Sunday, August 31, 2008

Field Report -- Check It Out!

I have recently noticed that a lot of bloggers are talking about a relatively new website called FieldReport. I finally decided to check it out for myself, and I have to say that I'm very impressed!

FieldReport is a free site that holds contests for good writing (the winners receive cash awards!) They are looking for "FieldReports" -- "true stories of something you did, saw, or lived through, from your own personal point of view. Some FieldReports describe incredible happenings, but most are just honest stories about moments that meant something in the writer’s life." Since most of you reading this are bloggers, you are probably already writing "FieldReports" everyday. Why not take a look at this site, and enter some of your own writing? It's free to join and free to submit your work, so what have you got to lose? You could even end up winning some cold, hard cash -- and some of the prizes are a lot of money!

Each month, FieldReports' community holds contests to determine the best FieldReport in 21 different categories -- the winner in each category receives $1000. In December, the qualifiers will compete for the grand prize of $250,000 and $25,000 for the TeenReport Scholarship Award. You can read more about the contest rules here.

Now, I definitely do not consider myself a writer in any way, shape or form; however, I do enjoy reading what others have written! While I don't see myself submitting any of my own work, I do see myself visiting this site just to read and review the stories. If you'd like to learn more, there is a Frequently Asked Questions page here. Or, you can get started with the Quick Start option here.

Review: Dear Neighbor, Drop Dead

Summary: In Mindy's yoga-obsessed, thirty-is-the-new-wife neighborhood, every day is a battle between Dunkin' Donuts, her jaws-of-life jeans, and Beth Diamond, the self-absorbed sancti-mommy next door who looks sixteen from the back. So much for sharing the chores, the stores, and the occasional mischief to rival Wisteria Lane.

It's another day, another dilemma until Beth's marriage becomes fodder on Facebook. Suddenly the Ivy League blonde needs to be “friended,” and Mindy is the last mom standing. Together they take on hormones and hunger, family feuds and fidelity, and a harrowing journey that spills the truth about an unplanned pregnancy and a seventy-year-old miracle that altered their fates forever.

Dear Neighbor, Drop Dead is a hilarious, stirring romp over fences and defenses that begs the question, what did you do to deserve living next door to a crazy woman? Sometimes it's worth finding out. -- Avon

I've been blogging for about seven months now; and I have to admit that it still makes my day when an author contacts me and asks me to read their book. A little while back, Saralee Rosenberg e-mailed me with an offer that I couldn't refuse -- she wanted to send me a copy of her latest novel DEAR NEIGHBOR, DROP DEAD. I was actually somewhat familiar with Ms. Rosenberg because my book club read another one of her books called A LITTLE HELP FROM ABOVE.

I thought DEAR NEIGHBOR, DROP DEAD was a hoot! This was a very light, read (for the most part); and I found myself chuckling on a pretty regular basis. From the description on the back of the book, I was thinking that this book would kind of be a "fluff" read -- not that there's anything wrong with that. This book did have humorous characters and comic situations that were on the lighter side; however, I was pleasantly surprised that there were also some very real and very serious issues.

Ultimately, I found this book to be about the bond between women and the strength of female friendships. There were also a lot of other issues touched on in this story including marriage difficulties, financial problems, parenting issues, and drug use. I thought the author did a good job of developing the characters and drawing the reader into their lives. I especially liked that the characters seemed to mature and appreciate their lives by the end of the story -- even the ones that were kind of hard to like.

I think anyone that would pick up DEAR NEIGHBOR, DROP DEAD would find things that they could relate to. The main character of Mindy was often times an overwhelmed mom who was constantly trying to manage her life -- her job, her three kids and their schedules, her family's finances, difficult relatives, crazy neighbors, her weight, etc. I know I can relate to more than a few of the things going on in her life. And while Mindy's neighbor Beth was a little over-the-top, I think a lot of people will recognize someone they know who has at least one or two of her "more endearing" qualities.

DEAR NEIGHBOR, DROP DEAD is published by Avon, an imprint of Harper Collins, so it included the A+ section at the back of the book. As I've mentioned a few times, I think these extras are terrific; and I definitely feel that they enhance my enjoyment of the book. I found one section especially interesting, though -- "Celebrating the Kindertransport." (I don't want to give too much away about the story, but there were some characters that had been rescued by the Kinderstransport program.) This section explained that the Kindertransport was a British-run rescue mission during World War II that allowed Jewish children from Germany, Austria, and Czechoslovakia to enter the country by themselves. They were placed with foster parents until they could eventually be reunited with their parents. I wasn't aware of the Kindertransport, and I found it fascinating that this really occurred!

Ms. Rosenberg has a wonderful sense of humor, and I think she really did a great job of poking fun at suburban moms! She also has a great website that has a lot of interesting stuff to look at. You really need to check it out because the site is so cool -- it's set up as if it were a magazine. You will definitely get a good idea of her wit, and there's even a link to her blog (which is pretty entertaining too!) I love that she has a section especially for book clubs which explains how to invite her to your next meeting (by phone, of course.) And, Ms. Rosenberg also provides lots of interesting topics and questions to get your book club discussion about DEAR NEIGHBOR, DROP DEAD on the right track.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Guest Review: The Spiritualist

I'd like to welcome back my friend Melissa. From time to time, she helps me catch up with my huge TBR pile. Her latest review is THE SPIRITUALIST by Megan Chance.

Summary: Sometimes truth is the greatest illusion of all.

In a cold January morning in 1856, Evelyn Atherton’s husband is found murdered after attending an exclusive séance. Having “married up” into New York society, Evie herself is the immediate suspect. Ostracized and vulnerable, she knows that to clear her name she must retrace her husband’s last steps. And so, joining forces with her husband’s best friend–and the only Manhattan lawyer who will accept her case–Evie dives into the mysterious underworld of the occult.

Before long, the trail brings them to a charismatic medium, Michel Jourdain. Evie’s instincts tell her the smooth-talking Jourdain is a charlatan–and her only hope for exoneration. But getting close to Jourdain means embracing a seductive and hypnotic world where clues to murder come through the voices of the dead.

Caught in a perilous game in which she is equal player and pawn, predator and victim, Evie finds there is no one to trust, perhaps not even herself. As her powerful in-laws build a case against her, and with time running out, Evie must face the real ghosts of her past if she is to have any hope of avoiding the hangman. -- Three Rivers Press

When handsome attorney Peter Atherton proposes to her, Evie believes she is living every middle-class girl’s dream by marrying into the “upper ten,” New York City’s most elite and wealthy families. Unfortunately, as she comes to finds out, the stuff of fairy tales rarely mimics real life. So when Peter asks her to attend a spirit circle in the hopes of summoning his dead mother, Evie concedes in the hopes of bridging the distance that seems to be growing between them.

As a disbeliever, Evie doesn’t know quite what to think of the magnetic and handsome medium, Michael Jourdain. But her skepticism turns to alarm when a mysterious gun “misfires” during the circle and nearly hits Peter. After escorting her home, Peter informs Evie that he is going back out to investigate his suspicion that the shot was meant for Jourdain. This is the last time she sees her husband alive.

Two days later, Evie is devastated to learn that Peter has been murdered. Her grief is exacerbated when her late husband’s influential family closes rank and pulls political strings to have Evie accused of the murder. Evie soon finds that even those she considered to be her true friends among the upper echelon have deserted her.

Alone in the world with no one to turn to, help and refuge comes from an unexpected source -- Dorothy Bennett, the reclusive New York Society matron who hosted the spirit circle Evie attended with her husband. Not knowing who she can trust, Evie must navigate the realm of spiritualism to prove her innocence and uncover the truth about the medium Michael Jourdain. Is he a genuine spirit guide, clever charlatan or murderer?

I really enjoyed this book. It was a great suspenseful story with enough plot twists to keep me guessing. Michael Jourdain is one of those memorable characters who you’re not quite sure whether you love or hate. I was really drawn into the antagonistic relationship between Evie and Jourdain and I loved seeing it develop into something less defined and even more volatile.

Megan Chance does a great job of portraying the ambiance of New York City in the late 19th century. Evie’s desperation as she tries to straddle the chasm separating the working class and upper society during that time feels real. The biased behavior of the police force, which I suppose is a relatively true reflection of the era, is infuriating

I’m not sure where I stand on the whole issue of spiritualism, but I was able to relate to Evie’s skepticism in the matter. As a mother, I was also affected by Dorothy Bennett’s desperation to communicate with her dead son. Regardless of whether or not you’re a believer in the spirit world, if you like a good suspense novel, I would highly recommend THE SPIRITUALIST.

I am extremely grateful to Melissa for once again providing a terrific book review. I can't wait to read more of her reviews in the near future!

Friday, August 29, 2008

Review: Shrink Rap

Summary: If you want to simultaneously learn about Child Psychiatry, laugh, cry, and skeet shoot, then Shrink Rap – An Irreverent Take on Child Psychiatry, is the book for you. Child Psychiatry is a growing field which has managed to capture our imagination, and whose vernacular has crept into the English language. If someone mentions that his or her child has ADHD, we all have a vague idea of what this means. If we want to learn more, we are confronted with ponderous tomes, more likely to cure insomnia than to explain the presentation of Childhood Depression.

There are plenty of parenting books on the market. Shrink Rap – An Irreverent Take on Child Psychiatry is not a parenting book. It’s a fun book, meant for people who want more information about child psychiatry a chapter at a time. A chapter before bed, a chapter while waiting for a kid’s piano lesson to finish….perhaps a chapter on the toilet (depending on how much fiber one eats).
Shrink Rap – An Irreverent Take on Child Psychiatry is a fun look at topics in Child Psychiatry written in a light-hearted style, and full of anecdotes about patients and families (including the author’s own), which illustrate points while making mothers feel that they are not so alone. It covers topics such as “ADHD,” “Anxiety Disorders,” “Psychosis,” and, of course “Childcare i.e. Leaving Your Child with Nut Jobs."

Shrink Rap – An Irreverent Take on Child Psychiatry, is written by a child and adolescent psychiatrist with 20 years of experience in psychiatry, but more importantly, 15 years of experience in motherhood. It demystifies the field, while answering the important questions, “Are all children of child psychiatrists nuts?,” “Are child psychiatrists insane?,” and “Why the heck would anyone go into this field?” -- Author House

One thing that I love about having this blog is that I sometimes hear from authors and publishers who want to send me a book because they think I might enjoy it. Many times, I probably wouldn't have heard of this book or even picked it out to read. That was exactly the case with SHRINK RAP -- AN IRREVERENT TAKE ON CHILD PSYCHIATRY by Robin A. Altman, MD. But when Dr. Altman asked me to take a look at her book, I thought it looked kind of interesting.

Normally, a book about child psychology wouldn't really interest me unless I was looking for some help or some specific answers about one of my children. However, Dr. Altman's slant on child psychology; and the description of this book appealed to me. In the past, I have found myself laughing about "psycho-babble" and even questioning parts of it, but I have to admit that I was intrigued by a child psychologist who uses humor as a regular part of her job.

While I did find this book very entertaining, I also learned a lot about childhood mental illness and the medicine used to treat them. Each chapter is relatively short and deals with a brief description of the various disorders. The book is very easy to read, and I think it's a great start to learning more about childhood psychological issues. Having said that, it is definitely not the end all, be all book on these illnesses.

You know how you can sometimes read a book about diseases, and pretty soon you start thinking you have the symptoms for a variety of illnesses (I took a Health course in college; and for a semester, we all thought we had every disease that we studied.) Well, as I read each chapter, I felt sympathy towards the families dealing with these issues; but I didn't think they related to me or my children. I kept checking off each disorder in my mind -- nope, they don't have that one, this one either, doesn't pertain to me, etc. I was feeling pretty good... until the last few chapters. That's when I got to the section on "Oppositional Defiant Disorder" or ODD for short. Uh oh -- some of this sounds pretty darn familiar! Dr. Altman says that ODD is "a fancy term for bratty kid" -- check. She also says that "Kids with ODD have frequent temper tantrums and argue constantly with adults" -- another check! "They never take responsibility for their behavior" -- we have three checks now. "Oppositional Defiant kids do things to deliberately annoy others" -- I'm freaking out at this point. Can you tell that it's been a really bad week and my kids are picking on each other a lot?

Seriously, I know my kids don't have ODD; and I'm probably not alone in having kids that exhibit these traits some of the time. If I even was really considering this disorder, Dr. Altman does a fantastic job of really getting to the knitty, gritty about these various behavioral issues. I'm just really impressed how she is able to teach the reader about child psychology while also making the book fun to read.

Dr. Altman is a very funny woman who seems to know her stuff (if you believe that I can really judge that.) Her stories and insights are probably so entertaining because they are so true. There were many times in this book where I found myself giggling. I know it sounds kind of weird that I was laughing at a book that deals with childhood mental illness, but it really was a funny book. I look at it this way: I have often times said that if I don't laugh at something my kids did, I will definitely cry. I think Dr. Altman sees so many terrible situations in her day-to-day job; and she has decided that she can cope with them better if she laughs. I love how she is able to poke fun at her profession, her family, and even herself. It's easy to see how she can put her patients at ease with her incredible sense of humor.

I thoroughly enjoyed SHRINK RAP, and I definitely recommend it to parents who want to learn a little more about child psychology. One thing I gained from reading this book is that I understand these childhood disorders a little more. I hope it will help me be more tolerant and accepting of children with behavioral problems. Come to think of it, the book might be wonderful for people who work with or spend a lot of time with kids.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Guest Review: Absolute Scandal

I'm so happy that Melissa is joining us again today with another fabulous review. This time it's AN ABSOLUTE SCANDAL by Penny Vincenzi.

Summary: Penny Vincenzi, master of the contemporary blockbuster, returns with a moving, engaging portrait of people coping with a notorious financial disaster and its unpredictable emotional repercussions.

Set during the boom-and-bust years of the 1980s, An Absolute Scandal follows the lives of a group of people drawn together by their mutual monetary woes when the great financial institution Lloyd's undergoes a devastating downturn. For Nigel Cowper, this means the destruction of his family business; his wife, Lucinda, is willing to do everything she can to help him—except give up her irresistible lover. The powerful, charismatic banker Simon Beaumont and his wife, a highly successful advertising executive, lose everything they worked so hard to acquire; but the ultimate tragedy is something that neither one could have anticipated. The well-to-do are not the only ones suffering: a self-sufficient widow is suddenly deep in debt; a single mother struggles to maintain a comfortable home for her children; and a schoolmaster and his frustrated wife find that financial problems deepen the cracks in their troubled marriage.

As their lives begin a downward spiral, these characters intersect in ways they never saw coming. Written in what has become her signature style of both wit and candor, Penny Vincenzi draws back the curtain and offers an inside view of the greed and social power plays that occur behind the closed doors of upper-crust society . . . where money isn’t everything. Sometimes, it’s the only thing. -- Doubleday

At the heart of this beautifully written novel is this simple question: What would you do if you lost everything (financially) you had? Most of us don’t even want to begin to contemplate that scenario. For me, this was really touchy subject material. The whole time I was reading this book, I kept thinking about how my husband and I always agonize over our financial situation. Are we doing the right things with our investments? Are we on track for saving for our retirement? Is our financial advisor leading us down the right path? We also spend a lot of time on the “what ifs.” What if we hadn’t bought that stock that plummeted instead of skyrocketing? What if we had sold that property in California when real estate went through the roof instead of when we did?

I have to admit that I really didn’t know that much about Lloyds of London and the scandal in the 1980’s that this story revolves around, so this was a bit of a history lesson for me. But for me, that’s one of the great things about reading – learning something new. So, for those of you who do not know much about what happened (and are interested), a brief synopsis: Lloyds of London insurance policies were underwritten by a large group of private investors called “Names.” The theory was that individual liability would be limited due to the large pool across which the risk was spread. Traditionally, the opportunity to become a Name was by invitation only. And for a very long time, being a Name was synonymous with “risk free” investing that resulted in very large returns. Sounds pretty sweet, right? So what happened to throw the train off the track in the 80’s? A plethora of unforeseen (according to Lloyds) claims from American workers suffering from asbestos related diseases dating back to the 1940’s. All of sudden, instead of enjoying large returns that they had come to expect, the Names were slapped with huge assessments – and not just one time hits. And not only had the Names taken on unlimited liability for claims arising in the future, they could also be held responsible for claims from the past. The consequence for many members was financial ruin, resulting in countless bankruptcies and tragically, a number of suicides.

Penny Vincenzi packs a lot of punch into this one book. Not only does she detail how the lives of five families are affected by the Lloyds catastrophe, but she manages to weave their stories together seamlessly. This is really the mark of a gifted author. Although AN ABSOLUTE SCANDAL is fiction, it is rooted in events that really happened, and for that reason it was a little painful for me to read at times. I laid awake at night thinking about the families in the book, feeling sick over what they were faced with as I tried to imagine being in their places. Then I thought about the real people that this must have happened to, and I couldn’t sleep at all.

I will admit that the one thing that bothered me about the narrative was the amount of infidelity that took place among the characters. With that being said, the author doesn’t dwell on the depressing aspects of the Lloyds catastrophe. Instead, she uses it as a vehicle to illustrate the best of human nature and how when faced with devastating events, we have the strength to rise above tragedy. I would recommend AN ABSOLUTE SCANDAL to anyone looking for a heartrending and thought-provoking read.

Thanks so much, Melissa. This book sounds amazing, and I can't wait to read it! AN ABSOLUTE SCANDAL sounds like it might make for some interesting conversation. If you are considering this book for a future book club, there is a reading guide available here.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Look What I Found on My Porch Today

My gift basket from Celestial Seasonings arrived today! I won it because my question was chosen for a future webcast Q&A with Doreen Orion. You can read more about the contest here.

The gift basket is chock full of goodies and an autographed copy of Ms. Orion's book QUEEN OF THE ROAD! I'm just thrilled since I loved the book (here's my review!) And since I love tea too, it's just the perfect treat for me!

Thank you so much, Doreen Orion and Celestial Seasonings! You really made my day.

Review: Lookin' Back, Texas

Summary: Betty Lynne Davidson is planning her husband’s funeral while overlooking one thing: he’s not dead.

When Suzanne Mullins, forty-two, gets the call from her father to come back home to Texas because her mother has gone off the deep end, she knows it will mean having to look at the faulty foundations of their marriage as well as her own. Betty Lynne has always upheld a perfect facade of home and family, and Suzanne has followed suit. But her life with husband Mike and son Oliver is cracking under the pressure of its own unspoken history.

Looking her past in the eye once and for all, Suzanne hopes that trusting in God’s love and mercy will set all of this craziness straight—even if it does mean having to watch her father give the eulogy at his own funeral. -- B&H Publishing Group

I received LOOKIN' BACK, TEXAS by Leanna Ellis through the Library Thing Early Reviewers' Program. It was the first book that I've been able to score through them; and I was beginning to think that it wouldn't ever come -- it took quite a few weeks. When I received it, I was a little surprised to find that it was Christian fiction. I'm not sure that I knew what I signing up for, but I was pleasantly surprised by this novel.

I am not a big reader of Christian fiction until very recently (and I still haven't read very many), so I'm probably not the best judge of the Christian aspect of this novel; however, I can review it as a women's fiction book (which, by the way, is how Ms. Ellis describes it on her website.) Based on the story and the humor, I felt that this book does have a lot to offer.

The premise of the story: a woman returns home to find that her parents troubled marriage has finally fallen apart. So much so, that her mother is planning her father's funeral because he left her (Get it? He's dead to her as far as she's concerned.) Not only does Suzanne feel that she has to repair her parents' marriage, but she is also beginning to doubt her own marriage and wonder if her son is heading towards trouble. If those weren't enough to worry about, she is also forced to come to terms with some secrets from her past, including her relationship with her high school boyfriend Drew. It's because of these issues that Suzanne's faith really comes into play.

I felt that Ms. Ellis did a good job of developing the characters of Suzanne and Mike. They were very believable to me, and I felt that I could understand their motivations and actions. I wasn't as impressed, however, with how Ms. Ellis developed the character of Drew. I didn't think his character really warranted his own chapters (in first person voice), but it didn't actually take away from the novel. Most of the other characters in the book (the Luckenbachites?) were quirky, yet memorable. I especially got a kick out of Suzanne's mother and her friends; and I thought they added to the charm of the story.

My favorite parts of this book were the scenes involving Suzanne's mother Betty Lynne. Betty Lynne is what most people would call a "riot." She was a woman who was definitely more concerned with appearances than she should have been. Her behavior and comments to her daughter, her grandson, and especially her husband were so ridiculous; and yet, I thought they were hilarious -- I even laughed out loud a few times. The funeral scene was positively hysterical, and I could totally visualize everything from the hall to the flowers to the food!

I would probably be remiss if I didn't mention the Christian angle of the story. I know some people may have been a little offended with some of the references, but Ms. Ellis probably isn't really writing for that audience anyway. I actually enjoyed the messages that LOOKIN' BACK, TEXAS provided to the reader -- marriage is sacred, honesty is best policy, and confession will result in mercy (I'm really paraphrasing here, but you get the idea.)

I do think that this novel would be a fun book to discuss for a book group, especially one that appreciates Christian literature. Check out the discussion questions here.

I definitely enjoyed LOOKIN' BACK, TEXAS; and I wouldn't hesitate to read another one of Ms. Ellis' books.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Guest Review: Nefertiti

Once again, I asked my good friend Melissa to help me out with my huge stack of books that I need to review. I knew she would appreciate NEFERTITI by Michelle Moran because she has read loads of historical fiction books. After reading her review (and many other ones,) I am just dying to read this book!

Summary: Nefertiti and her younger sister, Mutnodjmet, have been raised in a powerful family that has provided wives to the rulers of Egypt for centuries. Ambitious, charismatic, and beautiful, Nefertiti is destined to marry Amunhotep, an unstable young pharaoh. It is hoped that her strong personality will temper the young ruler’s heretical desire to forsake Egypt’s ancient gods.

From the moment of her arrival in Thebes, Nefertiti is beloved by the people but fails to see that powerful priests are plotting against her husband’s rule. The only person brave enough to warn the queen is her younger sister, yet remaining loyal to Nefertiti will force Mutnodjmet into a dangerous political game; one that could cost her everything she holds dear. -- Three Rivers Press

When Julie first gave me this book to review, I could barely contain my excitement. As an avid fan of historical fiction, NEFERTITI was high on my wish list of books to read. In fact, I was all set to order it when my very dear friend handed me a free copy. Words cannot describe how thrilled I was to be asked to read this coveted book. With that being said, I have to admit that I had really hyped this novel up in my mind, and was expecting (and hoping) to be enthralled. Well, I’m happy to report that I was not disappointed, not even a little.

The story begins in 1351 BCE, after the tragic death of Crown Prince Tuthmosis -- more than 1,000 years before the Ptolemy Dynasty and the reign of Cleopatra. Nefertiti, a beautiful young girl and daughter of a powerful vizier is sought out by her aunt (the reigning queen of Egypt) to become Chief Wife to her remaining son Amunhotep -- the future Pharaoh (who already has one wife). Nefertiti is tasked by her aunt and father to tame and moderate the new pharaoh -- an unstable, hot-headed and ambitious young man who is bent on replacing Egypt’s old Gods with new.

After Nefertiti’s marriage and the coronation of Egypt’s new Pharaoh and his queen, the family journeys to Memphis where Amunhotep decides to move the royal court and build a new city in the dessert. It is through the eyes and voice of Nefertiti’s younger sister, Mutnodjmet that Moran narrates her story, painting an exceptionally vivid picture of life in ancient Egypt, especially the tumultuous Egyptian court. As Nefertiti seeks to garner favor with Amunhotep over his first wife and instill herself as queen in the hearts of the people, her sister Mutnodjmet questions whether or not she herself is suited to a life filled with court intrigue and never-ending power struggles.

Moran does an exceptional job bringing her cast of characters to life. I found myself exasperated by the conniving and cunning Nefertiti and sympathetic to the more likable and compassionate Mutnodjmet. I had to keep reminding myself that both girls were simply that – just girls. The responsibility that was heaped upon the shoulders of these two young women, still in their teens, was staggering and for me, unfathomable. It is hard to imagine that anyone that young could begin to cope with the pressures of ruling a people. Of course, life was very different in ancient Egypt than today.

NEFERTITI is a compelling and provocative page-turner. It is a rich story filled with historical detail that is entertaining and easy to read -- think THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL. It’s hard to believe that this was Moran’s first novel. I absolutely loved this book and would recommend it to anyone. The only criticism I have is that it ended, which is why I can’t wait to read its sequel, THE HERETIC QUEEN, which will be out in September.

Thanks Melissa -- what a great review! I am so grateful that she has once again helped me by sharing her thoughts on NEFERTITI. It sounds like our book club might really enjoy this book too. If any of you are considering selecting NEFERTITI for a future book club pick, there are discussion questions available here. Ms. Moran is also available for author chats -- how awesome would that be!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Celestial Seasonings' Adventure at Every Turn Names a New Book

Adventure at Every Turn, A Book Club by Celestial Seasonings, has named their new book. This time it's THE PIRATE'S DAUGHTER by Margaret Cezair-Thompson. I have been dying to read this book since it came out last year in hardcover, and I read all of the wonderful reviews -- it even won the Essence Literary Award in Fiction. In fact, I have been talking it up so much that my book club has been anxiously awaiting the paperback release!

Summary: In 1946, Hollywood’s most famous swashbuckler, Errol Flynn, arrived in Jamaica in a storm-ravaged boat. After a long and celebrated career on the silver screen, Flynn spent the last years of his life on a small island off the Jamaican coast, where he fell in love with the people, the paradisiacal setting, and the privacy, and brought a touch of Tinseltown glamour to the West Indian community.

Based on those years, The Pirate’s Daughter imagines an affair between the aging matinee star and Ida, a beautiful local girl. Flynn’s affections are unpredictable but that doesn’t stop Ida from dreaming of a life with him, especially after the birth of their daughter, May.

Margaret Cezair-Thompson weaves stories of mothers and daughters, fathers and lovers, country and kin, into this compelling, dual-generational coming-of-age tale of two women struggling to find their way in a nation wrestling with its own independence. -- Random House

Once again, Celestial Seasonings is providing lots of help if you want to host your own adventure. They have listed appropriate tea selections, recipes, and decoration ideas to enhance your reading experience or your book club meeting. If you think you might be interested in THE PIRATE'S DAUGHTER, you can read an excerpt here. There are also discussion questions available here.

Time for BBAW Nominations

Amy from My Friend Amy is doing a terrific job of coordinating Book Blogger Appreciation Week 2008. I can't believe the wonderful response she is getting; and I'm truly happy that all of her hard work is paying off!

Listed below are the categories of awards. There are many. You may not have a nomination for each award. It doesn't matter. Nominate up to two blogs per category and send an email to BbawawardsATgmailDOTcom with your choices. You DO NOT have to have a blog to make nominations. Comments left on this post will NOT be accepted as nominations. Each category will be narrowed to the top five blogs by number of nominations received, so don't be shy!!! Support your favorite blogs and bloggers! Nominations will close on August 31st.

And the categories for the Book Blogger Appreciation Week Awards 2008 are:

Best General Book Blog
Best Kidlit Blog
Best Christian/Inspirational Fiction Blog
Best Literary Fiction Blog
Best Book Club Blog
Best Romance Blog
Best Thrillers/Mystery/Suspense Blog
Best Non-fiction Blog
Best Young Adult Lit Blog
Best Book/Publishing Industry Blog
Best Challenge Host
Best Community Builder
Best Cookbook Blog
Best History/Historical Fiction Blog
Best Design
Most Chatty
Most Concise
Most Eclectic Taste
Best Name for a Blog
Best Published Author Blog
Best Book published in 2008
Best Meme/Carnival/Event
Most Extravagant Giveaways
Best Book Community site
Write In--think we missed something? Write in your category and nomination and if there are enough other write-ins of the same category it will be added!

Hello...You Won Sweet Love

And the winner of SWEET LOVE is bookfool! Congratulations -- I hope you enjoy the book. Please e-mail me with your mailing address so I can send the book right out to you!

Thanks to everyone who entered! I'll be having more giveaways in the next couple of weeks.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Review: Every Freaking! Day with Rachell Ray

Summary: Hey kids! If 30-minute meals are good, wouldn't 30-second meals be even better? You bet they would! And EVERY FREAKING! DAY WITH RACHELL RAY makes this dream a reality!

This 64-page, full-color parody of the super-caffeinated media phenomenon Rachael Ray doesn't merely mimic the tone of the megastar's monthly magazine, daily talk show, multiple Food Network shows and countless ad campaigns, it nails it!

Bestselling author Elizabeth Hilts captures Rachael's perky exuberance, her "casual" approach to cooking and her irrepressible and wholly unique Rayisms. -- Hachette Book Group USA

They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. If that's true, then Rachael Ray should be extremely flattered by the new book EVERY FREAKING! DAY WITH RACHELL RAY by Elizabeth Hilts. This book pretty much sums up everything I've ever thought about her -- and maybe even a few things that I hadn't thought of. The way I figure it is that if Rachael Ray weren't so darn popular and making so much money, no one would even bother to write a parody about her.

I will admit that I was a pretty big fan of Rachael Ray before she became the HUGE star that she is now. I used to watch her cooking show on the Food Network (before my kids hi-jacked the t.v.) and I own quite a few of her 30 minute cookbooks. I even subscribed to her magazine for a year. So I'm not this big anti-Rachael Ray person (however, I did not like her daytime talk show.) Having said all this, when I was given the opportunity to take a look at this book, I couldn't say no. I thought it looked hilarious!

After reading the book, I will say that it is definitely funny! The book is based on her magazine format with lots of Rachell-filled pictures. The recipes are just hilarious -- like the no-bake chocolate cake (made from foam disks, white glue, Ring Dings, Yodels, Hostess Chocolate Cup Cakes, and 100-Calore Pack Chocolate Cupcakes), the Twisted Strawberry Shortcake (with the special surprise ingredient of cayenne pepper), and the Mac n' Cheeseburger (who says a "burger" has to include meat? Not me!) to name just a few. And, everything is this book is available for purchase at (does that sound like the real magazine or what?)

There are lots of other cute articles including the Q&A sections where some of Rachell's true colors really shine through, the Celebrity Fridge interview with Paula Deane, and A Day in the Life of a Mystery Taster (answer: Bill Clinton.) I loved how the author poked fun at Rachell's ideas of a 30 minute meal -- who really can make one of her meals in 30 minutes or less? I thought the book did a fabulous job of capturing the "voice" of Rachael Ray as well as the feel of her magazine.

If you are a fan of Rachael Ray's (or even if you're not), this book does provide some entertainment and more than a few laughs!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Review: In the Wash: The Rona Shively Stories

Summary: Rona Shively has seen a lot of things in her day, but nothing like the case brought to her by Gilbert Delvecchio. He is looking for his ex-wife, and she’s definitely not the woman he married. Before she knows what is happening, Rona is swept into a web of deception where everyone is both a target and a suspect.

A couple of romances and a shootout later, can she find the missing ex-wife before the bull’s-eye finds her again?

Or is it too late? -- Publish America

Of course, I am always flattered whenever an author contacts me and asks me to read their book. So when Rebecca Benston asked me to read IN THE WASH: THE RONA SHIVELY STORIES, I gladly said I would. Based on her description, it sounded like a book that I would enjoy. I like to read good mysteries, and I haven't been reading too many mysteries lately.

I was a little surprised when I opened the package with IN THE WASH inside. The book was shorter than I was expecting -- under 100 pages. I have to admit that I was curious if the book would work when it had so few pages. It actually did! I really enjoyed IN THE WASH, mainly because of the main character Rona Shively.

Rona Shively is a very memorable character. She's certainly not for the faint of heart -- her language is colorful (to say the least) and she does enjoy her men; but for some reason, I really, really liked her. I would consider her extremely tough, but I did like seeing that she had a softer side. I appreciated how the author was able to convey all of this about her character in such a short novel.

I thought Ms. Benston did a terrific job in writing the mystery angle of this book. She had me guessing until she revealed the killer at the very end. I also found the humor that she infused in this story to be extremely effective. The murders in the book were gruesome, and the book did have some touching moments; but I found Rona's sense of humor to really lighten the overall mood of the story. Some of my favorite parts of the book were Rona's snide (and crude) comments!

I was very impressed with Ms. Benston's character development as well as how she unfolded the mystery. Now that I've read and enjoyed IN THE WASH, I would be interested in reading her other Rona Shively book called UNDER LOCK AND KEY. And I'm very happy to find out that Ms. Benston is working on her third installment in this series called KEEPING THE FAITH.

This book is perfect for an evening where you want to finish a book in one sitting; and it is definitely read-able in just a few hours. I thought it was very entertaining, and I recommend giving this series a try if you enjoy mysteries with a little humor woven in.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Review: The Madonnas of Leningrad

Summary: Bit by bit, the ravages of age are eroding Marina's grip on the everyday. An elderly Russian woman now living in America, she cannot hold on to fresh memories—the details of her grown children's lives, the approaching wedding of her grandchild—yet her distant past is miraculously preserved in her mind's eye.

Vivid images of her youth in war-torn Leningrad arise unbidden, carrying her back to the terrible fall of 1941, when she was a tour guide at the Hermitage Museum and the German army's approach signaled the beginning of what would be a long, torturous siege on the city. As the people braved starvation, bitter cold, and a relentless German onslaught, Marina joined other staff members in removing the museum's priceless masterpieces for safekeeping, leaving the frames hanging empty on the walls to symbolize the artworks' eventual return. As the Luftwaffe's bombs pounded the proud, stricken city, Marina built a personal Hermitage in her mind—a refuge that would stay buried deep within her, until she needed it once more. . . . -- Harper Perennial

A huge thanks goes out to Book Club Girl for sharing THE MADONNAS OF LENINGRAD by Debra Dean with me. I have seen this book everywhere and I've had it on my "Need to Read" list for quite awhile; but it wasn't until she selected this book and the author for the topic of her next Blog Talk Radio show (I just love participating in these discussions) that I actually took the time to read it. Based on the book's description, I just knew that I was going to enjoy the story; and I certainly was not disappointed. This was a terrific read!

I'm not even sure how to express how much I loved this book. I was so incredibly touched by the story of Marina and her family, both now and during the Nazi invasion of Leningrad during WWII. I have to say that I really wasn't aware of how devastating this invasion was to the people of Leningrad; and as a result, I learned so much about this period of history from this book. I was extremely impressed with the author's thorough research on the Hermitage Museum and it's holdings. The author's descriptions of the building and the artwork were just amazing -- I could vividly picture each room and painting.

In addition to all of the historical references, I thought the author also did a wonderful job in writing about Marina's Alzheimer's as well as how the family coped with this difficult situation. To me, this book ultimately was about the importance of memory in all of our lives. Part of Marina's ability to survive the horrors she faced were based in her challenge to "remember" each of the valuable pieces of artwork and where they were placed in the museum. How ironic and tragic it must have been to eventually lose that ability to remember the important events and people in her life.

I was pretty much blown away by Ms. Dean's writing -- the book's prose was so beautiful. I am definitely impressed that this is Ms. Dean's debut novel; and I will be anxious to read more of her books in the future. If my review doesn't convince you about how special this book is, you should check out some of the reviews as well as the numerious awards that the book has received. There is also an interview with Ms. Dean from Publishers Weekly that I found very interesting.

The paperback edition of THE MADONNAS OF LENINGRAD was published by Harper Perennial so the book included the P.S. Insights, Interviews & More section in the back. I just adore the bonus materials available in these books. Each book that I've read with the P.S. section has added a great deal to my "reading experience;" and this book was no exception. Ms. Dean's bio was interesting, as was her essay on her visit to Saint Petersburg (it's amazing that she didn't visit the city until after she finished the book); but I was fascinated with the section about how she came up with the idea for this story. She saw a documentary on PBS about the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg where she learned about a guide who gave tours of the empty museum during the Nazi seige. In the meantime, her grandmother was suffering from Alzheimer's and kept bringing up memories of her youth -- some more realistic than others. She drew from both of these experiences to create the storyline for this book. I found this to be extremely interesting.

I highly recommend selecting THE MADONNAS OF LENINGRAD for a future book club choice. This book would be perfect to discuss with a bunch of friends. There are so many levels to this book, and I guarantee that everyone who reads this book will be touched by Marina's story. I particularly found the symbolism in this book to be very interesting and would love to discuss it with others who have read the book. There is a reader's guide available here if you want to take a look at the questions. In addition, if you want to learn more about this amazing story, Book Club Girl interviewed Ms. Dean last night on Blog Talk Radio -- check it out. It was so interesting to hear Ms. Dean's story about how this book came to be.

Also reviewed at:
Age 30 - A Year in Books
Life and Times of a "New" New Yorker
Reading Adventures
Book Chatter and other stuff
Peeking Between the Pages

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Read-It-Forward Newsletter

This morning, I received a wonderful e-mail from Random House's Read It Forward. This is my second time to receive this newsletter, and both newsletters were awesome. There are so many wonderful things in this e-mail including chances to win free books and to receive ARCs. It is also a valuable resource for new releases, reading guides, author chat opportunities, and more!

This month's newsletter has some great opportunities for book lovers everywhere. The first one is to write your favorite story about your book club. If Read It Forward selects to feature your book club, you could win a Book Group in a Box! The second opportunity is for all you book bloggers. Read It Forward is looking to you for help spread the word.

If you are interested in receiving this newsletter, click here to sign up. And don't forget to check out the new releases and ARCs that they have to give away!

Review: Switchcraft

Summary: Best friends since back in the day, Aggy and Nely are as different as two women could possibly be. Aggie's slim, stylish, and owns an upscale boutique and a long history of no-strings relationships. Nely has a busy baby, a metiche mother-in-law, and some extra post-pregnancy pounds she can't quite shed. And when they reconnect at a New Age spa, each friend finds herself wishing just a little that she had the other one's life.

Big mistake!

Thanks to the metaphysical meddling of a somewhat grumpy guru, Nely is now Aggie and Aggie is Nely—switching bodies, love lives, families, closets . . . everything! The grass may not be quite as green as it originally appeared. As luck has it, they'll be stuck this way until the next full moon! And with a husband, his very suspicious mama, a temperamental tot, a business on the brink of disaster, and a sort-of boyfriend—not to mention a sleazy stalker—thrown into the mix, Aggie and Nely suddenly find they're not just walking in each other's shoes . . . they're running! -- Avon

When Mary Castillo contacted me about reading her latest novel SWITCHCRAFT, I jumped at the opportunity. Every once in awhile I really enjoy reading a light, "chicklit" book. SWITCHCRAFT certainly fit the bill -- it was a very fun read. And after the last few books that I've read, I needed something where I could totally escape!

I thought the premise for this book sounded cute -- two friends who envy what the other one has suddenly switch bodies for one month. I loved the original Freaky Friday as a kid (both the movie and the books) so why wouldn't I enjoy this concept for 30 somethings? I liked that the story made them live in each other's bodies for a month rather than just a day or two. It definitely made the story a little more interesting since they really had to "become" the other person and convince their family and friends. To make it even more complicated, one friend was living the single life while one was a stay-at-home mom of a toddler -- I can speak from experience that those are two very different worlds.

The plot in SWITCHCRAFT was actually a very cute concept; and I especially enjoyed how both women ultimately learned how to appreciate their own lives. I also thought it was sweet how they realized how special their friendship was too. I liked that the author addressed the friendship issue between single girls and married moms. I think we all recognize how difficult it can be to find things in common with our long-time girlfriends when our lives go in opposite directions. I felt like the book was a little more complex because she didn't have the women in perfect relationships.

Another thing that I enjoyed about this book was the humor (and honesty) that the author used in telling this story! I loved the tongue-in-cheek way that she handled the "Mommy and Me" groups as well as meddling mother-in-laws. Ms. Castillo is the mother of a young child, and it definitely showed that she "gets" the whole yuppy mom world. I also appreciated that she showed that being a stay-at-home mom does not mean that a woman has given up her identity (or her brain.)

I was very impressed with Mary Castillo's writing style. She has written a few other novels that I certainly wouldn't hesitate to read! If you would like to learn more about Ms. Castillo and her books, you should check out her website. She also has a blog called Chica Lit which is fun to read too!

One more thing: I forgot to mention how adorable I think the cover is. It fits the book perfectly!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

August 2008 Book Club Meeting and September Selection (and a Giveaway)

Summary: Like other well-meaning mothers, Julie Mueller’s believed she did the right thing when she secretly ended her teenage daughter’s crush on Michael Slayton, a wild older neighborhood heartthrob with a penchant for Shakespeare and the pedigree of trailer trash.

Twenty years later, Betty Mueller has come to realize that was a big mistake. Her daughter Julie – divorced and raising a teenage daughter alone – is a workaholic obsessed with her career. And Michael, the one man who could make her happy, is the one man to whom she won’t speak.

Now dying and determined to make amends, Betty stages her last great feat of motherhood by reuniting the couple in a dessert class where she hopes the sweetness of a chocolate almond Torta Caprese will erase the bitterness of a wretched misunderstanding.

“Sweet love, renew thy force; be it not said thy edge should blunter be than appetite,” Shakespeare once pleaded—though it will require more than poetry and passion fruit for Julie and Michael to renew their love.

It will, in fact, require the sweetest sacrifice of all. -- Dutton

Last night, my book club met to discuss SWEET LOVE by Sarah Strohmeyer. We all thoroughly enjoyed this novel! I thought about making one of the recipes listed on Ms. Strohmeyer's website, but I chickened out last minute. They were a little more work than I wanted to do today since I had to clean too! Instead, I made a recipe that would be more worthy of Julie's mom than Chef D'Ours -- Brownie Delight! It was a brownie base, with a sweet whipped cream cheese layer, than a chocolate pudding layer, and then cool whip on top. It was supposed to have pecans on it, but I used chopped up Heath bars instead -- very yummy if I do say so myself! But, I digress....

We all agreed that SWEET LOVE was a great book; and some of us were surprised by how much "deeper" the book was than what we were expecting. Some really serious issues were touched upon including murder, homelessness, breast cancer and eating disorders. I was surprised that each one of us took something a little different away from this book. One of the girls appreciated how Sarah was able to incorporate a little mystery into the middle pages of the book. A few of us really liked the way she included information about the cooking classes and desserts into the story. I guess that means that there was a little something for everyone.

After I posted that we would be reading SWEET LOVE for our August book club meeting, Ms. Strohmeyer contacted me through my blog and graciously offered to "help." I jumped at the opportunity to ask her for an author chat. I am so glad that she agreed! Sarah was incredibly sweet and so much fun -- we all loved her! She's exactly what you'd imagine the author of this book to be.

When I asked her what the inspiration was for SWEET LOVE, she told us that she wanted to write a book that expressed how she felt about losing her mother. Sarah definitely struck a chord with one of our members -- she said that she had to close the book because she was tearing up at the hair salon. She felt that the book did an amazing job of expressing how she felt when her mother passed away.

I mentioned in my review that I thought this book was really about mother-daughter relationships; and we all liked how she was able to show how a 40-something woman serves in both roles (just like so many of us.) There were also some wonderful examples about the strength and resilience of female relationships. Both Julie and her mother Betty were involved in great friendships with other women. We all agreed that we'd love to be part of a friendship like Betty had her with life-long friends. When Betty was diagnosed with breast cancer, her two friends were there for her in every way (even when her husband wasn't.) And who wouldn't love having a best friend like Liza? She was always there for Julie (even when she was out of town) and trying to make life better for Julie.

I think most of us felt like we could relate (at least a little) to Julie especially as she meets up again with her high-school sweetheart. One or two of the girls even started talking about recent experiences where they met their childhood crushes. I love that this book generated those kind of discussions; and I think we all agree that we learned a lot about each other tonight.

I happen to have one extra copy of SWEET LOVE that I received from the publisher. I'd love to share it with one of you, but I have to warn you that the inside cover in the back of the book is creased (it came to me that way.) To enter the contest, please leave a comment after this post with your e-mail address. To double your chances, blog about this contest and leave me the link. The contest will be open until Sunday, August 24th at 11:59 p.m. Unfortunately, this contest is open to U.S. and Canada mailing addresses only. Good Luck!

For September, we will be reading WHISTLING IN THE DARK by Lesley Kagan. I am very excited because I have wanted to read this book even since I saw it at Target over a year ago. I have heard so many wonderful things about this book and Ms. Kagan; and I'm looking forward to our discussion in a few weeks.

Summary: It was the summer on Vliet Street when we all started locking our doors...

Sally O'Malley made a promise to her daddy before he died. She swore she'd look after her sister, Troo. Keep her safe. But like her Granny always said-actions speak louder than words. Now, during the summer of 1959, the girls' mother is hospitalized, their stepfather has abandoned them for a six pack, and their big sister, Nell, is too busy making out with her boyfriend to notice that Sally and Troo are on the Loose. And so is a murderer and molester.

Highly imaginative Sally is pretty sure of two things. Who the killer is. And that she's next on his list. Now she has no choice but to protect herself and Troo as best she can, relying on her own courage and the kindness of her neighbors. -- NAL Paperbacks

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Review: Sweet Love

Summary: Like other well-meaning mothers, Julie Mueller’s believed she did the right thing when she secretly ended her teenage daughter’s crush on Michael Slayton, a wild older neighborhood heartthrob with a penchant for Shakespeare and the pedigree of trailer trash.

Twenty years later, Betty Mueller has come to realize that was a big mistake. Her daughter Julie – divorced and raising a teenage daughter alone – is a workaholic obsessed with her career. And Michael, the one man who could make her happy, is the one man to whom she won’t speak.

Now dying and determined to make amends, Betty stages her last great feat of motherhood by reuniting the couple in a dessert class where she hopes the sweetness of a chocolate almond Torta Caprese will erase the bitterness of a wretched misunderstanding.

“Sweet love, renew thy force; be it not said thy edge should blunter be than appetite,” Shakespeare once pleaded—though it will require more than poetry and passion fruit for Julie and Michael to renew their love.

It will, in fact, require the sweetest sacrifice of all. -- Dutton

I pretty much knew when I opened the box containing SWEET LOVE by Sarah Strohmeyer that I was going to love it. I mean, look at the cover of this book -- it's absolutely gorgeous! Add to that: the storyline sounds terrific and it is about a woman named Julie. Lisa Daily, author of FIFTEEN MINUTES OF SHAME, mentioned in an author chat that she loved Ms. Strohmeyer's books. In addition, I had already heard wonderful things about Ms. Strohmeyer's latest book (People Magazine, The New York Times, and the Chicago Tribune all selected it as one of summer's hottest reads.) I basically couldn't wait to dig in!

The good news is that I did thoroughly enjoy SWEET LOVE. It was a very "sweet" book that I just couldn't put down. I guess it's technically "chick lit," but don't let that scare you away (that's for those of you who turn your noses up at chick lit books.) This book had a little bit of everything -- love, romance, humor, parent/child relationships, illnesses, friendships, etc. I adored the character of Julie, as I did almost every character in this book. The characters all complemented each other while also having wonderful personalities in their own right.

I found myself laughing and crying with Julie as she deals with some very tough times in her life. Julie is facing so much uncertainty and change -- she is having some self esteem issues as she reaches middle age, she finds out that she is still in love with her childhood crush, her parents are becoming older and less able to take care of themselves, her daughter is preparing to leave home and go to college, she is trying to determine her future career goals, and she is faced with a major health scare (whew!) My heart went out to Julie many times throughout this story, but I also found myself laughing at her dry wit as well as her ability to cope with all these changes. She's just a terrific character who you will ultimately find yourself rooting for.

One thing I especially enjoyed about this novel were the cooking classes that Julie and Michael were taking. I love to bake (but don't do much of it because of the calories), and I thought the cooking class sounded like so much fun (especially the hilarious French chef character.) Ms. Strohmeyer's descriptions of the desserts were mouthwatering to say the least. I would love to try some of them out myself, especially the Peach Cobbler and the Almond Biscotti Tiramisu. Ms. Strohmeyer has listed some of the recipes on her website.

Although a major part of the book was about the on-again, off-again relationship between Julie and Michael (which I thoroughly enjoyed), I found the mother-daughter relationship angle to be so moving. I loved Julie's mother Betty; and I thought it was wonderful how much she loved her husband and family. Betty was an incredibly strong woman, and I'm so glad that Julie was able to appreciate her mother before it was too late. I also enjoyed the dynamics between Julie and her daughter Em. It was interesting to see Julie's role in both relationships as her daughter needs her less and her mother needs her more.

I love that the chick lit genre has grown past stories of young women in their 20s living in major cities -- I feel that they've "matured" as I've "matured." It's so refreshing to read about strong woman in their 40s who still manage to find love and happiness! I am extremely impressed with Ms. Strohmeyer -- I liked the story, the characters, and the writing so much; and I definitely want to read more of her novels, especially THE SLEEPING BEAUTY PROPOSAL and the CINDERELLA PACT. Now that I am thinking about it, I actually did read one of her Bubbles series many years ago, and I do remember enjoying it.

My book club meets tonight to discuss SWEET LOVE, and we are fortunate enough to have the author calling us too! I can't wait to talk to Ms. Strohmeyer about her latest book and see what she's got in the works as far a new books go. I'll be posting tomorrow about tonight's book club meeting as well as our author chat.

A huge thanks goes out to Dutton, a division of Penguin Group (USA), for providing me and my book club with copies of SWEET LOVE. Another big thanks goes out to Falise from 24/8 Book Club for coordinating with Dutton!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Guess What I Won?

I am so excited!!! I found out that I won another contest -- when it rains it pours (but I mean that in a very good way.)

Some of you might remember when I reviewed QUEEN OF THE ROAD by Doreen Orion -- I just loved that book. I also mentioned (in a separate post) that the Celestial Seasonings Adventure at Every Turn Book Club picked the book as their latest selection. As part of their book club this month, Celestial Seasonings also conducted a contest where readers could submit a question for a future webcast with Ms. Orion. Well, my question was one of the ones selected! I won an autographed copy of QUEEN OF THE ROAD and a $50 gift basket!

You can imagine just how thrilled I am to win this contest since I'm a huge tea drinker! I know many of you are already fans of this book (or have it on your TBR list) so I'll be sure to let you know when the entire video webcast is available.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Review: Kumon Workbooks

I was so excited when I received an e-mail from Kumon Workbooks asking me if I would like to take a look at their educational workbooks. Both of my children are in the age range that these books are geared to, so I thought it would be great to see what they thought of them. The people from Kumon were extremely generous and sent me a large package filled with goodies. Here's what I received: Grade 4 and Grade 5 Decimals & Fractions workbooks (my 9 year old daughter is entering the 4th grade but she's a math whiz), a My Book of Easy Telling Time, a My Book of Numbers 1-30, a My Book of Rhyming Words, a Let's Fold! and a Let's Cut Paper First Steps Workbooks (all of these are geared for preschoolers.)

My daughter thoroughly enjoyed working on the Decimals & Fractions Workbooks. She thought the exercises were "challenging for your brain and a lot of fun" (I swear those were her exact words.) I thought the workbooks were incredible! The Grade 4 workbook "will help children add and subtract fractions with like denominators as well as decimals to the hundredths place." The Grade 5 book "will introduce your child to vertical form multiplication & division of decimals, as well as the addition & subtraction of improper fractions." Each page of the workbook had a lot of white space so the child has plenty of room to show their work -- that's a huge focus in our school district. All of the answers are in the back of the book which is nice for parents and teachers who don't have the time to figure them all out!

My son actually loved the workbooks aimed at his age group. He is very interested in his letters and is always trying to rhyme words. I thought the Rhyming Words workbook was perfect for him. There were lots of different activities in the books that help children learn the rhyming sounds. In addition, he is very interested in learning to tell time. He's pretty good on digital clocks (I know that's not saying much); but I've been encouraging him to learn how to read the numbers on a real clock. The Easy Telling Time book was right up his alley! He loved looking at the different colored clocks and telling me the time. The Numbers 1-30 book was ideal for a preschooler too. The book covered both number recognition as well as learning to write the numbers.

I thought the First Steps Workbooks were just precious. We received one called Let's Cut Paper! -- "your child will develop fine motor control skills while having fun using scissors to cut lines and shapes." I actually am having a hard time letting him play with this book because it's just so darn cute. Each page is a picture of an item with a line or lines for cutting practice. After the child cuts the lines, the parent can help turn the picture into puzzles, 3-D pictures, etc. The other workbook we received is Let's Fold! There are basic folding activities as well as some origami exercises. Both of these First Steps Workbooks have the cutest pictures with bright colors that any child would love!

If you would like to learn more about what Kumon has available, they have a very informative website. There is an extensive catalog of their workbooks as well as information about the books, about the company, and where to buy the books. I thought the workbooks were all terrific, and they are priced just right at $5.95 for the First Steps Workbooks and $6.95 for the other ones. I think both parents and children will enjoy these books because they combine learning with fun. I highly recommend taking a look at the various workbooks and finding some that are right for your children!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Review: Inner Architect: How to Build the Life You Were Designed to Live

Summary: The only step-by-step guide to creating a life you love. This book holds your hand through the six phases of building a new career. From considering change through moving into your new life, Inner Architect provides you with all the how to's, tips and exercises you will need to break through obstacles and create your desired change.

Phase 1: Considering Change
Phase 2: Designing a Job You Love
Phase 3: Breaking through Fear
Phase 4: Creating Your Plan
Phase 5: Building from the Inside Out
Phase 6: Moving into Your New Life
-- Inner Architect Media

A few months ago, I was asked to take a look at INNER ARCHITECT: HOW TO BUILD THE LIFE YOU WERE DESIGNED TO LIVE by Susan Hanshaw. I'm not a huge reader of self-help type books, but I thought the idea sounded promising. I mean, who doesn't want to identify something they are passionate about and then make money doing it? Of course, most of us are concerned (if not terrified) about leaving the security of our regular job to head into the unknown and start something new. That's where Susan Hanshaw comes in with this book.

When I started this book, I thought that I'm probably not the ideal reader because I no longer have a "real" job -- I'm a stay-at-home mom (which I know is a very real job, but it doesn't pay real money!) But the more I thought about it, I actually did have to go through a process (not unlike the one in this book) to ultimately decide to quit my relatively high-paying job and stay at home with my daughter. Not everything in this book applied to my scenario, but a lot of the advice and wisdom was valid.

This book is divided into lots of very detailed steps to help the reader tackle this enormous project -- it's apparent the author feels that if the reader can just do one step at a time, he/she will gain momentum from the small accomplishments. Ms. Hanshaw first breaks the process down into 6 Phases to Creating Change. Each of these phases is then divided into specific Steps (there are a total of 27 steps) with questions and writing exercises for the reader to complete as part of the change. The author seems to do a good job of covering all the angles to change including what it takes to implement it as well as addressing the issues that will arise as part of this process.

Susan Hanshaw is actually writing this book based on her own experience. I liked the parts of the book where she gave details on the process that she actually went through when she left her Vice President level job to follow her dream. I especially enjoyed when she explained some of the things that she didn't do and how that affected her as well. I felt that Ms. Hanshaw was a credible authority on the subject matter, and she presented it in a very thorough manner. As I read INNER ARCHITECT, I could almost imagine her presenting the concepts in a workshop environment.

Of course the book is specifically for individuals who are unhappy with their current jobs and want to make the jump to a new, meaningful career. I'm not really in this situation right now, but I did find lots of Ms. Hanshaw's advice to be useful. Phase 3, the section on "Breaking Through Fear" contained a lot of wisdom about dealing with the obstacles that we face on our way to any type of change. I also really enjoyed the section on "Choosing to Believe in Yourself." The author makes the case that "Believing in yourself is a choice." In fact, a recurring theme throughout the book is that you have "to make a shift in taking control of what you choose to believe and accept." Isn't that just true of so many things in out lives? Two other sections that I found helpful were about "Trusting Your Heart" and "Trusting Your Instincts" -- learning to do both of these things would be extremely helpful in my daily life.

I recommend INNER ARCHITECT to anyone looking to make a major change in their life, but especially those looking to leave their current paying jobs to follow their passion. Either way, there is a lot of useful information in the pages of this book to help anyone improve their lives and take control of finding their happiness.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Review: Made in the U.S.A.

Summary: The bestselling author of WHERE THE HEART IS returns with a heartrending tale of two children in search of a place to call home.

Lutie McFee's history has taught her to avoid people, to places, and to almost everything. With her mother long dead and her father long gone to find his fortune in Las Vegas, 15-year-old Lutie lives in the god-forsaken town of Spearfish, South Dakota with her twelve-year-old brother, Fate, and Floy Satterfield, the 300-pound ex-girlfriend of her father. While Lutie shoplifts for kicks, Fate spends most of his time reading, watching weird TV shows and worrying about global warming and the endangerment of pandas. As if their life is not dismal enough, one day, while shopping in their local Wal-Mart, Floy keels over and the two motherless kids are suddenly faced with the choice of becoming wards of the state or hightailing it out of town in Floy's old Pontiac. Choosing the latter, they head off to Las Vegas in search of a father who has no known address, no phone number and, clearly, no interest in the kids he left behind.

MADE IN THE U.S.A. is the alternately heartbreaking and life-affirming story of two gutsy children who must discover how cruel, unfair and frightening the world is before they come to a place they can finally call home. -- Grand Central Publishing

I have had MADE IN THE U.S.A. by Billie Letts sitting in my TBR pile for way too long. I was very excited when I received it because I had read Ms. Letts' other books and enjoyed them, especially the Oprah Book Club selection WHERE THE HEART IS. I'm glad that I finally got around to reading it because MADE IN THE U.S.A. was a very enjoyable book.

Based on the beginning of MADE IN THE U.S.A. -- when the woman dropped dead in the checkout lane at Wal-mart, I thought the book was going to be a light, fun read (you're probably thinking I pretty sick at this point, but I could totally see something like that happening while I'm in line at my local Wal-mart.) Not to say that it didn't have some humor woven into the pages, but I was really amazed by how depressing parts of this story were.

When Floy, the unofficial guardian of fifteen year old Lutie and eleven year old Fate, unexpectantly dies, the children decide that they have to flee the scene or they will be placed in a foster home. They take Floy's car and head to Las Vegas in search of their long-lost (alcoholic) father. It's evident that the children are in way over their heads -- they have very little money and Lutie doesn't even know how to drive a car. It's only a matter of time until things start going very wrong.

Often times throughout the novel, I found it difficult to like Lutie -- she was very rough; however, I loved her younger, nerdy brother Fate -- he was so darn adorable. I understand that both children had been faced with very unfortunate lives and were desperately looking for love, but how they handled their situation was as different as night and day. What happened to both kids broke my heart; but when Lutie kept trying to find ways to support herself and her brother (including working as a hotel maid and acting in adult movies), I just wanted to cry -- it was so desperate and so pitiful.

When it looked like things couldn't get any worse, a "guardian angel" enters the picture. Juan Vargas, a mysterious yet kind-hearted character, takes the kids away from Las Vegas to his home in Oklahoma. I definitely enjoyed the book more from the time that Juan, Lutie and Fate arrived in Oklahoma -- this part of the story seemed more like a Billie Letts' novel to me.

The children learn that Juan was a famous acrobat in the circus who had a falling-out with his father. While Juan took the children to his home so Lutie could heal from her physical injuries, there was a lot more "healing" going on than just the broken bones and bruises. I don't want to give too much away, but it's safe to say that it's a happy ending for everyone. Juan eventually reconciles with his father, Fate gets his first real friend, and Lutie discovers a new passion!

The characters in Oklahoma are quirky, especially since they are circus people; but they are all interesting and likeable. I have to admit that there were many times when I suspended reality while reading this book, and that might bother some people. For me, I didn't think about whether things were possible or not. I just read MADE IN THE U.S.A. as a way to escape and enjoy a good story with a happy ending!