YA Review: CONVERSION by Katherine Howe

I had heard about this book, but couldn’t get my hot little hands on a copy. Then at BEA I had the chance to get a SIGNED copy from Katherine Howe herself! I was quite excited and couldn’t wait to read it when I returned.

Pub Day is finally here for this great book (July 1).

CONVERSION centers on the character of teenager Colleen Rowley, a senior in high school at a prestigious private girls’ school. One day a classmate falls ill with mysterious symptoms, and soon several classmates are sick: all with odd symptoms, all seniors. Between the CDC, the community, and the media, Colleen’s school becomes a bit of a circus. Then Colleen receives texts from an unknown sender urging her to read Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible”.  What is going on? And can Colleen figure it out before she, too, falls ill?

I really enjoyed reading this book! Interspersed between Colleen’s story are chapters from the 1700’s and Ann Putnam, one of the girls from the Salem Witch Trials, confesses her story of the Salem girls to her minister. Ann Putnam is a critical character, and in modern day, Colleen herself is studying Ann as a key to what actually went on in 1692 and what is happening now. There are some other side plots as well, though they all tie together, with the biggest one being one of Colleen’s friend’s heartbreak over an affair with a teacher.

CONVERSION has a tension which builds and builds, until things truly start to spiral out of control. I thought this was a great read for both older YA and for adults. If you have a daughter in high school, you should read this book, just to remind yourself what a pressure cooker that time can be. A lot of Colleen’s pressure is self-imposed (e.g. the quest to be valedictorian), and reading this reminded me of what that felt like, even though I graduated 30 years ago.

Highly recommended! I’m so glad I was able to get this at BEA and was able to meet Ms. Howe. She herself is descended from those involved in the Salem Witch Trials, and history lives on in her veins and in her work.

Review: SWEET WATER by Christina Baker Kline

Several weeks ago I noticed that SWEETWATER was on major sale for kindle. Since I had really enjoy Ms. Kline’s ORPHAN TRAIN novel, I purchased this novel.

SWEETWATER, which was Kline’s first novel, tells the story of Cassie Simon, a New York artist who is surprised to find that she has been left a house by her grandfather. She leaves the big city (and a dead relationship) to head to Sweet Water, Tennessee, where she meets the extensive brood of her deceased mother’s side of the family. Cassie’s mother, Ellen, had been killed in a car accident when Cassie was three, and her grandmother never fully recovered from the shock of losing her. But this family is hiding a lot of secrets, and Cassie’s arrival stirs the pot of remembrance and brings a lot of old events into the light, causing her grandmother to face some harsh realities. Added to this is the mysterious drowning death of a woman, her grandfather’s mistress, many years before and a new love interest, who turns out to be a (non-blood) relative. Cassie seeks to understand and learn about her mother, while coming to know her family and creating a new life for herself in Sweetwater.

I enjoyed this story, as I did with ORPHAN TRAIN. Kline’s style of writing is very fluid and I thought her character development was strong. I also liked how some of the chapters were short excerpts told in her grandmother’s voice and filling in back story. I have to confess, though, I was a little taken about by how Cassie went off from a bar with a stranger and slept with him – then discovered he was her (non-blood related) cousin. Yikes! Overall, though, I liked how the story felt like it was partly mystery and partly Cassie’s story of changing her life.

While this story was completely different from ORPHAN TRAIN, if you like Kline’s writing, you will probably like SWEETWATER. I met her actually at BEA (I got a signed copy of ORPHAN TRAIN) and she was quite gracious and kind.

Kids’ Review: THE MEGASAURUS by Thomas Weck and Peter Weck

I recently received a copy of THE MEGASAURUS in the mail to review from Claudia, a publicist:


This children’s picture book (with illustrations by Len DiSalvo) is one in a series of books about the “Lima Bears”, small bean-shaped bears that live in the Beandom. Each book has a message and a problem that the Lima Bears must solve. In THE MEGASAURUS, the bears are being terrorized by the scary, large megasaurus monster who loves to eat beans. The kingdom must come up with a solution to this problem. Will they only listen to their wisest advisors? Or will they listen to one of the littlest bean’s idea?

This was a sweet book with a good message. I have to say that when the Megasaurus was wreaking havoc, I was a bit concerned that it might be too scary for the littlest ones, but there is a happy ending and all the “eaten” friends come back okay.

I think this book would be a good choice for a preschool or early grade classroom!

Here’s some information on Lima Bear Press:


Saturday Snapshot: Flowers in the Yard

I was just admiring some of the showers in my yard (which is fairly wooded). Every year we try to plant a few new things.

This year the peony bush is looking busy. I love the look of these large, beautiful blooms!


I also plant petunias each year. They are quite hardy and do well with our New England weather unpredictability. This was an extra little bloom I put in a pot a few weeks ago:



What’s growing in your yard these days?

Saturday Snapshot is hosted by Melinda of http://www.westmetromommy.blogspot.com

Please see her site for details on participating!

Review: CHINA DOLLS by Lisa See

I’ve been anxiously awaiting the publication of Lisa See’s latest novel, CHINA DOLLS. If you read me, you know I LOVE her works and have read them all. I particularly enjoy her historical fiction. CHINA DOLLS downloaded to my Kindle when it came out a few weeks ago, and  I was so excited the day I turned on my Kindle and there it was! Ms. See hit it out of the ballpark again with this novel, telling the story of three young Asian women during WWII who are entertainers/dancers on the night club scene in San Francisco.

The story starts with Grace, one of the three voices portrayed in the novel. Grace has arrived in California from Plain City, Ohio, and she plans on being a star. Grace is escaping an abusive homelike, and she is sure her dancing talents and determination will be enough to get her to stardom. Next she meets Helen, who is still suffering from a past tragedy, and who lives with her family in a compound in Chinatown. Helen is pretty much only going through the motions of life, when she spontaneously decides to join Grace in her auditioning quest. At the dance call, they meet Ruby, a tough but sparkly young woman from Hawaii who is secretly hiding the fact that she is Japanese, not Chinese. The three become fast friends and vow to never let anything come between them.

Over the course of the book, the three women have a lot of trials and tribulations. Falling in love, lost love, betrayal, back-stabbing, and other relationship woes strain their friendships, and when the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor, Ruby fears for her safety and is eventually arrested and sent to a detainment camp for Japanese Americans. The three girls mature into women who have to constantly balance their own needs with the needs of their families and their relationships and dance careers. The three strike a tentative balance among themselves, with the bond of friendship and love being the foundation on which they move forward with their lives.

I just LOVED this book. Lisa See is an excellent writer. The story was engaging, but her writing itself flows seamlessly. Her depictions are so true to life, and she is spot on in how she portrays women and their relationships. I particularly liked how this story was told through three distinct voices.

I cant’ wait to see what’s next from this gifted author!

You can see this book on Amazon where I got mine.

YA Review: WATCHED by Cindy M. Hogan

I recently got this book free for my kindle as it was on sale. WATCHED is a YA suspense novel, telling the story of 15-year-old Christy, who wins a scholarship for a trip to D.C. While there, Christy and her friends witness terrorist activity, and the story becomes a big chase and escape until the end (when we discover that this is the first book in a trilogy).

Here’s the thing: I probably would have loved this book when I was 13. Christy is a smart girl, supposedly quite brilliant, but she is socially awkward. She has two boys attracted to her, for the first time in her life. She is trying to shake off her “really smart and not rich”  persona to blend with her new friends. All the time, however, scary terrorists are looking for her and her friends and the FBI is protecting her. I would have lapped this up as a young teen!

To be honest, in the here and now I found Christy’s story rather boring and far-fetched. Christy’s angst over which boy to like went on for so long that it dragged the book down and bored me. There was a great deal of time and space devoted to “I can’t date until I’m 16 and that’s not until next month. How do I handle my emotions? What shall I do? What shall I do???” The whole terrorist/FBI piece was unbelievable and too incredible to be plausible. Personally, as a parent of two children, if my minor children were involved with terrorist plots etc etc while on an educational trip to DC and I was never told about it or notified?? Well, you get my point. The fact that this is book one in a trilogy made the reading feel prolonged, in my opinion; and I have a personal pet peeve about lack of resolution at the end of a book.

So I finished the book (thus the review), which is a good thing (if I really dislike a book I don’t finish it, and thus don’t review it), but I was rather disappointed. I think my younger self, though, would have looked past the shortcomings I found and enjoyed Christy’s story.

Quick Review: The Murder Farm by Andrea Maria Shenkel

I recently received THE MURDER FARM by Andrea Maria Shenkel through Net Galley. The synopsis of this book sounded similar to IN COLD BLOOD — true crime, murdered family on a farm, etc. This book takes place in the 1920’s and has been translated from German into English.

I had mixed feelings about this short novel. In one respect, it held my attention and kept me guessing. The chapters were told from all different viewpoints and perspectives, which, while slightly confusing, was creative. A prayer was interspersed throughout chapters (I’m sure it was relevant, but – full disclosure – I found myself skimming it in order to get back to the story).

When I reached the end of the this short novel, I was struck by the fact that perhaps the murder mystery wasn’t really the point of the story, and instead maybe it was a bit of a discourse on human nature, set within a nonfiction framework. Or maybe it was a murder mystery written in a new way.

Wish I had something more insightful and intelligent to add to this, so I’d welcome input from readers!

Have you read THE MURDER FARM? What did you think?

BEA14: Highlights for Me Part 2 – The Bloggers’ Con

The first day of BEA for me was attending the Bloggers’ Conference. This was my third bloggers’ con, and I have to say that I love going to this as I meet so many wonderful and interesting people there who LOVE books! I get a lot of new ideas, hear about the latest trends, and generally feel revived for another year of blogging (which sometimes can feel very lonely).

This year’s sessions started with a keynote by YA author Maureen Johnson. She was really funny and the time went quickly. She mentioned a site – The Toast – which was new to me, but which has “Dirtbag Little Women” and “Dirtbag Anne of Green Gables”, which of course I had to look up when I got home. They certainly aren’t for the purists, but they were pretty hysterical. Anyway, Maureen talked about writing and blogging and books and literature — and also her love for the show MI5. She was pretty entertaining.

The day sessions were divided into newbie blogger sessions and experienced blogger sessions. Though I’ve been blogging since ’09, I floated around between both. I feel like the first years my blog was just for family and friends and it’s only in the last two to three years that it’s really grown. I also have self-taught design and tech stuff for my blog, which is a scary thing when you think about it, so I’m always on the lookout for new/useful/creative ideas (and ways to get pictures to show up correctly in the free wordpress version I use). There were sessions on using pictures and images, and also thinking about design and how to work in ads, and then where to find all these things on the web. Lunch was an interview with the Chief and VP of content at BlogHer, Stacy Morrison. After lunch I went to a session on vlogging and making podcasts (something I want to try – maybe – sounds a tad complex). I skipped blogging and the law since I attended that in the past and I missed bloggers and publishers in order to attended “engaging your readers”, where veteran bloggers discussed some of the things they do to engage readers, along with social media marketing. What I took away from the day is that if I want to grow my blog (and do I? Yes, I think I do. Remember, originally my blog was geared towards people I know; now I’ve grown and expanded, which I like a lot), I need to blog a lot more! I like to post once a week; but according to all I heard, that isn’t going to cut it if I want to continue to grow. I need to post more, interact more, tweet more, etc. And I will, since I find the most rewarding part of blogging is connecting with readers and authors.

At the end of the day, they gave us a whole bunch of free books! I didn’t even take them all, and this is what I got:


All is all, it was a fun day – and I got to meet Sheila of Book Journey and Hannah of Indiewritergirl!

Saturday Snapshot: NYC – Times Square, Manhattenhenge, and more!

This past week I attended the Book Expo America publishing event in New York City. It was HUGE and very exciting since I’m a book blogger. During the week, it was “Manhattenhenge” — one of the two days all year that the setting sun lines up perfectly with the street grid in Manhatten. Of course, the exact day of Manhattenhenge, there was cloud cover, so my picture looked like nothing much. However, two days later, it was pretty nice out and I caught this attempt:


Not the greatest, but it gives you some idea of the event.

At the time we were eating at our fave place for our family: Junior’s on Broadway. Here is a shot of my son’s grilled cheese (New York style):


Seriously, that was one great grilled cheese!!

Times Square is one of those places that you can hardly grow tired of, so I took a few shots:

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I love to look at my NY pictures and think: who ARE all those people??

And of course there’s Rockefeller Center:



All in all, it was a great conference and a fun day in the city with my family when they came to pick me up! 🙂


Saturday Snapshot is hosted by Melinda of http://www.westmetromommy.blogspot.com. Check her site for info on participating!