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!