Sunday, January 31, 2010

Review: Cook Yourself Thin Faster

Summary: Discover what everyone is talking about: the easiest, most enjoyable way to lasting weight loss. Following the smash hit original comes this brand-new collection of over 75 even easier recipes, plus smart cooking tips and real-life success stories. Finally, a diet to savor...

Cook Yourself Thin FASTER delivers more mouthwatering low-fat recipes, more skinny alternatives to your cravings, and more quick and easy meals in HALF the time! We know there’s hardly ever enough time to cook. With Cook Yourself Thin FASTER you can drop a dress size without sacrificing the foods you love and spend less time in the kitchen so you can enjoy . . . life!

Have your cake and eat it too with these delectable recipes:

Mini Blueberry Muffins

Seven-Layer Dip

Pineapple Mojitos

Asian Chicken Salad

Shrimp and Grits

Cheese “Fries”

Carrot Soup with a Kick

Flank Steak with Indian Salsa
White Pizza with Roasted Mushrooms

What are you waiting for? Cook Yourself Thin FASTER! -- Voice

Last year, I purchased a healthy cookbook called COOK YOURSELF THIN with Lauren Dean. I thought the cookbook had a lot of great, healthy recipes. So I was so happy to see that COOK YOURSELF THIN was so successful (it was a #1 New York Times Bestseller) that the author decided to write another one. The follow-up cookbook is called COOK YOURSELF THIN FASTER: HAVE YOUR CAKE AND EAT IT TOO WITH OVER 75 NEW RECIPES YOU CAN MAKE IN A FLASH!, and I thought this book was every bit as good as the first one.

I love it when I find healthy cookbooks that actually have appealing recipes! So often, the recipes are full of strange (and hard-to-find ingredients) or else they take a lot of time to prepare. At this point in my life, those options just aren't feasible. That's why I liked COOK YOURSELF THIN FASTER so much. The recipes are relatively easy-to-make with normal ingredients. Plus, there are gorgeous color photos of every recipe!

While there are truly loads of recipes that I want to try in the future, I decided to focus right now on those recipes that would fir into my current eating plan. I was so excited to find a healthy Spinach Dip recipe! I guess I always thought that Spinach Dip was relatively healthy, but that is not always the case. In the COOK YOURSELF THIN FASTER recipe, the Spinach Dip is made with fat free, plain Greek-style yogurt. As many of you know, Greek-style yogurt is very good for you; and it has a higher protein level that regular old plain yogurt.

I thoroughly enjoyed this dip, and it just tastes so fresh. The Greek yogurt does give it a little more bite than traditional spinach dip, but I really liked it. The dill and cayenne pepper also gave the dip a nice flavor. I think this recipe would be terrific to serve at your next party or even as a Super Bowl snack!

Spinach Dip

Serves 4

Nutrition Per Serving:
Calories, 53, Total Fat 2 g, Sodium 301 mg, Sugars 5g

1 (10-ounce) package frozen chopped spinach leaves, defrosted
1 cup nonfat plain Greek-style yogurt
1 scallion, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 teapsoons chopped fresh dill
1/2 teaspoon salt
Pinch of ground red pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil

Squeeze out any extra water from the spinach with your hands. Measure out 1/2 cup of spinach and transfer to a mixing bowl. (Cover and refrigerate the remainder for another use.) Add the yogurt, half the chopped scallion, the lemon juice, dill, and salt and stir well to blend. Scrape out into a serving bowl. Sprinkle with the red pepper and drizzle with the olive oil. Serve with pita chips, toasted wedges of pita, or veggies.

Note: Toss the leftover spinach into chicken stock for a quick soup, or your usual pasta sauce.

From COOK YOURSELF THIN FASTER by Lauren Deen. Copyright © 2010 Lifetime Entertainment Services. Published by Voice. Available wherever books are sold. All Rights Reserved.

If you'd like to check out some other recipes that are in COOK YOURSELF THIN FASTER, you can take a look at the Dessert Pizza and Shrimp and Grits.

If you are looking for a healthy cookbook with easy-to-make recipes, then I highly recommend COOK YOURSELF THIN FASTER. Thanks to the publisher for sending me a review copy of this cookbook.

Weekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads and is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog's home page. For more information, see the welcome post.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Kid Konnection - Review: The View from Saturday

Welcome to Kid Konnection -- a (hopefully) regular weekend feature about anything related to children's books. Today, Booking Daughter and I are going to feature a book that we recently read for our after-school Book Club!

Summary: HOW HAD MRS. OLINSKI CHOSEN her sixth-grade Academic Bowl team? She had a number of answers. But were any of them true? How had she really chosen Noah and Nadia and Ethan and Julian? And why did they make such a good team?

It was a surprise to a lot of people when Mrs. Olinski's team won the sixth-grade Academic Bowl contest at Epiphany Middle School. It was an even bigger surprise when they beat the seventh grade and the eighth grade, too. And when they went on to even greater victories, everyone began to ask: How did it happen?

It happened at least partly because Noah had been the best man (quite by accident) at the wedding of Ethan's grandmother and Nadia's grandfather. It happened because Nadia discovered that she could not let a lot of baby turtles die. It happened when Ethan could not let Julian face disaster alone. And it happened because Julian valued something important in himself and saw in the other three something he also valued.

Mrs. Olinski, returning to teaching after having been injured in an automobile accident, found that her Academic Bowl team became her answer to finding confidence and success. What she did not know, at least at first, was that her team knew more than she did the answer to why they had been chosen. -- Aladdin

I was asked a few months ago if I would consider running an after-school book club for 4th and 5th grade girls. I was a little hesitant because while I love middle-grade books, I'm probably not the best facilitator for young girls. But I figured, what the heck? I have a passion for reading, and I might as well share that with a few young girls!

After a few budgeting mishaps and last minute organizing (not by me!), I ended up having one night to find ten copies of the same book. I also had to pick something relatively short because the girls were only going to have a little over a week to read the book. I wasn't pretty! I am thrilled to say that I found copies of the Newbury Award-winning book THE VIEW FROM SATURDAY by E.L. Konigsburg. It was going to be a new read for me (as well as the girls), but I had heard so many wonderful things about this book that I just knew it would be perfect! I read it in a few hours and absolutely adored it!!!!

And then my world got rocked just a little -- my daughter (who just happens to be in the book club) started the book and told me that she just couldn't get into it and that she didn't like it. WHAT???? How could she not like this book? I loved this book (maybe even more than FROM THE MIXED-UP FILES OF MRS. BASIL E. FRANKWEILER which was one of my childhood favorites.) Needless to say, I made her finish it because she could still talk about what she didn't enjoy; but I was terrified that the other girls (the ones that actually were able to read the book in a week) would feel the same way.

So last Wednesday after school, I packed up a market basket filled with discussion questions and some goodies for the girls and headed to my daughter's elementary school. There were nine girls at the first meeting, and I think five had managed to finish the books (I was pleasantly surprised.) When I asked if they liked it, only two girls (my daughter and one girl who had only read the first section) said they didn't. Whew!!! The other girls seemed to like it (almost a much as I did!)

I thought THE VIEW FROM SATURDAY was a fantastic book. I loved the story and the characters, but this book really had so many things about it that were just so well done. The format of the story was perfect! The book was divided into some small chapters about the teacher and the academic bowl, and then there were long chapters which told the stories of each one of The Souls.I loved how the author first introduced an academic bowl question in a preceding chapter and then flashed back to tell the story of how each character knew the answer. I must say that it reminded me a great deal of Slumdog Millionaire in that way.

I also thought Ms. Konigsburg did an excellent job with the symbols in this story. In fact, I loved explaining to the girls what a symbol in a book is; and then I asked them if they thought there were any symbols in the book. Some were quicker than others to realize what I meant, but after some discussion, we talked about the symbolism of the turtles (represented both Nadia and Mrs. Olinksi) as well as Julian's little white monkey.

Another wonderful thing about this book was that it touched on so many themes that are timely for young kids today. We had a wonderful time discussing prejudice, bullying and mean kids; and we also used Julian as an example to show how to handle those issues. Some of the other topics we discussed were friendship (which was a huge theme), feeling like an outsider, supporting others, showing respect, and teamwork. We also talked about how kids (specifically 6th graders) are different and how they've changed throughout the years! I thought it was a magical discussion, and I really couldn't have been happier!

I did use a reading guide for parts of our discussion, but I found that we were actually okay without it! At the end of the meeting, we divided up in teams by grade and had our own little quiz bowl! There were some questions in the back of the book (which were actually part of the academic bowl in the book.) I played emcee and the girls had a great time slapping the table and trying to "ring in" first! Even the quiet girls were starting to come out of their shells by the end of the meeting!

During the meeting, I also handed out adorable little journals and pretty pens. I called them their book journals, and we brainstormed ways we could use them. Some of the ideas were to write down their thoughts about the book, questions they wanted to ask at the next meeting, a list of books that they read, and some new words that they learned. They also thought it might be a good idea to use it as a diary. Whatever they chose to do with the journals, I hope they enjoy them!

I absolutely treasured each and every page of THE VIEW FROM SATURDAY! I can't recommend it enough if you are looking for a wonderful middle-grade fiction book.

If you'd like to participate in Kid Konnection and share a post about anything related to children's books, please leave a comments as well as a link below with your name/blog name and the title of the book! Feel free to grab the little button too!

Friday, January 29, 2010

Guest Blogger: Judi Fennell & Giveaway

Over the past few days, I featured the romance novels IN OVER HER HEAD (my review) and CATCH OF A LIFETIME (my review) by Judi Fennell. While these romantic books weren't my usual fare, I still managed to enjoy (and appreciate) Ms. Fennell's creativity in writing these undersea adventures. Today, I am so glad to welcome (a fellow Penn Stater) Ms. Fennell to Booking Mama!

Talking Heads

No, not the musical group, and perhaps, more aptly, this blog post should be named, Who Isn't Talking These Days?

If you've read my books, you know that I’ll not only try to make you believe in Mers, I'll also try to convince you that there are talking birds and fish and even lizards. But will I be successful? That's the question.

One of the things I try to do with my stories is make them different from one another. In In Over Her Head, we have a Human go into the sea. In Wild Blue Under, we have a Mer come onto land. And, now, in Catch of a Lifetime, I have a Mer come on land, but who wants to be back in the sea and her Human wanting nothing to do with going into the sea, but having to. So that's different, right?

But each story has several talking creatures. I knew when I was writing the stories that the talking creatures were going to be a stretch, but I figured, if you're going to be okay with the Mers, then they have to have fish to talk to. And if fish talk, why wouldn't birds? And if birds do, why not other creatures? It seems that I was heavily influenced by Hugh Lofting's Dr. Doolittle, which I read voraciously throughout elementary school. (I'd love to see where those library books are today that I signed out ad nauseum every other week.)

So, when it came time to write Catch of a Lifetime, I knew there were going to be talking creatures. But I didn't want the same talking creatures. Luckily, the setting for this story - Florida - lends itself to different animals than the other two stories. One of my favorites in the story is Stewart. Stewart is an anole, or what I called a chameleon growing up. I had pet chameleons/anoles. My favorite was Oscar. (My sister had Felix.) Oscar would sit on my shoulder or on top of my head for hours and not hop off. He could change color depending on the temperature, and he had a really pretty pink dewlap that he'd puff up on occasion. Oscar was my longest lived anole and I missed him when he died.

But Stewart is nothing like Oscar. Stewart, as his name suggests, is a cross between Stewie on Family Guy (yes, I have teenagers; I can't help but to have met Stewie, who is actually my favorite character on that show) and the Geico gecko. Just don't let Stewart know those were the inspirations for his character. He won't be overjoyed to be modeled after a baby, and he really has issues with that gecko. Sadly, one of Stewart's diatribes about the gecko didn't make it into the final story, but I laughed the whole time he screamed it at me.

In case you aren't familiar with Family Guy's Stewie, let me tell you a little about him. He's a toddler whose sarcastic wit knows no bounds. Sadly, he talks only to himself and the dog (and the audience of course), but he comes up with some one-liners that get me every time. Same with my anole, Stewart. (Please do not call him Stewie. It makes him stew…. You knew I had to say it.)

Stewart is very self-important. That's because he's Stewart. You see his reasoning, right? He's been chased by housecats, lost more than a few tails to Human children (anoles can "leave" their tails to escape predators), and, frankly, he's not too enamored of many beings. However, when a royal Mer shows up in his Human's backyard, Stewart is all over her like a lizard on a hot rock. He wants to help her--can you imagine the coup it'd be for him to be an acknowledged assistant to a royal Mer? Why, he'd be famous. (Or so he thinks.) Trouble is, the Human has a kid, and kids equal trouble.

Sure enough, the kid wants to capture him and make a pet of him. Nothing doing for Stewart. He'd be perfectly fine if all Human children took a long walk off a short pier. And that's exactly what he tells this kid to do.

Who knew the kid would actually listen?

Ah, Stewart. The perfect antihero, but you just can't help but love him, even for his pretentiousness.

Here's an intro to Stewart:

Angel picked up her notebook and opened it to the page comparing Mer and Human offspring. Aside from the obvious differences of food, shelter, and legs, she hadn’t listed much else. Treats, cajoling to get their way, being the light of their parents’ lives… all the similarities supported her idea of using children to advance the purpose of the Coalition.

She clicked her pen to add Michael’s flotation tactic and paper animals to her list when, “Could it really be? Angel Tritone?” almost had her jumping out of the chair.

She turned around. Then back. Who-in-Hades had said that?

“Psst! My dear girl!” Something small and brown waved green front legs at her from atop the wall. A lizard. An anole, to be exact, the brown coloring camouflaging him against the stone. He must have turned his limbs back to green to catch her attention.

“How are you?” The dewlap beneath his chin turned a vibrant orange as the green color slowly slipped over the rest of his body. “I’m Stewart. It’s a pleasure to finally meet you. I’ve heard so much about your studies. Is this one of them? I could help, you know. I have been living amongst Humankind for quite a few selinos.” Stewart’s gesticulating hand moved as quickly as his words.

“They’re not all as nice as this gentleman, if I do say so, and that child worries me. Why, before I ended up here, I’d gone through three tails at the hands of children. Three!” A shudder rippled down his body. “Vicious creatures, I tell you. Worse than any house cat. Well, perhaps not cats.”

Angel glanced at Michael, who was happily spouting water from his mouth like a whale, and opened her notebook to shield the talking lizard. Bad enough Michael knew about Mers; the fact that animals could speak was just as top secret. “Hi, Stewart. I can’t really talk right now.” She motioned to Michael.

“Ah yes. Bipeds.” Stewart gave her a thumbs-up with a tinydigit. “But I can be of assistance, you know. I’ve had extensive fieldwork in the strolling habits of Humans and ways to avoid them. Plus, I did my dissertation on escape tactics from the captivity their young find such delight in subjecting anoles to.” He shuddered, a brown line of pigment zigzagging over his back.

“I’ll take up residence in this lovely gardenia bush for the duration of your stay.” Stewart shook his elongated head, then tapped the side of it with another bony digit. “But how silly of me. That won’t be long at all, will it? You’ll be leaving tomorrow because of that tail thing your kind has to deal with. I’m quite glad that doesn’t apply to anolis carolinensis. I’d hate to think of my life being governed by tail issues. Whenever my tail becomes a problem, I simply leave it. How utterly horrifying to have to live your life according to your inability to do so. How do you stand it?”

The tail was nothing compared to Stewart’s loud, godlier-than-thou attitude and the threat of her study being interrupted by an overzealous, self-important lizard.

© Judi Fennell, Sourcebooks Casablanca, 2010


Stewart does get to play his part, though not quite as heroically as he’d like.

If you’d like the chance to maybe meet Stewart, check out my website, for the chance to win the last of three romantic getaway weekends, this one at the Hibiscus House B&B in West Palm Beach, FL. (


Mermaid Angel Tritone escapes a shark by jumping into single dad Logan Hardington's fishing boat. All his young son Michael wants for his birthday is a mermaid, and if his dad will only play his cards right, now he'll have one...

Angel wants to give Michael his most beloved birthday gift (a real live mermaid) while also getting to know his father and getting him to help her in her mission to stop humans from destroying the oceans. Logan has never met a woman who cared as much about the same things he does, and she's never met a man who understood her deepest commitment to humanity and nature. When an enemy of conservation shows up and tries to kill Angel, Logan has to choose between continuing the life he's known, or following the woman he loves to the bottom of the ocean...

The third novel in Judi Fennell's mermaid series, a fresh, exciting, and different entry in romance fiction!

Judi Fennell is an award-winning author. Her romance novels have been finalists in's First Chapters and First Chapters Romance contests, as well as the third American Title contest. She spends family vacations at the Jersey Shore, the setting for some of her paranormal romance series. She lives in suburban Philadelphia, PA. For More information, and a chance to win a romantic ocean getaway, visit

I'd like to thank Ms. Fennell for stopping by with this "teaser" of a guest post.

Thanks to the fine folks at Sourcebooks, I have two copies of CATCH OF A LIFETIME to giveaway! To enter, please leave a comment (with a valid email address) telling me your favorite form of marine life. This contest is open until February 11, 2010 at 11:59 p.m. ET, and I will notify the winners the following day. Giveaway is open to those of you with U.S. and Canada mailing address only. Good luck!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Review: Catch of a Lifetime

Summary: Mermaid Angel Tritone escapes a shark by jumping into single dad Logan Hardington's fishing boat. All his young son Michael wants for his birthday is a mermaid, and if his dad will only play his cards right, now he'll have one…

Angel wants to give Michael his most beloved birthday gift (a real live mermaid) while also getting to know his father and getting him to help her in her mission to stop humans from destroying the oceans. Logan has never met a woman who cared as much about the same things he does, and she's never met a man who understood her deepest commitment to humanity and nature. When an enemy of conservation shows up and tries to kill Angel, Logan has to choose between continuing the life he's known, or following the woman he loves to the bottom of the ocean… -- Sourcebooks

If you are a regular follower of my blog, you are probably a little surprised to see that I'm reviewing another paranormal romance book --
CATCH OF A LIFETIME by Judi Fennell. CATCH OF A LIFE TIME is actually a sequel to the book that I reviewed yesterday IN OVER HER HEAD. Well really it's the third book in the series, but I didn't have the chance to read the second book yet!

CATCH OF A LIFETIME was similar in many ways to IN OVER HER HEAD. The main female character in this book was actually one of the sisters of the male lead in the first book. The book was filled with a similar type of action and adventure, and the relationship between the main characters was filled with lots of sexual tension. In addition, Ms. Fennell's descriptions of the underwater scenery was once again beautiful and extremely creative! I also enjoyed all of the puns and humor that were part of this story.

I actually think I enjoyed CATCH OF A LIFETIME even more than IN OVER HER HEAD. I enjoyed the first book because of the uniqueness of the story, but I felt that the story in this book was a little more interesting to me. A larger part of this story took place on land, and I liked seeing the Mer act like "a fish out of water" -- I know, it's a lousy pun! I also liked the underlying theme of family, love, sacrifice, and redemption in this story.

Even though I missed out on book two, I didn't feel as if I needed to read that book before picking up CATCH OF A LIFETIME. Although there are the occasional references to the prior stories and characters, the book definitely could stand on its own. I have a feeling that there just might be more books in this series because there are still a few family members whose stories haven't been fully told!

I think CATCH OF A LIFETIME will definitely appeal to fans of paranormal romance and especially fans of The Little Mermaid. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this story (although I acknowledge that I don't fully appreciate all of the love scenes.) In so many ways, this book was a fun read. I just wish I had been able to read this while sunning at the shore!

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a review copy of this book. Make sure you stop by tomorrow because Ms. Fennell has written a terrific guest post. I will also be running a contest to giveaway two copies of CATCH OF A LIFETIME.

Book Club Exchange -- Caroline of Caroline by Line

Today, I'd like to welcome Caroline of Caroline by Line to Book Club Exchange, a new (and hopefully) regular feature on Booking Mama which highlights anything and everything book club-related! Caroline's essay about her after-school book clubs is exactly the type of information I was hoping to share when I started Book Club Exchange -- an insider's look at all different types of book clubs. And, it's especially timely for me this week since I just started my own after-school book club for 4th and 5th grade girls yesterday.

After-School Book Clubs: Grades 3-7

I am a former social studies and English teacher now writing full-time. The hardest part about my decision to leave the classroom was giving up my relationships with my students. The second hardest was giving up talking with those students about things I love. Fortunately, my amazing principal has allowed me to design three after-school book clubs that allow me to continue doing both.

All students grades 3-7 received lists of books I selected for the 2009-2010 school year. Attendance is optional, though I have encouraged teachers to offer extra credit, if they like. All titles are part of the Accelerated Reader program. With a generous donation from our school board, I was able to purchase some of the titles in sets of twelve. All other books must be bought, borrowed, or checked out from the library. Each book club meets once a month in the school library for one hour. The only requirements to attend are that you’ve read the book and you come with something to say.

Third Grade:
Third graders are beginning to conquer chapter books and moving toward middle-grade novels. It is essential that teachers and parents continue to encourage reading at this age when school work is more difficult and reading can become more burden than pleasure. I decided to focus the third grade list on classics, encouraging parents to discuss and read along with their children. Here is a list of the titles my third graders will read this year:

1. Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan
2. The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleishman
3. The Boxcar Children by Gertrude C. Wagner
4. From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankenweiler by E.L. Konigsburg
5. Henry and Ribsy by Beverly Cleary
6. The Midnight Fox by Betsy Byars
7. Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary

First meeting: 12 out of 27 students (6 boys and 6 girls)

My son, a third-grader, is reading along with me, making this experience extra special. He told me last night several girls keep asking when our next meeting will be.

Fourth and Fifth Grade:
Because I taught 4-7 grade social studies, I have focused both the fourth and fifth-grade book club (and the sixth and seventh) on historical fiction. These are the books we’ll read this year:

1. Pedro’s Journal by Pam Conrad
2. A Stolen Life by Jane Louise Curry
3. The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare
4. Freedom Crossing by Margaret Goff Clark
5. By the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder
6. Riding Freedom by Pam Munoz Ryan
7. The Ballad of Lucy Whipple by Karen Cushman
8. The All-of-a-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor

First meeting: 15 out of 40 students (3 boys and 12 girls)

Several of the fifth-graders have been heard mumbling that book clubs are for girls. These are my readers, too! I won’t deny it is harder to get boys involved in this sort of thing. I continue to invite these boys and recommend titles when I see them, hoping I can continue to encourage them as readers, officially or not.

Sixth and Seventh-Grade Book Club:
I actually started my first after-school book club last year with these two grades. Every term while teaching, I required my students to read at least one book connected with social studies (historical fiction, biography, or contemporary novels set outside the US all worked for this assignment). My students were really connecting with what they read, and I felt the next logical step would be to create an optional book club where we could discuss what they’d read.

I picked two titles and purchased twelve copies: Peak by Roland Smith and Rebel Hart by Edie Hemingway. The response was amazing. So many signed up, kids had to share copies. Many signed up for both discussions but had a definite favorite and would spontaneously break out into classroom discussion about which was better. What really impressed me was the number of boys who happily read about Nancy Hart, Confederate spy, with no problem at all.

This year’s sixth and seventh-grade list:

1. The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare
2. Crispin: Cross of Led by Avi
3. Pocahontas by Joseph Bruchac
4. The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare
5. Freedom Train by Dorothy Sterling
6. The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder
7. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodges Burnett
8. The Yearling by Marjorie Rawlings

First meeting: 15 out of 35 students (2 boys, 13 girls, with 1 boy and 1 girl planning on attending in the future)

I’ve had parents thank me for continuing this program. I’ve seen students at the public library checking out book club books. This isn’t extra work for me. It’s what reading, teaching, parenting, and living are all about.

Here's an example of the letter she hands out to the participants:

Welcome to Book Club!

Here are some things you should know:

* In order to attend a meeting, you need to read the book. That’s it!

* Sometimes we’ll read a book about a boy. Sometimes it will be about a girl. If you are a boy, you CAN read about a girl and survive. I promise. Girls, same for you.

* To make Book Club as interesting as possible, it is good, though not required, to jot down things as you read. Here are some ideas:
1. How does this book compare to others you’ve read?
2. Three words to describe this book would be…
3. If I were the main character, I would have…
4. I was surprised/annoyed/happy etc. when _________ happened.
5. I like this book because…
6. I didn’t like this book because…
7. A great moment in this story was…
8. My favorite character is ______ because…
9. An important sentence in this story was… . It’s important because…
10. If I could change a part of the story, it would be __________ because…
11. Any of your own ideas!

You can get yourself a notebook to write notes in. You can write ideas on a scrap of paper. Where you write doesn’t matter.

* Come to the meeting with something to say! The more you say, the more fun the discussion. If you have a copy of the book, you can bring it along, too.

* Come as often as you like.

* Invite your friends!

* Challenge yourself to read a type of book you might not pick up on your own.

* Have fun!

I’m looking forward to our year together.

Mrs. Rose

Caroline Starr Rose is a mother, reader, and former teacher. In an attempt to make history personal, she developed an on-going assignment called Where in the World Are We Reading, where her social studies students read historical novels and filled in a Travel Log about their "journey."

An after-school book club developed naturally out of Where in the World Are We Reading, and students, with Travel Logs in hand, came to pick apart endings, swoon over characters, and compare the book club title to books previously read. While no longer in the classroom, she continues reading after school with her former students, reading historical fiction with grades four through seven and mid-grade classics with third grade.

Caroline now writes for children full-time and is represented by the fabulous Michelle Humphrey of the Martha Kaplan Agency. A portion of her current historical novel-in-verse, MAY B., is featured in the spring/summer 2009 edition of Louisiana Literature magazine.

I am so grateful to Caroline for sharing so much wonderful information about her after-school book clubs. If you are interested in participating in a future Book Club Exchange, please contact me at bookingmama(at)gmail(dot)com.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Review: In Over Her Head

Summary: He lives under the sea…

Reel Tritone is the rebellious royal second son of the ruler of a vast undersea kingdom, and he's always been fascinated by humans…

She's terrified of the ocean…

Marina owner Erica Peck would never go swimming willingly—but she's forced into the water and is nearly eaten by a shark. Luckily Reel is nearby to save her, and he discovers she's the woman he's been searching for…

Before she knows it, Erica is off with Reel on a wild underwater adventure to recover a stolen treasure, battle a jealous sea monster, and, of course, defy a death edict from the kingdom's high court. But even if they make it through their madcap mission alive, can they find a way to stay together when she hates the water and he can't survive on land? -- Sourcebooks

I admit that I almost never read books from the romance genre, but I thought I'd make an exception for IN OVER HER HEAD by Judi Fennell
. You see, I read about Ms. Fennell and her award-winning novels in my Penn State alumni magazines; and I thought I'd give a few of them a try -- she is a fellow PSU grad. In fact, the article that mentioned Ms. Fennell and her books was the inspiration behind my new "Back-to-School Feature."

When I read the summary for IN OVER HER HEAD, I thought it sounded pretty cute. While I knew I wasn't going to fully appreciate all of the romance aspects of this novel, I still thought the storyline unique enough to make the book enjoyable. And since I enjoyed The Little Mermaid movie, I assumed that this novel would have some things in common with that story. I was actually pleasantly surprised by how much fun this book was.

The story was very cute, and I really liked how Ms. Fennell created such a creative underwater world. I enjoyed reading about all of the characters, both Mers and other sea-life. Her descriptions of the sea were extremely vivid, and I had no problem imagining the beauty of this world while reading the book. Ms. Fennell also incorporate a lot of humor into this story. The characters (and sea-life) were very funny, and Ms. Fennell definitely took advantage of every marine-related pun that she could.

Since I'm not the biggest romance book fan, I also liked how the book was more than just a hot. love story. There was definitely action and adventure to the storyline, and lots of good versus evil. I also thought that some of characters were pretty well developed (ha ha -- get it? I can do puns too!) I definitely found myself liking Reel and Erica, and I wanted them to end up together despite everything that was going against them.

I have to be honest with you that I didn't really "get" all of the love scenes, nor did I read them all that closely. That's just not my thing, but I'm pretty sure that Ms. Fennell has quite the talent for writing those passionate scenes. Both the characters and their love scenes were definitely hot! And, Ms. Fennell did a great job of building the sexual tension.

I'm probably not the best judge of what makes a good, romantic story, but I did enjoy IN OVER HER HEAD. I actually think fans of the romance genre or even fans of The Little Mermaid will appreciate Ms. Fennell and her storytelling abilities!

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this novel.

Review: The Book of Fires & Giveaway

Summary: Reminiscent of Year of Wonders, a captivating debut novel of fireworks, fortune, and a young woman's redemption It is 1752 and seventeen-year-old Agnes Trussel arrives in London pregnant with an unwanted child. Lost and frightened, she finds herself at the home of Mr. J. Blacklock, a brooding fireworks maker who hires Agnes as an apprentice. As she learns to make rockets, portfires, and fiery rain, she slowly gains his trust and joins his quest to make the most spectacular fireworks the world has ever seen.

Jane Borodale offers a masterful portrayal of a relationship as mysterious and tempestuous as any the Brontës conceived. Her portrait of 1750s London is unforgettable, from the grimy streets to the inner workings of a household where little is as it seems. Through it all, the clock is ticking, for Agnes's secret will not stay secret forever.

Deeply atmospheric and intimately told from Agnes's perspective, The Book of Fires will appeal to readers of Geraldine Brooks, Sarah Waters, Sheri Holman, and Michel Faber. -- Pamela Dorman Books/Viking

When I first heard about THE BOOK OF FIRES by Jane Borodale, my interest was definitely sparked. The book was being touted as "reminiscent of YEAR OF WONDERS, a captivating debut novel of fireworks, fortune, and a young woman's redemption." I absolutely adored YEAR OF WONDERS so it's pretty safe to say that I was expecting to be really "wowed" with this book. Unfortunately, it didn't quite live up to YEAR OF WONDERS for me; however, I still really enjoyed this novel.

I have to admit that it took me awhile to become attached to the character of seventeen year-old Agnes. The story begins when Agnes is living in the English country with her poor and hungry family. She finds herself pregnant with an unwanted child and decides to escape to London to save her family from her troubles. It's not that my heart didn't go out to Agnes for her situation. I just think I was having a hard time getting used to the author's descriptive writing style. The first section of the book was filled with very detailed descriptions of the countryside, and I found myself wanting more character development of Agnes.

Having said that, once Agnes arrived in London, I really began to enjoy this story. Either I had become used to the author's writing style by then, or the action and dialogue made the book's pace much more to my liking. I appreciated seeing Agnes apprentice under Blacklock and learn the art of making fireworks; and I really enjoyed the historical aspect of the story.

I've read a few reviews that said the reader had problems with Agnes and some of her actions -- that they never really thought she was all that believable. I guess I missed out on that! When Agnes arrived in London, she decided to hide her pregnancy. Even though she was getting bigger each month, it appeared that no one in the household realized that she was pregnant (even though people in the stores kept looking at her stomach.) That part of the story didn't bother me at all -- maybe because I had a co-worker who didn't realize her daughter was pregnant until a few days before she delivered (yes, truth can be stranger than fiction.) I actually just felt bad for Agnes because she was so naive and obviously in way over her head.

Agnes was first in denial of the pregnancy; and then once she realized she had to "do something," she tried to lure a man into marrying her. When that didn't work, she eventually tried to abort the baby at a very late stage. I don't think the seventeen year-old Agnes was very worldly to say the least, and I felt as if her actions were possible for a desperate teenager. Although I was definitely frustrated by some of her actions (and even thought she was stupid at times), I thought Agnes did the best she could. She was just a young girl who had left everything she had ever known -- her home and family -- because she felt as if she had no choice. My heart just went out to Agnes because she was so alone and had to keep so many secrets.

I thought this book just kept getting better and better the more I read. I thought Agnes' and Blacklock's relationship was extremely interesting on many different levels. I think Blacklock appreciated Agnes because she had "nimble fingers" and was a quick study on the making of fireworks; however, I also think there was an connection between them because they both were lonely and desperate. I also really enjoyed the ending of the book. There were a few surprises thrown in, and I thought by the end of the story that Agnes had actually grown up and found her way (even if she had a little help.)

THE BOOK OF FIRES is Ms. Borodale's first novel, and I think it's a very impressive start. I am definitely looking forward to her future books because I do think she has a talent for weaving an interesting story. I also thought she did a great job with the historical elements of the story. If you'd like to learn more about Ms. Borodale, you can read this interview. In addition, you might want to check out her essay on the inspiration behind this novel.

THE BOOK OF FIRES is filled with all of the elements that would make it a terrific book club selection. There is an interesting storyline, intriguing characters, and enough ethical dilemmas to discuss. I have a feeling that there will be a some controversy surrounding the character of Agnes (as well as many of her actions); and anytime there is disagreement about a character, I find that it makes for a terrific meeting! There is a reading guide available which delves more deeply into topics including the book's symbolism, characters' actions, secrets, guilt, redemption, and ethics/morals. I guarantee that there won't be a shortage of things to talk about.

I almost think it was unfair for THE BOOK OF FIRES to be compared to YEAR OF WONDERS because it set the reader's expectations so high. THE BOOK OF FIRES was an interesting novel in its own right, and I definitely recommend it to lovers of historical fiction. I know if I had gone into the book just expecting a good story, I would have really appreciated the novel rather than feeling a little let down.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a review copy of this novel.

And now for the giveaway... the publisher has graciously agreed to giveaway two copies of THE BOOK OF FIRES. To enter, just leave a comment with a valid email address. The contest will be open until February 9th at 11:59 p.m ET, and I will notify the winners the following day. Giveaway is open to those of you with U.S. and Canada mailing addresses only -- no p.o. boxes please! Good luck!

Wondrous Words Wednesday - January 27, 2010

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Kathy aka Bermuda Onion where we share new (to us) words that we’ve encountered in our reading. Feel free to join in the fun.

THE BOOK OF FIRES by Jane Borodale

fustian - He is taller without his leather jerkin, wearing instead a dark frock of fustian over his waistcoat, and I notice how people seem to shrink from his path as we walks through them. (p. 206)

fustian: a fabric of stout twilled cotton or of cotton and low-quality wool, with a short nap or pile.

What new words did you discover this week?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Reagan Arthur Challenge -- Are You In?

Last Friday, I received a special edition of the Shelf Awareness newsletter that really caught my eye. The entire newsletter was devoted to a new Little, Brown & Company imprint called Reagan Arthur Books. I noticed how awesome (and diverse) the Reagan Arthur new and upcoming releases are, and I immediately contacted my good friend Kathy (aka Bermuda Onion) and told her that someone should do "The Reagan Arthur Books Challenge."

About two minutes later, we decided that it might as well be the two of us! We've been wanting to do a special project together, and this one seemed perfect since we were both so excited about the books. So...we got to work setting up a blog devoted to the challenge and organizing the details. And here we are:

The Reagan Arthur Books Challenge

The basic idea of the challenge is really simple — to read Reagan Arthur Books. Since the imprint will be continually releasing books, this is a perpetual challenge so there are no deadlines. You don't even have to commit to reading a certain number of books. We just want this challenge to be fun (that means stress free), and we intend to do lots of fun giveaways -- just wait until you see the first one! We are giving away a six book prize pack of current and soon-to-be released Reagan Arthur books to one lucky person who signs up for this challenge before February 28, 2010!

We’d love to have you join us. To learn more about the Reagan Arthur books and the challenge, make sure you visit the challenge website. And while you are there, I hope you will consider signing up!

Reagan Arthur Books

Currently Available:

The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris

Marriage and Other Acts of Charity by Kate Braestrup

Doors Open by Ian Rankin

Coming Soon:

Sherman Alexie

Kate Atkinson

Josh Bazell

The Rehearsal by Eleanor Catton

The Island by Elin Hilderbrand

Caitlin Flanagan

Kathleen Kent

Field Maloney

George Pelecanos

Patterns of Paper Monsters by Emma Rathbone

Frederick Reiken

Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English by Natasha Solomons

The Messenger of Athens by Anne Zouroudi

Guest Blogger: Misa Ramirez & Giveaway

Yesterday, I reviewed a cute mystery book called LIVING THE VIDA LOLA by Misa Ramirez. You can read my review here. I really enjoyed the book, and I thought it was highly entertaining (and very funny.) I am definitely looking forward in the next book in the series HASTA LA VISTA, LOLA which is available next month.

So without further ado, I'd like to welcome the author of the Lola Cruz mysteries, Misa Ramirez, to Booking Mama.

Thanks for hosting me today, Julie. Your site is such an inspiration. Books, books, and more books. What’s not to LOVE?!

I’m thrilled to be on a blog tour to celebrate the upcoming release of Hasta la Vista, Lola!, the second book in the Lola Cruz Mystery Series. Since Lola Cruz is probably brand new to most of you, I thought I’d launch right into how she came to be. I hope you end up loving her as much as I do!

There’s one thing that I’m asked (and sometimes not asked verbally, but with raised eyebrows) as a writer of a Latina mystery series. Bet you can’t guess what the question is. I’ll give you a hint. I’m not Latina. In fact, I say in my bio that I’m proud to be Latina-by-marriage.

So, the question is... drum roll...

“Why do you write a Latina character, and how did you manage to make her so authentic?”

The short answer is: “I’m a writer, of course, so it all comes so easily! Why not a Latina?”

That’s a complete lie (the part about it coming easy, not the part about me being a writer). Writing is hard work, and it’s true that you have to write about what you know. But, as I’ve already stated, I’m not Latina. I’m a white girl from California now living in Texas. But I married a smokin’ Latino man (almost 20 years married now) and I’ve learned so much about his culture through the years of our relationship so I do know Lola. I know her from the outside looking in. I know her though my children’s eyes. I know her through my husband and his family. His parents lived with us for several years, his sister is one of my best friends and is the sister I never had, and so many elements of the Mexican culture speak to me. So I write this series and write Lola because there is so much beauty in the Mexican culture and it truly speaks to me.

When we had children, it became even more important that we find ways to bring that culture into our American lives, to show the kids the culture that is part of their history, and for them to embrace that part of them. When the character of Lola Cruz (given name Dolores) came to me, it felt right because in so many ways I felt that this family that I’d created in my mind represented so many things I wanted to emphasize about the Mexican culture for my kids. The family, the faith, the language, the food... But I also wanted to show how these elements can be balanced within an American life.

Lola balances (or struggles to balance) life with the cultural and familial expectations placed on her with the her own passions and desires which stem from living as an American. I was particularly careful and conscious not to slip into stereotypes, and when people comment that my characters are so authentic and non-stereotypical, I take great pride in that!

So, who is Lola Cruz? Here she is in a nutshell:

Dolores “Lola” Cruz: Part Crusader, Part Swashbuckler, Part Sage

Stats: Lola’s single, a good Catholic girl (usually), but willing to do a lot to live her dream of being a detective. She works for muy misterioso Manny Camacho, has always loved old high school crush Jack Callaghan, and has a modern day rogue for a brother. The long and the short of it is that Lola can definitely hold her own in any situation, even when her mother’s berating her for having a career instead of marriage and children, when her mafioso grandfather has her doing ‘family’ work, and when her grandmother thinks she’s a ghost.

The Look: Long auburn hair with copper highlights, hips and boobs and curves to spare, stripper shoes (to go with her strip list), and a wardrobe full of clothes that Jack Callaghan can’t resist her in. A belly button ring…maybe. A black belt in kung fu and a love of yoga make her fit and strong.

Leading Man: Jack Callaghan, newspaper columnist with a past and some baggage that prevents him and Lola from moving forward. Who is Sarah, anyway?

The Bottom Line: Lola Cruz is a feisty heroine. She’s smart, sexy, and sassy. She’s a great friend, loyal, and kick ass. I like to say she’s my alter ego (if I were a super hot, sexy, Latina detective).

Lola’s next adventure has her investigating her own death–and Jack’s mysterious ex-girlfriend. There’s never a dull moment in her life!

So, that’s Lola’s story. What do you think? I’d love to hear!

Hasta la Vista, Lola! comes out February 2, 2010. Here’s the teaser:

What’s a girl to do when she finds out she’s been killed? Pinch herself to make sure she’s not a ghost, for starters. When Dolores Cruz comes home to her parents’ house to find every relative she has mourning her death, all hell breaks loose. With the help of on-again/off-again love Jack Callaghan, and juggling a new case thrown at her by muy misterioso boss Manny Camacho, it’s up to fledgling detective Lola to find out who’s behind the identity theft and suddenly wants her dead.

Click here to read an excerpt from the second installment in the Lola Cruz Mystery Series.

Living the Vida Lola, book one in the Lola Cruz Mystery Series

Dolores Cruz (Lola for short) loves shoes, chicken mole, kung fu (she’s a black belt) and her close-knit family. When her brother’s hunky old high school friend Jack Callaghan moves back to town, Lola falls hard. Now, after a year and a half as an underling at Camacho and Associates, a local private investigation firm, her oh-so-sexy and mysterious boss, Manny Camacho, assigns Lola her first big case: solving the mysterious disappearance of Emily Diggs. Can Lola juggle two men, her loving but demanding family, her PI exams, solve her all-important first case, and shop for fabulous shoes?


Meet the characters! Read Lola and her crew’s On-Line Dating profiles.

Join Misa’s mailing list at

.There are recipes and more on her web site. Also, check out Chasing Heroes where it’s all about...heroes!

Thanks again for having me here, Julie! Keep Booking.

I'd like to thank Ms. Ramirez stopping by and sharing with us some information about her very fun Lola Cruz mystery books. Ms. Ramirez has graciously offered to giveaway a copy of her second book in the series HASTA LA VISTA to one lucky reader. To enter, all you have to do is leave a comment with a valid email address telling me one of your favorite female mystery characters. This contest will be open until Monday, February 8th at 11:59 p.m. ET, and I will notify the winner the following day. This contest is open to those of you with U.S. addresses only. Good luck!

Monday, January 25, 2010

New Feature: Back-to-School

A few months ago, my husband was reading the Penn State Alumni magazine; and he found a page devoted to books written by Penn Staters. He thought it would be a great idea if I supported our Alma mater and read some of the books. Then, he took it one step further and suggested that I could actually feature "Penn State books" on my blog.

Our household is very Penn State proud, and my husband and I even have a Penn State Christmas tree each year and a stand-up Joe Paterno in our basement (it was my 10th anniversary present -- and I didn't even mind!) As much as I love Penn State and think it's the best university ever, I realize that only a few of you probably share my adoration for all things Nittany. However, I figured that I'm not the only book blogger (or reader) out there who likes to support my school.

So.....I decided to challenge myself to read and feature more books written by Penn Staters. As a result, I am starting a Back-to-School Feature where I will occasionally feature a book written by a Penn Stater or an author who is a fellow Penn State alum. I will be tracking my Back-to-School Feature posts in the Mr. Linky below.

You might be reading this and think that it's kind of a silly idea; and if that's the case, I will just track my PSU-related books here. However, I'd love to have others join in the fun! If you decide to feature anything book-related to your Alma mater, I'd love to have you post a link below in the Mr. Linky form. In fact, if you feature a book related to any school that you attended, root for or even live near, it can count -- it's all about school spirit.

I wanted to keep this feature as simple as possible. You don't have to sign up or commit to anything. If you want to participate, all you have to do is go to the Mr. Linky below and list your name, the school, and what you are featuring (i.e. author's name or book). For example, Julie/Booking Mama/PSU (The September Sisters.) Then you can link to your post. It's that easy! And, if you have already some posts that qualify, please include them below -- the posts don't have to be new.

Oh! I almost forgot -- feel free to grab the button and share. To make things easier, I will put the Back-to School Feature button on the top of my right sidebar for easy access.

Review: Living the Vida Lola

Summary: Meet Lola Cruz. After paying her dues as an intern, she’s now a full-fledged detective at Camacho and Associates. Her boss is Manny Camacho, amuy caliente former cop with a mysterious ex-wife, a Lara Croft look-alike girlfriend, and a sudden personal interest in Lola. Her first big case? A missing mother who may not want to be found. And to make her already busy life even more complicated, Lola’s helping her cousin plan her quinceañera, and battling her family and their old-fashioned views on women and careers. She’s also reunited with the gorgeous Jack Callaghan, her high school crush whom she shamelessly tailed years ago and photographed doing the horizontal salsa with some other lucky girl.

Lola takes it all in stride, but when the subject of her search ends up dead, she realizes she has a lot more to worry about. Soon she finds herself wrapped up in the possibly shady practices of a tattoo parlor, local politics, and someone with serious---maybe deadly---road rage. To top it all off, her treasured postcoital pictures of Jack are missing! Still, Lola is well-equipped to handle these challenges. She's a black-belt in kung fu, and her body isn’t her only weapon. She’s got smarts, sass, and more tenacity than her Mexican mafioso-wannabe grandfather. A few of her famous margaritas don’t hurt, either.

Debut author Misa Ramirez, a blond-haired, green-eyed gal with a passion for the Latino culture and authentic Mexican food, has penned a delicious mix of mystery, romance, and all-out fun. Filled with sizzling scenes and side-splitting humor, Living the Vida Lola is a thrilling ride that will have you up all night. -- Minotaur Books

While I don't read a ton of mysteries anymore, I still find that I enjoy a good one every now and then. Sometimes it's just nice to sit down and read a light, fun story -- you know what I mean? Especially in the cold and dreary winter months, I just want to curl up with a blanket and be entertained for a few hours. This was certainly the case with LIVING THE VIDA LOLA by Misa Ramirez. The novel was very funny and most definitely kept my interest from the first page until the last.

LIVING THE VIDA LOLA is the first book in the Lola Cruz Mysteries, and I think it's definitely going to appeal to many people. This novel is first and foremost a mystery story; however, I think I enjoyed the characters and their interactions as much, if not more, than the mystery itself. I thought Lola was a great female character, and she was certainly a hoot! She was smart, witty, and was equipped to take care of herself -- she had a black belt in kung fu (although she did need some help along the way.) I also liked her co-workers, friends, love interest, and especially her family. All of these characters were a little quirky, and they provided the reader with a fair amount of humorous situations.

The mystery was interesting as well, and the story did have some twists and turns. At times, I was pretty sure I had figured out the whodunit, but then I'd change my mind. There were lots of possible culprits with multiple motives. I can honestly say that I didn't figure out the mystery in this book, but I have to admit that I didn't try very hard. When I read fun mysteries like this one, I just enjoy the story and appreciate not having to think too much.

I thought this book was extremely funny. Lola's interactions with her mother were cute, and I have a feeling that they realistically represented some Mexican mother/daughter relationships. I also enjoyed reading about all of the delicious-sounding Mexican food and the special traditions. But what I really thought was cute about this book was the sexual tension between Lola and her high school crush Jack. When she runs into Jack again, years after high school, she finds out that she is still attracted to him. Much to her surprise, Jack is also very attracted to her. The author's descriptions of their back-and-forth games between the two were "muy caliente" to say the least!

If your group is looking for something a little lighter to read, you might want to consider LIVING THE VIDA LOLA. I wasn't exactly thinking "book club book" when I read, but then I figured, why not? It was a cute and fun story! Ms. Ramirez likes to call into book groups, and she has even come up with a few discussion questions. In addition, you can request from her some yummy-sounding recipes like Lola's Spanish Rice, Lola's Margaritas, or Lola's Salsa Borracha. A Mexican-themed book club would definitely "spice" up your normal meetings.

The second book in the series HASTA LA VISTA, LOLA will be available next month, and I definitely plan on reading it! Ms. Ramirez is already on work on book three in the series, BARE NAKED LOLA. In the meantime, Ms. Ramirez is going to be popping up all over the blogosphere -- you can check out her blog tour here. In fact, tomorrow she will be stopping by with a fabulous guest post as well as a giveaway of her new book!

If you are a fan of mysteries in general (or Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series), then I suggest you give LIVING THE VIDA LOLA a try. I think you find that it's a cute mystery with some very entertaining characters.

Thanks to the author for sending me a copy of her book.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Review: The Summer We Fell Apart

Summary: The children of a once-brilliant playwright and a struggling actress, the four Haas siblings grew up in chaos—raised in an environment composed of neglect and glamour in equal measure. When their father dies, they must depend on their intense but fragile bond to remember what it means to be family despite years of anger and hurt. These brothers and sisters are painfully human, sometimes selfish, and almost always making the wrong decisions, but their endearing struggles provide laughter through tears—something anyone who's ever had a sibling can relate to. -- Harper

I have a pretty normal family and a pretty uneventful life as those things go, but I still love to read books about mixed-up and crazy families. The latest one that I enjoyed was THE SUMMER WE FELL APART by Robin Antalek. THE SUMMER WE FELL APART tells the story of the Haas family and how the kids managed to cope (or not cope as the case may be) with their non-traditional upbringing.

At first I wasn't sure that I was going to enjoy this book. It took me a while to get into the story, but I decided to stick with it because I normally enjoy books like this one. I admit that it was kind of slow-going for me for the first 75 pages or so, and then the book really took off! By the time I was on to the second section of the book, I couldn't put it down. I felt as if I got to know each of the family members (I became invested in their lives) and I had to find out what happened to each one of them.

I ended up really enjoying this novel, and I think any reader who enjoys stories about family dynamics will appreciate it. For the most part, I liked seeing the relationship between the children and how close some of them were because of their past. There is no doubt that each of the children were affected in some way because of their upbringing. I think the author did a great job of developing each of the characters (quirks and all) along with creating the interactions between them. The sibling relationships and their feelings toward each other seemed very real and honest to me. Because of their unusual family, the children were forced to band together; and as a result, some of them were very close to each other.

One thing I found interesting about this novel was how the author chose to tell the story. The book is divided into sections for each character -- the four children and their mother. Each section definitely has a different and distinct feel to it, and I liked that the first section -- Amy's story -- was written in first person narrative while the other four sections were written in third person. In addition, I found it interesting that the reader never gets to see the father's side of the story. (I definitely intend to ask the author about this tomorrow night!) I also appreciated that some of the stories were told by multiple characters because I could see the different views and gather additional insight that way.

On Monday, January 25th at 7:00 p.m. ET, Ms. Antalek will be joining Book Club Girl on Air to discuss THE SUMMER WE FELL APART. I already have a list of questions to ask her, and I'm sure the other readers will as well. It's bound to be an interesting discussion talking about this novel and the unique characters in it. You can set a reminder here.

I have a feeling that THE SUMMER WE FELL APART would make a fabulous book club discussion book, especially if your group likes to delve into characters and their actions. There is a reading guide available with tons of questions -- the guide has ten questions, but there are multiple questions within each question. Of course, the major topic for discussion is family relations (namely dysfunctional family dynamics); but there are many other themes including surprise, neglect, abuse, adultery, love, and hope (thank goodness). After I finished this novel, I found that I really did want to talk about the characters with someone. That's usually a pretty good indication that a book would make a good book club pick.

Thanks to Book Club Girl for sending me a copy of this novel in preparation for the BlogTalk Radio show.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Kid Konnection - Review: Speak

Every Saturday, I host a feature called Kid Konnection -- a (hopefully) regular weekend feature about anything related to children's books. Today, I are going to share with you my review for an extremely powerful book that I recently read.

Summary: Made a social outcast for phoning police from an end-of-summer teen drinking party, Melinda rarely speaks through her ninth grade year. Isolated, bullied and emotionally tormented, this first person narrative communicates pain, and honesty about the high-school experience. Searing and riveting, with poignant and funny moments, the truth for her 911 call is eventually revealed, she was raped. -- Scholastic

Wow! I don't even know where to start with the novel SPEAK by Laurie Halse Anderson. I have read many reviews about SPEAK over the past few years, so I was kind of expecting it to be a powerful book. I was aware of the subject matter, and I knew that I would probably find it very disturbing; but I felt like I needed to read it no matter how uncomfortable it might make me. I couldn't put this book down and actually read it one night after the kids went to bed. This book was INTENSE! And it was also very, very good!

I don't know if it's because I'm a mother (but I really don't think so), but my heart just broke for Melinda. I moved around a lot as a kid and I didn't always make friends easily, but I never felt ostracized nor was I treated as poorly as Melinda was by her "supposed" friends. It was just so tragic -- I can't even put into words how gut-wrenching this book was for me! At times, I thought I could actually feel Melinda's pain -- what a great testament to the author!

Melinda is definitely going to be one of those characters that stays in my mind for a very long time. The story is told in Melinda's voice and I felt as if I truly got to know and understand Melinda. It was a very unique perspective because, as a reader, I actually got to know Melinda and her feelings better than her friends, teachers, and family (because she wasn't really speaking to any of them.) I also appreciated how Ms. Anderson portrayed Melinda's pain and even her need to stop talking -- it was very believable to me. Melinda felt as if her voice didn't mean anything to anyone in her life, and she just had to cope the best she could on her own.

While the book was deeply disturbing for me because of Melinda's anguish as well as the cruelty inflicted upon her, I did think the book ended on a hopeful note. I think that's what made me love this book even more, and I know the ending of the novel is what will stick with me. I love that Ms. Anderson showed that with the right people in a teenager's life and the right questions asked, it is not too late for a teenager to find their way. As I read this novel, I just knew that Melinda was a strong young woman, and I really wanted her to persevere through the horrific things that happened to her.

SPEAK isn't the first Laurie Halse Anderson novel that I've read -- I read WINTERGIRLS (my review) almost a year ago. I loved that book too (although love is a strange word to say about such disturbing books!) Somehow, Ms. Anderson is very in-tune with troubled teenagers, and I think she captures their emotions and actions perfectly. I will certainly be reading more of Ms. Anderson's novels in the very near future because I think she is such a terrific writer.

Booking Daughter is entirely too young to read SPEAK right now, but I do look forward to sharing this book with her in the future. It might be even make a good selection for our mother-daughter book club (way) down the road. There are so many things to delve into in this novel, and I think discussing this novel might be a great opportunity to bring up difficult topics with our girls. Plus, I'd love to hear what teenage girls think about this novel.

If you'd like to participate in Kid Konnection and share a post about anything related to children's books, please leave a comments as well as a link below with your name/blog name and the title of the book! Feel free to grab the little button too!