Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Hello...You Won This One is Mine

Congratulations goes out to Julie! She won a copy of THIS ONE IS MINE by Maria Semple as well as an awesome violet tattoo -- you'll understand after reading the book! Please send me your name and address so I can forward the information to Hachette Book Group USA.

Hope all of you have a terrific time bringing in the New Year tonight!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Target Bookmarked New Pick

I know I'm not alone in saying how much I adore Target! I think there book section is wonderful and I just love looking at all the beautiful books that they have displayed. They always seem to carry books that really appeal to me.

I was so excited when I opened the Target Bookmarked December Newsletter to see that they selected SHELTER ME by Juliette Fay as their Winter '08 Club Pick. I was lucky enough to get an ARC of this book from Harper Collins First Look Program last month and absolutely adored it -- you can read my review here. I think SHELTER ME is an excellent choice and I strongly recommend this book for a future book club meeting. There really are so many things to discuss!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

I'm Back!

I hope all of you had a wonderful Christmas! We had an interesting one to say the least. Things around here have been very hectic and I'm just getting around to my blog. Needless to say, I haven't done any reading for days.

It all started the week before Christmas when my daughter became very sick with some sort of virus and missed almost an entire week of school. She was feeling better so we went to a party on Sunday night (the 21st) and I sent her to school on that Monday. Since she was so far behind in her schoolwork, she had to take three big tests that day and then had her Winter Choir Concert that night. Evidently, that was a little too much for her because she came home and threw up all night -- everywhere! To make matters worse, we had my sister-in-law's family here with a 3 1/2 year old and a four month old. I was so worried that they would catch it!

On December 23rd, my husband came down with flu-like symptoms (headache, body aches, and 101 degree temperature.) We always host Christmas Eve for his entire family, but I wasn't sure that everyone would want to come to our house. I really didn't have to worry too much because my mother-in-law and her husband as well as my brother-in-law's girlfriend were all suffering from some sort of stomach virus. We ended up having a brief, modified Christmas Eve celebration. Of course, I had bought and prepared so much food in anticipation of our celebration. We're trying to eat it, but I have a feeling that a lot of it is going to go in the trash.

On Christmas Day, we were planning on driving to my parents and having dinner with them, my grandparents and my sister's family. My husband was still feeling poorly so my daughter and I went to church by ourselves in the morning. She made it about 20 minutes before I could tell that she wasn't feeling well. She was very pale and I could just see her puking all over the pews. I took her into the narthex and we made it until communion. At that point, I knew both her father and she would not be visiting my parents so my son and I went. When I got home around 7:00, I made my daughter eat some chicken noodle soup. I should have known better because right in the middle of dinner, she began throwing up again!!!!

I know I'm a little grumpy and venting, but I'm just so tired of the sickness in my house. Fortunately none of my company got ill, and my son and I still appear to be healthy. It's just so frustrating that I put so much work into the holidays and they didn't turn out like I had hoped. I'm sure there's a valuable lesson in there somewhere!!!!

In the meantime, I hope to start reading again. I have not read this little for over a year and I'm seriously missing it! On the bright side, I did clean out the basement and organize the toys to make room for all the new stuff. Today, I am home with my recovering daughter while my husband and son are in Philadelphia for my niece's baptism (another event that one of us is missing.) I desperately want to finish reading SWEETSMOKE, and I have a few other books that I need to read by the middle of January so I better get hopping!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

There is nothing better than seeing how excited my kids get at Christmastime. It makes all of the work so very worth it!

I hope all of you have a very Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Read It Forward Book Group of the Month

I was just thrilled to find out that my book club, The Preschool Mom Book Club, is featured in the December Read It Forward newsletter! As if being chosen for this honor wasn't enough, I just found out that Shaye Areheart Books is going to send us a "Book Group in a Box" too. What a wonderful surprise, especially at this time of the year.

If you aren't a subscriber to the Read It Forward newsletter, you are really missing out. Each month, they give readers the opportunity to receive free books. In addition, they are always looking for reviews of their books; and you can get some great reading recommendations too.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Review: Dewey

Summary: How much of an impact can an animal have? How many lives can one cat touch? How is it possible for an abandoned kitten to transform a small library, save a classic American town, and eventually become famous around the world? You can't even begin to answer those questions until you hear the charming story of Dewey Readmore Books, the beloved library cat of Spencer, Iowa.

Dewey's story starts in the worst possible way. Only a few weeks old, on the coldest night of the year, he was stuffed into the returned book slot at the Spencer Public Library. He was found the next morning by library director, Vicki Myron, a single mother who had survived the loss of her family farm, a breast cancer scare, and an alcoholic husband. Dewey won her heart, and the hearts of the staff, by pulling himself up and hobbling on frostbitten feet to nudge each of them in a gesture of thanks and love. For the next nineteen years, he never stopped charming the people of Spencer with his enthusiasm, warmth, humility, (for a cat) and, above all, his sixth sense about who needed him most.

As his fame grew from town to town, then state to state, and finally, amazingly, worldwide, Dewey became more than just a friend; he became a source of pride for an extraordinary Heartland farming town pulling its way slowly back from the greatest crisis in its long history. -- Grand Central Publishing

I have been wanting to read DEWEY: THE SMALL-TOWN LIBRARY CAT WHO TOUCHED THE WORLD by Vicki Myron with Bret Witter for a few months. Everyone seems to just love this book, and I thought this week was the perfect time to read it. I have been stressed out getting ready for the holidays (like everyone else, I'm sure) so I needed a light read that would also make me feel good. I figured DEWEY would be the perfect book for me! I was right -- I absolutely loved this book for so many reasons.

Being a book lover and a frequent patron of my local library, I was definitely drawn to a book about a small-town library cat. Not to mention that I am a sucker for books about animals -- I love to read about all the cute little things they do. And while Dewey did do lots of cute kitty antics, I was pleasantly surprised that this book had so much more to offer. Ms. Myron not only wrote about her love of Dewey and the value he added to so many people's lives, but she also opened up a great deal about her personal life -- from her serious health issues, to her divorce from an alcoholic, to losing her parents, to raising a sometimes difficult daughter as a single mother. Ms Myron learned many valuable lessons throughout her life, and she willingly shared these with the reader.

Of course it probably goes without saying that I absolutely adored DEWEY; and I think he did so much for the town of Spencer, Iowa. While Dewey was left in the freezing cold book drop bin and desperately needed a warm home and a loving owner, I think that the townspeople of Spencer might have needed Dewey even more. When Dewey arrived on the scene, the town was in the middle of an economic crisis (kind of like what our country is experiencing right now) and I think they were grasping for some sort of hope. Dewey, with his survival story and loving nature, filled that need perfectly. I have no doubt that he was a very special cat, and his ability to read people and sense their needs just warmed my heart.

If you think you'd like to read DEWEY, you can get a sneak preview of Chapter 1 here. There is also an entire website devoted to Dewey Readmore Books. You can see lots of pictures of Dewey as well as some of his television appearances; and you can even join his fan club. You can also learn more about the book and the Spencer Public Library. And if you want to see even more pictures of Dewey, take a look at this picture gallery on the Hachette Book Group website.

Most of you are probably done with your holiday shopping by this point, but DEWEY would make a wonderful gift for someone special. This book is guaranteed to touch their heart and warm their soul. It would also make a great book club selection because it does discuss some very real issues. It's also a book that might be fun to read because it's probably a little different than your normal book club fare. There is a reading guide available if you'd like to take a look at some of the themes and questions that you could discuss.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Review: The King's Daughter

Summary: In this groundbreaking novel, award-winning author Sandra Worth vibrantly brings to life the people’s Queen, “Elizabeth the Good.”

Seventeen-year-old Elizabeth of York trusts that her beloved father’s dying wish has left England in the hands of a just and deserving ruler. But upon the rise of Richard of Gloucester, Elizabeth’s family experiences one devastation after another: her late father is exposed as a bigamist, she and her siblings are branded bastards, and her brothers are taken into the new king’s custody, then reportedly killed.

But one fateful night leads Elizabeth to question her prejudices. Through the eyes of Richard’s ailing queen she sees a man worthy of respect and undying adoration. His dedication to his people inspires a forbidden love and ultimately gives her the courage to accept her destiny, marry Henry Tudor, and become Queen. While her soul may secretly belong to another, her heart belongs to England… -- Berkley

I have been really enjoying historical fiction lately, so I was thrilled when I received THE KING'S DAUGHTER by Sandra Worth. While I like reading books about historical figures, I have to admit that I don't know much about these kings and queens beyond what I've read in a few novels. Fortunately I have read a few books about Henry VIII; so when I saw THE KING'S DAUGHTER which is about his mother Elizabeth of York, I knew I wanted to read it.

I really enjoyed this novel mainly because I liked the character of Elizabeth so much. She was surrounded by so much pain and so many awful people, but she put her country and family above all else. I appreciated how the author wrote the novel in Elizabeth's words because it truly gave me a sense of her thoughts and feelings. I found some of the scenes where she described how much she loved her son to be very touching.

I found all of the supporting characters in this novel to be quite interesting too. King Henry and his mother were just despicable characters, and there were many other people in Elizabeth's life who were evil and willing to do anything to get ahead. I especially "enjoyed" the parts of this novel where King Henry VIII was a child. He was a holy terror and already showing the signs of the ruthless leader he eventually became.

There were a lot of historical figures in this novel, and I must admit that, at times, I did have a hard time keeping everyone straight. I'm not sure if my issues were because I wasn't familiar with the characters, or if I was somewhat distracted because of the busy holiday season. Either way, the author did a wonderful job of explaining the characters; and my confusion didn't detract from the novel.

Ms. Worth is an award-winning author of four previous historical novels including her Rose of York trilogy. She has also written LADY OF THE ROSES which is the true love story of the medieval ancestors of both Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Sir Winston Churchill. Besides writing, she is a frequent lecturer on the Wars of the Roses. After reading THE KING'S DAUGHTER, I can say that Ms. Worth knows her stuff. The amount of research conducted to write this book is astounding. I thought she did a wonderful job of incorporating the facts into this fictional account of Elizabeth of York's life.

Before reading this novel I had little, if any, knowledge of the War of the Roses. There were many references to this time period, and I found all of it to be fascinating. After reading this book, I wouldn't hesitate to pick up Ms. Worth's Rose of York trilogy. If these three books are as well researched as THE KING'S DAUGHTER, I think I'll be in for a treat.

If you enjoy historical fiction novels that are filled with loads of factual information, you should take a look at THE KING'S DAUGHTER. I think it would make a great book club discussion book, especially if your group enjoys historical fiction. There are reader questions available on Ms. Worth's website; and while you are there, you might want to check out some other reviews as well as some of her interviews.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Review: The Smartest Little Artist

Summary: This book is educational and teaches kids about art, photography, poetry, and creative writing. It has interactive activities, questions after each work to encourage learning, and pages kids can color. It's designed to stimulate both your child's artistic and intellectual sides. They will have fun while they learn about various forms of art. --

THE SMARTEST LITTLE ARTIST BOOK 1 - THE MANY FACES OF FRIENDSHIP, written and compiled by Tonya L. Lambert, is a wonderful idea for a children's book. This book features various types of children's stories, poems, artwork, and illustrations. It also contains photographs (both normal and doctored ones) as well as sketches that children can color. As part of the interactive learning aspect of these books, there are questions about the various stories and pictures that children can answer.

This book is the first in THE SMARTEST LITTLE ARTIST series. Ms. Lambert is hoping that through these books children will develop a love of poetry, literature, creative writing, photography and various forms of art. Her intent is that the books will help stimulate creativity while also teaching children -- the idea is that kids will learn while still having fun.

I have to admit that I'm a little confused about what age is the audience for this book. I initially sat down with my four year old son and read him the first story. He had a hard time paying attention and he wanted more pictures. He also wanted more colorful pictures. The pictures (and by that I mean photographs, illustrations, etc.) in this book all all black and white. While some of them are suitable for coloring, my son just wasn't interested in the majority of the book.

Then I went to to see if there was more information about the intended age range for this book. I was absolutely shocked to see that it said 9 - 12 years old. I have a nine year old daughter who thought the book looked like a preschool book. (It is a 52 page paperback book with a picture of two cats on the front.) I do think that she would have enjoyed some of the poems in this book, but I thought the stories and questions were geared towards much younger children.

Having said all this, I do think there are some terrific ideas in this book. The stories all have important messages that teach children valuable lessons. I also like the concept that this book is interactive. Sometimes I read a story to my son and we don't have a chance to discuss it. I have absolutely no idea if he even understood the story. With this book, you do have the chance to discuss some important issues like feelings, creativity, sharing, friendship, etc. with your child. I can definitely see the value of a book like this for teachers and counselors alike.

I do believe that THE SMARTEST LITTLE ARTIST does have the ability to stimulate the creative and sensitive side of your child. There are some great stories, and I especially enjoyed a few of the poems. I think the author sums up the book best, "It is educational in two ways -- it stimulates their intellectual side as well as their artistic one."

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Review: The Little Giant of Aberdeen County

Summary: When Truly Plaice's mother was pregnant, the town of Aberdeen joined together in betting how recordbreakingly huge the baby boy would ultimately be. The girl who proved to be Truly paid the price of her enormity; her father blamed her for her mother's death in childbirth, and was totally ill equipped to raise either this giant child or her polar opposite sister Serena Jane, the epitome of femine perfection. When he, too, relinquished his increasingly tenuous grip on life, Truly and Serena Jane are separated--Serena Jane to live a life of privilege as the future May Queen and Truly to live on the outskirts of town on the farm of the town sadsack, the subject of constant abuse and humiliation at the hands of her peers.

Serena Jane's beauty proves to be her greatest blessing and her biggest curse, for it makes her the obsession of classmate Bob Bob Morgan, the youngest in a line of Robert Morgans who have been doctors in Aberdeen for generations. Though they have long been the pillars of the community, the earliest Robert Morgan married the town witch, Tabitha Dyerson, and the location of her fabled shadow book--containing mysterious secrets for healing and darker powers--has been the subject of town gossip ever since. Bob Bob Morgan, one of Truly's biggest tormentors, does the unthinkable to claim the prize of Serena Jane, and changes the destiny of all Aberdeen from there on.

When Serena Jane flees town and a loveless marriage to Bob Bob, it is Truly who must become the woman of a house that she did not choose and mother to her eight-year-old nephew Bobbie. Truly's brother-in-law is relentless and brutal; he criticizes her physique and the limitations of her health as a result, and degrades her more than any one human could bear. It is only when Truly finds her calling--the ability to heal illness with herbs and naturopathic techniques--hidden within the folds of Robert Morgan's family quilt, that she begins to regain control over her life and herself. Unearthed family secrets, however, will lead to the kind of betrayal that eventually break the Morgan family apart forever, but Truly's reckoning with her own demons allows for both an uprooting of Aberdeen County, and the possibility of love in unexpected places. -- Grand Central Publishing

I first noticed THE LITTLE GIANT OF ABERDEEN COUNTY by Tiffany Baker on The Debutante Ball. I thought it sounded like a great idea for a novel; and since I always just love the books and authors featured on this grog, I couldn't wait to read it. Fortunately for me, Miriam from Hachette Book Group USA sent me an Advanced Readers' Copy.

I absolutely adored this book! It was really unlike any other book that I've read in recent memory. Many of the characters, especially Truly, were very unique and are likely to stay in your thoughts for quite awhile. I loved the story of Truly and her family and friends, and I even found myself enjoying the magical element in this book (which is something I usually don't tend to appreciate.) As if the cast of quirky characters weren't enough, there were also enough surprises thrown into this novel to make it a wonderful read.

The story actually covers a lot of time -- from Truly's birth through her childhood into her adulthood. The book was written from Truly's point-of-view, and I especially enjoyed reading about her feelings of being different and ostracized. I thought Ms. Baker captured Truly's insecurities and fears so incredibly well at each different period of her life. Truly wasn't the only character who experienced these feelings, and I found some comfort in that she was able to find her own little support system.

My heart went out to Truly and many of the other odd characters in this novel. While Truly was most definitely flawed, I still found myself rooting for her against the many adversities she faced in her life. Even though it appeared that Truly had many more issues than her beautiful sister Serena Jane, I believe that Truly actually was the more fortunate sister. She was able to find more purpose in her life and eventual happiness. I enjoyed the ending of this novel, and I was glad to see that happy endings are possible -- although Truly's route there was filled with lots of bumps.

Tiffany Baker is a first time novelist, and THE LITTLE GIANT OF ABERDEEN COUNTY is a very powerful book. I absolutely loved her writing style. It was so eloquent and she drew me in within the first few pages. I was impressed with so many of her words and phrases that I can't even begin to pick just a few to show you how amazing she writes. I found that the last few paragraphs of each chapter were so insightful and beautifully written. I can't wait for Ms. Baker's next novel -- I know I'll be reading it the day it's released!

THE LITTLE GIANT OF ABERDEEN COUNTY will be available on January 8th. It is a marvelous book that will touch your heart, and I think it would make a wonderful book club discussion book. There is just so much to discuss from the quirky characters to the various themes of loneliness, obligation, friendship, and love. I wasn't able to find any discussion questions yet, but I'm sure they will be available in the very near future. As soon as I find them, I'll set up a link.

Also reviewed at:
SMS Book Reviews

Friday, December 19, 2008

Review: A Dog Among Diplomats

Summary: He reads Proust. Surfs the net. Is the soul of diplomacy. And when it comes to solving crime, Randolph is the dog for the job.

Murder has come to Manhattan’s East Village. And when detectives call twenty-something artist Harry to the scene, his Labrador, Randolph, instantly smells a rat. Why? Because Harry’s missing almost-fiancée—and Randolph’s beloved mistress—has been implicated in the murder, which has ties to the U.N. While Harry looks to the spirit world for answers, careening between terror and wild hope that Imogen is alive, Randolph goes into detective mode, using his superior Lab brain—2.3 pounds of smoothly functioning gray matter—to surf the Net, track down clues, and even land a job as a “therapy” dog to a depressed diplomat. Suddenly the brainy, book-loving Lab has done the impossible: he’s penetrated the shadowy corridors of the U.N. (which boasts the most vicious, backbiting dog run in the city) in search of a killer. Now it will take all of Randolph’s cunning to protect Harry, clear Imogen’s name, solve the crime—and stay alive long enough to enjoy his upcoming birthday. -- Bantam Dell

A DOG AMONG DIPLOMATS by J.F. Englert has been sitting in my TBR pile for a very long time. Just a few days ago, I felt like reading a mystery -- I haven't been reading many mysteries since I started blogging. I picked up this book and was immediately captivated. What caught my interest was that the story is told first person (or should I say first dog?) by a black lab named Randolph. What a unique idea for a mystery series!

It probably goes without saying that Randolph isn't your normal dog. He's actually very well-read (even for a human) and can communicate clues about the crimes. I found myself laughing quite a few times while reading this book. Randolph's insights about dog and human behavior are too funny. And, I couldn't help but love a dog who makes obscure (at least to me) references to art and literature.

I enjoyed the mystery aspect of the novel too, and it did keep me guessing until the end. Although, I have to admit that I didn't really try to analyze the crime and guess the culprit. It was a quick, light read; and I wouldn't hesitate to read more books in this series.

A DOG AMONG DIPLOMATS is the second book in the Bull Moose Dog Run Mystery series -- the first being A DOG ABOUT TOWN. I wish I had read the first book before picking up this one, but I don't think it was necessary to appreciate this book on its own. There were many references to the first mystery, but I thought the author did a great job of explaining the background so I didn't feel like I was missing something.
Make sure you take a look at J.F. Englert's website because it's definitely a hoot! It's called The Intelligent Dog's Guide to a Troubled World and it's really Randolph's blog. You will get a great idea of Mr. Englert's (and Randolph's) writing style and sense of humor. Check out this video for the first book in the series -- isn't Randolph just precious?

If you enjoy mysteries and love dogs, I'm pretty sure that you will get a kick out of this funny mystery book!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Guest Blogger: Lisa Dunster Moeller

I am so excited to have Lisa Dunster Moeller, author of The Common Threads Journal series, stopping by with a very heart-felt guest post. Yesterday, I posted a review about two of these wonderful journals -- HEALING A LIFE UNRAVELED and CELEBRATING THE HOLIDAYS. Both of these books would make wonderful gifts for a special person in your life this holiday season. I really appreciate that Ms. Dunster Moeller write this essay because it's a message that I always need to hear, especially this time of the year when I get caught up in the crazy madness of the holidays.

No Time Like the Present

Recently it seems as though my life has been one reminder after another that life is short. It’s a bit cliché I know, a phrase we hear all the time, but it makes it no less the truth…there is no time like the present. These recent reminders have been weighing heavy on my mind, so I decided to set aside my original plans for this guest post and send out a message to the readers of Julie’s great little blog that feels a little more important.

With the holiday season upon us, lots of people are busy shopping for presents for the people they love. As the hustle and bustle of the holiday season begins to take over your life I’d like to suggest you give yourself a present too: take time to nurture the relationships with the people you love. Everyone likes to receive gifts, but really there is no greater gift than making time for someone…and there is no time like the present.

The idea that we might lose someone close to us, like a spouse or a parent, is one of the most terrifying feelings there is. It is during those times in our lives that it is easy to make time for the people we love. We feel vulnerable when mortality stares us in the face, and those times often leave us taking life a little slower, taking time to smell the roses (to use another bad cliché), and spending more quality time with our loved ones.

Sometimes just being on the fringe of an experience like that can be a good reminder, which is where I found myself recently when someone I love very much was faced with the possibility of losing a parent to cancer. Following that experience with my friend, my husband and I were in a vehicle collision caused by icy roadway conditions. We were extremely fortunate not to be hurt and not to have seriously injured anyone else. We found ourselves counting our blessings and telling each other we loved each other a little more often than usual.

There are plenty of examples of life experiences that send us that message, that important reminder that life is too short for anger or regret, for anything but love and meaningful connections. What I’d like to see, however, are more of us living our lives according to that message, without needing to have the importance of it scared into us by a near tragedy. I realize that is not a simple task, because our daily schedules are busy and sometimes even unmanageable. I know the holiday season is no exception to that chaos, but really, if you don’t start now, when will you?

I’m not suggesting you clear your schedule and turn every minute into quality time spent with family and friends. It doesn’t need to be that drastic. Perhaps it could be a phone call to an aunt you don’t see as often as you’d like or an email to a friend you’ve been falling out of touch with. Maybe, as a friend and I recently discussed, it could be spending a day with your mom going through treasured family heirlooms and documenting where they came from, so that when she is gone you’ll know which teacup belonged to your great-grandmother and that the lamp table you would have otherwise gotten rid of had been crafted by your great-great-grandfather.

My books, “The Common Threads Journals”, are all about the importance of making deeper, more lasting connections with the people around us. I spend a great deal of my time talking to people about my books and about the importance of connecting with others, but even I have trouble doing it sometimes. Apparently the universe recently decided I needed a reminder: I needed to live my ideas not just talk about them. Unfortunately I don’t always get the message right away, so it has to be sent several times, in several ways, just to get my attention.

My wish for you is that you start making time for the people in your life before the universe decides it needs to get your attention. Start taking some steps to nurture those important relationships. Tell the people you love that you love them: tell them often. Start doing it now. Don’t wait to be hit over the head with the message, because there is no time like the present.

Author and entrepreneur Lisa Dunster Moeller is the creator of Common Threads Journals, a one of a kind line of journals designed to have more than one owner in its lifetime. Motivated by a desire to help her two best friends through the difficult experience of divorce, something she too had suffered, Lisa began to collect bits of advice and other words of wisdom to pass on. Her writings, collected in a small, hand decorated blank book, became the first shared journal.
The idea that everyone has insight that someone else will find helpful inspired Lisa to reach beyond her personal circle of friends, hoping to inspire people to renew their sense of connectedness to one another. Lisa believes that by reaching out through the universal experiences of love, loss, triumph and tragedy, we learn to celebrate the things that unite us and make us one. Common Threads Journals were created to give everyone a way to record and share their stories.

Lisa Dunster Moeller, a Northwest native, was raised in a small town by loving parents who instilled in her the importance of service to others. Still a small town girl with a big sense of her responsibility to the greater good, Lisa works as an administrative specialist for a municipal police department in Washington State while managing the family pumpkin farm along with her husband. She also volunteers for various charities, including the American Cancer Society, and is active in her community.

For more information about Storybook Acres Press, Lisa Dunster Moeller, or Common Threads Journals:
Storybook Acres Press
PO Box 245
Everson, WA 98247
Phone: (360) 441-5065

To purchase the books online:“Celebrating The Holidays”:
“Healing A Life Unraveled”:

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Review: Common Threads Journals

Summary: First in the Common Threads Journals series, Healing a Life Unraveled provides an instructive model on how to unlock thepain of tragedy through journal writing. Filled with constructive examples, inspirational messages, and plenty of room for writing, this unique shared journal is a powerful tool for healing. -- Storybook Acres Press

Summary: Celebrating the Holidays, part of the Common Threads Journals series, is a creative way to share the rich and meaningful experiences of this special time of year with family and friends. Filled with personal examples, inspirational messages, and plenty of room for writing, this unique journal makes a treasured keepsake or meaningful gift. -- Storybook Acres Press

When I first heard about the Common Threads Journals from author Lisa Dunster Moeller, I thought they sounded like such a unique idea. So I was just thrilled when she sent me copies of HEALING A LIFE UNRAVELED and CELEBRATING THE HOLIDAYS (she also sent the cutest little Christmas card that suited me to a tee about stressing during the holidays.) These two journals are just beautiful (I love the one of the knitting where the yarn in unraveling) and filled with lots of pages to write your thoughts. I think the concept behind these journals is very special. Ms. Dunster Moeller developed these books with the idea that each journal is intended to have more than one user in its lifetime. After you write your thoughts, feelings, experiences about an event, you pass it along to another person who might be going through something similar -- someone who is connected to you by a "common thread." Her idea is that "the books will bring people together through both joyous and tragic times, creating a journaling scrapbook along the way."

I admit that I was a little leary of writing my thoughts and then passing it along for others to read (especially if I were writing about grief or another life tragedy), but after looking through both of these books, I'm convinced that it is a wonderful idea. The author also explains that it's okay to black out any of your words that you are uncomfortable sharing, so that made me feel better too. In both of these journals, Ms. Dunster Moeller does a great job of explaining how to use them. She also gives tips about what to write as well as how to get started journaling if you don't consider yourself a "journaler." I appreciated that she even gave specific examples from her own journals to show how sharing these thoughts can be beneficial to others.

I am not a person who journals, but I can very much see the benefit of these books. I especially love the idea of the CELEBRATING THE HOLIDAYS journal. What a beautiful idea for families to document their traditions and hand the book down from generation to generation. I can also see me using it to describe each Christmas -- my kids' letters to Santa, their reactions to the gifts, what I served for dinner, pictures of our family, etc. I know how thrilled I would be to have a book which documented my grandparents' and parents' Christmas traditions, so I think it would truly be a gift to write in these journals and hand them down through the generations.

Ms. Dunster Moeller also has some more journals being released in 2009 -- HAPPILY EVER AFTER and PRESERVING CHILDHOOD MEMORIES. I can only imagine how much a bride and groom would appreciate the HAPPILY EVER AFTER journal as a shower or wedding gift. All of these journals can be purchased here, and the two books that I received are also available on

Make sure you come back tomorrow because Lisa Dunster Moeller will be stopping by with a very special guest post.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Review: This One is Mine & Giveaway

Summary: Violet Parry is living the quintessential life of luxury in the Hollywood Hills with David, her rock-and-roll manager husband, and her darling toddler, Dot. She has the perfect life--except that she's deeply unhappy. David expects the world of Violet but gives little of himself in return. When she meets Teddy, a roguish small-time bass player, Violet comes alive, and soon she's risking everything for the chance to find herself again. Also in the picture are David's hilariously high-strung sister, Sally, on the prowl for a successful husband, and Jeremy, the ESPN sportscaster savant who falls into her trap. For all their recklessness, Violet and Sally will discover that David and Jeremy have a few surprises of their own. THIS ONE IS MINE is a compassionate and wickedly funny satire about our need for more--and the often disastrous choices we make in the name of happiness. -- Little Brown

I enjoyed reading THIS ONE IS MINE by Maria Semple, but I have to say that it did appeal to my "darker side." As much as I hate to admit it, I do like those Hollywood gossip shows; and if People Magazine weren't so darn expensive, I'd have a subscription. And don't even get me started on the HBO show Entourage -- I think it's a riot! I hesitate to use the word "fascinated," but I am somewhat intrigued by the whole Hollywood lifestyle. I don't think the people or the city could be any more different than my little city in Central PA. It's kind of amazing to me that people actually live like the ones in this novel.

This definitely isn't one of those novels where I related to any of the characters. If I had to choose one (cause you know how I like to feel something towards a character), I would have to say it was Violet. And that's only because she's a mom who gave up her day job to stay at home with her child. That's probably the extent of what I had in common with her unless you count the frumpy body that was still hanging around a few years after I gave birth. While I most likely wouldn't want to associate with Violet (or any of them really), they sure do make for some entertaining reading.

I understand that this novel was supposed to show the shallow nature of Los Angeles and its people -- Ms. Semple definitely did a great job of demonstrating that. And I definitely appreciated the satirical nature of the story and her writing; however, I found Violet to be so self-absorbed that I just wanted to shake her. Here she was with loads of money (everything she could ever want in a material sense) and a beautiful little girl, and she still didn't have enough to make her happy. I can understand not necessary being fulfilled with her life, but to take a chance and throw it all away for a strange man (who just happened to be a recovering drug and alcohol addict) was so stupid. And the selfish personalities in this book weren't just limited to Violet because Sally, Violet's sister-in-law, was even worse.

Overall, I found this novel to be both funny and touching at times. I also enjoyed the surprises that the author threw in towards the end of this book. While I wanted to just scream at a few of the characters because they were so shallow, this novel did demonstrate how people who seem to have everything can still be unhappy and desire more from their lives. The book also really showed how much people are willing to risk to find what they think will bring them happiness. It's a very real occurrence in today's society, albeit a very sad one. Fortunately, some of the characters do have a few redeeming moments throughout the book so the reader can't totally hate all of them.

THIS ONE IS MINE is Ms. Semple's first novel, but she is a distinguished television writer. She is a former writer for Arrested Development, Mad About You and Ellen so you can tell that she's got a great sense of humor. There were some very funny parts of this book, and one in particular when David visited a yoga retreat, where I found myself laughing out loud. I could absolutely picture David crawling around in that tent, as well as a few other scenes, and I wouldn't be at all surprised to find out that this novel is being made into a movie.

I can't wait for the BlogTalk Radio show with Maria Semple that's taking place tomorrow (December 17th) at 1:00 p.m. EST hosted by Hachette Book Group USA/Little Brown. Ms. Semple has quite an interesting resume. You can listen to the show live and even call in with your questions. Or, if you aren't available, you can always listen to the taped show here. I've participated in quite a few of these radio shows, and I find myself liking the book even more after hearing the author speak about the book.

THIS ONE IS MINE would make a fabulous book club discussion book; and I would love to hear what my fellow book clubbers thought of this story. This book is being called a modern-day Anna Karenina story so I think it would be interesting to discuss the similarities between the characters. Although this story was larger-than-life, there are so many universal themes to talk about like honesty, marriage, adultery, happiness, ambition, greed, parenting, etc. I was happy to see that there is a terrific reading guide already available.

Does THIS ONE IS MINE sound like something you'd like to read? I just happen to have a copy of this funny novel to share with one lucky reader. Please leave a comment (with your e-mail) after this post for one entry. If you'd like another entry or two, you can blog about this contest with a link back here and/or twitter about it. This contest is open to those of you with U.S. and Canada mailing addresses only (no P.O. boxes please.) The giveaway will be open until December 30th at 11:59 p.m. EST. Good Luck!

Hello...You Won Get Positively Beautiful

Thanks to Hachette Book Group USA, I am giving away two copies of GET POSITIVELY BEAUTIFUL by Carmindy. I just know the winners are going to get lots of great advice from this book.

The winners are:



Make sure you e-mail me your name and address so I can forward the information to Hachette!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Review: Losing Kei

Summary: A young mother fights impossible odds to be reunited with her child in this acutely insightful first novel about an inter-cultural marriage gone terribly wrong.

Jill Parker is an American painter living in Japan. Far from the trendy gaijin neighborhoods of downtown Tokyo, she’s settled in a remote seaside village where she makes ends meet as a bar hostess. Her luck changes when she meets Yusuke, a savvy and sensitive art gallery owner who believes in her talent. But their love affair, and subsequent marriage, is doomed to domestic hell, for Yusuke is the chonan, the eldest son, who assumes the role of rigid patriarch in his traditional family while Jill’s duty is that of servile Japanese wife. A daily battle of wills ensues as Jill resists instruction from Yusuke's mother in the proper womanly arts and even the long anticipated birth of a son, Kei, fails to unite them. Divorce is the only way out but in Japan a foreigner has no rights to custody and Jill must choose between freedom and abandoning her child.

Told with tenderness, humor, and an insider’s knowledge of Japanese family life Losing Kei is the debut novel of an exceptional expatriate voice. -- Leapfrog Press

LOSING KEI by Suzanne Kamata is a very well-written novel that will draw you in from the first few pages. Not only will you enjoy reading the story of Jill, but you will also truly appreciate Ms. Kamata's writing style and her beautiful, descriptive prose. I found myself reading this book very quickly because I was so caught up in Jill's life and desperately wanted to know if she was reunited with her son.

While I didn't always find myself agreeing with Jill and her decisions, I still liked her and definitely felt sorry for her. I can't imagine how hopeless she must have felt living in a foreign country with a horrendous husband and his mother. It was just pitiful how she thought her love life and career were finally falling into place; and instead, her life ended up turning upside down. No matter how hard she tried, she would always be an outsider in her marriage, his family and his county. Jill is one of those characters that remain with you for days after you finish reading the novel.

As a mother, I did have some difficulty reading this novel. I wasn't sure that I could understand Jill's decision to leave her husband (even though he was awful) if it meant that she would lose custody of her son. Nevertheless, Jill's pain of losing her son was just horrific. I actually felt sick in my stomach at times as I read about her desire to see and touch her son. I thought Ms. Kamata did an incredible job of conveying Jill's emotions, and I thought Jill's downward spiral was extremely realistic for her character. Although she was deeply flawed, she did come across as being very human.

I thoroughly appreciated how Ms. Kamata chose to tell this story. The chapters alternated between 1997 when Jill lost custody of Kei and went back to 1989 when Jill first arrived in Japan. She continued to tell the story with flashbacks to the major points in her life. In an interview, Ms. Kamata said, "My earlier attempts at novels were linear and covered years, beginning when the main characters were teenagers. I realized, however, that this structure made the stories slow. Beginning with the 1997 section in which Jill has already lost Kei raises questions I hope will hook the reader: how did Jill lose him? Why did she come to Japan? What is she going to do?" I think she made a very wise decision to write the novel this way, and it definitely hooked me in.

There is no doubt that Ms. Kamata is a very talented writer. Although LOSING KEI is her first novel, her short stories, essays, articles and book reviews have appeared in over 100 publications. In addition, her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize five times (she received a special mention in 2006); and she is also a two-time winner of the All Nippon Airways/Wingspan Fiction Contest. She currently resides in Japan with her family and teaches at Naruto Educational University. It's apparent to me that she really knows Japan's culture; and as a result, the book has a very realistic feel to it. If you'd like to learn more about Ms. Kamata and her works, check out her website and her blog.

LOSING KEI is a wonderful book to discuss at your next book club meeting. Not only is Jill's story intriguing, but there are also many themes that you and your friends can dissect. It would be very interesting to hear everyone's thoughts about Jill's lifestyle and her decisions. In addition, it would be fun to talk about the cultural differences in the United States versus Japan as well as the mother/child bond, the role of women in various societies, and the difficulties with fitting into other cultures.

Also reviewed at:
Diary of an Eccentric

Hello...You Won Bobbi Brown Makeup Manual

BOBBI BROWN MAKEUP MANUAL is a beautiful book filled with tons of great makeup advice. I just know the three winners are going to love it.

Here they are:


A big thanks goes out to Hachette Book Group USA for providing the books for this giveaway.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Alexander McCall Smith Online Novel

Here's some exciting news about one of my favorite authors, Alexander McCall Smith. The author of the NO 1 LADIES DETECTIVE AGENCY series is writing an online novel on the Telegraph site, called CORDOROY MANSIONS. A new chapter is posted each day. The project started way back in September and will finish in February, but you can catch up online at

I am a huge fan of the NO 1 LADIES DETECTIVE AGENCY books; and if you're not familiar with them, you should definitely give them a try. They are clean, cute mysteries that will also make you laugh. The best thing about them to me is that they are guaranteed to make you think! I'm also very excited that these books will be coming to the television screen in the very near future. You can read more about it on one of my earlier posts.

Corduroy Mansions has been running for a few weeks, and it's easy to catch up. You can read the chapters on the site, as an rss feed or email update, as a downloadable widget, or you can follow the project on Twitter You can also provide comments about the story and listen to Alexander McCall Smith's answers.

Hello...You Won Silver Bells

Merry Christmas to Carla! She won a copy of SILVER BELLS by Fern Michaels, JoAnn Ross, Mary Burton, and Judy Duarte. Make sure you check your e-mail because I need your full name and address so I can send the book to you!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Book Reporter's Holiday Events

Nicole, a Marketing Assistant from The Book Report Network, asked me to share some of Book's Holiday events with all of you. Make sure you check them out because these sites are a terrific resource for holiday gift ideas. And, like always, they are giving away some wonderful books and other goodies!

Book's Author Holiday Blogs

Many great writers share that their path to publishing started by being a voracious reader. To celebrate this season of giving --- and getting --- more than thirty authors are sharing their favorite memories of giving or receiving a book at the holidays on the Author Holiday Blog. For example, International best-selling author Mary Higgins Clark reminisces about the books that she was overjoyed to find under the Christmas tree during her childhood, while her daughter and co-writer, Carol Higgins Clark, theorizes that her most popular character, private detective Regan Reilly, may have had her roots in books given to her as a young girl. Meanwhile, Wendy Corsi Staub tells us why Christmas always means Little Women to her.

Head over to each day until Christmas to read these essays and others from David Baldacci, Laura Pedersen, Ad Hudler, Kristin Hannah, Garth Stein, M.J. Rose, Mary Kay Andrews and more.'s Books as the Perfect Gifts Countdown

There's one gift that's perfect for everyone on your holiday list --- a book! Yes, everyone has people who are readers on their lists, which makes shopping for them easy. But beyond these kindred spirits, there's a book that can match just about any recipient's interests, even if reading is not their true passion. That is why is sharing 45 reasons why a book makes a perfect gift, counting down until Christmas Day, December 25th. Check out the countdown and see why we think this is the gift you want to give --- and, oh yes, receive!

The feature is also running on,, and's Holiday Basket of Cheer Contest's popular annual contest spotlights a different title or collection of titles every week from November 7th to December 12th. Readers can enter to win a basket that includes two copies of the book (one to keep and one to give), wrapping paper and a bow, and holiday-themed items such as Ghirardelli hot chocolate mix, gourmet vanilla marshmallows, Chewy Peps candy, an Illuminations cinnamon spice-scented candle, and more.'s What to Give/What to Get Guide

Gift giving is made easy with "reader perfect" suggestions in categories like Eat, Drink & Be Merry (cookbooks and culinary tales), Faces & Places (history, biography and memoir), and Healthy, Wealthy & Wise (advice and how-to). The What to Give/What to Get Guide can be found here.

Hello...You Won Being Written

Congratulations goes out to Teddy Rose -- the winner of a signed copy of BEING WRITTEN by William Conescu. I loved this book and can't wait to hear what you she thinks of it!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Review: Cancer is a Bitch

Summary: “I want to be brave. I want to be big. I want to be gracious and cool. I want to be the Audrey Hepburn of cancer...” Gail Konop Baker was a runner, yoga practitioner, and lifelong subscriber to Prevention magazine. As her forty-sixth birthday approached, she looked forward to a time when she could at last take a deep breath, with one child heading off to college and the other two busy with their lives. She finally felt as if she was getting her life back. Then, right before Valentine’s Day 2006, she heard the words that would forever change her: Just to be safe, I think we should biopsy. It was the beginning of her year-long struggle with breast cancer and its fallout-one that would upstage any midlife crisis she’d fretted was waiting in the wings. “I want to feel bad about my neck. I do,” she writes. “But I feel bad I may not ever get to feel bad about my neck.” Gail was suddenly faced with the truth that awaits us all-this was her life, and she would do anything to hold on to it. As a doctor’s wife, she knew more than she should about her diagnosis and treatment. As a mother, she found unbearable the idea of not being there for the next birthday, next graduation, next anything. And as a woman who’d put her dreams on hold for years, she was determined to make every minute count. But Cancer Is a Bitch is about much more than the “C” word; it's about the outrageous challenges of marriage, the joys and unpredictability of motherhood, about figuring out what it is you want to do with your life, about wanting to live now. Funny, raw, and moving, this story will resonate with every mother and wife, and with anyone who has been affected by cancer. It is one woman’s unforgettable, beautifully told account of juggling midlife and motherhood with a rogue boob-and, ultimately, triumphing. -- Da Capo Press

I won CANCER IS A BITCH: OR, I'D RATHER BE HAVING A MIDLIFE CRISIS by Gail Konop Baker from a contest on one of my favorite sites The Debutante Ball. Since I follow this grog everyday, I try to read each of the author's books as they come out. So I was thrilled when Ms. Konop Baker sent me a personalized, autographed copy of her book. The book came wrapped with a pink ribbon and a red dog tag heart engraved with "Cancer is a Bitch." She also sent me a CANCER IS A BITCH playlist which listed the music mentioned in the book as well as an adapted recipe for her Chunky Apple Walnut Cake. I was very happy indeed!

I had heard wonderful things about this book from some other bloggers, but I was anxious to see for myself whether I would like this book. Let's just say that I read it in less than a day, and I couldn't put the book down -- I absolutely adored this book. Ms. Konop Baker is a terrific writer; and while I read this book, I felt like she was just talking to me and telling me about her life. But what really impressed me was her ability to make me laugh (even though I didn't find her situation to be funny in the least) as well as her brutal honesty about her cancer.

I will say that, at times, I did find it difficult to read a book about a woman with breast cancer. Breast cancer is a very scary thing to me, and I know it will touch my life in one way or another. One out of eight women will get breast cancer. With odds like that, one woman in my book club, two women in my bunco group, and three moms in my son's preschool class will get breast cancer. As I approach my forties, more and more women that I associate with are finding out that they have cancer (or they are at least having some scares.)

In my opinion, Ms. Konop Baker is one incredibly strong woman and a very gifted writer. As I read this book, I just marveled at the strength and grace she showed when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Even though I've never had any health issues (kind of like Ms. Konop Baker pre-cancer), I could totally relate to her feelings. I think I'd have so many of the same reactions she did, and her fears about her children losing their mother were painfully real to me. Not only did I appreciate how open she was about not only her fears and insecurities of having breast cancer, but I was also very impressed with her honesty about her relationships with her husband and mother.

There was one part of this book where Ms. Konop Baker's writing really struck a chord with me. It was on page 202 when she was describing her feelings about becoming a mother for the first time. "She took a little breath and it sent a shiver through me and I thought, So this is love, love in its purest form, love based on biology and evolution and the feel of her buttery forearm. This is the reason I was put on earth. To hold my baby in my arms, to slow my breath to the rhythm of her breath." I know exactly what she meant with her beautiful prose.

Even though I was a little depressed while reading the beginning of the book, I was definitely left with a positive, hopeful feeling after I finished it. Like many people who have a serious health scare, Ms. Konop Baker became a better person as a result of it. She know realizes how precious life is, and she appreciates it so much more. I hope she doesn't mind that I'm sharing this with you, but here's what she said to me about her book, "My hope is that by living vicariously through my ups and downs and ups again you will be inspired to not be afraid to be your most amazing self and live your life as if it matters. All of it. Right now." What a perfect way to describe how I felt after reading her book!

I highly recommend reading CANCER IS A BITCH. I think every women would enjoy this well-written memoir; however, I think this book will really resonate with women who are diagnosed with cancer. And since this disease is going to affect all of us in some way, it really is a wonderful gift idea for any woman in your life. As an extra incentive, Ms. Konop Baker will donate a portion of the proceeds from CANCER IS A BITCH to some very worthwhile causes so go buy a copy or two!

Also reviewed at:
The Written Word

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Merry Christmas from Janet Evanovich

I am a huge fan of Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series so I was very excited to hear that a new Between the Numbers book is coming out. PLUM SPOOKY will be available on January 6th, 2009.

Here's a brief summary:
The First Full Length Stephanie Plum Between-the-Numbers Novel from #1 Bestselling Author Janet Evanovich.

Turn on all the lights and check under your bed. Things are about to get spooky in Trenton, New Jersey.

According to legend, the Jersey Devil prowls the Pine Barrens and soars above the treetops in the dark of night. As eerie as this might seem, there are things in the Barrens that are even more frightening and dangerous. And there are monkeys. Lots of monkeys.

Wulf Grimoire is a world wanderer and an opportunist who can kill without remorse and disappear like smoke. He’s chosen Martin Munch, boy genius, as his new business partner, and he’s chosen the Barrens as his new playground.

Munch received his doctorate degree in quantum physics when he was twenty-two. He’s now twenty-four, and while his brain is large, his body hasn’t made it out of the boys’ department at Macy’s. Anyone who says good things come in small packages hasn’t met Munch. Wulf Grimoire is looking for world domination. Martin Munch would be happy if he could just get a woman naked and tied to a tree.

Bounty hunter Stephanie Plum has Munch on her most-wanted list for failure to appear in court. Plum is the all-American girl stuck in an uncomfortable job, succeeding on luck and tenacity. Usually she gets her man. This time she gets a monkey. She also gets a big guy named Diesel.

Diesel pops in and out of Plum’s life like birthday cake – delicious to look at and taste, not especially healthy as a steady diet, gone by the end of the week if not sooner. He’s an über bounty hunter with special skills when it comes to tracking men and pleasing women. He’s after Grimoire, and now he’s also after Munch. And if truth were told, he wouldn’t mind setting Stephanie Plum in his crosshairs.

Diesel and Plum hunt down Munch and Grimoire, following them into the Barrens, surviving cranberry bogs, the Jersey Devil, a hair-raising experience, sand in their underwear, and, of course . . . monkeys. -- St. Martin's Press

In the meantime, check out this hilarious holiday video. Fans of the Stephanie Plum mysteries will definitely appreciate it!

Great Gift Idea

For the holidays, Donna Gephart is giving away two autographed copies of her hilarious children's novel AS IF BEING 12 3/4 ISN'T BAD ENOUGH, MY MOTHER I RUNNING FOR PRESIDENT! My daughter and I read this book a few months and absolutely loved it! I thought is was extremely funny -- you can read my review here.

Make sure you check out the contest details on Ms. Gephart's blog Wild About Words. And if entering for the chance to win a signed copy of the book isn't enough, she's added another incentive. Ms. Gephart will also donate one autographed novel to the Palm Beach County Literacy Coalition for every 25 comments. Additionally, she'll donate one extra autographed novel to the Coalition if all fifty states are represented in the comment section. The contest is open until December 17th.

Summary: As if being 12 3/4 isn’t bad enough, Vanessa Rothrock’s mother is running for president and it’s ruining her life. Isn’t it enough that her enormous feet trip her up all the time, even on stage during the school spelling bee? Isn’t it enough that Reginald Trumball, love of Vanessa’s pathetic life, read her personal and private list of deficiencies to some boy she doesn’t even know? And that the Boob Fairy hasn’t visited her even once?! Doesn’t Mom realize that Vanessa needs her more than the rest of the country? More importantly, doesn’t she realize that she may be in grave danger? Vanessa's receiving threatening notes at school–notes that imply some psycho has it out for her mother at the Democratic National Convention. Vanessa might be the only person who can save her. But does she have the courage to do what that requires? -- Delacorte Press

December 2008 Book Club Meeting and January Selection

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

We had a wonderful time at our December book club meeting. We were extremely talkative and didn't actually get around to talking about THE PIRATE'S DAUGHTER by Margaret Cezair-Thompson until an hour and a half after we got there. It wasn't that we didn't all enjoy the novel, but I think we were all in desperate need of a night out. This meeting was also our annual "book swap." We each brought a wrapped, used book to exchange. It was a lot of fun, especially the stealing part; and I think we all went home with some really good books. I got ONE THOUSAND WHITE WOMEN: THE JOURNAL OF MAY DODD by Jim Fergus.

There were just so many things to talk about in this novel that we found ourselves jumping around a lot. In addition, we realized when we started discussing the book that there were also many characters. However, I do think that our discussion was pretty interesting despite these this. We spent some time talking about the women -- both their similarities and their differences. Some of my favorite parts of the meeting were when we discussed the racial issues and the class issues that occurred in Jamaica. All of us agreed that we thought the historical parts of the novel were very interesting (none of us really knew Jamaica's background.)

Next month, we will be reading IMMORTAL by Traci Slatton. It's kind of a long book for us, but we've known about this selection for awhile and a few of the women have already started it. It's another historical fiction novel, but it's a totally different type of book than THE PIRATE'S DAUGHTER and it takes place in a very different time period.

Summary: In an age of wonderous beauty and terrible secrets,one man searches for his destiny...

In the majestic heart of Florence, a beautiful golden-haired boy is abandoned and subjected to cruelty beyond words. But Luca Bastardo is anything but an ordinary boy. Across two centuries of passion and intrigue, Luca will discover an astonishing gift—one that will lead him to embrace the ancient mysteries of alchemy and healing and to become a trusted confidant to the powerful Medicis…even as he faces persecution from a sadistic cabal determined to wrest his secrets for themselves.

But as the Black Death and the Inquisition wreak havoc on his beloved city, Luca’s survival lies in the quest to solve two riddles. One is the enigma of his parents and his ageless beauty. The other is a choice between immortality and the only chance to find his one true love. As Luca journeys through the heights of the Renaissance, befriends Giotto and Leonardo Da Vinci—140 years apart—and pursues the most closely guarded secrets of religious faith and science for the answers to his own burning questions, his remarkable search will not only change him…but will change the course of history. -- Delta

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Review: The Pirate's Daughter

Summary: In 1946, a storm-wrecked boat carrying Hollywood’s most famous swashbuckler shored up on the coast of Jamaica, and the glamorous world of 1940’s Hollywood converged with that of a small West Indian society. After a long and storied career on the silver screen, Errol Flynn spent much of the last years of his life on a small island off of Jamaica, throwing parties and sleeping with increasingly younger teenaged girls. Based on those years, The Pirate’s Daughter is the story of Ida, a local girl who has an affair with Flynn that produces a daughter, May, who meets her father but once.

Spanning two generations of women whose destinies become inextricably linked with the matinee idol’s, this lively novel tells the provocative history of a vanished era, of uncommon kinships, compelling attachments, betrayal and atonement in a paradisal, tropical setting. As adept with Jamaican vernacular as she is at revealing the internal machinations of a fading and bloated matinee idol, Margaret Cezair-Thompson weaves a saga of a mother and daughter finding their way in a nation struggling to rise to the challenge of independence. -- Unbridled Books

THE PIRATE'S DAUGHTER by Margaret Cezair-Thompson has been on my radar for over a year now so I was very excited when one of my book club members selected it for our December meeting. News about this book just kept popping up everywhere, and all of the buzz was so good. I think it was only a matter of time before I picked it up.

I first heard about this novel when Unbridled Books released it last fall. The book's description sounded very interesting to me. Then, it started receiving some big-time praise including including the #1 October 2007 Book Sense Pick as well as 2008 Essence Magazine Literary Award for Fiction. In August, the trade paperback version of THE PIRATE'S DAUGHTER was released by Random House with a bright, gorgeous cover. And just a few months ago, Celestial Seasonings' Adventure at Every Turn selected it as one of their book club picks. I am just so glad that someone finally selected it for us to discuss.

I wasn't sure what I was expecting when I began reading THE PIRATE'S DAUGHTER, but I have to say that the book was a little different than I thought it would be. While I knew that the story was about a young Jamaican girl, Ida, who falls in love with Errol Flynn, I didn't know that the book also included a lot of historical information about Jamaica. Having known absolutely nothing about Jamaica and their struggle for independence in the 1970s, I thought it was very interesting. The author did a tremendous job of incorporating the history with the characters in this novel.

I had always know that Errol Flynn was a unique figure to say the least, but I had no idea how much trouble this man could cause. I found him to be extremely distasteful -- he seemed to prefer under-age girls and lots of alcohol; however, I thoroughly enjoyed the descriptions of him and his actions -- these scenes were excellent. He must have been such a charismatic figure because men and women alike wanted to be in his presence (although to me he just seemed disgusting.) I found it so sad that Ida fell in love with him (or the idea of him) and ended up sacrificing her entire life because of her feelings.

Not only did I find Mr. Flynn to be an interesting character (albeit pretty minor), but I thought that all of the characters in this novel were very well-developed. Most of the characters are flawed, yet the reader will identify with them and even understand their most questionable actions. I especially appreciated how Ms. Cezair-Thompson explored mother-daughter relationships in this novel. And, there were so many issues concerning race as well as class that are fascinating to think about.

This book definitely has a little something for everyone. First, there is story of a multi-generational Jamaican family which is a great saga on its own. I enjoyed learning about the various cultures as well as the differences in the various generations. There is also a great deal of historical information on Jamaica and its political changes for those readers who like to learn something. In addition, there is lots of terrific dialogue and complex relationships in this novel. And, I loved that this book was quite suspenseful with a few surprises thrown in near the end.

There is no doubt that Ms. Cezair-Thompson is an extremely gifted writer. This book has a wonderful storyline as well as incredibly well written prose. Ms. Cezair-Thompson was born in Jamaica, and it's obvious by her beautiful and vivid descriptions of Jamaica's land and culture that she truly understands the book's subject matter. She currently teaches at literature and creative writing at Wellesley College. If you'd like to hear her speak about THE PIRATE'S DAUGHTER, listen to this podcast.

THE PIRATE'S DAUGHTER has all of the elements that make it a wonderful choice for book clubs everywhere. And if you're looking to read a well-written historical fiction book that's a little different from all the "regular" king and queen fare, you really should read this novel. You can read an excerpt here, and there is a reading guide to help facilitate your discussion. I have to warn you that if you read this book with all the gorgeous descriptions of Jamaica, you can be assured that you're going to want to take a little vacation there!

Hello...You Won Confetti Cakes

This book is just too adorable! I'm happy to announce that we received just enough entries, and I'm going to be giving away 5 copies of CONFETTI CAKES FOR KIDS by Elisa Strauss.

Thanks to Hachette Book Group USA for providing the cookbooks for this giveaway!

Here are the winners:






Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Looking for Some Book Recommendations?

The holidays are fast approaching and books are the perfect gift. If you're having some problems coming up with just the right book for a certain someone, check out this link. Here you will find some book recommendations that terrific authors (like Mary Roach, Diane Ackerman, Joan Silber, Nicole Kare, and others) are buying for their families and friends.

Mother Daughter Book Club Meeting #8

Summary: Walking through the misty Florida woods one morning, twelve-year-old Rob Horton is stunned to encounter a tiger--a real-life, very large tiger--pacing back and forth in a cage. What’s more, on the same extraordinary day, he meets Sistine Bailey, a girl who shows her feelings as readily as Rob hides his. As they learn to trust each other, and ultimately, to be friends, Rob and Sistine prove that some things--like memories, and heartache, and tigers--can’t be locked up forever. -- Candlewick Press

This month, we read THE TIGER RISING by Kate DiCamillo. I absolutely loved this book because I thought it was such a powerful story and so well-written. Unfortunately, my daughter didn't share my feelings about it (nor did a few of the other girls.) My heart is just breaking that they didn't appreciate this novel the way the moms did. I'm wondering if they weren't just a little too young to grasp all of the deeper meanings and symbolism.

Our discussion did go a little smoother this month because there was an actual discussion guide in the back of our copies of THE TIGER RISING. I thought the questions were excellent; and as is the case with my adult book group, having "real" questions kept us on topic. The guide also helped the girls to realize some of the symbolism in the novel. They did a terrific job of taking turns asking and answering the questions; and as always, I was amazed at how much they do take away from their reading.

Once we all sat down and talked about the deeper meanings of the novel, I think it started to "click" with them. I was so excited that some of the girls even added their own interpretations about the symbolism. I guess the idea of symbols in a novel is probably a new concept for all of them, but they all caught on very quickly. We also spent some time talking about the different characters and many of the major themes in this novel including loneliness, grief, anxiety, anger, etc.

Since this is our last meeting before the holidays, we did a little paperback book exchange. Each girl brought a wrapped new or used book to share with someone else. They each picked a number and then got to choose which gift they wanted to open in order of their numbers. In my book group we do a similar gift exchange, but we actually can "steal" someone else's gift. We thought better of this idea considering they are all nine years old and feelings could get hurt!

Next month, we are reading FROM THE MIXED-UP FILES OF MRS. BASIL E. FRANKWEILER by E.L. Konigsburg. I am so excited about this selection because this book was one of my all-time favorites when I was growing up. It's been quite awhile since I've read this book (probably 30 years), so I'll be anxious to see how I like the book now. I'm hoping that my daughter enjoys it as much as I did!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Lisa Roe's Memorial Post for Dewey: Part Two

I have to apologize because today is the first time that I've addressed the loss of Dewey on this blog. Like everyone else, I was first shocked at the news; and then as I processed it, I became very, very sad. I have read all of the beautiful tributes to her on the various blogs and knew that I should write something..anything. But I found that I just couldn't articulate my feelings or any words for her death.

I still don't know what to say except that I know she is going to be missed so much and by so many people. Even though I haven't written anything before today, please know that Dewey and her family have been in my thoughts and prayers constantly over the past week.

Many of you already know Lisa Roe -- she's an online book publicist. She has written a beautiful and touching memorial post for Dewey, and I'm fortunate enough that she chose to share part of it on my blog. I am posting the second section below. For the other two sections of the post, please visit: (Part 1)

The SuperFast Reader (Part 3)

Part 2: We sat in the waiting room. Sat, sat, sat, sat, and sat. I was bored out of my mind, and kicking the underside of my chair with my heels. All the while, protectively holding onto the pony picture. If anyone else got their hands on it, they were liable to wrinkle it.

Late in the evening, we went home, pony picture in hand, without seeing my cousin. I tacked the coloring masterpiece above my bed for the next time I saw Johnny; once he was out of the hospital.

The picture was gone when I came home from school one day. I couldn’t believe it. Art such as that could never be duplicated! I cried and carried on hysterically in my room, alone, until exhausted. Then I sat on the floor and wondered what sort of farm work a pink and purple pony could manage.

Between my cousin’s death and high school, I lost two grandparents, and a beloved cat. Of the four combined funerals, I was only in attendance for two: my grandfather’s and my cat’s. I was ill prepared for both. I swear I saw my grandpa move on his satin bedding and felt guilty for being terrified in my final moments with him. And the cat, well, her service was officiated over by my mom, as she lay nestled in her Rubbermaid container coffin. At night, on both occasions, I sobbed and wailed into my pillow until it was soaked through.

Not being present at my grandmother’s or my cousin’s services made their deaths less real to me. It was easier to face. The only memories were of the happy alive variety. No scary coffins, dimly lit parlors, or mistaken flickers of movement. Out of sight, out of mind. I draped myself in numb and practiced avoidance.

I turned to books. I trusted stories and their third person depictions of death to my own personal experiences of it. I related the losses of my past in words, not emotions. Death became inevitability. Eventuality. I didn’t believe in untimely passing. I knew the story of the Fates, the creators and determiners of one’s life thread. The tale made enough sense to me. If someone went, they simply had run out of thread. I could work with it.

By the time I graduated high school, 6 of my classmates had passed due to various modes and methods of recklessness. Many times, the irresponsibility was not of their making. I knew their names, shared their classes, read their yearbook spreads. I did not attend one memorial service. Not even my best friend’s. I grieved alone.