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.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Kid Konnection: Unicorns & Pink Hats

Every Saturday, I host a feature called Kid Konnection -- a regular weekend feature about anything related to children's books. This week I'm going to share with you two picture books that are positively adorable and have terrific messages!

Summary: The Land of Unicorns is in trouble — it has been raining and raining for what seems like forever. This is a big problem because there are only three ways that unicorns can get their magic: from the golden sun, from magnificent rainbows, and from the sparkle of believing.

Luckily, Uni the Unicorn has always always always believed…that little girls are REAL. Join this very special unicorn and the little girl who believes right back as they finally meet and work together to save a magical land and all who live there!

Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Brigette Barrager reunite to revive this world glowing with possibility and hope that is the stuff of childhood fantasies. -- Random House

UNI THE UNICORN AND THE DREAM COME TRUE by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and illustrated by Brigette Barrager is the followup to 2014 bestseller UNI THE UNICORN. I missed out on UNI THE UNICORN, but I'm certainly jumping on the bandwagon with this new book. It's so fun!

UNI THE UNICORN AND THE DREAM COME TRUE takes place in the Land of the Unicorns where it's been raining for a very long time. Sadly, that affects how unicorns can get their magic because they can only get their magic from the sun, rainbows, and the sparkle of believing.

Uni the Unicorn was a bright ray of hope because she was a true believer that little girls were real... and that means that Uni was as strong and magical as ever. However, the other unicorns were in trouble. Fortunately, a little girl was as much as a believer as Uni. When Uni and the girl combined their wishes (along with a few other unicorns), they learned that nothing is impossible!

UNI THE UNICORN AND THE DREAM COME TRUE is such a terrific picture book. I love the story about Uni and this little girl who were true believers. Together, they proved that they could accomplish so much and help others. What a great message!

In addition, the illustrations in this book are beautiful. They are so sweet and the perfect complement to this magical story. Since it takes place in the Land of Unicorns, you can imagine the glorious rainbow colors too.

UNI THE UNICORN AND THE DREAM COME TRUE is sure to be a favorite with the fantasy, sparkles, and unicorn crowd. Highly recommended!

Summary: Here is a clever story that follows the journey of a pink hat that is swiped out of a knitting basket by a pesky kitten, blown into a tree by a strong wind, and used as a cozy blanket for a new baby, then finally makes its way onto the head of a young girl marching for women’s equality.

Inspired by the 5 million people (many of them children) in 82 countries who participated in the 2017 Women’s March, Andrew Joyner has given us a book that celebrates girls and women and equal rights for all!

With themes of empathy, equality, and solidarity, The Pink Hat is a timeless and timely story that will empower readers and promote strength in the diverse and active feminist community. -- Schwartz & Wade

THE PINK HAT by Andrew Joyner is a cute book that also has a powerful message. This picture book follows the travels of a pink hat that was stolen out of a knitting basket by a mischievous kitten. The hat has quite the adventure as it travels through the wind, lands with a baby, gets stolen for a bird, played with by a dog, and finally finds a home with a little girl. The little girl cleans up the hat and wears it everywhere only to end up wearing it with many, many others!

I thought THE PINK HAT was a clever way to introduce the idea of women's equality to young girls. The book has very basic text, along with very cute black and white (and pink!) illustrations, that is appropriate for even the youngest of toddlers. However, the true message in this book is geared towards a slightly older crowd. THE PINK HAT demonstrates the importance and power of joining together for an important cause.

THE PINK HAT is an important book that mothers (and fathers) can use to introduce the concepts of gender equality and strength in numbers.

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 21, 2018

Review: I Liked My Life

Summary: A story from debut author Abby Fabiaschi that is "as absorbing as it is illuminating, and as witty as it is heartbreaking."

Maddy is a devoted stay-at-home wife and mother, host of excellent parties, giver of thoughtful gifts, and bestower of a searingly perceptive piece of advice or two. She is the cornerstone of her family, a true matriarch...until she commits suicide, leaving her husband Brady and teenage daughter Eve heartbroken and reeling, wondering what happened. How could the exuberant, exacting woman they loved disappear so abruptly, seemingly without reason, from their lives? How they can possibly continue without her? As they sift through details of her last days, trying to understand the woman they thought they knew, Brady and Eve are forced to come to terms with unsettling truths.

Maddy, however, isn’t ready to leave her family forever. Watching from beyond, she tries to find the perfect replacement for herself. Along comes Rory: pretty, caring, and spontaneous, with just the right bit of edge...but who also harbors a tragedy of her own. Will the mystery of Maddy ever come to rest? And can her family make peace with their history and begin to heal? - -St. Martin's Press

Normally, I liked to read thrillers as a way to escape from the realities of my day-to-day life; however, every once in awhile I liked the read a book that touches my heart and makes me think. I picked up I LIKED MY LIFE by Abby Fabiaschi because the reviews I had read (including this one by Kathy) made me curious about how this novel could work. At its simplest, this novel tells the story of a grieving family and how they came to terms with the loss of their wife and mother. However, there's a bit of a twist on this story -- the book provides the point of view of the deceased mother and how she is trying to manipulate her family's lives.

Maddy is a stay-at-home mom and seems to have a pretty terrific life. Her husband Brady is a successful business man and her daughter Eve is a great teenager. Maddy seems to do everything just right -- from entertaining, to providing advice, to always knowing what to others need. However, out of the blue, Maddy commits suicide... and it leaves Brady and Eve devastated. How could they have absolutely no idea that Maddy was in so much pain?

Meanwhile, Maddy isn't quite ready to let go of her family either. Her family is trying to piece together the truth about Maddy's last few months, while Maddy is trying to make things better for them from back on Earth. When Maddy discovers Rory, a school teacher who might be exactly what Brady and Eve need, she does her best to interview from the "great beyond." Can Brady and Eve find some peace and move on after the loss of their loved one?

I enjoyed I LIKED MY LIFE quite a bit; and while it was very sad at times, I do think the overall effect of the novel was a positive and uplifting one. I was extremely impressed with Ms. Fabiaschi's writing skills; and as far as I'm concerned, she pulled off a pretty impressive feat with this book. The book received starred reviews from Library Journal and Booklist, and it has some great blurbs from some of my favorite authors... so I'm not alone with my praise for this book!

One of the strengths about I LIKED MY LIFE is in the character development. As a stay-at-home mom for years, I could relate to Maddy and much of what she said about her life. There's no doubt that my affinity for her made this novel more relevant to me, and I think many moms will agree with me. I also found Rory to be a wonderful character, and I loved that she had such a complex backstory.  And Brady and Eve were realistic to me too as they navigated their lives post-Maddy.

In addition, I thought the author did a wonderful job in exploring grief. Because Maddy took her own life, it added an extra dimension to Brady and Eve's ability to cope with her death. They both were trying to learn what made Maddy so desperate (because they truly had no idea), and the guilt they experienced added to their pain. I have no real-life comparison to their situations, but I did find their portrayal extremely realistic.

And last but certainly not least, I really liked the twist at the end of the novel. I am not going to say much about it because I don't want to spoil it for future readers, but I will say that it was quite the surprise for me. I especially loved that their was a feeling of hope and love throughout the story even though there was also a lot of darkness. I guess it's a great metaphor for life, right?

I LIKED MY LIFE would make a wonderful book club selection. There is a reading guide with thirteen questions. Some of the themes you might want to discuss include love, motherhood, marriage, grief, and guilt. In addition, I think the roles of parenting for both Maddy and Brady are especially interesting.

I really enjoyed I LIKED MY LIFE. It was touching and smart (and even a little humorous). The book is out in hardcover now and trade paperback on May 8th. Highly recommended to readers who enjoy stories about families.

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

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 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!