Monday, May 31, 2010

Review: The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

Summary: On the eve of her ninth birthday, unassuming Rose Edelstein, a girl at the periphery of schoolyard games and her distracted parents’ attention, bites into her mother’s homemade lemon-chocolate cake and discovers she has a magical gift: she can taste her mother’s emotions in the cake. She discovers this gift to her horror, for her mother—her cheerful, good-with-crafts, can-do mother—tastes of despair and desperation. Suddenly, and for the rest of her life, food becomes a peril and a threat to Rose. The curse her gift has bestowed is the secret knowledge all families keep hidden—her mother’s life outside the home, her father’s detachment, her brother’s clash with the world. Yet as Rose grows up she learns to harness her gift and becomes aware that there are secrets even her taste buds cannot discern. -- Doubleday

I have heard so many wonderful things about Aimee Bender, but I had never experienced one of her novels. So when I decided to host the 2010 EW Summer Books Reading Challenge, I started with Ms. Bender's latest novel THE PARTICULAR SADNESS OF LEMON CAKE. I can certainly see what all of the buzz was about -- Ms. Bender is a very gifted writer.

I'm not sure that I would go so far as to say that I loved THE PARTICULAR SADNESS OF LEMON CAKE, but I did appreciate it -- especially the writing. I think the cover and title might have thrown me for a loop because I was expecting a lighter read. But this novel definitely didn't classify as a light read (or at least it didn't for me.) It was a beautifully written novel that touched my heart and really caused me to think.

One of the things that I most appreciated about this novel was the story line itself. I loved the idea that a young girl named Rose discovers that she has a gift -- she can tell the emotions of the person who prepared her food. At first, I thought it sounded like a wonderful and fun gift to have, but it actually ended up being quite a burden for poor little Rose. Rose ended up finding out heartbreaking secrets about her family, and then she had to learn how to cope with knowing these things.

I really enjoyed how the author incorporated some magical elements into this story, and I think it was very well done (and believable.) I love that how Ms. Bender showed how much a "gift" can affect our lives, and how we sometimes get "gifts" that we don't want. I loved her use of symbolism in this novel, and I thought Rose's path demonstrated the challenges we all face with knowing too much about our loved ones. This might sound strange but as I'm writing this review, I'm realizing that I maybe I did like this book more than I first realized!

In some ways, I considered THE PARTICULAR SADNESS OF LEMON CAKE to be a coming-of-age story for Rose; but it was actually so much more than that. Rose was at an age in this story (nine years old) where a child starts seeing their parents and their life in a new light. However with the on-set of her "gift", Rose is forced into these realizations as well as the need to cope with them instantly. Throughout the novel, Rose not only has to learn to live with her knowledge, but she also has to learn how to accept and forgive her loved ones. It's a lesson that is true for all of us -- Rose's life just demonstrated it in a more drastic way.

There is no doubt that Ms. Bender can write! I am actually very interested in pursuing some of her other novels. I loved how she brought Rose to life and I thought she did a wonderful job of capturing her voice. Many of the passages in this novel were beautifully written and reading her prose was certainly a treat. I just know that every character, every scene and probably every word were in this novel to invoke a particular meaning.

THE PARTICULAR SADNESS OF LEMON CAKE would make an excellent discussion book for book clubs. There is a reading guide available which will definitely help making sure you get the most our of your meeting. I suggest taking a look at the questions, so you can have an idea how how much this book encompasses because I don't think I did a very good job of showing this in my review. Some of the topics you might want to discuss include loss of innocence, acceptance, forgiveness, coping mechanisms, honestly, and family dynamics to name a few. If your group enjoys discussing literary novels, than I highly suggest taking a look at this one.

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

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Review: The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors

Summary: BECCA

On a sunny day in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, eight-year-old Becca Burke was struck by lightning. No one believed her—not her philandering father or her drunk, love-sick mother—not even when her watch kept losing time and a spooky halo of light appeared overhead in photographs. Becca was struck again when she was sixteen. She survived, but over time she would learn that outsmarting lightning was the least of her concerns.


In rural Arkansas, Buckley R. Pitank’s world seemed plagued by disaster. Ashamed but protective of his obese mother, fearful of his scathing grandmother, and always running from bullies (including his pseudo-evangelical stepfather), he needed a miracle to set him free. At thirteen years old, Buckley witnessed a lightning strike that would change everything.

Now an art student in New York City, Becca Burke is a gifted but tortured painter who strives to recapture the intensity of her lightning-strike memories on canvas. On the night of her first gallery opening, a stranger appears and is captivated by her art. Who is this odd young man with whom she shares a mysterious connection?

When Buckley and Becca finally meet, neither is prepared for the charge of emotions—or for the perilous event that will bring them even closer to one another, and to the families they’ve been running from for as long as they can remember.
Crackling with atmosphere and eccentric characters, The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors explores the magic of nature and the power of redemption in a novel as beautiful and unpredictable as lightning itself. -- Shaye Areheart

I had heard a lot of buzz in the on-line community over THE HANDBOOK FOR LIGHTNING STRIKE SURVIVORS by Michele Young-Stone, so I thought I'd give it a try. The premise of the novel sounded very unique -- "two lost souls separated by time and place, from the moment lightning changes their lives until the day it ceases to define them." And after finishing this novel, I would have to say that the entire story was very different, but in such a good way. I really enjoyed this novel and I highly recommend it.

I'm not entirely sure how to write this review (and that's why I've been procrastinating so much!) because it's one of those special books that should be read without a lot background knowledge. THE HANDBOOK FOR LIGHTNING STRIKE SURVIVORS tells the story of Becca , a young girl who was struck by lightning when she was eight years old, and Buckley, a young boy whose life is drastically changed when a loved one gets struck by lightning. The stories follow each of the characters through their lives and show the after-effects of the lightning strikes. The novel is multi-layered, but at its core, it shows how these two individuals became defined by a moment in time when lighting came into their lives.

I really enjoyed this novel and one of the reasons was that I liked how the story was presented -- I thought the author told the story in a very unique way. The chapters alternate between Becca's story and Buckley's; and they are definitely two separate, yet parallel stories. It's not until well into the book that the reader even begins to see how the stories will merge and how the characters will meet (and eventually save each other.)

I was equally impressed with Ms. Young-Stone's writing style. She is a very gifted writer, that's for sure. Not only did she present this story in an interesting way, but I appreciated how she incorporated so much symbolism into this novel. This book really made me think and I found myself re-reading quite a few passages. Sometimes it was because the writing was beautiful and I just wanted to appreciate it again, but other times it was because I needed to take a breath and process what Ms. Young-Stone was saying. I love it when a book can cause me to take a step back and think.

I also loved the characters of Becca and Buckley. I don't mean that I always thought they were perfect because they most definitely troubled and complex -- they were just trying to get through their lives the best way they could. But what I mean is that I really liked how well-developed and real they were. Although they were both damaged, they eventually were able to move past their traumatic experience and learn that they were more than that one event. I found that Becca and Buckley both remained in my thoughts long after I finished reading this book, and I always think that's one of the signs of a great book!

THE HANDBOOK FOR LIGHTNING STRIKE SURVIVORS would make an excellent book club discussion. I can't get over how much there is to talk about from this novel. There is a reader's guide available just in case you want a little guidance, but I really think your group wouldn't have any problems coming up with topics on your own. Some of the themes that I'd like to further discuss include tragedy, loss, coping, victims (both direct and indirect), healing, fate, parent/child relationships, forgiveness, hope, faith, friendship, and salvation. And don't forget all of the symbolism that is present in this novel which is just begging to be explored.

THE HANDBOOK FOR LIGHTNING STRIKE SURVIVORS is a very special novel and definitely deserves to be read and discussed!

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

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Kid Konnection: How to Survive Middle School

Every Saturday, I host a feature called Kid Konnection -- a (hopefully) regular weekend feature about anything related to children's books. Today I'm going to review a great book called HOW TO SURVIVE MIDDLE SCHOOL (WITHOUT GETTING YOUR HEAD FLUSHED) AND DEAL WITH AN EX-BEST FRIEND, ...UM, GIRLS, AND A HEARTBREAKING HAMSTER by Donna Gephart (a fellow Penn State alum!)

Summary: Eleven-year-old David Greenberg dreams of becoming a TV superstar like his idol, Jon Stewart. But in real life, David is just another kid terrified of starting his first year at Harman Middle School. With a wacky sense of humor and hilarious Top 6½ Lists, David spends his free time making Talk Time videos, which he posts on YouTube. But before he can get famous, he has to figure out a way to deal with:

6. Middle school (much scarier than it sounds!)
5. His best friend gone girl-crazy
4. A runaway mom who has no phone!
3. The threat of a swirlie on his birthday
2. A terrifying cousin
1. His # 1 fan, Bubbe (his Jewish grandmother)
1/2. Did we mention Hammy, the hamster who’s determined to break David’s heart?

When David and his best friend have a fight, David is lucky enough to make a pretty cool new friend, Sophie–who just (gulp) happens to be a girl. Sophie thinks David’s videos are hilarious, and she starts sending out the links to everyone she knows. Sophie’s friends tell their friends, and before David knows it, thousands of people are viewing his videos–including some of the last people he would have expected.

David may still feel like a real-life schmo, but is he ready to become an Internet superstar? -- Delacorte Press

HOW TO SURVIVE MIDDLE SCHOOL (WITHOUT GETTING YOUR HEAD FLUSHED) AND DEAL WITH AN EX-BEST FRIEND, ...UM, GIRLS, AND A HEARTBREAKING HAMSTER by Donna Gephart is an extremely fun book that kids are guaranteed to love. It is the story of David Greenberg, a pre-teen boy who aspires to be the next Jon Stewart! In the meantime, he attends middle school where he's not exactly in the cool crowd and he makes videos with his pet hamster Hammy for fun. When he and his best friend have a falling out, he finds himself friends with the new girl Sophie. David learns that his life is full of changes, and with Sophie's help, he suddenly becomes famous!

I so enjoyed this very funny novel. There is no doubt that Ms. Gephart has a wonderful sense of humor. At times, I even laughed out loud while reading this book. David is just a fantastic character, and I couldn't help but fall a little in love with him. He was so smart and creative (and a little naive), and he had great insight into life. But what I really found funny was his ability to laugh at himself. He was such a great kid, and I think lots of readers are going to be able to relate to him!

While this novel was extremely entertaining, it was also very touching and tender. David's mother left the family and moved away. She has little contact with David except for letters, and it's obvious that David misses her dearly. My heart really went out to him over and over again for the pain he felt from being abandoned. In addition, I also felt compassion towards David because of his insecurities. He was worried about starting middle school (he had many of the same feelings that my daughter currently has) and he actually feared some of the bullies at school. I also think David's pre-teen anxieties are going to resonate with many young readers.

I also loved the cover of this book too! Hammy is just too cute and definitely deserves to be the cover boy, but I also liked how the entire cover looks like a video (with play and volume buttons!) I thought this cover absolutely captured the fun feel of this novel and fit perfectly with David's Talk Time videos, and you can't help love little Hammy. Check out this Hammy Time video (which also serves as a book trailer) -- it's very cute!

Almost two years ago, I reviewed another book by Ms. Gephart -- AS IF BEING 12 3/4 ISN'T BAD ENOUGH, MY MOTHER IS RUNNING FOR PRESIDENT. While both Booking Daughter and I really liked it, I think I enjoyed HOW TO SURVIVE MIDDLE SCHOOL even more! Ms. Gephart is definitely a force to be reckoned with in middle grade fiction. She has the great ability to tell a good story while also making the reader laugh -- it's a great combination of fun! I also love that her books appeal to both boys and girls and that they have wonderful messages!

I would consider HOW TO SURVIVE MIDDLE SCHOOL for a future mother-daughter book club pick. However, I think it would a fantastic choice for a mother-son (or father-son) group because the main character is a tween boy! The book gives the reader such an honest look at a pre-teen boy -- the insecurities as well as the hormones -- and I think there is a great deal to discuss. Some of the topics you might want to explore include loyalty, bullying, family dynamics, loss, crushes, creativity, change, and the big one - friendship.

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

Since Ms. Gephart is a Penn Stater (and so am I), this review counts as part of my Back-to-School Feature. Make sure you check out all of posts I have written about fellow Penn State writers, and feel free to add your links about any posts related to your favorite school. 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.

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, May 28, 2010

Guest Review: Altar of Eden

Summary: Following the fall of Baghdad, two Iraqi boys stumble upon armed men looting the city zoo. The floodgates have been opened for the smuggling of hundreds of exotic birds, mammals, and reptiles to Western nations, but this crime hides a deeper secret. Amid a hail of bullets, a concealed underground weapons lab is ransacked—and something even more horrific is set free.

Seven years later, Louisiana state veterinarian Lorna Polk stumbles upon a fishing trawler shipwrecked on a barrier island. The crew is missing or dead, but the boat holds a frightening cargo: a caged group of exotic animals, clearly part of a black market smuggling ring.

Yet, something is wrong with these beasts, disturbing deformities that make no sense: a parrot with no feathers, a pair of Capuchin monkeys conjoined at the hip, a jaguar cub with the dentition of a saber-toothed tiger. They also all share one uncanny trait—a disturbingly heightened intelligence.

To uncover the truth about the origin of this strange cargo and the terrorist threat it poses, Lorna must team up with a man who shares a dark and bloody past with her and is now an agent with the U.S. Border Patrol, Jack Menard.

Together, the two must hunt for a beast that escaped the shipwreck while uncovering a mystery tied to fractal science and genetic engineering, all to expose a horrifying secret that traces back to humankind's earliest roots.

But can Lorna stop what is about to be born upon the altar of Eden before it threatens not only the world but also the very foundation of what it means to be human? -- William Morrow

I have a friend who is a huge fan of James Rollins. Every time she mentions his novels, I tell myself that Booking Pap Pap would probably enjoy them as well. So I was extremely happy to finally share one of Mr. Rollins' books with him. It came as no surprise that Booking Pap Pap really liked Mr. Rollins' latest novel ALTAR OF EDEN. Here are his thoughts:

Altar of Eden by James Rollins begins after the fall of Bagdad where something is very wrong at the city Zoo. The novel quickly moves to New Orleans where Dr. Lorna Polk, an endangered species research scientist, is called on to investigate an exotic animal smuggling case. She discovers that this is not an ordinary investigation but one that involves animals with genetically enhanced intelligence and mutated bodies. Dr. Polk teams up with U.S. Border Patrol agent, Jack Menard, to first tract a killer mutant tiger through the swamps and bayous of Louisiana and then to uncover the mystery behind the strange animals.

Altar of Eden carries the typical ingredients of an adventure thriller: a courageous, intelligent, and sexy heroine from a well-to-do family and a handsome, brave hero from a poor background who are tied together by an unfortunate youthful experience; a secret island laboratory with a ruthless head of security funded by a greedy bible quoting financier; a chase through a dangerous and mysterious landscape and lots of destruction and killing.

James Rollins utilizes his veterinarian background to bring a realistic tone to the novel. He weaves in enough factual scientific information about such things as bioweapons, junk DNA, fractals and magnetic crystals to make the novel seem plausible despite its futuristic ideas of cloning and mentally linked creatures. At times, however, the scientific jargon did slow down the pace of the novel.

Rollins provides some interesting character development including the secondary ones when he brings to life Cajun hunters, crocodile farm owners and sinister biotechnology scientists. He also paints vivid descriptions of the bayou and the secret island which hides the lab. With that being said, this novel is not about the characters or the landscape but about the action. It is nonstop from the Bagdad zoo to the assault on the island lab.

Altar of Eden is a thrilling and informative novel that brings to light the risks of animal cloning when it is accompanied by greed. It is an excellent fast paced read. This is my first James Rollins novel and I look forward to reading more.

Thanks to Booking Pap Pap for his insightful review and to the publisher for sending a review copy.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Guest Blogger: Jill Mansell & Giveaway

A few weeks ago, I reviewed RUMOR HAS IT by Jill Mansell -- I loved it! Ms. Mansell has proven herself again and again with her wonderful books! If you enjoy chick-lit and haven't read any of her novels yet, you are truly missing out.

I am so glad to welcome Jill Mansell to Booking Mama (again!) She has written a terrific guest post about how her real life inspired RUMOR HAS IT. I found her essay extremely interesting, and I hope you feel the same way.

Hi Julie, and thanks so much for the wonderful comments you made about Rumor Has It – what a fab review!

Well, you’ve asked me to write about how real life inspires my writing, so I’ll start by saying that the original inspiration for this book happened twenty years ago when I was working in the neurological hospital. I picked up a magazine to read and saw a help-wanted advertisement in it that said: Girl Friday wanted, fun job, country house. I was so intrigued I wrote those words down and never forgot them – they’re still in my notebook to this day. I wonder what that job was really like?!

So I borrowed the ad as the starting point for my book. I also saw a feature in a newspaper about a young widower who had lost his wife a few years earlier and was simultaneously desperate to fall in love again and terrified of doing so. He was extremely attractive and eligible and girls were queuing up to catch his attention. Again, I was fascinated with his predicament and used aspects of it in the novel. (How strange that that lovely man will never know he partly inspired my book. I do hope he’s found love and is happy again now!)

As for other aspects of the story, they’re all inspired by other people’s lives. Max, in the book, is slightly based on a British TV personality who is now gay but who married when he was younger and had a daughter. Teenagers at school can get teased for the silliest reasons, so I was interested to research on the internet the ways in which they react to such a situation. And Max is also an interior designer who redesigns properties for wealthy families. Do you have WAGs in the US? Wives and Girlfriends of famous and super-successful footballers? Over in the UK, our footballers have a tendency to get involved with other girls and their wives or girlfriends quite often forgive them because if they walk away from the relationship they’ll lose their celebrity status. It’s outrageous, but it’s a fact of life that fascinates me. There’s a saying I’ve never forgotten: If you marry for money, you’ll earn every penny. So true!

The other real-life bit in the book is Roxborough, based on the small but enchantingly pretty town of Tetbury. It’s where the Princes Charles, William and Harry live and it’s where I went to school. I had lots of fun going back there to remind myself what it was like while I was writing Rumor Has It, and now one of my best friends runs a pub in a village nearby. If she’s not careful she’ll find herself starring in my next book!

Thanks again for letting me post a guest-blog on your terrific site. Sorry if the more serious aspects of the book brought a tear to your eye! And I’m on Twitter as @JillMansell if anyone wants to come and say hello...

Jill x


Would you be tempted?

Newly single, Tilly Cole impulsively accepts a job offer in a small town as a “Girl Friday.” Fun job, country house, fresh start, why not? But soon she finds herself in a hotbed of gossip, intrigue, and rampant rivalry for the town’s most desirable bachelor—Jack Lucas.

Rumors of Jack’s “love ’em and leave ’em” escapes abound, and Tilly decides to do the mature, sensible thing... avoid Jack at all cost. But the more time Tilly spends with Jack, the more the rumors just don’t make sense. Tilly doesn’t know what to believe... and Jack’s not telling.


UK bestselling author Jill Mansell has written nearly twenty romances, and sold over 4 million books. A master of romantic comedy, her smart, sassy style has an irresistible appeal for women of all ages. A full--time writer, Ms. Mansell worked for many years the Burden Neurological Hospital, Bristol. She lives with her partner and their children in Bristol, England. For more information, please visit or follow Jill on Twitter:

Giveaway: I have two copies of RUMOR HAS IT to share with two lucky readers. To enter, just leave a comment (with a valid email address) telling me something you found interesting from this guest post. This contest will be open until Wednesday, June 9th at 11:59 p.m. ET, and I will notify the winners the following day. This contest is open to those of you with U.S. or Canada mailing addresses only. Good luck!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Review: Countdown & Giveaway

Summary: It's 1962, and it seems everyone is living in fear. Twelve-year-old Franny Chapman lives with her family in Washington, DC, during the days surrounding the Cuban Missile Crisis. Amidst the pervasive threat of nuclear war, Franny must face the tension between herself and her younger brother, figure out where she fits in with her family, and look beyond outward appearances. For Franny, as for all Americans, it's going to be a formative year. -- Scholastic

I am definitely on a roll with middle grade books lately, and what I'm finding is that you don't have to be a tween to appreciate these books. I recently read COUNTDOWN by Deborah Wiles and thought it was a fantastic book...a seriously fantastic book. I was blown away and I have been raving about this one to everyone who will listen to me (I even pulled it out at book club last month to show the other moms!)

COUNTDOWN is a very unique book and unlike any other middle grade books that I've read because it's actually a documentary novel. What this means is that the book is almost like a scrapbook because it includes photos, news clippings, advertisements, famous quotations, essays on historical figures, and much more. These items are incorporated into the story between chapters and are really an effective way of bringing the story and time period to life. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing all of these images, and I have a feeling that kids will feel the same way.

The documentary aspects of this novel definitely made this book stand out to me, but I'm pretty sure that the story itself would have had the same effect (the pictures just really just brought it to the next level.) COUNTDOWN was the story of a young girl named Frannie who lived outside Washington, DC because her father was air force pilot and stationed there (just like the author!) Frannie is a pretty typical girl with pretty typical issues; however, she is also living in a constant state of anxiety. Much of her fears are due to the political situations of the time.

COUNTDOWN takes place in the early 1960s -- a time when our country was in a state of turmoil over the fear of a nuclear bomb. There were air raid drills in our schools, bomb shelters, and the Bay of Pigs incident to name just a few reasons why the citizens of our country were living on the edge. There were multiple references to 1960s pop culture that many children will find interesting like the introduction of fast food and McDonald's, a new product called duct tape, popular songs like Runaway and Do You Love Me (you can find a playlist from songs mentioned in the book here.) What I found so amazing about this novel was how well the author juxtaposed what was going on in the United States with what was going on in Frannie's life. Both were living in a state of uncertainty and a tremendous amount of change.

I have been a fan of Deborah Wiles ever since our mother daughter book club read ever since we read EACH LITTLE BIRD THAT SINGS (my review.) I think EACH LITTLE BIRD was also an amazing book, and I think it lent itself to one of our best discussions ever. In fact, I have collected Ms. Wiles' other books and I am hoping to read them with my daughter soon. Ms. Wiles is an award-winning author, and I think she's definitely got another hit on her hands with COUNTDOWN. The book has already received starred reviews from Kirkus Reviews, Booklist, and Publishers Weekly.

Believe me, I'll be mentioning this book to our mother-daughter group because I think it's a very special book that deserves to be shared. Not only is it a great story about a very likable young girl, but it also gives wonderful insight into the history of our country. I can assure you it's the perfect book club discussion book because it a multi-layered book. Some of the the topics for discussion include war, racial discrimination, freedom, fear, types of governments, sibling rivalry, honesty, insecurity, family dynamics, mental health issues, friendship, forgiveness, change, and lastly hope! There is a reading guide coming soon to Ms. Wiles' website.

I was very excited to learn that COUNTDOWN is the first in a trilogy of books. Needless to say, I can't wait for the next two books. COUNTDOWN is truly a very special and unique book that I highly recommend for readers of all ages! I just loved it!

Thanks to Big Honcho Media for sending me a review copy of this novel.

Giveaway: I am very excited that I have two copies of COUNTDOWN to share with two very lucky readers! To enter, just leave a comment with a valid email address telling me why you want to read this book -- that's it. This contest will be open until Tuesday, June 8th at 11:59 p.m. ET, and I will notify the winners the following day. This contest is open to U.S. addresses only. Good luck!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Review: The Summer of Moonlight Secrets

Summary: A summer tale full of magical wonder and starring an unforgettable antebellum hotel.

At The Meriwether, Florida's famous antebellum hotel off of Hope Springs, nothing is quite as it seems. Secret staircases give way to servants' quarters and Prohibition-era speakeasies make for the perfect hide-and-seek spot. Allie Jo Jackson knows every nook and cranny of The Meriwether—she's lived there her whole life—and nothing surprises her, until the first time she spots the enigmatic and beautiful Tara emerging from the springs. Tara's shimmery skin, long flowing hair, and strange penchant for late moonlight swims disguise a mysterious secret—and once Allie Jo and her friend Chase discover Tara's secret, nothing will ever be the same.

From the celebrated author of Violet Raines Almost Got Struck by Lightning comes another magical summer tale full of memorable characters and a one-of-a-kind setting. -- Walker

As a mother of a tween girl, I have been reading a fair amount of middle grade fiction. I've been pleasantly surprised by how many middle grade books are just fantastic. I'm so excited to say that I've discovered another one. This time it's THE SUMMER OF MOONLIGHT SECRETS by Danette Haworth.

THE SUMMER OF MOONLIGHT SECRETS is just a wonderful story. Without a doubt, I consider it a magical story and not just because there is a little "magic" in the it. It really is a special book for so many reasons. It has a little something for everyone -- there are memorable (and likable ) characters that children will relate to, there is a bit of suspense and mystery, there is an element of magic, and there are terrific messages about friendship and loyalty. I just can't rave enough about it!

At its core, this novel is about Allie Jo and Chase, two kids who become friends during a summer when they are living in Allie Jo's parents' hotel. When they both meet Tara, a mysterious runaway, they work together to hide Tara's secrets while at the same time trying to do what's best for her. Tara's entrance into their life brings about a lot of excitement for the two tweens and their lives are forever changed.

I liked how Ms. Haworth incorporated a little suspense and mystery as well as magic into this story. And I think kids are going to love the supernatural aspect because it's so much fun. Like one of the characters, I found myself questioning what was real versus imaginary. And I couldn't put the book down because I was so curious to figure out the truth. I won't give any spoilers, but I will say that I was very happy with the conclusion.

I was also extremely impressed with Ms. Haworth's writing style. I loved the idea for this story, but she managed to tell it in such a beautiful way. Her writing and descriptions are beautiful, and I think she described the hotel with such vivid detail that it actually became another character. I also really appreciated how she told the story through the different voices of the characters. I thought she did a great job of bringing each of the characters to life, and I think they were all well-developed and very believable.

I found myself loving Allie Jo, Chase and Tara -- each for a different reason. But I especially felt an affinity with Allie Jo. She was so sweet and responsible and truly appreciative of her family and her home, yet she also had those insecurities associated with the tween years. She wasn't one of the popular girls, and my heart went out to her because she was actually afraid to talk with them. One of the life lessons that Allie Jo eventually learned in this novel was that she didn't need to fear these girls or be embarrassed. She came to recognize her inner beauty and she gained self-confidence in the process.

Last year, my daughter read Ms. Haworth's other novel VIOLET RAINES ALMOST GOT STRUCK BY LIGHTNING and really enjoyed it. When she saw that I was reading her new novel, she brought down her copy for me to read. I haven't gotten around to reading VIOLET RAINES yet, but you better be sure that I will be reading it in the very near future. In the meantime, Booking Daughter is anxiously awaiting for me to give her THE SUMMER OF MOONLIGHT SECRETS!

THE SUMMER OF MOONLIGHT SECRETS is exactly the type of book that I love for mother-daughter book clubs -- it would be a perfect pick! Not only is it a book that tweens and moms will enjoy, but it also has some fantastic messages. Some of the themes you might find to discuss include friendship, family dynamics, parent/child relationships, first love, responsibility, honesty, acceptance, forgiveness, and self-confidence. I also think this novel lends itself to a discussion of some ethical dilemmas as well as sound judgment calls.

I'm sure you can tell by now how much of a treat THE SUMMER OF MOONLIGHT SECRETS was for me. As a mom, I think it's a perfect read for tweens. But I also know that kids and grown-ups alike will enjoy this magical story!

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

Monday, May 24, 2010

Voting is Open!!!

Some of you might have seen my post a few days ago, but here's the scoop again just in case!

I received an email from Scholastic Parent & Child Magazine that Booking Mama has been chosen by its editors as a finalist in the 2010 Scholastic Parent & Child magazine Parent Blogger Awards. There are three finalists in six different categories and Booking Mama was selected by visitors to the website in May.

Beginning on Monday, May 24th, visitors to the Scholastic Parent & Child website will get to vote one time for their favorite parent blog in each category. The six bloggers receiving the most votes will be featured in the August/September 2010 issue of Scholastic Parent & Child Magazine. The winners will be announced on Scholastic Parent & Child Magazine's site in August and profiled in the September issue.

Please take a minute and head over to and vote for Booking Mama. Scroll down the screen until you see the category Books and Reading (it's the second one.) Booking Mama is the first blog listed. Voting is open until June 4th.

I'm not against shamelessly begging, so please vote for me! And if you can, please help spread the word too. Thanks so much!!!

Review: Dork Diaries - Tales from a Not-So-Popular Party Girl

Summary: In this second installment of the instant bestselling Dork Diaries series, Nikki is starting to adjust to life at her new school with her awesome friends Chloe and Zoey at her side. Her crush, Brandon, even asks her to be his lab partner for "Structure of Mitochondria," a seriously awesome development.

But after Nikki overhears mean girl MacKenzie bragging that Brandon's going to take her to the Halloween dance and they're dressing as Edward and Bella, a bummed Nikki signs on to spend Halloween at a kids' party for her little sister, Brianna. It's only after Nikki makes the commitment that she finds out MacKenzie was lying and Nikki's dream of going to the party with Brandon could be a reality. Now she's got two parties to juggle, plus plenty of other trials and tribulations along the way, ranging from creating a fairy repellent spray to ease Brianna's ongoing fear of the tooth fairy to trying to stifle a nasty case of the hiccups at her dad's ex-boss's funeral. Life for Nikki Maxwell is never dull! -- Aladdin

Last year, Booking Daughter and I reviewed DORK DIARIES: TALES FROM A NOT-SO-FABULOUS LIFE by Rachel Renee Russell. We absolutely adored this book and definitely wanted more of Nikki and her friends' escapades in middle school. I am so happy to say that the next book in the series DORK DIARIES: TALES FROM A NOT-SO-POPULAR PARTY GIRL will be available within the next week! I'm even more excited that Booking Daughter and I got to read this book a little early and I can't wait to share my thoughts with you!

Fans of the first Dork Diaries will just love TALES FROM A NOT-SO-POPULAR PARTY GIRL. This graphic novel picks right up where the TALES FROM A NOT-SO-FABULOUS LIFE with Nikki and her friends Zoey and Chloe trying to survive in middle school. Nikki's arch-enemy MacKenzie is back and meaner than ever (if that's possible); and her crush Brandon also returns. I can't say whether I enjoyed this book more than the first one, but I can say that I loved them both in different ways!

In this second installment, Nikki learns that Brandon is going to ask MacKenzie to the Halloween Dance, so she makes other plans to help out at a little kids' birthday party. When she finds out that MacKenzie was lying (and learns that her dreams might come true), she's already overbooked for the night of the dance. Nikki has to figure out how to balance her responsibilities with her friends with her possible boyfriend. Needless to say Nikki has her work cut out for her!

You can't help but love Nikki and the messes she gets herself into. She's just such a sweet girl and represents so many tweens out there. She is a great friend and talented artist, but she still feels insecure and considers herself a nerd! I think every tween girl can relate to those feelings and that's why Nikki's character resonates so strongly with today's girls. I love that Nikki is a good girl at heart, and even when she might make the wrong decisions, she always learns an important lesson.

TALES FROM A NOT-SO-POPULAR PARTY GIRL is extremely funny. The text, which is really Nikki's voice, is absolutely hilarious; and I laughed a lot while reading this book. I especially loved Nikki's "hidden" voice which spells out what she's thinking in her mind and wants to say -- but is too nice to say! However, I think what makes this book even more special are the illustrations. The Dork Diary books are set up like Nikki's journal, filled with cartoons and illustrations. The entire book is absolutely adorable and I think it's one that will be read over and over again in our house!

I just adore Ms. Russell and I definitely think she's created some terrific books for tween girls. She is the mother of two daughters, and there's no doubt she "gets" girls! In fact, when Ms. Russell sent the advance copy of TALES FROM A NOT-SO-POPULAR PARTY GIRL, she included a little goodie bag. As much as I wanted to take a peek (because I am a girly girl at heart), I saved it for Booking Daughter to open. She was just thrilled to find the new book as well as nail polish, popcorn, lip gloss, a ring pop, a hair accessory and Dork Diaries tattoos. She couldn't wait to wear the tattoo and take the book to school to share (or flaunt) in front of her friends.

And that brings me to my point -- the Dork Diaries books are a huge hit at our school. We recently had a book fair and I personally hand sold quite a few copies of the first book. The girls love them, and my daughter has personally re-read her copy quite a few times. When Booking Daughter announced that the new book was coming out shortly, the girls were very excited and couldn't wait to get their hands on one! I have a feeling that TALES FROM A NOT-SO-POPULAR PARTY GIRL is going to be a hit, just like the the first book.

I can't recommend TALES FROM A NOT-SO-POPULAR PARTY GIRL enough. I totally understand why tween girls are so thrilled with this series, and I have to say I can't blame them! I'm already looking forward to more of Nikki and her adorable drawings. Thank goodness Ms. Russell is currently working on book 3 and a book 4 is planned as well.

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

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Review: Fix-It and Forget-It Cookbook

Summary: The book has already sold more than 5 million copies, so we didn’t want to spoil it! We have only added a few enhancements to this original cookbook in the wildly claimed Fix-It and Forget-It cookbook series:
1. Brand New: 100 new recipes for slow cookers.

2. Brand New: “Prep Time,” “Cooking Time,” and “Ideal Slow-Cooker Size” are included for each recipe.

3. Brand New: 4 pages of basic and very helpful “Extra Information”:
* “Substitute Ingredients for When You’re in a Pinch”
* “Equivalent Measurements”
* “Kitchen Tools and Equipment You May Have Overlooked”
* “Assumptions about Ingredients in Fix-It and Forget-It Cookbook, Revised and Updated”

4. Brand New: 1 page of “Tips for Using Your Slow Cooker: a Friendly, Year-Round Appliance.”

5. Brand New: Additional tips and tricks for making the most of your slow cooker, spread throughout the book.

6. Brand New: A second color—a rich purple—for recipe titles, contributors’ names and addresses, the words “Tip” and “Variation,” and the numbered instruction steps.

7. Brand New: The drawings on the opening pages of chapters and the spot illustrations throughout.

8. Brand New: 1 page of tip-in color, right inside the front cover.

9. Brand New: 2 pages of review excerpts to position the original book’s success, immediately following the tip-in page of color.

10. Revised: An improved Index!

11. Revised: A personal Introduction to the book by author Phyllis Pellman Good.

12. Revised: Good’s personal comments and voice throughout the recipes.

We’ve learned a lot since the original Fix-It and Forget-It Cookbook first quietly appeared. Now you and your customers can benefit with this new edition of the beloved favorite — Fix-It and Forget-It Cookbook REVISED and UPDATED! -- Good Books

If you are a fan of slow cooker recipes, then I'm sure you are familiar with author Phyllis Pellman Good. She is basically one of the queens of slow cooker recipes. Her latest cookbook, FIX-IT AND FORGET-IT COOKBOOK: 700 GREAT SLOW COOKER RECIPES, is actually a revised (and improved) edition of one of her older cookbooks. As someone who was familiar with that cookbook, I think this one is even better. It's definitely more current and useful!

I think slow cookers are truly a god-send for many working and busy moms. As much as I want to use these recipes more often because of our busy schedule, unfortunately, I find that I rarely do. One reason is that I just don't start thinking about dinner until late afternoon, and slow cookers do require a little planning. But I think the other reason is that my family is just too darn picky. Between my two fussy eaters (and my son with food allergies), it's hard to find something the whole family will eat.

Having said that, I did find a lot of recipes in FIX-IT AND FORGET-IT. Of course, there are 700 recipes so every one's bound to find some that look good. The cookbook is actually a compilation of many slow cooker recipes from individuals. I always think cookbooks where people submit their favorite recipes are the best because you know they are sending in their tried and true favorites.

The cookbook is divided into pretty typical sections-- appetizers, soups, main dishes, vegetables, desserts and beverages. I was pleasantly surprised by how many appetizers, including dips, that were included in this cookbook. I love the idea of using my slow cooker when entertaining -- especially because it keeps my oven free for other things. I also liked many of the soup, stew, and chili recipes that were included. I tend to think these types of recipes just lend themselves to a slow cooker.

The real meat of this cookbook (pardon the pun) is the section for all of the various meat dishes. There are loads of recipes for chicken, beef, pork and turkey. There are also sections on bean dishes as well as meatless main dishes. In addition, there is a big section for vegetables and sides. Regardless of the ingredients, all of the recipes are very simple and include normal ingredients.

The dessert section isn't huge, but I did find some yummy sounding desserts such as puddings, bread puddings, and cakes. I admit that I'm very curious to try a cake that's made in a slow cooker -- how cool would that be? I also liked a few recipes in the beverage section including the hot punches and the almond tea.

Because of our evening activity schedule, I thought I'd try Cheryl's Macaroni and Cheese. It only took about 10 minutes to throw together which is always a plus for me. In my effort to make healthier versions of dishes, I used fat-free evaporated milk, skim milk, and 2% cheese for half the cheese in the recipe. I thought it was tasty, but my husband and daughter didn't love the texture. I'm not sure whether it was because I substituted the low-fat ingredients, or if they just didn't like crock-pot mac and cheese. I also thought maybe it was a little overcooked. It was supposed to cook between 3 and 4 hours, but I would try the shorter time if I make it again.

Cheryl's Macaroni and Cheese

Makes 6 servings
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cooking Time: 3-4 hours
Ideal slow-cooker size: 2 1/2-qt.

8 oz. dry elbow macaroni, cooked
3-4 cups (about 3/4 lb.) shredded sharp cheddar cheese, divided
13-oz. can evaporated mil
1 1/2 cups milk
2 eggs
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
chopped onion to taste

1. Combine all ingredients, except 1 cup cheese, in greased slow cooker. Sprinkle reserved cup of cheese over top.
2. Cover. Cook on Low 3-4 hours. Do not remove the lid or stir until the mixture has finished cooking.

Overall, I think the FIX-IT AND FORGET-IT cookbook is a must-have for anyone who uses slow cookers or wants to use slow cookers. It has so many delicious recipes that I'm sure you'll find quite a few that appeal to you and your family.

Thanks to FSB Associates for sending me a 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, May 22, 2010

Kid Konnection: Picture Books Roundup

Every Saturday, I host a feature called Kid Konnection -- a (hopefully) regular weekend feature about anything related to children's books. Today, I am going to share with you some great picture books that Booking Son and I have read over the past few weeks!

Summary: “Once it starts—the longing for a dog—there is no cure for it.” Not checkers or kites or furry boots with zippers; not playing the trumpet or sharing movie popcorn with your friend; nothing can stop the longing for a dog. . . . Nothing—but a dog!

With lyrical text and art that ranges from bright and colorful to subtle and dreamy, this book perfectly captures one little girl’s yearning for a barking, bounding best friend. Readers young and old will recognize themselves in this emotionally satisfying, universal story of childhood longing and canine companionship. -- Dutton

NOTHING BUT A DOG by Bobbi Katz and illustrated by Jane Manning is a book that will resonate with many children (and dog lovers.) It tells the story of a young girl who has puppy fever -- she desperately wants a dog! She references all of the fun things in her life, but admits that they are not the same without a dog. Then she goes through all of the exciting things that she would do with her new dog.

I loved reading this book because the words were beautiful and water-color illustrations were gorgeous. I felt as if the text and pictures really enhanced the story and gave the reader the impression of how much this little girl wanted a dog.

Ms. Katz wrote this book in the early 1970s, but publishers weren't interested in a story about a girl who climbs trees and plays the trumpet. They even suggested that she change the main character to a boy! Ms. Katz refused and ended up at the Feminist Press, a publisher who was looking for books about "modern" girls. Recently, Dutton Children's Books decided to re-release this book so today's children could experience this terrific story.

What I found so interesting when I read this book to both of my children is that they didn't think anything was strange about a girl with a tool bench who also likes to climb trees. They never even gave it a second thought. I definitely consider that progress!

Summary: With a quack, a snack, a cluck, and a tuck, baby Ted is ready for slumber in this winsome bedtime book.

It's time for bed, but where is baby Ted? He's not baby Ted! Try and guess what he is instead. Whether baby Ted is pretending to be a snapping crocodile, squeaky mouse, or prickly porcupine, one thing is clear: this baby beastie is not headed for dreamland! But Dad helps his little animal get into pajamas, brush his teeth, and snuggle under the covers. -- Holiday House

TIME FOR BED, BABY TED by Debra Sartell and illustrated by Kay Chorao is a cute book that's just right for bedtime reading. Parents will relate to baby's bedtime antics -- anything to extend the day. (Sound familiar to any of you parents out there?) And kids will love guessing what animal Ted is pretending to be.

As Ted plays his game, his daddy runs him through his nighttime routine. The crocodile Ted gets dressed, the Ted frog goes potty, the Ted bat brushes his teeth, etc. At the end of the book, the daddy stresses to Ted that he is a big boy and got himself ready for bed. It's a sweet story that parents and kids like will enjoy.

Summary: Please Take Me for a Walk is a celebration of dogs and kids and community.

The book stars a very persuasive pup pleading with his best friend—the reader!—to take him for a walk. He recounts all the fun things they can see and do: chase squirrels in the yard, greet neighbors on their block, visit the shopkeepers downtown, swing by the schoolyard, and then run and play in the park. The dog run at the park is filled with all kinds of amazing purebreds and mutts, and our puppy wants them all to see "my best friend and me."

Susan Gal uses this story of a dog's best walk ever to catalog all the favorite places in a child's world. She starts in the house and the yard, then widens her scope to the block, the neighborhood, downtown, and the park. And she captures the magical way the people of a community can be brought together through their pets.

The dog's enthusiastic voice and eagerness to go out walking will resonate with any dog owner. And Susan Gal's artwork is so enticing and adorable it will have even confirmed cat lovers heading for the pound!

Happy walking, everyone! -- Knopf

PLEASE TAKE ME FOR A WALK by Susan Gal is too darn cute! I loved this book and Booking Son agreed. Even though we don't have a dog, we still love them and definitely appreciated this very sweet story about a dog who just wants to go for a walk. I must say he's a very convincing dog because he had me ready to put my shoes on and grab a leash. He so had me when he rolled over on his back and begged.

There are many reasons that I enjoyed this book. It's perfect for little ones because it has bright pictures and only a few words per page. But it's also fun for preschoolers because there is a lot to explore on the pictures. As a mom, I liked that one of the book's themes was community. As a way to convince the reader to take him for a walk, the dog outlined all of the people they could visit and make happy including the people playing chess, the baker, and even the bookseller (very smart dog!)

As you can see I just loved this story, but I also thought the illustrations were spectacular (and so much fun!) Each page was filled with bright colors and I just adored all of the mixed-media collage pictures. The dogs were just precious, but I also thought the textures and patterns on them were very eye-catching. There is no doubt that Ms. Gal's pictures enhanced my enjoyment of this book!

PLEASE TAKE ME FOR A WALK is another great book that will appeal to both parents and children and especially dog lovers!

Summary: Animal Soup tickles the taste buds and the funny bone!

Get ready to meet squales, gorillacans, birdles, and many more mixed-up creatures when you try to guess what's under each sturdy flap. Bold art, playful text, and silly names will have children asking for a second helping of Animal Soup. This deliciously mixed-up animal book is from the author and illustrator of The Zoo I Drew! The ingredients for Animal Soup include: a squale (squirrel + whale), birdle (bird + turtle), a tigeroceros (tiger + rhinoceros), croctopus (crocodile + octopus), a gorillican (gorilla + pelican), a flamonkey (flamingo + monkey), and one tall, big eared girelephant (giraffe + elephant)! -- Golden Books

What a fun book for toddlers! ANIMAL SOUP by Todd H. Doodler (he is a self-proclaimed doodler!) is too much fun! It's obviously geared towards pre-schoolers/toddlers, but my almost six year old son thought this book was hilarious. He's still giggling about it!

ANIMAL SOUP is a board book with big flaps so it's perfect for little hands. My kids have always loved interactive books and this one would have been a huge hit. Well, what am I saying? ANIMAL SOUP is still a big hit with Booking Son! It's a very silly book and perfect for my son's unique sense of humor.

The idea behind the book is that you can combine two totally different animals and come up with a new animal. When the child lifts the big flap, there is a picture of the "new" animal. Here's my favorite: a flamingo and a monkey make a flamonkey! Booking Son giggled his way through this book and loved guessing the names of the animals.

The illustrations are extremely cute and perfect for this book. They are relatively simple, yet positively adorable. The characters all have huge eyes and look very silly. The new animal creations are rather funny-looking!

As I'm writing this review, the book just disappeared! Booking Son ran off with it because he loves it so much. He's in the family room reading it to himself and laughing so hard he's almost snorting. I thought the book was very cute, but I obviously don't appreciate it the same way a kid would! Booking Son's laughter is the best recommendation I can give for this book!

Thanks to the publishers for sending me 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, May 21, 2010

Scholastic Parent & Child Magazine Blogger Awards

Holy cow! I am so excited! I just received an email from Scholastic Parent & Child Magazine that Booking Mama has been chosen by its editors as a finalist in the 2010 Scholastic Parent & Child magazine Parent Blogger Awards. There are three finalists in six different categories and Booking Mama was selected by visitors to the website in May.

Beginning on Monday, May 24th, visitors to the Scholastic Parent & Child website will get to vote one time for their favorite parent blog in each category. The six bloggers receiving the most votes will be featured in the August/September 2010 issue of Scholastic Parent & Child Magazine.

Here's where I'm really asking for you help! Would you please take a few minutes and head over to and vote for me? I realize that many of you will be away next week at BEA, but the voting is open until June 4th. I would be forever grateful if you'd vote for me!

The winners will be announced on Scholastic Parent & Child Magazine's site in August and profiled in the September issue.

Review: House Rules

They tell me I'm lucky to have a son who's so verbal, who is blisteringly intelligent, who can take apart the broken microwave and have it working again an hour later. They think there is no greater hell than having a son who is locked in his own world, unaware that there's a wider one to explore. But try having a son who is locked in his own world, and still wants to make a connection. A son who tries to be like everyone else, but truly doesn't know how.

Jacob Hunt is a teenage boy with Asperger's syndrome. He's hopeless at reading social cues or expressing himself well to others, and like many kids with AS, Jacob has a special focus on one subject -- in his case, forensic analysis. He's always showing up at crime scenes, thanks to the police scanner he keeps in his room, and telling the cops what they need to do...and he's usually right. But then his town is rocked by a terrible murder and, for a change, the police come to Jacob with questions. All of the hallmark behaviors of Asperger's -- not looking someone in the eye, stimulatory tics and twitches, flat affect -- can look a lot like guilt to law enforcement personnel. Suddenly, Jacob and his family, who only want to fit in, feel the spotlight shining directly on them. For his mother, Emma, it's a brutal reminder of the intolerance and misunderstanding that always threaten her family. For his brother, Theo, it's another indication of why nothing is normal because of Jacob. And over this small family the soul-searing question looms: Did Jacob commit murder?

Emotionally powerful from beginning to end, House Rules looks at what it means to be different in our society, how autism affects a family, and how our legal system works well for people who communicate a certain way -- and fails those who don't. -- Atria

I was terribly excited to read HOUSE RULES by Jodi Picoult because I pretty much know that I'm in for a good story. When I read the description of this novel, I thought is sounded fascinating -- a young man with Asperger's who is arrested for murder. I am familiar enough with Asperger's (mainly from books) to know that a person diagnosed with this disorder isn't going to come across well to the police, a judge and especially a jury; and I just knew Ms. Picoult would include enough surprises to make it interesting. I thought this novel had a lot of potential to be gripping; and as a result, I had pretty high hopes.

I'm not surprised that Ms. Picoult decided to write her latest novel about a child with Asperger's. In the past decade, the diagnoses of this disorder have increased dramatically. Thank goodness I'm not personally familiar with Asperger's, but like many people, I know of at least one child who has been diagnosed with autism. I think it's an extremely timely (and important) issue and I was glad to see it addressed in this novel.

Unfortunately, though, this novel didn't live up to my expectations. That's not to say that I didn't enjoy it because I certainly did. I just didn't think it was as good as some of Ms. Picoult's other novels. I think my biggest issue was the length -- it was over 525 pages. Frankly, I thought it was way too long. I'm certainly not an expert, but I think the book could have been 350 pages and still told the same story. In fact, had the book been shorter, I think I would have enjoyed it much more. I thought the beginning was very slow moving for me, and I didn't actually get caught up in it until the second half of the novel.

Having said all of that, the last half of the novel was exactly what I've come to expect from Jodi Picoult. I finally felt an attachment to the characters and their story; and I was most curious to see how the trial would eventually end. As is the case with most Ms. Picoult novels, there were a some secrets and a few surprises thrown in; however, I wouldn't say that anything was as shocking as some of her other novels. One thing that did throw me for a curve was the abrupt ending. I felt like everything was wrapped up in just a few pages -- it didn't really seem to fit with the pace of the rest of the novel.

I am most certainly not an expert on autism or Asperger's, but I did feel as if Ms. Picoult accurately depicted the disorder. (I could be totally wrong on that, and I'd love to hear your opinion!) It's evident to me that Ms. Picoult did a tremendous amount of research on the subject including the science side as well as the behavioral side. I also appreciated all of the research she conducted on forensic science. I find that subject matter to be incredibly interesting, so I liked that she included it as a side story.

One thing I've really come to appreciate about Ms. Picoult's novels are the way she tells a story. Her writing is just so easy to read as is her dialogue. Even though this novel was pretty long, once I got into the story, I flew through it. She does a great job of bringing her characters to life and making them seem so real to me. I enjoyed how she alternated chapters between the various characters and told the story in each of their words. I think she captured the voice of each character and made their thoughts and actions very believable.

I will admit that this book did affect me a great deal -- not necessarily because of the storyline, but rather because my heart went out to many of the characters is this story. Of course, I felt awful that Jacob had to not only lose one of his only friends, but also be accused of her murder. And, I thought his younger brother Theo also was also damaged because of Jacob's situation. However, as a mom, I felt a real connection with Jacob's and Theo's mother Emma. I could relate to her need/desire to protect her child from society, and I respected her for sacrificing so much of herself for her child. She definitely wasn't a perfect mother, but she always tried to do her best. I don't know how she managed to have so much strength -- I doubt that I would have been as strong in her situation.

It should come as no surprise that HOUSE RULES is terrific for book club discussions. In fact, I think all of Jodi Picoult's novels are ideal for book clubs because they deal with difficult, yet timely, issues. There is a reading guide available which has fourteen thought-provoking questions. Some of the themes in this novel include family dynamics, autism, parent/child relationships, guilt vs. innocence, and honesty vs. deception. My group has discussed a Jodi Picoult novel before, and I can promise that you will have plenty to discuss!

HOUSE RULES is the SheKnows Book Club pick for April/May. Since I am a SheKnows Book Club Blogger, I will be participating in the on-line discussion within the next few weeks, and I'd love to have you join us. Stay tuned for further information on the dates and times. I think it will be very interesting to hear everyone's thoughts about this novel.

Thanks to SheKnows Book Club for providing me with a copy of this novel.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Book Club Exchange: Julia Gregson

I am so glad to welcome author Julia Gregson to Book Club Exchange! Ms. Gregson is the author of book club favorite EAST OF THE SUN, and she has a new book being released in the U.S. this week called BAND OF ANGELS. Unfortunately, I haven't read either book yet, but both sound absolutely fantastic!

I absolutely love this guest post about how much Ms. Gregson values meeting with book clubs. I always enjoy hearing from authors who appreciate their readers!

When I was a child one of pleasures of reading was that it was solitary. On Saturday mornings, I would lie in bed with a pile of apples and munch and read, munch and read. My taste was catholic, and philistine- mostly pony books, or Enid Blytons, but sometimes Dickens- both Charles and Monica his great -niece - skipping what I considered the boring bits. Once, in great confusion and a queer sort of delight, I found my mother's copy of Peyton Place, a racey book of the time and devoured it in a couple of hours.

So I came late to the delights of the book club. Last year in fact, when my book East of the Sun surprised everyone by becoming an overnight success. My much loved neighbor, Sarah, a nurse, asked me over for supper and to talk to her book club. I felt slightly embarrassed. I am late to authorship- my first book was published when I was in my fifties. We live in the country in Wales, a place where people don't make too much of a fuss about books and sudden success and I knew all these people from my other life as a mother, helper at the jumble sale, dog walker and so on. Some who'd known me for years didn't know I wrote.

That evening will stay in my mind as incredibly special. We ate delicious spaghetti by candle light, drank several bottles of wine, much laughter and an animated discussion about the book. It was so pleasing to hear these women discuss my characters as if they were as real to them as they had been to me. Their intelligent comments were helpful and instructive, we swapped stories about travel and emigration - both themes that the book touches on- we talked about the ways in which Indians and English people misunderstand each other; we bitched about the mean characters in my book- the gin swilling Ci C was a particular hit.

I learned a lot both as a writer and as a reader from this evening. As a writer: get out more, show your work, don't be shy, readers complete the circle of creation. As a reader: if you like a book, reach out to the author. Writing is a lonely occupation and getting letters is a great joy, but the book club was better because it was more personal, more real. It is one of the best experiences an author can have.

Julia Gregson has worked as a journalist and a foreign correspondent in the U.K., Australia, and the U.S. Her second novel, East of the Sun will be published by Touchstone in June 2009. It was a major bestseller in the UK in 2008 and won the Romantic Novel of the Year Prize. Her short stories have been published in collections and magazines and read on the radio. She lives in Monmouthshire, England.

A huge thanks to Ms. Gregson for writing this fantastic guest post. If you are interested in participating in a future Book Club Exchange, please contact me at bookingmama(at)gmail(dot)com.