Saturday, February 28, 2009

Review: Aesop's Fables & Giveaway

Summary: One of the earliest volumes ever printed in English was Aesop’s Fables, and these delightful, instructive little parables have never gone out of style. Though originally meant for all ages, it is generally considered the first real book to have an audience of children. Noted author John Cech—whose Classic Fairy Tale Collection has received wide critical acclaim—retells some of these best-loved stories in his own inimitable way. Martin Jarrie (illustrator of the bestselling ABC USA) enhances the tales as never before with his unique folk-style art, making this anthology one of the most beautiful and necessary volumes for any child’s bookshelf.

The beloved fables here include:
- The Fox and the Grapes- The Ant and the Grasshopper- The Vain Crow
- The Rooster and the Pearl
- The City Mouse and the Country Mouse
- The Tortoise and the Hare
- The Lion and the Mouse
- The Boy Who Went Swimming
- The Sun and the Wind
- The Monkey and the Camel


Plus: a note on Aesop -- Sterling Publishing

My son was so excited when he saw the picture book AESOP'S FABLES, retold by John Cech and illustrated by Martin Jarrie. He's only four (and a half, he'd be sure to add) and not familiar with Aesop's fables, but he loved the cover with the animals and bright colors. He immediately wanted to read it, so we decided to read four stories before each bedtime. It took us a few days to get through the entire book, but he never asked for a different one until we read each and every story. That's a pretty good endorsement coming from a little guy!

I throughly enjoyed reading this book to my son. While I was familiar with some of the lessons, I certainly didn't know the vast majority of them. I'm guessing my parents didn't read Aesop's fables to me much when I was a child. And a few of the stories that I did remember, I didn't know were Aesop's. I appreciated how each story wrapped up with a one sentence lesson -- kind of like a remember.... I also loved how these lessons about the consequences of our actions still hold true today (both for parents and children.) I'm in awe of how much wisdom is contained in these little stories!

I think AESOP'S FABLES would make a wonderful addition to your library, especially if you have young children. I'm pretty sure that my son didn't understand all of the lessons, but he did enjoy the short stories (one per page) and he loved the illustrations. He even found some of the stories and pictures very funny. And as a parent I liked the stories, pictures, and lessons too; however, I love having this book to use a future teaching tool with my children.

Would you like to win a copy of AESOP'S FABLES? I just happen to have five copies to giveaway courtesy of Sterling Children's Books!!! Please leave a comment with your e-mail address for one entry. If you'd like to double or triple your chances, blog about this contest with a link back here and/or tweet about this giveaway. The contest will be open until Friday, March 13th at 11:59 p.m. EST. I will announce the winner the next day. This contest is open to U.S. and Canada mailing addresses only. Good luck!

Friday, February 27, 2009

Review: DROOD & Giveaway

Summary: On June 9, 1865, while traveling by train to London with his secret mistress, 53-year-old Charles Dickens--at the height of his powers and popularity, the most famous and successful novelist in the world and perhaps in the history of the world--hurtled into a disaster that changed his life forever. Did Dickens begin living a dark double life after the accident? Were his nightly forays into the worst slums of London and his deepening obsession with corpses, crypts, murder, opium dens, the use of lime pits to dissolve bodies, and a hidden subterranean London mere research . . . or something more terrifying?Just as he did in The Terror, Dan Simmons draws impeccably from history to create a gloriously engaging and terrifying narrative. Based on the historical details of Charles Dickens's life and narrated by Wilkie Collins (Dickens's friend, frequent collaborator, and Salieri-style secret rival), DROOD explores the still-unsolved mysteries of the famous author's last years and may provide the key to Dickens's final, unfinished work: The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Chilling, haunting, and utterly original, DROOD is Dan Simmons at his powerful best. -- Little, Brown & Company

Wow! I'm not sure where to start with this review of DROOD by Dan Simmons so I'll say this: I was blown away by this book!

I wasn't really sure if I would enjoy this historical fiction book because I am not a big Charles Dickens fan; and I didn't know if my lack of reading Dickens would affect my understanding of the novel. Another concern I had was that this book is HUGE and very intimidating, coming in at over 770 pages. That's a lot of reading if I didn't like it! I will admit that I probably wouldn't have read this if the book wasn't selected for the February Early Birds Book Tour. Having said all those reasons for not being anxious to read it, I decided to pick it up anyway. And I am so glad that I did because DROOD took me on a wonderful ride!

Probably the first thing that surprised me about DROOD was how entertaining and even funny this book was. I think the main reason for this was Mr. Simmons choice of narrator -- Wilkie Collins. I thoroughly enjoyed Wilkie and his drug-induced creations; and there is no doubt in my mind that I liked this novel better because it was Wilkie's story. For some reason, I found his jealousy and rage towards Dickens to be hilarious. And, don't get me started on his treatment of his "female friends." While he definitely wasn't the most reliable of narrators, I think that his strong opinions and even his vices made him more interesting.

I am in absolute awe of Dan Simmons -- he is nothing if not a genius! I can't even voice how much respect I have for him. Not only did he write a fantastic and fascinating story based on some historical facts, but he brought these characters to life. I can't begin to imagine researching the background material for this novel, and then to fill in the many blanks with an incredible (and very entertaining) story -- totally amazing! I must read more of Mr. Simmons' books.

There are lots of videos on youtube of Dan Simmons reading DROOD and discussing his novel, but I wanted to share with you this particular one. He is reading a scene from the book that I thought was very entertaining -- it shows how quirky Wilkie the narrator is, as well as how Dickens could really get Wilkie's goat! I also thought it was a good example of the humor that was woven throughout the pages of this book.




I highly recommend DROOD! It is a wonderful historical fiction book, but it's also filled with loads of suspense. Mr. Simmons managed to write a book that combines the best of both these genres. I have no doubt that it appeal to many readers!

Are you interested in winning a copy of DROOD? I have five books to giveaway courtesy of Hachette Book Group USA! For one entry, just leave a comment with your e-mail address. If you'd like to double (or even triple) your chances, you can either blog about this contest with a link back to this post and/or post a link on Twitter. I will accept comments until Friday, March 13th at 11:59 p.m. I will announce the winner the following day. This contest is open to those of you with U.S. or Canada mailing addresses only. Good luck!

Check out the other blogs participating in this book tour:
http://hiddenplace.wordpress.com/
http://book-thirty.blogspot.com/
http://bermudaonion.wordpress.com/
http://www.writeforareader.blogspot.com/
http://thebookczar.blogspot.com/
http://www.acircleofbooks.blogspot.com/
http://luanne-abookwormsworld.blogspot.com/
http://www.thetometraveller.blogspot.com/
http://www.bookthoughtsbylisa.blogspot.com/
http://allisonsatticblog.blogspot.com/
http://linussblanket.com/
http://www.chikune.com/blog
http://cafeofdreams.blogspot.com/
http://readingtoolate.net/
http://www.myfriendamysblog.com/
http://jennsbookshelf.blogspot.com/
http://ablogofbooks.blogspot.com/
http://cherylsbooknook.blogspot.com/
http://shootingstarsmag.blogspot.com/
http://www.savvyverseandwit.blogspot.com/
http://bestbookihavenotread.wordpress.com/
http://www.bookishruth.com/
http://www.bookingmama.blogspot.com/
http://martasmeanderings.blogspot.com/
http://dreyslibrary.blogspot.com/

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Review: The Italian Lover

Summary: Margot Harrington's memoir about her discovery in Florence of a priceless masterwork of Renaissance erotica--and the misguided love affair it inspired--is now, 25 years later, being made into a movie. Margot, with the help of her lover, Woody, writes a script that she thinks will validate her life. Of course their script is not used, but never mind--happy endings are the best endings for movies, as Margot eventually comes to see. At the former convent in Florence where "The Sixteen Pleasures"--now called "The Italian Lover,"--is being filmed, Margot enters into a drama she never imagined, where her ideas of home, love, art, and aging collide with the imperatives of commerce and the unknowability of other cultures and other people. -- Back Bay Books

THE ITALIAN LOVER by Robert Hellenga before my giveaway ends next week, so I kind of scooted it up to the top of my TBR pile. As many of you know, I have been loving all things Italian lately, especially books, so I was very anxious to read it. I'm not really sure what I was expecting (yes, I did read the book summary) but I was surprised that the entire story took place in current day (or at least the 1990s.) For some reason, the cover of the book led me to think that it would have more historical references.

As I was reading the first few chapters in this book, I felt a little deja vu. The character of Woody (Margot's love interest) and his story sounded so familiar. I immediately put THE ITALIAN LOVER down and started researching Mr. Hellenga's past novels. There was a good reason that I remembered Woody -- I had read THE FALL OF THE SPARROW quite a few years ago. This novel told the story of Woody and how his life was changed as a result of losing his daughter in a bombing. I also found out that Margot's story about discovering a priceless book and her love affair was an earlier Hellenga novel too entitled THE SIXTEEN PLEASURES. Unfortunately I hadn't read Margot's story, but I definitely think THE ITALIAN LOVER can be appreciated (and enjoyed) without having read either of those books.

THE ITALIAN LOVER told the story of six people who were brought together for the filming of Margot's memoir titled The Sixteen Pleasures. Once again, I loved reading about the cities in Italy (I'm really going to have to visit there someday.) Mr. Hellenga's descriptions definitely made me feel like I was seeing Italy through his eyes. What I also enjoyed was how the various characters perceived Italy. Most appreciated the beauty and culture, but Italy had a different affect on each of them -- sometimes even changing their entire personality. It was also very interesting how Woody perceived Italy. His Italy wasn't all about aesthetics, but rather he saw an ugly side. Italy was where his daughter died and his entire life drastically changed.

Another thing about this novel that I found interesting was the storyline surrounding the making of the movie. I am not a big movie fan, but I'm fascinated by the entire process of turning a book into a movie. I felt like the movie-making business scenes sounded very realistic. It's clear that Mr. Hellenga conducted not only a ton of research about Italy in general, but he also really studied the film-making industry.

I think Mr. Hellenga did a wonderful job of developing all six characters. These characters were very human and complex (and, of course, each had their fair share of flaws.) All of the characters changed throughout the course of this novel, some more so than others; and I enjoyed seeing them discover things about themselves. I also appreciated seeing Italy's effect on each of the characters as well as their relationships with each other and how these things changed each of their lives.

I think many reading groups would enjoy THE ITALIAN LOVER. There are definitely a lot of themes to discuss such as love, family, marriage, religion, friendship, honesty, etc. This novel was an interesting story in its own right, but I think it was really a character driven book. I was pleasantly surprised with how "deep" the novel was, and I find myself still thinking about the characters. There is a reading guide available, and I think these questions are terrific and will provide a lot of interesting discussion.

If THE ITALIAN LOVER sounds like a novel that you'd like to read, make sure you sign up for my five book giveaway. Good luck!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Review: The Sum of Our Days

Summary: In The Sum of Our Days, internationally acclaimed author Isabel Allende reconstructs the painful reality of her own life in the wake of the tragic death of her daughter, Paula. Narrated with warmth, humor, exceptional candor, and wisdom, this remarkable memoir is as exuberant and full of life as its creator. Allende bares her soul as she shares her thoughts on love, marriage, motherhood, spirituality and religion, infidelity, addiction, and memory—and recounts stories of the wildly eccentric, strong-minded, and eclectic tribe she gathers around her and lovingly embraces as a new kind of family. -- Harper Perennial

I honestly don't think I would have picked up THE SUM OF OUR DAYS by Isabel Allende if it weren't for Book Club Girl's BlogTalk Radio show. I rarely pick up memoirs -- not because I don't enjoy them, but rather because there are just so many fiction books out there that I want to read. And, I'm a little embarrassed to admit this, but I've never read one of Ms. Allende's novels either. Despite these things, I am so glad that I read THE SUM OF OUR DAYS because it was such a fascinating book.

I think everyone pretty much recognizes that Ms. Allende is a fantastic writer. In fact after reading THE SUM OF OUR DAYS, I definitely intend to read some of her other books. What I didn't know about Ms. Allende is that she has had a most interesting life. She has experienced so much of life, both good and bad, and has the ability to tell her story in the most eloquent way. The title of the book alone, THE SUM OF OUR DAYS, is just perfect for this memoir because all of what's happened to her in her life has made her into the person that she is. I think that's true of all of us, but her experiences are certainly more interesting and unique than anyone I've ever met.

Ms. Allende has had the most amazing life experiences just with the stories about her family members -- what she refers to as her "tribe." There were many that I found interesting, but I was most touched by pages about the loss of her daughter Paula. I think most parents will agree that losing a child is the worst thing that could happen to us. (Ms. Allende has written about book about taking care of her daughter called PAULA that I'm also very interesting in reading.) I also liked the insight I received into the relationship with her husband. There relationship was full of ups and downs, but they've been able to make it work; and their relationship is probably stronger as a result of everything they've been through.

One thing that I really enjoyed about this memoir was reading about one of Ms. Allende's best friends Tabra. I have one of Tabra's bracelets (which I love) , but I really knew little, if anything, about her life. I was so surprised when I started reading this book and saw her name mentioned. At first I was like what are the chances, but I quickly realized that the Tabra in the book was one in the same with the Tabra jewelry designer. Tabra is an extremely interesting person too; and her life is intriguing in its own right.

The Blog Talk Radio show is scheduled for tonight (Wednesday, February 25th) at 7:00 p.m. Ever since I finished this book, I have been looking forward to hearing Ms. Allende speak about her life. I find her incredibly interesting and know this show is going to be something special. You can participate in the show either by phone or the chat section of Blog Talk Radio; however, if you want to participate via the chat, make sure you register on BTR first.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Review: The Year the Swallows Came Early

Summary: Eleanor "Groovy" Robinson loves cooking and plans to go to culinary school just as soon as she's old enough. But even Groovy's thoughtfully—planned menus won't fix the things that start to go wrong the year she turns eleven—suddenly, her father is in jail, her best friend's long-absent mother reappears, and the swallows that make their annual migration to her hometown arrive surprisingly early. As Groovy begins to expect the unexpected, she learns about the importance of forgiveness, understands the complex stories of the people around her, and realizes that even an earthquake can't get in the way of a family that needs to come together.

Kathryn Fitzmaurice's lovely debut novel is distinctively Californian in its flavor. Her rich characters and strong sense of place feel both familiar and fresh at first meeting—and worth revisiting, again and again. -- The Bowen Press/Harper Collins Children

I absolutely adored the middle grade novel THE YEAR THE SWALLOWS CAME EARLY by Kathryn Fitzmaurice. This book tells the story of Groovy, a young girl whose life is turned upside-down after her father is arrested. I was so caught up with Groovy's story that I read the book in one sitting. It was such a beautiful story that truly touched my heart.

One of the main reasons that I enjoyed this book so much was the character of Groovy. The story was told in first person narrative by Groovy, and her insights into her life (and the lives of others) were just wonderful. I couldn't help but fall in love with her, and my heart broke because she was forced to grow up so fast. After her father (whom she idolized) was taken away and put in jail, she realized true disappointment. And she definitely learned the hard way that people aren't always what they seem. That's a hard lesson to learn at any age but especially for a young girl.

Not only did I love the character of Groovy, but I also loved her friends in this novel. Each one of her friends in this story supported her and showed her what a true friend is. I especially liked her best friend Frankie and his step-brother and guardian Luis. Like Groovy, Frankie had to learn to accept and forgive his mother -- faults and all. And I loved how Luis provide some stability in these children's lives. He always seemed to say or do the right thing, and I loved how he used cooking, Groovy's passion, to help her cope.

Another thing I really appreciated in this novel was how the author incorporated the return of the birds of Capistrano each year. The return of the birds to their hometown was something these children could always count on when they had so much uncertainty in their lives. I also like how young readers can learn about this amazing event and even pursue further study of the Story of San Juan Capistrano's Mission Swallows outside of this book.

There were so many beautiful themes in this novel, but the ones that really stood out for me were compassion and forgiveness. While the young characters in this novel had to deal with so much heartache, these disappointment also taught them a great deal about people. They discovered that adults aren't always perfect; and even though their parents made many mistakes, it didn't mean that their parents didn't love them.

I am incredibly impressed with author Kathryn Fitzmaurice's story-telling abilities, especially since THE YEAR THE SWALLOWS CAME EARLY is her first novel. Ms. Fitzmaurice is a former teacher and I can definitely tell from this book that she truly "gets" kids. If you'd like to learn more about Ms. Fitzmaurice, she has a beautiful website as well as a blog. (I love that her site includes a page on advice for young writers.) In addition, there is a very interesting article about what inspired her to write this novel. I have a feeling (and really hope) that we will be seeing a lot more of her and her books in the future!

As many of my regular readers know, my nine year old daughter and I belong to a Mother-Daughter book club that meets monthly. I think THE YEAR THE SWALLOWS CAME EARLY would make a fantastic future selection for us -- moms and daughters both would enjoy it! Not only is the story wonderful, but there are so many things for young people to talk about with each other. There are discussion questions available to help keep your meeting focused -- I can speak from experience when I say that it is sometimes difficult to keep kids on track! And if you really want to have a special meeting, I'm pretty sure that Ms. Fitzmaurice is available for author chats. If you'd like to get a sneak peek of this book, check out the first chapter here.

A big thanks to kidzbookbuzz.com for allowing me to participate in the book blog tour for THE YEAR THE SWALLOWS CAME EARLY. Here's the list of other tour participants:

A Christian Worldview of Fiction
All About Children’s Books
Becky’s Book Reviews
Booking Mama
Cafe of Dreams
Dolce Bellezza
Fireside Musings
Homeschool Buzz
Hyperbole
KidzBookBuzz.com
Looking Glass Reviews
Maw Books Blog
Never Jam Today
Novel Teen
Reading is My Superpower

Monday, February 23, 2009

Mailbox Monday - February 23, 2009

I know I sound like I'm bragging, but I received some more wonderful books this week:

THE SORROWS OF AN AMERICAN - Siri Hustvedt

BECAUSE I LOVE HER: 34 WOMEN WRITERS REFLECT ON THE MOTHER-DAUGHTER BOND (ARC) edited by Andrea N. Richesin

THE LOCAL NEWS by Miriam Gershow - I think this one is a Shelf Awareness request from a few months back.

THE BEAUTY DIET by Lisa Drayer - I requested this book from the Mini Book Expo for Bloggers.

SAG HARBOR by Colson Whitehead - I requested this one from the Barnes and Noble First Look Book Club, but I've also seen it on Shelf Awareness

THE TEN YEAR NAP by Meg Wolitzer

SLEEPWALKING IN DAYLIGHT by Elizabeth Flock

PICKING COTTON: OUR MEMOIR OF INJUSTICE AND REDEMPTION by Jennier Thompson-Cannino and Ronald Cotton with Erin Torneo

What did you get last week?

Mailbox Monday is hosted by Marcia at The Printed Page.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Review: The Jewel Trader of Pegu

Summary: In the autumn of 1598, Abraham, a melancholy young Jewish gem merchant, seeks his fortune far from the imprisoning ghetto walls of Venice. Traveling halfway across the world, he lands in the lush and exotic Burmese kingdom of Pegu—an alien place, yet one where the jewel trader is not shunned for his faith. There is a price for his newfound freedom, however. Local custom demands that Abraham perform a duty he finds troubling and barbaric . . . and thus Mya, barely more than a girl, arrives to share his bed. Gently banishing his despair, awakening something profound within him, Mya ultimately accepts Abraham's protection and, unexpectedly, his love. But great social and political upheaval threatens to violently transform the Peguan empire—with devastating consequences for Abraham and Mya and their dreams for the future. -- Harper Perennial

I have been on a major historical fiction book kick lately, and I love that I've read so many terrific ones in the past few months. I can now add THE JEWEL TRADER OF PEGU by Jeffrey Hantover to that list. This novel is relatively short (about 225 pages) but it packs a powerful punch. To me, THE JEWEL TRADER OF PEGU is first and foremost a beautiful love story; however, I was also blown away by the characters' wise insights into religion, love and spirituality that occurred throughout pages of this book.

THE JEWEL TRADER OF PEGU is Mr. Hantover's first novel. I am so impressed with the story he created, as well as his beautiful prose -- so much of this novel read like poetry to me (which makes a lot of sense since Mr. Hantover spent many years writing poetry.) It seemed as if each word in this novel was selected to elicit a particular response. I found that he captured the essence of the Burmese empire of Pegu extremely well. I was easily able to picture the look and feel of this city as well as its various inhabitants.

I also appreciated how Mr. Hantover told this story primarily through the use of letters from Abraham to his cousin. I found it fascinating that his research on this time period showed that Venetian Jewish men wrote letters to their fathers on a daily basis, and that he was able to incorporate this knowledge into the very basis of this novel. I also appreciated the chapters about Mya and her story. Since she was uneducated and illiterate, Mya told her story in first person narrative. Both of these writing methods were very effective in developing these characters and their loving relationship.

I think THE JEWEL TRADER OF PEGU would make a wonderful book club selection especially if your group really likes to delve into religion, love, and other spiritual issues. This book definitely raised a lot of interesting ideas in my mind that would make for an excellent discussion. There is a reading guide available with quite a few intriguing questions as well. I absolutely loved the P.S. Section in the back of the paperback version. Included in this section were an interview with the author and "The Story Behind THE JEWEL TRADER OF PEGU." Both of these things provided so much more insight into the novel for me, and I feel they truly enhanced my reading experience.

I love reading wonderful stories while also learning something about history. While many of the historical novels that I read are based on stories real-life people, THE JEWEL TRADER OF PEGU is not one of them. The time period and places are very authentic, but the characters are created by the author. The idea of different types of historical fiction led me to think about which type I prefer. I'll admit that I'm not really sure -- I think I like a good historical fiction novel regardless of whether the characters are real. Do you have a preference on the type of historical fiction books you prefer to read?

A big thanks to Danny at Harper Collins for sending me this book.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Hello...You Won The Laws of Harmony & The Agency

The winners of THE LAWS OF HARMONY by Judith Ryan Hendricks are:
Amy
Janel
Linda
Carolyn G

Congratulations! I hope you enjoy this book as much as I did!



And, the winners of THE AGENCY by Ally O'Brien are:
Jo-Jo
Kimmyl
a real librarian
Sara
Pam
carolsnotebook
Cheryl
Karlie
purplg8r
S. Krishna

I thought this book was a definite hoot. I'll be anxious to hear what all of you think about it.

Thanks to everyone who entered these giveaways! If you didn't win, make sure you check out my other contest:

THE ITALIAN LOVER

Friday, February 20, 2009

Review & Giveaway: Fatal February

Summary: For half Jewish, half Southern Baptist Miami criminal defense attorney Mary Magruder Katz, life starts to spin completely out of control when a minor fender bender turns out to be an unlikely shot from Cupid’s bow.

Carlos Martin, the other car’s driver, isn’t just a distracted driver; he’s distracting. Carlos is charming, handsome, and mysterious. Hardly before she knows what hit her, Mary breaks off her engagement, jumps into a sizzling romance with Carlos, gets fired from her former fiancĂ©’s highbrow law firm, starts her own practice, and lands her first client, Lillian Yarmouth.

But Lillian isn’t just any client; she’s the prime suspect in what’s become the Miami society murder of the year.


While investigating Lillian’s alleged crime of passion, Mary finds that this case, like all matters of the heart, is anything but black and white. And Mary has clearly stumbled onto something that has someone seeing red.

February may be the shortest month of the year, but Mary’s got some long days (and nights) ahead. This month could be a real killer. -- Oceanview Publishing

FATAL FEBRUARY by Barbara Levenson was a very entertaining read. I haven't read a lot of mysteries in the past year or so; but when I do, I find that I really enjoy them. FATAL FEBRUARY was a quick, fast-paced read that captured my attention right from the start.

I thoroughly enjoyed the Mary character and even liked how the author incorporated a lot of Mary's personal life into this book. The reader got to "meet" her current and past boyfriends as well as some family memebers. While I did appreciate the various characters, I also thought the mystery aspect of this novel was very well-developed. I liked how the author included many twists and turns (as well as a few very big surprises) in this story. I don't want to give too much away because it is a mystery, but the plot kept me guessing (and even second guessing) throughout much of this book.

Another thing I really enjoyed about this book was that there were interesting secondary plots. Of course the mystery surrounding Lillian was the main story, but I also enjoyed the other side stories surrounding Mary's life. The budding relationship with her new romantic interest as well as the legal issues with her former fiance both helped the reader to better understand Mary.

FATAL FEBRUARY is Ms. Levenson's first novel, and I think it's a good start to a promising writing career. Her writing style is perfect for this type of mystery. Ms. Levenson served as a prosecutor and has also had her own practice which focused on criminal defense. She is currently a senior judge in the circuit court of Miami-Dade County. It's obvious to me that her legal background has served her well in her writing.

I have a feeling that FATAL FEBRUARY is going to be the first in a series of books with Mary Magruder Katz as the main character. I think readers will find Mary extremely likable, and she is entertaining enough to be a regular character in many more books. I like that the author wrote Mary as a criminal defense lawyer, rather than a policewoman or even a detective, because it makes the story a little different than other female mystery series. I wouldn't hesitate to read another book by Ms. Levenson; and I definitely look forward to seeing more of Mary in future books.

Does FATAL FEBRUARY sound like a book that you would like to read? Barbara Levenson is giving away a signed copy of her book, FATAL FEBRUARY, to one lucky tour visitor. Go to Barbara’s book tour page; and enter your name, e-mail address, and this PIN, 6327, for your chance to win. Entries from Booking Mama will be accepted until 12:00 Noon (PT) tomorrow. No purchase is required to enter or to win. The winner (first name only) will be announced on Barbara’s book tour page next week.

A big thanks to Mystery Book News for allowing me to partipate in this book tour! Check out the schedule for the other stops on the FATAL FEBRUARY tour.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Free Harlequin E-Books

Harlequin is turning 60! And to celebrate, they are giving away 16 free downloadable books! These books are available in any eBook format, as Stanza for iPhone or as a PDF. There are no digital rights management on any of the titles so you can even share them with your friends.

Harlequin's goal is to give a book to every woman in America (and Canada.) While their focus is getting a romance novel to every woman in America, their free books are accessible from anywhere in the world with a computer connection.

Here is the link where you can download the following free books:

Harlequin American Romance, Once a Cowboy by Linda Warren
Harlequin Blaze, Slow Hands by Leslie Kelly
Harlequin Historical, His Lady Mistress by Elizabeth Rolls
Harlequin Intrigue, Crime Scene at Cardwell Ranch by B.J. Daniels
Harlequin Presents, Price of Passion by Susan Napier
Harlequin Romance, The Bride’s Baby by Liz Fielding
Harlequin Superromance, Snowbound by Janice Kay Johnson

Silhouette Desire, Baby Bonanza by Maureen Child
Silhouette Nocturne, Kiss Me Deadly by Michele Hauf
Silhouette Romantic Suspense, Stranded with a Spy by Merline Lovelace
Silhouette Special Edition, Dancing in the Moonlight by Raeanne Thayne

Love Inspired, A Very Special Delivery by Linda Goodnight
Love Inspired Historical, Homespun Bride by Jillian Hart
Love Inspired Suspense, Hide in Plain Sight by Marta Perry

Kimani Romance, Irresistible Forces by Brenda Jackson

Nascar, Speed Dating by Nancy Warren

For those of you who enjoy romance novels (and who doesn't every once in awhile?), this sounds like a fantastic opportunity!

New Short Story Blog: Fifty-Two Stories

This week I received an e-mail from Alberto G. Rojas, Director of Publicity at Harper Perennial + Harper Paperbacks about a new short story blog called Fifty-Two Stories. I am currently not a big reader of short stories, but each year I make a resolution to read more of them. I think Fifty-Two Stories might be just the thing to get me started!

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

Many of you have already heard about Harper Perennial's upcoming campaign for 2009: the Summer of the Short Story. With six stellar new collections coming this summer and fall from Dennis Cooper, Simon Van Booy, and Lydia Peelle, among others—along with six collections of classic shorts from masters like Dostoyevsky, Wilde, Cather, and Crane—we think it’s high time to celebrate the much-loved, but oft-overlooked, short story form.

The festivities and events really kick into gear starting in May, but we decided to get an early start with a new story blog called Fifty-Two Stories.


The idea is simple: Each week in 2009, we will post a new short story for our readers. Some of them will be new stories from our original collections, or from upcoming hardcovers; some original contributions never before published anywhere; some classics from our backlist. We’re even (gasp) accepting submissions for new stories from our readers, professional or amateur, published or not. (This may cause us some heartache, but we are strong.)

Our editorial director, Cal Morgan, will select a new story each week and post it Sunday night. We began our soft launch in January, with stories by Mary Gaitskill, Tony O’Neill, Simon Van Booy, and Tom Piazza. In coming weeks we’ll bring you stories from Katherine Dunn, Jess Walter, Mark Twain, Dennis Cooper, and Special Guest Stars. Last week, we were graced by previously unpublished story from Louise Erdrich's new collection, The Red Convertible and this week we’re thrilled to be featuring a story by Willa Cather from The Bohemian Girl, an upcoming selection of Willa Cather’s greatest short works by Harper Perennial.

We really hope you’ll check out the site. If you like it, we hope you’ll spread the word. We'd love it, of course, if you'd link to it on your own blog. Tell your friends to link to it on theirs. Share your link with us, and we’ll link to you! Post a link on MySpace or Facebook. Tweet about us on Twitter. We’re doing all that, too, of course, but every little bit helps.

And tell us what you think! If you have any tips, ideas, advice, wisdom, complaints, please email me here, or email Cal directly at
fiftytwostories@harpercollins.com.

Thanks, all. Everyone at Harper Perennial is having a blast with this, and hope you will too.

All best,

Alberto

I hope you will check out Fifty-Two Stories and let me know what you think!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Review: Very Valentine

Summary: Meet the Roncalli and Angelini families, a vibrant cast of colorful characters who navigate tricky family dynamics with hilarity and brio, from magical Manhattan to the picturesque hills of bella Italia. Very Valentine is the first novel in a trilogy and is sure to be the new favorite of Trigiani's millions of fans around the world.

In this luscious, contemporary family saga, the Angelini Shoe Company, makers of exquisite wedding shoes since 1903, is one of the last family-owned businesses in Greenwich Village. The company is on the verge of financial collapse. It falls to thirty-three-year-old Valentine Roncalli, the talented and determined apprentice to her grandmother, the master artisan Teodora Angelini, to bring the family's old-world craftsmanship into the twenty-first century and save the company from ruin.

While juggling a budding romance with dashing chef Roman Falconi, her duty to her family, and a design challenge presented by a prestigious department store, Valentine returns to Italy with her grandmother to learn new techniques and seek one-of-a-kind materials for building a pair of glorious shoes to beat their rivals. There, in Tuscany, Naples, and on the Isle of Capri, a family secret is revealed as Valentine discovers her artistic voice and much more, turning her life and the family business upside down in ways she never expected. Very Valentine is a sumptuous treat, a journey of dreams fulfilled, a celebration of love and loss filled with Trigiani's trademark heart and humor. - Harper

I have been waiting for what seems like forever for Adriana Trigiani's latest novel VERY VALENTINE; and I have been so excited the past few weeks because I was starting to see her and her book everywhere. I felt like I was having my own personal countdown. I reserved my copy at the library months ago and was thrilled to get the e-mail notification that the book was waiting for me (on the pub date!) I ran over to the library right away because I couldn't wait to curl up and read it.

I am a HUGE fan of Adriana Trigiani! I have read all of her novels and I even chose one of her books as a book club selection a few years ago. Unfortunately, this was before I knew that Ms. Trigiani is a huge supporter of book clubs and speaks with two to three clubs a week! I think the only book that I haven't read is her cookbook COOKING WITH MY SISTERS; and I keep telling myself that I have to get it (but my husband has banned me from bringing more cookbooks into the house.) I am going to warn you upfront in this review that there is little, if any, chance that I would ever say anything negative about her or one of her books. She is like a rock star to me!

I definitely enjoyed reading VERY VALENTINE. I'm still processing it so I'm not entirely sure it was my favorite Trigiani book, but the story and the characters are still in my thoughts so that's a sign to me of a very good book. I absolutely love Ms. Trigiani's writing style and her descriptions of ...well, everything! I am absolutely dying to visit Italy after reading about the beautiful villages as well as the gorgeous countryside (and of course the delicious sounding food!) And her descriptions of the shoes, the materials used to make them, and how the shoemakers' actually created a pair from hand were incredible. I swear that all the beautiful images of shoes made me want to go out and buy a new pair or two (or three...) -- although I have to be honest when I say that I get that feeling quite a bit.

Although I did enjoy learning about the craft of shoe making and "visiting" Italy, I especially appreciated all the relationship stories in this novel. I loved Valentine's family dynamics because they seemed very real to me -- from the love to the bickering and even the bullying; but I also enjoyed the romantic relationships that were featured in this novel. Some of my favorite moments in the book were when Valentine was able to see her grandparents' and parents' marriages through an adult's eyes. She learned that their relationships were far from perfect, and that marriages have ups and downs, but love is ultimately the most important thing.

After I finished VERY VALENTINE, I heard that it is the first book in Ms. Trigiani's new series. That really makes a lot of sense for me because I am very anxious to see what happens to a few of characters -- there is still so much I want to hear from these characters. I loved Valentine and her grandmother and definitely want to see more of them in future books; but the supporting characters were also terrific. Valentine's family was the typical New York Italian family and I found myself laughing at their interactions. I especially found Valentine's mother Mike to be hilarious -- I can picture her perfectly with her animal print accessories. And since VERY VALENTINE is an Adriana Trigiani novel, I feel like I know these people because she describes them so well and makes them so human. I have to admit that I'm missing them already!

I think that VERY VALENTINE would make an excellent book club selection. As is the case with all of Ms. Trigiani's novels, there is an excellent reading guide available. I am actually considering picking it for a future discussion book for my club because I would love to have the opportunity to talk with Ms. Trigiani (that's if I could speak coherently to her.) There is so much to talk about with the various characters and their actions. I also think the different types of romantic relationships (and love) would stimulate a great deal of discussion.

If you're a fan of Adiana Trigiani and her books, then you're not going to be disappointed with VERY VALENTINE! And if you aren't familiar with Ms. Trigiani, then what are you waiting for?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Review: Quiet Bunny

Summary: In this beautiful picture book by renowned artist Lisa McCue, Little Bunny discovers the importance—and pleasure—of dancing to your own kind of music.

More than anything, Quiet Bunny loves the sounds of the forest: the birds chirping, the wind whispering shhhhh through the leaves, and, especially, the night song all the rabbits listen to. But, one day, he wonders: how can I join in? Bunny wanders the woods asking animal after animal—but he just can’t ch-cheet like the cricket, ssssss like the hissing snake, or o-uuuu like the howling wolves. But nothing feels just right—until Quiet Bunny finds the wonderful beat that’s his and his alone. -- Sterling Publishing

QUIET BUNNY by Lisa McCue just might be my son's new favorite book. He absolutely adored this book -- from the story to the characters to the illustrations. I can't remember the last time he enjoyed reading a book this much. As for me, I enjoyed the book too; but I loved how much he giggled while I read this story to him.

QUIET BUNNY is geared towards children four to six years old. My son is right in the middle of that range, but I'd think children as young as two would also appreciate this book. My son paid attention for the entire story (which is not always the case) and had so much fun making the animal sounds with me. After we finished the book, I asked him his opinion for "our review." Booking Son said, "I LOVED IT!" Then, he proceeded to summarize the book better than I could have. I think his ability to listen to the story, process it, and then explain it to me speaks volumes about how wonderful QUIET BUNNY is!

I'm sure that many of you will recognize the name Lisa McCue. Not only has she written many children's books, but she is also the illustrator for the Corduroy books as well as books by Margaret Wise Brown. I thought this book was absolutely gorgeous. All of the creatures were precious, especially the bunny; and there was so much going on in every picture. My son especially loved looking for the tiny animals hidden among the beautiful forest scenery.

As I'm writing this review, my son saw the book on my desk and asked if we could read it again tonight. His enthusiasm certainly is catching because I can't wait until tonight's storytime!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Mailbox Monday - February 16, 2009

Last week was awesome as far as books go. I received loads of surprises, and what's better than packages filled with surprises! Here's a list of what I got in my mailbox:

RESISTANCE by Owen Sheers

THE SUM OF OUR DAYS by Isabel Allende -- This book is courtesy of Book Club Girl for the BlogTalk Radio show on February 25th.

ZOE LUCKY AND THE GREEN GABLES' MYSTERY by M. Carol Coffeey

THE SOUL THIEF by Charles Baxter

A FREE LIFE by Ha Jin

OLIVE KITTERIDGE by Elizabeth Strout -- This one was a total surprise, but what a terrific one. I think the neighbors heard my screams!

SHANGHAI GIRLS by Lisa See -- Ditto (maybe even louder screams)

THE ITALIAN LOVER by Robert Hellenga -- I have wanted to read this one and thanks to Hachette I am doing a 5 book giveaway.

QUIET BUNNY by Lisa McCue

THE WRITING ON MY FOREHEAD by Nafisa Hafi

What did you get last week?

Mailbox Monday is hosted by Marcia at The Printed Page.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Weekly Geeks - February 15, 2009

What's in a Name?

For this week's edition of Weekly Geeks, we're going to take a closer look at character names. What are some of your favorite character names?

Go to Google or a baby name site like this one or this one, and look up a favorite character's name. What does their name mean? Do you think the meaning fits the character? Why or why not?

If you'd like, look up your own name as well and share the meaning.

I think this week's Weekly Geeks topic sounded interesting, and I knew right away which character's name I would look up! My favorite book is TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD; and I, of course, love Atticus Finch. I think he's such a strong man who stood up for what he believed in even when it wasn't popular or easy.

When I clicked on the first name link, his name wasn't found. Fortunately, I have better luck here. Atticus is derived from Latin and means "from Attica." Here's a little more info: "Attica is the region of Greece which contains Athens, the capital city. Today, the name is mainly known from the character Atticus Finch in Harper Lee's novel 'To Kill a Mockingbird'. Atticus was also the name of a number of ancient Greek philosophers and writers; it was also the name of an early Archbishop of Constantinople. Atticus recently broke into the 1000 most popular names in the US, and was ranked 767th in 2006."

I also looked up my name -- Julie. Julie is also Latin and means: "down-bearded youth." I have always thought it meant "youthful one" which sounds much better than "down-bearded youth." Plus, I kind of like the term "youthful one" since I'm closing in on 40 in a few months!

I actually prefer the first link for its description of Julie: "Its source is a Greek expression meaning "Jove's descendant." Here's a more detailed description: "Some authorities prefer the meaning ''downy beard.'' However, this might have been understood as an attribute of Jove, the chief of the Greco-Roman gods. The original Greek name evolved into the name of a Roman clan, whose most famous member was the military and political leader Julius Caesar."

What a great idea for Weekly Geeks! What does your name mean?

Review: The Agency

Summary: Meet Tess Drake. She’s earned everything she has. Now it’s time to get what she deserves…

Sexy super-agent Tess Drake has worked hard to make a name for herself in the glamorous yet cut-throat entertainment industry. Tess works at an international agency, where she skillfully manages some of the world's biggest egos—her company, Bardwell International operates in the thrilling, fast-paced worlds of Rights, wrongs and revenge. Tess has been an agent there for longer than she cares to remember and now she's in trouble. Real trouble. After the mysterious death of the agency's senior partner, Lowell Bardwright, Tess's sworn enemy, Cosima Tate, has taken over and would do anything to send Tess's career down in flames. And Cosima is only one of the rogue’s gallery of agents in London and New York who want Tess to take a fall.

Tess has another little complication, too. She’s sleeping with men on both sides of the Atlantic who are in bed with the women who are trying to sink her. -- St. Martin's Press

I first heard about THE AGENCY by Ally O'Brien a few months ago when I won an ARC from Book Room Reviews. I thought it looked good, but I placed it on my bookshelves with the intention that I would get around to reading it someday. Then, I was contacted by Sarah from St. Martin's Press about hosting a giveaway for 10 copies of THE AGENCY. I jumped at the opportunity, but I really wanted to read and review the book before the contest ends on the 20th so I could share my opinion with all of you.

This giveaway was just the impetus I needed to read THE AGENCY; and I am so very glad I did. THE AGENCY was a very entertaining book (and to think, it was just sitting on my bookshelves.) I'm not really sure what I was expecting of this novel, but I was pleasantly surprised by how much I did enjoy it. I found myself laughing out loud many times while reading it, and I was very impressed by how the author(s) -- more on that later -- kept my attention. In fact, I read the last half of the novel in one sitting because I couldn't put it down.

I want to preface my comments by saying that I am a huge fan of books with outrageous British characters. And, Tess Drake is going to go right up there with some of my all-time favorites. I have to warn readers that she is rude, crude, ruthless, immoral, etc., but I absolutely loved her. Even when she was at her worst, I found myself rooting her on. Some of my favorite parts of the novel were her insights about her co-workers as well as her "pretend/imagined comments" to them.

As I reading this book, I couldn't help but be reminded of the Ari character on the HBO series Entourage. I couldn't wait to make the comparison of Tess as a "female Ari" in my review, but then I read Entertainment Weekly's review and they made the same reference. (By the way, they gave the book a B+.) I found it very interesting (and entertaining) to see a female main character who possessed traits that are usually reserved for successful business men.

One thing I really enjoyed about this novel was the mystery angle of the story. Tess' boss is found dead (in a very compromising position) at the beginning of the novel. Because she is a suspect in the murder, she finds herself wondering and eventually investigating who the real culprit might be. The mystery is solved by the end of the novel, but the reader is definitely taken on a road with some twists and turns along the way. I have to admit that I found myself surprised quite a bit in the last section of the book.

Ally O'Brien is actually a pseudonym for international bestselling author Brian Freeman and London-based entertainment agent Ali Gunn. I can't imagine writing a book like this together, but they did a fantastic job. It's apparent that Ali Gunn provided a lot of the insight into the business side of the story while Brian Freeman most likely developed the suspense side. I am very impressed by this combination and I'd certainly be willing to read more books by them (especially if Tess appears again.)

After reading this book, I can definitely say that I recommend it (if you're not easily offended by sexual content and language. If it sounds like a book that you'd like to read, make sure you sign up to win one of 10 copies courtesy of St. Martin's Press.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Valentine's Giveaway: The Italian Lover

Summary: Margot Harrington's memoir about her discovery in Florence of a priceless masterwork of Renaissance erotica--and the misguided love affair it inspired--is now, 25 years later, being made into a movie. Margot, with the help of her lover, Woody, writes a script that she thinks will validate her life. Of course their script is not used, but never mind--happy endings are the best endings for movies, as Margot eventually comes to see. At the former convent in Florence where "The Sixteen Pleasures"--now called "The Italian Lover,"--is being filmed, Margot enters into a drama she never imagined, where her ideas of home, love, art, and aging collide with the imperatives of commerce and the unknowability of other cultures and other people. -- Back Bay Books

I want to celebrate Valentine's Day with all of you; and I can't think of a better way than having a giveaway of a book with "lover" in the title -- an Italian lover at that. I am so excited that I have five copies of THE ITALIAN LOVER by Robert Hellenga to giveaway courtesy of Hachette Book Group USA! All you have to do for an entry is leave a comment. If you'd like additional comments, you can blog about this post with a link back here and/or you can also twitter about this contest with a link. The contest is open until Friday, March 6th at 11:59 p.m. EST. I will announce the winners the following day. This contest is open to those of you with U.S. and Canada mailing addresses only. Good luck to all of you!

I just received my copy so I haven't gotten a chance to read it yet, but I think it looks terrific. I can't wait to read it. This isn't a promise, but I am going to try to read it and post my review before the contest ends. Good luck to me!

Hello...You Won Signora Da Vinci

Congrats to Dar and liane66. You both won copies of SIGNORA DA VINCI by Robin Maxwell. I was overwhelmed by the big response to this giveaway. I guess a lot of you are historical fiction fans!

Make sure you check out my other contests:

THE AGENCY - 10 copies

THE LAWS OF HARMONY - 5 copies

THE ITALIAN LOVER - 5 copies

Friday, February 13, 2009

Review: The Book of Unholy Mischief

Summary: It is 1498, the dawn of the Renaissance, and Venice teems with rumors of an ancient book that holds the secret to unimaginable power. It is an alchemist's dream, with recipes for gold, immortality, and undying love. Everyone, rich and poor alike, speculates about the long-buried secrets scrawled in its pages and where it could possibly be hidden within the labyrinthine city. But while those who seek the book will stop at nothing to get it, those who know will die to protect it.

As a storm of intrigue and desire circles the republic that grew from the sea, Luciano, a penniless orphan with a quick wit and an even faster hand, is plucked up by an illustrious chef and hired, for reasons he cannot yet begin to understand, as an apprentice in the palace kitchen. There, in the lavish home of the most powerful man in Venice, he is initiated into the chef's rich and aromatic world, with all its seductive ingredients and secrets.

Luciano's loyalty to his street friends and the passion he holds for a convent girl named Francesca remain, but it is not long before he, too, is caught up in the madness. After he witnesses a shocking murder in the Palace dining room, he realizes that nothing is as it seems and that no one, not even those he's come to rely on most, can be trusted. Armed with a precocious mind and an insatiable curiosity, Luciano embarks on a perilous journey to uncover the truth. What he discovers will swing open the shutters of his mind, inflame his deepest desires, and leave an indelible mark on his soul.

Rich with the luxurious colors and textures of Venice, The Book of Unholy Mischief delights the senses and breathes fresh life into an age defined by intellectual revival and artistic vibrancy. A luminous and seductive novel, it is, at its heart, a high-spirited tribute to the fruits of knowledge and the extraordinary power of those who hold its key. In a world of violence and intrigue, who guards the truth? - Atria Books

I was so excited when I found out that Atria Books was starting a book club on Twitter. And I was even more excited when I found out that they would be reading THE BOOK OF UNHOLY MISCHIEF by Elle Newmark. I had seen a few reviews for this book and already added it to my TBR list. Fortunately, I was able to snag a copy of book. I couldn't wait to dig in!

My first impression of the book was how beautiful the cover picture is. When I touched it, I found that the texture of the book cover is different than most book jackets -- it's a thicker cover with a matte finish that feels very rich. Then I opened the cover and the inside of the book is filled with a beautiful painting of the food mentioned in the novel. I had a feeling that I was going to be reading a book that deals with beauty and appeals to my senses.

If you are a frequent follower of my reviews, you know that I'm on an Italian Renaissance kick. I was thrilled to see that THE BOOK OF UNHOLY MISCHIEFS is another book that takes place in Italy -- 1498 Venice this time. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and found that I couldn't put it down. The book was beautifully written, but I also loved how the author incorporated just enough mystery and suspense into the novel to hold my interest. This book was definitely a treat on so many levels!

I found myself liking Luciano from the very start of this novel, and I am so glad that Ms. Newmark chose him to be the narrator of this story. His curiosity was spying behavior were hilarious; and while he wasn't perfect by any stretch, I found him quite endearing. Luciano often times questioned why the chef pulled him off the streets to become his apprentice; and I loved how his innocence and honesty came through in this story. I especially enjoyed seeing Luciano mature throughout the pages of this novel and eventually become a very wise and loyal man.

I am so impressed with Ms. Newmark's writing style. I found her descriptions of both Venice and the food to be incredible. I could picture the city and its buildings perfectly as well as the people and how they looked. What even impressed me more were her vivid descriptions of food and how the chefs prepared the food. Each word was clearly chosen carefully to have the just right affect on the reader. Not only could I see the food, but I swear at times, I could almost taste it.

I found Ms. Newmark's website to be gorgeous -- as is fitting with this novel. Make sure you check out the video trailer for this book -- it's perfect! I also enjoyed reading about how her father, an Italian chef, inspired her to write this novel. She has a section on the site especially for book clubs, too, which includes a terrific discussion guide. I have a feeling that a lot of book clubs are going to be picking THE BOOK OF UNHOLY MISCHIEFS in the next few months. Ms. Newmark also makes herself available to book clubs for author chats.

Thanks to Atria Books for sending me THE BOOK OF UNHOLY MISCHIEF. It was definitely a pleasure to read!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Review: Too Tall Alice

Alice is tall. Not T-Rex or Empire State Building tall. Just four inches taller than the other girls in her class, and Alice is worried.

FOUR INCHES! That’s a lot of inches taller than everyone else. Her mom says it’s okay to be tall, and her dad says it’s okay to be tall. IT’S OKAY FOR THEM TO SAY THAT. THEY’RE NORMAL!

Alice wishes, really wishes, she was just like everyone else. Then, her dream takes her to the place where the tall girls live, and she sees, really sees, herself for the first time. -- Great Little Books

TOO TALL ALICE by Barbara Worton is a cute little kids' book with a wonderful message. This book tells the story of Alice, a little girl who is four inches taller than everyone else in her class. She's extremely self-conscious about her height; and if that's not enough, she even hears her parents discussing it (as well as her skinniness) with their friends. It's not until Alice dreams about a place where all the girls are tall that she discovers that appearances don't matter -- it's what's inside that counts.

I first read the book to my four (and a half) year old son, and I have to say that he didn't quite get it. I think he's too young to understand Alice's feelings, and he doesn't really get that people feel uncomfortable being different. Maybe it's his age, but I'm pretty sure that my daughter would have related to this book at four years old. I'm wondering if young boys just aren't as self-conscious or as judgmental as young girls.

While my son didn't really comprehend the story or the ultimate message, this book did give us the opportunity to discuss kids who feel left out for any reason. I loved that we could talk about feelings, and I also enjoyed talking about the message that "you can be anything you want to be." My son also liked the cover page and illustrations by Dom Rodi. The pages were filled with colorful pictures and had a lot going on. I liked that the type looked almost hand-written and that certain words were emphasized with a larger, bold-faced font.

Even though my daughter is past the recommended age range for this book, I asked her to read it. The message is one that we are constantly trying to get across to her, especially as she begins to feel more self-conscious. She loved the story! Here are Booking Daughter's comments:

"When Alice is afraid of being too tall, she visits a land of girls who are also tall. She learns what's important in life...not being tall. What's inside of you and how nice you are is what really matters."

I think this book has a wonderful message that our young children don't hear enough!

Hello...You Won The UltraMind Solution

Congrats, taterbug! You won a copy of THE ULTRAMIND SOLUTION by Mark Hyman, M.D. You mentioned that you have someone close to you who could really use this book. I hope you find some of the answers you are looking for!

If you didn't win this contest, don't despair. I have lots of other giveaways going on right now:

THE AGENCY - 10 copies

SIGNORA DA VINCI - 2 copies

THE LAWS OF HARMONY - 5 copies

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

February 2009 Book Club Meeting

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

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

I have been anxiously awaiting our February book club meeting for months. Last fall, I was fortunate enough to schedule an author chat with Michelle Moran, author of NEFERTITI. I read her second novel THE HERETIC QUEEN and absolutely loved it (my review), so I pretty much knew that I was going to enjoy NEFERTITI. I can honestly say that I was not disappointed.

My good friend Melissa (and member of my book club) read and reviewed NEFERTITI last year. Since she did such a wonderful job with her review, I didn't feel like I really needed to write another one and post it here. Suffice it to say that all of us thoroughly enjoyed NEFERTITI and appreciated Ms. Moran's writing.

I did print out the discussion questions, but we didn't have the chance to go through them one by one. Our discussion was much shorter than usual because the author chat was part of our meeting. I do think our discussion did touch on many of the topics that were raised in the questions, however. One thing I found interesting was learning how my friends interpreted some of the characters' behaviors.

Ms. Moran is one of the nicest authors that I've had the opportunity to talk with. Not only did she spend quite a bit of time discussing NEFERTITI with us, but she also sent the entire book club autographed bookmarks. I loved hearing her describe how she gets her ideas for her novels, and I'm just blown away by how much research she conducts (about six months or so.) I especially enjoyed learning how she developed the historical characters in her novels when she has little if any information about their personalities.

Since I've read both of her novels and am dying for more, I had to ask when her next book will be available. CLEOPATRA'S DAUGHTER will be available this September (only seven more months.) I also asked her what is in the works. She is currently writing on a book about Chaucer and plans to write a future novel on Madame Tussaud!

Here's the book trailer for CLEOPATRA'S DAUGHTER: (*please note: the cover is a stand-in until the real cover comes out in several months)




Next month, we will be reading THE ART OF RACING IN THE RAIN by Garth Stein. I am very excited about our March selection since I've seen this book everywhere and have read so many wonderful reviews for it. It looks like it's going to make for a wonderful discussion.

February Book Club Meeting Dessert Recipe

I thought I'd share a terrific dessert recipe. I make this TIRAMISU TRIFLE all of the time, but it's always a big hit. It's great for book club meetings since it's so easy to make.

TIRAMISU TRIFLE

8 ounces mascarpone cheese
1/2 cup sugar
2 1/2 cups whipping cream, divided
1 cup hot water
1 tablespoon instant coffee granules (or use strongly brewed coffee)
1/4 cup coffee liqueur
2 (3 ounce) packages ladyfingers
1 teaspoon cocoa

Beat cheese, sugar, and 1/2 cup whipping cream at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy.

Beat remain 2 cups whipping cream with an electric mixer until soft peaks form. Fold into cheese mixture.

Stir together 1 cup hot water and coffee granules until dissolved. Stir in liqueur.

Split ladyfingers in half, and brush cut sides of ladyfingers evenly with coffee mixture.

Arrange one-fourth of ladyfingers in bottom of a 4 quart trifle bowl. Top with one-fourth of cheese mixure. Repear layers 3 times. Sprinkle with cocoa. Chill tiramisu at least 2 hours.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Review: The Help

Summary: Be prepared to meet three unforgettable women:

Twenty-two-year-old Skeeter has just returned home after graduating from Ole Miss. She may have a degree, but it is 1962, Mississippi, and her mother will not be happy till Skeeter has a ring on her finger. Skeeter would normally find solace with her beloved maid Constantine, the woman who raised her, but Constantine has disappeared and no one will tell Skeeter where she has gone.

Aibileen is a black maid, a wise, regal woman raising her seventeenth white child. Something has shifted inside her after the loss of her own son, who died while his bosses looked the other way. She is devoted to the little girl she looks after, though she knows both their hearts may be broken.

Minny, Aibileen’s best friend, is short, fat, and perhaps the sassiest woman in Mississippi. She can cook like nobody’s business, but she can’t mind her tongue, so she’s lost yet another job. Minny finally finds a position working for someone too new to town to know her reputation. But her new boss has secrets of her own.

Seemingly as different from one another as can be, these women will nonetheless come together for a clandestine project that will put them all at risk. And why? Because they are suffocating within the lines that define their town and their times. And sometimes lines are made to be crossed.

In pitch-perfect voices, Kathryn Stockett creates three extraordinary women whose determination to start a movement of their own forever changes a town, and the way women—mothers, daughters, caregivers, friends—view one another. A deeply moving novel filled with poignancy, humor, and hope, The Help is a timeless and universal story about the lines we abide by, and the ones we don’t. -- Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam

I'm having a very hard time writing this review for THE HELP by Kathryn Stockett. I think it's because I absolutely adored every page of the marvelous novel and don't know how to express it. I'm worried that I'll start gushing about the storyline, the characters, the writing, etc. and that I won't be able to express myself coherently. But this book really is worthy of some major gushing -- THE HELP is definitely going to be on a lot of "Best of.." lists for 2009.

As I reflected on this novel (and I've been doing a lot of reflecting because I can't get the story out of my mind), I'd have to say that in so many ways THE HELP was a coming-of-age story. It's fairly obvious that Skeeter's character matures throughout this novel as she finds her inner strength to seperate herself from her family and friends and write the maids' stories; however, I thought Aibileen and Minny evolved into stronger and better people too. Even though this novel showed the racial problems in the Deep South in the 1960s, I actually was left with a feeling of hope after I finished this novel -- hope that Mississippi would change and hope that other people would change for the better. Not only do I think that many of the characters in this novel changed, I think it was also a "coming-of-age" time for Mississippi and the country as a whole.

What I loved most about this book were the amazing characters in this novel. I can't get over how Ms. Stockett captured each of their voices perfectly. I fell in love with Aibileen, Minny and Skeeter for very different reasons, but I think I most adored Aibileen. She was such a special, caring woman and will remain in my thoughts for a very long time. I think she is a remarkable representation of the many black women who brought up white children; and her courage and strength were so very admirable. I especially loved the stories and the messages that she told her "babies." Not only were the three main characters terrifically developed, but the supporting ones were very interesting too. Even the most despicable characters (and there were quite a few) were essential to this novel.

I appreciated how the author chose to tell this story. The chapters alternated between the three different women's stories and was told in first person narrative by each of them. I thought this was a very effective way to develop these characters and show the different views on the subject matter. I also found it very interesting that Ms. Stockett wrote one chapter in third person narrative -- it was the chapter about The Jackson Junior League Annual Ball and Benefit. This chapter definitely stood out to me, and I'd love to ask her why she chose to write this one chapter that way.

I was really stuck by how honest this novel was on so many levels. Not only did Ms. Stockett tell the "white" side of the story, but she also showed the reader how it felt to be a black maid during 1960s Mississippi. I thought she did an outstanding job of describing how much fear and tension existed on both sides. And she demonstrated perfectly, through a few characters, just how ignorant and arrogant many white people were during these terrible times. I am also incredibly impressed how the author was able to infuse so much humor into this story. Despite the tension I felt while reading this novel, I was also entertained by so many of the characters and their antics.

THE HELP is Kathryn Stockett's first novel, and what an amazing debut it is! This book is very special not only because of the subject matter but also because it is so very well written. Ms. Stockett actually grew up in the South back in the 60s, so this book and its characters are very near and dear to her heart. You can read more about Ms. Stockett in this very interesting interview. Needless to say, I am anxiously awaiting Ms. Stockett's next novel.

I am definitely going to recommend THE HELP to my book group. I am pretty confident that everyone will love the book. Plus, there is just so much to discuss. There is a reading guide available with many thought-provoking discussion questions. Of course, the topics I found the most interesting had to do with the racial issues in the south at that time; but some of the other topics in the book that I would love to discuss further are: racism in today's society, friendships, marriages, domestic abuse, parenting, ethics and morals, revenge and even fear.

THE HELP hits the stores today -- February 10th. If you'd like to get an idea of the book and the author's wonderful writing, you can read an excerpt. I will be recommending this book to everyone I know because I think it's a very special book. If you've read it or are even planning on reading it, I'd love to hear what you think.

A big thanks to Penguin/Putnam and MotherTalk for allowing me to participate in this book blog tour.

Also reviewed at:
A Novel Menagerie