Thursday, April 30, 2009

Guest Blogger: Sandra Gulland & Giveaway

Yesterday, I reviewed a wonderful book called MISTRESS OF THE SUN by Sandra Gulland. I highly recommend it to those of you who enjoy historical fiction. I am just so excited that Ms. Gulland agreed to write this essay for Booking Mama, especially since it is about something I relate to: motherhood!

Mothering as Key to Character

I was, like Julie P., the author of this delightful blog, a stay-at-home mom (and, I should add, fortunate to be so). I worked from my home, first as a freelance editor, and then, with time, as a novelist. When the children were babies, I would set my alarm for 5:00 a.m. in order to have a little quiet time to write before they woke up. I discovered, after a year, that what I had hoped would be the makings of a novel, was, in fact, simply hundreds (and hundreds!) of pages — all on the subject of exhaustion.

That changed, of course, as our son and daughter grew up. Along with my husband, they became my cheer-leaders, my biggest fans. They knew I was writing a book, but when my first novel was actually published, they were astonished. (Our son said, over his breakfast cereal, "This is like finding out that not only is your mom a hockey player, but that she's in the NHL.")

In coming to understand a character I'm writing about, one of the most important things I consider is her relationship with her children. With Josephine (of the Josephine B. Trilogy), her two children were clearly the most important part of her existence. Once I understood that, a great deal of what she did made sense. Indeed, I believe she married Napoleon because, as a widow with two young teens to provide for, she was in need of a man who could be a father to them.

With Louise, heroine of Mistress of the Sun, it was more challenging. (Warning: spoilers!) Ultimately she leaves her children in order to join a convent. This was hard for me to understand, but I did, in the end. She had only two choices, after all: to be a mother who was publicly (and miserably) living in sin as mistress to a married man, the King; or to be a model of virtue, a guide for her children to follow. Given how religious Louise was — and how involved she remained with her children while in the convent — it's easier to understand how she could have made the hard choice that she did.

The character I'm writing about now is also a mother — and her child, a daughter, is key in helping her see her way clear. As with Josephine and Louise, it's her relationship with her child that ultimately guides her, informs her most important decision.

Does MISTRESS OF THE SUN sound like a book that you'd like to read? I just happen to have a copy to share with one lucky reader. For one entry, leave a comment with your e-mail address telling me something you found interesting in this guest post. For an additional entry or two, blog and/or tweet about this giveaway with a link back to this post -- you can get up to three entries if you comment, blog and tweet. This contest is open until Thursday, May 14th until 11:59 p.m.; and I will announce the winner the following day. This contest is open to those of you with U.S. and Canada mailing addresses only. Good Luck!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Review: Mistress of the Sun

Summary: The author of the internationally acclaimed Josephine Bonaparte trilogy returns with another irresistible historical novel, this one based on the life of Louise de la Vallière, who, against all odds, became one of the most mysterious consorts of France's Louis XIV, the charismatic Sun King.

Set against the magnificent decadence of the seventeenth-century French court, Mistress of the Sun begins when an eccentric young Louise falls in love with a wild white stallion and uses ancient magic to tame him. This one desperate action of her youth shadows her throughout her life, changing it in ways she could never imagine.

Unmarriageable, and too poor to join a convent, Louise enters the court of the Sun King, where the king is captivated by her. As their love unfolds, Louise bears Louis four children, is made a duchess, and reigns unrivaled as his official mistress until dangerous intrigue threatens her position at court and in Louis's heart.

A riveting love story with a captivating mystery at its heart, Mistress of the Sun illuminates both the power of true and perfect love and the rash actions we take to capture and tame it.-- Touchstone

If you are a frequent visitor to this blog, you probably know that one of my very favorite genres is historical fiction. I love to feel that I am learning something while reading a book. It's not that I don't find history books interesting, but I will almost always pick up a novel first -- I guess I just expect to be entertained too. I don't know about you, but I, for one, want a little escapism in my reading! MISTRESS OF THE SUN by Sandra Gulland was the ideal book for me. It had great characters, an interesting story, and loads of fascinating historical information.

MISTRESS OF THE SUN is one of the best historical fiction books that I've read in recent memory. I think one of the main reasons for this is the character of Petite. The book starts out when Petite is a young girl, and I think this really gives the reader additional insight into her character and her motivations. So much of what happened to her when she was young -- from the death of her father, to her love of horses, to her relationship with her mother, to her dabbling with bone magic -- have a large impact on her for the rest of her life. Petite really was a very complex and interesting woman. I thought Ms. Gulland did a fantastic job of developing her character and making me feel as if I "knew" her.

Another thing I really liked about this book was how the author portrayed the relationships between the characters. So many of the relationships were really well developed and multi-dimensional. I found the interactions between the characters to be rather complex, and they gave me plenty to think about. I especially enjoyed reading about the love affair between Louis and Petite in its later stages, although I also found Petite's relationship with her mother to be interesting too.

As I mentioned earlier, I love to learn things when I read a book; and MISTRESS OF THE SUN was filled with so much historical data. Of course, I learned about this historical figures of this time, but I really appreciated all of the little "extras" thrown in. I was especially impressed with the information about the medical practices during this period (most were kind of gross.) And, I loved learning about all of the superstitions that people believed to explain the unexplainable. I can't even count the number of times I found myself learning something new in this book. It's just so evident to me that Ms. Gulland did a huge amount of research while writing this novel -- it took her eight years!

I have never read any books by Ms. Gulland, but I can definitely say that I will be adding all of her books to my TBR list. I can't wait to read the Josephine books! Not only did I find MISTRESS OF THE SUN to be quite interesting, but I also liked the way she told this story. I thought her writing was terrific; and the story and characters were very easy to follow -- I couldn't put this book down. Ms Gulland has a great blog where you can learn more about her as well as find loads of book club resources on all of her books.

I highly recommend MISTRESS OF THE SUN! I know that the women in my life who enjoy historical fiction books will definitely appreciate this book. I also think it would make a great book club pick, especially if your group wants to learn a little something about seventeenth-century France. There are so many great things to talk about including Petite's relationship with Louis, Petite's relationship with her parents, as well as the themes of guilt, sacrifice, and even ghosts and magic. There is also a reader's guide which will help start your discussion; and I was really impressed with how thought-provoking the questions are.

Make sure you come back tomorrow because Sandra Gulland, the author of MISTRESS OF THE SUN, will be stopping by with a terrific guest post. And as an added incentive, I will be giving away a copy of the novel to one very lucky reader!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Review: Savvy

Summary: A vibrant new voice . . . a modern classic.

For generations, the Beaumont family has harbored a magical secret. They each possess a “savvy”—a special supernatural power that strikes when they turn thirteen. Grandpa Bomba moves mountains, her older brothers create hurricanes and spark electricity . . . and now it’s the eve of Mibs’s big day.

As if waiting weren’t hard enough, the family gets scary news two days before Mibs’s birthday: Poppa has been in a terrible accident. Mibs develops the singular mission to get to the hospital and prove that her new power can save her dad. So she sneaks onto a salesman’s bus . . . only to find the bus heading in the opposite direction. Suddenly Mibs finds herself on an unforgettable odyssey that will force her to make sense of growing up—and of other people, who might also have a few secrets hidden just beneath the skin. -- Dial/Walden Media

I was just thrilled when I got the opportunity to participate in the tour of SAVVY by Ingrid Law. I have become somewhat familiar with this book in the past few months because it has been a New York Times Bestseller; and it has been winning so many awards including a 2009 Newberry Award Honor Book, a 2008 Boston Globe - Horn Book Honor Book, one of Publishers Weekly's "Best Books of the Year" 2008, Booklist's Top 10 First Novels for Youth, the #1 Book Sense Children's Picks for Summer 2008, a Borders Original Voices pick, June 2008, and even a selection on Oprah's Kids Reading List -- the list just keeps going on and on! Plus, when I read the book's description and saw that it was geared towards middle grade readers, I just had a feeling that my daughter and I would both enjoy it.

I guess I can best sum up SAVVY by saying that I think all of the praise is justified -- I absolutely loved this book and I can't wait for my daughter to read it next. I think this book will appeal to both adults and young kids alike
because it has a little something for everyone; and I think kids especially are going to love it regardless of whether they are big readers or not . For children who like fantasy books, SAVVY will appeal because it has its share of the unexplained and super-natural. And for children who love getting to "meet" special characters, SAVVY has terrific characters including Mibs, her brothers and her friends. The storyline is also entertaining and action-packed enough to keep every child's interest. And best of all, the ultimate messages from this story are just wonderful - ones that parents as well as children can never hear enough!

One of my favorite things about this book was the storyline. The book starts out with Mib turning 13 years old. As if entering the teens isn't enough stress for a young girl, Mibs' 13th birthday is the day when she will find out her "savvy." All of the kids in Mibs' family find out their savvy -- or special gift -- on their 13th birthday; however, Mibs' life is turned upside down that day because her father is in a serious accident and ends up in a coma. Mib discovers what she thinks is her savvy and decides that she has to see her father because she can help him. Her persistence in traveling to the hospital in another city sets into motion an entire chain of events that is extremely entertaining! Mibs discovers that everything is not what it first seems, and she has to learn to accept her savvy and use it accordingly.

Another thing that I appreciated about this book was the character of Mibs. I loved that the author chose to tell this story through the eyes of Mibs because she was such a honest narrator -- both wise beyond her years and yet still having some innocence. Although I didn't exactly love the year I turned 13 because I was just so darn awkward and such a geek, I do love reading about young girls who are that age. It is such a special time in a girl's life because while she is just about ready to become a young woman she still sometimes feels as if she is a kid -- so many conflicting thoughts and emotions. I just loved how Mibs was such a bright and sensitive young girl who was willing to do anything to help her father; and I also liked how she was so insightful into the actions of other characters. But I think my favorite part of her Mibs' story was seeing her realize her savvy and then understanding how to use it -- it was just the perfect symbol of a young person realizing what their special talent is. Mibs was just a terrific character and one that I will remember for a very long time.

As a parent, I can't say enough about the overall messages in this novel -- LOVE THEM! I think the overlying concepts about the importance of families and friendships is terrific, as are the messages about learning to control your emotions. I also really appreciated the lesson that things aren't always easy -- you have to work hard and persevere sometimes. (This ones is especially important in today's society where we think everything should be instantaneous.) And I definitely think the idea that everyone has a "savvy" is just so important. As a 40 year old woman, I still struggle to find my savvy. I can just imagine if I had read this book when I was younger -- it might have made a difference in my self-concept.

I read somewhere that SAVVY is being developed into a film. I am so excited about this (and not really surprised) because I kept thinking it would make a terrific kids' movie while I was reading it. I know my nine year old daughter has a hard time finding movies that she likes because she is kind of past the Disney animation ones and the pre-teen ones are just a little too mature for her right now. I can just imagine how much she'd enjoy seeing a movie based on this novel; and as a mother, I love that it would be sending a powerful, positive message while still being entertaining.

I highly recommend SAVVY for the middle grade reader in your life (or even yourself) because it is a very special book. I feel as if this entire review is just me gushing, but I really did love SAVVY that much. I am most definitely recommending it for a future pick for our Mother-Daughter book club. There are just so many things to discuss including the various characters and their actions; but more importantly, I would love to hear our girls talking about discovering their savvies! If you want to get a better idea of the story or the author's writing style, you can read an excerpt.

Thanks to Sally from for allowing me to participate in this book blog tour!

Check out the other blogs participating in this tour:

A Christian Worldview of Fiction
All About Children’s Books
Becky’s Book Reviews
Cafe of Dreams
Dolce Bellezza
Fireside Musings
Looking Glass Reviews
Maw Books Blog
Never Jam Today
Olive Tree
Our Big Earth
The 160 Acrewoods
Through a Child’s Eyes

Hello...You Won Love Mercy!

Congratulations to MJ and LittleEagle -- you just won copies of LOVE MERCY by Earlene Fowler. Make sure you check your e-mails and send me your address information as soon as possible.

Thanks to Kaitlyn and Berkley for providing the books.

If you didn't win, make sure you check out my other giveaways:






Monday, April 27, 2009


Review: Follow Me

Summary: On a summer day in 1946 Sally Werner, the precocious young daughter of hardscrabble Pennsylvania farmers, secretly accepts her cousin's invitation to ride his new motorcycle. Like so much of what follows in Sally's life, it's an impulsive decision with dramatic and far-reaching consequences. Soon she abandons her home to begin a daring journey of self-creation, the truth of which she entrusts only with her granddaughter and namesake, six decades later. But when young Sally's father--a man she has never known--enters her life and offers another story altogether, she must uncover the truth of her grandmother's secret history.

Boldly rendered and beautifully told, in FOLLOW ME Joanna Scott has crafted a paean to the American tradition of re-invention and a sweeping saga of timeless and tender storytelling. -- Little, Brown & Co.

When Miriam from Hachette wanted some input into selecting the book for the April Blog Tour, FOLLOW ME by Joanna Scott won by an overwhelming margin. I was one of the many who voted for this book because the book's description made it sound like it would be right up my alley. Plus, Ms. Scott is an award-winning author and I'd never read any of her books. I figured this was the perfect chance.

I'm going to admit that I had a hard time (not a really hard time, but a hard time nonetheless) getting into this book. Based on some of my twitter conversations, I'm pretty sure that I was not alone. I don't want to make it sound like reading this book was a struggle for me because it most definitely wasn't -- it just took me about 80 pages to really start enjoying it. I think way the author told the majority Sally's story -- through third person narrative -- didn't really allow me to understand or relate to Sally right away. However, I now totally understand why she chose to tell Sally's story in third person, and I think it is just perfect.

Having been up front about my slight problem with this book, I have to say that I did enjoy it. In fact, after I finished the novel, I kept thinking of terrific things to say about this novel. There are so many great things about this book that I know I'm not going to cover all of them in this review, but I just want to give you some idea of what an amazing job Ms. Scott did with this novel.

The first thing that really stood out for me was Ms. Scott's writing style. I went into this book knowing that she was a critically acclaimed author, so I knew that the writing was going to be a treat; however, I had no idea how very skilled Ms. Scott is. The writing is this book is just beautiful, and I think she did an excellent job telling this story. In addition, I was often times just blown away by her descriptions of events. She was able to set the tone of each scene perfectly over and over again. Just reading her prose is a huge treat. And I really enjoyed how she wrote in the chapters about the various characters in different voices -- I think she captured the essence of each character extremely well. If you'd like to read an essay by Ms. Scott and see for yourself what a terrific writer she is, check out this one called "Consider the Various Types of..."

Another thing that I really appreciated about this novel was how Ms. Scott developed the characters, especially Sally (the grandmother.) Sally was an interesting character for me because the book starts out with Sally running away and leaving her newborn baby on her parents' table. For the next couple of hundred pages, the reader still sees that Sally can just pick up on a moment's notice and just run away from all of her problems. I think one of the things that amazed me about Sally is that she didn't think things through at all -- she just acted (totally different from me, by the way.) In addition, while I didn't really relate to her or even like her for a big part of the book, my heart still went out to her. She found herself pregnant as a young teenager with her cousin's baby and didn't know what to do -- was desperate. She was forever dealing with the guilt and grief of leaving her baby behind as well as not knowing what happened to him. I thought the author did an excellent job conveying these feelings in Sally and showing how much of Sally's entire life was spent just trying to come to terms with these issues.

I also definitely appreciated all of the symbolism that occurred in this book. The most obvious symbol that comes to mind is the river and how it represents Sally's journey through her life. As Sally just picks up and leaves her current life, she always follows the river north to find her new new home. The current, direction, and flow of the river are all symbolic of the events in Sally's life; and the descrptions the author uses between Sally and the river are just so powerful. Another symbol that I found interesting was the mythical Tuskawali -- "little creatures said to have the faces and hair of humans and the spotted bodies of tadpoles." Natives claimed they were the sacred incarnations of fate. I loved how Ms. Scott included some mythicism in this novel and continually wove the possible existence of these creatures into the story.

I can actually say that since I've finished this book, I've found myself thinking about some of the themes and characters over and over again. One theme in particular that I found fascinating was the idea that the way we remember or perceive events that occurred in our life may be different than reality. I don't want to give away too much, but I felt as if the author showed how much of Sally's thoughts and actions were based on what she "needed" to think happened just so she could live with her decisions. I also love how Ms. Scott introduced other characters into this story to show the different viewpoints on what may or may not have occurred in the past. I think the reader will find them self not only thinking about how accurate Sally's interpretation of events is but actually thinking about how all of this relates to our own lives. I found myself wondering what am I actually "seeing" about myself (because I need to) versus what others see about me.

I recommend FOLLOW ME especially as a book club discussion book. This book covers some pretty deep issues and there is a great deal to talk about. Many of the characters are fascinating in their own right, but the underlying themes in this book are where I think most discussions will flourish. I think it would be so interesting to talk about the themes of escaping, new beginnings, truth, redemption, and forgiveness to name a few. I have no doubt that it will be a terrific book to talk about among friends.

Make sure you check out the other stops on the FOLLOW ME tour for some additional thoughts on this novel:

Mailbox Monday - April 27, 2009

This week was a little more "normal" than some of my other ones in recent memory! Maybe I can start catching up!

BEST INTENTIONS by Emily Listfield

A YEAR OF PLEASURES by Elizabeth Berg - I received this one because I participated in 2009 Book Group Survey. I am pretty sure that I read this one a few years ago so I'll probably be passing it on to someone in my family.

(ARC) by Elizabeth Chadwick -- I received this book from Danielle at Sourcebooks for a book blog tour at the end of the summer.

by Elise Blackwell



And because I called into the BlogTalk Radio show with George Pelecanos, I received a big box (actually two) filled with his books:



What did you get last week?

Mailbox Monday is hosted by Marcia at The Printed Page.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Review: Slob

Summary: Twelve-year-old Owen Birnbaum is the fattest kid in school. But he’s also a genius who invents cool contraptions— like a TV that shows the past. Something happened two years ago that he needs to see. But genius or not, there is much Owen can’t outthink. Like his gym coach, who’s on a mission to humiliate him. Or the way his Oreos keep disappearing from his lunch. He’s sure that if he can only get the TV to work, things will start to make sense. But it will take a revelation for Owen, not science, to see the answer’s not in the past, but the present. That no matter how large he is on the outside, he doesn’t have to feel small on the inside.

With her trademark humor, Ellen Potter has created a larger-than-life character and story whose weight is immense when measured in heart. -- Philomel

Many of you know that I am kind of addicted to Twitter. Not only do I love tweeting with all my bookish friends, but I also like that I can tweet with authors and find out about their new books. SLOB by Ellen Potter is the latest example of a book that I discovered on Twitter when the author asked if anyone was interested in receiving a copy. I recognized Ms. Potter's name because my daughter has all of the OLIVIA KIDNEY books, so I jumped at the chance. I must admit that it was a pretty lucky move on my part because SLOB is a terrific middle grade book!

SLOB is a little different than the OLIVIA KIDNEY books because the main character and narrator is a 12 year-old boy. The book starts with Owen telling you that he's not the typical twelve-year-old boy because he is "57 percent fatter than the national average for a twelve-year-old boy." From the first paragraph, I just knew I was going to fall in love with Owen. He is a wonderful, kind, insecure kid who just happens to be a genius (1 point shy as he reminds the reader.) He is definitely a memorable character that many young kids will relate to, and I absolutely adored him and can't stop thinking about what a fantastic person he was.

It quickly becomes clear that Owen and his sister Jeremy (she has changed her name to a boy's name) have been through a lot; however, the reader is gradually given hints that something tragic happened in their past. I had some ideas, but I have to admit that I was shocked with the secret. I thought Ms. Potter did an amazing job of telling this story and keeping the reader's attention.

SLOB does deal with some very serious issues, and my heart definitely went out to Owen and Jeremy; however, I have to say that I found this book to be hilarious! There was so much humor woven into this story, especially Owen's insights into life, that I don't consider it a "sad" read. The ending is definitely upbeat and the reader is left with some terrific messages. I think kids will feel bad for Owen, but I think they will absolutely love the mystery, suspense and humor in this novel. I know I couldn't put it down!

There are a lot of themes in the book that are relevant for kids in today's society including childhood weight issues, violence, lack of self-esteem, bullying, etc. And I think it would make a fabulous discussion book either in school or even in a mother/daughter (parent/child) book club. I believe that reading SLOB and discussing the issues in it might just open the lines of communication for parents and children alike. And, I know that Owen's battle and his resilience will strike a chord with many young readers and give them the confidence they need to handle some of the challenges in their lives.

When I finished this novel, I tweeted Ms. Potter telling her how wonderful it is. She mentioned that she has a special connection to SLOB because it is loosely based on the relationship between her brother and her. That made the book even more special in my eyes, especially the scenes with Jeremy. I can't wait for my daughter to read it!!!

I highly recommend SLOB for middle grade readers, boys and girls alike. If my raving review doesn't convince you, maybe this will: SLOB has already been awarded The Junior Library Guild Spring 2009 Selection. SLOB will be available on May 14th so make sure you buy it for a child in your life.

A huge thanks to Ellen Potter for sending me an ARC of SLOB.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Guest Review: 8th Confession

I'd like to welcome Booking Pap Pap back! Today he is reviewing 8TH CONFESSION by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro. I am a big fan of this series and can't wait to read this book, especially after his review.

Summary: As San Francisco's most glamorous millionaires mingle at the party of the year, someone is watching--waiting for a chance to take vengeance on Isa and Ethan Bailey, the city's most celebrated couple. Finally, the killer pinpoints the ideal moment, and it's the
perfect murder. Not a trace of evidence is left behind in their glamorous home.

As Detective Lindsay Boxer investigates the high-profile murder, someone else is found brutally executed--a preacher with a message of hope for the homeless. His death nearly falls through the cracks, but when reporter Cindy Thomas hears about it, she knows the story could be huge. Probing deeper into the victim's history, she discovers he may not have been quite as saintly as everyone thought.

As the hunt for two criminals tests the limits of the Women's Murder Club, Lindsay sees sparks fly between Cindy and her partner, Detective Rich Conklin. The Women's Murder Club now faces its toughest challenge: will love destroy all that four friends have built? The exhilarating new chapter in the Women's Murder Club series, The 8th Confession serves up a double dose of speed-charged twists and shocking revelations as only James Patterson can. And remember, this is the only Murder Club episode of the year. -- Little, Brown and Company

The 8th Confession by James Patterson and Maxine Pretro engages Patterson’s popular Women’s Murder Club in two murder cases. One involves a homeless preacher and the other is a murder spree on some of San Francisco’s high society. The crime-solving group known as The Women’s Murder Club consists of Lindsay, the cop, Claire, the pathologist, Cindy, the reporter and Yuki, the assistant district attorney. The book is an easy read and shows Patterson’s skills in creating mystery novels.

Lindsay, with her partner Rich Conklin are the lead investigators in the high society murder spree and have offered to work the homeless case on their personal time after Cindy refuses to let the case die. Claire manages to find a significant clue in the autopsy of a socialite couple and Yuki, reeling after a strange ending to a murder case she was prosecuting, is given the unenviable task of prosecuting the homeless preacher case.

Several members of the Club have relationships with men that carry-on during the crime-solving efforts. However, I found that the Lindsay and Cindy relationships with Lindsay’s partner portray these women as very shallow. To me, this is a contradiction to the other qualities the women show in solving the crimes. Additionally, Yuki’s involvement with a doctor takes a strange turn.

The storyline is creative, fast moving and does nothing to harm Patterson’s reputation as one of the great mystery writers. Each murder case brings a bizarre twist that surprises the reader. I recommend this book to anyone who’s enjoy Patterson’s prior books.

A big thanks to Miriam from Hachette for sending an ARC of this book!

Also reviewed at:
A Novel Menagerie

Friday, April 24, 2009

Review: Wintergirls

Summary: “Dead girl walking,” the boys say in the halls.
“Tell us your secret,” the girls whisper, one toilet to another.
I am that girl.
I am the space between my thighs, daylight shining through.
I am the bones they want, wired on a porcelain frame.
Lia and Cassie are best friends, wintergirls frozen in matchstick bodies, competitors in a deadly contest to see who can be the skinniest. But what comes after size zero and size double-zero? When Cassie succumbs to the demons within, Lia feels she is being haunted by her friend’s restless spirit.

In her most emotionally wrenching, lyrically written book since the multiple-award-winning Speak, Laurie Halse Anderson explores Lia’s descent into the powerful vortex of anorexia, and her painful path toward recovery. -- Viking Children's

There has been so much buzz about WINTERGIRLS by Laurie Halse Anderson that I knew I had to read it sooner rather than later. Fortunately for me, I reserved it at the library before it was even in our library system; and I was the first one to read it -- I love it when that happens. I picked it up while I was waiting in the car for my daughter and started reading it. Big mistake because I couldn't put it down. This book is GRIPPING and very INTENSE!

I hesitate to use the word "love" or "enjoy" when talking about a book that deals with eating disorders, but I was completely caught up in Lia's story and I definitely will recommend it to everyone! Lia is without a doubt an amazing character and I think her story will remain in my thoughts for a very long time. I And while I don't have a personal experience with an eating disorder, I felt that so much of WINTERGIRLS was very real and honest. I'd love to hear what some teens think about this story because I can't imagine a more powerful book about this issue.

Lia is a very complex character to say the least. She has a horrific body image about herself, so bad that she actually starves herself. I do understand how young girls can get caught up in their desire to be thin because of all the messages they receive from society. I guess what I didn't realize was how these serious eating disorders are really the effects of a lot of different mental issues. Like many teens, Lia felt as if her life was out of control (school, friends, parents' divorce, etc.) and I'm guessing that she felt as if she could totally control that one aspect of her life -- eating. I found it so interesting that Lia perceived herself as having so much strength and self control when she turned down food.

While reading this book, I felt as if I learned a lot about the extent to which young girls would go to hide their disease. I was especially blown away by how much of Lia's life was spent trying to outwit her parents -- wearing baggy clothes, sewing quarters into her robe so she'd weigh more, tinkering with the scale, hiding food, etc. Another thing that I found fascinating (and disturbing) is that there are Internet support groups for anorexics and bulimics -- they actually encourage other girls not to eat. As I read this novel, I just kept thinking about what a sad state it is when young girls to be starving themselves to death. What a huge waste!

This is the first book that I've read by Laurie Halse Anderson, but I can definitely say that it won't be my last. I was blown away by not only the story she told, but how she told it. Her writing style is wonderful and is so incredibly effective as Lia's voice. I felt like every word in this book was deliberate used to evoke a certain feeling. Watch this video clip of the author discussing WINGERGIRLS:

My daughter is entirely too young to read this book; however, I want her to read it in a few years because I think it will open up discussion between us about her body image. Right now, she is extremely thin; and recently has become very self-conscious about it. She's only 9 1/2 years old, but I can already see how important it is to her how others perceive her. And I'm sure it's only going to get worse -- I remember what I was like when I was a teen.

WINTERGIRLS would make a perfect mother-daughter book club selection. Not only would the book be fascinating to discuss, but I would hope that it might alert some moms and girls to the serious nature of eating disorders. If nothing else, this book could be the thing needed to start some conversations about self image and healthy eating. I would also hope that it might make some teens examine not only their own behavior, but the behavior of their friends before a tragedy occurs like the one in WINTERGIRLS.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Review: Laura Rider's Masterpiece

Summary: From the author of A MAP OF THE WORLD and THE BOOK OF RUTH comes an entirely different kind of novel: a funny, sexy, and provocative satire about marriage.

Laura and Charlie Rider have been married for twelve years. Together they've run the Prairie Wind Farm nursery in picturesque Wisconsin, where they share a passion for gardening, which overshadowed Laura's physical passion for Charlie long ago. Still, theirs are mostly happy lives -- as long as Charlie can continue his simple life of working the land and Laura can keep reading novels while privately writing her own.

Jenna Faroli is the host of a popular radio how and is "the single most famous person in the Town of Dover," in Laura's eyes. When Jenna happens to cross Charlie's path one day and they begin an e-mail correspondence, how can Laura resist using Charlie to try out her new writing skills and converse with her hero? Together, Laura and Charlie craft florid, strangely intimate messages that entice Jenna in an unexpected way. Things quickly spin out of control as the lines between Laura's words and Charlie's feelings are blurred and complicated, and Jenna ha a profound effect on the couple that transforms all three of them in the end. -- Grand Central Publishing

When I first finished LAURA RIDER'S MASTERPIECE by Jane Hamilton, I didn't know quite what to say. It wasn't like any other Jane Hamilton book that I'd ever read. I definitely enjoyed the story, but I couldn't really put a finger on why. I couldn't stand (maybe that's a bit harsh) any of the main characters, so it wasn't that I related to them. I think it's because Ms. Hamilton is a fabulous writer who knows how to tell a story (plus the book was very, very funny!)

Immediately upon putting down this novel, I went to Twitter and mentioned that I thought I might have a hard time reviewing this book. I was surprised that a few fellow bloggers piped in right away with their thoughts. We had quite a little book club discussion going on surrounding this book. As I tweeted with these people and actually had to put my thoughts down (albeit briefly in 140 characters or less), I discovered that I really enjoyed this book. And, I definitely appreciated what Ms. Hamilton set out to do with this novel. I found myself laughing as much, if not more, when revisiting scenes with some tweople!

I found the premise of this novel to be very unique -- Laura Rider decides that she wants to write a romance novel. While she admits that she hasn't read many books in her lifetime, she thinks that if she reads how-to books from the library she can learn to be a writer (this question begs to be asked -- what makes a successful writer?) She also decides that she needs to learn everything she can about what women really want. This might not sound that far out until Laura decides to "help" her husband have a relationship with a local radio personality Jenna (whom Laura idolizes.) She and her husband start out writing e-mails together in the hopes of wooing Jenna. You can kind of imagine how things might go from there.

I mentioned earlier that I didn't really like any of the characters. Laura was manipulative and very self-centered; and often times I just wanted to shake her. However, that being said she did make for good entertainment; and I eventually found myself feeling sorry for her (at times.) As I learned more about her past, I did feel some compassion towards her -- to a certain extent, she was a product of her environment. I also didn't really "like" Laura's husband Charlie or his love interest Jenna, but I so appreciated their relationship and had many moments where I found myself laughing over their antics.

There is no doubt that Ms. Hamilton is a fantastic writer! She definitely kept my attention throughout the entire story because I had to find out what Laura was going to do next. I was impressed with her ability to tell this story in such a short book (only a little over 200 pages) and to incorporate so much humor into this entertaining satirical novel. If you'd like a little more insight into the character of Laura, check out this article written by Ms. Hamilton called The Birth of a Writer.

I definitely recommend LAURA RIDER'S MASTERPIECE for book clubs. There is a great deal to talk about as I learned when mentioning the book on Twitter. The characters and their actions are ripe for discussion, and I'd love to hear some more opinions about them. In addition, I think it would be fascinating to talk about what constitutes an artist/writer as well as the whole nature/nurture idea. There will be no lack of opinions on this novel!

A big thanks to Hachette Book Group for sending me an ARC of LAURA RIDER'S MASTERPIECE.

Also reviewed at:
A Novel Menagerie
Bermudaonion's Weblog

What a Wonderful Way to Celebrate!

Summary: “The whole of Barcelona stretched out at my feet and I wanted to believe that, when I opened those windows, its streets would whisper stories to me, secrets I could capture on paper and narrate to whomever cared to listen . . .”

In an abandoned mansion at the heart of Barcelona, a young man, David Martín, makes his living by writing sensationalist novels under a pseudonym. The survivor of a troubled childhood, he has taken refuge in the world of books and spends his nights spinning baroque tales about the city’s underworld. But perhaps his dark imaginings are not as strange as they seem, for in a locked room deep within the house lie photographs and letters hinting at the mysterious death of the previous owner.

Like a slow poison, the history of the place seeps into his bones as he struggles with an impossible love. Close to despair, David receives a letter from a reclusive French editor, Andreas Corelli, who makes him the offer of a lifetime. He is to write a book unlike anything that has ever existed—a book with the power to change hearts and minds. In return, he will receive a fortune, and perhaps more. But as David begins the work, he realizes that there is a connection between his haunting book and the shadows that surround his home.
Once again, Zafón takes us into a dark, gothic universe first seen in the Shadow of the Wind and creates a breathtaking adventure of intrigue, romance, and tragedy. Through a dizzingly constructed labyrinth of secrets, the magic of books, passion, and friendship blend into a masterful story. -- Doubleday

Last week, I received a most wonderful surprise -- an ARC of THE ANGEL'S GAME by Carlos Ruiz Zafan. I absolutely adored THE SHADOW OF THE WIND and can't wait to read the new book. But what was really special was the little card that came inside the book. Here's what it said:

La Diada de Sant Jordi, the great National Feast Day in Catalonia, is celebrated by giving a rose and a book to a loved one. Also know as St. George's Day around the world and celebrated on April 23, this feast day has been declared the International Day of the Book.

Please accept this book, The Angel's Game, as a gift from Doubleday and Carlos Ruiz Zafon.

So Happy La Diada de Sant Jordi! How are you going to celebrate?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Review: 1 2 3 Texas & Giveaway

Summary: In this board book featuring contemporary illustrations, dazzling colors and bold, clear design, kids will count from one to 10 with some of Texas's most beloved symbols—the Texas star, the Texas longhorns, armadillos, Space Center Houston, and the beloved state football, baseball, and basketball teams.

The end of the book includes a complete location list, in both English and Spanish, to help parents locate the symbols and landmarks and plan an entertaining trip to Texas.

While practicing essential number skills, 123 Texas is a book kids will enjoy to read over and over.-- duo press

A few weeks ago, I was on Twitter (big surprise there) and had the opportunity to win a copy of the children's board book 1 2 3 TEXAS: A COOL COUNTING BOOK by Puck and illustrated by Kevin Somers. All I had to do was be the first person to answer a question correctly. I was thrilled to find out that I actually won this book because my sister (who was born in Texas) just had a little boy a few months back. I thought they would both love this book!

Needless to say when I opened this book, my four year old son immediately wanted me to read it with him. He is a little too old for this counting book, but he loved it all the same. And I figure it can never hurt to practice counting, right? Each page contains the numbers one through 10 with items specific to the state of Texas. For example, the number 1 is represented by a lone star; 2 is represented by two longhorns, 4 is represented by astronauts, etc. up to the number 10 which is represented by ten cowboy hats. The last page of the book explains the meanings of these pictures in both English and Spanish.

I spent about six years of my childhood living in Texas, so I definitely appreciated this adorable little book. The publisher Duo Press also has board books available for California, USA, New York, and Chicago; and they are currently planning on having more cities and states available in the future -- I specifically asked about Pennsylvania and was thrilled to see that it is coming next year. I think these books make the perfect gift for the little one in your life!

I am so excited to announce that Duo Press is going to give three lucky readers copies of the adorable books SOUNDS FUNNY! and SOUNDS TOUGH! BIG NOISY MACHINES. I have not seen these, but they look terrific. To enter, just leave a comment with your e-mail address telling me why you would like to win these books. To double or triple your chances, you can blog and/or twitter about this giveaway with a link back to this post. I will accept entries until Wednesday, May 6th at 11:59 p.m. I will announce the winner the following day. This contest is open to those of you in the United States and Canada only. Good luck!

Summary: A car goes vroom, a dog does woof, and a bubble pops! Sounds are all over, and kids will love to imitate them in this seriously wacky board book. Using some of the most appealing elements of comic books and pop art, such as simple panels and intense primary colors, Sounds Funny! is giggling reading for kids and parents alike.

Imitating sounds is an important element of language development, and this sturdy board book presents a cause and effect scenario (Cause: An airplane takes off. Effect: The plane goes “zoom”) that will introduce young readers to the wonderful world of sounds, in a fun and appealing way. -- duo press

Summary: A train goes "chooo, chooo," a tug boat honks, and a cement mixer goes "sloooosh!"—machines make the craziest sounds, and children will love to imitate them in this seriously wacky board book. Combining a cause-and-effect scenario with some of the most appealing elements of comic books and pop art—such as simple panels and intense primary colors—this giggle-inducing read teaches an important element of language development in a fun and appealing way. -- duo press

Note: This giveaway is not for 1 2 3 TEXAS but rather SOUNDS FUNNY! and SOUNDS TOUGH! BIG NOISY MACHINES.

Review: The Way Home

Summary: Christopher Flynn is trying to get it right. After years of trouble and rebellion that enraged his father and nearly cost him his life, he has a steady job in his father's company, he's seriously dating a woman he respects, and, aside from the distrust that lingers in his father's eyes, his mistakes are firmly in the past.

One day on the job, Chris and his partner come across a temptation almost too big to resist. Chris does the right thing, but old habits and instincts rise to the surface, threatening his newfound stability with sudden treachery and violence. With his father and his most trusted friends, he takes one last chance to blast the demons trying to pull him back.

Like Richard Price and William Kennedy, Pelecanos pushes his characters to the extremes, their redemption that much sweeter because it is so hard-won. Pelecanos has long been celebrated for his unerring ability to portray the conflicts men feel as they search and struggle for power and love in a world that is often harsh and unforgiving but can ultimately be filled with beauty. -- Little, Brown and Company

Last year when I was visiting the Washington DC area, I saw signs all over the Metro for George Pelecanos' new book THE TURNAROUND. I remember thinking that the book looked like one that I'd enjoy. So when I found out that Mr. Pelecanos was going to be on a BlogTalk Radio talking about his latest book THE WAY HOME, I figured that I should read a few of his novels as a way to prepare for the show. I decided to work backwards and read his newest novel THE WAY HOME first.

I enjoyed THE WAY HOME and I definitely think it will appeal to a lot of people -- especially men. (I am planning on passing my book to Booking Pap Pap because I think it's a book that he will find entertaining.) I liked the story with its themes of forgiveness, redemption, and especially rehabilitation; however, I thought the best thing about this book was how Mr. Pelecanos developed all of the characters. The men in this story were very complex as were their relationships with each other, but I couldn't help but feel that they were all very realistic. While these men were definitely rough around the edges, I still thought they were very human and I liked that the author managed to show their positive traits. Things weren't always black and white in this novel, and I found myself often times questioning what's good versus what's evil.

One thing that I found interesting about this novel was that it explored the relationships between fathers and sons. I often times read novels with mother/daughter themes; however, I can't really remember a book that delved into fathers and sons the way this book did. I thought Mr. Pelecanos did an excellent job of showing how Chris' father set expectations for Chris to be a tough guy and how Chris responded to this pressure -- he rebelled. I think it's true of many people that when they feel that they can't meet expectations, they give up or worse act out. I liked how Chris and his father eventually came to respect each other and have an improved relationship.

As I read this novel, I found myself shaking my head at some of the conditions in the juvenile detention facility. It's pretty obvious to me that what we are doing isn't fixing the problems. I read somewhere that the author did a great deal of research on these facilities and wanted to show the readers that our current system is not working. I appreciated that he tried to voice his concerns in this novel; and I commend him for bringing some attention to these problems.

Many of you might recognize the name George Pelecanos because he has written many crime books in the last 17 years; however, his name also might be familiar because he is the Emmy-nominated writer of The Wire. He has a fascinating bio, and it's pretty clear that he often times draws from his experiences when writing his novels. I really enjoyed his writing style and development of characters, and I liked the fast pace of the book. THE WAY HOME (and I think all of his books) took place in DC and its suburbs; so as a one-time resident of that area, I appreciated his attention to details about the city. I actually think he captured the "feel" of that area so well that DC became another (well-developed) character in this book.

I realize that THE WAY HOME is not going to appeal to everyone; however, I definitely enjoyed it and recommend it. The characters were real and extremely well developed, and the writing was very good. I am so glad to say that I am a fan of Mr. Pelecanos and can't wait to read more of his work.

Thanks to Hachette Book Group for sending me this ARC.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Giveaway: Testimony

Summary: At a New England boarding school, a sex scandal is about to break. Even more shocking than the sexual acts themselves is the fact that they were caught on videotape. A Pandora's box of revelations, the tape triggers a chorus of voices--those of the men, women, teenagers, and parents involved in the scandal--that details the ways in which lives can be derailed or destroyed in one foolish moment.

Writing with a pace and intensity surpassing even her own greatest work, Anita Shreve delivers in TESTIMONY a gripping emotional drama with the impact of a thriller. No one more compellingly explores the dark impulses that sway the lives of seeming innocents, the needs and fears that drive ordinary men and women into intolerable dilemmas, and the ways in which our best intentions can lead to our worst transgressions. -- Little, Brown and Co.

Last November I read and reviewed TESTIMONY by Anita Shreve, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The book is now being released in paperback and I just happen to have a copy to share with one lucky reader courtesy of Hachette Book Group. For one entry, just leave a comment with your e-mail address telling me whether you've read any of Ms. Shreve's books. For another entry or two, you can blog and/or tweet about this contest with a link back to this post. The contest is open until April 30th at 11:50 p.m.; and I will announce the winner the following day. This contest is open to those of you in the United States and Canada only -- no p.o. boxes please. Good luck!

Review: Frenchman's Creek


Jaded by the numbing politeness of Restoration London, Lady Dona St. Columb revolts against high society. She rides into the countryside, guided only by her restlessness and her longing to escape.

But when chance leads her to meet a French pirate, hidden within Cornwall's shadowy forests, Dona discovers that her passions and thirst for adventure have never been more aroused. Together, they embark upon a quest rife with danger and glory, one which bestows upon Dona the ultimate choice: sacrifice her lover to certain death or risk her own life to save him.

Frenchman's Creek is the breathtaking story of a woman searching for love and adventure who embraces the dangerous life of a fugitive on the seas. -- Sourcebooks Landmark

I wasn't sure what to expect from FRENCHMAN'S CREEK by Daphne du Maurier, but I knew I wanted to read it. I am embarrassed to say that I have never read one of Ms. du Maurier's books (however, I do own two copies of REBECCA) and I am woefully ignorant of most classics. So when I found out that Sourcebooks was going to re-release a few of her novels, I definitely knew I had to read at least one of them.

I was so pleasantly surprised by this novel -- I really, really liked it. When I picked up the book and read the first chapter, I was afraid that it was going to be a bit difficult to read. I got a little nervous that it was going to be kind of "stuffy;" however, as soon as I read the second chapter, I was hooked. I was immediately caught up in Dona's life and her desire to flee London, her life as a Lady, and even her husband. And, I just loved all of the action and adventure packed into these pages.

I think most people will relate (at least a little) to Dona's desire to just get away from it all. The difference is that most of us would never do it in the fashion that Dona did. (I, for one, just think about it for a few minutes when the kids are driving me crazy and I want some peace and quiet -- I could never act on it!) Not only did she leave her home and husband in London, but once she was "free" she still managed to escape even further by leaving her children with a virtual stranger and running off with a pirate. I guess you could say that desperate times called for desperate measures, but I pretty sure that most women will not be able to relate to the extreme nature of Dona's actions. It does make for terrific reading though!

One of my most pleasant surprises about FRENCHMAN'S CREEK was the amount of humor in this story. Of course, Dona and her pirate were terrific characters but I loved how Ms. du Maurier brought them to life. While I didn't respect Dona for her decisions, I must say that I had a wonderful time reading about her escape; and I loved her sarcasm and her sense of adventure. Even though I found some of her actions despicable, I could almost understand them given the expectations and trappings that she felt existed in her life. I just couldn't comprehend how she could abandon her children, putting her own desires ahead of them. Of course, I could understand how she fell in love with the pirate -- he was a smart, perceptive and exciting man despite (or maybe because of) his choice of professions.

When I started reading FRENCHMAN'S CREEK, I wasn't really thinking about it as a book club selection. However, as I really got into the story and the characters, I discovered that it would make a wonderful selection. I think the themes of escapism and self-actualization make this book ideal for discussion (especially among women.) And I really liked that the book deals with these topics while also being a very entertaining and enjoyable read. I was thrilled to see that the paperback edition includes a reading guide in the back. I can't find the discussion questions at this time, but if I do, I'll certainly link to them.

A big thanks to Danielle from Sourcebooks for sending me a copy of FRENCHMAN'S CREEK.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Happy Birthday to Me!

And it's a big one -- 40! I (almost) can't believe it. In some ways there's no doubt -- like the gray hairs, the lines on my forehead and the aching joints after I run; but on the other hand, I'm in better shape than I've even been in. I can honestly say that I wouldn't change a thing in my life right now -- my husband is perfect, my kids are incredible, and my friends are so special.

I don' t really have any big plans to celebrate today, but I did spend the entire weekend having fun. On Saturday, three of my best friends threw a party for me at a local Japanese steakhouse. (I don't think I've had a birthday party since I was 12 years old.) Nine of my best friends (including my mother and my sister) and I had a great time watching the chef entertain us while cooking our delicious food. My friends made my birthday so special by giving me loads of awesome presents including a dozen red roses. They even did a champagne toast!!!

And then on Sunday, my family went to church; and while my kids were at Sunday school, my husband and I had a breakfast date. We followed that with going to a Harrisburg Senators baseball game in gorgeous 70 degree weather. I ended the evening with my neighborhood bunco group where I won a bag of flower-themed goodies! What a fantastic birthday weekend! It definitely makes turning 40 not-so-bad when you are surrounded by the people you love!

Review: A Passion Redeemed

Summary: Graced with physical beauty, though shallow of heart, Charity O'Connor is a woman who knows what she wants. She sets her sights on the cantankerous Mitch Dennehy, editor at the Irish Times, who has unwittingly stolen her heart. And although the sparks are there, Mitch refuses to fan the coals of a potential relationship with his ex-fiancee's sister. But Charity has a plan to turn up the heat and she always gets what she wants--one way or another. Is revenge so sweet after all? Or will Charity get burned?

Full of intense passion, betrayal, and forgiveness, A Passion Redeemed will delight Lessman's fans and draw new ones. -- Revell

Last summer, I read a wonderful book called A PASSION MOST PURE by Julie Lessman -- you can read my review here. I was immediately caught up in this book and was so excited to "discover" a new author. A PASSION MOST PURE was the first book in The Daughters of Boston series so I was looking forward to more of Ms. Lessman's writing as well as more of these wonderful characters. I can't explain why but I just now got around to reading A PASSION REDEEMED, the second book in The Daughters of Boston series. I have been kicking myself for not having read it earlier. It only took a few pages for me to remember the reasons I enjoy Ms. Lessman's books so much.

I don't read a lot of Christian fiction and especially Christian romances, but I have to wonder why. I love The Daughters of Boston series! Like A PASSION MOST PURE, A PASSION REDEEMED was a terrific love story filled with some very special spiritual messages. I actually think this book was even more fun to read than the last mainly because the main character in this novel was such a interesting woman. Charity was a beautiful and manipulating woman, and I think she might have provided some better "material" for Ms. Lessman to work with.

I had actually forgotten how devious Charity was, but it only took a few pages to remember. Charity was all about herself and what she wanted -- no matter who she might hurt in the process. And unlike her sister Faith (the main character in the first book in this series), she didn't have a geniune relationship with God. While my heart went out to Charity because it was so clear that she was lost and without purpose in her life, her lies and deceit did cause some very entertaining moments in this book.

I was thrilled when Charity discovered that she needed God in her life and began putting Him first instead of herself. Of course, Charity had to hit rock bottom first but maybe that's what she needed for a reality check. I appreciated how Ms. Lessman showed Charity's eventual path towards God because it didn't come easy to her -- Charity really had to work for that relationship. It wasn't enough just to pray, but rather Charity had to learn to live her life differently. And one of the hardest lessons that Charity had to learn was about forgiveness. She had to not only forgive others (including God) but especially to forgive herself. I felt like showing that Charity's relationship with God was a work-in-progress made her effort more honest and real.

I was so happy to "see" many of the characters from the first book return in A PASSION REDEEMED. It was almost like being reunited with old friends. The characters in these books are so memorable and very special; and as a reader, I became very caught up in their stories. I enjoyed seeing where they were in their lives, and I was especially glad to see Faith and her parents again (I just love them!) I realize this is going to sound very weird, but when I read these books and get to know these characters I feel so much peace and contentment -- it's almost like therapy because I can relax and just enjoy them (and even get a little spiritual wisdom for good measure!)

I absolutely adore Ms. Lessman and I'm so excited that the third book in this series is coming out very soon. I can't wait to read it and this time I know it won't be sitting on my shelves for a few months. I love these characters and their stories; however, I really appreciate Ms. Lessman's writing. These books are just so readable and very hard to put down. And, I absolutely love how she manages to infuse these books with beautiful messages without hitting the readers over the head -- it's a definitely talent! Last August, I was fortunate enough to have Ms. Lessman write a very moving guest post for Booking Mama. If you didn't read it back then, make sure you check it out.

I am pretty sure that fans of Christian romance will adore this book. A PASSION REDEEMED has a little bit of everything in it -- sibling rivalry, humor, spirituality, father/daughter relationship, friendship, romance, and of course some passion. If you enjoyed A PASSION MOST PURE, then I can guarantee that you will love A PASSION REDEEMED. And if you haven't read either of the books in this series, then what are you waiting for? These books really are just good clean fun!

Also reviewed at:
This That and the Other Thing