Saturday, July 31, 2010

Kid Konnection: Fred Bowen Sports Story Series

Every Saturday, I host a feature called Kid Konnection -- a regular weekend feature about anything related to children's books. Today, I'm going to share with you some terrific middle grade books from the Fred Bowen Sports Story series.

Summary: Sam loves football. There's nothing better than the rush he gets when his team, the Cowboys, are working together -- moving closer and closer to the end zone.

In a key game, the Cowboys beat their arch rivals to remain undefeated, thanks to a major play by Sam. But, the celebration ends when he and his teammates make an unwelcome discovery.

Is the Cowboys' perfect season in jeopardy? -- Peachtree

As a big football fan, TOUCHDOWN TROUBLE certainly appealed to me. I enjoyed the story about a team that realizes that they won a game on a bad call. I was pleasantly surprised by how well the author conveyed the importance of doing the "right" thing both on the field as well as off. In addition, I think young kids will relate to Sam and his conflict.

I especially appreciated how Mr. Bowen used a real-life sports story in TOUCHDOWN TROUBLE -- he actually references true-life events in all of the books. In this one, he tells the story of the Cornell/Dartmouth game that took place in 1940. Cornell kept their undefeated season alive when they won the game on a fourth down play that was actually a fifth down play. When the Cornell team realized their error, they relinquished the game to Dartmouth.

Great book for football fans and parents!

Summary: Brett Carter is a hotshot on his basketball team, the Wildcats -- or at least he was. After missing an easy layup shot at the buzzer in an important game, he feels like a total loser.

But things get worse. During his best friend's birthday party at a rock climbing center, Brett freezes on the wall. Then he blows an easy question in the American history bee at school. He is losing his confidence fast, both on and off the court -- and the championship game is coming up.

Can Brett overcome his fears and play like a "winner" again? -- Peachtree

I especially liked the message in HARDCOURT COMEBACK! Brett is a star basketball player who chokes on an end-of-the game lay-up -- the easiest shot in basketball. He begins to doubt himself, and when he freezes on a rock climbing wall and during the history bee, his confidence really goes into the tank.

I think HARDCOURT COMEBACK was probably my favorite because I loved the lesson. I think all kids, regardless of their talent, skill or sport, lose their confidence at some time. This book showed that it's okay to get down on yourself, but you can't give up -- things will always get better.

The author gives two examples of college basketball players who choked in major games -- Chris Webber (Michigan) and Fred Brown (Georgetown). Through these examples, he showed that both players were able to move on from their mistakes and ended up having great careers!

A little aside: I clearly remember both of these championship games so maybe I appreciated that the stories resonated with me!

Summary: Jack throws the fastest pitches in the league, but lately his blazing fastballs haven't been enough to stay ahead of the batters. His coach wants him to slow down and learn new pitches to throw strikes.

A former college player has offered to help, but Jack's eyes are still on the radar gun.

Can Jack resist bringing the heat? -- Peachtree

THROWING HEAT was another fun read and a book that today's kids can definitely learn from! Jack is an extremely fast pitcher but he doesn't always win games because he doesn't have control of the ball. When a young coach tries to work with him, Jack thinks he knows it all and doesn't need any help. With a lot of work and support, Jack eventually realizes that he needs to have more than just a super-fast pitch to be a good pitcher.

I really liked the message in this book because I think many kids can benefit from a little coaching. All too often, I see kids who think they know more than their coaches, teachers, and parents; and they hesitate to listen to people in authority positions. When Jack's coach teaches him about some other famous (and not-so-famous) baseball players, Jack realizes the error of his ways and works hard to remedy the situation.

Cute book with a great message!

Summary: Tyler is angry when his best friend Zack, their team's hotshot midfielder, leaves to play for the Panthers, an lite travel team. He's sure the Cougars' season will tank -- before it even begins.

The Cougars lose their season opener -- and their next game, too. Tyler blames Zack, but it's clear his team needs a new attitude -- and a lot more practice.

Can Tyler help make a difference before it's too late? -- Peachtree

was another fun book, and this one actually warmed my heart because it had such a great lesson about loyalty and teamwork. When Tyler finds himself on a team with many new (and young) players, he discovers that there is more to a great team than winning!

I really liked Tyler and his sense of loyalty. He was very real to me in that he got depressed when his team broke up and was no longer as strong; however, he just began practicing more and more to try to make up for the lost players. His sense of devotion to his team, as well as his optimism, were such admirable traits in a young kid.

The real-story in this book was about the 1950 U.S. World Cup Soccer Team -- the team that was a huge underdog about England. No one expected them to even keep the game close; however, they shocked the world when they won!

Great story about underdogs and I especially enjoyed it because it mentioned a Penn Stater! Fantastic book with an equally fantastic real-life story tie-in!

While I definitely enjoyed the four books that I read, I'm not so sure my girly-girl daughter would like them. I have always been a huge sports fan, so the sports lingo/terms didn't bother me, but I can see where she'd have a slight problem following some of the game descriptions. I do think that young boys who enjoy sports are going to absolutely love these books!

I am also extremely excited that these books might even appeal to reluctant readers because they are so fun to read (and not all that long.) And as a mother, I couldn't be more thrilled that all of the books are educational and have valuable teachings about sportsmanship and important life lessons.

There is a website devoted the the Fred Bowen Sports Story Series where you can take a look at all of the book available in the series. In addition, there are lots of fun sports facts you can chck out too. Thanks to the publisher for providing 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, July 30, 2010

Happy 75th Anniversary Penguin & Giveaway!

Today, July 30th marks the official 75th anniversary date for the launch of Penguin Books, and Penguin is going all out to celebrate this summer.

Check out their dedicated anniversary website for more details—but here are some of the highlights of what Penguin is doing this summer:

A bright-orange Penguin Mobile (an adorable mini-cooper with the Penguin logo) is driving to bookstores all over the US to bring some of our bestselling authors to parties in their hometowns, increase awareness of The Nature Conservancy, and promote literacy -- I was lucky enough to see it at BEA last May.

At each event, a set of 75 Penguin Books is donated to a local library or literacy group. Each author is signing the Penguin-mobile as it makes its way across the United States, and the summer’s events will culminate with a party at the New York Public Library in September where Penguin will auction the car with the proceeds going to the New York Public Library.

Penguin is also donating sets of books to numerous U.S. military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Penguin’s founder Allen Lane started the paperback revolution with that little flippant but dignified Penguin (his secretary came up with the name and he sent another colleague off to the zoo to make sketches). One year later, 3 million Penguin paperbacks had been sold. Today, the
Penguin imprint alone has over 4000 books in print. To learn more about their history, see here and here.

Giveaway alert: Penguin has graciously offered to send me two terrific books, and I want to share one of them with you. Here's my issue -- I can't decide which book to keep and which book to share so I'm asking for your help. Just leave a comment telling me which book you'd prefer along with your email address; and if your name is picked, then you win the book of your choice! This contest will be open until August 12th at 11:59 p.m. ET, and I will notify the winner the following day. Open to those of you with U.S. and Canada mailing addresses only. Good luck!

Here are your choices THE LIAR'S CLUB or THE PIANO TEACHER:

Summary: When it was published in 1995, Mary Karr’s The Liars’ Club took the world by storm and raised the art of the memoir to an entirely new level, as well as bringing about a dramatic revival of the form. Karr’s comic childhood in an east Texas oil town brings us characters as darkly hilarious as any of J. D. Salinger’s—a hard-drinking daddy, a sister who can talk down the sheriff at twelve, and an oft-married mother whose accumulated secrets threaten to destroy them all. Now with a new introduction that discusses her memoir’s impact on her family, this unsentimental and profoundly moving account of an apocalyptic childhood is as “funny, lively, and un-put-downable” (USA Today) today as it ever was.

Summary: In the sweeping tradition of The English Patient, Janice Y.K. Lee's debut novel is a tale of love and betrayal set in war-torn Hong Kong. In 1942, Englishman Will Truesdale falls headlong into a passionate relationship with Trudy Liang, a beautiful Eurasian socialite. But their affair is soon threatened by the invasion of the Japanese as World War II overwhelms their part of the world. Ten years later, Claire Pendleton comes to Hong Kong to work as a piano teacher and also begins a fateful affair. As the threads of this spellbinding novel intertwine, impossible choices emerge-between love and safety, courage and survival, the present, and above all, the past.

Review: Scout, Atticus & Boo

Summary: To Kill a Mockingbird may well be our national novel. It is the first adult novel that many of us remember reading, one book that millions of us have in common. It sells nearly a million copies a year, more than any other twentieth-century American classic. Harper Lee's first and only novel, published in July 1960, is a beloved classic and touchstone in American literary and social history.

To mark the fiftieth anniversary of To Kill a Mockingbird, Mary McDonagh Murphy reviews its history and examines how the novel has left its mark on a broad range of novelists, historians, journalists, and artists.

In compelling interviews, Anna Quindlen, Tom Brokaw, Oprah Winfrey, James Patterson, James McBride, Scott Turow, Wally Lamb, Andrew Young, Richard Russo, Adriana Trigiani, Rick Bragg, Jon Meacham, Allan Gurganus, Diane McWhorter, Lee Smith, Rosanne Cash, and others reflect on when they first read the novel, what it means to them—then and now—and how it has affected their lives and careers. Scout, Atticus, and Boo: A Celebration of Fifty Years of "To Kill a Mockingbird" is a lively appreciation of the many ways in which the novel has made—and continues to make—a difference to generations of readers.

Harper Lee has not given an interview since 1964, but Murphy's reporting, research, and rare interviews with the author's sister and friends stitch together a brief history of how the novel, as well as the acclaimed 1962 movie, came to be.-- Harper

Right on the heels of finishing TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, I decided to pick up SCOUT, ATTICUS & BOO by Mary McDonagh Murphy. I have been anxiously awaiting the publication of this book ever since I saw it previewed at BEA. I have to be honest...I just knew I was going to love it. You see, SCOUT, ATTICUS & BOO is basically one big lovefest for all things TKAM!

SCOUT, ATTICUS & BOO explores how TKAM has impacted not only individuals, but our entire culture and society. The book is based on journalist Mary McDonagh Murphy's interviews with over twenty celebrities and authors about what TKAM means to them. The foreward of the book is written by Wally Lamb, one of my favorite authors; and I was hooked on this book from the first few pages. I admit that I didn't get my bottom off of the couch until I was done reading the entire book. SCOUT, ATTICUS & BOO touched my heart and reaffirmed why TKAM is my all-time favorite book!

SCOUT, ATTICUS & BOO is divided into two sections -- a history of the book and characters and then the interviews. I definitely learned a lot about the book and the author which I really appreciated, but I think I most enjoyed reading about how TKAM affected other people. I thought the author did a wonderful job of interviewing a wide variety of individuals, and it was very interesting to "hear" Harper Lee's sister as well as the actress who played Scout in the movie. Naturally, some of the interviews resonated with me more than others -- namely, Wally Lamb's, Anna Quindlen's, Lizzie Skurnick's, and Adriana Trigiani's.

Reading SCOUT, ATTICUS & BOO actually made me think a great deal about my impressions of TKAM. I was extremely grateful that I had just finished the novel so it was fresh in my mind. Of course, many of the interviewees reinforced my opinions of the book, but I was also surprised by how many of them brought up new (and very insightful) points about the story, the characters, and especially Harper Lee's writing. I enjoyed all of the interviews and I thought each one brought a very unique perspective to the novel!

If you are a fan of TKAM, then you must check out SCOUT, ATTICUS & BOO. It truly is a special book which made me fall in love even more with the book (and the movie!)

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

Review: To Kill A Mockingbird

Summary: Harper Lee's classic novel of a lawyer in the Deep South defending a black man charged with the rape of a white girl.

One of the best-loved stories of all time, To Kill a Mockingbird has earned many distinctions since its original publication in 1960. It won the Pulitzer Prize, has been translated into more than forty languages, sold more than thirty million copies worldwide, and been made into an enormously popular movie. Most recently, librarians across the country gave the book the highest of honors by voting it the best novel of the twentieth century. -- Harper Perennial Modern Classics

You might not know this about me, but TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD by Harper Lee is my all-time favorite book. I have read it many, many times and it never loses its magic as far as I'm concerned. When I realized a few weeks ago that it was the 50th anniversary of this classic, I decided to drop everything and just read it. Good thing the anniversary happened to fall on a Sunday because I was able to just hide myself away and enjoy this magnificent book!

I truly believe TKAM is one of the best books ever written (for many reasons); and as a result, who am I to really "review" it? Not only do I feel that I can't add anything to the thousands of people who have already written great reviews about this novel, but I honestly don't feel like I am really worthy of judging a book of this caliber. So, even though I titled this post as a review, it's really more of a celebration of my all-time favorite story.

As I mentioned earlier, I have read TKAM quite a few times beginning when I was in high school. I immediately fell in love with the characters and the story, and as soon as I read the last page, I started all over on page 1. I also saw the movie for the first time when I was in high school. I loved the film adaptation of TKAM (although movies are never as good as the book -- except maybe Godfather I), and that began my love affair with Atticus Finch and Gregory Peck!

I have read TKAM many times since high school including once for my book club a few years ago, and I am just amazed that I love the book more each time I read it. I find it a little strange that I can read TKAM over and over again because I rarely re-read books -- why re-read when there are so many great books that I haven't read yet? What is even more incredible to me is that each time I read TKAM, I discover something new. It's almost as if a different theme (or themes) jump out and resonate with me depending on where I am in my life. I guess that's one of the beautiful things about this novel -- that it is able to speak so many different things to each person who reads it.

And the characters....where to even begin? Of course, I adore Scout -- she truly is one of my favorite characters, if not my favorite character, in fiction. I love how Ms. Lee managed to capture Scout's innocence while at the same time portraying her with so much maturity and wisdom. However, Atticus is also am amazing character! I hold Atticus up as the ideal man and father, and I loved his courage for standing up for what's right. This last time I read TKAM, I also found myself really appreciating some of the secondary characters like the sheriff and Jem. And what more can I say about Boo Radley? -- my heart has always gone out to him!

As I grow older, I think I appreciate Harper Lee more and more. Part of me is sad that she hasn't written another novel, but the other (and bigger) part of me is so glad. How can you follow-up the greatest book ever???? I can't rave enough about how beautiful her writing is -- every word seems to be there for a particular reason. She captures the essence of Scout's character perfectly, and she also brings to life a small Southern town like few other authors can. I absolutely love that this novel makes me think each and every time I read it, and I believe that the ending of TKAM is one of the best I've ever read.

I could go on and on about all of the amazing themes in TKAM; and as I said earlier, different ones stand out to me each time I read this novel. Of course, some of the obvious themes have to do with prejudice and justice; however, there are also many other themes including friendship, parental love, forgiveness, redemption, courage, patience, right vs. wrong, and loss of innocence to name just a few. There is a reader's guide available, but I truly think it only hits the tip of the iceberg!

I'm sure I've probably bored you to death gushing about TKAM, but I really wanted to do my part (even if it's small) to celebrate the 50th anniversary of this amazing novel. If you haven't ever read TKAM, then you are sure missing out and you need to do it now. And if you have read it, it's probably time for a re-read. There are few books out there that will leave such a lasting impact on a reader -- it truly is a gem of a novel!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Review: Skeletons at the Feast

Summary: A masterful love story set against a backdrop of epic history and unforgettable courage In the waning months of World War II, a small group of people begin the longest journey of their lives. At the center is eighteen-year-old Anna, the daughter of Prussian aristocrats, and her first love, a twenty-year-old Scottish prisoner of war named Callum. With his boyish good looks and his dedication to her family, he has captured Anna’s heart. But he is the enemy, and their love must remain a closely guarded secret. Only Manfred, a twenty-six-year-old Wehrmacht corporal, knows the truth. And Manfred, who is not what he seems to be, is reluctantly taken with Anna, just as she finds herself drawn uncomfortably to him. As these unlikely allies work their way west, their flight will test both Anna’s and Callum’s love, as well as their friendship with Manfred–and will forever bind the young trio together. -- Three Rivers Press

My on-line book club read SKELETONS AT THE FEAST by Chris Bohjalian for July. Our discussion was almost three weeks ago, and I just realized that I forgot to write my review of this book. I think with all of the kids' activities and vacations, it just slipped through the cracks which is really unfortunate because I thoroughly enjoyed this novel.

In the case of SKELETONS AT THE FEAST, Mr. Bohjalian wrote a book about World War II (not exactly a new concept in recent fiction.) However, he managed to create a story unlike any other World War II book that I've read. SKELETONS AT THE FEAST tells the story of a wealthy Prussian family, the Emmerichs, who decides to evacuate their home at the end of World War II. The novel shows us their difficult journey as well as many of the people and places they encounter.

This novel really opened my eyes and gave me a unique perspective on how the war affected everyone -- not just the Jews. Believe me when I say that I don't think Prussians were even close to suffering like those that were placed in concentration camps; however, this novel made me see that many of them were victims too. Because the Emmerichs were so isolated on their estate, they didn't realize how powerful (and how evil) Hitler had become until it was too late. Seeing the war in this new light made me start to see how these events transpired, but it also made me question what individuals allow themselves to "see."

I consider myself a pretty big fan of Mr. Bohjalian's. I've read many of his novels and I think he brings something new to each one. One thing that I've noticed about all of his books is that his characters are extremely well-developed. He brings each one to life -- even the minor ones and makes them so complex (especially in this book.) I absolutely loved the character of Uri, a young Jewish man who had escaped from a train heading to Auschwitz. Through his sheer will to live, he took on many roles (even pretending to be a German soldier.) He was smart and resourceful while at the same time craving the love of a family.

SKELETONS AT THE FEAST is not always an easy read, but I think it's well worth the effort. This novel broke my heart over and over again, and yet, I loved how it allowed me to see the overall effects of war on good people. And while I do think SKELETONS AT THE FEAST was a book about war and its victims, I can also say that it wasn't entirely depressing. At its heart, this novel was a story about love on many different levels -- between parent and child, man and woman, and friends. And while I often felt like crying while reading this book, I do think that my overall impressions of this book were very positive -- SKELETONS AT THE FEAST actually left me with a feeling of hope!

I do think SKELETONS AT THE FEAST was a terrific pick for our book club. Most of us appreciate historical fiction, but I thought this novel went to the next level. There was so much to discuss about each of the characters and their motivations, but there were also some huge themes about war and life in general. There is a reading guide which touches upon many of these issues including war, conflict, loyalty, secrets, deception, prejudice, love, family, death, grief, and hope.

I was truly blown away by parts of this novel and I highly recommend it if you are a fan of historical fiction and especially World War II books.

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

Book Club Exchange: Shari Maurer & Giveaway

I am very excited to welcome Shari Maurer to Book Club Exchange. Yesterday, I reviewed her novel CHANGE OF HEART. I found this book to be an enjoyable read and it definitely touched my heart.

I always appreciate it when I meet someone who shares my love for book clubs! I think Ms. Maurer's guest post shows exactly how important book clubs can be in our lives!

Whenever I’m asked to list my hobbies and interests, I always list one: my Book Club. For the past 8+ years, this has been my steady thing. The second Thursday of every month, it’s the one thing I do for myself—not for my writing, my kids, my husband… it’s solely for me.

As my book club and I approach our 100th book (e-mail me and I’m happy to send you our list), I asked them to reflect on why this has been so important. Here’s what we came up with…

· Knowing I am going to talk about a book with my book club makes me read it more closely and analytically.

· I LOVE LOVE LOVE hearing others' thoughts and interpretations of books and sharing my own.

· Experiencing a book together is like reading it all over again. It helps keep the story and characters alive for longer.

· I love the rhythm of my book club's monthly meetings....they give me a night to look forward to every month.

· The personalities within my book club are so varied and interesting. Understanding them on their own and in the context of books is fun and strangely comforting.

· I learn other people's point of view. Some of the books we’ve hated have made for the best conversation.

· It helps to understand certain issues that I am not well versed in.

· It forces me to make my reading a priority—it’s easy to say I have so many other things to do, but we really push to finish those books in time for the meetings.

· Book Club forces us to read genres and books I might not normally choose. My favorite example of that is One Thousand White Women. I read the description, it didn’t interest me in the least but I politely agreed to read it. Turns out it’s probably in the Top 5 of the 100 we’ve read.

· It gives us a night out once/month (never underestimate the value of a good night out!)

· Makes for good conversation with people I don't know well (both being in a club and the actual titles). I’ve had wonderful chats with people in airports who are reading books we’ve read. Book that’s been the biggest source of connection with people: Three Cups of Tea.

There is no doubt in my mind that Book Club has made my life much richer. I was even lucky enough to participate in a Mother/Daughter Book Club with my daughter for several years at our local library. How great to have something to talk about with my daughter besides the usual “Did you do your homework?” and “How was your day?”

All of my Book Club friends have influenced this post, but I wanted to give a special shoutout to Allison Jaynes and Linda Temco who really brainstormed with me. And thanks to Julie for allowing me to participate in this beautiful website.

Shari is a YA writer who grew up in New City, NY and came back to raise her family there. She went to undergrad at Duke University and grad school at NYU, studying English and Dramatic Writing and yelling loud at basketball games. After school, she spent six years at the Children’s Television Workshop (now Sesame Workshop), working on international versions of Sesame Street and other kids’ programs. She met her husband, Mat, at sleepaway camp when they were 17 and there are times they still wish they were back at camp. Her three kids, Lissie, Josh and Eric make her laugh and have been her biggest fans.

I am so grateful to Ms. Maurer for writing this fabulous guest post. I think many of us share her thoughts about the benefits of book clubs. Remember, she will send you their 100+ list of books if you email her!

If you are interested in participating in a future Book Club Exchange, please contact me at bookingmama(at)gmail(dot)com.

Giveaway alert: The author has graciously offered to giveaway a copy of CHANGE OF HEART. To enter, just leave a comment (with a way to contact you) telling me why you want to read this book. The contest will be open until Wednesday, August 11th at 11:59 p.m. ET, and I will notify the winner the following day. This contest is open to all of you -- no restrictions! Good luck!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Review: Change of Heart

Summary: Shortly after her sixteenth birthday, popular varsity soccer star Emmi comes down with an ordinary virus. But when she doesn’t bounce back as always, she gets the worst possible news—she’s had myocarditis that’s destroyed her heart, putting her into congestive heart failure. This formerly energetic teen can now barely walk across a room without having to stop and rest. And the prognosis is bleak: without a heart transplant, she’ll die in a matter of months. It’s only her growing friendship with Abe, the funny, smart boy she meets in the cardiac clinic, that finally cheers her up. But difficult questions race through her mind while she waits: Will she get a heart in time? Will she even survive the surgery? What if her body rejects the heart? When tragedy strikes close to home, Emmi must rely even more on her inner strength in order to carry on. -- WestSide Books

I really enjoy YA books and I think there are so many great ones out there, but I find that I rarely rush to read them. I don't mean that in a bad way because there are loads of them that I want to read, but with the ages of my kids, I usually find myself reading picture books or early readers along with lots of middle grade fiction. So I am very glad that I "made" the time to read CHANGE OF HEART by Shari Maurer because it was a wonderful book that really resonated with me.

CHANGE OF HEART tells the story of Emmi, a young teen girl who seems to have everything going for her. She's a star soccer player, a great student, and a popular girl with lots of friends. When a regular cold goes very bad, Emmi discovers that she is an extremely sick young woman who is suffering from congestive heart failure and needs a heart transplant. Within just weeks, Emmi's "perfect" life is turned upside-down and she finds herself fighting just to stay alive.

I really enjoyed CHANGE OF HEART and actually read it in one sitting. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this book because I'm not exactly the target audience; however, I think that goes to show you that this book will appeal to "girls" of all ages. I thought the story was extremely readable and I quickly became caught up in Emmi's life. In fact, I think the character of Emmi was what made this book so real for me.

Emmi definitely wasn't perfect and at times she was a little selfish. But I think that's what I liked so much about her -- Emmi was a believable teen. Her reactions to her health problems were real. She was scared and cried a lot, but she was also furious that something like this could happen to her. She wasn't always sweet and patient. She got upset and took things out on her family and friends. To be honest, I could see myself reacting much in the same way if I were faced with her problems. Had the author portrayed Emmi in a more "saintly" manner, I don't think I would have felt such an affinity with her (or enjoyed the book quite as much.)

Of course, as a mother, I think this book affected me on many different levels. My heart absolutely went out to Emmi, and I could only think how strong her parents must have been to see her through this entire ordeal. I also couldn't help but imagine how devastated I would be if something like this happened to one of my children. As a I read this novel, I was constantly reminded how precious our lives are and how everything can just change in a second.

CHANGE OF HEART is definitely going in Booking Daughter's future-read pile. In fact, it's one of those YA books that she can probably read sooner rather than later. While I felt the story realistically depicted a teen girl and her emotions, the story was still told in a sweet way. Emmi has the normal teen issues like mother/daughter conflicts, boyfriend problems, college anxiety, and friendship tensions; however, on top of that, she was wondering if she was going to live to be an adult. I think that despite Emmi's serious health problems, young girls are going to relate to her and see a great deal of themselves in her character.

CHANGE OF HEART would also make wonderful book club pick for teens or even mother daughter book clubs. There are some interesting dynamics going on between Emmi and her mother that would be interesting to discuss. However, there are also tons of other issues to talk about including dating, peer pressure, friendships, mortality, healing, fears, insecurities, betrayal, and forgiveness. CHANGE OF HEART is definitely a touching book that's just filled with important life lessons.

I highly recommend CHANGE OF HEART. I thoroughly appreciated this novel, and I think young teen girls will agree!

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

Wondrous Words Wednesday - July 28, 2010

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

THE DOCTOR AND THE DIVA by Adrienne McDonnell

coloraturas - The maestro's fists would fall onto the ivory keys in a temper, or he would withdraw his hands from the keyboards and punish his failed coloraturas with long silences. (p. 238)

coloraturas: a lyric soprano of high range who specializes in such music.

What new words did you discover this week?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Review: Lucy

Summary: Laurence Gonzales’s electrifying adventure opens in the jungles of the Congo. Jenny Lowe, a primatologist studying chimpanzees—the bonobos—is running for her life.

A civil war has exploded and Jenny is trapped in its crosshairs . . . She runs to the camp of a fellow primatologist.

The rebels have already been there.

Everyone is dead except a young girl, the daughter of Jenny’s brutally murdered fellow scientist—and competitor.

Jenny and the child flee, Jenny grabbing the notebooks of the primatologist who’s been killed. She brings the girl to Chicago to await the discovery of her relatives. The girl is fifteen and lovely—her name is Lucy.

Realizing that the child has no living relatives, Jenny begins to care for her as her own. When she reads the notebooks written by Lucy’s father, she discovers that the adorable, lovely, magical Lucy is the result of an experiment.

She is part human, part ape—a hybrid human being . . .

Laurence Gonzales’s novel grabs you from its opening pages and you stay with it, mesmerized by the shy but fierce, wonderfully winning Lucy. -- Knopf

In keeping with attempt to read many of the books for the 2010 EW Summer Books Challenge, I decided to give LUCY by Laurence Gonzales a try. You might already know that I love books about apes, and LUCY is yet another book which references bonobos (that makes three that I've recently read if you're counting.) And Entertainment Weekly Magazine, one of my favorite sources for book recommendations, gave LUCY a raving review -- an A! I had pretty high expectations for this sci-fi novel.

I don't want to say that I was disappointed with LUCY because I did enjoy it; however, I wasn't as "wowed" by this novel as I had hoped -- darn EW! I should probably mention that I'm not a huge fan of science fiction books (except for the occasional Michael Crichton one) so maybe I'm not the best judge of this genre. What I will say is that I absolutely loved the concept of this book and I was very impressed with how the author told this story. I'm not sure why I didn't adore this book, though, because it had all the "makings" of a great read.

Having said that, I flew through this novel and couldn't put it down. Don't get me wrong -- I definitely appreciated this book and wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to friends. The story was intriguing and action-packed which should definitely appeal to sci-fi fans, and at the same time, I thought the character of Lucy was pretty well-developed (I absolutely loved her!) so there is a draw for readers who enjoy mainstream fiction. I think what I enjoyed the most about this book was that it made some very insightful commentaries on society and actually made me sit back and think!

I thought the premise was just fantastic! Lucy appears to be a normal 15 year old; however, she is actually a hybrid human -- part human/part bonobo. After escaping from the civil war in the Congo with a female primalologist, she arrives in Chicago and moves in with this virtual stranger. Much of the book is about Lucy's attempts to acclimate herself in the United States as well as with humans. However, the book really begins to get interesting when Lucy's secret is about to be revealed.

Some of my favorite parts of this novel were when Lucy was acclimating to the human world. I thought many of the scenes when she was "discovering" our culture and norms were spot -on. Her reactions to television, in particular, were very funny and actually quite insightful. I also laughed at her interpretation of high school wrestling! I thought Lucy was a remarkably mature (and very intelligent) young woman, and I grew to really like her throughout the story. My only issue with Lucy (and it's a slight one) was her relationship with her best friend. I'm not sure that felt that their interactions reflected a typical teen friendship (although you could say that Lucy wasn't exactly a typical teen.)

LUCY is the first novel that I've read by Laurence Gonzales, and I'd be willing to try some of his other books. I was extremely impressed with Mr. Gonzales writing style which I have to say was a pleasant surprise -- I'm not sure I was expecting such good writing from this type of book. He definitely has a talent for explaining the science in this book in clear, concise terms; however, he also does a fantastic job with character development and his prose is very good. What actually impressed me the most about this author is how believable he made this story -- from Lucy's character, to her adjustment to society, to people's reactions to her. I could just about buy all of it!

LUCY is not exactly many book clubs' typical read (including my own), but I don't see why book clubs shouldn't consider this novel. As I mentioned before, the story is very interesting; and there are tons of things to discuss. There are huge ethical and moral implications in the science aspects of this novel, but there are also many thought-provoking issues about love, family, friendship, loyalty, race, prejudice, and compassion. It's one of those books that not only causes you to look at society as a whole, but also to look inward at yourself.

If you are a fan of science fiction books, adventure stories, or even novels that ask some interesting philosophical questions, then I'm pretty sure that you will enjoy LUCY.

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

Monday, July 26, 2010

A Super "Sweet" Giveaway

For most of you, The Sweet Valley High series brings back many wonderful memories! In fact, many credit this series with initiating a long-standing love affair with romance, women’s popular fiction and chick lit books. These books truly epitomized what every young girl dreamed about -- perfect 17 year old twins, a beautiful California community, hot guys, bad boys, sweet cars, school dances and good old-fashioned kissing.

Fast forward ten years -- beloved identical twins Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield are back and all grown up, dealing with the complicated adult world of love, careers, betrayal, and sisterhood in SWEET VALLEY CONFIDENTIAL (St. Martin’s Press), due out in March 2011. This new women’s fiction book, written by the original author and creator Francine Pascal, will allow millions of fans to return to the idyllic town of Sweet Valley (or even visit it for the first time!)

I'm sure you can imagine the excitement surrounding this novel from Sweet Valley Twins fans everywhere. Due to overwhelming demand, St. Martin’s Press is giving a sneak peek into the lives of Jess and Liz ten years later, releasing Chapter One of 2011’s most anticipated book online at If you can't get enough about the Sweet Valley Twins, you can also follow Sweet Valley Confidential on Twitter and on Facebook.

As part of the celebration for SWEET VALLEY CONFIDENTIAL, I have a fantastic giveaway to share with you -- a basket of 10 best-selling books from St. Martin’s Press including books by authors Emily Giffin and Jackie Collins. To enter, just post a comment (with your email address) about the book or books you read as a child that made you fall in love with reading and influenced what you read today. The contest will be open until August 8th at 11:59 p.m. ET, and I will notify the winner the following day. U.S. and Canada mailing addresses only. Good luck!

Thanks to Get Red PR and St. Martin's for this fantastic giveaway!

Review: Red Hook Road

Summary: Set on the coast of Maine over the course of four summers, Red Hook Road tells the story of two families, the Tetherlys and the Copakens, and of the ways in which their lives are unraveled and stitched together by misfortune, by good intentions and failure, and by love and calamity.

A marriage collapses under the strain of a daughter’s death; two bereaved siblings find comfort in one another; and an adopted young girl breathes new life into her family with her prodigious talent for the violin. As she writes with obvious affection for these unforgettable characters, Ayelet Waldman skillfully interweaves life’s finer pleasures—music and literature—with the more mundane joys of living. Within these resonant pages, a vase filled with wildflowers or a cold beer on a hot summer day serve as constant reminders that it’s often the little things that make life so precious. -- Doubleday

Can I just share how much I love EW's Summer Book recommendations? I am so glad that I decided to take the plunge and host the 2010 EW Summer Books Challenge (even though I really don't have the best track record with challenges) because their list of books is fantastic. The latest book that they recommended and which I absolutely adored is RED HOOK ROAD by Ayelet Waldman. I don't think I can rave enough about this book -- I just loved it! It might just be my favorite one so far!

I actually read RED HOOK ROAD while on my vacation at the shore. I have been dying to read it, so I thought it would be the perfect time. I have to say that RED HOOK ROAD wasn't exactly my typical beach read. While it was a beautifully written novel, it wasn't a light (or fun) book. This novel explored the aftermath of a horrific tragedy on two families. It was, at times, almost difficult to read and digest; but this book was just so good and it was well worth reading!

I don't want to go into much detail about the various characters and how this tragedy forever changed their lives because I want you to experience this book like I did -- knowing almost nothing about it. However, I can say that every single character in this story, especially the parents and siblings, managed their loss in a different way. What was so wonderful was that each person's handling of their grief was very believable and very honest and very much in keeping with their character. There is no doubt that each family member had some issues prior to the tragedy (whose life is perfect?), but when faced with such a life-changing event, their complexities and flaws were definitely illuminated.

Another part of RED HOOK ROAD that really stood out for me was how Ms. Waldman told this story. She began with a prelude which described the tragedy in a tone that was almost distant and very factual. Then she told the story in four separate sections which took place over the course of four summers. She ended the novel with a coda in the same vein as the prelude. I loved seeing not only the immediate effects of the accident on the families, but seeing how each character evolved (or attempted to grieve) over the next three years. I thought it was an extremely effective way to tell their stories.

I seem to read a fair amount of books that deal with the processes of loss, but few have affected me like RED HOOK ROAD. My heart went out to each and every characters, and I found myself sympathizing with characters that I might not have otherwise really related to. I have to give a tremendous amount of credit to Ms. Waldman for truly capturing the feelings of loss and grief in this novel. In addition, she did an outstanding job of showing the many different ways that each person attempts to deal with grief while also showing the resilience of the human spirit. You can't help but be touched by this novel.

I have read books by Ayelet Waldman in the past and enjoyed them, but RED HOOK ROAD really stood out for me as a very special book. Ms. Waldman's prose is just perfect and I can't rave enough about how beautiful her writing was in this novel. She managed to bring to life the community of East Red Hook with her vivid descriptions. However, she also created some extremely memorable characters and captured the essence of the pain that they were experiencing.

After I finished RED HOOK ROAD, I turned to my husband and said that this novel is truly the perfect book club pick. I just wanted to discuss the characters and their motivations with someone! Fortunately, there is a reader's guide available which delves into many of the same topics that I wanted to talk about. Some of the themes your group might want to explore include grief, resentment, guilt, the definition of family, traditions, loss and new beginnings. I can honestly tell you that there are hours of potential talking points in RED HOOK ROAD.

As you can clearly see, I just loved this novel -- I hope my review wasn't too over the top. It was a difficult review to write because I want to share my excitement about this book, but at the same time, I don't want to set your expectations so high that you might be disappointed if you don't love RED HOOK ROAD the way I did.

Maybe I just should have said -- "READ THIS BOOK!" and left it at that.

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

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Review: BBQ 25

Summary: Introducing a book that streamlines the barbecue process. A collection of the 25 recipes that we cook 95 percent of the time, using accessible, not too pricey, quality ingredients. Here Adam will guide you through the entire process, from buying to serving, showing you how to deliver mind-blowing results for your friends and family.

So relax, start up the BBQ—it's time to get hands-on and learn techniques that will bring out the maximum flavors, under Adam's expert, easy-to-follow guidance.-- William Morrow Cookbooks

If your family is anything like mine, then you use your grill a lot during the summer months. We are constantly throwing burgers and chicken breasts on the grill for quick (and relatively healthy) dinners. I admit that I don't usually recipes for our grilled entrees besides an occasional marinade, but when I discovered BBQ 25 by Adam Perry Lang, I thought why not?

BBQ 25 is a pretty cute little cookbook. It is filled with 25 flavorful (and foolproof) recipes for your grill. The book is divided into sections according to type of meat -- beef, pork, lamb, chicken, and fish/miscellaneous; and each section is further divided into recipes according to cooking time. I really appreciated all of the instructional pages as well as the various tips on the types of meat.

I actually think much of BBQ 25 is geared towards guys which makes a lot of sense because most of the grilling in our house is done by my husband. This cute little cookbook is actually rather small and its pages are like a board book. (I actually like that the cookbook has heavy-duty pages because they wipe clean!) The author has created lots of new grilling terms like "buddy system," "tighten with glaze," and "kiss with smoke." He does a great job of explaining the different grilling techniques at the beginning of the cookbook as well as in each individual recipe. The recipes also include lots of photographs which show the various stages of cooking and small pictures that tell you the tools and techniques required for each recipe.

Almost all of the recipes are pretty simple to make. The author uses both direct and indirect grilling methods to cook the meat, and he also uses a combination of seasonings and marinades. He does uses a lot of fresh herbs which most likely do a better job of bringing out the flavors of the meat. My issue was that I don't have bunches of thyme, marjoram, and rosemary on hand so I would need to shop before making many of the recipes.

After looking through the cookbook, I had marked a few recipes that appealed to me. I decided to go simple and make the hamburger/cheeseburger recipe (although the pork tenderloin one looked mighty good too!) The recipe I decided to make was for cheeseburgers (or hamburgers) with sauteed onions on top, so the recipe used a combination of direct and indirect grilling methods. As I mentioned earlier, I am not the one who usually grills in our family, but I wanted to try out the directions for the recipe entirely on my own (kind of like, if I can do it, anyone can.) It was extremely easy and very delicious! I wouldn't hesitate to make this recipe again. My very picky son actually ate 1 1/2 hamburgers (which is very unusual) and he loved the grilled onions -- go figure!

If you or the man in your life enjoys grilling, then I suggest you check out BBQ 25. In the meantime, make sure you take a look at the website devoted to BBQ 25. You will definitely get an idea of the look and feel of this fun cookbook.

Thanks to the publisher 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, July 24, 2010

Kid Konnection: More Picture Books

Every Saturday, I host a feature called Kid Konnection -- a regular weekend feature about anything related to children's books. Today, I'm going to share with you some picture books that Booking Son and I have recently read about two of our favorite things -- sports and reading!

Summary: HOW DID A POOR BOY named Edson - who kicked rocks down roads and dribbled balls made from rags - go on to become the greatest soccer player of all time? While other kids memorized letters, Edson memorized the scores of soccer matches. And when Edson finally played in a youth soccer tournament in the town of Bauru, Brazil, he focused on only one thing from the moment the whistle blew: the goal.

Here is the story of the boy who overcame tremendous odds to become the world champion soccer star Pelé. -- Schwartz & Wade Books

I'd love to tell you that our family are huge soccer fans, but that wouldn't be entirely true. Booking Daughter's soccer career lasted one half of a year and the jury is still out for Booking Son. It's not that he doesn't enjoy playing soccer, but he definitely doesn't love it like he does karate. Despite all of this, we did find ourselves tuning into some World Cup matches!

Shortly after the finals of the World Cup, I received a copy of YOUNG PELE: SOCCER'S FIRST STAR by Lesa Cline-Ransome and illustrated by James E. Ransome. The timing couldn't have been more perfect! Booking Son immediately asked me to read this book to him, and he was quickly caught up in the true story of the international soccer star Pele.

Of course, Booking Son wasn't familiar with Pele, but his parents are both old enough to remember him. Despite my familiarity with some of his soccer shots, I didn't know the background to his real-life story. Not only did Booking Son enjoy learning about Pele, but I found myself extremely interested in his amazing journey to soccer star!

The illustrations, done by the author's husband, were the perfect complement to the story. They were absolutely gorgeous and each page could stand-alone as a beautiful piece of artwork. It's no wonder that Mr. Ransome is an award winning illustrator.

Even though I would classify YOUNG PELE as a picture book, it does have some pages with a fair amount of text. I think it's probably ideal for young elementary age children. I love that there is also a teacher's guide available because I think this book is perfect for use in the classroom.

I definitely recommend YOUNG PELE for the budding soccer star in your life!

Summary: Exhilarating, all-new, kid-friendly rhymes capture the range of emotions, from winning to losing to the sheer joy of participating, that children experience as they discover the games of their choice. Jack Prelutsky, a virtuoso at making poetry fun for the elementary school crowd, includes in this inspired collection poems about baseball, soccer, football, skating, swimming, gymnastics, basketball, karate, and more. His signature lighthearted humor in verse that trips off the tongue is coupled here with the 2006 Caldecott Medal winner Chris Raschka's lickety-split, stylized (and stylish) watercolors. Every page is a blaze of color and motion. Whether Good Sports will create good sports remains to be seen, but it will prove to young boys (and girls) that reading poetry can be fun. -- Knopf

Booking Son and I absolutely adored GOOD SPORTS: RHYMES ABOUT RUNNING, JUMPING, THROWING, AND MORE by Jack Prelutsky and illustrated by Chris Raschka. It is just a fun book that made both of us smile!

GOOD SPORTS is chock full of silly rhymes and poems about various sports. Booking Son has a terrific time guessing each of the sports (when it wasn't spelled out for him.) He also had quite a few favorite poems. However, the final poem in this book was his absolutely favorite because it was about karate:

I chop chop chop without a stop,
I move with great agility.
I break a brick with one quick kick --
Karate. . . that's the sport for me!

The illustrations in this book were just perfect -- and a lot of fun! They were abstract and colorful, and both of us found them very interesting. I thought they were just whimsical enough to fit the mood of the silly poems.

I was excited to find that there is a teacher's guide available for GOOD SPORTS. I think this book is sure to entertain children of all ages whether they enjoy reading or not, and I can only imagine how responsive a classroom of kids would be to this book. What a great way to introduce poetry, right?

A little side note: Jack Prelutsky was named the nation's first Children's Poet Laureate in 2006. He has written more than 40 popular, and award-winning books. I consider GOOD SPORTS a must-read and I am now going to check out some of his other books.

Summary: Calvin is one unusual starling! While his siblings and cousins learn to fly, this rare bird lets his imagination soar while reading about pirates, dinosaurs, and other fascinating things. The other birds call him “geeky beaky,” but Calvin just ruffles his feathers and buries his beak in a book. Yet, when it comes time to migrate, poor Calvin suddenly realizes he can't fly! His sisters, brothers, and cousins carry him into the air.

But on their way south, the winds blow hard, the trees bend, and the air starts to smell strange. It's a hurricane, and only Calvin can save the day-because he has read all about it!
Witty illustrations, an endearing hero, and a delightful story make this a true celebration of the pleasures of reading! -- Sterling

I just love books about books, and I was thrilled to discover an cute one about a little bird that loves to read. I can honestly say that CALVIN CAN'T FLY: THE STORY OF A BOOKWORM BIRDIE by Jennifer Berne and illustrated by Keith Bendis captured my book-loving heart.

With the precious cover, I was pretty sure that I wouldn't be disappointed with this book, but I was curious to see how Booking Son would react. I can honestly say that I'm not sure who enjoyed it more -- me or Booking Son. This book is truly adorable!

Calvin is a little bird who loves books - -who can blame him? While all of his brothers and sisters and cousins are learning "bird-things", Calvin is busy reading. He learns about all kinds of things and his imagination grows; however, Calvin misses out on some basic bird functions like learning how to fly. When it's time to migrate, Calvin's family comes up with a creative way for Calvin to join them. Calvin returns the favor when the birds experience some bad weather during their flight!

CALVIN CAN'T FLY is a wonderful children's book. Both Booking Son and I loved it. It definitely resonated with us because we, too, love books, but it also had lots of humor. At a few points, Booking Son was giggling a lot and an occasional snort even came out of his nose! As a mother, I loved that it had valuable messages about the importance of books and reading. But it also had some important life lessons about family and friendship.

If you are like us and love books, then I think you'll appreciate CALVIN CAN'T FLY!

Summary: With the help of Miss Brooks, Missy’s classmates all find books they love in the library—books about fairies and dogs and trains and cowboys. But Missy dismisses them all—“Too flowery, too furry, too clickety, too yippity.”

Still, Miss Brooks remains undaunted. Book Week is here and Missy will find a book to love if they have to empty the entire library. What story will finally win over this beastly, er, discriminating child? William Steig’s Shrek!—the tale of a repulsive green ogre in search of a revolting bride—of course!

Barbara Bottner and Michael Emberley pay playful homage to the diverse tastes of child readers and the valiant librarians who are determined to put just the right book in each child’s hands. -- Knopf

Another fun book about books is MISS BROOKS LOVES BOOKS! (AND I DON'T) by Barbara Bottner and illustrated by Michael Emberley. I think Booking Son enjoyed this one a little bit more than I did, but I have to say we both thought it was pretty darn cute!

Missy is an extremely reluctant reader who doesn't like books. And, she definitely doesn't understand why Miss Brooks the librarian is so passionate about them. When Missy is forced to read and report on a book for Book Week, she becomes frustrated. It isn't until her mother discovers the "perfect book" that Missy learns that books can be fun!

Booking Son really enjoyed the illustrations in MISS BROOKS LOVES BOOKS! They are just too cute! There really are lots of fun things to look at on each pages, and I just loved Miss Brooks' various character costumes. Plus, it's worth checking out how adorable Missy looks when she dresses as her favorite character!

I think this book will definitely appeal to reluctant readers (like Missy) as well as their parents. However, I also think true book lovers will enjoy it too (although they might relate a bit more to Miss Brooks!) MISS BROOKS LOVES BOOKS! points out that there are books out there for every taste. It's just a matter of finding the right ones! What a terrific message!

Thanks to the publishers for sending review copies of these delightful 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, July 23, 2010

Review: The Cookbook Collector

Summary: Heralded as “a modern day Jane Austen” by USA Today, National Book Award finalist and New York Times bestselling author Allegra Goodman has compelled and delighted hundreds of thousands of readers. Now, in her most ambitious work yet, Goodman weaves together the worlds of Silicon Valley and rare book collecting in a delicious novel about appetite, temptation, and fulfillment.

Emily and Jessamine Bach are opposites in every way: Twenty-eight-year-old Emily is the CEO of Veritech, twenty-three-year-old Jess is an environmental activist and graduate student in philosophy. Pragmatic Emily is making a fortune in Silicon Valley, romantic Jess works in an antiquarian bookstore. Emily is rational and driven, while Jess is dreamy and whimsical. Emily’s boyfriend, Jonathan, is fantastically successful. Jess’s boyfriends, not so much—as her employer George points out in what he hopes is a completely disinterested way.

Bicoastal, surprising, rich in ideas and characters, The Cookbook Collector is a novel about getting and spending, and about the substitutions we make when we can’t find what we’re looking for: reading cookbooks instead of cooking, speculating instead of creating, collecting instead of living. But above all it is about holding on to what is real in a virtual world: love that stays. -- The Dial Press

I recently read (and enjoyed) another book that counts for the 2010 EW Summer Books Challenge that I'm hosting. This time it was THE COOKBOOK COLLECTOR by Allegra Goodman. This novel has received so much lavish praise and it has gathered its fair share of starred reviews from none other than Booklist, Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, and Kirkus. It was actually one of the novels that EW recommended that I was most looking forward to reading this summer.

Since I had to wait a few weeks for my turn at the library, I think my anticipation got the best of me. That's not to say that I didn't like this novel because I really did. In fact, I felt extremely satisfied when I finished this novel. I'm just saying that I wasn't always sure that I was going to appreciate THE COOKBOOK COLLECTOR. It actually took me awhile to "get into" this novel. I know that it wasn't because of the characters or the author's writing style, but rather because I felt that parts of the book were bogged down with detailed information about technology start-ups and IPOs -- lots of techno jargon. You'd think as a Finance major I'd like to read about those things, but I have to admit that they just don't interest me all that much.

Despite my slight issue, I ended up really enjoying THE COOKBOOK COLLECTOR. This might sound odd, but I was pleasantly surprised by everything the author was able to accomplish with this book. By that I mean, THE COOKBOOK COLLECTOR had so many wonderful elements that I love to see in fiction. There were interesting (and complex) characters, love and romance, lots of drama, and some deception. And, Ms. Goodman was also able to capture the essence of a fascinating time period -- the late 1990s and the early 2000s -- with her descriptions of IT start-ups and the rise and fall of the companies' net worth. However, what I think I appreciated the most about this novel was how it demonstrated so much about human nature. The characters (along with their quirks) were extremely honest, and parts of this novel were so astute that they seemed almost like very smart social commentaries about life and people's behavior.

THE COOKBOOK COLLECTOR was the first novel that I've ever read by Allegra Goodman, but I'm certain that it won't be my last. I loved her writing style! She is without a doubt a fantastic storyteller, but she offers readers so much more than that. I thought her prose was eloquent, and some of her descriptions (like the one where Jessamine eats a peach) are positively beautiful. But I also liked how she incorporated so much humor into the story, especially with the back-and-forth exchanges between many of the characters. In addition, I just loved how her novel evoked all sorts of feelings in me like anger, sadness, disappointment, happiness, and most importantly hope.

I also appreciated how Ms. Goodman juxtaposed the two very different sisters, their lives and their choices. Emily appeared to have it all with a successful job, a great fiance, and tons of money. While Jessamine seemed a little lost with her "hippy" life and string of boyfriends. I think the contrast between their personalities demonstrated each character's strengths and weaknesses in a stronger light. What's so ironic is that while I definitely related more to Emily, I ended up falling in love with Jess!

After I finished THE COOKBOOK COLLECTOR, I was dying to discuss it with someone. When that happens, I always think that's an indication of a terrific book club read. The characters and their motivations are fascinating, but there are also some major themes about life in general that would be wonderful to analyze. Some of the topics that I thought were discussion worthy include sisterly relationships, love, passion, environmental causes, grief, dishonesty, competition, values, and ultimately happiness. I also think the entire theme of truly living life versus just kind of standing back and watching (as referenced in the book's title THE COOKBOOK COLLECTOR) is an extremely important part of this novel which will definitely cause you to think.

If you are a fan of women's fiction or literary fiction, then I highly recommend THE COOKBOOK COLLECTOR. It is a beautiful novel that is also extremely smart, and I'm sure you will appreciate it as much as I did.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Book Club Exchange: Tess Gerritsen & Giveaway

I am so incredibly honored that author Tess Gerritsen is today's guest blogger for Book Club Exchange. Yesterday, I reviewed her latest novel ICE COLD. It was my first Tess Gerritsen book and I can assure you it won't be my last!

I hope you enjoy Ms. Gerritsen's gust post because I certainly did -- I loved getting some bonus insight into ICE COLD! If you'd like to learn more about Ms. Gerritsen, make sure you check out her fantastic blog.

One of the pleasures of belonging to a book club is the chance to ponder, with other readers, the hidden meanings in a book. What were the author's intentions? What inspired the story? And -- if you're like me -- what is the factual background of this story? I'm the sort of person who's obsessed by facts and information. I know that a number of my readers are probably wondering how much truth there is behind my new novel, ICE COLD. As a writer, I draw much of my inspiration from real events and real science. So for those book groups who happen to be reading it, I thought I'd open the curtain just a bit to let you peek behind the scenes at the background behind the story. And offer some questions you might discuss when you're talking about ICE COLD with other readers.

Did a true story inspire ICE COLD?

Yes. It was inspired by an event in 1968 known as "The Dugway Incident." One cold morning in Skull Valley, Utah, farmers awakened to find a horrifying sight: thousands of sheep lay dead, and the ground was littered with the corpses of birds that had mysteriously dropped from the sky. No one could explain it -- or would admit to any wrongdoing. 30 years later, the U.S. government finally declassified the file on the Dugway Incident -- which is when I first learned about it. I won't give away the answers, but after you read ICE COLD, you may want to Google "Dugway" and "dead sheep." The answers may shock you.

The crisis in ICE COLD begins with a misadventure involving a GPS. How often does this happen in real life?

Way too often! In the UK alone, it's estimated that GPS blunders have caused up to 300,000 accidents. There have been news reports of drivers blindly following their GPS instructions onto railroad tracks, into bodies of water, and onto snow-choked seasonal roads. Occasionally, drivers have died because of their utter faith in technology. I myself have followed a GPS straight into a cornfield. Moral of the story: use your common sense and always carry a map -- a real map!

In ICE COLD, one of your characters is referred to as a "lost boy." Is this a term you coined yourself?

Unfortunately, no. If you Google "lost boys" and "polygamous sects," you'll discover that these boys are all too real. In polygamous communities, the older, more powerful men are allowed multiple wives, and they'll often marry girls much younger. This leads to a shortage of marriageable girls for all the other men. Many teenage boys in these communities are banished, ejected from their homes and families, so they can't compete for eligible females. The boys are abandoned in the nearest large cities where they're left to fend for themselves. Imagine tossing out your own son, never to see him again. As the mother of sons, it breaks my heart to think of the anguish these boys must feel when they're rejected by their own families. The character of Rat is based on one of these lost boys.

I hope this gives you a little more insight into the factual origins of ICE COLD. Sometimes, truth really is every bit as strange as fiction!

Internationally bestselling author Tess Gerritsen took an unusual route to a writing career. A graduate of Stanford University, Tess went on to medical school at the University of California, San Francisco, where she was awarded her M.D.

While on maternity leave from her work as a physician, she began to write fiction. In 1987, her first novel was published. Call After Midnight, a romantic thriller, was followed by eight more romantic suspense novels. She also wrote a screenplay, “Adrift”, which aired as a 1993 CBS Movie of the Week starring Kate Jackson.

Tess’s first medical thriller, Harvest, was released in hardcover in 1996, and it marked her debut on the New York Times bestseller list. Her suspense novels since then have been: Life Support (1997), Bloodstream (1998), Gravity (1999), The Surgeon (2001), The Apprentice (2002), The Sinner (2003), Body Double (2004), Vanish (2005), The Mephisto Club (2006), The Bone Garden (2007), The Keepsake (2008; UK title: Keeping the Dead), and Ice Cold (2010; UK title: The Killing Place.) Her books have been translated into 37 languages, and more than 20 million copies have been sold around the world.

Her books have been top-5 bestsellers in the United States and abroad. She has won both the Nero Wolfe Award (for Vanish) and the Rita Award (for The Surgeon). Critics around the world have praised her novels as “Pulse-pounding fun” (Philadelphia Inquirer), “Scary and brilliant” (Toronto Globe and Mail), and “Polished, riveting prose” (Chicago Tribune). Publisher Weekly has dubbed her the “medical suspense queen”.

Now retired from medicine, she writes full time. She lives in Maine.

I am so grateful to Ms. Gerritsen for sharing this fabulous guest post with us. If you are interested in participating in a future Book Club Exchange, please contact me at bookingmama(at)gmail(dot)com.

Giveaway alert: I have two copies of ICE COLD to share with two lucky Booking Mama Readers. To enter, please leave a comment with a valid email address telling me if you're a fan of Tess Gerritsen books. The contest will be open unit August 11th at 11:59 p.m. ET, and I will notify the winners the following day. This contest is open to those of you in the United States and Canada only -- no p.o. boxes please. Good luck!