Saturday, October 27, 2018

Kid Konnection: History's Mysteries

Every Saturday, I host a feature called Kid Konnection -- a regular weekend feature about anything related to children's books. This week I'm going to share with you a book for the kid in your life who is curious about history!

Summary: Curious kids itching for real-life Indiana Jones-like intrigue will get swept away with the next book in this spine-tingling series about solving puzzles of the past--from whole civilizations that have vanished to mystifying monuments and urban legends.

Fans of Night at the Museum and the Indiana Jones saga will be fascinated by these real-life mysteries: Is there any truth to the legend of Bigfoot? Why have planes and ships suddenly disappeared in the Bermuda Triangle? Is there really a lost city of gold in the jungle of Central America? The next book in this exciting new series will cover even more of history's most fascinating head-scratching conundrums, including the curse of the Hope Diamond, King Tut's tomb, black holes, the puzzling disappearance of ancient civilizations, cryptic creatures of myth and legend, long-lost treasure, and so much more. Kids can dig into these mysteries, uncover clues, and ponder leading scientific theories to help decipher what really happened. Chock-full of cool photos, fun facts, and spooky fun, this book is sure to keep curious kids engaged as they try to piece together these puzzles of the past! -- National Geographic Kids

National Geographic Kids is back with another edition of HISTORY'S MYSTERIES: FREAKY PHENOMENA: CURIOUS CLUES, COLD CASES, AND PUZZLES FROM THE PAST by Kitson Jazynika. It's the perfect gift for kids who are interested in history... and truthfully even for ones who don't think they are interested in history. This 160 page book make learning about history fun because it covers strange real-life mysteries!

HISTORY'S MYSTERIES is a very cool book for kids and adults alike. There are some amazing stories about some of history's most famous unsolved cases like the Loch Ness Monster, the Curse of the Hope Diamond, the Baiae Tunnels, and more! I've always been drawn to the mystery surrounding King Tut, so that section was especially interesting to me. But I found quite a few of the features to be extremely thought-provoking. I'm sure every reader will have a favorite mystery (or two!)

Once again, I am impressed with how these National Geographic Kids' books present material to kids. It goes without saying that the photographs and other images are amazing and certain to draw in even the most reluctant of readers. I also like that the written material is presented in a concise, easy-to-read way. There are plenty of fun facts, and I like the "New Evidence Revealed" sections. This book is about history but it's not at all intimidating to kids!

I also like that the ideas are offered in such a way that kids can try to solve these mysteries... or at least, they can come to their own conclusions about these mysteries. So while this book is providing some historical context to kids, it's also making them think about the information. How awesome is that?

I highly recommend HISTORY'S MYSTERIES. It's a must-have for school and home libraries.

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, October 22, 2018

Review: November Road

Summary: Set against the assassination of JFK, a poignant and evocative crime novel that centers on a desperate cat-and-mouse chase across 1960s America—a story of unexpected connections, daring possibilities, and the hope of second chances from the Edgar Award-winning author of The Long and Faraway Gone.

Frank Guidry’s luck has finally run out.

A loyal street lieutenant to New Orleans’ mob boss Carlos Marcello, Guidry has learned that everybody is expendable. But now it’s his turn—he knows too much about the crime of the century: the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

Within hours of JFK’s murder, everyone with ties to Marcello is turning up dead, and Guidry suspects he’s next: he was in Dallas on an errand for the boss less than two weeks before the president was shot. With few good options, Guidry hits the road to Las Vegas, to see an old associate—a dangerous man who hates Marcello enough to help Guidry vanish.

Guidry knows that the first rule of running is "don’t stop," but when he sees a beautiful housewife on the side of the road with a broken-down car, two little daughters and a dog in the back seat, he sees the perfect disguise to cover his tracks from the hit men on his tail. Posing as an insurance man, Guidry offers to help Charlotte reach her destination, California. If she accompanies him to Vegas, he can help her get a new car.

For her, it’s more than a car— it’s an escape. She’s on the run too, from a stifling existence in small-town Oklahoma and a kindly husband who’s a hopeless drunk.

It’s an American story: two strangers meet to share the open road west, a dream, a hope—and find each other on the way.

Charlotte sees that he’s strong and kind; Guidry discovers that she’s smart and funny. He learns that’s she determined to give herself and her kids a new life; she can’t know that he’s desperate to leave his old one behind.

Another rule—fugitives shouldn’t fall in love, especially with each other. A road isn’t just a road, it’s a trail, and Guidry’s ruthless and relentless hunters are closing in on him. But now Guidry doesn’t want to just survive, he wants to really live, maybe for the first time.

Everyone’s expendable, or they should be, but now Guidry just can’t throw away the woman he’s come to love.

And it might get them both killed. -- William Morrow

Without a doubt, my favorite question at Book Expo each year is, "What book are you most excited about this fall?" And one of my favorite book people (Book Club Girl) said, "NOVEMBER ROAD." Of course, her recommendation was all I needed, but I'll admit the amount of well-respected authors on Twitter who were raving about this novel and the author Lou Berney, made me even more excited to read it! Plus, NOVEMBER ROAD received starred reviews from Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and Library Journal. Are you getting the idea that this book is a must-read?

Well if so, you are correct! I loved, loved, loved this book in a time when I don't get to read all that often. I basically hid every day during my lunch just to escape with this novel. It's that good. The characters are so incredibly real, and the plot is suspenseful, and I could go on and on; however, it's Lou Berney's writing that makes this book absolutely amazing.

The description above for NOVEMBER ROAD is pretty detailed, so I probably don't need to add much more to that. In summary, this novel takes place in the days following JFK's assassination and follows three people who are on the run -- Charlotte, a housewife who has just left her alcoholic husband, Guidry, a street lieutenant with the New Orleans mob, and a hitman who is chasing both of them. It's definitely not Guidry's intent when he picks up Charlotte and her daughters to fall in love with her, but he finds himself not only trying to safe his own life, but also trying to make a new one with her. It's quite the ride... both for the characters and the reader!

What amazed me the most about NOVEMBER ROAD is that, while it was a really well-written suspense novel, it was perhaps even more special because of the characters and the depth of their stories. It's part mystery, part suspense, and part love-story; and it truly reflects the mood of the country during this dark time. Every page is compelling and I absolutely loved how the author explored these characters' innate desire to live life to the fullest against the backdrop of Kennedy's death.

Another aspect of this novel which I'm finding hard to explain is the pace of the story. In many ways, the novel was extremely fast paced. The entire book took place in a short period of time and the chase aspect made it feel hurried. However, there were poignant times between the Charlotte and Guidry that seemed almost slow-motion in contract to the chase. I know this isn't making much sense, but I so appreciated how these two main plotlines wove together to make a beautiful story.

NOVEMBER ROAD would make an excellent book club selection. This is literary suspense at the highest level, and the character development is outstanding. You could really analyze their choices and motivations for quite some time. In addition, there are some universal themes that would make for some interesting discussion including love, loss, fear, second chances, forgiveness, and sacrifice.

I purposely left my review for NOVEMBER ROAD a little vague -- mostly because this novel left me speechless (if you can believe that.) It will without a doubt go down as one of my favorite books of 2018 (and maybe even this past decade.) 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, October 20, 2018

Kid Konnection: Hey, Kiddo

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 terrific graphic novel.

Summary: In kindergarten, Jarrett Krosoczka's teacher asks him to draw his family, with a mommy and a daddy. But Jarrett's family is much more complicated than that. His mom is an addict, in and out of rehab, and in and out of Jarrett's life. His father is a mystery. Jarrett doesn't know where to find him, or even what his name is. Jarrett lives with his grandparents. Two very loud, very loving, very opinionated people who had thought they were through with raising children until Jarrett came along. Jarrett goes through his childhood trying to make his non normal life as normal as possible, finding a way to express himself through drawing even as so little is being said to him about what's going on. Only as a teenager can Jarrett begin to piece together the truth of his family, reckoning with his mother and tracking down his father. Hey, Kiddo is a profoundly important memoir about growing up in a family grappling with addiction, and finding the art that helps you survive. -- Scholastic

Looking back at Book Expo, one of the highlights was getting a signed copy of HEY, KIDDO: HOW I LOST MY MOTHER, FOUND MY FATHER, AND DEALT WITH FAMILY ADDICTION by Jarrett J. Krosoczka. I have been a big fan of the Lunch Lady series for years; and when I found out that the author had written a memoir about his childhood, I just knew it would be something special!

HEY, KIDDO is truly a wonderful graphic novel about Jarrett Krosoczka's complicated childhood. His mother was an addict, who was absent for long periods from Jarrett's life; and he didn't really know his father at all. He lived with his maternal grandparents who undoubtedly loved him, but weren't always the easiest people to life with.

As Jarrett grows older and becomes more aware of his family situation, he begins to realize the truth about his parents. He learns to accept his mother and he even begins to have a relationship of sorts with his father. Despite all of this things, Jarrett does his best to just be "normal," and in the process, he finds that his love of drawing helps him not only survive, but thrive!

Words cannot express how much I adored HEY, KIDDO. This graphic novel has fantastic illustrations (of course!), but I was truly blown away by how these drawings were able to convey the different characters' emotions. I'm not a huge reader of graphic novels (although I do enjoy them when I pick one up!), and I guess I didn't realize just how intense they can be.

It certainly didn't hurt that Mr. Krosoczka had a powerful childhood story. His situation was definitely complicated; and it's a true testament, both to him and his grandparents, how he was able to use art to cope. I found Mr. Krosoczka's strength to be admirable, and I think middle graders and high schoolers will find much to appreciate in this story.

However, it's how much this book has the potential to help children in similar situations that really makes HEY, KIDDO so amazing. Mr. Krosoczka's story is not only heartwarming, but it also shows children that it's possible to get through difficult times with a good support system. Furthermore, it's also possible to get through difficult times if you find something inside of yourself that can make you happy, like Mr. Krosoczka love of drawing.

HEY, KIDDO has already been chosen as a 2018 National Book Award Finalist, and I honestly can't think of a book (or author) that is more deserving. Highly recommended!

I received a copy of HEY, KIDDO at the 2018 Book Expo.

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, October 15, 2018

Review: The Girl from Berlin

Summary: In the newest novel from internationally-bestselling author Ronald. H. Balson, Liam and Catherine come to the aid of an old friend and are drawn into a property dispute in Tuscany that unearths long-buried secrets

An old friend calls Catherine Lockhart and Liam Taggart to his famous Italian restaurant to enlist their help. His aunt is being evicted from her home in the Tuscan hills by a powerful corporation claiming they own the deeds, even though she can produce her own set of deeds to her land. Catherine and Liam’s only clue is a bound handwritten manuscript, entirely in German, and hidden in its pages is a story long-forgotten…

Ada Baumgarten was born in Berlin in 1918, at the end of the war. The daughter of an accomplished first-chair violinist in the prestigious Berlin Philharmonic, and herself a violin prodigy, Ada’s life was full of the rich culture of Berlin’s interwar society. She formed a deep attachment to her childhood friend Kurt, but they were torn apart by the growing unrest as her Jewish family came under suspicion. As the tides of history turned, it was her extraordinary talent that would carry her through an unraveling society turned to war, and make her a target even as it saved her, allowing her to move to Bologna—though Italy was not the haven her family had hoped, and further heartache awaited.

What became of Ada? How is she connected to the conflicting land deeds of a small Italian villa? As they dig through the layers of lies, corruption, and human evil, Catherine and Liam uncover an unfinished story of heart, redemption, and hope—the ending of which is yet to be written. -- St. Martin's Press

I always look forward to the next installment in the Liam Taggert and Catherine Lockhart series by Ronald M. Balson. I am pretty sure that I've read all of them except one... which I certainly need to remedy! The latest in the series is titled THE GIRL FROM BERLIN, and I think fans of this series (or even readers who enjoy books that take place during World War II) will appreciate this novel.

In THE GIRL FROM BERLIN, Liam and Catherine find themselves heading to Italy to help one of the friends. His aunt Gabi is being thrown out of her villa and off her land in Tuscany by a corporation that claims they own the deeds. Liam and Catherine don't have a lot to go on. Catherine doesn't isn't even allowed to practice law or Italy, nor is she familiar with the property laws; however, they do have an old manuscript written in Germany which might provide some clues.

As is the case with this series, there is always a present day story and flashbacks to the past. In the case of this novel, Ada Baumgarten's manuscript provided the background for the mystery. Ada was a teenager (and child violin prodigy) at the onset of Hitler's rise to power in Germany. She was the daughter of a famous musician with the Berlin Philharmonic, and her family was afforded some protection because of their status even though they were Jewish. Despite what was going on in Berlin during this time period, Ada and her family led a pretty comfortable life... until they didn't.

Ada developed a friendship (and eventually a romance) with Kurt, a young boy who was also a member of the junior orchestra. Unfortunately, Kurt left the orchestra to join the German war efforts; and the two teens were forced to keep their relationship a secret. As tensions rose in Germany, Ada and her mother decided that it was finally time for them to leave the country. Fortunately, Ada's skills as a musician provided them with the opportunity to go to Bologna, Italy.

Ada's manuscript unravels her amazing life story (including what happens to her family and her relationship with Kurt!) while also providing some clues about the ownership of the land. Of course, the husband and wife team of Liam and Catherine do their own investigating to make sense of Ada's story and how it pertains to Gabi and her land.

I really enjoyed THE GIRL FROM BERLIN and I suspect I won't be alone in my praise of this novel. While I love Liam and Catherine, I will admit that my favorite parts of this book were the chapters associated with Ada's diary. I am always drawn to a good story about Nazi Germany and how individuals were able to persevere; however, Ada's story was especially intriguing. Ada and her family had a unique situation given their status in Berlin (and Hitler's appreciation of the arts!), and it was very interesting to me to see how they used their friendships and social contacts to try to save themselves from the Nazis.

Another aspect of this novel that I enjoyed was Ada's relationship with Kurt. It wasn't especially unique to have a young Jewish girl and a German boy fall in love, but I still liked it quite a bit. Ada was an incredibly strong and brave young woman, and I appreciated how she loved Kurt but she also had doubts about his contribution to the war effort.

As is the case with any novel about Nazi Germany, this novel had some gut-wrenching parts. However, I will say that the overall "feeling" of this novel was one of strength and hope. The ending almost made me cry, first out of sadness and then out of happiness; and I loved the surprise twist at the end.

THE GIRL FROM BERLIN definitely had a mystery aspect to it concerning Gabi's house and the corporation that claimed they owned her land. I will say that the mystery of Ada's life (and what happened to her and how she was linked to Gabi) was much more intriguing to me than the mystery surrounding the deeds. Having said that, there were a few surprises about the corporation and the history of the deeds that I did appreciate.

I highly recommend THE GIRL FROM BERLIN... and really all of Mr. Balson's novels.

Thanks to the publisher for providing a Netgalley 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, October 13, 2018

Kid Konnection: Animal Zombies!

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 science book about some scary animals!

Summary: Zombie alert! Meet the real-life monsters of the animal kingdom and explore the gory, gross, and creepy behaviors these creatures have honed in order to survive.

Do monsters really exist? Find out for yourself in this fun-filled book, featuring some real-life wonders of nature: zombifying parasites, bloodsucking vampires, aliens, sea beasts, ghosts, and more. Discover more than 50 creatures with unusual talents, find out what makes each animal tick, and whether they are truly "monsters" after all. Features include eye-popping photography, spine-tingling scientific info, the most up-to-date research, and fun facts for extra knowledge. You'll also meet the "Mad Scientist" experts who study these creatures, explore the creepy origins of their mythical counterparts, and learn how these spooky adaptations help them survive. -- National Geographic

Halloween is only a few weeks away, so I thought it was the perfect time for the book ANIMAL ZOMBIES! AND OTHER BLOODSUCKING BEASTS, CREEPY CREATURES, AND REAL-LIFE MONSTERS by Chana Stiefel. This book presents some crazy, scary creatures... and I'm sure that kids will be attracted to these "truth is stranger than fiction" animals!

ANIMAL ZOMBIES! is geared towards brave readers as the introduction states. It actually warns you that you are "about to enter the darkest, creepiest corners of our world." This book introduces more than 50 creatures that are pretty darn scary because of how they look, what (and how) they eat, and more. You will meet animals who are flesh-eaters, brain invaders, and blood drinkers, but you will also learn that these very same animals have developed some pretty cool ways to survive and even thrive!

I don't know that I would have picked up ANIMAL ZOMBIES! as a kid, but I was a pretty wimpy child. Most kids are going to love just how scary these real-life creatures are. This book has some amazing photography (of course it does because it's published by National Geographic!), and I think some of the photographs are almost nightmare worthy. I mean nightmare worthy in a good way -- not a bad one!

ANIMAL ZOMBIES! is a lot of fun to skim through given its amazing photography, but it also is extremely educational. Readers, especially those interested in unique animals, will learn a great deal about some pretty obscure animals. For instance, there is an entire section on Alien Animals including body invaders and tapeworms. There is also a section on Animal Monster Mash which covers disgusting (my word!) animals like mucus monsters and spewing spiders.

As is always the case with National Geographic kids books, the information is presented in a kid-friendly way -- it really does make learning fun. There are tons of pictures with informative captions, but there are also "Did You Know? "sections and animal bio features. I  also love the fun facts that are provided for each animal like the "By the Numbers" section which has interesting tidbits about the size of the animal and the "Horror or Helper" section which makes readers see another side of these creatures.

ANIMAL ZOMBIES! is a fun book that's sure to creep out even the bravest reader. Highly recommended for home and school libraries... and even reluctant readers.

Thanks to Media Masters for providing a review copy of this novel.

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, October 8, 2018

Review: The Witch Elm

Summary: Toby is a happy-go-lucky charmer who’s dodged a scrape at work and is celebrating with friends when the night takes a turn that will change his life – he surprises two burglars who beat him and leave him for dead. Struggling to recover from his injuries, beginning to understand that he might never be the same man again, he takes refuge at his family’s ancestral home to care for his dying uncle Hugo. Then a skull is found in the trunk of an elm tree in the garden – and as detectives close in, Toby is forced to face the possibility that his past may not be what he has always believed.

A spellbinding standalone from one of the best suspense writers working today, The Witch Elm asks what we become, and what we’re capable of, when we no longer know who we are. -- Viking

I was so excited to open my front door a few weeks ago and see Tana French's new novel THE WITCH ELM. I haven't read all of Ms. French's novels (I know -- Shame on me!), but the ones I have read are outstanding. I love her characters, the mysteries, and especially the way she writes. Plus it doesn't hurt that her books all take place in Ireland!

THE WITCH ELM is a standalone novel that tells the story of Toby, a successful young man who leads a charmed life... until he doesn't! Toby was a popular kid (and adult), and he was always able to talk his way out of anything. However one night, he wakes up to find two strange men in his home. They beat him senseless, and Toby's life suddenly isn't so charmed anymore. Toby was basically left for dead and he suffered from major injuries including some brain damage. His memory of the attack is almost nil, and he has problems focusing on anything for very long.

When Toby learns that his beloved uncle Hugo, who lives at the family home, has been diagnosed with brain cancer, Toby decides to visit him. He ends up staying with Hugo and the two men kind of take care of each other.

Things get interesting when a skull is found inside the trunk of a wych elm tree in Hugo's garden. The body is soon identified and police start asking Toby questions. Toby is pretty sure that he had nothing to do with the murder, but since his accident, he's not entirely sure of anything. Despite his health issues, Toby is determined to get to the bottom of the case... even if that means learning that he's a murderer!

I enjoyed THE WITCH ELM, but I will admit that it's not my favorite Tana French book. I thought this novel was a little slow and a little long, and there were times when I found myself losing interest in it. I think it just took awhile for the story/mystery to get going. Once things started picking up, I was all in... but that just took me a little longer than I liked.

Having said that, THE WITCH ELM is still a mystery written by Ms. French, so there's plenty of great things to say about it. She truly is a remarkable writer. I love her character development -- Toby and Hugo were extremely interesting, but so were a few of the secondary characters. In addition, I was definitely kept guessing about the story behind the discovered skull. I admit that my thoughts changed about as much as Toby's did.

What impressed me the most about THE WITCH ELM, though, was how it made me think. And I don't just mean that I was trying to figure out a mystery. Toby wasn't exactly the most reliable narrator because of his head injuries, but the portrayal of him really brought to light the issue of memory. (It probably didn't hurt that some of the issues concerning memory were also being talked about in the news!) In addition, this novel explored some serious issues about family, luck, guilt, revenge, and identity; and let me just say that the way Ms. French delved into these topics was nothing short of brilliant!

THE WITCH ELM is an outstanding example of just how smart literary suspense can be. And even though I did find the book slow at times, it is most definitely a worthwhile read. 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, October 6, 2018

Kid Konnection: Turning Pages

Summary: Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor tells her own story for young readers for the very first time!

As the first Latina Supreme Court Justice, Sonia Sotomayor has inspired young people around the world to reach for their dreams. But what inspired her? For young Sonia, the answer was books! They were her mirrors, her maps, her friends, and her teachers. They helped her to connect with her family in New York and in Puerto Rico, to deal with her diabetes diagnosis, to cope with her father’s death, to uncover the secrets of the world, and to dream of a future for herself in which anything was possible.

In Turning Pages, Justice Sotomayor shares that love of books with a new generation of readers, and inspires them to read and puzzle and dream for themselves. Accompanied by Lulu Delacre’s vibrant art, this story of the Justice’s life shows readers that the world is full of promise and possibility–all they need to do is turn the page. -- Philomel

TURNING PAGES: MY LIFE STORY by Sonia Sotomayor and illustrated by Lulu Delacre is a picture book aimed at children 4 - 8 years old, although I'd argue that it's a wonderful book if you are interested in learning anything about Sonia Sotomayor. The illustrations are lovely too -- full of color a and the perfect complement to Justice Sotomayor's story. I do want to mention that this picture book is definitely geared towards older kids (honestly, I'm not sure my four year olds would have sat through it) because it has quite a bit of text on each page for a picture book.

TURNING PAGES is really quite interesting. I had no idea about Justice Sotomayor's background beyond a few highlights. I knew she was the first Latina Supreme Court Justice and I knew she grew up in the Bronx; however, I liked learning some of the details of her childhood like that she lost her father at a young age and that she learned she had diabetes at age seven.

However, what I loved the most about TURNING PAGES is that this book celebrates Justice Sotomayor's life-long love affair with books. I absolutely loved how she talked about the books she loved as a child and how they affected her. And the words she used to describe her feelings were beautiful. For example, here's what she said about books after she learned she needed daily shots to manage her diabetes:

Books, it seemed, were magic potions that could fuel me with the bravery of superheroes.

Here's another way she described books:

Books were my loyal friends. They made it so I never felt lonely.

She has lovely prose like this on almost every page spread where she describes the power of books. To a book lover like me, these words were absolutely spot on... and so quotable!

TURNING PAGES: MY LIFE STORY is a wonderful glimpse into the amazing life of Sonia Sotomayor, but it's also a tribute to books! Highly recommended!

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

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

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Review: The Great Believers

Summary: A dazzling new novel of friendship and redemption in the face of tragedy and loss set in 1980s Chicago and contemporary Paris, by the acclaimed author Rebecca Makkai

In 1985, Yale Tishman, the development director for an art gallery in Chicago, is about to pull off an amazing coup, bringing in an extraordinary collection of 1920s paintings as a gift to the gallery. Yet as his career begins to flourish, the carnage of the AIDS epidemic grows around him. One by one, his friends are dying and after his friend Nico’s funeral, the virus circles closer and closer to Yale himself. Soon the only person he has left is Fiona, Nico’s little sister.

Thirty years later, Fiona is in Paris tracking down her estranged daughter who disappeared into a cult. While staying with an old friend, a famous photographer who documented the Chicago crisis, she finds herself finally grappling with the devastating ways AIDS affected her life and her relationship with her daughter. The two intertwining stories take us through the heartbreak of the eighties and the chaos of the modern world, as both Yale and Fiona struggle to find goodness in the midst of disaster. -- Viking

I can only rave about the novel THE GREAT BELIEVERS by Rebecca Makkai! I absolutely loved this book -- I treasured each and every page, and it is definitely going to be one of my favorite books of the year. I am certainly not alone in my praise. THE GREAT BELIEVERS was longlisted for the National Book Award!

At its heart, THE GREAT BELIEVERS is about a group of friends who were deeply affected when the AIDS crisis hit in Chicago in the 1980s. Yale Tishman works as a development director in an art gallery and is trying to close the deal to bring a collection of 1920s paintings to the gallery. However, his exuberance for his career accomplishment is offset by the onset of the AIDS epidemic. Yale and his friends are constantly reminded of the disease because they are losing so many of their friends... and Yale believes that it's only a matter of time until he tests positive.

During the funeral for his good friend Nico, Yale meets Nico's younger sister Fiona. She is entirely too young to be dealing with so much loss, but she soon becomes Yale's best friend as they continue to show up for funeral after funeral. Soon they are pretty much the only ones left from the original friend group.

Fast forward thirty years when Fiona travels to Paris find her estranged daughter who ran off as a teen with a cult. While in Paris, Fiona stays with an old friend who just happened to be a photographer who found fame with his images of the AIDS crisis in Chicago. Spending time with him, while also looking for her daughter, makes Fiona reflect on everything she lost as a result of AIDS.

THE GREAT BELIEVERS is an absolutely amazing novel from the story, to the characters, to the writing. I honestly couldn't stop thinking about this book during the few days I spent reading it. It was one of those books that I wanted to read constantly, but I also wanted to take my time because I didn't want it to end. Let me just tell you that not wanting a book to end is extremely unusual for me!

I hardly know where to start with this review. I think I'll keep it short and sweet. THE GREAT BELIEVERS is a must-read. It is not only a beautifully written account of how AIDS affected the gay community in Chicago, but it is also a wonderful story about how it affected a straight woman who lost so much because of the epidemic. I actually was in high school during this time period so I remember the crisis, and I even have read a few books about AIDS; however, THE GREAT BELIEVERS made me see everything in a different light. The characters in this novel were so real that their stories deeply affected me. My heart just broke over and over for them.

THE GREAT BELIEVERS is a really tough book to read because of the subject matter. It explores death, grief, loss, and more. Needless to say, I cried multiple times...but please don't let that deter you from picking up this book. This novel also explores love, relationships, and friendship in such a powerful way. I guarantee this book will make you think which is always a bonus, but more importantly, it will make you feel!

I highly recommend this novel for book clubs. There is truly so much to explore because it is so complex. I've mentioned a lot of the themes that you might want to discuss such as love, friendship, grief, and guilt; however, you will also want to talk about these very special characters. In addition, it is interesting to explore how attitudes towards GLBT individuals and AIDS have changed. There is a fantastic reading guide available which will certainly help to focus your discussion.

Don't take my word for THE GREAT BELIEVERS. Read it yourself!

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

Monday, October 1, 2018

Review: Max Einstein: The Genius Experiment

Summary: Max Einstein is not your typical genius. She...
-Hacks the computer system at NYU to attend classes
-Builds inventions to help the homeless
-And talks to Albert Einstein! (Okay that's just in her imagination)

But everything changes when Max is recruited by a mysterious organization! Their mission: solve some of the world's toughest problems using science. She's helped by a diverse group of young geniuses from around the globe as they invent new ways to power the farthest reaches of the planet. But that's only if the sinister outfit known only as The Corporation doesn't get to her first...

Max Einstein is a heroine for the modern age and will be looked up to by readers for generations to come. -- Little Brown/Jimmy Patterson Book

It's been awhile since I've reviewed a kids' book as part of Mystery Mondays, but I have a terrific one to share with you. It's called MAX EINSTEIN: THE GENIUS EXPERIMENT by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein, and it's one of those books that kids (even reluctant readers) are going to love. It's part mystery and part science book... and it's a lot of fun. It's also educational so parents and teachers are going to love it too!

MAX EINSTEIN: THE GENIUS EXPERIMENT tells the story of a twelve year old orphan girl whose name just happens to be Max Einstein. She also just happens to be a genius. It's no surprise that Max is obsessed with Albert Einstein -- she even has "conversations" with him, but it is a little surprising that she attends NYU (She hacked their computer system and altered their records!) Max is also a squatter who lives above some stables, and she creates inventions in her free time that help her homeless friends.

Max's life is turned upside down one day when she is recruited by a super secret organization and sent to Israel. Max doesn't know much about this organization, but she knows that they help solve world problems by using science. Max and some other brainy kids find themselves pitted against The Corporation (another secret but sinister organization), and they have to find a way to work together (using their individual strengths) to save themselves... and the world!

I read MAX EINSTEIN: THE GENIUS EXPERIMENT on the train home from Book Expo way back in May, and I absolutely loved it. I have been wanting to feature this book for some time, but I also wanted to wait until it was nearer to the book's release (which just happens to be October 8th!) This book is just terrific for middle graders -- both boys and girls. Max is a terrific heroine who has a heart as large as her brain, and the way science was incorporated into this novel makes it super special!

I really can't stress how much I loved this book. Boys and girls alike will be drawn to Max and her desire to save the world. In addition, the entire cast of smart (and diverse) kid characters are entertaining. I loved Max and all of the kids as well as the dynamics between them... and I have a feeling that we will see more of these young geniuses in future books!

There were definitely a few mystery elements to this book including the big mystery of Max's parents and why she's an orphan. It wasn't solved in this first book, but there were definitely some clues. In addition, there was a suspense/mystery story once Max joined with the Change Makers Institute. Max, along with the other kids, were sent to the Congo to figure out how to bring solar power to a village. However, they unfortunately found themselves battling some local gang leaders as well as the evil Corporation.

As a mom, I loved how much this book could teach youngsters. There are some great science aspects of the story, but there are also some great messages like learning to work with difficult people, sacrificing for a greater good, taking care of our environment, helping those less fortunate, and more. I also appreciated that the book stressed the importance of creativity rather than just learning from books and testing.

All in all, I think MAX EINSTEIN: THE GENIUS EXPERIMENT is perfect for middle grade readers. Highly recommended!

I received a copy of this book at the 2018 Book Expo.

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.