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As of my "maternity leave," here are the stats of the past year: 74 books reviewed 9 guest posts 4 independent bookstores 3 d...

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

...And Never Let Her Go

Ann Rule's ...And Never Let Her Go is Anne Rule at her absolute finest. Let's just get to it, shall we?

Thomas Capano is quite the ladies man. The Delaware lawyer is a powerful man who eats at all the finest restaurants, buys the best for his four daughters, and can't handle not running the lives of his mistresses. He is untouchable in many ways until the day Anne Marie Fahey goes missing. The beautiful young woman, twenty years Tom's junior and a valued employee of the governor, has had a hardscrabble life--and Tom preyed upon that. What happened to Anne Marie? Did she run away--or did something more sinister happen to her the night she tried to break up with Tom Capano for good?

This novel was almost-700 pages of goodness. No really. I love Ann Rule. There is not a single true-crime writer out there that is as scrupulous in her research, meticulous in her writing, and as dedicated to justice as Rule. I watched an episode of Behind Mansion Walls (yes, sometimes I watch super junk TV) that featured this story and after reading this book, so much was missing that told a far more sinister and creepy story. Down to the last detail, Rule gives us the whole story with sympathy for those who deserve it and scorn for those who don't.

Ok, now the story. I loved Anne Marie and I felt she was my friend by the time I got halfway though this book and she disappeared. I wanted her to confide in me so I could tell her that Tom was using her insecurities to keep her around. I would tell her to knock off the emails and that he was using them to stay close. I would tell her that under no circumstances should she agree to see him and that she should just tell him to go away. She obviously wouldn't listen to me, because in order for this book to happen she had to make those choices. Off she goes to dinner with Tom Capano and there she goes, disappearing. DAMNIT, ANNE MARIE.

This book is an actual page-turner. I had a hard time sleeping because I wanted to know what was going to happen. The amazing part of this is that I knew what was going to happen because you can find it on the internet because it's a true story. And I still wanted to finish the book at a break-neck speed. What does that tell you about the book? Or possibly what a great storyteller Ann Rule is? Probably that both are great. Get the book.

Hard copy for purchase below. Purchase it.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

The Rosie Effect: A Novel

Oh my goodness, do you remember how much I loved Graeme Simsion's The Rosie Project? Well hold on to your hats, because here is the next chapter in the story.

Rosie and Don have been married for ten months, and they find themselves in New York City while Rosie finishes her PhD and begins medical school while Don serves as a visiting professor. Their lives are in for a change, though--Rosie gets herself pregnant. Don isn't quite sure what to do, as he has never contemplated raising a small human before. As he goes about doing his research, his inept human communication skills find a way to create a wedge between him and his perfect woman, and when his best friend suddenly shows up from Australia, all hell breaks loose. Can Don save his marriage, his child, and prove he is worthy of fatherhood?

I love Don Tillman. I do. I will read any of his stories as long as Simsion wants to write them. He is such an honest and straightforward character, that anything having to do with his life is one part hilarious and two parts misanthropy. He honestly does his best, and even when he and Rosie are on the outs I only want them to be together. I realize that Rosie's hormones were out of control, but Don is just to Don and he only knows how to be him. Affable, ridiculous, straightforward Don.

I found myself guffawing aloud during many parts of this book. I saw the arrest coming (which one, is really the question!), but the thing about Don Tillman is you can see it coming and he can't. That's what makes it so entertaining and also so face-palming at the same time. He is so genuinely earnest in everything he does that it just makes me want to reach through the pages and give him a big hug and thank him for trying.

I couldn't recommend this pair of books more highly. It's not at all a wonder why the original was so successful, and I do hope that this sequel finds just as much success. It's rare that a follow up is just as entertaining and lovable as the original, and Simsion has achieved this by leaps and bounds. I hope there's a third coming in a reasonable amount of time, because I can't wait to watch Don raise his child and see all if the insanity that comes with it.

For purchase below.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Last Magazine: A Novel

The Last Magazine, by Michael Hastings, caught my attention when I heard that Mr. Hastings, a prolific journalist, sadly passed away before the publication of his first and only novel.

The world is going to hell in a handbasket, genocide is ruling the Middle East, and all the managing editors at The Magazine want from their ace correspondent are stories on mobile phone markets. What was once the most influential source of news for the nation has now resorted to stories that please the masses. Michael Hastings, a young intern at the magazine, wants to be a star journalist, but he must choose between the reporter who will stop at nothing to reveal the truth and the editors of The Magazine that could break Hastings into the field.

We all remember what it's like to be an intern. You had that one co-worker you looked up to every day, wanting to emulate. You loved your place of business and wanted to be there early and stay late and work there forever. You were smitten. No one could do ill. (Then you started actually working and were all like, What the hell was I thinking?) Young Michael Hastings is just like that. You can feel his love of the publication, his admiration for everyone there, forgetting that everyone puts on their pants one leg at a time. I will talk about all the things I loved about this book, but really, it was the harking back to my intern days that really held on to me throughout this book.

I also loved the honest-to-goodness snark of this novel. It was no-holds-barred, flat out, in your face honesty told with sardonic wit. Michael Hastings wrote about a fictional character named Michael Hastings that is in no way shape or form supposed to be him, because of course he would never spill the secrets of his own journalistic past (wink, wink). It is so very meta and worth the time spent reading it. I love an insider's look at just about every industry, because after we step aside and move away from the glamor and the glitz of journalism's heyday, the truth is that behind the business there are people. People who make decisions that are maybe not the best for everyone involved, but at the end of the day, we all have to make the decisions that we feel are best for ourselves, our jobs, and our employees. Regardless of the cost.

Cheers, eh?

For purchase below.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

If I Stay

Of course I finally got around to picking up one of the hottest YA novels of all time, just as the movie is released. This is Gayle Forman's If I Stay

Mia and her family are in a car accident one morning. As she stands outside of the car feeling perfectly fine, she sees herself in the twisted wreckage--and realizes that her spirit is outside of her body. She watches herself being taken to the hospital, clinging to life. As her grandparents, aunts and uncles, friends and loved ones shuffle in and out of the ICU, she overhears a nurse tell one of them that it is up to Mia whether she goes or she stays. That is a lot for a young girl who will suffer so greatly if she stays, yet will break the hearts of those she loves if she goes.

Welp, I would venture to say that the hype surrounding this book is well deserved. I got a wee bit choked up at the end. I mean, it was emotional, guys! There is also a good bit I'm not telling you in the synopsis, as it is vital to the story and even though you find it out early on, giving it away would take away the impact.

I can't imagine having to choose to go or to stay. Mia goes through the whole rundown of her life--the good times with her parents and little brother, Teddy; learning to play the cello and discover she was quite good at it; meeting and falling in love with her boyfriend, Adam; what the future may hold. There is no right choice for Mia, and that is where the crux of the story lies. She will face immense pain, both physical and emotional, if she stays. She can't do it just for those she loves--she also has to do it for herself. It is a huge decision, and the book is written so that I understood what was at stake. Forman has a great hand for telling the story from a young woman's point of view while not being at all pedantic. The wistfulness of Mia's predicament and the love so many have for her comes across so clearly.

All in all, I am happy I picked up this book and lost myself in it for a couple of days. It was worth my emotional energy and took me outside of myself for a bit. I look forward to passing it on to a few younger readers in my life.

For purchase below.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Perfect Mother: A Novel

I love true crime, and so a book even remotely based off of a true crime story grips me. This is Nina Darnton's The Perfect Mother

Emma has it all--the best education, a loving family, and a privileged life in small-town Connecticut. Jennifer, her mother, lives through her daughter, and when she receives a middle-of-the-night phone call that her daughter is in trouble while studying abroad in Spain, she runs to prove her innocence. Only nothing is really as it seems; Emma, her perfect, smart, lovely daughter, is accused of murder. Is it even possible that she could be involved, or is at she says--the murdered by was trying to rape her and a stranger burst in and stabbed him?

So this is very loosely based in the Amanda Knox genre of "lovely co-ed studies abroad and gets mixed up in murder and she may not be innocent" genre. I initially picked it up because I find the premise really interesting, and I was rewarded with a novel that looked at things from a different perspective. This is Jennifer's book. It's about the mother of co-ed and not the co-ed, which is what sets this book apart in the genre. What is Jennifer to do? She is one of those women who has given up everything for her children--career, friends, and even her own identity--and she is facing the ultimate in blows.

Now for what drove me to give this book three stars on Goodreads. By a third of the way through this book, I despised Jennifer. Not as in "the character was so well written I hated her and couldn't get enough." No, it was that I hate whiny women who live in a woe-is-me world and choose to be willfully naive, which is how I read Jennifer by that point. There were other places in the book as it went on that the feeling lessened, but overall I had had enough of the protesting mother insisting that her precious baby had to be innocent. Now, let's be clear--the title of the book is The Perfect Mother, so it shouldn't be a surprise that the character is based in what we as a society views as a perfect mother, but I would have liked to see more of a character arc of her realizing that her daughter is not innocent, not in the least. Even as we find out more and more about what a heinous person Emma is, her mother keeps insisting that she is an angel. Not seeking out the good or learning to accept it, mind you--willful denial. That's what drove me bonkers, and frankly, it made Jennifer into a two-dimensional character.

The story as a whole, though, was interesting, and I hung on until the end in order to find out if the truth was ever revealed. It was, and it was exactly what I thought it would be. It's just disappointing that I didn't get more from Jennifer. I really liked the husband, Mark, and the secondary characters as well. (Frankly, including the paparazzi.)

For purchase below.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Rhymes and Doodles from a Wind-Up Toy

Children's Book Week is coming to a close! Time flies, you guys. I am ending this week with a book I picked up at Book Expo America thinking it would be perfect for the smallest humans in my life. This is Martha Sears West's Rhymes and Doodles from a Wind-Up Toy.

Filled with poems that tell stories and others that just play with words, this children's book is for the lover of words. The illustrations are charming and lovely, and the layout is just so nice. I would absolutely purchase this book for any one of my sweet and pregnant friends (because there are a lot of them!), and I plan on doing just that for an upcoming shower.

It's not secret that I love words, and I love playing with words. This was a delightful addition to my children's book bookshelf.

For purchase below. 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Captain No Beard: An Imaginary Tale of a Pirate's Life

Well, today I thought I would focus on the original. I had not read the first book in the Captain No Beard series, so I picked it up for Children's Book Week. This is Carole P. Roman's Captain No Beard: An Imaginary Tale of a Pirate's Life.

Captain No Beard is off! He sets sail on his brand new ship with his first mate Hallie and the other ruffians he surrounds himself with. Soon on their journey they find themselves in the middle of a storm, and thankfully they all make it through--before finding themselves a mermaid! But can they find the treasure they seek?

I am so glad I went back to the original. I found out why Captain No Beard named his ship The Flying Dragon (it sounded scary), that he doesn't really know what he's doing (what does "shiver me timbers" mean?), and that being a captain is hard work. They are a motley crew for sure, but they are a cute one. They dream big, and they win big, and I think it is a lovely and fun story for the kids in my life. The ending is particularly surprising, a bit unexpected while still being right on point, and I loved it

For purchase below. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

If You Were Me and Lived in...Norway, Russia, and South Korea

It's back to my absolute favorites by Carole P. Roman! 

Today we start with Norway, which I think just has the absolute cutest Norwegians on the cover, don't you? I mean, look at the boots with the fur on that little girl. I LOVE BOOTS ON CHILDREN. 

So, prior to reading this book I had no idea that the coolest place on earth is in Norway, called the Kirkenes Snowhotel. It's completly made out of snow and ice, and you can see the norther lights from there. I want to go right now. 

I would also like to point out that Norway really likes parades, and I really like parades, so clearly this is the place for me. 

I must admit that I don't know a whole lot about South Korea, so it was super cool to get my hands on this book and learn more. 

Well, that's only partially true. I love Korean barbeque, which was discussed in this book. In fact, I just had bulgogi with kimchi last weekend and it was to die for. I was in stitches seeing it referenced here in Roman's book. I was surprised to see how similar our restaurants here in New York City are to what I saw in Roman's illustration. How delightful!

Finally, we end with Russia. LOOK AT THE FUR HAT ON THE KIDS! As much as I don't adore freezing hold weather, I do appreciate a good hat. Now, that's not enough to get me to move to Russia because it's monster cold there, but it sure is cute on the kiddos. 

Believe it or not, the other day I was debating with someone whether or not Russia was considered Asia or Europe. Believe it or not, this book settled it. Russia is in Northern Eurasia. Not confusing at all, Russia

One thing I would like to do one day is visit the Red Square. A good, long page of Roman's book is dedicated to it, and it looks positively lovely and someplace I would like to see one day. 

I just love these books, which you have seen before. (Here, here, and here.) I am also loving watching these books evolve and visit more and more countries. A dear friend of mine has requested Saudi Arabia where she currently lives and teaches. Any other suggestions, folks?

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Captain No Beard Stories: The Treasure of Snake Island and Pepper Parrot's Problem with Patience

We continue on with children's book week with more Carole P. Roman. I'm a fan, and I intend to make you one, too. Along with her If You Were Me and Live In... series, she also has a series featuring Captain No Beard. He's a young lad who happens to be captain of his own band of ruffians made up of a monkey, a lion, a parrot,  a girl, and a frog among others. Their boat is called The Flying Dragon, and they always get into a spot of trouble like all small humans. These books are positively delightful, and worth getting for your own small human.

The Treasure of Snake Island finds the crew in the midst of an awful storm. When they reach land and find the treasure chest they are searching for, they find it is full of the best treasure they could ever ask for.

Pepper Parrot's Problem with Patience is an exploration of (you guessed it!) patience. Pepper is new to The Flying Dragon crew and gets very frustrated very easily. Unfortunately, this manifests itself in temper tantrums. Hallie, Captain No Beard's first mate, has to explain to Pepper that there are better ways to handle the situation. Everyone learns to have just a little more patience.

I am just going to list all of the things I love about these books. The illustrations. The length. The moral of the story. Using pirates to explain these moral lessons and having the crew be made up of fun animals who talk and are anthropomorphic in their own right. The bright colors and the clearly printed words. I love these books for the small humans in my life, and I am actually going to give these two to a specific one I have in mind. 

For purchase below. 

Monday, December 8, 2014

Carol Roman's If You Were Me and Lived In... Turkey, India, and France

It's children's book week again on the blog! Always one of my favorite weeks of the year. We are spending a lot of time with some of my favorite authors this week, too. 

I have gushed about Carol Roman's books before here and here, but they really truly are some of my most favorite. Every time a new one comes out I have to get it. I was beyond thrilled to get a package with some new, amazing countries included.


Today I chose to do Turkey and India together because they are both in Western Asia, and I thew in France because France goes with everything. Right? 

The first country today is Turkey, which is a dream destination for me. It turns out even I am learning a ton from these books. I didn't know the capital of Turkey--it turns out it is Ankara--and I didn't know that Istanbul, which is the second largest city in the world, actually sits on two continents (Asia and Europe). I have only passed through the airport in Istanbul, so I now I need to hurry back. And take this book.

Then there is India. Can I talk for a minute about how much I love these book covers also? I really love the representation of the two children dressed in clothing traditional to their country with the country they are representing highlighted.

Back to India. I did know it was the second most populated country in the world, but I did not know that the capital, New Delhi, was built on the site of seven ancient cities. Go Carol Roman for that awesome fact! I knew that cricket was a big game in India, but I didn't know about the celebration of Holi.

Then there was France. I was just there this summer on a wine tour, so I am a bit partial.

There was a good bit I knew in this book having been there and all, but it was so nice to read about and feel like I was there again. Paying in Euros for my bread in the boulangerie, ordering crepes, visiting the Eiffel Tower, celebrating Bastille Day--it's all what makes France the lovely country that it is. (Also the food and the wine. Did you know Milka sells chocolate bars specifically for making a chocolate sandwich on a baguette? That's what I call amazing.)

What I love about these books in general is that they give forth such basic information in a fascinating way. There is information on school (ecole in France!), on traditional names for both boys and girls (Ismet for girls in Turkey!), and transportation information (rickshaw taxis in India!). There is a pronunciation page in the back of each book that spells things out phonetically for older children and parents. The illustrations--oh, the illustrations! I love these books, and will have more countries coming for you later this week.

All for purchase below. Great holiday gifts!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Rookie Bookie: A Novel for Middle Grades

A good middle-grade book is sometimes all you need for nice fall day reading outdoors, know what I'm sayin'? This is The Rookie Bookie by L. Jon Wertheim and Tobias Moskowitz.

Mitch has always been a bit of an outcast. He was at his last school in California and he is now in his new school in the Midwest. He knows that he annoys people, but he really does know a lot! When he decides to set up a gambling ring in his middle school with his best friend (whom he would like you to know very emphatically that he does not have a crush on her even though she is really super cool [and pretty]), he becomes popular. But how fleeting fame can be--mess with the wrong person and you will get burned.

I found this book to be positively lovely and engaging. Giggles came from my gut repeatedly because this story was clever and the writing was engaging, and I found myself completely relating to Mitch feeling like an outcast and wanting to fit in so badly and his desire to use his smarts because really, who doesn't at 11 years old? We have all been there. Unless you are 11 years old yourself--why are you reading this blog?

It taught some great lessons, all the way from how gambling works (you don't think it's charity, right?) to marketing your art work, from how to get along with others to how to find the good in people you may overlook every day. The lesson of how to apply what you know in a constructive manner is probably one of the most important lessons from this book, as Mitch had to do when his gambling ring was busted (no, not a spoiler--you knew this would happen, people!) and he became Mr. Not-So-Popular again. Lessons to be learned, folks. Get this book for your middle grade reader. I am really looking forward to passing it on to a few I know.

Hard copy below:

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

A Song for Issy Bradley: A Novel

A Song for Issy Bradley by Carys Bray hooked me with the promise of Mormons, and kept me around with a glorious tale of a family in crisis.

Issy Bradley has only just started school, and the day she dies is her brother's birthday. Her family, devout Mormons, struggles with her death in different ways. Her older sister, Zippy, begins to run the household while her oldest brother, Alma, rebels against his faith. Jacob, the closest to her in age, believes she will be resurrected just as Issy's goldfish was. Her father, Ian, remains steadfast and truth-seeking as he serves others. Her mother, Claire, is the most devastated of all. She seeks solace in her faith yet can't find it (either solace or her faith). 

This book was devastatingly lovely. It was one of those stories that is not chock full of action or crazy happenings, but instead relies on the human emotions and relations that make up our every day. Watching a family that desires to be faithful and wants to believe that they will see their beloved Issy for eternity made their struggle honest and real. It didn't matter whether or not it's true, but it's the grounding of their faith and desperate clinging to it, or running away from it, that makes this family one to understand. 

Bray treated her characters with such respect, and they came off as so realistically human even when they were doing things that I would consider absurd, such as the fake wedding ceremony for young teen age girls. That may have been my favorite point of the novel, with its biting remarks from one of the sister's about Zippy's mother being a convert and the young minds wrestling with sinning. I remember being similar to Zippy as a young teen, seeing life and religion in black and white, not quite understanding the Adam's of the world, who may not believe and don't want to follow down a prescribed path. It was a beautiful chapter, and the whole book was this way. Moments that push these characters into the realm of what it means to be human, to love and to support and to grieve and to be.

Hard copy for purchase below.