Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Review: An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination

Summary: "This is the happiest story in the world with the saddest ending," writes Elizabeth McCracken in her powerful, inspiring memoir. A prize-winning, successful novelist in her 30s, McCracken was happy to be an itinerant writer and self-proclaimed spinster. But suddenly she fell in love, got married, and two years ago was living in a remote part of France, working on her novel, and waiting for the birth of her first child.

This book is about what happened next. In her ninth month of pregnancy, she learned that her baby boy had died. How do you deal with and recover from this kind of loss? Of course you don't-but you go on. And if you have ever experienced loss or love someone who has, you will hope to go on with the help and company of this remarkable book.

With humor and heart and unfailing generosity, McCracken considers the nature of love, and grief. She opens her heart and leaves all of ours the richer for it. -- Little, Brown and Company

When I first received an ARC of AN EXACT REPLICA OF A FIGMENT OF MY IMAGINATION by Elizabeth McCracken, I wasn't sure it was a book that wanted to read. I knew it would be a difficult subject matter for me. My sister was pregnant and in her ninth month; and I thought I would just put it away until she delivered a healthy baby. The day after she gave birth to my little nephew, I decided to pick up this book and give it a try. I read this book in one sitting! I have to say that this book was an incredibly moving account of Ms. McCracken's loss of her baby boy.

As I sit down to write this review, I'm pretty sure that I'm not going to be able to express my feelings about this story. This book is extremely powerful. I thought that I might relate a little bit to the author and her book because I lost two babies through miscarriages. However after reading her account, I can safely say that I did not go through anything as difficult as losing a baby after carrying it for nine months. I don't know if there is anything more painful to a woman and mother than to lose a child. In this case, it was particularly sad for me because she never even had the chance to really "meet" and know her child.

Needless to say, I cried quite a few times while reading this book. There was one chapter, which was less than two pages, where I was actually sobbing. It was almost in the middle of the book where Ms. McCracken remembers back to when she was a teenager and a man handed her a card on a subway that told her, "I am deaf." She related this experience to how she felt after losing her child. Instead of constantly having to explain what happened to everyone she encountered, she would have liked to have been able to hand them a card saying, "My first child was a stillborn." I am absolutely amazed that Ms. McCracken could pack so much emotion into so few words.

I have not read any of Ms. McCracken's other works, and I wasn't familiar with her before reading this book. I was just blown away by Ms. McCracken's writing style. This book was written so incredibly well. In addition, I was extremely impressed with Ms. McCracken's honesty and the manner in which she shared her difficult story. I can't imagine how difficult it must have been for her to write this book, and I think that she did an amazing job of conveying to the reader how painful this experience was for her and her husband. I think what amazed me the most about this book, though, was the humor that Ms. McCracken still managed to use in telling her story.

While the subject matter is at times very difficult to read, I highly recommend reading AN EXACT REPLICA OF A FIGMENT OF MY IMAGINATION. It is a beautifully written memoir that will definitely touch you. I know this book will continue to remain in my thoughts for quite awhile after reading it.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Review: Thank You for All Things

Summary: At twelve, Lucy Marie McGowan already knows she’ll be a psychologist when she grows up. And her quirky and conflicted family provides plenty of opportunity for her to practice her calling. Now Lucy, her “profoundly gifted” twin brother, Milo, her commitment-phobic mother, and her New Age grandmother are leaving Chicago for Timber Falls, Wisconsin, to care for her dying grandfather—a complex and difficult man whose failure as a husband and father still painfully echoes down through the years.

Lucy believes her time in the rural town where the McGowan story began will provide a key piece to the puzzle of her family’s broken past, and perhaps even reveal the truth about her own missing father. But what she discovers is so much more—a lesson about the paradoxes of love and the grace of forgiveness that the adults around her will need help in remembering if their family is ever to find peace and embrace the future.

By turns heart-wrenching and heart-mending, Thank You for All Things is a powerful and poignant novel by a brilliant storyteller who illustrates that when it comes to matters of family and love, often it is the innocent who force others to confront their darkest secrets. -- Bantam Discovery

A few months ago, my book club read THE BOOK OF BRIGHT IDEAS by Sandra Kring. All of agreed that it was a terrific book club discussion book, and we absolutely loved it! After I posted a summary of our meeting, Ms. Kring contacted me (I know, I almost died!) and asked if I would be willing to read her new novel, THANK YOU FOR ALL THINGS. I was positively thrilled -- I couldn't wait to tell my book club what I got in the mail!

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel; and I can definitely add Ms. Kring to my list of favorite authors. I liked a lot of things about this novel, but I have to say that I thought the characters were just wonderful. All of the characters in this novel are extremely memorable to me and will stay in my mind for quite awhile! Ms. Kring wrote the story of Lucy and her family from Lucy's point of view; and that's really made the book for me. Lucy was a very intelligent twelve year old whose insight into her family was incredibly perceptive. I thought Ms. Kring captured the essence of a pre-teen girl extremely well. I really felt like I had the chance to understand Lucy's feelings and "love" her as a result of reading the novel.

In addition to Lucy, I adored her "geeky" twin brother Milo whose intellect and cluelessness provided Lucy with some great material. Another wonderful character was Lucy's grandmother Lillian. Lillian was a very unique and spiritual woman who was into new-age healing -- she also provided some very funny moments. I loved the relationship between Lucy and Lillian -- they seemed to truly understand each other and almost be two parts of the same soul.

Lucy's mother Tess was also a wonderfully developed and very complex character. Although Tess wasn't always likable to me and seemed to be a little bitter, I eventually grew to understand and even appreciate her. Tess was carrying some major emotional baggage left over from various relationships in her life. Not only had she experienced some lost loves, including Lucy's and Mile's father; but she was also coping with some major issues with her father. In addition, there was a huge amount of resentment from Tess towards her mother Lillian that caused a lot of tension in every one's lives -- talk about mother/daughter relationship issues. Because the author kept many secrets about Tess and Lillian until the very end of the novel, I sometimes had a hard time accepting Tess (although I did appreciate what she tried to do as a mother.)

This book was very entertaining, but it also dealt with some very serious issues. Lucy's family goes back to Wisconsin to help Lucy's grandfather in his final days. What is an extremely sad and stressful time for any family becomes all the more horrendous since there are so many unresolved issues from every one's past. Once they go back "home," things really heat up! Tess is upset with her mother Lillian because she is helping her ex-husband who treated them all so terribly years ago. Lucy picks this time to decide that she wants to learn the identity of her father; however, Lucy's mother Tess isn't ready to deal with this. My heart went out so many times to Lucy because she so desperately wanted (and needed) a father figure. In addition, there are Tess' unresolved issues with her latest boyfriend as well as the huge resentment she carries towards her father. The author chose to deal with a lot of serious family dynamics in this book, but she still managed to make it entertaining as well as humorous.

I love how this book ends! I was pretty sure that I had figured out the "mystery," but I have to admit that the author managed to surprise me. All of the characters managed to learn some valuable lessons about themselves and become better people as a result. There were so many beautiful messages in the pages of this book such as hope, redemption, honesty, forgiveness, and healing. I actually couldn't put this book down. I loved all of the characters and was desperate to find out the big secret that occurred in Tess' past; but at the same time, I didn't want the story to end. As I neared the end of the book, I could just feel the tension rising between the characters -- it was like a musical score coming to a crescendo!

THANK YOU FOR ALL THINGS is available everywhere tomorrow -- September 30th -- for the amazing price of $5.99! That's quite the bargain for this highly entertaining book; and you should consider it for a future book club pick. You can even read an excerpt to get an idea of Ms. Kring's writing style. There is a reader's guide here, but you won't have any problems finding things to discuss. In addition, I think Ms. Kring makes herself available for author chats -- that might make your book club meeting very memorable!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Review: What Else is to Eat?

Summary: "What Else is to Eat?" features recipes for foods that everyone can enjoy, whether they have food allergies or not. Main dishes, side dishes, breakfast foods, and baked goods are all included. With an emphasis on fast and easy recipes that use "normal," easy-to-find ingredients, this book is designed for today's busy lifestyles. -- Plumtree Press

I was so excited to receive an e-mail from Linda Coss telling me that she has a new cookbook available -- WHAT ELSE IS TO EAT? THE DAIRY-, EGG-, AND NUT-FREE FOOD ALLERGY COOKBOOK. I shamelessly begged her for a copy so I could share it with you. As many of you might know, I have a four year old son who is allergic to a lot of foods. I know some of you are in the same predicament, and that's why I am so thrilled to tell you about these cookbooks.

I am a huge fan of Ms. Coss' first cookbook, WHAT'S TO EAT? THE MILK-FREE, EGG-FREE, NUT-FREE FOOD ALLERGY COOKBOOK. My son is allergic to all three things mentioned in the title, so I knew I had to have it. There are so many wonderful recipes and helpful hints in this cookbook. There is one recipe in this book, though, that makes it definitely worth the cover price for me. It's the recipe for Holiday Cut-Out Cookies. Every holiday, birthday and major event, my friend and I make cut-out cookies and decorate them. They are always a huge hit with the kids (and many parents too!) Of course, my son could never eat them because sugar cookies are filled with butter, eggs and milk. He didn't really care until he turned 3, and then he began begging me for his own cookies -- it just broke my heart. Thanks to Ms. Coss' cookbook, I can now make him cut-out cookies; and just last month for his birthday, I make him ones that looked like the characters in the Cars Movie. As a mother of a young child who is always being left out at parties when it comes to food, this recipe has really changed his life.

Ms. Coss' new cookbook WHAT ELSE IS TO EAT? is just as good, if not better, than her first one! Of course, I headed straight to the dessert sections of the cookbook because that's what I find the most fun to cook (and eat.) There are so many "real" recipes for bread, muffins, cookies and cake. In addition, I really liked the soup recipes that were included in the cookbook as well as many of the chicken ones. The ingredients are all regular, normal, healthy things that I can find at my local grocery store. And, the recipes were for normal foods that my entire family would eat. So often, I find myself cooking something different for my son because none of us want to eat foods that are dairy-, egg-, and nut-free.

What I most loved about this book was how quick and simple the recipes are. I'm not a gourmet chef, and I really don't have the time or inclination to spend a lot of time in the kitchen. I thought Ms. Coss' recipes were very do-able and healthy to boot! There were also quite a few slow-cooker recipes which work well with moms' and kids' busy schedules. I can definitely see myself trying out many of the main dish recipes in the next few weeks.

In addition to these two cookbooks, Ms. Coss has also written a book called HOW TO MANAGE YOUR CHILD'S LIFE-THREATENING FOOD ALLERGIES. This, too, is a wonderful book for any parent who has a child with food allergies. Basically, this book includes the following:
1) The Food Allergy "Instruction Manual" - get step-by-step information to make your child's life safe
2) Practical, Sensible Advice - learn details on how to handle common and dangerous situations
3) An "Encyclopedia" in 200 Pages - covers topics including how to treat allergic reactions, how to buy and cook foods, how to make your house safe, and how to teach other's about your child's allergies.

I can't stress enough how wonderful Ms. Coss' books are for parents of children with food allergies. I think they are must-haves for parents like me who are constantly dealing with this very scary situation. Ms. Coss has lots of experience with food allergies. She has led a support group for parents of children with food allergies for over 10 years; and she is the mother of a teenage with multiple potentially fatal food allergies.

If you'd like to get an idea of some of the recipes in these cookbooks, there is a table of contents and recipe list here (there are also some actual recipes too.) And if you want to learn more or are interested in purchasing any (or all) of Ms. Coss' books, click here. Shipping is free on all orders with U.S. mailing addresses. In addition, you can request the books to be autographed; and there are special rates when ordering more than one book.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Review: Meet Delaney

Summary: After being suddenly dumped by her husband of eight and a half years, Delaney Moore is thrown into the world of being single. Follow Delaney as she experiences the grief of her divorce- followed by her initial rebound relationship and a multitude of dating scenarios. From dating men much younger than herself- (boy toys), to attempting to find love on the internet, Delaney’s experiences are so real and hit so close to home that they are making readers laugh and cry. Read along as she and her friends try to find happiness, have fun, and make sense out of a wildly entertaining single scene. -- Peppertree Press

When I finished reading MEETING DELANEY by Jackie Mahaney, I wasn't quite sure what to think. I know that I liked the book, but I can't go so far as to say that I loved it. I'm afraid that I couldn't really relate to this book. I am now 39 years old, have been married to my husband for 15 years (we've been together for 19 years,) and am a mother of two children. I definitely am not the target audience for this book; and since I met my husband when I was a sophomore in college, I have never really experienced the singles' scene. I know that I'm not going to identify with every book that I read, and I certainly can enjoy books that I don't relate to; however, I think women who have experienced some of the dating scenarios similar to Delaney will appreciate this book more than I did. Having said all that, I still liked Delaney's character and thought her dating adventures were entertaining.

What I really enjoyed about this book was the character of Delaney. Even though I never experienced dating like she did, I still thought she was a very honest and fun woman -- I actually thought she'd make a really great friend. I liked how she was able to stay relatively positive no matter what life brought her way, and I really think she was able to appreciate and love herself. Delaney was a very strong woman who discovered that she didn't need a man to be whole. While Delaney did make some mistakes, it seemed like she had a wonderful perspective on her life and learned from her errors. I especially loved Delaney's sense of humor; and many of the descriptions of her dates were hilarious!

Ms. Mahaney is a dating and relationship journalist, and she has articles which are published on various internet sites. In addition, she is the host of "Everyday Woman." Her bio says that she was single for nine years before meeting a guy and getting remarried. I would imagine that this books is somewhat autobiographical and that Ms. Mahaney is pretty familiar with many of the situations that Delaney experienced. I really enjoyed how she developed the character of Delaney and kept the book light and entertaining.

I think single women everywhere should read MEET DELANEY (that's not to say that dating and married women won't enjoy it too!) This dating stories in this book are very funny, and I imagine that many women will recognize some of their dates in Delaney's experiences. I like that women can also learn from Delaney's positive outlook on life as well as her amazing sense of humor.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Review: Going Down South

Summary: From the author of The Middle Sister comes a heartwarming tale of second chances and the unparalleled love between mothers and daughters.

When fifteen-year-old Olivia Jean finds herself in the “family way,” her mother, Daisy, who has never been very maternal, springs into action. Daisy decides that Olivia Jean can’t stay in New York and whisks her away to her grandmother’s farm in Alabama to have the baby–even though Daisy and her mother, Birdie, have been estranged for years. When they arrive, Birdie lays down the law: Sure, her granddaughter can stay, but Daisy will have to stay as well. Though Daisy is furious, she has no choice.

Now, under one little roof in the 1960s Deep South, three generations of spirited, proud women are forced to live together. One by one, they begin to lose their inhibitions and share their secrets. And as long-guarded truths emerge, a baby is born–a child with the power to turn these virtual strangers into a real, honest-to-goodness family. -- Ballantine

GOING DOWN SOUTH by Bonnie J. Glover is a wonderful book that I think women everywhere should be raving about. The story about three generations of women was very compelling and fast-paced; and I didn't want to put the book down. While the book dealt with many sad and difficult situations, Ms. Glover somehow managed to incorporate a great deal of humor into the various characters in the novel. I absolutely adored the three women in this story, albeit for very different reasons. This book is definitely a story about the strength and resilience of women; however there are so many more layers to this novel.

One thing I loved about this novel was the development of the three female characters, Birdie, Daisy and Olivia Jean. The story was told in third person narrative, but showed the point of view of each woman. This allows the readers to really get to know (and love) these women. The author also goes back and forth between present and past effortlessly which is another way that we get to understand the actions of these characters. I thought the dialogue and interactions between these three women were very real (and at times hilarious.) I also found their "stories" and the things they experienced (and hid) in their lifetimes to be fascinating.

Another thing I really enjoyed about this book was how Ms. Glover chose to portray men. While there are a few men in this story that are absolutely despicable, selfish, irresponsible, etc. (I could go on and on), I did not find that this book was an attempt to bash men. Rather, I loved how Ms. Glover had a few male characters who were very brave and extremely likable -- Shorty and Lupe. I interpreted this to mean that there are good men out there; and it's up to women to find them and make the right choices.

This book definitely touched my heart and will remain in my thoughts for a long time. Not only did I love the female characters, but I enjoyed seeing how these women changed throughout the pages of this novel. I especially loved how all three of these women faced such difficult times, yet each one was so incredibly strong and and represented what it means to be a true survivor. I also found it extremely uplifting that these women eventually shared their heavy burdens and secrets with each other and became closer as a result. As I read the pages of this book, I felt so bogged down and sad because of the pain each woman was carrying. I think this heartache that I felt for each of the characters made the final pages of the book even more beautiful and memorable!

GOING DOWN SOUTH would be an excellent book to discuss at your next book club meeting, particularly if your group is made up of women and mothers. You can read a few excerpts here; and there is a reader's guide available which does a great job of highlighting so many of the issues in this book. After reading this novel, I found that there are just loads of things to talk about. Some of the major themes for discussion include mother/daughter relationships, the strength of women, honesty, racism, abuse, and secrets (this is a huge and very interesting topic in this novel.)

If you want to learn more about Ms. Glover and her latest novel GOING DOWN SOUTH, there is a wonderful interview Q&A here. In addition, Anna from Diary of an Eccentric had the privilege of asking Ms. Glover a few more questions. I found her interview to be very interesting as well.

Also reviewed at:
Diary of an Eccentric
She Is Too Fond of Books

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Review: The Self-Esteem Trap & Giveaway

Summary: Kids today are depressed and anxious. They also seem to feel entitled to every advantage and unwilling to make the leap into adulthood. As Polly Young-Eisendrath makes clear in this brilliant account of where a generation has gone astray, parents trying to make their children feel special are unwittingly interfering with their kids' ability to accept themselves and cope with life. Clarifying an enormous cultural change, THE SELF-ESTEEM TRAP shows why so many young people have trouble with empathy and compassion, struggle with moral values, and are stymied in the face of adversity. Young-Eisendrath offers prescriptive advice on how adults can help kids--through the teen and young adult years--develop self-worth, setting them on the right track to productive, balanced, and happy lives. -- Little, Brown and Company

I'm not a huge fan of self-help books, but I thought THE SELF-ESTEEN TRAP, RAISING CONFIDENT AND COMPASSIONATE KIDS IN AN AGE OF SELF-IMPORTANCE by Polly Young - Eisendrath, PhD sounded like one that I definitely needed to take a look at. My nine year old daughter has been having a tough time of things since she started fourth grade. She's a terrific kid who's very sweet, smart, and cute (but I am her mom!) However, she's having a hard time finding a BFF. It seems that all the girls have a best friend and she's feeling a little left out. I figured it a book could help me help her, then it was definitely worth my time.

As I started to read this book, I quickly recognized that the book actually deals with a problem that my friends and I talk about all the time! There are so many kids and grown-ups out there who can't handle any disappointment. I agree with Dr. Young-Eisendrath that parents are the main cause of this problem. In the past 30 years or so, we have drastically changed how we parent our children. Kids are now the focal point of our households (mine included.) We constantly try to build their self-esteem by complimenting them all the time and telling them that they are "special." Unfortunately, this parenting approach is backfiring for some of us. While we might think that we are building their self-esteem by complimenting them, we might actually be making them expect this type of treatment throughout their lives and setting them up for disappointment. I mean when was the last time someone told you how "special" you were for vacuuming the house or driving the kids to soccer practice?

As parents, we also try to give them everything and make sure that they never feel any disappointment. I'm not saying that all of this is bad, but I do think the author has a valid point. Many children are becoming more and more self-absorbed, always have to be "the best," and consider themselves unfulfilled or even unhappy when they don't live up to their expectations. I am very worried that what I'm doing as a parent will lead my children into "The Self-Esteem Trap."

This book really resonated with me. After I finished reading it, I immediately handed it to my husband and asked him to read it too. He is a big believer in almost everything the author talks about in this book -- mainly that we need to let our children deal with disappointment (even though it often times goes against our natural inclinations to protect them.) While I agree with Dr. Young-Eisendrath's philosophy, I do tend to baby my kids more than my husband; and I do find myself trying to always make things "okay" for them. I hate to see them hurting, but I know that I need to accept that it's okay for them to be sad. Life is definitely going to throw my kids some curveballs (now and as adults,) and it's best for them to learn to deal with these challenges. I realize that I'm going to have to let them deal with things so they will one day become happy, functional adults.

There were a few things that I especially enjoyed about this book. One was how Dr. Young-Eisendrath defined the three types of parenting styles -- Laissez-Faire Parenting, Helicopter Parenting, and Role-Reversal Parenting. It didn't take me long to see which one I fell into! In addition throughout the book, she gave wonderful examples to help support her ideas. I not only recognized myself in the cases, but I also recognized many of my friends and their children. When I read the author's explanations for both the parent's actions as well as the effect it has on the children, I thought it all made a lot of sense. Finally, I really like the author's overall message that it's important for our children to be "grounded in their shared humanity and interdependence." If we encourage our children to be compassionate towards other and understand their role in this world, they are much more likely to have a positive view of themselves.

I realize that Dr. Young-Eisendrath's book won't appeal to everyone, but I do think she makes some very good points. I want to be a parent who equips her children with the life-skills that they need to be independent adults. Will I totally change my parenting style after reading this book? I feel as if my husband and I are doing some things very right, but I do think I will make some additional changes. There is definitely one thing that I need to reconsider: I am one of those mothers who are always telling their kids how "special" they are. I do believe my kids are "special," but only as "special" as all the other children out there (maybe I should start telling them that they are unique.) I don't want my children thinking that they are prettier, smarter, "better" than other kids out there; and I do like the author's concept that ordinary is okay (I mean how many adults are truly spectacular -- rich, beautiful, famous, etc.) In addition, I know that I need to let them work through things on their own. While I think that I'm helping them by stepping in to solve their problems, I'm actually sending a message that they can't resolve things themselves and that they need someone to "save" them.

Although I do agree with so much in this book, I am worried that I won't be building my children's self-esteem if I make all of these changes. In the back of my mind, I understand the logic of what the author is saying; but as a mother, I want to support them. I think there's probably a very fine line of supporting your children and building their self-esteem without going overboard. I think my challenge will be finding that line and then staying on it!

On Monday morning, I was fortunate enough to be included in a conference call with Dr. Polly Young-Eisendrath. The participants all submitted their questions ahead of time, and we had the chance to hear Dr. Young-Eisendrath answer them. I found the Q&A to be very extremely interesting. Dr. Young-Eisendrath reinforced many of the themes in her book. I specifically asked her if she's received any criticism about the book. She told us that she's had a lot of positive feedback from adults who grew up in "the self-esteem trap" as well as teachers, professors, and other psychologists who deal with young adults; however, she admitted that most of the critics are mothers of young children. If you would like to learn more about the book and the author, check out the book's website. There is a lot of wonderful information for parents as well as Dr. Young-Eisendrath's advice and wisdom.

I think this book is a valuable parenting tool; and I just happen to have five copies to share with you courtesy of Hachette Book Group USA! Please leave a comment with your e-mail address to enter. If you would like to double your chances, blog about this contest with a link back to this post! The contest will run until Friday, October 3rd at 11:59 p.m. EST. I will be selecting the winners on Saturday, October 4rd. Unfortunately, this contest is open to mailing addresses in the U.S. and Canada only! Good luck!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Review: The Last Queen

Summary: Juana of Castile, the last queen of Spanish blood to inherit her country’s throne, has been for centuries an enigmatic figure shrouded in lurid myth. Was she the bereft widow of legend who was driven mad by her loss, or has history misjudged a woman who was ahead of her time? In his stunning new novel, C. W. Gortner challenges the myths about Queen Juana, unraveling the mystery surrounding her to reveal a brave, determined woman we can only now begin to fully understand.

The third child of Queen Isabel and King Ferdinand of Spain, Juana is born amid her parents’ ruthless struggle to unify their kingdom, bearing witness to the fall of Granada and Columbus’s discoveries. At the age of sixteen, she is sent to wed Philip, the archduke of Flanders, as part of her parents’ strategy to strengthen Spain, just as her youngest sister, Catherine of Aragon, is sent to England to become the first wife of Henry VIII.

Juana finds unexpected love and passion with her handsome young husband, the sole heir to the Habsburg Empire. At first she is content with her children and her life in Flanders. But when tragedy strikes and she inherits the Spanish throne, Juana finds herself plunged into a battle for power against her husband that grows to involve the major monarchs of Europe. Besieged by foes on all sides, her intelligence and pride used as weapons against her, Juana vows to secure her crown and save Spain from ruin, even if it could cost her everything.

With brilliant, lyrical prose, novelist and historian C. W. Gortner conjures Juana through her own words, taking the reader from the somber majesty of Spain to the glittering and lethal courts of Flanders, France, and Tudor England. The Last Queen brings to life all the grandeur and drama of an incomparable era, and the singular humanity of this courageous, passionate princess whose fight to claim her birthright captivated the world. -- Ballantine

Where do I even start with THE LAST QUEEN by C.W. Gortner? How about this -- I LOVED THIS BOOK! I might even go so far as to say that it's one of the best historical fiction books that I've ever read.

Before picking up THE LAST QUEEN, I knew nothing about the life of Queen Juana. In fact, I had not ever heard of her or her story -- I actually knew more about her sister, Catherine of Aragon. However once I read the book description, I thought she sounded terribly interesting. Here was a woman who eventually ruled Spain, but not before she had to battle her husband and then her father. And then she only ruled for a few years (1506-1509) before she was thrown into prison because she was considered insane -- thus the nickname Juana the Mad.

Of course, the facts of Juana's life are fascinating by themselves. What occurred at the courts of Europe are better than any soap opera for drama and intrigue. In fact, I probably would have enjoyed a biography of Juana of Castile very much. However, Mr. Gortner took Juana's story to an entirely new level when he added the fictional elements. Instead of portraying Juana as an insane, out-of-control woman, he showed the reader an entirely different side of her. Mr. Gortner made Juana an extremely intelligent, compassionate woman and a very loving mother.

The way Mr. Gortner told Juana's story made the reader actually like Juana and even feel a great deal of compassion towards her. By writing the book from Juana's point of view, he allowed the reader to actually get inside her (not-so-crazy) mind and better understand her and her actions. It also allowed us to feel her pain each time she was betrayed by her loved ones. I thought it was wonderful how he portrayed Juana as such a strong, loyal woman who would do anything for her country and her children.

It is apparent that Mr. Gortner did a tremendous amount of research on Juana while writing this book -- it actually took him 5 years to write. However, I think what impresses me even more is how he told this story. Not only is it well- researched and beautifully written, but it is full of wonderful characters who provide lots of intrigue and excitement. I especially love how he wove together the facts of Juana's life with his creative interpretation of her actions.

If you would like to learn a little more about Mr. Gortner and THE LAST QUEEN, you should check out this very interesting interview with the author. In addition, there is a wonderful section on Mr. Gortner's website that gives some insight into Juana's world. He also has a terrific blog Historical Boys: Historical Fiction for Men and Women that I now follow. I have learned about many new historical fiction books based on his posts.

I definitely recommend THE LAST QUEEN for a future book club pick. I can't imagine that anyone in my book club wouldn't love this book. There's a little something for everyone in the pages of this book -- murder, sex, intrigue, love, betrayal, lies, deceit, etc. The list can go on and on. I wasn't able to find discussion questions, but don't let that stop you. There are just loads of things to talk about in this book. And, Mr. Gortner makes himself available for visits if you're in the San Francisco area or phone chats. I think reading THE LAST QUEEN and discussing it with the author would make for a very memorable book club meeting!

After reading this book, I consider myself a huge fan of Mr. Gortner's. I desperately want to read his first novel THE SECRET LION -- it's about the Tudor Court. And I'm very excited that Mr. Gortner is currently working on his next novel about Catherine de Medici. I can't wait!

Note: Mr. Gortner shared that the discussion questions are available here. (I don't know how I missed them!)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Guest Post: Kathleen McCleary

I am just thrilled that Kathleen McCleary is joining us at Booking Mama today. Yesterday, I reviewed her new novel HOUSE & HOME which I enjoyed very much.

I absolutely love the topic that she chose to blog about -- My Great Books of Childhood. I have so many fond memories of books that I read when I was a kid; and it's fun to reminisce with Ms. McCleary -- she's listed some great ones!

My Great Books of Childhood

Okay, so I was bookish as a kid. I was NOT a nerd; I just loved to read. And there were certain books I read over and over again, to the point where I’m sure I could recite large chunks of them to you completely accurately to this day. I believe that those books, which are so thoroughly ingrained into my conscious and subconscious, must influence my writing even now in subtle or not-so-subtle ways. Here are five that I would happily re-read again today. (And as for the fact that many of these are well-known classics, it’s because they’re so dang GOOD, like the old saying about clichés being clichés because they’re true).

Mrs. Mike, by Nancy and Benedict Freedman

This book ruined me for life. I read it in seventh grade and it absolutely set the standard for what I expected my future husband to be—handsome, strong, resourceful, compassionate, loving, tender, sexy, and with a wicked sense of humor. I know my own sweet husband suffers sometimes because he doesn’t always respond like Sergeant Mike. A fantastic account (based on a true story) of one young woman’s adventure in Canada’s Northwest Territories in the early 1900’s, the book is full of unforgettable characters and events.

Emily of New Moon, by L.M. Montgomery (along with Emily Climbs and Emily’s Quest)

These books were actually out of print when I was young, poor cousins to Montgomery’s better known Anne of Green Gables series. But I LOVED Emily. She wanted to be a writer (like I did); she was moody sometimes (like I was); she even had a close male childhood friend who turned out to be something more (like I did!). She’s a much more real, intriguing, complex character to me than Anne, although I love Anne dearly and read all those books dozens of times, too. And Emily’s friend Ilse is one of my favorite characters in literature.

Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott
I don’t know what more I can say about this, except that I believe the strong values portrayed here really influenced my own personal value system. The March family set a standard for kindness, compassion, generosity, tolerance, and forgiveness that made a huge impression on me. And it’s a fun read!

A Tree Grows In Brooklyn, by Betty Smith
Another book about a girl who longs to be a writer, this is one of the most beautifully written books ever. It is so achingly honest and true. It’s also (more than sixty years after it was originally published) amazingly relevant. The characters wrestle with issues surrounding sexuality, poverty, addiction, and unplanned pregnancies, to name a few. My daughter’s book group read this when they were 13 and it provoked one of the liveliest discussions of the year.

The Enchanted Castle, by E. Nesbit
I loved this book because it’s about children playing a wonderful pretend game in which magical things happen, as I loved to do, only then a magical thing really DOES happen. I read it out loud to my daughters when they were younger and they were entranced. All of Nesbit’s books are terrific, but this is my favorite.

What are the childhood books that have influenced you the most? Do you share my passion for any of these? I’d love to know.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Review: House & Home

Summary: The story of a woman who loves her house so much that she’ll do just about anything to keep it.

Ellen Flanagan has two precious girls to raise, a cozy neighborhood coffee shop to run, terrific friends, and a sexy husband. She adores her house, a yellow Cape Cod filled with quirky antiques, beloved nooks and dents, and a million memories. But now, at forty-four, she’s about to lose it all.

After eighteen roller-coaster years of marriage, Ellen’s husband, Sam—who’s charismatic, spontaneous, and utterly irresponsible—has disappointed her in more ways than she can live with, and they’re getting divorced. Her daughters are miserable about losing their daddy. Worst of all, the house that Ellen loves with all her heart must now be sold.

Ellen’s life is further complicated by a lovely and unexpected relationship with the husband of the shrewish, social-climbing woman who has purchased the house. Add to that the confusion over how she really feels about her almost-ex-husband, and you have the makings of a delicious novel about what matters most in the end . . .

Set in the gorgeous surroundings of Portland, Oregon, Kathleen McCleary’s funny, poignant, curl-up-and-read debut strikes a deep emotional chord and explores the very notion of what makes a house a home. -- Hyperion/Voice

I first heard about HOUSE & HOME by Kathleen McCleary when I read Lisa's review on Books on the Brain. Then I started seeing it featured on Every Woman's Voice; and I immediately knew that it was a book that I wanted to read. When TLC Book Tours announced that they were having a book blog tour for this book, I couldn't sign up for it fast enough! (Fortunately, they allowed me to participate.)

I should probably preface this review with why I wanted to read this book so much. The first sentence of the book description pretty much grabbed my attention, "The story of a woman who loves her house so much that she’ll do just about anything to keep it." I just couldn't comprehend how someone could love a house that much. Don't get me wrong, I like my house and how I've decorated it, and I do try to keep it neat and tidy; but it's just a building where we live. I think that my family and the memories we create actually make our house a home -- not the building itself. My feeling definitely made me wonder, how could a character have feelings this intense about a house? Needless to say, I was very intrigued.

You see, I moved around a lot as a child -- sometimes every year or two. I'm sure this has more than a little something to do with why I had such a hard time comprehending Ellen's passion. I have always considered a house just to be a shell for our stuff! I have fond memories of what occurred in my various houses, but I just have never felt an attachment to a structure. As I started reading this book, I wondered if I were the one who was way out in left field on this one. While I didn't understand the extreme nature of Ellen's feelings (actually, I thought she was going off the deep end a few times), I did start to understand why Ellen didn't want to leave her house. And, I actually felt some compassion towards her for not being able to accept that a new family would be living in her home and making their own, entirely new memories.

I actually really liked Ellen (even if I didn't like all of her actions), but I found myself getting frustrated with her at times. I can't imagine how difficult it would be to end my marriage and break up my family -- to really have to start over again in my 40s; however, she was so upset by everything going on in her life that she couldn't see what she still had to be grateful for. I think what was always in the back of my mind, and that I realized very early on in the story, was that Ellen wasn't exactly clinging on to her house because she wanted to keep the physical structure. She was actually trying to handle all of her emotions over losing her life and her family as she knew it -- wanting to keep the house was just a physical manifestation of all her emotions. When I focused on this aspect of her personality, I could accept Ellen and her behavior so much better. I kept reading with the hope that Ellen would figure this out about herself!

I was very impressed with Ms. McCleary's writing style. I was surprised to learn that this was her first novel. The book was very easy to read and the story moved right along -- I actually didn't want to put the book down and ended up reading it in one day. I thought Ms. McCleary did a very good job developing the characters, especially Ellen. Ellen was an extremely complex character that definitely caused me to think. If you would like to learn more about Ms. McCleary and HOUSE & HOME, you can read this conversation with the author.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading HOUSE & HOME, and I think it would make a wonderful book club pick. I realize that I'm a little extreme with my opinion of a "House" versus a "Home", so I would be fascinated to hear some other women's views. In addition, it would be very interesting to hear what all my friends think of Ellen and her behavior. There are discussion questions available here if you want a few ideas to get your conversation moving. However, I don't think book clubs will have any problems finding things to talk about from this book.

I have lived in my current house for seven years. It's actually the longest that I've ever lived in any one house (or even town for that matter.) After reading this book, I asked myself if it would be more difficult to leave this house since it's the one that my children have grown up in. I have to think that it would be a little hard, but I really think I'd be okay with it (except for the work involved in moving!) If I had to list one thing that I'd really miss, it would probably be my kids' rooms. So much has happened in them -- nursing my son in the middle of the night, tending to both of them when they were sick, and even reading books to them every night before bed.

What would you miss most about your home?

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Review Johnny Big Ears, The Feel-Good Friend

Summary: Johnny Big Ears is just like every other five-year-old child, but when he starts his first day of kindergarten, children begin to tease him because of his enormously large ears. Follow Johnny as he faces the challenges that being different presents. How will Johnny react to being teased? Find out why Johnny turns out to be the winner in this endearing, thoughtful book that addresses typical childhood bullying and offers children advice on how to deal with teasing. -- Book Jacket

JOHNNY BIG EARS, THE FEEL-GOOD FRIEND by John Paul Padilla is a great book for children who are feeling left out or bullied in school. The story gives helpful hints for children who are being picked on so they can better handle this uncomfortable situation. In addition, there is a big focus on learning to love yourself and appreciate that what's inside is what matters. How can you argue with those kind of messages?

I thought this book was a little "old" for my four year old son, so I had my nine year old daughter read it instead. She seems to be very in tune with kids who are left out, and I think she attempts to include them in her activities (or at least I hope she does.) She really enjoyed this book, and she thought the lessons in the book were very good. She especially liked how Johnny was able to ignore the bullies and find other friends who treated him with respect. She also loved how the book told kids that everyone is special and unique in their own way.

Our local elementary school is very serious about stopping kids from bullying each other. We actually have a Bully Prevention Committee made up of concerned parents and teachers. There are boxes throughout the entire school -- hallways, classrooms, gym, and cafeteria -- where kids can anonymously report a bullying incident. Rather than have a program that focuses on just the negative aspects of bullying, the committee recently began a practice where kids can nominate other children for a "hero award." If a child stands up to a bully or even includes a child who is being bullied, they are eligible for this award. In addition, each year the children and parents must sign a paper which explains the punishment and zero tolerance policy for bullying. There is also on-going education (both during and after school), and they even have an optional summer assignment that children can do for an extra treat. The Bully Prevention Committee and its education initiative are proving to be a success in our school!

I think this book is appropriate for children in kindergarten through the early elementary years. I'm not really a good judge of this, but I think kids could read this to themselves as early as second grade. However, I think the best use of this book would be for teachers and/or parents to read it with children. I think the overall messages in this book are excellent, and I would hope that reading this book together would create an opportunity to discuss bullying problems.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

I'm a Guest Blogger Today!

I was just thrilled when I was asked to participate in "Saturdays in the Nook" at The Friendly Book Nook! Each Saturday, an author or blogger writes about a wonderful reading experience in their lives. You can read mine here.

Review: Courage in Patience

Summary: Desperate to escape from her stepfather, 14-year-old Ashley Asher finally finds the courage to confront her mother with the painful details of six years of emotional, physical and sexual abuse. To her horror, Ashley’s mother turns her back on her. Only a teacher at her school offers any support. A touching story focused on the themes of abuse, social injustice, racism, peer pressure, bullying, parental responsibility, fear, forgiveness, love, acceptance, and hope which will inspire the millions of abuse vicitims in America, young and old alike. Suitable for classroom study. No graphic content. -- Kunati

I have been waiting many months to read COURAGE IN PATIENCE by Beth Fehlbaum. The author initially contacted me when I first started blogging asking if I would be interested in reading her new YA novel. Of course, I agreed -- I thought the book sounded intriguing! You can probably guess how excited I was when she sent me a copy a few weeks ago.

I want to say that I thoroughly "enjoyed" reading COURAGE IN PATIENCE; however, the book was at times very difficult so I hesitate to use the word "enjoy." Maybe I should say that I found the book and the subject matter to be very interesting, and I thought it was a well-written story. I thought the abused young girl, Ashley, was very likable; and my heart definitely went out to her and her situation. I also thought the supporting characters, especially her step-mother, were wonderful characters.

What I really liked about this book was how it handled Ashley's abuse and her journey towards self-acceptance and healing. The beginning of the book was terribly difficult to read because of Ashley's abuse at the hands of her step-father as well as Ashley's mother's lack of action. I think the author did a great job of drawing the reader into Ashley's story and causing the reader to care about the young girl. I thought Ms. Fehlbaum did an ever better job of showing the reader that Ashley could heal and "go on" after suffering from the horrific abuse. Ashley was portrayed as a very troubled teen, yet she also appeared to be very strong (even if Ashley didn't recognize it.) When I finished this story, I found the overall message of this book to be uplifting. It was a message of love, acceptance and most of all hope.

As if the story was of Ashley's abuse weren't hard enough to handle, the author also chose to write about some other rather difficult situations such as racism, bullying, and censorship. I was a little overwhelmed at times with all of these issues, but I do think they are extremely important for young adults to be aware of and even to talk about. I do think this book would make an excellent discussion book for mother-daughter book clubs. I tried to find some discussion questions, but I didn't have any luck. I would love to see some developed for this book.

The book is being promoted on the back cover as one that has no graphic content and is suitable for classroom study. I'm not sure I'd go so far as to say that there is absolutely nothing that parents and teachers might find controversial, but I do think this book would make an excellent discussion book for teenage girls. As a mother of a pre-teen daughter, I would have to say that I wouldn't have a problem with her reading it (when she's a little older); however, I would like to read it along with her to answer her questions and make sure that she was getting the right messages from the book.

I commend Ms. Fehlbaum for writing this book. Not only did I think the book was very "readable," but I also thought it had a tremendous amount of insight into the horrors of sexual abuse. Ms. Fehlbaum is actually an English teacher who has worked with abused children, so I can imagine that much of this novel is based on her real-life experiences. If you would like to learn more about the author and her book, you can check out her website. While you're there, you can read some reviews of the book as well as a discussion on the issue of censorship.

Hello...You Won The Safety of Secrets

Congratulations to Amy from The books that I have read! You won a copy of THE SAFETY OF SECRETS by Delaune Michel. Please e-mail me with your mailing address so I can send it your way!
Thanks to everyone who visited my blog this week. I don't know about all of you, but I thoroughly enjoyed BBAW! I discovered so many new blogs; and I "met" so many new friends!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Queen of Book Bloggers

This summer, after book blogging was patronized in the mainstream media, Amy from My Friend Amy made a suggestion that we celebrate book blogging. From that idea came Book Blogger Appreciation Week. Many of us have participated in interviews, contests, give-aways, and through awards; but, this would never have happened were it not for the dream, perseverance, planning, hard work and dedication of Amy. This has been a wonderful week and as members of the Book Blogging community, in one voice we want to thank Amy for all that she has done.

Amy, you are truly the Queen of Book Bloggers and we love you!

Review: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

Summary: In the opening pages of Jamie Ford’s stunning debut novel, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, Henry Lee comes upon a crowd gathered outside the Panama Hotel, once the gateway to Seattle’s Japantown. It has been boarded up for decades, but now the new owner has made an incredible discovery: the belongings of Japanese families, left when they were rounded up and sent to internment camps during World War II. As Henry looks on, the owner opens a Japanese parasol.

This simple act takes old Henry Lee back to the 1940s, at the height of the war, when young Henry’s world is a jumble of confusion and excitement, and to his father, who is obsessed with the war in China and having Henry grow up American. While “scholarshipping” at the exclusive Rainier Elementary, where the white kids ignore him, Henry meets Keiko Okabe, a young Japanese American student. Amid the chaos of blackouts, curfews, and FBI raids, Henry and Keiko forge a bond of friendship–and innocent love–that transcends the long-standing prejudices of their Old World ancestors. And after Keiko and her family are swept up in the evacuations to the internment camps, she and Henry are left only with the hope that the war will end, and that their promise to each other will be kept.

Forty years later, Henry Lee is certain that the parasol belonged to Keiko. In the hotel’s dark dusty basement he begins looking for signs of the Okabe family’s belongings and for a long-lost object whose value he cannot begin to measure. Now a widower, Henry is still trying to find his voice–words that might explain the actions of his nationalistic father; words that might bridge the gap between him and his modern, Chinese American son; words that might help him confront the choices he made many years ago.

Set during one of the most conflicted and volatile times in American history, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is an extraordinary story of commitment and enduring hope. In Henry and Keiko, Jamie Ford has created an unforgettable duo whose story teaches us of the power of forgiveness and the human heart. -- Ballantine Books

I was a little surprised when I opened a package with the book HOTEL ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET by Jamie Ford. I wasn't expecting to receive this book in the mail, nor had I ever even heard about it. (That's probably because it was a "Special Preview Edition," and the book won't be available until January 2009.) The letter that came with the book said, " It's an amazing story, and our department hasn't been so excited about a book since LOVING FRANK." With that kind of endorsement, I just knew I had to read it right away! Even though I have a huge stack of books that I "should" be reading, I picked up HOTEL ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET and absolutely devoured it in one day.

I don't know what to say except that I adored this book! It definitely lived up to the hype, and I can't recommend it enough. I'm afraid that my review won't do this book justice, but I'll give it a shot anyway. I think HOTEL ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET is one of the best books that I've read so far in 2008. If my gushing isn't enough, check out some other praise for the novel.

This book touched me like no other book has in recent memory. Of course, the subject matter of the Japanese internment camps during WWII is a very difficult one that causes me a great deal of sadness. It's still hard for me to believe that something like this happened in our country (and not that long ago.) However, I really think that the character of Henry is what affected me the most. The bullying he faced at an all-white school and the difficulties he had with his parents caused me a great deal of heartache. It just broke my heart to see such a wonderful kid who didn't feel like he belonged anywhere. So when Henry met Keiko and found someone who truly understood him, I could see why this friendship had such a dramatic impact on his life.

I loved how the author took the reader back and forth between 1940s and 1986 Seattle; and I think he did a wonderful job with the transitions. I also thoroughly enjoyed how the author incorported 1940s Seattle and its Jazz scene into this book. It's apparent that he did a great deal of research on this time period and even incorporated actual buildings and people into this novel. I think it was brilliant how the author tied Henry's search for the jazz album into his ultimate quest for Keiko.

Although this book was definitely sad and dealt with some very difficult issues, I still finished the book with a smile on my face. For me, this book was ultimately about the resilience of human spirit; and most importantly, that one should never give up hope. I loved so many of the themes that appeared within the pages of the book especially the one that dealt with the father/son relationship issues. The relationship between Henry and his father was extremely complex, and lack of communication was such a huge issue for them (the language barrier being only one reason.) As a result of the problems that Henry faced as a young boy, I think it was even more tragic when Henry and his son had some of the same issues.

HOTEL ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET is Mr. Ford's first novel, and what a novel it it! I thought this book was incredibly written -- from the descriptions of 1940s Seattle to the intense dialogue between the characters. I was especially blown away by how well Mr. Ford developed all of the characters and caused me to fall in love with Henry and Keiko. I have no doubt that this is just the beginning for Mr. Ford, and I'm anxiously awaiting more books from this very talented author.

HOTEL ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET would be the perfect book to read and discuss with friends. There are so many things to discuss, and this book evoked so many intense feelings in me. I have a sneaky suspicion that book clubs everywhere will be rushing to select this book for a future discussion. I'm sure there will be a discussion guide available in the near future, and I will link to it when it's available.

Trust me on this one! You should definitely pick up a copy of HOTEL ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET when it comes out on January 27, 2009.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Review: The Dangerous Days of Daniel X

Summary: The greatest superpower of all isn't to be part spider, part man, or to cast magic spells -- the greatest power is the power to create.

Daniel has that power.

Daniel's secret abilities -- like being able to manipulate objects and animals with his mind or to recreate himself in any shape he chooses -- have helped him survive. But Daniel doesn't have a normal life. He is the protector of the earth, the Alien Hunter, with a mission beyond what anyone could imagine.

From the day that his parents were brutally murdered in front of his very eyes, Daniel has used his unique gifts to hunt down their assassin. Finally, with the help of The List bequeathed to him in his parents' dying breath, he has located the killer.

Now, on his own, he vows to take on his father's mission--and to have vengeance in the process. -- Little, Brown and Company

I knew when I started THE DANGEROUS DAYS OF DANIEL X by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge that this book was geared towards young boys. The Young Adult Library Services Association conducted a study that claims the #1 reason that boys don't like to read is that they simply think it's boring. James Patterson, the father of a young boy, has been saying for years that the "best ways to get people excited about reading is to give them books they're going to love." As a result, he decided to write a new series that young boys would enjoy. THE DANGEROUS DAYS OF DANIEL X is the first book in this new series.

I haven't read a lot of fiction geared towards young boys, but I was very interested in reading this book. I think I've read everything James Patterson has ever written for adults -- some good and some bad -- but overall I enjoy his writing style. Since I'm not a pre-teen boy, nor am I even the parent of one yet, I tried to read this book as if I were one of my friends' sons. Having said that, I think this book had the elements that would hold pre-teen boys' (and girls') interests; and I do think young children will love this novel. Although I have to admit that I enjoyed the story too -- it's a book for almost every age!

I found Daniel to be such a likable and honest character. I think young boys will think he is extremely cool because he gets to fight aliens; and I think girls will like Daniel because he's just such a sweet guy. I liked that the book was told in first person narrative by Daniel because it allowed the reader to really get to know and understand him. Plus, I think kids could better relate to Daniel since they could see that he even had times when he felt insecure. (Even though he was an alien, he still appeared "normal" because he shared the same fears that many pre-teens have about being alone and doing/saying the right things with the opposite sex.)

Another thing I really liked about the story was how Mr. Patterson created so many suspenseful moments. There were times that Daniel was in horrific situations, yet he was always able to use his brains (as well as his special skills) to get out. I also liked seeing how Daniel could use his imagination in so many creative ways -- from creating his family and friends to keep him company to saving himself from disgusting aliens. I especially love that this book contained a very important message to young readers -- use your talents and strengths to be the best you can be.

Another thing that the reader will enjoy is the humor that was infused throughout the story. No matter how bleak things looked for Daniel, he still maintained his sense of humor and wit (and sometimes sarcasm.) This definitely kept me laughing, and I think the use of humor will also keep things a little lighter for the younger reader. I found the descriptions of the aliens to be extremely vivid as well as entertaining; and I think young boys will especially enjoy the gross and yuck factor of the creatures.

I really think that Mr. Patterson's books lend themselves to being read by children because the chapters are so short and the books is such a quick read. I like that a child can read a little or a lot without leaving off in the middle of a chapter. I have a feeling, though, that most kids will have a hard time putting this book down. Almost every chapter ended with some sort of cliffhanger that definitely will entice the reader to keep on going!

The back of the book contained excerpts of the next two books in this series. It's very obvious that Mr. Patterson's intention is to create a huge industry around DANIEL X -- books, movies, graphic novels, video games, etc. I think most kids who read this story would be teased enough by these previews to want to read additional books about Daniel (and as parents, isn't that really the goal -- to get them reading more?)

There is a terrific website for the book that I'm sure all young children would enjoy. Readers can take a look at aliens that were made by kids all over the world, or even create their own new alien. There is also information on on the future film and graphic novels, as well as downloads for your computer. I was actually very impressed by the resources section for teachers and libraries -- there are lots of great ideas and activities that supplement the book.

If you have a reluctant reader or even a kid who loves to read, then I highly suggest giving THE DANGEROUS DAYS OF DANIEL X a try. If you want to get a better idea of the book before buying, you can read a brief excerpt here or watch an interview with Mr. Patterson here.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

And The Winner Is....

I am just thrilled that I was selected to announce two of the first BBAW Awards for 2008! The nominees in both categories are amazing, but unfortunately one two bloggers can win. Without further ado, here's the list of nominees:

Best Book Club Blog

Best Design

And the winner for Best Book Club Blog is:

Reading Group Guides

And the winner for Best Design is:

I want to extend congratulations to these two awesome blogs and everyone who was nominated! You guys are all incredible in my book!

Make sure you check out Age 30+: A Lifetime in Books this morning for two other winner announcements -- Best Meme/Carnival/Event and Best Commenter/Commentator.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Review: The Lost Diary of Don Juan

Summary: It was a time of discovery and decadence, when life became a gamble and the gold that poured endlessly into the port of Sevilla devalued money, marriage, and love itself. In the midst of these treacherous times, Juan Tenorio is born and then abandoned in the barn of a convent. Raised secretly by the nuns, he learns to love and worship all women and wants nothing more than to be a priest, until he falls in love with one of the sisters. When their affair is discovered, Juan leaves the Church forever. He is soon recruited to be a spy by the powerful Marquis de la Mota, who teaches him to become the world's greatest libertine and seducer of women. But when he crosses swords with the most powerful man in the Empire, Don Juan must escape the murderous fury of the Inquisitor who battles all forms of debauchery, deviance, and heresy.

It is after knowing countless women that he is convinced by the Marquis to keep a diary, and it is here within its pages that Don Juan reveals his greatest adventures and the Arts of Passion he mastered. But what finally compels him to confess everything and risk losing his life, livelihood, and honor is the most perilous adventure of all -- the irresistible fall into the madness of love with the only woman who could ever make him forget all others. -- Washington Square Press

When Dorothy from Pump Up Your Book Promotion offered me the opportunity to read THE LOST DIARY OF DON JUAN by Douglas Carlton Abrams, I jumped at the chance. I love historical fiction books; and I figured that one about a famous lover would make for some interesting reading. After finishing this book, I have to say that I really enjoyed this story about Don Juan (and I totally can see it as a movie!)

Of course, this book is about one of the world's greatest lovers so it does have lots of vivid descriptions of Don Juan's conquests, especially since it was written in Don Juan's own words. I'm not usually a big fan of these types of scenes, but this book needed them to allow the reader to understand Don Juan and the power he held over women. The author wrote these romance scenes in a very descriptive manner -- he used lots of analogies and comparisons to anything and everything. (Don Juan could turn any regular item or experience into something sexual!) I thought the author was extremely successful in creating the character of Don Juan as well as the mood of the novel with his explicit prose.

I have to admit that I didn't really get into the book until about the half-way point; but once I reached it, I couldn't put the book down. The story became very fast-paced and suspenseful with a few twists and turns, and I couldn't read fast enough to find out the ending! I also think that I really got to "know and love" Don Juan by this time -- the author chose to portray him as someone who loved women and wanted to make them happy, rather than just a slimeball who was just trying to bed them for his own pleasure. I found myself drawn into his story and even rooting for Don Juan to find true love and have a happy ending.

One thing I thought was extremely helpful in this book was the glossary at the back. I usually wouldn't even mention something like this, but this information was truly beneficial. I definitely think it enhanced my understanding of the story. The glossary was extremely detailed and provided a great deal of background on this time period. It's apparent that the author did a ton of research while writing this book; and I think that he did the reader a big favor by including all of this content.

I really felt that the author did a wonderful job with this story of showing how a person can be truly passionate while also being loyal to one person -- that these two things are definitely not mutually exclusive. In today's society, I think some people don't really believe that you can find your one true love... and have passion... and be together forever... and be totally fulfilled. I thought this book ultimately did have a wonderful message, and I found it to be very romantic!

THE LOST DIARY OF DON JUAN is Douglas Carlton's Abrams first novel, and I think it's an excellent start. This book had a little bit of everything -- lots of romance, but also some adventure and intrigue as well. The author's writing is extremely descriptive; and I found myself being able to visualize all of the scenes, especially the ones that described Seville (now I'm dying to visit Spain!) If you would like to learn more about Douglas Carlton Abrams, I suggest taking a look at his blog or reading this conversation with him. In addition, there is a wonderful website for the book which also includes lots of interesting information.

I think THE LOST DIARY OF DON JUAN would make a terrific selection for your book club, especially if your club is like mine and adores historical fiction. You can read an excerpt and check out the reading guide if you think you might be interested.

I am very excited to announce that Douglas Carlton Abrams will be visiting Booking Mama next month as a guest blogger. In addition, I will be running a contest where you can win your very own copy of THE LOST DIARY OF DON JUAN.

Also reviewed at:
Savvy Verse and Wit
Age 30+... A Lifetime of Books

Monday, September 15, 2008

Mother Daughter Book Club Meeting #6

Summary: "Boy!" said Ralph to himself, his whiskers quivering with excitement. "Boy, oh boy!" Feeling that this was an important moment in his life, he took hold of the handgrips. They felt good and solid beneath his paws. Yes, this motorcycle was a good machine all right.

Ralph the mouse ventures out from behind the piney knothole in the wall of his hotel-room home, scrambles up the telephone wire to the end table, and climbs aboard the toy motorcycle left there by a young guest. His thrill ride does not last long. The ringing telephone startles Ralph, and he and the motorcycle take a terrible fall - right to the bottom of a metal wastebasket. Luckily, Keith, the owner of the motorcycle, returns to find his toy. Keith rescues Ralph and teaches him how to ride the bike. Thus begins a great friendship and many awesome adventures. Once a mouse can ride a motorcycle ... almost anything can happen! -- Harper Collins

Yesterday afternoon, the Mother Daughter Book Club met to discuss THE MOUSE AND THE MOTORCYCLE by Beverly Cleary. We only had five girls and their mothers attend this meeting, but the discussion among the girls was still very good. All but one of the girls enjoyed the story which definitely helps to keep the conversation moving. A few of the girls brought their own questions; and the mothers were actually included in the meeting this time. I, for one, was extremely grateful that I could listen in on their thoughts about the book.

The girls had a great time talking about their favorite parts of the book. They all agreed that their favorite character was the mouse, Ralph. They thought he was funny as well as daring and always "up for a little excitement." They also really liked that they book had so many exciting moments. Most of the girls liked the parts with the mouse and the dog in addition to the pillowcase scene. I thought section with Ralph and the vacuum cleaner was pretty darn funny too!

Towards the end of the meeting, I tried to get the girls to compare Keith and Ralph's mothers. They did a great job pointing out some of the things they had in common, especially their worrying nature. In addition, they thought it was funny that Ralph's mom was worried about people while Keith's mom was worried about mice.

I asked the girls if they knew what a "theme" was, and one of the girls gave a pretty good answer. I then asked them if they could name any themes from this book. With a little prompting, they began to talk about friendship. They proceeded to talk about all the things that Keith did for Ralph and the things that Ralph did for Keith in the name of friendship. I'm not sure if I did a good job of explaining the concept of themes in books, but I figure it's a good start!

For our October meeting, the girls had their choice of four books instead of the usual two. They quickly narrowed their decision down to BED-KNOB AND BROOMSTICK by Mary Norton. I have never read this book, but I do remember the movie that came out when I was a child. I think this book looks terrific and I'm anxious to read it; but I'm a little worried about the length -- it's 240 pages. When I came home and began researching this book, I found it very interesting that Ms. Norton is also the author of the Borrowers novels.