Sunday, February 28, 2010

Mother Daughter Book Club #19

Summary: Harry Potter knows no spells, has never helped to hatch a dragon, and has never worn a cloak of invisibility. All he knows is a miserable life with his horrible aunt and uncle, and their abominable son, Dudley.But all that changes when a mysterious letter arrives with an invitation to a place that Harry finds unforgettable. For it's there that he finds the great destiny that's been awaiting him…if Harry can survive the encounter. -- Scholastic

Earlier today, The Tweeny Bookworms (and their moms) met to discuss the first book in the Harry Potter series, HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER'S STONE by J.K. Rowling. All of the girls seemed to love it -- except for one who just thought it was okay. We had a terrific discussion (thanks to our hostesses' questions), and I loved seeing how enthusiastic the girls were about this book.

To be honest, I was a little concerned about what we would talk about since I didn't think the Harry Potter book was necessary a "traditional" discussion book. I shouldn't have worried about out girls because they really came through! Most of the questions were drafted by one of our daughter members (who is a major Potter-head -- she loves the books and has read the first one 8 times!) One of the best parts of our discussion was talking about the author's use of the characters' names. We also talked a lot about Harry and what it would feel like to be him!

While all of the girls seemed to really enjoy the first Harry Potter, I thought it was interesting that a few of the girls still preferred THE LIGHTNING THIEF which we read last May. I wonder if it had something to do with reading THE LIGHTNING THIEF first, or whether some of the girls just preferred the mythology to the magic!

Next month, The Tweeny Bookworms will be reading the Newbery Award winner AL CAPONE DOES MY SHIRTS by Gennifer Choldenko. I just happened to buy this book a few weeks ago when I was considering it for our after-school book club. I have been wanting to read this book for awhile now, and I can't wait -- it looks terrific!

Summary: Today I moved to a twelve-acre rock covered with cement, topped with bird turd and surrounded by water. I'm not the only kid who lives here. There's my sister, Natalie, except she doesn't count. And there are twenty-three other kids who live on the island because their dads work as guards or cook's or doctors or electricians for the prison, like my dad does. Plus, there are a ton of murderers, rapists, hit men, con men, stickup men, embezzlers, connivers, burglars, kidnappers and maybe even an innocent man or two, though I doubt it. The convicts we have are the kind other prisons don't want. I never knew prisons could be picky, but I guess they can. You get to Alcatraz by being the worst of the worst. Unless you're me. I came here because my mother said I had to. -- Puffin

Review: Happy Hour

Summary: The weekdays may be for real life, but Sundays are for friendship, good food, and great wine.

Meet the women of Napa...

Kat is a sommelier and co-owner of a restaurant with her chef husband Christian. Although deeply in love, their relationship is facing a series of challenges, including ex-spouses, teenage children, and a surprise visitor who turns Kat's life upside down...
Danielle is a vintner who finds herself entrenched in a family crisis when her daughter returns home from college with bombshell news... Jamie is a single mother and editor-in-chief at a wine lover's magazine. Her husband's death a few years prior has left her in financial ruins and having to care for a senile but endearing mother-in-law.... And Alyssa is an artist and gallery owner. When a tragic event from her past catches up with her, she must face the skeleton in her closet and rearrange her future.

With each woman's life in transition, they'll rely on tight friendships more than ever to get through the difficult times. While surrounding each other with love, humor, and strength, the four women pull together each week for their own happy hour. But will friendship be enough to get each woman through her crisis? And what about the secrets that are being kept...?

This special edition of HAPPY HOUR includes book club questions, an interview the the author, recipes and wine pairings, and a chance to win books for your book club along with gourmet wine and food baskets. -- D Vine Press

When author Michele Scott asked me if I was interested in reading her latest novel HAPPY HOUR, I jumped at the chance. She is one of the nicest authors that I've met since I began blogging, and the description of her book sounded like it was right up my alley. This book is about four women with very different lives who manage to come together on Sundays to drink wine, eat good food and talk. It's all about the importance of friends in our lives! (Where can I find a group of women like this?)

I enjoyed HAPPY HOUR -- it was a quick read that held my attention throughout, but I am always a sucker for heartwarming stories about women and their friendships. The story is told in alternating chapters about each of the characters' lives, and I truly believe that most women will relate to one or more of the characters. I also think they will see traits of their family and friends in the characters as well.

HAPPY HOUR has a little something for every woman -- love, romance, parenting problems, friendships, secrets, etc. Of course, one thing that all the women have in common though is a love of wine. Each Sunday, these four women can put aside all of their troubles and just drink some wine, eat some food, and relax with each other. While not all of the women feel the same level of closeness with each other, by the end of the book, they realize the importance of these meetings and how lucky they are to have these women as their friends.

As is the case in real life, each of the four women is facing problems in their own lives. What I found interesting (and very realistic) is that often times, the women didn't share their problems with their friends. Maybe it was because they were private or maybe because they were embarrassed and afraid of judgment, but they tried to take on these issues entirely by themselves. When a very serious crisis occurs for one of the characters at the end of the book, they do pull together and come through for her. I enjoyed how this book demonstrated the beauty and power of women!

Since one of the main themes of HAPPY HOUR is wine, it should come as no surprise to you that food is also a central theme in this book. Ms. Scott has included many of the recipes that the characters served at their Sunday meetings. One recipe that caught my eye was for Fettucine, Goat Cheese and Pancetta, but the Salmon in Miso looks fabulous too. With the author's permission, I am happy to share these recipes with you!

Kat's Fettucine, Goat Cheese and Pancetta

1 cup dry white wine
2 Tablespoons minced shallots
5 oz. goat cheese, at room temperature, cut up or crumbled
salt and freshly ground black pepper
pinch crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 lb. dried fettucine
1/2 cup chopped pancetta or bacon (you can also use chicken or shrimp)
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 oz. fresh baby spinach (about 6 cups)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

In a medium saucepan combine the white wine, shallots. Over high heat, reduce the liquid by half, about 5 minutes. Whisk in the goat cheese until the mixture is smooth, season with 1/2 tsp. salt, 1/4 tsp. pepper, and the red pepper flakes, and set aside.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until just cooked, 9 to 11 minutes. Reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta water, drain the pasta, and set aside.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a saute pan over medium-high heat. Brown up pancetta or bacon (if bacon there is no need to use the olive oil until you add the spinach.) Add the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and the spinach and saute until it's wilted, about 2 minutes.

In a large bowl, combine the pasta with the goat cheese sauce, add the spinach and pancetta. Season with salt and pepper and serve in warm bowls, topped with the basil.

Jamie's Salmon in Miso

1 cup mirin (sweet Japanese rice wine)
4 tablespoons light yellow miso (fermented soybean paste*)
6 tablespoons sugar
4 salmon filets (about 5 or 6 ounces each)
3 tablespoons half-and-half
1 teaspoon flour
1 1/2 cups snow peas

Add the mirin, miso and sugar to a small, nonstick saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and continue to boil for three minutes, whisking as it boils to create a smooth miso marinade.

Reserve 1/3 cup of the miso marinade and set aside. Pour the remaining miso marinade over the salmon filets in a gallon ziplock bag or a shallow dish. Let salmon marinate in refrigerator for at least an hour (or up to 12 hours.)

Grill the salmon filets skin side down about 5 inches from the coals or heat for 14 minutes or until salmon is cooked throughout. You can lightly brown the top of the salmon filets by broiling briefly in your kitchen oven or by gently flipping the salmon filets over and grilling them, flesh side down, for a couple of minutes.

Meanwhile to make a miso sauce for the table, add the 1/3 cup of the reserved miso marinade to a small non-stick saucepan and stir in 3 tablespoons fat-free half-and-half and a teaspoon of flour. Bring to a gently boil, stirring constantly, until the sauce has reached your desired thickness. Also, add snow peas to a small microwave-safe dish with 1/4 cup water, cover and cook on HIGH until snow peas are just tender (about three minutes.)

Serve each serving of broiled salmon over a scoop of steamed white or brown rice (if desired) and top with a drizzle of the miso sauce and fan some snow peas on top for garnish.

The author definitely intended for HAPPY HOUR to be a discussion book for book clubs. Not only did she include recipes for entertaining, but she also included wine pairings and some discussion questions. If your club enjoys fiction about the strength of women and their friendships, then you might want to consider checking out HAPPY HOUR.

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

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, February 27, 2010

Faith 'n' Fiction Round Table: Wounded - A Love Story

Summary: If a miracle happened to you, wouldn't you tell everyone? What if they thought you were crazy? Poor in health but rich in faith, Gina Merritt—a young, broke, African-American single mother—sits in a pew on Ash Wednesday and has a holy vision. When it fades, her palms are bleeding. Anthony Priest, the junkie sitting beside her, instinctively touches her when she cries out, but Gina flees in shock and pain. A prize-winning journalist before drugs destroyed his career, Anthony is flooded with a sense of well-being and knows he is cured of his addiction. Without understanding why, Anthony follows Gina home to find some answers. Together they search for an answer to this miraculous event and along the way they cross paths with a skeptical evangelical pastor, a gentle Catholic priest, a certifiable religious zealot, and an oversized transvestite drug dealer, all of whom lend their opinion. It's a quest for truth, sanity, and grace and an unexpected love story. -- David C. Cook

I was absolutely thrilled when My Friend Amy asked me to participate in the first Faith 'n' Fiction Round Table. I admit that I don't read a lot of Christian fiction, but I do enjoy what I read; and I always appreciate the books that Amy recommends. This month, we read and discussed WOUNDED by Claudia Mair Burney. I am so very glad I read this novel and participated in this round table because WOUNDED deeply affected me. I thought it was the perfect read as I headed into the Lenten season.

Below, you can read part of our round table discussion. I am especially excited to be posting the section on the theme of suffering because this aspect of this novel really touched my heart and challenged me to think.

Make sure you visit all of the blogs listed below to capture our full discussion.

Amy: My Friend Amy
Hannah: Wordlily
Heather: Book Addiction

Julie: What really touched me about this book though was the suffering aspect. Both Gina and Priest were definitely troubled and basically in a lot of pain -- both mentally and physically. I admit that I have a hard time accepting that we will suffer in this life and I often wonder why. At church yesterday, our priest touched on patience (which is another issue that I find fascinating to discuss) and suffering -- I almost pulled out my notepad to jot down some ideas for this discussion. Of course, I'm not as eloquent as he was but I did find this article on St. Paul and suffering. A few things really stood out for me:

- Paul understands that the suffering he endures serves as a way to be like Christ, as well as it being for Christ’s sake. Paul says: “Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own, based on law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God depends on faith; that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his suffering, becoming like him in his death, that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:8-11)

- Another dimension of Paul’s thought on the meaning of suffering is his conception of suffering as a means for sanctification, keeping pride at a minimum and trust in God at a maximum. He says: “And to keep me from being too elated by the abundance of revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to harass me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I besought the Lord about this, that it should leave me; but he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’…For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities; for when I am weak then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).

It is in weakness that we are more apt to trust in Christ because we realize that what we accomplish is not of our own doing, but the grace of Christ is working in us. Furthermore, it is in our weakness and suffering that we grow in humility and cannot pride ourselves in our accomplishments. We suffer “to make us rely, not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.” (2 Corinthians 1:9)

Did the suffering aspect of this novel cause anyone else to really reflect on their relationship with God? I can't seem to get it out of my mind!

Sheila: I often reflect on suffering and my relationship with God. I have been through huge trials in my life, beyond painful with loss and honestly, each one has brought me closer to Him. Closer in my faith. Gina appears to have this going on as well. As painful as what she is going through is, she is saddened when she thinks it is healing and going away.

Amy: And Julie, yes! I can't stop thinking about the provocative questions this book brings up about suffering.

Carrie: Okay, now I'm going to probably get myself in trouble with the whole issue of intimacy with God, but I'll jump in anyway. :) I grew up in a very charismatic denomination, and have come to the conclusion that a lot of what people say is "feeling God's presence" or "being intimate with God" or "being moved by the Spirit" can be simply coming from our own emotionalism. Not all the time - obviously God is present, and we can feel His presence at times, but if we don't "feel" Him, is He any less present? Of course not. I have seen the damage that a faith based on emotional experience can do in my sister's life. Once she didn't feel intimacy with God, feel His presence, she decide the whole thing must have been something she just invented. As she said, "I can get the same feelings by listening to a love song on the radio." I believe our relationship with God should be based on the truth of Who He is. If we get the fuzzy, "in love with God" feelings every once in a while, they are the icing on the cake, but those feelings will come and go, just like they come and go in a marriage. Our emotions can be fickle - they are not to be relied upon.

I'm not saying that in the book Gina didn't become very intimate with God - obviously that was what Burney was trying to portray. But I guess I don't expect to reach those same feelings of ecstasy in my own relationship with Him - at least not as a constant thing.

Hannah: I don't think even Gina expected to have that feeling of ecstasy as a constant. I know she says at a few points after she gets the stigmata that she's upset because she can't feel His presence anymore, but I understood that to mean she was shocked when the feeling left her and she still had the stigmata. I had the sense that pre-stigmata, her *feelings* of intimacy with God had ebbed and flowed, as mine do — or as any feelings do, for that matter. I took her statements as just one of the ways she was trying to understand what was happening to her.

Sheila: I thought it was on page 113 but I can not find it now, so now I cant recall if Priest said this or if it my own thought - but I wrote: I wonder if suffering isn't an invitation into a kind of intimacy with God. I believe it truly is. Personally speaking, I think my most intimate times with God are through suffering.... I also found those to be the times that I have the largest spiritual growth.

Kid Konnection - February Releases from Sterling

Welcome to Kid Konnection -- a (hopefully) regular weekend feature about anything related to children's books. Today, I am going to feature two new releases from Sterling. One book is for babies and their parents, and one is for elementary age children. Both books are very unique and offer something special to the readers!

Summary: Mash, mush, mooshWelcome little ones to the kitchen, with the first-ever cooking-with-your-baby book! Mealtime can be a challenge for babies and toddlers—but eebee’s Mix & Mash has the perfect recipe for cooking up adventures in learning and laughter. It promotes healthy eating right from the start, with great recipes for nutritious, delicious meals (including Curr-eed Rice and Banana) plus playful food preparation ideas that encourage baby to participate. And the book comes with a special DVD, coproduced by Parents TV! This is the perfect blend of smart tips and powerful parenting—a must-have for today’s active families. -- Sterling

MIX & MASH: ADVENTURES IN THE KITCHEN FOR BABY & YOU is unlike any children's picture book I've ever seen. It's actually a cookbook filled with recipes that your baby can make! Seriously -- there are step-by-step instructions so the babies (ages six months and up) can help the parents prepare healthy foods! I know that my kids like to help in the kitchen, and they've been known to try new foods when they help to make them; but this book brings introducing your kids to cooking to an entirely new level.

MIX & MASH is a very cute board book and it's filled with lots of colorful pictures of babies. For whatever reason, when my kids were babies, they just loved books with photos of babies in them. There is also an adorable (albeit funny looking) puppet-type creature on each page -- I think his name is eebee. In addition, the book includes a DVD with recipe demos and a Q&A on play and learning.

There is no doubt that the recipes in this cookbook are healthy and perfect for young babies and toddlers. I probably should have fixed food like this for my two when they were younger and maybe they wouldn't be so darn picky now. Some of the recipes included are: tof-ee finger food, guacamole-ee crunch, and roasted swee-ee-t potato shapes. Each recipe calls for the baby or toddler to shake, squeeze, swirl or whirl the foods. Very cute, right?

If you are looking for a cute and unique book that is also practical, you should definitely check out MIX & MASH: ADVENTURES IN THE KITCHEN FOR BABY & YOU. It would make a fabulous gift for a mom-to-be or a new baby.

Summary: When young Pip accidentally meets a convict out in the marsh one Christmas Eve, he has no idea that his life is about to change--forever. The amazing events following that encounter, and the strange tale of Miss Havisham and her adopted daughter Estella, have made Great Expectations a must-read since it was first serialized in 1860. Now, young readers can enjoy Dickens’s engrossing story in this simplified yet thrilling version. -- Sterling

I have never read GREAT EXPECTATIONS; and truth be told, I really don't have much desire to do so. So when I discovered that Sterling has a series of books called Classic Starts, I was more than a little interested. Classic Starts are abridged versions of classic stories especially geared towards young readers (or in this case -- me!) This series sounded like an ideal way for me to catch up on some classics that I never got around to reading. I began with CLASSIC STARTS: GREAT EXPECTATIONS as retold from the Charles Dickens original.

Having never read the original, I'm afraid that I'm at a disadvantage to judge how much (or how little) of the story was included in the abridged version. And I have to say that I did find the story to be a bit abrupt in places, and I definitely wanted more details and character development. However, I found GREAT EXPECTATIONS to be extremely easy to read, and I think it was the perfect length for young readers -- about 150 pages. I don't think young readers are going to have the same issues as I did.

Now as a mother of a fifth grader, I think this concept of abridged classics is terrific. There is absolutely no way that my daughter is ready to tackle many of the classics, but I'd like to introduce some of the stories to her sooner rather than later. Besides GREAT EXPECTATIONS, there is also THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN, MOBY-DICK, TREASURE ISLAND, and 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA to name a few. Some of the books are also available on audio. I agree with the creators that of Classic Starts that kids will gain confidence by reading the classics in this fashion. They will be introduced to the stories while at the same time not being frustrated by the length or complexity of the book.

One other thing that I absolutely loved about this book were the two sections in the back. One was a list of discussion questions and the other was a note to parents and educators. I think these books are ideal for teachers to use in the classroom to not only introduce the classics and their themes, but to also get children thinking about and discussing books. I thought the questions for discussion were very thought-provoking -- I actually went through and answered them myself! In addition, I enjoyed reading Dr. Arthur Pober's note about how the abridged versions of these classics help young readers develop a love of classical literature.

Thanks to the publisher for sending review copies of these books.

If you'd like to participate in Kid Konnection and share a post about anything related to children's books (picture, middle grade, or young adult) from the past week, please leave a comment 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, February 26, 2010

Review: Brava, Valentine

Summary: Adriana Trigiani's bestselling novels are beloved by millions of readers around the world. From the Big Stone Gap series to Lucia, Lucia, each is a sumptuous treat as Trigiani tells hilarious and romantic stories that we want to return to again and again.

Very Valentine, an instant New York Times bestseller, introduced the contemporary family saga of the Roncalli and Angelini families, artisans of handcrafted wedding shoes in Greenwich Village since 1903.

As Brava, Valentine begins, snow falls like glitter over Tuscany at the wedding of her grandmother, Teodora, and longtime love, Dominic. Valentine's dreams are dashed when Gram announces that Alfred, "the prince," Valentine's only brother and nemesis, has been named her partner at Angelini Shoes. Devastated, Valentine falls into the arms of Gianluca, a sexy Tuscan tanner who made his romantic intentions known on the Isle of Capri. Despite their passion for one another and Gianluca's heartfelt letters, a long-distance relationship seems impossible.

As Valentine turns away from romance and devotes herself to her work, mentor and pattern cutter June Lawton guides her through her power struggle with Alfred, while best friend and confidante Gabriel Biondi moves into 166 Perry Street, transforming her home and point of view. Savvy financier Bret Fitzpatrick, Valentine's first love and former fiancée who still carries a torch for her, encourages Valentine to exploit her full potential as a designer and a business woman with a plan that will bring her singular creations to the world.

A once-in-a-lifetime business opportunity takes Valentine from the winding streets of Greenwich Village to the sun-kissed cobblestones of Buenos Aires, where she finds a long-buried secret hidden deep within a family scandal. Once unearthed, the truth rocks the Roncallis and Valentine is determined to hold her family together. More so, she longs to create one of her own, but is torn between a past love that nurtured her, and a new one that promises to sustain her.

Brava, Valentine, Trigiani's best novel yet, delivers a hilarious and poignant mix of colorful worlds and unforgettable characters as only she can create them. -- Harper

Get ready for some major gushing because I loved
BRAVA, VALENTINE. Adriana Trigiani, one of my favorite authors, has done it again! She has written a book that I found to be entertaining on so many levels. I just treasured this book and didn't want it to end!

BRAVA, VALENTINE is typical Adriana Trigiani. It's a story about an independent and successful woman who is bound to capture your heart. I think that's the beauty of this novel -- Ms. Trigiani has created a wonderful character in Valentine. She is smart, strong, loyal and beautiful (and did I mention extremely likable?); but she also has a few issues when it comes to men and love. What I loved about BRAVA, VALENTINE is that the story has so many interesting characters and relationships, but at the real heart of the story is Valentine. She not only faces a huge amount of change, but she also has to look inside of herself and discover what she really wants.. It was wonderful to see how much she grew throughout the course of the novel.

There were times in this book when I just wanted to shake Valentine because she was so narrow-minded. That might sound awful, but it wasn't that I was ever really mad at her (I love her!) Rather, I just wanted her to see the bigger picture and hope that she would realize what's important in her life before it was too late. Valentine faced what many women of today face -- balancing a career and family obligations versus finding true love. There is no doubt that it's a hard act to have it all in today's society, and Valentine learned the hard way in this novel. My heart did go out to Valentine (even when I thought she was being kind of dumb), and I desperately wanted her to find genuine happiness!

In addition to Valentine's issues balancing a career and romance, I also thoroughly enjoyed the part of the story about the relationship between Valentine and her brother Alfred. When their grandmother turns the business over to both of them, it comes as a shock and disappointment to Valentine. She has to work closely with her "perfect" and very judgmental brother, and their relationship in the past has been less than ideal. I really liked seeing how Ms. Trigiani developed the character of Alfred and especially how she handled the complex relationship between him and Valentine.

And where do I even start explaining how much I love Ms. Trigiani's writing? Her descriptions of Italy and Buenos Aires are gorgeous and really seem to capture the essence of the countries, but she also has a knack for detailing shoes, fashion and interior design. As I read this novel, I could picture everything from the Italian countryside to Valentine's newly decorated apartment to the village in Buenos Aires; and I swear I could almost feel the textures of the shoes! I also adore how she conveys the dynamics of the Roncalli family -- there is so much warmth and humor in her descriptions. I don't know if there is any author out there who can capture the essence of a big Italian family like Ms. Trigiani can; and I have to wonder how much is based on her own life and the relationship she has with her sisters.

I think BRAVA, VALENTINE would make a terrific discussion book, but only if the members of your club have already read VERY VALENTINE. It's not absolutely necessary to the read VERY VALENTINE first because I think Ms. Trigiani does a great job of catching the reader up with Valentine's past; however, it would be so much better to read them in order! I wasn't able to find any discussion questions for this novel, but I'm sure they will be available in the near future. (I'll be sure to add the link.) Some of the topics for discussion include family relationships, love, career aspirations, sacrifices, loneliness, grief, forgiveness, change, and other life lessons! I think a BRAVA, VALENTINE meeting would also be a lot of fun because food is such a huge theme in this novel. In fact, you could make some of the recipes on Ms. Trigiani's website or in the back of VERY VALENTINE.

Ms. Trigiani is one of my all-time favorite authors, and I am so excited that BRAVA, VALENTINE most definitely lived up to my expectations. My only regret is that I have to wait another year before the next book in this very entertaining series is available!

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

Make sure you check out my giveaway for three copies of VERY VALENTINE.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Book Club Exchange - Leah from Amused by Books

When Leah from Amused by Books offered to write something for Book Club Exchange, I was a little surprised by her topic: Book club burnout. But the more I thought about it, I realized how perfect this topic really is. I know Leah is not alone with her feelings!

As much as I love all of my book clubs, there are times when I don't always think they are meeting my needs. I know that sounds terrible, but I have been known to feel frustrated after a meeting when we don't really hit upon all the issues in a book because we got sidetracked on personal issues. Does that sound familiar to anyone?

Well, enough about me! Without further ado, I'd like to welcome Leah to Book Club Exchange:

It started out so wonderfully. Most relationships do really, don't they? You get a taste of it and you think, yes this will be wonderful, this will really last! You put your all into it and then all of a sudden you realize you are the only one putting your all into it and you get that thing no one wants to say out loud, but I will - Book Club Burnout. Here's how it happened.

After college, I moved to a new city, San Francisco, and it's a very bookish city. I had been in a book club for a short time in college with a couple of my girlfriends that now lived in SF too and we had a great time then. I missed the great discussions of my English Literature classes and I tried at first to find a book club on craigslist. That got weird quickly, as things on craigslist sometimes can. Then I moved into a house with 3 girlfriends and thought, why not start a book club? Genius!

So we sent out the evite to about 10 ladies and we all invited our friends and slowly we built it up into something fun. We would meet every month, discuss a great book, make plans for the next month, stir, mix, repeat. We did this for 2 years. People came and went, as they do, but a core group remained. What was the problem, then?

Well it was always at our place and not only did people come and go but so did roommates, as they do. So I was the core leader. We swapped food responsibilities, not houses each month. When someone couldn't bring food, I was called in to bring snacks. When Sunday night rolled around (our designated meet up time) I cleaned. When no one else read the book, I led the discussion. When I went on vacation, book club got rescheduled. I never got a month off. My TBR pile suffered accordingly. Eventually it was time for me to move house too and with that I knew it would be time to take a break from book club. I loved book club, I really did, I just didn't love all the extra responsibility.

The book club is still going. They met elsewhere now, and I pop in from time to time when they read a book that I've read or was about to and I love that. It's much less responsibility and that was exactly what I was looking for and honestly, after a year or so away, I am starting to miss the regular discussions again and the camaraderie so I am sure, at some point, I will be right back in a regular book club again, but hopefully this time, one with a house swap!

Anyone else ever suffer from Book Club Burnout?


Leah at AmusedbyBooks loves to read fiction of any kind. When not reading, she is working hard for her money, exploring the great city of San Francisco, and harassing her boyfriend's cat.

I am so grateful to Leah for giving us her unique perspective on book clubs and book club burnout. If you are interested in participating in a future Book Club Exchange, please contact me at bookingmama(at)gmail(dot)com.

Book Report: Forever

Summary: There's a first for everything. When you build up something in your mind -- really imagine it, wish for it -- sometimes, when it actually happens, it doesn't live up to your expectations. True love is nothing like that. Especially not for Katherine and Michael, who can't get enough of each other. Their relationship is unique: sincere, intense, and fun all at the same time. Although they haven't been together all that long, they know it's serious. A whole world opens up as young passion and sexuality bloom. But it's senior year of high school, and there are big changes ahead. Michael and Katherine are destined for another big "first": a decision. Is this the love of a lifetime, or the very beginning of a lifetime of love? -- Simon & Schuster

Whew! This is the last of my reviews for Kathy's Shelf Discovery/Judy Blume Mini Challenge. I aimed to read all nine Judy Blume books featured in SHELF DISCOVERY, but I fell a little short (I only read eight and missed out on WIFEY.) FOREVER was the last book that I picked up to read; not because I didn't want to read it, but because I was afraid to write a review about it. I'm sure you're somewhat familiar with FOREVER -- it's Judy Blume's book about a teenage girl's first time!

FOREVER is another Judy Blume book that I might have missed as a girl. I almost don't think that's possible, but maybe my parents were doing a little censoring (but then you'd think I'd remember that too.) Maybe I read the book when I was too young to appreciate those teenage feelings? For whatever reason, when I sat down to read FOREVER, the story didn't come back to me like I was expecting!

FOREVER is the story of Katherine, a teenage girl who meets Michael at a party. She is a relatively, inexperienced naive girl who ends up falling head-over-heels in love with him. Katherine and Micheal begin to do "normal" teenage things, and their feelings (and actions) quickly escalate into Katherine's "first time."

I enjoyed FOREVER, but I don't think it was my favorite Judy Blume book (or even one of my top five.) Maybe now that I'm a mother to a daughter, I just don't want to think about all of those teenage hormones/feelings! I did appreciate this novel though. I don't know how Judy Blume manages to do it in every one of her books, but she has the amazing ability to capture the essence of a teenager like no other author I've ever read.

In fact, as I read FOREVER, I remembered all of my teenage feelings. It was almost as if they came rushing back to me through Katherine's words. FOREVER was really about young love, and I was almost surprised by how realistic Ms. Blume portrayed these feelings in this novel. I remember thinking at 17 that I was going to marry my high school sweetheart (don't even get me started on how thankful I am that that never happened); and despite my parents words of wisdom, I knew our love would last "forever."

While I enjoyed reading about Katherine's and Michael's relationship, I really enjoyed the ending of this novel. Katherine's parents found her a job at a summer camp, and she had to move away from Michael for the summer. They were inseparable for the months leading up to the summer, but when Katherine was away from Michael, she found that she was attracted to another guy. I thought this part of the book was so realistic, and Katherine's feelings were so honest. This is exactly what happens to almost every teenager who thinks they are in love, and it is nice that Ms. Blume shows that this is normal. She also shows through Katherine that while it may not be easy to breakup, it is okay and you will survive.

Another thing that I appreciated about this novel was the presence of Katherine's parents -- this probably has something to do with me being a parent myself, but they were involved in their daughter's life. They actually seemed to be in touch with their child. And, they were aware of what was coming. They tried to warn Katherine about becoming too serious with Michael. They even told her she didn't need to be tied down to one guy, and I could almost see them flinch when she mentioned "forever." Had I read this as a teen, I probably would have thought that they were so mean and unfair. But as a parent, I knew they were just trying to give her another perspective and protect her from the pain of a breakup.

I don't think I'll be handing off FOREVER any time soon to my 10 year old daughter, but I am going to put it safely away on my bookshelf. I think in a few years she might want to read it, and I hope that FOREVER may be the type of book that will open the door for communication between us!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Shelf Discovery Challenge -- Wrap-Up Posts!

The Shelf Discovery Challenge isn't officially over for two more months, but I've noticed that some of you are finishing up already!

I hope you've enjoyed this challenge as much as I have! If you've completed the challenge and written your wrap-up post, please link here:

Book Report: Tiger Eyes

Summary: Davey has never felt so alone in her life. Her father is dead—shot in a holdup—and now her mother is moving the family to New Mexico to try to recover. Climbing in the Los Alamos canyon, Davey meets the mysterious Wolf, who can read Davey’s “sad eyes.” Wolf is the only person who seems to understand the rage and fear Davey feels. Slowly, with Wolf’s help, Davey realizes that she must get on with her life. But when will she be ready to leave the past behind and move toward the future? Will she ever stop hurting? -- Delacorte Press

I'm in the home stretch for Kathy's Shelf Discovery/Judy Blume Mini Challenge. For those of you who are tired of my Judy Blume reviews, hang in there. I only have two more to post this week! I recently read TIGER EYES, and I can honestly say that I don't know if I read this one as a pre-teen. There were parts of it that rang a bell, but I can't imagine that I wouldn't have remembered this book. I actually think TIGER EYES might be the best Judy Blume book that I read this month!

I admit that, while I absolutely loved TIGER EYES, I've been hesitant to write my review. Not only do I worry about not doing this book justice, but have you read Ms. Skurnick's essay in SHELF DISCOVERY? It is absolutely amazing, and she pretty much said everything there is to say. All I can do is my best, right?

Davey is one of those characters who I can't get out of my mind. As difficult as the teen years are, Davey has to deal with so much more than the ordinary teenager. First of all, her father gets shot and killed while working in his 7-Eleven Store. To make matters even worse, Davey's family lives above the store, so she lives in constant fear. Then, she has to not only cope with the loss of her father, but she also has to see and handle her mother's grief. Finally, her mother decides to move her family to Los Alamos, NM, to live with Davey's aunt and uncle. I only dealt with the moving part as a pre-teen and I thought my life had ended. So, you can imagine how touched I was by Davey and her struggles.

The teenage years really are about change, and TIGER EYES showed how drastic that change can be. Part of what broke my heart about Davey's story was that her mother was in so much pain, she could barely tend to her children. I think being a mother and a wife really made me appreciate Davey's mom's struggles. I didn't find myself judging Davey's mother. Rather, I just wanted her to be able to move on for her sake as well as her children's sake. And while Davey's mother was almost a non-existent factor in her life for awhile, her aunt and uncle more than made up for the parental responsibility with their sense of stability. They were a childless couple who were extremely overprotective, and they lived in constant fear of "what it?" As a teenager, Davey certainly took the brunt end of their worry.

But what I really loved about Davey was that she was a survivor. Even though she was facing so much pain and heartache, she still managed to be smart and spunky (and discover herself in the process.) She doesn't just roll over and accept things -- she actually challenges her aunt and uncle. She learns to balance sensibility with having to have fun.

Throughout the novel, Davey just grows so much as a person. She meets Wolf, a teenage boy who is able to totally relate to her feelings; and with his friendship, Davey realizes that she needs to remember her father as a person and not her father's death. She also realizes through the actions of her aunt and uncle that it's okay to be cautious, but not so much so that you are unable to live.

TIGER EYES was just a fantastic book on so many levels. I found myself crying multiple times. But I also found myself just wrapped up in Judy Blume's writing. This is an extremely powerful book, and Ms. Blume managed to once again realistically capture the emotions of a troubled teenage girl. As wonderful as I think Ms. Blume is, she really outdid herself with this book! In addition to creating a wonderful character in Davey, I love how Ms. Blume touched upon some political issues like the weapons race and even war in general through her use of Los Alamos as the backdrop for this novel. There are so many wonderful themes in this novel which warrant further discussion, especially as they relate to living your life to the fullest.

If you haven't read TIGER EYES, you really should. I consider it a must-read!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Author Interview: Laurie Perry & Giveaway

Earlier today, I reviewed a fun book called HOME IS WHERE THE WINE IS by Laurie Perry. If you are familiar with Ms. Perry's blog, Crazy Aunt Purl, then you already know she's hilarious. But if you're not, it only takes reading a few pages of her latest book to appreciate her sense of humor.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading her book, and I especially appreciated the knitting and crochet patterns in the back! I am so glad that Ms. Perry took time from her busy schedule to answer a few of my questions.

Booking Mama: HOME IS WHERE THE WINE IS is your second book, but you also maintain a full-time blog. How do you find the time to balance your work, your writing, your play, and of course your knitting?

Laurie Perry: Well, I don't sleep much. I have chronic insomnia, so sometimes staying up knitting or writing helps me get my mind cleared enough to fall asleep. There are times when I'm busy at work and I have a deadline with the book or some aspect of promotion and the website won't get updated for a few days but I try to keep up with it, I think the longest I've ever gone without posting is five days. When I'm writing a first draft or in the editing process for a manuscript I have zero social life, everything revolves around the book or the deadline. But I'm so happy in that zone, I have no complaints. It suits me, I'm a homebody.

Booking Mama: How does writing a book differ from writing blog posts?

Laurie Perry: There's the mechanics -- a book is obviously much longer and the voice and tense all have to work together. There's pacing in a book, and story arc and flow and you have many, many editors. Your regular editor, the copy editor, the reader, the sales team, the editorial director, your publicist -- a lot of people go into making a book. In a blog post it's all standing alone on its own so the pace is contained, the tense can be whatever you want, the voice can be totally different from yesterday's post. And you are your own editor, with complete control of the content.

But nothing tops the feeling of seeing your book on a shelf in a store. Nothing. I don't have children, and for me it was like seeing my own baby right there on the shelf!

Booking Mama: Your honesty in the book is so refreshing. Do you ever find it difficult to write about an event in your life or feelings that you are experiencing?

Laurie Perry: All the time. For example, in this book I was totally against writing anything about dating. I thought that if your personal life became your content, you would no longer have a personal life. (I still believe that, by the way!) And I'm a very private person, contrary to what folks may think. So I wrote the dating content for myself mostly, just in my diary, and I was re-reading it and I realized it was the funniest material because we've all been there, we've all had these awkward experiences and wondered what on earth we're doing. If I am able to write something that doesn't hurt someone else and makes people laugh I don't mind sharing a little more than I expected. I do think there is a very fine line, though. I almost never talk about politics or religion or sex, and I definitely self-edit all the time. It's a balance between keeping your life private and still being able to write honestly and relate to people.

Booking Mama: I am a fellow knitter (not a great one by any means) so I absolutely loved the pictures and patterns in the back of the book. Can you tell us a little bit about how you began knitting? What is the knitting project you are most proud of?

Laurie Perry: I started knitting as a way to keep myself busy during my divorce. I couldn't sleep and I was slightly insane most of the time and a friend of mine dragged me to a knitting class. I was hooked! I loved it from the very first moment. It kept my hands busy and my mind occupied and it was relaxing and at the end of a project you would have a scarf or a hat, miraculous! Now I've been knitting for six years and I'm not particularly advanced but I still love to knit. By far my greatest knitting accomplishment is my entrelac scarf from last year. I am so proud of entrelac I may add it to my resume.

Booking Mama: Do you have any words of advice for bloggers out there hoping to make the next step to writing books?

Laurie Perry: Write! Write all the time, never give up. And the best advice I could give anyone is just to get out of your own way as much as possible. Sometimes we get hung up on being the best or writing the Great American Novel or trying to emulate someone else's success and it becomes this giant mental roadblock to our own voice. Just write your best. Your best is really good enough.

Booking Mama: I almost always end an interview asking what books you are currently reading, but I'm also very interested in what knitting projects you are working on right now?

Laurie Perry: I'm reading BEL CANTO by Ann Patchett. I wanted to get into it the way I did with THE MAGICIAN'S ASSISTANT but it's been slow for me, so I also started re-reading THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO because I just saw the movie on TV and wanted to re-read the book. The book is always so much better than the movie! As for knitting, I'm working on another long scarf knit lengthwise in garter stitch. It's all these crazy yarns mixed together, I love it. It's crazy like me.

I'd like to thank Laurie for taking the time from her very busy schedule to provide such wonderful answers to my questions.

And now for the giveaway information...thanks to the publisher of CRAZY AUNT PURL'S HOME IS WHERE THE WINE IS, I have five copies of the book to giveaway! To enter, just leave a comment with an email address telling me something you found interesting about Laurie. The contest will be open until March 8th at 11:59 p.m. ET, and I will notify the winners the following day. This giveaway is open to those of you with U.S. and Canada mailing addresses only. Good luck!

Review: Home Is Where the Wine Is

Summary: Balding, Paunchy, Twice-Divorced, Unemployed Male Seeks Independently Wealthy Supermodel for No-Strings-Attached fun. Nonsmokers only.

She's Back, and edgier than ever. In her debut narrative, Drunk, Divorced, & Covered in Cat Hair, blogger extraordinaire Laurie Perry, aka 'Crazy Aunt Purl,' gave women everywhere a hilarious yet heartfelt glimpse into her misadventures as a recent divorcee with a herd of cats, a slight wine and Cheetos problem, and scores of unfinished and uneven knitting projects.

Now, in her second installment, she's no longer drunk-dialing her ex. She is well on her way to divorce recovery and has embraced a new-found philosophy: To make the best out of the 'extra odd bits'—both in knitting and in life. Discovering how she accomplishes this will make you laugh and cry as she navigates new territory, from dating in a weird, wired world to vacationing solo for the first time. On the cusp of the big four-O, she ventures to the most exotic, foreign locations—the gym, a therapist's office, a self-tanning emporium— on a search for enlightenment and happiness in— where else?—downtown Los Angeles.

• Island Beach Bag

• Lonely Hearts Personal Massager Cozy
• Wineglass Flip-Flop Coaster

• Quick Knit Date-Night Bag

• Brain Freeze Ice Cream Cozy
• Super-Easy Beret . . . and more!

Over a dozen knitting recipes included with photos! -- Health Communications, Inc.

I am very hesitant to pick up books like CRAZY AUNT PURL'S HOME IS WHERE THE WINE IS: Making the Most of What You've Got One Stitch (and Cocktail!) at a Time by Laurie Perry. While I enjoy reading memoirs and humorous essays, I find that (and this is going to sound terrible) I don't always like the author. Sometimes, I can't take the snarkiness or condescending attitude. Other times, I just don't think the writer is all that funny. However, that wasn't the case at all with HOME IS WHERE THE WINE IS. I really enjoyed the book and especially Laurie Perry's hilarious voice!

The real key to this book is Laurie Perry! Make no mistake, she is an absolutely hoot and you can't help but laugh when you read her descriptions of her life. But Ms. Perry is also honest (sometimes brutally so) and I have to respect her for being so open with her readers. While I don't have all that much in common with Ms. Perry, I still really liked her and related to her heartfelt confessions. The way she "talks" to the reader through this book seems just like a conversation between friends. However, I think what impressed me the most about Ms. Perry is her ability to laugh at herself!

HOME IS WHERE THE WINE IS details Ms. Perry's efforts to tackle her New Year's Resolutions. Each one of her resolutions is covered in a different chapter with titles like "Resolution #2: Take an Adventurous Trip - Passports, Pocketbooks, and Pants" and "Resolution #4: Go on a Real Live Date - Summer Lovin' Had Me a Blast" (they are a few addendum chapters to this one!) Ms. Perry describes taking a trip to Italy all by herself as well as some of her experiences of dating after her divorce. She also talks about expanding her basic knitting projects and beginning an exercise routine! I think basing the book on her attempts to complete her resolutions was a terrific (and very creative) approach to telling her story.

HOME IS WHERE THE WINE IS is Ms. Perry's second book -- her first is titled CRAZY AUNT PURL'S DRUNK, DIVORCED AND COVERED IN CAT HAIR. I haven't read this book, nor was I even familiar with Crazy Aunt Purl before reading HOME IS WHERE THE WINE IS. But since that I enjoyed this book so much, I have since started visiting her very funny blog. In fact, I wouldn't mind reading her first book now either.

One of my favorite parts of this book were all of the references to knitting and yarn. Since I absolutely loved the cute and easy patterns (with pictures) in the back of the book, I knew I just had to try one. I decided to make the crocheted flip flop wine coaster -- it can also work as a drink identifier. It only took a few minutes to whip up, and I think it turned out to be pretty cute. I can't wait to make an entire set!

Thanks to the publisher and TLC Book Tours for providing a review copy of this book. If you'd like more information about the book tour for HOME IS WHERE THE WINE IS, you can click here.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Review: Side by Side

Summary: Moms and daughters.

They can go from best friends to mortal enemies with breakneck speed. From boyfriends to curfews and from outfits to eating habits, mothers and daughters often end up in conflict about everything. Now with Side by Side, mothers finally have a proven program to help navigate their relationship with their daughters of any age.

Dr. Charles Sophy has dedicated his career to the physical and mental health of children and families from all walks of life. Through hundreds of consultations, he found the most promising and most problematic family dynamic is that between mother and daughter.

Side by Side introduces the Four Truths of every mother-daughter relationship and a revolutionary communication approach called the Chair Strategy. This mom-driven strategy is designed to harness her power to resolve even the most volatile situations with love, understanding, and respect. It provides a concrete visual of the way mothers and daughters communicate, revealing that at all times, moms and daughters approach each other in one of three positions:
  • back-to-back—when mom and daughter are at odds, neither looking at one another or listening to what the other is saying
  • face-to-face—when they are discussing an issue openly, honestly, and with respect, regardless of whether they agree or not
  • side-by-side—when both are looking in the same direction, sharing the same perspective

Dr. Sophy reveals how to develop the essential skill for identifying your current position and then moving you and your daughter toward the best position for achieving a productive outcome.

Being a mom is hard work, and this practical and accessible explanation of the most important role you will ever play steers you through even the roughest waters, including the hot-button issues of sex, money, and divorce. With exercises, guided conversations, journaling, and real-world stories, this book takes the mother-daughter relationship, regardless of its current state, and leads it toward a new level of understanding, love, and true connection.

Side by Side is the pivotal first step to having a strong and rewarding relationship with your daughter for years to come. -- Harper Collins

When I read the description of the book SIDE BY SIDE: THE REVOLUTIONARY MOTHER-DAUGHTER PROGRAM FOR CONFLICT FREE COMMUNICATION by Dr. Charles Sophy with Brown Kogen to my husband, he thought I'd be crazy not to read this book. I am a mother of a ten year old daughter who is absolutely wonderful. She really is and I'm not just partial because I'm her mom. But...we do tend to clash. And we can push each other's buttons like no one else can.

Now, I'm not saying that our relationship is strained or even that we are any different than other mothers and daughters out there. And I'm not even sure that we necessarily need a book about mother-daughter communication right now. However, I thought it couldn't hurt to educate myself about how to have better communication with my daughter. And then, there's always the thing that my husband seems to think that we could benefit from a little help!

Dr. Sophy starts out the book explaining that moms and daughters really want the same things: love, understanding, and respect. It seems rather obvious when I read it, but I don't know that we always keep these things in mind (especially when the discussion gets heated.) He also states that moms and daughters speak the same language, that they are in competition with each other on some level, and that they have lots of estrogen! These four key truths are reinforced throughout the book.

Dr. Sophy's process involved a great deal of up-front work whereby the mom and daughter get to know themselves better. He has developed a SWEEP checklist -- sleep, work, eating, emotional expression of self, and play; and he has worksheets to help assess where each person is currently strong as well as weak. He stresses that both mom and daughter must first work to find a SWEEP balance.

The basic gist of Dr. Sophy's program for conflict-free communication is called The Chair Strategy. He believes that moms and daughters are always in one of three chair positions -- back-to-back, face-to-face, and side-by-side. He uses the visualization of these chair positions to show how moms and daughters are communicating; and he teaches them how to communicate more effectively and thereby move the chairs to a more optimal position.

I thought Dr. Sophy did a great job of presenting his ideas in a user-friendly, easy-to read format. I also liked that he used lots of case studies of actual mother-daughter pairs who were his patients. I think seeing others who are facing similar circumstances is extremely helpful (and often times made me feel really good about my daughter's and my relationship!)

As is the case with any self-help book that I've ever read, there are things that don't really pertain to my daughter and me (and hopefully never will like the divorce chapter.) But, in the case of SIDE BY SIDE, there were many important lessons to be learned within the pages of this book. I highly recommend SIDE BY SIDE for all moms, even those with very young daughters. It's never to early to learn how to handle conflict with each other and improve communication.

Thanks to Valerie Allen Public Relations for sending me a copy of this book.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Book Report: Then Again, Maybe I Won't

Summary: Ever since his dad got rich from an invention and his family moved to a wealthy neighborhood on Long Island, Tony Miglione’s life has been turned upside down. For starters, there’s his new friend, Joel, who shoplifts. Then there’s Joel’s sixteen-year-old sister, Lisa, who gets undressed every night without pulling down her shades. And there’s Grandma, who won’t come down from her bedroom. On top of all that, Tony has a whole bunch of new questions about growing up. . . . Why couldn’t things have stayed the same? -- Laurel Leaf Books

I sure hope that you aren't tired of Judy Blume books yet because I still have a few more to go this month. I have been on a Judy Blume kick because of Kathy's Shelf Discovery/Judy Blume Mini Challenge! The latest one I read (well actually re-read) is THEN AGAIN, MAYBE I WON'T. Now if you were anything like me and my friends, we referred to this book as the boy version of ARE YOU THERE GOD? IT'S ME, MARGARET.

When I went back and read this book again as an adult, the part that I remember about (how do I say this delicately?) boys maturing wasn't nearly as big of a deal. Evidently, as a kid, I really read into all the controversial parts of this book. Although I'm pretty sure that I didn't really understand most of those parts anyway. I don't recall THEN AGAIN, MAYBE I WON'T as being one of my favorite books as a kid. It's most likely that I didn't think I had much in common with Tony being that he was a boy and all -- I probably was a lot like Booking Daughter in that I liked girly girl books.

I am so glad that I decided to read this one again. I admit that I wasn't looking forward to it like some of the other Judy Blume books, but I really appreciated it this time around. I think some of the finer points and messages were lost on me as a child (but isn't that true of so much of the really good middle grade fiction out there?) As is the case with so many Judy Blume books, THEN AGAIN, MAYBE I WON'T touched upon some huge tween issues such as discovering the opposite sex, dealing with all of the changes your body goes through, losing friends and making new ones, fitting in, and seeing your parents for what they really are.

I am actually very surprised that I didn't relate more to Tony because so much of the story was about his moving to a new (and wealthier) neighborhood. I moved around a lot as a child and hated every minute of it. I always felt like I was trying to fit in and make new friends, and I was always worried about impressing them. I remember that it took a long time to find new friends, and I definitely missed my old ones.

I really liked how this book addressed the theme of change. One of the obvious references to change is Tony and his new hormones, but there was also a great deal of change for Tony and his entire family. It wasn't fully explored in this novel (and I admit that it surprised me a bit), but Tony's older brother was killed in action in the Vietnam War. I know that probably had rippling effects, especially with Tony's mother, but it wasn't really discussed much. Another huge change for the family occurred when Tony's father sold some electronic device for a lot of money. When Tony's family moves from the working class part of Jersey City to a Long Island suburb, he begins to see how money can cause people to act very differently. His parents no longer allow his grandmother to cook meals -- she eventually takes to her room. His brother gives up his teaching job and also moves to the suburbs because he has a family to think of. And his mother is constantly worried about fitting in and copying what the neighbors do. Poor Tony!

And speaking of poor Tony...he internalized everything. And he got so upset by all this change that he actually made himself sick and ended up in the hospital. My heart really went out to him, and I just don't think I had enough compassion at 10 years old to fully appreciate his character.

Guess what? I am highly recommending THEN AGAIN, MAYBE I WON'T -- big surprise, right? It's a wonderful book that explores a lot of important pre-teen issues.

Note: There are a few different covers for THEN AGAIN, MAYBE I WON'T, but I actually read the version of the book that is pictured above.

Review: So Easy

Summary: As weekly host of the Food Network's Healthy Appetite, Ellie Krieger is known for creating light and healthy dishes that taste great and are easy enough for the busiest people to prepare. Now, Ellie has put together a collection of meal solutions for those of us who love food and want to eat well but struggle to make it happen given life's hectic pace. With 150 delicious, easy-to-prepare, fortifying recipes, Ellie provides dishes that tackle every possible mealtime situation. Illustrated with 50 full-color photos, there are recipes for:

  • Grab-and-go breakfasts for hectic days, as well as easy breakfast options for more leisurely mornings

  • Lunches to go, each road-tested in a cooler pack, along with at-home lunches for when you have the luxury of eating in

  • A month's worth of different rush-hour dinners-fabulous meals you can whip up in less than thirty minutes-as well as dinners for days when you have a little more time to marinate or roast, but still want it all to be effortless

  • Decadent desserts, some ready in minutes, others truly worth waiting for-all easily pulled together

  • As a mom with a full-time job, Ellie knows how busy life is when you're juggling your family's needs. Now, you can stop stressing over whether to eat healthily or to eat fast. The recipes here-from Cheddar Apple Quesadilla, Pork Piccata with Spinach and Garlic Mashed Potatoes, Marinated Flank Steak with Blue Cheese Sauce to Chocolate-Cream Cheese Panini Bites and Fig and Ginger Truffles-are ideal, regardless of the time, or experience, you have in the kitchen.

    When so much in life is complicated, isn't it nice to know that eating doesn't have to be? After making and enjoying the meals in this book, you will say along with the title, "That was SO EASY!" -- Wiley

    I can so blame this one on Beth Fish Reads! She featured SO EASY: LUSCIOUS, HEALTHY RECIPES FOR EVERY MEAL OF THE WEEK by Ellie Krieger awhile back, and I immediately checked it out of the library. SO EASY is my kind of cookbook because it is obviously very easy recipes that are also healthy. I have tried a number of recipes from this cookbook over the past few weeks, and SO EASY is without a doubt my favorite cookbook right now. I have to have this cookbook!

    Usually I am happy with a cookbook is I find one or two recipes that are keepers. The cookbook is divided up in sections according to meals: Breakfast - at the ready, Breakfast - at leisure, Lunch - to go, Lunch - at home, Dinner - rush hour, Dinner - kickin' back, Desserts - in a flash, and Desserts - extra special. My favorite section was definitely Dinner - rush hour because that's basically what I need to most. With all of the kids' activities, I'm lucky to get dinner on the table each night.

    In SO EASY, the first three recipes I made were absolutely fantastic. I first tried the Garlic Basil Shrimp, and my husband and daughter loved it -- my son couldn't try it since he is allergic to shellfish. We aren't huge fans of cherry tomatoes, so I substituted canned petite diced tomatoes instead. It was fabulous and so fresh!

    I then tried another shrimp recipe - Shrimp Fra Diavlo with Spinach which was amazing. I even got my husband and daughter to eat some spinach! Another big hit was the Tri-Color Pepper Steak. This was a very simple recipe that my whole family could eat -- even the boy! He absolutely loved it, and I was thrilled to find an easy, healthy dinner rather than making him an entirely different meal. My husband and I also enjoyed the Tortellini-Spinach soup from the Lunch-to go section which was extremely easy and definitely had a kick!

    There aren't a ton of chicken recipes in this healthy cookbook which makes it a little unusual; however, I already have some wonderful, healthy chicken recipes. When I picked up this cookbook, I was looking for some different recipe ideas. I did try the Savory Peach Chicken. I pretty much knew that it wasn't going to be a hit with my husband since he doesn't really like fruit all that much, but I thought it was worth a shot. He was less than thrilled with it so I won't be making it for him again. I enjoyed it though and the kids thought the chicken part was good (if they didn't have to eat the peaches!)

    I can't recommend SO EASY enough if you enjoy healthy and easy recipes -- you really can't go wrong with that combination in my mind. I have been raving so much about this cookbook that my sister just told me that she bought a copy for my birthday in April (I was too cheap to spring for the $30 price tag even though it is so worth that price!) Right now, I am going through withdrawal because I had to return it to the library, so April can't come soon enough for me!

    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.