy it and even appreciate the characters and the various plot twists. It's a smart mystery and very well written!

LOOK FOR HER has quite a few strengths as far as psychological suspense books go. The story is told in a unique way which makes it even more compelling. The chapters alternate between the two detectives, Keene and Frohmann, as well as the therapist. It also includes transcripts of the therapy sessions and even undiscovered emails. I found that this technique worked well for me because I saw the story from a variety of interesting (and insightful) angles.

In addition, I liked the complexity of the characters. Morris Keene had obviously suffered a trauma both physically and emotionally that made him intriguing, while Chloe Frohmann was dealing with the adjustment of being a new mom... and balancing her job as a detective. I enjoyed both of these characters, and I suspect we'll be seeing them in future novels. In addition, I found Laurie Ambrose to be a strong character. She had insights into the two women who claimed ties to Annalise, while also having to deal with her own struggles from the loss of her husband. I appreciated that these three characters had their own stories outside of the Annalise murder investigation.

Finally, I enjoyed the twists and turns in the story. I honestly wasn't sure where the story was going. And truth be told, with the plot twist at the end (that kind of came out of the blue), I wasn't going to figure things out. While I thought the story was a little slow at the beginning, it eventually became a page turner!

LOOK FOR HER would make an interesting book club selection. There is a reading guide with nine thought-provoking questions. Some of the themes you might want to explore include grief, loss, healing, assumptions, jealousy, obsession, privacy, love, parent/child relationships and more.

LOOK FOR HER is a well written mystery novel with some great characters. Recommended for fans of mysteries and psychological suspense stories.

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, April 21, 2018

Kid Konnection: Mama's Belly

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 precious picture book that's a perfect way to celebrate Mother's Day!

Summary: As a curious little girl awaits the arrival of her baby sister, she asks Mama many questions: “Will she have freckles?” “Will I have to share my blanket?” She helps Mama and Dad prepare to meet her little sister, singing her songs and knitting her a new blanket. But the most important part of getting ready is taking care of Mama. When Mama can’t see her toes, she counts to make sure there’s still ten. When Mama’s tired, she draws her a picture and gives her hugs. An honest and gentle exploration of the excitement and anxiety kids feel when welcoming a new family member, Mama’s Belly is ultimately a celebration of motherly (and daughterly) love and a soothing story for older siblings that even with the spotlight on a new baby, there is always enough love for everyone. -- Abrams

MAMA'S BELLY by Kate Hosford with pictures by Abigail Halpin is a beautiful picture book. It's a touching tribute to a mother/child relationship as they both eagerly await the birth of a new baby. I can't think of a better way to celebrate the upcoming Mother's Day holiday that with this special book!

MAMA'S BELLY tells the story of a little girl who can't wait to meet her little sister. She has so many questions about the baby, yet she also is quite the little helper when it comes to getting ready. She listens to her mama's belly for some clue about when the baby will be arriving, and she sings songs to to her sister so she will get to know her voice. She also plans on how she will take care of her -- it's all very sweet!

Soon, I will look right into my sister's eyes and say, 
"Welcome to the world. I'm here to love you."

As eager as this little girl is to meet her new sister, she also takes the time to help her mother. She  helps her mom count her toes, she makes pictures for her mom to enjoy, and she even understands that her mom is super-tired. But most importantly, she realizes that her mom will always love her.

"When my sister comes will you have enough love for both of us?" I ask.
"More than all the stars in the sky," Mama says.

I loved MAMA'S BELLY. It's a beautifully written and illustrated picture book with a heartwarming (and comforting) message. It explores the concerns little ones have when they have a sibling on the way, and it reinforces that a mom will always have enough love for each of her children. It truly is a special picture book!

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

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

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Kid Konnection: Celebrating Autism Awareness

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 new Golden Book with a new character!

Summary: We’re Amazing 1,2,3! is the first Sesame Street storybook to focus on autism, which, according to the most recent US government survey, may, in some form, affect as many as one in forty-five children. It’s part of Sesame Street’s autism initiative that has expanded to include a new character with autism. Elmo introduces his longtime friend Julia to Abby, who’s a little confused at first because Julia isn’t saying hello. Elmo explains that Julia has autism, so she does things a little differently. Julia sometimes avoids direct eye contact, flaps her arms when she’s excited, and is sensitive to some noises. But Abby soon learns that she also has a lot of things in common with Julia. All kids want love, friendship, and to have fun! They are all wonderful, each in his or her own way. -- Golden Books

April is National Autism Awareness Month and I thought it would be a great time to share the picture book WE'RE AMAZING 1, 2, 3!: A STORY ABOUT FRIENDSHIP AND AUTISM. This book is a Golden Book (remember those from when you were a kid?), and it's geared towards children three to seven years old. What makes this book so special (besides being about Sesame Street characters) is that it spotlights autism.

WE'RE AMAZING 1, 2, 3! is a very cute storybook that also teaches children about others who have autism. Many of you are probably familiar with Julia, Elmo's friend who has autism. In this picture book, Elmo introduces his friend Abby to Julia. Abby is confused because Julia doesn't say hello -- that's not how she was expecting to be treated. Elmo, the great friend that he is, explains Abby's behavior to Julia. For instance, Julia doesn't always look people in the eyes, and she doesn't like noise. She also flaps her arms when she gets excited.

Abby learns that she and Julia actually have a lot more in common than not. These three friends discover that they are all different and all amazing!

I loved this WE'RE AMAZING 1, 2, 3! I'm a huge fan of Golden Books and Sesame Street - they remind me of my childhood! This book has a fantastic message and I think kids will definitely benefit from understand Julia. Highly recommended!

Check out this read-along video:

If you'd like to learn more and see amazing in all children, check out the Sesame Street Autism Resources Page.

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!

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Review: Educated (Audio)

Summary: Tara Westover was seventeen the first time she set foot in a classroom. Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, she prepared for the end of the world by stockpiling home-canned peaches and sleeping with her “head-for-the-hills” bag. In the summer she stewed herbs for her mother, a midwife and healer, and in the winter she salvaged metal in her father’s junkyard.

Her father distrusted the medical establishment, so Tara never saw a doctor or nurse. Gashes and concussions, even burns from explosions, were all treated at home with herbalism. The family was so isolated from mainstream society that there was no one to ensure the children received an education, and no one to intervene when an older brother became violent.

When another brother got himself into college and came back with news of the world beyond the mountain, Tara decided to try a new kind of life. She taught herself enough mathematics, grammar, and science to take the ACT and was admitted to Brigham Young University. There, she studied psychology, politics, philosophy, and history, learning for the first time about pivotal world events like the Holocaust and the Civil Rights Movement. Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge University. Only then would she wonder if she’d traveled too far, if there was still a way home.

Educated is an account of the struggle for self-invention. It is a tale of fierce family loyalty, and of the grief that comes from severing one’s closest ties. With the acute insight that distinguishes all great writers, Westover has crafted a universal coming-of-age story that gets to the heart of what an education is and what it offers: the perspective to see one’s life through new eyes, and the will to change it. -- Random House Audio

I decided to listen to EDUCATED: A MEMOIR by Tara Westover after seeing that Kathy (aka Bermudaonion) enjoyed it. The comparisons to HILLBILLY ELEGY were a plus too; however, I'm not always the best listener of audio books. I was hoping that I might have better luck with a memoir because for some reason, I can usually stay focused on memoirs more than novels. It was definitely true with this "truth is stranger than fiction" story.

EDUCATED is Tara Westovers life story... so far -- she's still only in her early 30s. She was born to Mormons in rural Idaho, and her family was a bit unusual in that they were survivalists. Her mother was a midwife and herbalist, while her father ran a junkyard. Neither was normal by conventional standards, but her father's behavior bordered on manic. He distrusted the medical establishment so much that even when members of the family were seriously injured, he wouldn't take them to the hospital. He just relied on the mom's treatments.

In addition, he distrusted any and all of the establishment. His children, including Tara, didn't attend school; and truth be told, they weren't really homeschooled either. Tara decided tot each herself enough to do well on the ACT and admitted to Brigham Young University. So at 17, she entered a classroom for the first time... and it was truly an experience. She didn't know the basics (including the truth of the Holocaust for starters); and she wasn't exactly socially adept either. It is an amazing story that she went from these beginnings to eventually Harvard and Cambridge... and even earned her doctorate!

EDUCATED is truly an incredible story. First and foremost, Tara Westover is amazing to overcome her childhood and get such a wonderful education. (She's also pretty amazing to have survived it all with some sense of sanity!) In addition, I am blown away that she wanted to share her story with others. It's shocking and even disturbing at times, and I can't help but be impressed by how Ms. Westover worked through her family issues. I honestly have so much respect for her -- she's only strong woman!

The memoir is incredibly honest, painfully so at times, and I throughly enjoyed it. (That sounds twisted!) So many of her childhood memories are larger-than-life including her interactions with her dad and abusive older brother. It's almost hard to believe that one family could have this much happen to them, but I guess that's why she had to write a book. As interesting as these tidbits were about her youth, I appreciated even more what she had to overcome to become the person she is today.

The audiobook version was read by Julia Whelan, and she did a fantastic job. For most of the book, I felt as if Ms. Westover was telling me her story -- not a narrator. It's 730 minutes long, so it's not a quick read/listen. However, I think it's well worth the time.

I do think EDUCATED would be a smart book club selection. I was excited to find a reading guide with nine interesting questions. Some of the themes you might want to discuss include family dynamics, mental illness, abuse, parent/child relationships, trust, freedom, healing, and grief.

EDUCATED is a fantastic memoir that fans of HILLBILLY ELEGY and THE GLASS CASTLE will enjoy.

Thanks to the publisher for the audio download of this book.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Kid Konnection: Chronicle 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 published by Chronicle Books.

Summary: How do we love numbers? Let us count the ways: They're on street signs and bus stops, featured on phones, thermometers, chalkboards, and scales. They show the time and the date, and help us to measure distance, sizing, and so much more. This spirited picture book by beloved author-illustrator Taro Gomi will charm and inform the youngest of readers, offering them a unique—and useful—look at a key concept we count on. -- Chronicle Books

I KNOW NUMBERS! by Taro Gomi is an adorable book that showcases the importance of numbers. In this whimsically illustrated picture book, young readers will see that numbers are everywhere -- from street signs to telephones, to scales, to televisions, to sporting events... Well, you get the idea!

I thought this book was adorable and I can totally see toddlers taking this book to heart. I'm sure most kids will start pointing out to their parents that numbers are, indeed, everywhere. I KNOW NUMBERS is a terrific way to introduce the importance of numbers. Hopefully, children will be encouraged after reading this book to take the next steps of number recognition and counting!

Summary: Celebrate the time you have with the ones you love.

The seconds that count in catching the bus;
The idyllic hours that slip by so quickly during a perfect day on the lake;
The summer days that disappear into blissful happiness . . .

This gorgeous picture book is a conversation between parent and child across the course of a single day. Inviting comparisons to All the Wonderful Things You Will Be, I Wish You More, and Love, this celebration of cherished moments with loved ones is at once simple, profound, and truly beautiful. -- Chronicle Books

FOREVER OR A DAY by Sarah Jacoby is a gorgeous picture book that's certain to warm parents' hearts. Usually, I rave about how much kids will love a book or occasionally I share that parents will appreciate the humor; however, FOREVER OR A DAY is just beautiful for all types of readers. This book has gorgeous illustrations, but it's the words and meaning of this book that make it extra-special.

FOREVER OR A DAY reminds readers to appreciate the time you have especially as it pertains to spending time with loved ones. It focuses on the little things that make a day special with an emphasis on living in the moment. I think we all need to be reminded of that, right!

The book is written so cleverly that it almost reads like a mystery. It's clear to adults reading the book that it is talking about "time," but to kids, it might take a few pages to figure out what the book is referencing. For example, the book begins with:

If you look closely, you can see it. 
You can almost touch it. 

I love FOREVER OR A DAY for its lovely pictures and it's important message. It's one special book that families will want to read over and over again.

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

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

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Review: I've Been Thinking...

Summary: A book of reflections for those seeking wisdom, guidance, encouragement, and inspiration on the road to a meaningful life

As a prominent woman juggling many roles, Maria Shriver knows just how surprising, unpredictable, and stressful everyday life can be.

In this moving and powerful book, she shares inspiring quotes, prayers, and reflections designed to get readers thinking, get them feeling, get them laughing, and help them in their journey to what she calls The Open Field–a place of acceptance, purpose, and passion–a place of joy.

I’ve Been Thinking . . . is ideal for anyone at any point in her life. Whether you feel like you’ve got it all together or like it’s all falling apart–whether you’re taking stock of your life or simply looking to recharge, this is the book you will turn to again and again. Spend the weekend reading it cover to cover, or keep it on your nightstand to flip to the chapter you need most. Like talking with a close friend, it’s the perfect daily companion—an exceptional gift for someone looking to move forward in life with hope and grace. -- Pamela Dorman Books 

I have had some pretty big changes in my life these past few months. My daughter went off to college and I started working after a 15 year hiatus. If I'm being entirely honest, I've been in a bit of a funk; and sometimes I don't feel like I'm doing anything well. My house isn't as clean as I like. I don't cook as much as I should. I'm not home when my son gets home from work. I don't work out as regularly as I used to. And so on and so on....

I'm sure I'm not always easy to live with. In fact, I've been told so much by my husband and kids. I'm grumpy and depressed, and most importantly, I've been having a lot of self-doubt. I realize it's not a good thing for me or my family. And that's why this new little book by by Maria Shriver called I'VE BEEN THINKING... REFLECTIONS, PRAYERS, AND MEDITATIONS FOR A MEANINGFUL LIFE is so important to me.

I'VE BEEN THINKING... is a wonderful inspirational book on how to lead a more meaningful life. I've always respected Ms. Shriver as a journalist, mom, and philanthropist; and I think she has a unique way of using her life experiences to help others. I first read I'VE BEEN THINKING... in one day when I was home all by myself for a weekend; and since then, I've referenced it when I need a little pick me up.

I'VE BEEN THINKING... is a collection of essays collected from Ms. Shriver's e-newsletter, The Sunday Project. (If you aren't already a subscriber, I highly recommend it. The email is a treat every Sunday morning for me and helps start the week of on the right track.) These essays have a variety of themes including family, motherhood, the power of women, gratitude, faith, forgiveness and more. Each essay is just a few pages long and includes a prayer at the end, so the book is perfect to use as a daily devotional of sorts.

Since I'm coming clean in this review, I might as well tell you that I have a horrible time with keeping perspective. The little things in life drive me crazy, and I rarely look at the big picture and appreciate how very much I do have. I'VE BEEN THINKING... has helped me with that. Just hearing that someone like Ms. Shriver has similar feelings makes me realize that what I'm feeling is not uncommon, and her words of wisdom remind me to be grateful every day... and most importantly to not be so hard on myself. I will admit that it's not easy for me and I'm definitely a work-in-progress; however, I'VE BEEN THINKING... has helped me and will continue to help me. This book will sit on my nightstand for a very long time!

I'VE BEEN THINKING... is one of those books that you want to share with every woman in your life. There is so much advice and wisdom (and even humor) between the pages of this small book, and you will want to reference it over and over again. Highly recommended and it's the perfect Mother's Day gift idea!

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

Monday, April 2, 2018

Review: Tangerine

Summary: The last person Alice Shipley expected to see since arriving in Tangier with her new husband was Lucy Mason. After the accident at Bennington, the two friends—once inseparable roommates—haven’t spoken in over a year. But there Lucy was, trying to make things right and return to their old rhythms. Perhaps Alice should be happy. She has not adjusted to life in Morocco, too afraid to venture out into the bustling medinas and oppressive heat. Lucy—always fearless and independent—helps Alice emerge from her flat and explore the country.

But soon a familiar feeling starts to overtake Alice—she feels controlled and stifled by Lucy at every turn. Then Alice’s husband, John, goes missing, and Alice starts to question everything around her: her relationship with her enigmatic friend, her decision to ever come to Tangier, and her very own state of mind.

Tangerine is a sharp dagger of a book—a debut so tightly wound, so replete with exotic imagery and charm, so full of precise details and extraordinary craftsmanship, it will leave you absolutely breathless. - Ecco

I didn't expect to get much read this weekend because we were visiting relatives both Saturday and Sunday (and I can't read in the car!), but I ended up finishing a terrific novel of suspense called TANGERINE by Christine Mangan. It's hard to believe that this is Ms. Mangan's debut novel because it's so smart and entertaining, and evidently George Clooney agrees. He's already bought the film rights and Scarlett Johansson is slated to star (which will be absolutely perfect!)

TANGERINE begins when a dead body is being removed from water... and the reader has no idea who he is. The rest of the book is spent building up to this scene. TANGERINE takes place in the mid 1950s in Tangier. Alice Shipley is a newly married woman who moves to Morocco for her husband's job. He loves Tangier while Alice is almost afraid to leave their apartment. The crazy medinas, the crowds, and the heat are all a bit intimidating to her.

Much to Alice's surprise, her college roommate Lucy shows up in Tangier with virtually no explanation. The two women were once best friends but haven't spoken in over a year after a falling out one night during college. Lucy is determined to put the past behind them, and for brief period, Lucy and Alice return to the comfort of their friendship. Lucy even gets Alice to leave the flat and start exploring Morocco.

However, Alice's reluctance towards Lucy starts creeping back in. She realizes that Lucy is once again trying to control her life, and she doesn't like it. When Alice's husband John goes missing, Alice thinks she might be reliving the nightmare from her past. All of the doubts and insecurities about herself come rushing back in, and Alice has to struggle to get out of Lucy's grip!

I adored TANGERINE -- it was so good. The book was beautifully written, and the storyline was exciting. The novel went back and forth between women's lives in Tangier and the time they spent at Bennington College, and it also alternated chapters between Lucy and Alice's points of view. I appreciated how the story unfolded, and I equally liked how both narrators were a little off -- you could say slightly unreliable. And if you know me, I often times dislike being manipulated by unreliable narrators; however, in this case, I thought be were extremely well developed.

I also really enjoyed how the novel made Tangier into a character of its own. The author brought the setting to life through her vivid descriptions of the coastal city. However, the reader also got a sense of the drastic change and tension that was taking place during this time period in Tangier. It was the perfect backdrop to this story, and I could almost feel Alice's discomfort with the brutal heat and the crowds.

There was so much that I loved about TANGERINE. The characters were incredibly interesting -- both in the present and the past; and I loved the almost cat-and-mouse game that they played. Lucy was able to reinvent herself over and over again (sometimes a little too conveniently), while Alice -- well -- let's just say "poor Alice." It was so intriguing to get inside both of their minds, and I loved how their thoughts and actions got more and more desperate as the tension ratcheted up to the final pages.

I think fans of Hitchcock and Patricia Highsmith will appreciate this tale of suspense. I know I did. Highly recommended!

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

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

Friday, March 30, 2018

Kid Konnection: World Make Way

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 poetry picture book.

Summary: “Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt, and poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen.” —Leonardo da Vinci

Based on this simple statement by Leonardo, eighteen poets have written new poems inspired by some of the most popular works in the collection of The Metropolitan Museum. The collection represents a wide range of poets and artists, including acclaimed children’s poets Marilyn Singer, Alma Flor Alda, and Carole Boston Weatherford and popular artists such as Mary Cassatt, Fernando Botero, Winslow Homer, and Utagawa Hiroshige.

Accompanying the artwork and specially commissioned poems is an introduction, biographies of each poet and artist, and an index. -- Abrams

WORLD MAKE WAY: NEW POEMS INSPIRED BY ART FROM THE METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins is such a unique concept for a picture book. It is first and foremost a book of poetry; however, since it's inspired from art from The Met, it also has beautiful artwork. The combination of poetry and art make this an outstanding picture book for young readers.

Fans of art and poetry will recognize many of the individuals whose work is featured in this book. (I am far from an expert in either field, and even I knew a few!) Some of the more acclaimed people in this picture book include Marilyn Singer and Alma Flor Ada, as well as Mary Cassatt and Winslow Homer.

WORLD MAKE WAY is setup with a photograph of a famous piece of artwork in the Metropolitan Museum of Art  on one page and a poem that relates to the art on the corresponding page. Everything about this book is so pretty --from the artwork, to the poems, to the thick pages with backgrounds that match the artwork!

There is no doubt that this is one beautiful book, but it's also extremely educational. Besides offering a glimpse into art and poetry, there are also biographies of each poet and artist featured as well as an interesting foreword.

I think WORLD MAKE WAY is a very special picture book. Highly recommended.

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

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

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Review: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

Summary: No one’s ever told Eleanor that life should be better than fine.

Meet Eleanor Oliphant: She struggles with appropriate social skills and tends to say exactly what she’s thinking. Nothing is missing in her carefully timetabled life of avoiding social interactions, where weekends are punctuated by frozen pizza, vodka, and phone chats with Mummy.

But everything changes when Eleanor meets Raymond, the bumbling and deeply unhygienic IT guy from her office. When she and Raymond together save Sammy, an elderly gentleman who has fallen on the sidewalk, the three become the kinds of friends who rescue one another from the lives of isolation they have each been living. And it is Raymond’s big heart that will ultimately help Eleanor find the way to repair her own profoundly damaged one.

Soon to be a major motion picture produced by Reese Witherspoon, Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine is the smart, warm, and uplifting story of an out-of-the-ordinary heroine whose deadpan weirdness and unconscious wit make for an irresistible journey as she realizes. . .

The only way to survive is to open your heart. -- Pamela Dorman/Viking

My book club read ELEANOR OLIPHANT IS COMPLETELY FINE by Gail Honeyman for our March meeting. Everyone who came to the meeting actually read the book, and that's really saying something because that NEVER happens. Furthermore, everyone really liked and/or loved the novel. Those two things might be the biggest testament this book!

ELEANOR OLIPHANT IS COMPLETELY FINE tells the story of Eleanor, a woman who doesn't really fit in with her surroundings. She is a loner who is extremely awkward, is judgmental and says what she thinks, and doesn't really care about what her coworkers say. She has a pretty structured life too -- she calls her mom one evening a week and spends her weekends eating frozen pizzas and drinking lots of vodka. It's a pretty sad existence.

However, Eleanor's life takes a drastic turn when she meets Raymond, the IT guy from her office. They are drawn together when they end up saving an elderly man who fell on the sidewalk, and they continue seeing each other and building Eleanor's first real friendship. Raymond allows Eleanor to finally have a connection with someone; and although it's a rough road for her, she eventually learns that her life is worth more than she ever imagined.

I really enjoyed ELEANOR OLIPHANT IS COMPLETELY FINE. It's a special story that's extremely funny and heartwarming, but it's also a serious book about mental illness and recovery. It's hard to believe that this is Ms. Honeyman's first novel because it is so well-written. She really managed to write an entertaining story with memorable characters.

There are quite a few things to like about ELEANOR OLIPHANT IS COMPLETELY FINE. The book is extremely easy to read, and her characters are just fantastic. Both Eleanor and Raymond are extremely well-developed and so darn likable; and their encounters are something special. Everyone, but Eleanor especially, need a Raymond of sorts in their life. Raymond wasn't perfect, but he was an amazing friend. He cared about Eleanor despite her quirks (and that's a nice word for her issues), and he never gave up on helping her... even when it was difficult for him.

Another aspect of this novel that I appreciated was how it handled mental illness. Eleanor was a deeply damaged woman who experience some horrible events from her childhood. It's amazing she was functioning at all given what she saw. She never got the help she needed and she was pretty much left to fend for herself when she needed a support system. It was such a tragic story and I thought the author gave an interesting (and pretty realistic) look into the distress Eleanor felt.

Finally, I loved how this book made me feel. Of course, mental illness and depression are very serious issues, and the author handled them in such a unique way. Don't get me wrong, this book was sad and deeply disturbing at times; however, there was also so much humor in this story. In fact, it was laugh out loud funny at times, namely when Eleanor was providing her thoughts and insights into other people.

I also enjoyed how this book showed the strength of individuals and the power of friendships. Eleanor's friendship with Ray ultimately saved her life. She began seeing herself differently, and she was eventually able to face the demons from her past. The ending of this novel was left a little bit open-ended depending on what you think happens to Eleanor and Ray, but I believe the overall intent of the author was to leave readers with a feeling of hope!

Reese Witherspoon plans to produce the movie version of ELEANOR OLIPHANT IS COMPLETELY FINE, and I suspect the movie will be just as delightful as the novel. In the meantime, I do think this is a great selection for your book club. We actually spent quite a bit time talking about Eleanor which is also very unusual for my book club -- she's fascinating! I did find this reading guide which will help drive your discussion.

Eleanor Oliphant was a big hit with my book club, and I suspect you will fall for Eleanor too! Highly recommended.

Thanks to Kathy (aka Bermudaonion) for sending me a copy of this novel.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Review: Cemetery Girl

Summary: A missing child is every parent’s nightmare. What comes next is even worse in this riveting thriller from the bestselling and award-winning author of Bring Her Home.

Tom and Abby Stuart had everything: a perfect marriage, successful careers, and a beautiful twelve-year-old daughter, Caitlin. Then one day Caitlin vanished without a trace. For a while they grasped at every false hope and followed every empty lead, but the tragedy ended up changing their lives, overwhelming them with guilt and dread, and shattering their marriage.

Four years later, Caitlin is found alive but won’t discuss where she was or what happened. And when the police arrest a suspect connected to her disappearance, she refuses to testify. Taking matters into his own hands, Tom tries to uncover the truth—and finds that nothing that has happened yet can prepare him for what he is about to discover. -- Berkley

CEMETERY GIRL by David Bell has recently been re-released in paperback; and if you missed it the first time around, it's now available in a size that you can take with you anywhere. This novel is based on the rather uncomfortable situation of a child who goes missing and is presumed dead. As is often the case, the parents' marriage falls apart after the tragedy. But what happens when their daughter returns might even be worse!

Tom and Abby Stuart seemingly have it all until their 12 year old daughter Caitlin disappears while walking her dog near a cemetery. Both Tom and Abby are determined to find her, and for awhile, they both have the same goals. However, it's four years later and grief and guilt has gotten the best of them. Tom is still determined that Caitlin is out there, while Abby wants to put the past behind them and start a new life.

When they finally have a memorial service for Caitlin, the attention results in a new lead... one that gives Tom a great deal of hope. He decides to investigate for himself (because he doesn't feel like the police still believe she could be alive), and much to everyone's amazement, Caitlin is returned home to Tom and Abby. What's even more surprising is that Caitlin wants to go back to her abductor... she has fallen in love with him and wants nothing to do with her parents.

When the police finally get to the bottom of her abduction, they make an arrest; however, Caitlin refuses to talk about the past four years. Tom wants thing to be normal with his daughter, but he knows nothing will be right until he learns what happened to her. Tom sets out to learn the truth, putting himself and even Caitlin at risk; and what he learns is even worse than he ever could have imagined.

I enjoyed CEMETERY GIRL although "enjoy" is a strange word considering the subject matter. I have to be honest. This book was, at times, difficult to read; and what happened to Caitlin is every parent's worst nightmare. Even when it seemed like the book was going to go there, I still couldn't believe it. It was a horrific story that some readers, namely parents, might not be able to tolerate.

Having said that, I do think CEMETERY GIRL is a worthwhile read. It was a special look at the destruction of a family in the aftermath of a tragedy as well as the repercussions after it was seemingly over. The nightmare of Caitlin's return, both with discovering what she experienced as well as with her desire to return to her captor, was such a tragic story. But rest assured, there is a glimmer of hope that makes the subject matter and the story more redeeming!

I found the mystery aspect of CEMETERY GIRL to be quite good. Because Caitlin wasn't willing to talk, there was definitely the mystery of who took her and why. In addition, there were some questions surrounding the kidnapping and who (if anyone) might have helped her disappear. I do think the exploration of the family was actually a stronger part of the novel that the mystery, but the mystery was definitely intriguing.

What I enjoyed the most about this book was the exploration of Tom and Abby and how they each dealt with the tragedy of Caitlin's disappearance and subsequent return of her. Tom never gave up hope, but it ate him apart and basically destroyed every relationship in his life. He even acted almost irresponsibly in his quest to catch Caitlin's kidnapper. He was that obsessed.

Meanwhile, Abby turned away from her husband and towards her pastor at her church. She wanted to move on and Tom just couldn't understand her feelings... and she couldn't understand Tom's for that matter. I actually think both Tom and Abby were on the extremes for how they dealt with the tragedy, but I appreciated how they were portrayed. As a parent, there were times when I related to Tom and other times when I related more to Abby.

Because CEMETERY GIRL was such a unique exploration of grief and recovery, I do think it would make a good book club selection... especially if your group enjoys mysteries. There is a reading guide available with twelve questions. Some of the themes you might want to explore include marriage, grief, faith, parent/child relationships, guilt, revenge, and love.

I am becoming quite the fan of David Bell, and I look forward to reading more of his books in the future. In fact, he has a new on coming out later in 2018 called SOMEBODY'S DAUGHTER that sounds good! In the meantime, he has plenty of books to read including CEMETERY GIRL.

Thanks to Get Red PR 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.