Monday, July 27, 2015

NIGHT SISTER by Jennifer McMahon

(I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.)

Jennifer McMahon writes really creepy books. And this one is no exception. Some of you may remember my review of her book THE WINTER PEOPLE.  McMahon returns to the supernatural suspense genre with her latest book entitled THE NIGHT SISTER.  As in THE WINTER PEOPLE, McMahon moves back and forth through time to set up her story.  In 1955, sisters Rose and Sylvie are growing up at the 28 room motel that their parents run in a small town off Route 6 in London, Vermont.  The Tower Motel is known for its tower feature that the girls' father built for his English wife. Sylvie is the golden child and Rose is struggling to grow up in her shadow. Sylvie has big plans to run off and be a famous Hollywood actress. She idolizes Alfred Hitchcock and writes him letters about her life in London.  One day, Sylvie disappears and leaves a letter behind about her desire to leave and start a new life.  In 1989, Rose's daughter Amy is living at the crumbling motel with her English grandmother.  Her best friends are sisters Piper and Margot.  As the girls run wild around the motel, they discover a dark secret.  In 2013, Piper receives a call from Margot saying Amy and all of her family are dead supposedly killed by Amy's own hand. Amy leaves a cryptic note behind that says "29 Rooms."  Piper and Margot immediately know what it means.

THE NIGHT SISTER is a really creepy book.  I couldn't put it down. I had to know what was going to happen. There are supernatural elements to this book so do not read it expecting a traditional suspense/mystery. I think McMahon does a great job in developing characters.  Although there are quite a few heavy hints that point to what is going to happen, it is still an enjoyable read.  I was a little disappointed by the ending. It felt a little too far-fetched. Even for a supernatural thriller. But, overall, I thought it was a fun read.  Perfect for a rainy night.

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended for lovers of suspense.  Save this one for a rainy night or a cold Winter evening.  A fun, quick read for lovers of supernatural suspense.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015


(I received an advance copy from the publisher)

This novel was perplexing.  I had a hard time trying to figure out what it is about.  A woman named A lives with a female roommate named B.  A dates a man referred to as C. A's life is defined by the consumer world around her. Her time with C is spent watching either television or porn. A finds herself mesmerized by a news story about a man who became a celebrity by buying all the veal he could get his hands on. She constantly refers to animated commercials for an artificial food product called Kandy Kakes and spends her time outside of her apartment at either her boyfriend's, her job, or the nearby Wally's supermarket. A's relationship with B has a "Single White Female" quality to it. B's behavior seems bizarre and she appears to be trying to make herself look more like A. C has all the control is his relationship with A and is the only one allowed to define their interactions. One day, A looks out the window to discover her neighbors leaving their home covered in white sheets. She begins to learn about the cult they have joined and decides that this group may have the answers to her questions about identity and self.

I think there are some truly inspired moments in this book. Kleeman is so gifted at description. I could instantly visualize the Kandy Kake commercials and setting that she described in such detail. I had a very clear idea of setting and character. However, I was completely confused most of the time about everything else. I feel like Kleeman has important things to say about identity and self in our consumer culture but I had a hard time following the thread. I was confused in a way I haven't been since reading A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD.  Because of this, I just didn't enjoy the book. It was very difficult to get through and I didn't find the ending particulary satisfying or enlightening.

BOTTOM LINE: Not recommended.  Although Kleeman is clearly a gifted writer, I just couldn't follow the story. I found the whole thing very confusing.  This very well may be my fault as a reader. I would definitely read future works by Kleeman but this one was a miss for me.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Meet Max the Brave!

“Are You My Mother?” meets “I Want My Hat Back” in the hilarious new picture book, Max the Brave (Sept. 8), by author and illustrator Ed Vere. Follow fearless Max as he encounters every other creature except the one he’s searching for…mouse. Check out the trailer!

Full review coming soon!

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

ORION AND THE DARK by Emma Yarlett

I picked up this little gem on a whim when I saw it on the shelf at the library.  While my child has never had an issue with the dark, I know that many other children do.  ORION AND THE DARK helps children with this phobia in this charming picture book story.

Orion is a boy of many fears--girls, heights, spiders, etc--but his greatest fear is the dark.  He dreads going to bed every night and has trouble sleeping because of his fear of the dark and all that it could possibly bring. One night he finally snaps and tells the dark to go away.  Instead, the Dark becomes an anthropomorphic figure and befriends Orion.  The two new friends explore the night and all of its noises.  Soon, Orion learns not only not to fear the Dark but to embrace it as a friend.

There are some absolutely charming die-cut pages in this book and the illustrations are wonderful.  My one complaint would be that the handwritten text can be difficult to read at times.  I think the story will speak to children of many ages and would be perfect to pair with this classic:

BOTTOM LINE: Highly Recommended. A terrific story for children who may have fear of the dark.  Beautifully illustrated and incredibly sweet.

Monday, June 29, 2015

ANIMAL GAS by Bryan Bollinger

(I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.)

While I am not huge fan of potty humor, everyone loves a good fart joke. Especially kids. Bryan Bollinger's new picture book celebrates the humor in farts. In the book, a variety of animals try to convince others that THEIR farts smell wonderful.  Each animal in turn is disabused of that notion until one animal surprises everyone at the end.  I think Bollinger manages to include just about every slang term for farts that one can think of: foof, poots, cut the cheese, breaking wind, etc. It is definitely funny.

 I really enjoyed Bollinger's whimsical and cartoonish illustrations:

My 7-year-old was highly amused.  I found myself wishing that the book included an additional element of either the science and mechanics of farting or something about manners regarding farts, Instead, the book exists simply as one long fart joke.  For reluctant readers, a fart joke might be just what is needed to encourage them to read.

Special thanks to Sterling for sending a whoopie cushion along with the book. My child had never seen one before and now I have to watch where I sit!!!

BOTTOM LINE:  Recommended.  Potty humor is not my favorite but kids will enjoy this one. 

My First Experience at ALA Annual Conference

Since ALA was right down the road this year, I decided I had to go and check it out.  My friend Monique is a publicist with  New World Library and it was great to see her in action!  Monique hooked me up with PARENTING WITH PRESENCE which I am really excited to read!!!

I then ventured further onto the exhibit floor.  I was overwhelmed!!! It was hard to know where to begin.  I was excited to check out a lot of the children's book publishers.  I also had Penguin and Random House on my radar.

My first stop was with Mighty Media Kids. Their books are adorable!!! I had never heard of their Monster and Me series and was delighted to pick up a copy of MONSTER NEEDS YOUR VOTE:

This little gem comes out in August.  I will post a review closer to that date. Love the button!!!

I almost fell over when I saw Merry Makers booth!  All my favorite children's book characters in plush form!!!  Their Fall line is so adorable! They gave me a backpack charm of Bad Kitty which looks just like our new mischievous kitten.

The ladies at the booth brought Amy Krouse Rosenthal's UNI THE UNICORN to my attention. Not sure how I missed that one! Their plush version of the unicorn comes out this Fall!

There was a big push going on for CIRCUS MIRANDUS but I missed getting a copy. Definitely looks intriguing!

I was also happy to see that there THE DAY THE CRAYONS CAME HOME will be coming out in August!

Philip C. and Erin Stead books are absolute "must buy" books for me and I was THRILLED to see they will have a new release in October.

I was very very selective about galleys.  I only ended up with four but I very pleased with my haul.  Especially the new Bohjalian!!!

If I hadn't been so overwhelmed, I probably would have picked up more.  Still, I had a lot of fun!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015


(I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher)

THE BOOK OF SPECULATION has a lot of my favorite elements: family drama and secrets, rare books, magical realism, librarians.  The book offers the perfects setup for a reader like me.  Librarian Simon Watson is casting about for something to do after an unexpected layoff.  One day, an old book arrives from a rare book dealer who believes that the book may have connections to Simon's family.  As Simon sits in his crumbling house, he begins to delve into the mysteries of the book. It appears to be the logbook of a traveling circus from the late 1700s and Simon begins to recognize some of the names.  The book may hold answers to the family curse that has taken a woman from each generation by drowning. On the exact same date.

Many times this book reminded me of THE PEOPLE OF THE BOOK by Geraldine Brooks. The chronicle of this traveling circus becomes the history of several families and the book carries the imprint of its journey within the pages. I loved the circus setting and how many physical objects within the story such as the book and Simon's house become characters themselves. There are several touches of magic throughout the book which add to its charm.  I loved the family history that appeared throughout the book but I was not fond of Simon or his sister. They seemed to be the weakest characters for me and I often found myself feeling irritated when they appeared. The intricacies of the family history and how the various characters are related also felt a bit forced and convoluted at times.  Overall, though, I enjoyed how the story went backwards and forwards through time and how some secrets came to light and others never did. Much like all family histories.

BOTTOM LINE:  Recommended. An enjoyable read.  The circus setting is charming and the secrets of this family will keep you guessing and wondering about the roles of fate and self-determination.

Monday, June 15, 2015

The Bloggiversary Approacheth

Do you remember when people first started blogging?

When I wrote my first blog post on June 20th, 2003, I thought of blogging as an online journal that would help me keep in touch with far away loved ones.  We weren't really thinking about oversharing or who could see what you wrote or how to monetize your blog or even how to post photos at that point.  I look back at those early posts and cringe.  I also try to figure out who that young woman was. I was dating a man that I had nothing in common with and didn't particularly like. I was struggling in a job that I didn't feel fulfilled in.  I felt pretty lost and it shows in my writing.  The one thing I really knew then was that I loved books.

For awhile, my blog was a hybrid of personal anecdotes, book reviews, and creative pursuits.  For me, the knitters were the ones who really figured out the potential of blogging.  They shared projects and hosted fun swaps and got knitters to connect with one another.  I started to see what blogging could really be.  A chance to connect with like-minded people all over the world and share ideas and projects.  In May of 2007, I decided that I needed a separate blog for creative stuff and I decided to maintain Life by Candlelight as a book/personal blog.  In Crafting by Candlelight, I shared all my crafty endeavors and participated in a bunch of swaps. I really miss swaps. Why doesn't anyone do them anymore?

So much has changed since then.  Many of the bloggers I met in the early days have closed up shop.  Some people say blogging is a dying art form.  I disagree. I still think it offers wonderful inspiration and the opportunity to connect with like-minded people.

I think I have lasted so long as a blogger because I am not interested in making money doing it.  It is just something that I enjoy and I only do it when I have time or something worth sharing.  I don't feel any pressure to post or need to please to advertisers or sponsors.  I will keep book blogging until they quit offering print galleys.  Because I am a purist and hate reading books on a screen.  I like to underline and take notes and it is more meaningful to me to do that in my own handwriting.  Maybe my son will look through some of my books one day and smile at finding some of my scrawled marginalia.

On June 20th, I may or may not write another post to mark the 12th anniversary of this blog. In the meantime, I will keep reading and I hope you will too!

(from 2007)

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

ENCHANTED AUGUST by Brenda Bowen with GIVEAWAY!!!!

(I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.)

When I was 16, I went to see a movie called "Enchanted April."  Not long after, I saw "A Room with a View" and my love for and fascination about Italy was well and truly formed.  Where "A Room with a View" was a romantic film, "Enchanted April" was a film about women finding themselves in an idyllic Italian setting in the 1920s. It was the perfect escapist film. And book!  I loved the fact that the women in the story come from all different walks of life and background but they are all drawn to Italy and the chance to get away from it all. And, of course, they all become fast friends.

Brenda Bowen reimagines these same women in a more contemporary setting.  The names and general story are the same but Bowen updates the story for a modern audience.  Sweet Lottie Wilkes has an overbearing husband who controls every aspect of her life.  Rose Arbuthnot is a harried mother. One day, these two unlikely friends discover a notice about a Maine vacation rental on the bulletin board at their preschool.  They come to the conclusion that they absolutely MUST get away.  But money is an issue and they need to recruit two other women for their adventure.  They decide at accept movie start Caroline Dester and elderly Beverly Fisher. Once they arrive at their vacation rental, all four women are transformed

 Much as I am usually enchanted by modern interpretations of Shakespeare, I love how this story works as perfectly in a modern setting as it did in its original 1920s setting.  Women are still dealing with many of the same kinds of problems!  With even more added on!  The updated story is just as charming as the original and makes for the perfect beach read!

BOTTOM LINE:  Recommended. A very sweet update adaptation of THE ENCHANTED APRIL. The perfect beach or vacation read!


Win a set of ENCHANTED APRIL and ENCHANTED AUGUST in paperback!    Comment by telling me what your ideal getaway destination would be.

Giveaway closes Thursday, June 11th at 5:00pm PST.  Open to U.S. residents only.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Not New but Notable with Lydia: FROG MUSIC by Emma Donoghue

(Editor's Note: Welcome to our new guest blogger, Lydia Vald├ęs!  So excited to have her on board!)

As Donoghue’s follow-up novel to her wildly successful and imaginative ROOM, I welcomed the opportunity to reunite with this author. What I found was a story I wanted to devour but had to trudge through, at times. Donoghue uses a historical fiction format to infuse suppositions and create a narrative frame for the research she gathered about a real-life, unsolved murder.

FROG MUSIC takes place in San Francisco, summer of 1876. Jenny and Blanche quickly strike up an unexpected friendship, and Jenny’s murder soon after they meet leaves Blanche wanting answers. Blanche sets out to find Jenny’s killer, and we continue learning about Jenny (and Blanche herself) through Blanche’s investigation. Jenny, a professional frog catcher, sold frog legs to local restaurants. Her methods and ethics were questionable, and her penchant for cross-dressing was off-putting to many at a time when cross-dressing was illegal in San Francisco.

Blanche is a burlesque dancer and prostitute with complicated relationships. Her profession and network allows her to ask some questions that others might not in her quest to solve the murder. Blanche also has cause to examine her own choices as she looks into who would want Jenny dead.

The story weaves music throughout and touches on various social taboos, many of which remain controversial today. It is a story of friendship, love, motherhood, and the dance between the personal and societal definitions of what it means to be a woman.

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended with Reservations. The story itself is compelling, but the delivery is convoluted and did not hold my interest fluidly. Various plotlines and too many characters with non-distinctive traits run together leaving the reader flipping back and forth between pages to remember who’s who.