Saturday, January 31, 2009

Giveaway: The UltraMind Solution

Summary: "Broken brains" go by many names -- depression, anxiety, memory loss, brain fog, attention deficit disorder, autism, and dementia, to name a few -- and show up in radically different ways from person to person, making each seem like a separate problem.

But the truth is that these "diagnoses" are all the result of a few basic problems with our biology. Pinpoint these biological problems, fix them, and let your body's natural healing intelligence take over to repair your brain. Now you can experience an UltraMind -- one that is highly focused and able to pay attention at will, with a strong, reliable memory and a mood that is calm, confident, in control, and in good spirits.

We have all heard of the mind-body connection or how our thoughts affect the health of our body. But the reverse is far more powerful: what you do to your body, your basic biology, has a profound effect on your brain.

Have you ever experienced instant clarity after exercise? Alertness after drinking coffee? A mental crash after popping candy? Does your brain inexplicably slow down during stress, while multitasking, or when meeting a deadline? Each is an example of how what we do to our bodies -- whether through nutrition, sleep, exercise, or stress -- has a dramatic effect on our brains.

Conventional treatments don't help, or provide only slight benefit, because they just manage symptoms rather than deal with -- and heal -- the underlying problem. And just as brain problems all stem from the same root causes, they all have the same solution -- The UltraMind Solution.

Our ancient genes interact with our environment to create systemic imbalances that affect our brains. Correct those imbalances -- most caused by nutritional deficiencies, allergens, infections, toxins, and stress -- and you can achieve optimum mental health without drugs or psychotherapy.

The UltraMind Solution is the future of medicine, the culmination of the last twenty years of research on what makes the brain happy, focused, and calm; research that has uncovered a few simple factors that explain why things go wrong and how to fix them.

Don't wait for this revolution in medicine to trickle into your doctor's office: it usually takes research twenty years to move from the lab to the patient. The answers are here, right now, in The UltraMind Solution. -- Scribner

I just received two copies of THE ULTRAMIND SOLUTION by Mark Hyman, M.D. yesterday, so I haven't had a chance to really do much more than skim through it. However, I must say that some of his ideas about health and wellness fascinate me. I am very interested in learning how this program helps people with food allergies, autism and ADHD.

There is a very informative website for this book. While you are there, you can take a quiz which will help you determine if your "brain is broken." In addition, you can read some of the results that you will see in six weeks after following Dr. Hyman's program and some of the inspiring success stories. If you want to learn more about this book, click here for a free sneak preview; and if you see what you like, click here to buy it.

If you'd like to win a copy of this book, please leave a comment with your e-mail address. If you'd like to double your chances, blog about this contest with a link back to this post. You can also twitter about it for another entry. The contest will be open until Wednesday, February 11th at 11:59 p.m. EST. I will announce the winner the following day. Unfortunately, this giveaway is for those of you with U.S. and Canada mailing addresses only. Good luck!

Hello...You Won Love & Other Natural Disasters

Congrats Wrighty! You won a copy of Holly Shumas' LOVE AND OTHER NATURAL DISASTERS. Make sure you check your e-mail and send me your address.

Thanks to everyone who piped in about emotional affairs -- your answers were very interesting. And, thanks to Hachette Book Group USA for sponsoring this giveaway!

Friday, January 30, 2009

Review: Toon Books

THE BIG NO-NO! by Geoffrey Hayes

Summary: Benny and his sister Penny know it’s wrong to sneak into someone else’s backyard but their mysterious new neighbor—or is it a monster?—may be a thief. They go snooping and discover a lot about themselves and…a new friend.

Bestselling children’s artist Geoffrey Hayes enchants early readers with his charming and subtle storytelling. In this lively caper, the artist’s small-scale mice take on large-scale issues with enormous comics mastery. -- Toon Books

LUKE ON THE LOOSE by Harry Bliss

Summary: Luke looks on at the pigeons in Central Park, while Dad is lost in “boring Daddy talk,” and before you know it—LUKE IS ON THE LOOSE! He’s free as a bird, on a hilarious solo flight through New York City.

Harry Bliss, the renowned illustrator of many bestselling children’s books, finally goes on a solo flight on his own with a soaring story that will delight any young reader who has ever felt cooped up. -- Toon Books

A few months ago, I was lucky enough to receive the Fall 2008 line of Toon Books (see my review.) My son and I both treasure these books, and that's a very good thing because I read them to him all the time! I can't tell you how many times we've read them, but he's still laughs like a nut each and every time. So I was very excited when I received a package with two more of these Toon Books -- THE BIG NO-NO! and LUKE ON THE LOOSE. Both books are part of the Spring 2009 line and will be released in May 2009.

If you're not familiar with Toon Books, they are a line of comics for young readers. TOON Books' Editorial Director Francoise Mouly (who is also Art Editor of The New Yorker) and Advisor Art Spiegelman (author of the Pulitzer Prize-winner MAUS) introduced these books for young readers in Spring 2008. These books have since received loads of terrific praise. Schools are even beginning to use these comics in the classrooms as part of their reading curriculum.

THE BIG NO-NO and LUKE ON THE LOOSE were very similar to the other TOON books that we've read. Since they are in a comic book format, they have loads of pictures with lots of color and are jam-packed with action. There are few words on each page so the early reader won't get easily frustrated; and there is also lots of word repetition -- perfect for a young one who is learning to read. Another huge benefit is that the stories are filled with humor which definitely keeps my little guy interested. Take a look at some sample pages from LUKE ON THE LOOSE to get a better idea of how wonderful these books are!

These books will certainly appeal to kids ages four and up, but I love how they will especially appeal to young boys. Sadly, young boys often times just aren't interested in reading as girls of the same age. I think these comic books will definitely help to bridge that gap. I can see how these comics would encourage even the most reluctant reader to pick up a book.

I LOVE these books and look forward to reading them many more times with my son. I appreciate how he enjoys the stories now (at four years old), but I know that he will also love these books as he begins reading. I highly recommend checking these books out if you have a young child who is learning to read!

Hello...You Won The Change Your Life Challenge

Congratulations to LuAnn. You won a copy of THE CHANGE YOUR LIFE CHALLENGE by Brook Noel! I hope you enjoy this book!

Make sure you check out my other giveaways:


NANA STAR book and doll combo

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Guest Review: Giants

I am so excited to share with all of you a guest review written by my dad -- otherwise known as Booking Pap Pap. He has recently retired and is settled in his new home, so he has plenty of time to read (except for all those times when my mom has chores for him to do.) He enjoys books about the history of our country, but he also likes to read all types of fiction. His latest read was GIANTS by John Stauffer.

Summary: Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln were the preeminent self-made men of their time. In this masterful dual biography, award-winning Harvard University scholar John Stauffer describes the transformations in the lives of these two giants during a major shift in cultural history, when men rejected the status quo and embraced new ideals of personal liberty. As Douglass and Lincoln reinvented themselves and ultimately became friends, they transformed America.

Lincoln was born dirt poor, had less than one year of formal schooling, and became the nation's greatest president. Douglass spent the first twenty years of his life as a slave, had no formal schooling-in fact, his masters forbade him to read or write-and became one of the nation's greatest writers and activists, as well as a spellbinding orator and messenger of audacious hope, the pioneer who blazed the path traveled by future African-American leaders.

At a time when most whites would not let a black man cross their threshold, Lincoln invited Douglass into the White House. Lincoln recognized that he needed Douglass to help him destroy the Confederacy and preserve the Union; Douglass realized that Lincoln's shrewd sense of public opinion would serve his own goal of freeing the nation's blacks. Their relationship shifted in response to the country's debate over slavery, abolition, and emancipation.

Both were ambitious men. They had great faith in the moral and technological progress of their nation. And they were not always consistent in their views. John Stauffer describes their personal and political struggles with a keen understanding of the dilemmas Douglass and Lincoln confronted and the social context in which they occurred. What emerges is a brilliant portrait of how two of America's greatest leaders lived. -- Twelve

When my daughter asked me to read and review a book for her blog, I was pleased that she selected GIANTS by John Stauffer. The book fit quite nicely with my interest in biographies of great Americans.

When you think everything possible has been written about Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War along comes a book with a fresh approach to the story by paralleling the lives of Lincoln with Frederick Douglass, a slave who became one of the great civil activists of his time. Stauffer does a great job of portraying these great men as real individuals with real problems and not just bigger than life heroes. I particularly enjoyed the details Stauffer shares with us about the lives of Lincoln and Douglass from their early years up until their death. I garnered an understanding of how those early years impacted the later lives of Lincoln and Douglass as they became the prominent leaders of their time.

I was also surprised to learn that both these men changed their social and political positions many times throughout their lives. Although at odds throughout most of their lives, they finally realized their goals were not mutually exclusive. Lincoln’s decision to abolish slavery with his Emancipation Proclamation was not always his position and was driven by his conclusion that the Union could not be saved without it. Douglass moved from being a strict abolitionist to understanding that saving the Union was necessary to achieve his dream of abolishing slavery.

I highly recommend this book to anyone with interest in the story of slavery and the Lincoln presidency. This book is very timely with the election of Barack Obama, our first African-American President.

A huge thanks goes out to my dad for writing this guest post! I hope this is the first of many times that he'll be "visiting" my blog.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Giveaway: Nana Star Book and Doll

Summary: Join a little girl's magical adventures as she promises to bring a lost baby star home where he belongs. It won't be easy–he lives high up in the heavens. -- e e publishing & production

I am just thrilled to share this wonderful giveaway with all of you! I have a copy of the book NANA STAR by Elizabeth Sills and Elena Patrice and a Nana Star doll to give to one lucky reader.

If you read my previous post, you know how much my kids and I adored the book and how adorable the NANA STAR doll is. Any little girl in your life would be lucky to have these very special items.

To enter the contest, please leave a comment with your e-mail address. To double your chances, blog about this giveaway with a link back to this post. You can also twitter about it for another entry. The contest will be open until Friday, February 6th at 11:59 p.m. EST. I will announce the winner on the following day. This contest is open to those of you with U.S. and Canada mailing addresses only. Good Luck!

Review: Nana Star Books

Summary: Join a little girl's magical adventures as she promises to bring a lost baby star home where he belongs. It won't be easy–he lives high up in the heavens. -- e e publishing & production

I don't know who was more excited to read these books -- me or my kids? We started out by reading the first book in the series, NANA STAR by Elizabeth Sills and Elena Patrice. We all loved the story of a little girl who sets out on a journey to bring a lost baby star back to the heavens.

The illustrations, by Linda Saker, were absolutely beautiful. I loved all the bright colors, and I thought Nana Star was just adorable. The flowers and creatures were precious too. I think the illustrations were just perfect and absolutely complimented the story.

Even though the main character was a young girl, my four year old son still enjoyed the book. And while the book isn't geared to nine year olds, my daughter truly appreciated the book and story. I liked that we were all able to talk about the deeper meanings in the story after we finished it.

Every NANA STAR book deliberately includes a mistake because "Nana Star believes that in life we all made mistakes, yet, even with those mistakes, we can still create something beautiful!" My daughter and I had so much fun looking for the error in this book, although I have to admit that it took us a little longer than it should have!

I think NANA STAR is a wonderful book for any little girl in your life. The Nana Star character embodies so many positive traits and sends a wonderful message to young girls. NANA STAR is one of those books that you can read again and again; and I believe that little girls will see how generous and selfless Nana Star is and hopefully model their own behavior after her. I also think that the book will have different meanings depending on the age of the reader so the book has the potential to "grow" with the girl.

Not only do the hardcover books include a sing-a-long CD, but you can also purchase the companion Nana Star doll. My daughter just loves Nana Star and has been begging me to keep her! You can see for yourself how adorable she is:

Summary: The next inspiring story in the Nana Star series.
Nana Star is ready to bring the lost baby star back home where he belongs, but the world has gone to bed and she feels scared and alone. With help from a new friend, she learns that she is never alone, that the Moonman is always watching over and guiding her, even when she can't see him. -- e e publishing & production

The night after we read NANA STAR, my kids were anxious to read the next book in the series, NANA STAR AND THE MOONMAN. Once again, we all agreed that this book was terrific. The book picks up where NANA STAR left off -- Nana Star is helping the baby star return home. This book shows how compassionate and loving Nana Star is; however in this book, we see that Nana Star has some fears about traveling alone and in the dark.

Moonman enters the story and shows Nana Star that he is always with her even when she can't see him. This gives Nana Star the strength to continue on her journey. I thought this book had a beautiful message for children of all ages, and I love that it helps to build character and confidence.

Take a look at the adorable companion toy to this picture book. He even lights up!

If you're still on the fence after reading my reviews, you should also know that these books/toys have been given numerous awards including: Dr. Toy Winner - 100 Best Children's Products, Mom's Choice Awards -- The Just for Mom Foundation, and an iParenting Media Award. They truly are very special books, and they'd be perfect for the very special little girls in your life!

Another great reason to buy these books and toys is that a portion of all Nana Star proceeds goes to The Nana Star Foundation. In addition to donating thousands of picture books to the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation and other needy children , this foundation also helps terminally ill children and under-resourced inner-city schools. All of these products are available for purchase here.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Another Chance to Win The Change Your Life Challenge

I am currently running a contest for a free copy of THE CHANGE YOUR LIFE CHALLENGE by Brook Noel. The giveaway is still open for a few days, but there is another way to increase your odds of getting this book. Check out 24/8 - A Chicago Book Club for Busy Women.

I absolutely love this website and I've also received some wonderful books from them! While you are visiting, make sure you sign up for a chance to win THE CHANGE YOUR LIFE CHALLENGE. They are also giving away some copies of THE KISS MURDER! Take a look at this terrific book club resource and let me know what you think!

Review: The Hour I First Believed

Summary: Wally Lamb's two previous novels, She's Come Undone and I Know This Much Is True, struck a chord with readers. They responded to the intensely introspective nature of the books, and to their lively narrative styles and biting humor. One critic called Wally Lamb a "modern-day Dostoyevsky," whose characters struggle not only with their respective pasts, but with a "mocking, sadistic God" in whom they don't believe but to whom they turn, nevertheless, in times of trouble (New York Times).

In his new novel, The Hour I First Believed, Lamb travels well beyond his earlier work and embodies in his fiction myth, psychology, family history stretching back many generations, and the questions of faith that lie at the heart of everyday life. The result is an extraordinary tour de force, at once a meditation on the human condition and an unflinching yet compassionate evocation of character.

When forty-seven-year-old high school teacher Caelum Quirk and his younger wife, Maureen, a school nurse, move to Littleton, Colorado, they both get jobs at Columbine High School. In April 1999, Caelum returns home to Three Rivers, Connecticut, to be with his aunt who has just had a stroke. But Maureen finds herself in the school library at Columbine, cowering in a cabinet and expecting to be killed, as two vengeful students go on a carefully premeditated, murderous rampage. Miraculously she survives, but at a cost: she is unable to recover from the trauma. Caelum and Maureen flee Colorado and return to an illusion of safety at the Quirk family farm in Three Rivers. But the effects of chaos are not so easily put right, and further tragedy ensues.

While Maureen fights to regain her sanity, Caelum discovers a cache of old diaries, letters, and newspaper clippings in an upstairs bedroom of his family's house. The colorful and intriguing story they recount spans five generations of Quirk family ancestors, from the Civil War era to Caelum's own troubled childhood. Piece by piece, Caelum reconstructs the lives of the women and men whose legacy he bears. Unimaginable secrets emerge; long-buried fear, anger, guilt, and grief rise to the surface.

As Caelum grapples with unexpected and confounding revelations from the past, he also struggles to fashion a future out of the ashes of tragedy. His personal quest for meaning and faith becomes a mythic journey that is at the same time quintessentially contemporary—and American.

The Hour I First Believed is a profound and heart-rending work of fiction. Wally Lamb proves himself a virtuoso storyteller, assembling a variety of voices and an ensemble of characters rich enough to evoke all of humanity. -- Harper

When I list some of my very favorite authors, Wally Lamb always makes the list. Like many other fans, I have been anxiously awaiting his new novel THE HOUR I FIRST BELIEVED for a long time (more than ten years to be exact.) I have read his previous novels and loved them, so I was expecting a great deal from his latest. I am so happy to say that I was not disappointed.

THE HOUR I FIRST BELIEVED is a big novel, coming in at over 700 pages; however, I can say that I enjoyed the entire book. The novel didn't really have any slow parts for me, and it did hold my interest throughout, but some parts of this book were so sad that I found them difficult to read. I don't mean that in a bad way because the writing was beautiful, but so much of the story just broke my heart. I knew that the ending would be hopeful, but it did take a lot of heartache for the characters until it reached that point. It was definitely worth the wait, though. As I finished this amazing novel, I found myself crying because I found it just so special.

One thing that really impressed me with this story was how Mr. Lamb was able to combine so many events into one cohesive story. I was just blown away by how much he was able to cover with this novel. He incorporated the Columbine tragedy, Hurricane Katrina, and his experiences with women's prisons just to name a few. I also think his use of letters and journals to tell about the characters' past was a very effective method of telling the story. Another thing that I appreciated was how Mr. Lamb wove praying mantises throughout the novel. I just loved how the mantis symbolized hope.

Needless to say, I absolutely adore Wally Lamb and his novels. I find that his writing style is so easy to read, and his development of characters is wonderful. As I read THE HOUR I FIRST BELIEVED, I got caught up in the characters' lives and truly felt their pain as well as their hope. If you'd like to learn more about Mr. Lamb and this novel, check out this great "conversation" with him. I found it very interesting that a New York Times critic compared him to a "modern day Dostoyevsky" because I consider him one of my favorite authors as well. I certainly hope that I won't have to wait another ten years to read one of Mr. Lamb's novels.

THE HOUR I FIRST BELIEVED would make an excellent book club discussion book, but I have a feeling that the length of the novel might deter some clubs from selecting it. Despite that, I highly recommend it because there is just so much to discuss. When I finished this novel, I just wanted to talk about it with one of my friends. Unfortunately, no one I know has finished it yet! Some of the topics for discussion from this book include: good vs. evil, violence, victims, survivors, fate, free will, family, rebirth, and most importantly hope. Because the book is kind of lengthy and there are so many opportunities for terrific discussion, maybe your club would consider reading it over two months rather than just one. Check out the reading guide because I'm sure you will be impressed with the fantastic and thought-provoking questions.

This evening (January 27th) at 7 pm EST, Book Club Girl will be hosting a BlogTalk Radio show with Wally Lamb. Set your reminder for the show here. Feel free to just listen, or you can even call in and ask Mr. Lamb your questions. If you can't participate tonight, you're still in luck. You can still listen to the tape of the interview. I, for one, can't wait to be part of this very special show.

A huge thanks goes out to Book Club Girl for sending me a signed first edition of THE HOUR I FIRST BELIEVED. It came on December 23rd, and I think it just might have been my favorite "Christmas" gift.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Mother Daughter Book Club Meeting #9

Summary: E. L. Konigsburg's 1968 Newbery Medal winner, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, is truly a contemporary classic. This beloved tale of two siblings who run away from their suburban home to the Metropolitan Museum of Art has been made into two films and has millions of fans, including Katie Couric. To lead off our Konigsburg repackaging initiative, we're creating an elegant trade paperback edition with spectacular new cover art and French flaps. -- Atheneum

This month, our Mother Daughter Book Club read FROM THE MIXED-UP FILES OF MRS. BASIL E. FRANKWEILER by E.L. Konigsburg. This book holds a near and dear place to my heart, and I definitely enjoyed it as an adult just as much as I did when I was a kid. Although, I do think I picked up a few more things this time around. I'm happy to say that my daughter enjoyed this novel as well!

I think that our meeting went pretty well; however, the girls wanted to assert their independence and hold their discussion by themselves. Being the curious/nosy mom, I sat on the steps and tried to listen in. While a few of the girls came up with some excellent discussion questions, I still felt the need to pipe in with a few of my own. For the most part, the girls liked this book and enjoyed the adventure of the story. Many of them also picked up on the deeper themes. I was surprised by how excited they were about the book and how long they talked about it -- over 20 minutes.

Next month, we will be reading THE DOLL PEOPLE by Ann M. Martin and Laura Godwin, and illustrated by Brian Selznick. I was not familiar with this book before today; but after reading the description, I think it sounds terrific.

Annabelle Doll is eight years old -- she has been for over a hundred years. Not a lot has happened to her, cooped up in the dollhouse, with the same doll people, day after day, year after year . . . until the Funcrafts move in! Now Annabelle has a friend. Sure, she’s made entirely of plastic and she‘s living in the scariest room in the house, but she’s an adventurer, and after a hundred years of boredom, that’s just what Annabelle needs. When a secret diary surfaces, these two unlikely friends venture into the exciting and dangerous world outside the dollhouse to unravel an age-old mystery. This masterfully plotted adventure by Ann M. Martin and Laura Godwin is illustrated throughout with remarkable black-and-white drawings by Brian Selznick. -- Hyperion

Mailbox Monday - January 26, 2009

I had another huge week of book goodies! So many of these books look wonderful, and I can't wait to read them. Quite a few of this week's stash are for book blog tours that are coming up in the next month or so.

I've found by participating in Mailbox Monday that I need to learn to say no. There is absolutely no way I can read at the pace I'm receiving books. Even so, I do love getting packages.

Here's what I found in my mailbox this week:

MADEWELL BROWN by Rick Collignon


THE HELP by Kathryn Stockett


BEAT THE REAPER (audio book) by Josh Bazell

HOLIDAY ON ICE (audio book) by David Sedaris

GALWAY BAY by Mary Pat Kelly

DROOD by Dan Simmons

FIREFLY LANE by Kristin Hannah

THE PALACE OF ILLUSIONS by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni


What did you get last week?

Mailbox Monday is hosted by Marcia at The Printed Page.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Weekly Geeks - January 25, 2009

"The Classics"

In the third Weekly Geeks of 2009, let's have fun with the classics. For our purposes, I'm defining a classic as anything written over 100 years ago and still in print. (If your memory needs jogging, see: Classic Literature Library for examples.)

For your assignment this week, choose two or more of the following questions:

1) How do you feel about classic literature? Are you intimidated by it? Love it? Not sure because you never actually tried it? Don't get why anyone reads anything else? Which classics, if any, have you truly loved? Which would you recommend for someone who has very little experience reading older books? Go all out, sell us on it!

I hate to even talk about "the Classics" because I am so blatantly ignorant of them. I read a few in high school and enjoyed them for the most part, but I really haven't made the effort to read them much since then. It's been over 20 years, but back then I did love CRIME AND PUNISHMENT and DANTE'S INFERNO. I'm afraid that I'm not going to be much of a help to those of you looking for recommendations!

It's not that I don't want to read the classics because I do have loads of them on my bookshelves. In fact, every single year I tell myself that I need to read at least one classic this year; however, I find that I rarely get around to it. There are always other books that take priority or interest me more. The members of my book club feel the same way I do. We always say that we're going to read one classic this year and discuss it, but no one seems to take the jump when it's their turn to select the book.

In the past few years, I have read some books that reference Jane Austen and her life. I have thoroughly enjoyed these novels, but I always feel like I'm missing out because I've only read one of her books. I am certain that I will love them, but why do I keep putting them off? Are any of you in a similar situation to me or am I just crazy?

4) As you explore the other Weekly Geeks posts: Did any inspire you to want to read a book you've never read before—or reread one to give it another chance? Tell us all about it, including a link to the post or posts that sparked your interest. If you end up reading the book, be sure to include a link to your post about it in a future Weekly Geeks post!

As I've been reading the other Weekly Geeks posts, I have been making a mental note of what classics I definitely need to read.

A Girl Walks Into a Bookstore - "For Jane Austen, definitely Pride and Prejudice, or maybe Sense and Sensibility." I would love to read SENSE AND SENSIBILITY and even re-read PRIDE AND PREJUDICE.

Becky's Book Reviews - "A few classics that I've just loved--and would recommend--are Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, Persuasion by Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas, The Time Machine by H.G. Wells, The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson, Dracula by Bram Stoker, The Diaries of Adam and Eve by Mark Twain, Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain, Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell, To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee, Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell." What a fantastic list! I agree with GONE WITH THE WIND, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (my all-time favorite) and HUCKLEBERRY FINN, but many of Becky's other recommendations sound great.

Weekly Link Round-Up, January 17 - 22

Welcome to the Weekly Link Round-Up. Each week, we will be posting links to some of the best book blogging highlights from around the blogosphere.

LOST Book Challenge - Check out My Friend Amy's Lost Book Challenge. I'm a little embarrassed to admit this, but I've never seen an episode of Lost. Amy has told me that it's a must see show -- both because of my love for books and some guys that are quite attractive! Sounds like a show that I need to catch up on. Even if you're a newbie to Lost like I am, the challenge still looks fun.

The Ethics of Book Reviews, Part 2 - Trish really started some terrific discussion this week when she posted the question "Does WHERE you received the book influence your opinion of a book?" You have to check out the responses. After all this, I'm still not entirely sure how I feel about it, but I'm leaning towards full disclosure.

Review of CONSCIENCE POINT - I can speak from experience when I say that CONSCIENCE POINT by Erica Abeel is a very well-written book. Of course, S. Krisna's review sums up this book so much better than I was able to do. She says that "CONSCIENCE POINT comes alive through Abeel's descriptions. The details are wonderful and they really create a "gothic mystery" atmosphere for the reader."

Review of HOUSTON, WE HAVE A PROBLEMA - I have seen a few reviews of HOUSTON, WE HAVE A PROBLEMA by Gwendolyn Zapeda popping up around the blogosphere; and it looks like a fun, light read. Marta at Marta's Meanderings said, "This book was really good. It has a strong latino theme to it, but it definitely crosses all cultures with the themes of growing up, tolerance and acceptance." Sounds like one I need to check out!

Review of THE VALENTINE EDITION - If you are looking for a heart-warming Christian fiction book, you should definitely read Wendi's review of THE VALENTINE EDITION by Robin Shope. It's the second book in Turtle Creek edition series; and based on her review, I think they look wonderful. Wendi says that it's "a very fun and enjoyable read....a wonderfully romantic story that helps the reader to gently remember the importance of prayer, forgiveness and faith."

Interview: Tony Peters - I always think it awesome when a blogger gets an interview with an author. This time, it's Shelburn and she had the opportunity to ask a few questions to Tony Peters, author of KIDS ON A CASE: THE TEN GRAND KIDNAPPING. I enjoyed both her interview as well as her review of this children's mystery.

Review: THE CENTURION'S WIFE - Talk about a review full of praise -- she certainly sold me on this book! ForstRose wrote an in-depth review of THE CENTURION'S WIFE by Davis Bunn and Janette Oke, an historical epic from the Acts of Faith series. She obviously treasured this book: "I'm not sure how to balance this rave out with more sober thoughts on the book as truly I wasn't able to find anything not to love about it."

Review: AMERICAN SAVIOR - This book definitely has a unique premise - Jesus running for president of the United States. As if the plot of AMERICAN SAVIOR by Roland Merullo doesn't tempt me enough, Bermuda Onion has written a super review which really makes me want to get my hands on this novel. Here's little peak at what she had to say, "This book is humorous as well as thought provoking and I enjoyed reading it." I love a book that makes me think!

Review: REBEL - Beth Fish Reads posted an interesting review this week of REBEL by Bernard Cornwell, the first of the four-book series The Starbuck Chronicles, which covers the U.S. Civil War. This book mixes fact with fiction, but it sounds like the author did a good job keeping things authentic. Here's what Beth Fish Read said about listening to the audio version of this book, "(Tom) Parker does a fine job differentiating the characters and with the various accents. His rendition of women is not the strongest but is definitely adequate. The reading was engrossing, and I had a hard time turning off my MP3 player."

Saturday, January 24, 2009

It's My One Year Blogiversary!

Wow! I can't believe that I've been blogging for a year (although if you ask my family, they will tell you it seems like much longer.) I don't want to get all mushy, but I feel like blogging has been such a wonderful addition to my life. Not only do I get to read and review so many terrific books, but I've made so many new friends. I absolutely love "talking" with all of you each and every day! I am in awe of how amazing the book blogger community is.

In honor of my One Year Blogiversary, I am going to do a little giveaway. This time, it's not a book! It's a crocheted scarf made by yours truly! I tried to take some pictures of the scarf, but none seem to show the details. Please know that I positively adore this scarf, and I wear one just like it all the time! Here's a picture of my daughter modeling it:

This scarf is called a potato chip scarf because of all the curlicues. I love how there is mohair in the yarn so it is nice and fuzzy (although it is a bit itchy.) The scarf is gold metallic with lots of other bright colors in it including red, pink, blue, and green -- it goes with everything! You can wear it around the collar of your coat and it will almost go to your waist, or you can fold it in half and pull the ends through. That's how my daughter is wearing it in the picture.

The yarn is called Moonlight Mohair and the color is Rainbow Falls. Here's a little picture of the yarn so you can get a better idea of the colors:

This scarf is one of the first things that I completed as part of Dewey's Knit-A-Long Challenge. I can't think of a more special way to pay tribute to Dewey than by sharing this scarf with one of you. I have been knitting and crocheting like crazy the past few weeks (often times at the expense of reading), so be on the look-out for my challenge update post with pictures (albeit lousy ones) of my other creations!

To enter the giveaway, please leave a comment with your e-mail address. I will select a winner on February 7th and announce it here. Unfortunately, this contest is open to those of you with U.S. or Canada mailing addresses. Good luck!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Review: Beat the Reaper

Summary: Dr. Peter Brown is an intern at Manhattan's worst hospital, with a talent for medicine, a shift from hell, and a past he'd prefer to keep hidden. Whether it's a blocked circumflex artery or a plan to land a massive malpractice suit, he knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men.

Pietro "Bearclaw" Brnwna is a hitman for the mob, with a genius for violence, a well-earned fear of sharks, and an overly close relationship with the Federal Witness Relocation Program. More likely to leave a trail of dead gangsters than a molecule of evidence, he's the last person you want to see in your hospital room.

Nicholas LoBrutto, aka Eddy Squillante, is Dr. Brown's new patient, with three months to live and a very strange idea: that Peter Brown and Pietro Brnwa might-just might-be the same person ...

Now, with the mob, the government, and death itself descending on the hospital, Peter has to buy time and do whatever it takes to keep his patients, himself, and his last shot at redemption alive. To get through the next eight hours-and somehow beat the reaper.

Spattered in adrenaline-fueled action and bone-saw-sharp dialogue, BEAT THE REAPER is a debut thriller so utterly original you won't be able to guess what happens next, and so shockingly entertaining you won't be able to put it down. -- Little, Brown & Company

After reading some pre-publicity hype, I desperately wanted to read BEAT THE REAPER by Josh Bazell! I loved this book and devoured it in a day, but I have kind of been procrastinating with writing the review. First, I've seen so many wonderful reviews out there from "real" reviewers; and secondly, I am afraid that my review won't do this book justice.

BEAT THE REAPER is a very special book. It has been selected as a #1 Indie Next List Great Read for January 2009; and I can't even count how many terrific reviews I've read in the past few weeks. It's kind of hard to classify what type of book BEAT THE REAPER is, but I'd have to say that it is a suspense thriller as well as a comedy. It's full of action and even some intrigue; however, I most enjoyed how much I laughed (and was shocked) while reading this novel.

I found the main character of Dr. Peter Brown to be fascinating on so many levels. I've read quite a few stories where the characters were mob hit men who turn government witnesses; however, this is positively the first one where the hit man becomes a doctor. Peter goes to medical school and decides to help people as a sort of penance for killing so many in his past life. I enjoyed how the story was told using flashbacks into Peter's childhood and prior mob life because it gave the reader insight into his character. I also appreciated seeing how conflicted Peter was throughout the various times in his life.

While I absolutely loved BEAT THE REAPER, it's definitely not a book for everyone. There is a fair amount of "bad words" and loads of violence (after all, it is a book about the mob.) And, there are a lot of scenes that won't sit well with readers who are easily offended. I don't consider myself someone who gets squeamish while reading; however, the scene at the end of this novel absolutely shocked me! I felt my stomach churning and it was so weird because I was grossed out yet at the same time I couldn't put the book down. Needless to say, it's a scene that I don't think I'll ever forget!

BEAT THE REAPER is Josh Bazell's first novel; and it's a wonderful debut. Josh Bazell is a resident in psychiatry; and it's evident in this book that he has a medical background. While some of the hospital scenes terrified me (and I hope they aren't based on reality), there were also some informative medical tidbits thrown in. I don't know how he did it, but he actually wrote this novel while completing his medical internship. When asked in an interview on the Today Show about this very subject, he deadpanned that he has "no life whatsoever." He mentioned that he is working on his second novel, and I can't wait to read it! You can see the entire interview here.

There is a terrific and entertaining website devoted to BEAT THE REAPER. Once you are there, you can learn more about author Josh Bazell, play a medical game, watch a video, and even read an excerpt. You can also listen to an excerpt from the novel here.

If you enjoy thrillers and especially mob thrillers, you have to check out BEAT THE REAPER. I know my review just touched the surface of how much I liked this book, so I'd love to hear your thoughts about it if you've read it (or plan on reading it.)

A huge thanks goes out to Miriam from Hachette Book Group for sending me a copy of this book (after I shamelessly begged for it.)

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Seminar & Giveaway: The Change Your Life Challenge

Summary: Thriving on grassroots popularity, The Change Your Life Challenge has already been used by more than 50,000 people. The audience is growing constantly, as more than 45,000 readers receive Noel’s weekly Challenge newsletters and visit the companion website, which offers moderated support, weekly audio, newsletters and printables.

Created by Brook Noel as she sought to make over her own life in an achievable step-by-step fashion, the premise of The Change Your Life Challenge is that although our lives are complicated, our systems do not need to be. Noel will show readers how to make over finances, friendships, relationships, family, organization, health, fitness, self, home, self-esteem and spirituality. Readers will learn:

- A step by step system for conquering clutter and keeping your home clean
- How to make time work for you—instead of against you
- How to discover and live by your core values and beliefs
- The key to never forgetting anything
- How to end procrastination

Simple daily actions can result in an entire lifelong makeover—just take the challenge. -- Sourcebooks

How many times have you wanted to change your life? Brook Noel, author of the motivating THE CHANGE YOUR LIFE CHALLENGE, is an innovative and encouraging woman on a mission to make a difference in lives across the country!

Known for the interactive experiences she creates for program members, Brook will kick off a virtual tour starting next Mon., Jan. 26, with a free, week-long workshop that will help women manage their time, get organized, decrease stress, live by their priorities, and get 2009 off to a balanced and exciting start. For more info and to register for the free program, go to

To sign up for the free seminar, you can visit Brook’s Facebook page:

Additionally, anyone who buys her book at Target or Costco stores nationwide can submit their receipt; and in exchange they’ll receive a free month-long membership to Brook’s Make Today Matter Life Coaching System.

By leaving a comment, you have the chance to win a copy of Brook’s book, THE CHANGE YOUR LIFE CHALLENGE! Let me know what you think of your own resolutions, or what has helped you change your own life over the years. Make sure you leave a valid e-mail address with your comment. One lucky commenter will win a copy of Brook’s book and can jumpstart the challenge to make today matter. This contest will be open until January 29th at 11:59 p.m EST and is open to those of you with U.S. mailing addresses. I will announce the winner on the following day.

Guest Blogger: Jill Pitkeathley

Yesterday, I reviewed a charming book called CASSANDRA AND JANE by Jill Pitkeathley. I really liked the book and highly recommend it. I am honored that Ms. Pitkeathley is stopping by today with this wonderful guest post about Jane Austen and the reason why her books are so fun to discuss.

"Jane Austen?” said my friend “are you mad? Nobody will want to read Jane Austen at the women’s group.”

“Why ever not?” I asked, amazed by the vehemence of her reaction
‘Well she is so, so ... un-liberated—all that Mr Right stuff and women sewing shirts while men were out hunting—it is all so irrelevant and anyway we need to discuss books which are controversial—there is no controversy in Jane Austen.”

This was my first try at getting a book group to focus on my favourite author and it certainly was not going very well. To be fair, it wasn’t actually called a book group—it was called a women’s group—this was the 70s after all—but we met in each others houses, read books and discussed them so a book club in embryo perhaps?

My friend who was so opposed to Jane Austen was the group leader so I needed to ask why she thought my suggestion would be so unpopular.

“They all have the same plot—‘poor girl wins rich man after some misunderstandings’, there is no sex in them and most of us were made to read them at school- enough reasons?”

I resisted the temptation to refute her first two by reference to Emma- who is extremely rich and to the various seductions and women fallen from grace to whom I could point. I had to own though that if you had been forced to study a book—especially for an examination and almost every educated English woman had had that experience at the time, reading that author for pleasure might take some getting used to. So I resolved to resist pressing Jane on to the group immediately.

At the next meeting the book we were discussing was about whether marriage was necessary for a woman to be happy and how you could cope with a marriage which was unhappy. One member suddenly said: “It all depends doesn’t it on whether you see yourself as Elizabeth Bennet or Charlotte Lucas in Pride and Prejudice ? — you know whether it is all about romance and dreams coming true or whether you settle for the least worst option.”

“Oh but Elizabeth is not a romantic fool” said another “she will manage Darcy well but there will have to be compromises on both sides.”

“Well,” I joined in scarcely able to believe my luck at this unexpected development in the discussion, “there are compromises and compromises—would you settle for Mr. Collins?”

Almost immediately the room was buzzing, every member trying to contribute: “Think of the consequences in those days of not being married”

“Yes, how would you like to be dependent on your brothers?”

“But imagine Mr. Collins in the bedroom—it is too awful.”

“Far better to be single and poor or even a governess.”

“Don’t be ridiculous—governesses were slaves—think of Jane Fairfax.”

I glanced over at my friend as the heated conversations went on.

“Still think there is nothing to discuss in Jane Austen?” I said.

“You win” she said—“which book do you want to present next time?”

Since then I have heard Jane Austen discussed in endless different settings. I have seen people laugh helplessly at some of her scenes and cry uncontrollably too. I have witnessed people almost coming to blows about whether Fanny Price is a moral example to be admired or a self-righteous prig, or about whether Emma’s attentions do more harm than good to Harriet Smith.

I suppose the commonest topic for discussion in the groups over the years is whether Jane’s writing is relevant today or a form of escapism. I have no doubt where I stand on that—I rarely pick up a Jane Austen without finding within it some dilemma which is facing me or my friends and family today, or some new historical perspective on a problem. Above all I will always find her delicious irony and her wicked humour which will enable me to cope better with what ever is worrying me at the time.

Of course the huge interest in Jane Austen and the new films and TV series which have been made of her works and about her life, have introduced many more people to the joy of her. They have added many more topics for discussion too not only well trodden one such as –
“Was she ever in love?” “Was she a feminist?” but also details of the adaptation, casting and dialogue, is the new Elizabeth as good as the last and is this Captain Wentworth better than last years?”

I am sure I am like many others in that there some portrayals I cannot bear to watch, others I could watch every week. As long as people feel the same about the adaptations, the novels themselves and above all about dear Jane, book clubs will never be short of discussion topics!

Jill Pitkeathley was born on the Channel Islands of the United Kingdom. The former chief executive of the Carers National Association (now Carers UK), she is a Life Peer in the House of Lords and a longtime Austen fan. She lives in London.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Review: Cassandra and Jane

Summary: They were beloved sisters and the best of friends. But Jane and Cassandra Austen suffered the same fate as many of the women of their era. Forced to spend their lives dependent on relatives, both financially and emotionally, the sisters spent their time together trading secrets, challenging each other's opinions, and rehearsing in myriad other ways the domestic dramas that Jane would later bring to fruition in her popular novels. For each sister suffered through painful romantic disappointments—tasting passion, knowing great love, and then losing it—while the other stood witness. Upon Jane's death, Cassandra deliberately destroyed her personal letters, thereby closing the door to the private life of the renowned novelist . . . until now.

In Cassandra & Jane, author Jill Pitkeathley ingeniously reimagines the unique and intimate relationship between two extraordinary siblings, reintroducing readers to one of the most intriguing figures in the world of literature, as seen through the eyes of the one person who knew her best. -- Harper

I know this might be hard for some of you to belive, but I have not read many Jane Austen books. I always have them on my list of must-reads and I even own quite a few; but for some reason, I end up not getting around to them. (I'm thinking that I should pick one for a future book club meeting because that way I know I'll read it.) Despite my lack of knowledge about "all things Jane," I still thought the description of CASSANDRA AND JANE: A JANE AUSTEN NOVEL by Jill Pitkeathley sounded intriguing.

I thoroughly enjoyed this fictional account of Jane's life told by her sister (and closest confidant) Cassandra. I wasn't sure what to expect, but I found this story about two sisters to be beautiful and very heartwarming. I loved how Ms. Pitkeathley was able to capture the strength of their relationship and how much they meant to each other. The scenes at the end of the book where Jane is ill and eventually dies were extremely touching. I have no doubt that these two women had a very special (and dependent) relationship with each other.

One thing I really appreciated about this book was how Ms. Pitkeathly wrote this novel from Cassandra's point of view. I think this narrative method definitely gave the reader more insight into Jane's character. While Cassandra positively adored her sister, she was still honest about Jane concerning both her positive and negative traits. I especially liked how Cassandra pointed out Jane's sharp and witty sense of humor.

Another thing that I found fascinating about CASSANDRA AND JANE were the historical aspects of the novel. I thought the author did a remarkable job of capturing the essence of the time period. Neither Jane nor Cassandra ever married, and this situation eventually caused them much turmoil -- they always felt like their future wasn't in their hands and they had to be dependent on others. This novel really demonstrated the lack of social standing that women had in the 18th and early 19th centuries.

I think Ms. Pitkeathley did a wonderful job with this novel. I found the book very interesting, yet also easy-to-read; and her descriptions of the time period seemed quite authentic. I appreciated how she took the small amount of information known about Jane (rumor has it that Cassandra actually destroyed all of Jane's letters) and was able to merge it with a fictional account of her life. The blend between facts and fiction were seamless. If you'd like to learn more about Ms. Pitkeathley and this novel, there is a great interview with the author.

I highly recommend CASSANDRA AND JANE for a future book club meeting, especially if your group is a fan of Jane Austen. There are a great many issues to discuss such as sisterly love, family dynamics, friendship, women and their social status, loss of loved ones, etc. In fact, there is a terrific discussion guide available. I have a feeling that your group could talk for hours about the themes in this novel.

Make sure you come back tomorrow because Ms. Pitkeathley will be stopping by with a wonderful guest post about her long time interest with Jane Austen.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Review: Jack with a Twist

Summary: Planning a wedding can be a trying experience…

A little prewedding anxiety is normal for every bride, and Manhattan attorney Brooke Miller isn't worried. She's got the loving support of the world's greatest guy, so planning her nuptials should be a piece of cake.

But that was yesterday.

Today, Brooke's landed her first big case and has just discovered that the opposing attorney is none other than her fiancé, Jack. But that's okay. These two professionals aren't going to let a little courtroom sparring get their legal briefs in a bunch. Right? Wrong! Now Jack's pulling every dirty trick in the law books, and Brooke's starting to suspect that maybe he isn't the man she thought he was. Warring with her fiancé at work and at home, Brooke realizes that she'll have to choose between the case of her life, or actually having a life. -- Red Dress Ink

JACK WITH A TWIST by Brenda Janowitz was an ideal book for me to read last week. My husband was out of town, the kids were being, and I was stressed over hosting book club so much so that I decided to clean the grouting in my kitchen the morning of the meeting (I don't recommend this.) I definitely wanted to kick back and relax with a good book, and JACK WITH A TWIST was just what I needed.

A few years back (way before I was a stay-at-home mother of two), I used to read a ton of chick lit. But then I got older with different responsibilities and interests, and I found myself only reading one or two of these types of books a year. I still enjoyed them, but I just didn't "click" with the characters like I used to. I have to admit that when I read chick lit books now, I enjoy reading about the friendships, careers and fashion; however, I definitely don't envy their relationship woes. I am so grateful that I am where I'm at in my life -- married for 15 years with two awesome children! Isn't it funny how the reasons I enjoy this genre have changed through the years?

JACK WITH A TWIST is actually a sequel to the novel SCOT ON THE ROCKS. I don't think it's necessary to read them in order because the author gives enough background to keep things straight; however, I did find myself wishing that I had read SCOT ON THE ROCKS just because I thought it sounded cute. JACK WITH A TWIST was written first person in Brooke's voice, and I felt like it gave me insight into Brooke's character and mindset. However, there were many times during this novel that I felt frustrated with Brooke and her actions -- I thought she was very immature and selfish (I was glad to see that she eventually wised up.) That being said, for all those times that I got mad at her, there were just as many times that I thought she was absolutely hilarious.

When I sat down to write this review, I remembered that there were discussion questions in the back of the book. As I read this novel, I didn't really think about it being a book club type of book. But then the more I thought about it, I realized "why not?" Many women will appreciate this story and Ms. Janowitz's writing style. This book might even cause some women to re-think some things about their relationships.

If you're looking for a cute, light read then I suggest giving JACK WITH A TWIST a try. Every once in awhile it's just fun to partake in a little guilty pleasure (otherwise known as chick lit!)

Monday, January 19, 2009

Mailbox Monday - January 19, 2009

I'm a little (only a little) embarrassed by how many books and other goodies I received this week. Needless to say, it was a pretty good week for me. Now, I just need to start reading them!

SIGNORA DA VINCI by Robin Maxwell

THE LAWS OF HARMONY by Judith Ryan Hendricks



THE SILENT MAN by Alex Berenson

NANA STAR and NANA STAR AND MOON MAN by Elizabeth Sills and Elena Patrice (illustrated by Linda Saker) - I also got a Nana Star and Moon Man doll that are just precious!

THE KISS MURDER by Mehmet Murat Somer

THE JEWEL TRADER OF PEGU by Jeffrey Hantover

NINE LIVES by Dan Baum

LUKE ON THE LOOSE by Harry Bliss

BENNY & PENNY IN THE BIG NO-NO! by Geoffrey Hayes

What did you get last week?

Mailbox Monday is hosted by Marcia at The Printed Page.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Weekly Geeks - January 18, 2009

"What it Means to Be a Weekly Geek"

This week's question is from Joanne of The Book Zombie:

For those who have been with the group, either from the start or joined within recent months, what does being a member mean to you? What do you enjoy about the group? What are some of your more memorable Weekly Geeks that we might could do again? What could be improved as we continue the legacy that Dewey gave us?

For those just joining us, why did you sign up for Weekly Geeks? What would you like to see here?

This is only my third time to participate in Weekly Geeks (twice in two weeks though, so I am off to a good start in 2009.) Since I am brand-new to the Weekly Geeks, I am going to address the second part of this week's question:

I decided to finally sign up for Weekly Geeks because I love the sense of community that it promotes. While I have always enjoyed reading everyone else's Weekly Geeks posts, I just didn't think that anyone would care to read mine! When I first started my book blog, I thought all I should ever blog about was books, books and more books (and of course lots of reviews.) I loved that other bloggers shared so much of their lives, but I was hesitant to do that. Plus, I was just a little afraid to commit to a weekly post.

This year, I made some blogging resolutions -- one is to be a bigger part of the blogging community. In addition to leaving more comments, I also decided to start participating in Weekly Geeks. So here I am and here's to hoping that I stick with it!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Review: Etta

Summary: Beautiful, elusive, and refined, Etta Place captivated the nation at the turn of the last century as she dodged the law with the Wild Bunch, led by Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Her true identity and fate have remained a mystery that has tantalized historians for decades. Now, for the first time, Gerald Kolpan envisions this remarkable woman’s life in a stunning debut novel.

Kolpan imagines that Etta Place was born Lorinda Jameson, the daughter of a prominent financier, who becomes known as the loveliest of the city’s debutantes when she makes her entrance into Philadelphia society. Though her position in life is already assured, her true calling is on horseback. She can ride as well as any man and handle a rifle even better. But when a tragedy leads to a dramatic reversal of fortune, Lorinda is left orphaned, penniless, homeless, and pursued by the ruthless Black Hand mafia.

Rechristened “Etta Place” to ensure her safety, the young woman travels to the farthest reaches of civilization, working as a “Harvey Girl” waitress in Grand Junction, Colorado. There, fate intervenes once more and she again finds herself on the run from the ruthless Pinkerton Detective Agency. But this time she has company. She soon finds herself at the legendary hideout at Hole-in-the-Wall, Wyoming, where she meets the charismatic Butch Cassidy and the handsome, troubled Harry Longbaugh, a.k.a. the Sundance Kid. Through a series of holdups and heists, Etta and Harry begin an epic and ultimately tragic romance, which will be the greatest of Etta’s life. Then, when Etta meets the young and idealistic Eleanor Roosevelt, her life is changed forever.

Blending a compelling love story, high adventure, and thrilling historical drama, Etta is an electrifying novel. With a sweeping 1900s setting, colorful storytelling, and larger-than-life characters, Etta is debut that is both captivating and unforgettable. -- Ballantine Books

When I first saw ETTA by Gerald Kolpan listed on the Library Thing Early Reviewers December batch of books, I decided to sign up for it. I'm not exactly sure why because I've never been a big fan of books (or movies) about the Wild West, but something about this book intrigued me. I'm guessing that it was most likely because the perspective of this novel was so unique -- it told the story of a woman living in the Wild West who was part of the Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid gang (better known as the Wild Bunch.) Needless to say, I was very excited when I saw that I was selected to review an ARC of this novel.

Prior to reading this book, I knew absolutely nothing about Etta Place. In fact, I have not even seen the movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (although I have now saved it on my TiVo.) I guess I wasn't at that much of a disadvantage though, because there is actually very little known about Etta Place. I can't decide if this lack of knowledge made Mr. Kolpan's job easier or more difficult when writing this novel; but either way, I thought he did an amazing job. I was so impressed with how he took the few facts known about her life and wove them it into a very entertaining story. In fact, I found the author's note and the Q&A in the back of the book to be fascinating. His development of Etta's characters and her life events were all very well thought out and actually seemed to me as if they could have happened -- I found the flow between the real events and the "made-up" ones to be seamless.

Even though I wouldn't consider myself a huge fan of western fiction, I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. The book was extremely entertaining and moved at a very fast pace. I thought the story that Mr. Kolpan created for Etta's early life made a great deal of sense and definitely contributed to the woman she became. I also thought the book was very well written. Not only was the story well-told, but Mr. Kolpan's writing style was wonderful. I appreciated all of his descriptions; and I loved how he told the story through a variety of methods including journal entries, letters, and newspaper accounts.

ETTA will be available on March 24, 2009, and I highly recommend adding it to your book wishlist. I wasn't able to find any discussion questions at this time, but don't let that stop you from considering this novel for a future book club meeting -- I'm sure there will be a readers' guide soon. There are a great many issues and themes to discuss; and I think it would be very interesting to hear what my friends have to say about her life.

Thanks again to Library Thing Early Reviewers Program for allowing me to read this novel.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Review: Planet of the Dogs

Summary: Far out in the sky, on the other side of the sun, is the Planet of the Dogs. Dogs have always lived there in peace and happiness.

There are country dogs and city dogs. They live in places like Shepherd Hills, Poodletown, Muttville, Biscuit Town, and Shaggy Corners.

The most special thing about dogs is their ability to love. They do this better than any other creature.

One day, many years ago, the council of the elder dogs learned that there were problems on Earth, the Planet of the People. Many people had forgotten how to love. They had become cruel and greedy.

This is the story of the first time that dogs came down to Planet Earth to teach people about love and to bring peace to Green Valley. -- Lightning Source

When Robert J. McCarthy, author of PLANET OF THE DOGS, asked if my daughter and I would be interested in reading his PLANET OF THE DOGS books, we jumped at the chance. After reading the books' descriptions and some of the reviews, we just knew we had to read them for ourselves. There was no doubt in my mind that these books contain some very special and important messages.

I enjoyed the story in PLANET OF THE DOGS. This first book told how people were losing touch with what's important and becoming very unhappy. Dogs on the Planet of the Dogs decided to come to Earth and help. They first communicated with children because their hearts and minds are more open than adults; however, it wasn't long before they won over even the most difficult humans. The story had a little bit of adventure, a little bit of the supernatural, and a lot of entertainment.

Not only did I like the story, but I loved so many of the messages in the book -- messages that are important for children and adults to remember! It was nice to see all the different ways that dogs are beneficial in our every day lives as well as some of the less obvious ways that they bring happiness. I especially liked how the potential conflict was averted and how the book ended. It was nice to see a happy ending and have people realize what's important in life.

PLANET OF THE DOGS is almost 80 pages long, so it's not for beginner readers. It does appeal to kids who are comfortable with a longer book (probably eight year olds and up); however, each chapter in the book is very short (only a few pages.) I liked this format because young readers could enjoy the story without getting frustrated, and it makes for a great classroom read-along. The brief chapters also had a few teasers which will entice the reader to continue to the next chapter. There are also some beautiful black and white sketches in PLANET OF THE DOGS. The book is illustrated by Stella Mustanoja McCarty; and her drawings definitely add to the story.

My daughter had a similar reaction to the book that I did. You can read her thoughts here:

People from earth are forgetting about loving each other and they are getting ready to fight. Dogs to the rescue. Dogs travel from Planet of the Dogs to Earth to help people. People didn't know these creatures existed, but most people looked at the dogs and wanted to keep one. The dogs try to finish the mission so that their love would help make the earth a better place.

I liked the book because it was fun to imagine dogs helping people from Earth. I also liked the message that if people help each other, there won't be as much fighting. Dogs still protect people from dangers and make them happier.

After reading the first book in this series, my daughter and I are now anxious to read CASTLE IN THE MIST and SNOW VALLEY HEROES. If the first book is any indication, I'm sure that these books will be entertaining and have great messages too!