Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Book Club Exchange: Jane Porter

Last week, I reviewed SHE'S GONE COUNTRY, Jane Porter's latest novel. I found the book to be very fun and entertaining, and a perfect summer read -- just like all of her books! I just happen to be a big fan of Ms. Porter's and am thrilled that she took time from her busy schedule as an author and mother to write something for Book Club Exchange.

I visit tons of book clubs—probably 25 or more a year, which over the years becomes hundreds, and every single one is different. I really enjoy joining book clubs but I confess, for me it’s one of the scariest things I do as a writer! Some book clubs are so incredibly warm and welcoming. They have wine and appetizers, long lovely chats and even more interesting discussions. Most of the members will have read the book, or at the very least, look engaged during the discussion.

And then there are the book clubs where I have no idea why I’m there. Inevitably I feel uncomfortable, even apologetic. These are the book clubs where one or more members let you know right away that they don’t read or like your ‘kind of book’. I’m always driven to ask, “what kind is that?” She will wave her hand, gesturing dismissively. “You know. That kind. Whereas I only read good books.”


You see, I’m a smart girl writing women’s fiction about women’s real lives. Like the women around me, the women in my town, the women I’ve grown up with, the women who are mothers at my sons’ schools. I write about motherhood, marriage, death, divorce, illnesses, struggles. These are stories from the heart as I believe my fiction should uplift, entertain, encourage and empower women. I believe my fiction is needed by a lot of women. Women who want to laugh. Maybe cry. Women who need to be told they’re important and that they matter. Not all women get told they matter, much less loved.

So this is what I do. Is it intellectual? I don’t know. Is it literary fiction? I honestly don’t care. I have a calling, a vocation if you will, and I do it with all of my heart. But there are book clubs that don’t have as much heart. Now I have been able to win over a few converts—but that’s not the point of me attending book clubs. I don’t go to argue with those who don’t like my novels. I go to discuss the stories with those who do. Because I care about my readers, my real readers, the ones who want and need stories with heart.

Which reminds me of the most uncomfortable book club discussion I ever attended. It was a book club my mother belonged to and a large book club with over 50 women attending. I’d flown in at considerable expense but did it for my mother who was thrilled to have her author daughter there. Mother should have warned me. They open every book club with a showing of hands. The first words out of the book club leader’s mouth was, “What did you think of this book? Who would give it a 1-3? A 4-5? 677? And who could just not finish it?”

Alright. I’m a sensitive nitwit. A baby. But honestly, don’t rate a book by a number in front of the author. Do that when the author’s not sitting there, perched nervously on her chair, wanting so badly to make a good impression. Authors, dear book club members, are people, too.

A final note—my mother has belonged to three other book clubs (she’s a prolific reader) and I’ve attended each and the others have all been much nicer. Thank you ladies. Thank you Mother. 


An award-winning novelist with over 5 million books in print, Jane Porter is still a small town girl at heart, never feeling too far away from her roots in central California's golden foothills, oak trees, and miles of farmland.

When Jane was thirteen her family moved to Europe for a year, and that abroad changed Jane forever, introducing her to different cultures and customs and creating a life long passion for books, travel, and adventure. Jane later spent much of her high school and college years abroad, studying in South Africa, Japan and Ireland.

Armed with a Bachelors degree in American Studies from UCLA, Jane immersed herself in sales and marketing, followed by another six years in the teaching trenches of junior high school before becoming a full-time fiction writer with an MA in Writing from the University of San Francisco.

Jane's first published novel, The Italian Groom, sold to Harlequin Presents in 2000. Since then, Jane has been prolific, penning 30 novels. She was a finalist for the prestigious RITA award from Romance Writers of America in both 2002 and 2003.

The publication of The Frog Prince in May 2005 marked a new avenue for Jane's career. Taking a more literary turn than her previous work, Jane stayed close to home, using the backdrop of exciting San Francisco to look at the complex relationships between mothers, daughters and the men they love.

July 2006 marked the release of Jane's second multi-bestselling modern lit novel, Flirting With Forty, set in Seattle and Hawaii. Selected as Redbook Magazine's Red Hot Read for 2006, Flirting with Forty was reprinted seven times in six weeks before being optioned by Sony for Lifetime TV. The film aired in December 2008 starring Heather Locklear and Robert Buckley, was one of Lifetime's 3 most successful films of 2008 and is now available on DVD at major retail stores.

Jane's highly anticipated third modern lit, Odd Mom Out released September 2007 generated considerable buzz and earned critical acclaim including 4 1/2 Stars, Top Pick award from RT Magazine and a RITA nomination from Romance Writers of America as best single title with romantic elements. Mrs. Perfect, the follow up to Odd Mom Out, hit the shelves May 2008 with tremendous success pleasing both the critics and readers. USA Today called Mrs. Perfect 'the perfect beach read'. Odd Mom Out and Mrs. Perfect were both optioned prior to Mrs. Perfect's release and are currently being developed into a television series.

Jane's fifth trade novel, Easy On The Eyes, published in July 2009, brought home the issue of beauty and aging gracefully in the entertainment industry. It touched the hearts of readers everywhere with its realistic views about the world we live in today.

Jane lives in Bellevue, Washington with her three sons and is looking forward to the release of her next book, She’s Gone Country in August 2010 for Grand Central Publishing. 

I am so grateful to Ms. Porter for writing this fabulous guest post about some of her experiences with book clubs. If you are interested in participating in a future Book Club Exchange, please contact me at bookingmama(at)gmail(dot)com.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Review: One Day

Summary: It’s 1988 and Dexter Mayhew and Emma Morley have only just met. But after only one day together, they cannot stop thinking about one another. Over twenty years, snapshots of that relationship are revealed on the same day—July 15th—of each year. Dex and Em face squabbles and fights, hopes and missed opportunities, laughter and tears. And as the true meaning of this one crucial day is revealed, they must come to grips with the nature of love and life itself. -- Vintage

After reading a few very positive reviews around the blogosphere about ONE DAY by David Nicholls, I pretty much knew that I had to read this novel. It has been most often described as a literary (and British) version of "When Harry Meets Sally," and I have to say that description probably does describe it fairly well. Although ONE DAY actually has a more interesting premise to me because of the way the story is told.

The basic premise behind ONE DAY is just terrific as far as I'm concerned. The book tells the story of Dexter and Emma every year on the anniversary of their first night together -- thus the title ONE DAY. The book takes the reader through twenty years of their lives -- showing both the times when they are together as well as the times when they are apart. Their story does a wonderful job of showing their friendship (and their love for each other) as well as the ups and downs of their careers, their other relationships, and their life in general. To me, this novel just worked and I absolutely loved it!

One of the things that I most loved about this book was how much it affected me. As I read this story, I found it highly entertaining and I didn't want to put it down -- I think that's a credit to the author. He made the story interesting and very funny, but he also managed to draw me into his characters' lives and care about them. Neither Dexter nor Emma was perfect, and I did get frustrated with them at times, but when it came down to it, I just found both of them to be so likable. Even when Dexter was kind of a rogue, I still loved him!

I found ONE DAY to be so refreshing. I can't say the story is unlike anything I've ever read (or seen), and yet the book was definitely something special to me. The dialogue was smart and witty, especially the banter between Dexter and Emma; and I found much of the book to be extremely insightful about friendships, relationships and the male/female dynamic. However, this story was also heartbreaking -- and I mean it messed with my emotions in a major way.

What is so ironic to me is that the story was kind of predictable, and it still didn't affect my adoration for this book. I knew as I was reading it what was most likely going to happen, and it still managed to affect me... deeply. I found myself crying not just as I read this book, but also for an hour or so after I finished it. My husband and daughter thought I was crazy, but I just couldn't pull myself together. And it wasn't just a cry with a few pretty tears. No sirree, it was one of those ugly cries if you know what I mean!

ONE DAY is currently being made into a movie starring Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess with an estimated release date in late 2011. As I read this novel, I totally could picture it as a movie, and the novel really does seem to lend itself extremely well to the big screen. I'm not a huge movie-goer, but I just might have to make an exception for this story!

I wasn't really thinking about ONE DAY as a book club pick while I was reading the novel, but upon further thought, I do think it would be a good book to discuss. There are going to be many people who just adore this story, but I also think there will be many with whom this book just doesn't resonate. These differences in opinion could definitely make for an interesting discussion. In addition, there is a reading guide available with some wonderful questions. Some of the topics you might want to explore include friendships, self actualization, growing up, happiness, fulfillment, love, and loss. I also think Dexter's and Emma's characters, as well as their relationship could be analyzed for hours.

Not everyone has felt the same way about this novel as I did -- there are plenty of just okay reviews out there for ONE DAY, but if you enjoy stories about love and friendship, then you might want to give this one a try!

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

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Visit to Aaron's Books & Susan Gregg Gilmore

On Wednesday afternoon, I had the honor of attending a fabulous event at Aaron's Books in Lititz, PA. It was a "high tea" with all the "fixins" in honor of author Susan Gregg Gilmore! As most of you already know, Aaron's is my all-time favorite bookstore and Susan is one of my favorite author friends so I just had to be there -- even if it meant not being able to get Booking Daughter off of the bus after her first day of middle school. (She totally understood because she loves books too!)

Susan Gregg Gilmore first came to Aaron's last summer when she was promoting her debut novel LOOKING FOR SALVATION AT THE DAIRY QUEEN (my review.) I immediately fell in love with her infectious charm -- she's absolutely adorable and so sweet. This year, she returned to talk about her latest novel THE IMPROPER LIFE OF BEZELLIA GROVE. I was fortunate enough to get my hands on an ARC of this book and I have to tell you that I thought it was fabulous! You can read my review here.

Susan began by telling us a little bit about herself and the background of BEZELLIA. She then read some excerpts from the novel and opened up the floor for questions. I could have listened to Susan for hours -- she's so funny and genuine! And I absolutely love how passionate she is about her novels and her characters.

Of course, it was a tea party so we also had lots of wonderful food! Sam made so many beautiful things including deviled eggs, lots of different finger sandwiches, and assorted mini muffins. We also had pound cake which, if you've read the novel, you already know is a major comfort food in Bezellia's life. I knew Susan had made tons of pound cakes in preparation for the release of THE IMPROPER LIFE OF BEZELLIA GROVE, so I decided to get her recipe!

Susan Gregg Gilmore's Pound Cake
1/2 pound (2 sticks) butter, plus more for pan

1/2 cup vegetable shortening

3 cups sugar

5 eggs
3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pan

1/2 teaspoon fine salt

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1 cup milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

With a mixer, cream butter and shortening together. Add sugar a little at a time. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating after each addition. Stir dry ingredients together in a bowl and add to mixer alternately with milk, starting with flour and ending with the flour. Mix in vanilla. Pour into greased and floured tube pan and bake for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.

I made one pound cake following this recipe exactly and dripped an almond glaze on top. In addition, I made a lemon version of the cake (the one Susan prefers) by adding one tablespoon lemon juice. I also made a lemon glaze for this cake by mixing confectioners sugar with lemon juice. Both cakes were yummy (of course, I had to try both of them), but I think the lemon one was just a tad bit better!

Overall, I just had a wonderful time visiting with Susan and my friends at Aaron's Books. Of course, I brought home a few books too -- not that I needed any more. I think my guilt for not being home got the best of me because Booking Son and Booking Daughter each got a brand new book! How about we just call in a First Day of School Gift?

Isn't this just the best picture? From left to right: Todd Dickinson (co-owner of Aaron's Books), Sam Dickinson (co-owner of Aaron's Books), and Susan Gregg Gilmore. Front: Aaron of Aaron's Books fame!

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, August 28, 2010

Kid Konnection: A Little Something for Everyone

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 a hodgepodge of books for kids of all ages!

Summary: On a teeny little farm, in an itty-bitty coop, a very small hen laid a big, giant egg. And out of this egg came one big, humongous . . . something. "It's big!" clucked the little rooster. "It's enormous!" clucked the small chicken. "It's an elephant!" peeped the smallest chicken. "Run for your lives!" they cried. No matter how they try, these clueless chickens can't make sense of the gigantic new member of their family—until he saves the day. With wacky, laugh-out- loud humor and silliness to spare, this BIG twist on the classic Chicken Little story lends a whole new perspective to what it means to be chicken. -- Chronicle Books

CHICKEN BIG by Keith Graves is one funny book. The humor must be perfectly geared towards six year old boys (or maybe just my six year old boy), but Booking Son thought this book was hilarious.

I have to admit that I kind of agreed with my son. I giggled quite a bit too when we were reading this "Chicken Little with a twist" story. Chickens don't exactly have a reputation for being the brightest creature, and the chickens in this book certainly reinforced that belief. The entire chicken family was utterly ridiculous in their claims about Chicken Big, and they couldn't have been funnier. Poor Chicken Big was accused of being an elephant, a squirrel, an umbrella, a hippo, a sweater, and a cow. Obviously these chickens weren't very bright, but in all fairness, he was a very big chicken!

I not only thought the story was cute, but the illustrations were precious too. The book included many pictures along with different types of text and speech bubbles. I thought the Chicken Big character was adorable as were the other members of the chicken family. And I loved the picture on the last page when he was finally invited into the coop -- it reminded me a bit of Clifford the Big Red Dog.

I just loved CHICKEN BIG! It's a great story for kids and parents alike!

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

Summary: The Whangdoodle was once the wisest, the kindest, and the most extraordinary creature in the world. Then he disappeared and created a wonderful land for himself and all the other remarkable animals -- the ten-legged Sidewinders, the little furry Flukes, the friendly Whiffle Bird, and the treacherous, "oily" Prock. It was an almost perfect place where the last of the really great Whangdoodles could rule his kingdom with "peace, love and a sense of fun" -- apart from and forgotten by people.

But not completely forgotten. Professor Savant believed in the Whangdoodle. And when he told the three Potter children of his search for the spectacular creature, Lindy, Tom, and Ben were eager to reach Whangdoodleland.

With the Professor's help, they discovered the secret way. But waiting for them was the scheming Prock, who would use almost any means to keep them away from his beloved king. Only by skill and determination were the four travelers able to discover the last of the really great Whangdoodles and grant him his heart's desire.

Julie Andrews Edwards, star of stage and screen, has written a unique and beloved story that has become a modern classic.
The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles is sure to continue to delight readers everywhere. This edition includes a new foreword by the author.-- Harper Collins

As many of you know, the Tweeny Bookwords read THE LAST OF THE REALLY GREAT WHANGDOODLES by Julie Andrews Edwards as our August selection. As much as I adore Julie Andrews (and I really, really do), it kills me to say that I didn't love this novel. It wasn't that the overall messages about imagination weren't fantastic, but the presentation was kind of lost on me. Plus, I admit that this genre with make-believe characteres isn't my cup of tea.

I think one of the issues I had with this book is that it was probably aimed at a younger audience than our 5th and 6th grade girls. I could be way off base with this because quite a few of the girls liked the book, but I thought the book would be better appreciated as a read-aloud story for 8-10 year olds. I also thought that the messages, albeit good ones, were rather heavy-handed and a little too obvious for today's tweens.

Now that brings me to my next thought about this book...I thought it seemed rather dated. Since this book was written almost 40 years ago, I wonder if it came across as more relevant back in the day. I have to think that today's tweens are more sophisticated readers and have higher expectations for fantasy books -- I mean they grew up on the Harry Potter books for goodness sake!

Overall, this wasn't my favorite book that our book club has read; however, many children will be charmed with this story!

Summary: It's off-season at the Jersey shore, when the boardwalk belongs to the locals. Rosie is 15 and her sister Skate is 16. Their dad, an amiable drunk, is spending a few weeks in jail while their cousin Angie looks after them in their falling-down Victorian on the beach. Skate and her boyfriend Perry are madly in love, inseparable—until now, when Perry goes off to Rutgers. Rosie is shyer than Skate, but she’s drawn to Nick, a boy in their Alateen group. What happens to Rosie and Skate in a few tumultuous weeks is deftly shaded, complex, and true. Readers will be caught up in each girl’s shifting feelings as the story plays out within the embrace of their warmhearted community. -- Wendy Lamb Books

When I first saw the cover of ROSIE AND SKATE by Beth Ann Bauman, I was immediately attracted to it because I thought it looked like the Jersey Shore. And then, when I read the book's description and realized that it did take place at the Jersey Shore, I thought it would be perfect to read during my summer vacation at...you guessed it -- the Jersey Shore. Based on the cover, I thought the book might be a good beach read; however, I was pleasantly surprised by the depth of the short, but very powerful, novel.

This novel beautifully shows how Rosie and Skate, two very different sisters, dealt with their father's alcoholism and jail time. The chapters alternate between the girls' stories (each in their own voice), and I thought the author did a wonderful job of capturing the essence of each character. I have to admit that this novel wasn't an easy read for me, despite its short length, because I felt so much sympathy for both Rosie and Skate. Both girls handled their pain in very different ways; however, it was apparent how much each one was affected by circumstances outside of their control.

I loved the pure honesty in this novel especially as it pertained to the sisters. Even though the girls were caught up in so much pain, they both showed signs of such strength and resilience. As a mother, I really enjoyed how the girls not only discovered things about themselves, but they also came to appreciate each other!

ROSIE AND SKATE would make a wonderful book club selection for teens or even mother daughter book clubs. The topics in this novel would be best appreciated by more mature teens, and I do think many of the issues will stimulate some valuable discussion. Some of the topics that I found worthy of additional thought include father/daughter relationships, sister relationships, first love, dating, loss, alcoholism, healing, acceptance and forgiveness.

ROSIE AND SKATE received starred reviews by Kirkus Reviews and Booklist, and I definitely recommend this novel.

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

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, August 27, 2010

Review: The Blessings of the Animals

Summary: From Katrina Kittle, critically acclaimed author of The Kindness of Strangers, comes a wry and moving story of forgiveness, flexibility, happiness, and the art of moving on.

Veterinarian Cami Anderson has hit a rough patch. Stymied by her recent divorce, she wonders if there are secret ingredients to a happy, long-lasting marriage or if the entire institution is outdated and obsolete. Couples all around her are approaching important milestones. Her parents are preparing to celebrate their fiftieth anniversary. Her brother and his partner find their marriage dreams legally blocked. Her former sister-in-law—still her best friend—is newly engaged. The youthfully exuberant romance of her teenage daughter is developing complications. And three separate men—including her ex-husband—are becoming entangled in Cami's messy post-marital love life. But as she struggles to come to terms with her own doubts amid this chaotic circus of relationships, Cami finds strange comfort in an unexpected confidant: an angry, unpredictable horse in her care. With the help of her equine soul mate, she begins to make sense of marriage's great mysteries—and its disconnects.-- Harper Perennial

Over two years ago, I read THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS by Katrina Kittle, and I absolutely adored the book -- you can read my review here. I just knew that I was going to be a big fan of Ms. Kittle's and I was anxiously awaiting the release of her next novel. So when I was at BEA and talking with the Harper Collins folks and I asked them what new releases they were excited about, they mentioned THE BLESSINGS OF THE ANIMALS! Oh yeah -- me too!

I was fortunate enough to receive an ARC of THE BLESSINGS OF THE ANIMALS at ALA after some not-so-subtle begging on Twitter! I thought the premise of the book just sounded so good. A veterinarian named Cami finds herself suddenly single when her husband of 17 years decides he doesn't want to be married anymore. She is left to pick up the pieces of her own life along with dealing with her teen (and angst ridden) daughter and having to manage a very successful veterinary practice. I just love it when books explore real women with real issues -- and it helps when they are close to my age!

I absolutely loved Cami and thought that her character was extremely well developed. My heart went out to her when her life was turned upside down. I thought her reaction to the end of her marriage was very honest and I could relate to her feelings as well as the questions she asked herself about trying again and starting over. I also thought the portrayal of her teen daughter as well as Cami's relationship with her were realistic.

Now, I don't claim to be a huge animal lover, but I do believe wholeheartedly in the healing properties of animals. And I loved how this novel addressed that. While Cami was probably even more of an animal lover than the average animal person, I thought it was so interesting how her need to "save" animals indicated a larger essence of her personality -- Cami felt that she had to save everyone....especially her husband. What I really appreciated about this novel was when Cami realized that she couldn't save everyone and that she needed to start saving" herself!

I thoroughly enjoyed THE BLESSINGS OF THE ANIMALS and it was pretty much what I was expecting from Katrina Kittle. I'm not sure I'd go so far as to say that I liked it more that THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS though. Having said that, I still enjoyed Cami's story and I quickly became caught up in the struggles of her life. I thought Ms. Kittle did a great job with the supporting characters as well as the secondary storylines, and I think that many women (and animal lovers) will just love this novel!

If I had any complaint with the novel (and it's a slight one), it might be that Ms. Kittle tried to accomplish a bit much with the story. Needless to say, there was just so much that I liked about this book, but...

It was just that there were quite a few secondary issues also included in the story like animal abuse, anorexia, adoption, and gay marriage that weren't as fully developed. It's not that I didn't find all of these issues to be interesting and worthy of inclusion in a novel. It's just that I felt as if some of them were pretty major issues and I wanted something more. For example, Cami had suffered as anorexia as a teen and she began slipping back into her past behavior when her husband left her. However, I didn't really feel as if her struggle was fully explored in the book. I'm probably in the minority on this, but I didn't understand how Cami managed her disease.

I do think THE BLESSINGS OF THE ANIMALS would be a great book pick! There is a reading guide for the novel which includes some very thought-provoking questions. Of course, Cami is just a wonderful character and her actions and motivations would be so interesting to discuss. However, there are also some other topics that warrant further discussion including marriage, divorce, commitment, the act of loving, mother-daughter relationships, healing, animal abuse, gay rights, adoption, eating disorders, forgiveness, and new beginnings.

I really, really liked THE BLESSINGS OF ANIMALS and I think if you are a fan of women's fiction (or just love animals), then you will definitely want to check it out!

Thanks to the publisher for providing a copy of this novel.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Guest Blogger: Isla Morley & Giveaway

Yesterday, I reviewed an award-winning novel called COME SUNDAY by Isla Morley. I loved the writing, but I have to admit that I did have more than a few issues with the main character throughout much of the book. That's not to say that I didn't appreciate this novel because I did -- very much so. It's definitely worth a read!

Today, I'd like to welcome the author of COME SUNDAY to Booking Mama. Ms. Morley has written a terrific guest post about a very special book signings. I'm sure you'll see what a beautiful (and emotional) writer she is as you read this essay.

My hair was curled and sealed with enough hairspray to mount a stuffed animal, my eyelashes were mascaraed and I was wearing my pretty, ethnic dress. Even my eyebrows were behaving themselves, which is seldom the case. All I needed was a staircase.

I pushed open the front door of the bookstore where I was scheduled for a book signing, and an angel chorus trumpeted the opening bars of the Hallelujah Chorus. It mattered not one iota that they played in the chambers of my mind, because very shortly people were going to be lining up to buy my book. My novel.

Having mentally checked my face for any signs of pride, I approached the clerk behind the information desk. I pretended not to notice the stands of books that had enjoyed front row seats at the coveted show called The New York Times Book Review. Several of them had dominated the stage, had all but performed the can-can to thunderous applause. My book was nowhere in sight.

The angel voices hushed, confidence began to pool about my feet.

To the clerk’s indifferent expression, I said, “I’m here to see Jane Smith.”

“You’re doing the event tonight?”

I was a little hopeful. She’d started reading my book perhaps.

“Top of the stairs, make a right, first door past the ladies room.”

She did not ask for my autograph.

I followed her directions, perusing every bookshelf without ever moving my head. At no point could I locate my book.

To make matters worse, Jane Smith was two feet taller than me. Instead of rushing to me to tell me how pleased she was to finally meet me and how she couldn’t stop telling everyone how great the book was, she waived me into a dusty side office and pointed to a rickety chair. “You can wait here, if you want.”

“Here” was an abandoned work station fronted on all sides by boxes of books. New books, books waiting to displace the poor suckers out there on the shelves that hadn’t yet figured out their days were numbered. “Here” was purgatory, a nowhere of a place. There was no way I could spend the next forty minutes in Here.

I went down to the coffee shop instead. I wondered if the two other patrons sitting in front of their laptops were waiting for my talk. I told myself to stop thinking along these lines. You'd be surprised how long I can take to drink a cup of tea.

They made an announcement over the PA system, which I thought was a little unnecessary. The clerk could easily have approached the three people browsing the gimmicky gift section with a personal invitation. The Event Organizer met me at the top of the stairs. I was starting to harbor unpleasant thoughts about her. “Event Organizer” - how can you call this an event? What’s there to organize?

Sitting in the front row was only one person. Oh Lord, I silently began praying, please don’t let The Event Organizer insist I stand at the lectern and use the microphone. Then my daughter and babysitter showed up. Then a couple of people from church and someone from my gym. The Event Organizer suggested we move our chairs into a circle.

I spoke about growing up in South African during apartheid, and how some of the characters were inspired by people I knew. I told them how the story’s main character had materialized next to my bed one night, and how, over the next two years, she led me into her perilous future and the crazy last days of her youth. I told how the book had taught me about hope, about how the human spirit has a way of triumphing over despair. They smiled and listened, and my friend kept taking pictures of me with her disposable camera.

And then came the allotted fifteen minutes for questions and answers. Picture six tortoises on the first day after hibernation. For a terrible moment, I thought my daughter was going to ask me what was for dinner. And then someone coughed up a question, and I gave it the literary treatment roughly equivalent to what a neurosurgeon would give a brain tumor. I'd used up only thirty-six seconds.

With mercy she had not heretofore displayed, The Event Organizer concluded the discussion time and announced it was time to sign books. We were shepherded to the table where the twin towers of Come Sunday were stacked. The five people I knew all bought a book, even though four of them had already done so previously. The person last to approach me was the one who had been first to arrive. Somehow, she didn’t seem like a stranger anymore.

She said, “My son died two years ago.”

I said, “I don’t know if this is the book for you right now. It isn’t going to be an easy read.”

She tapped my hand. “I’m not looking for an easy read. I’m looking for a community.” And then she was walked off, past all the bestsellers and the critically acclaimed, but it was my novel that was tucked under her arm.

“It’s the economy,” the Event Organizer said, thinking to console me on my way down the staircase. “Last week we had less than a dozen show for [insert name of established author].” I waved her apology away, but she was insistent. “Blog tours are the thing now.”

A hundred people could have come to hear me. It wouldn’t have mattered. What mattered was that two characters, one fictional and one flesh-and-blood, where about to meet. On the ledge of grief they were going to keep each other company, until each turned her face toward the updraft of hope.

Photo credit: Molly Hawkey

Giveaway Alert: I have a copy of COME SUNDAY to share with one lucky reader. To enter, just fill out the form below. I will accept entries until September 8th at 11:59 p.m. ET, and I will notify the winner the following day. U.S. and Canada addresses only. Good luck!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Review: Come Sunday

Summary: Abbe is a restless young mother living on the outskirts of Honolulu with her husband, Greg, the pastor at a small church. Their lives are suddenly riven by tragedy when their three-year-old daughter, Cleo, is struck and killed by car. As Greg turns to God and community for comfort, Abbe turns inward and reflects upon her own troubled past. Isla Morley brilliantly weaves the story of Abbe’s grief with a gripping tale of her tempestuous childhood in apartheid South Africa---and how Abbe’s father, a villainous drunk, held her family hostage for decades with his rage, until they finally began to plot their escape from him. Come Sunday is a spellbinding drama about a woman breaking free of her grief and of her past, and what it takes to revive hope when all seems lost. -- Picador

COME SUNDAY by Isla Morley was a very interesting read for me. For much of the book, I wasn't sure that I even liked the book; and I knew that I definitely didn't like the main character Abbe. But then, something happened about halfway through the book, and I became very enamored with the entire story. Upon finishing the book, I came to the conclusion that COME SUNDAY was an excellent book. (I'm not alone in my praise -- COME SUNDAY was a finalist for the Commonwealth Prize and longlisted for the premier South African literary award, the Sunday Times Literary Award.)

I can't even begin to talk about COME SUNDAY without mentioning the character Abbe. To be honest, I had a very difficult time with her for almost the entire novel. There were times when I couldn't stand her. I realize that I might sound very harsh because Abbe lost a child and I know how devastating that would be to anyone, but she was so incredibly bitter and spiteful. And I just couldn't accept the way she treated her husband because I thought he sounded like a wonderful man. It wasn't until the end of the novel that I was able to forgive Abbe (if you will) for her actions. While I might not have agreed with how she handled much of what happened to her, I eventually accepted that she was just doing the best she could given her past.

Despite my issues with Abbe, it didn't hinder my appreciation of this novel. I think one of the main reasons this book was so good has to do with Ms. Morley's writing. She is truly a gifted storyteller. Her writing is very lyrical and I'm not always a fan of that style, but I enjoyed her beautiful prose and descriptions. In addition, the way was she evoked certain feelings in me (both good and bad) really says something about her skills. I wouldn't hesitate to read another novel by Ms. Morley.

COME SUNDAY is one of those books that haunted me while I read it and I think it will continue to do so for quite awhile. Of course, losing a child is something no parent ever wants to face; however, so much of Abbe's life affected me -- her childhood, her friends, her marriage, her feelings about being a pastor's wife, her spirituality, her past, her anger and even her guilt. She was such a troubled soul and it was painful at times to see how bitter she was with everything in her life. Abbe was in so much pain that she was actually self-destructive as well as hurtful to others. (And that was one of my issues with Abbe -- she was consciously destructive to others!)

I found it interesting that the author chose to divide the books into sections based on the religious calendar. Even more interesting to me was how she tied the story into these periods. I thought religion was a huge theme in this novel especially since Abbe was married to a pastor while at the same time struggling with her beliefs. There were also many other themes tied into religion including death, communion, sacrifice, salvation, and forgiveness.

I also really appreciated how the author included so much information about South Africa. Abbe was originally from South Africa and I think her time there was a huge factor in her life. I found it extremely interesting to learn about South Africa, its people and its culture. And I actually think my favorite part of the book was when Abbe returned home and began her healing process. There is just so much to think about in this novel as it relates to South Africa and the country's racial issues.

COME SUNDAY has to be one of the most discussion-worthy books that I've read in recent memory. I absolutely love how much if affected me -- and it definitely wasn't entirely positive. I would love to discuss Abbe's behavior and mental state because I found her fascinating (if not entirely likable.) However, there are so many themes covered in this novel that you could think about and talk about for hours. A reading guide is available which might help to keep discussion on track because if you're anything like me, there will be a million things you want to address. Some of the topics for discussion include marriage, love, parenthood, loss, grief, joy, hope, racial issues, religion/spirituality, healing, acceptance and forgiveness. I also found quite a few "symbols" that I think warrant some discussion.

While I didn't always find COME SUNDAY an easy read, I do believe that it is a very worthwhile read. If you are a fan of literary women's fiction, then I highly recommend it.

Thanks to Diane Saarinen for sending me a review copy of this novel. Make sure you come back tomorrow because I will be giving away a copy of COME SUNDAY.

Wondrous Words Wednesday - August 25th, 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.

COME SUNDAY by Isla Morley

veldt and fynbos - The Cape veldt was different at night, alive with the wild smell of fynbos; a thing with its own heartbeat, its own snorts and threats. (p. 1)

veldt: the open country, bearing grass, bushes, or shrubs, or thinly forested, characteristic of parts of southern Africa

fynbos: a type of vegetation unique to the Mediterranean-climate region of southern and southwestern South Africa, characterized by evergreen hard-leaved shrubs and almost no trees

kopjes - Children were called in from its heat at dusk, long before the moon would rise over the kopjes in the east. (p. 1)

kopjes: a small hill rising up from the African veld

saimin - If it is not before school starts to make sure I intend to get up, it is in the evening after she has fed Mr. Finnegan his saimin, changed his diaper, and put him to bed. (p.198)

saimin: saimin is a noodle soup dish developed in and unique to Hawaii

What new words did you discover this week?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Review: She's Gone Country

Summary: Shey Darcy, a 39-year-old former top model for Vogue and Sports Illustrated led a charmed life in New York City with a handsome photographer husband until the day he announced he'd fallen in love with someone else. Left to pick up the pieces of her once happy world, Shey decides to move back home to Texas with her three teenage sons. Life on the family ranch, however, brings with it a whole new host of dramas starting with differences of opinion with her staunch Southern Baptist mother, her rugged but overprotective brothers, and daily battles with her three sons who are also struggling to find themselves. -- Five Spot

I like Jane Porter and I've read and enjoyed many of her books! I always find that I quickly get caught up in her novels and sometimes I can even relate to a character or two. Ms. Porter's latest release is SHE'S GONE COUNTRY, and while it wasn't my absolute favorite of her novels, I still ended up enjoying it a great deal.

SHE'S GONE COUNTRY tells the story of Shey, an ex-model and mother of three boys. After her brother dies and her husband leaves her for a man, she decides to leave New York City and returns home to a small Texas town. Shey must deal with her mother, her two brothers, her three sons as well as an ex-flame. Overall, it's a fun story about Shey re-discovering herself!

I did enjoy this novel but I wouldn't go so far as to say that I loved it. Shey was a likable enough character, as was her love interest Dane; however, I just didn't find myself relating to her. I mean...she was an ex-Sports Illustrated model and she actually chose to go back home and live on a ranch -- not exactly my world! I think had I related to her character a bit more (as I have done with some of Ms. Porter's other characters), I would have better appreciated this book. When I'm reading this genre -- women's fiction or even chick lit, I think it's important for the character to resonate with me. (Either that or be so utterly ridiculous that I'm just entertained by her behavior.)

What I did like about this book is that it was about a woman and a mother who was approaching her 40s -- "mom lit" if you will. Even though Shey was still beautiful enough to do the occasional modeling job, she was first and foremost a mother. So much of this novel dealt with Shey and the relationships she had with her three sons. She had three very different children ranging in age from pre-teen to full-fledged teenager, and she faced very different issues with each of them (including severe depression and bullying.) Her concerns about raising children who were lazy and self-centered definitely resonated with me (and most likely will with many moms out there.) And, I just loved that Shey realized that sometimes the best love that you can give your children is letting them follow their own dreams!

In addition to Shey's parenting role, she also was a single woman who still had a hankering for her childhood crush. Ms. Porter does a fabulous job of creating the sexual tension between the characters -- I could just picture Dane in his Wranglers!!! I liked that she also made Dane a "real" character with flaws and baggage rather than just a one-dimensional love interest. Despite his hero status as a national bull-riding champ, Dane had experienced some real world tragedies that made his character complex. I couldn't help but really, really like Dane!

Overall, I liked the way this book ended even though it was a little bit predictable, and I enjoyed sharing Shey's journey to rediscover herself. Not all of the issues in the story were resolved with a nice neat bow, but overall I feel that Shey has finally found happiness and peace in her life. She realized many important lessons about living and letting go, and I did feel that the book left me with a hopeful feeling.

I think there is potential for SHE'S GONE COUNTRY as a book club selection -- if your group is in the mood a lighter read. Mothers of sons as well as single moms will appreciate some of the trials that Shey faces. In addition, I think anyone who has ever tried to "go back" home will relate. There is a reading guide available which poses some interesting questions. Some of the topics you might want to further explore include mother/daughter relationships, depression, first love, sibling relationships, parenting problems, loss and grief.

While SHE'S GONE COUNTRY wasn't my favorite Jane Porter novel, I still found it a worthwhile read. I recommend this novel if you are looking for a light and fun book that deals with parenting and romantic love!

Thanks to BookSparks PR for providing a review copy of this book.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Mother Daughter Book Club #24

Summary: The Whangdoodle was once the wisest, the kindest, and the most extraordinary creature in the world. Then he disappeared and created a wonderful land for himself and all the other remarkable animals -- the ten-legged Sidewinders, the little furry Flukes, the friendly Whiffle Bird, and the treacherous, "oily" Prock. It was an almost perfect place where the last of the really great Whangdoodles could rule his kingdom with "peace, love and a sense of fun" -- apart from and forgotten by people.

But not completely forgotten. Professor Savant believed in the Whangdoodle. And when he told the three Potter children of his search for the spectacular creature, Lindy, Tom, and Ben were eager to reach Whangdoodleland.

With the Professor's help, they discovered the secret way. But waiting for them was the scheming Prock, who would use almost any means to keep them away from his beloved king. Only by skill and determination were the four travelers able to discover the last of the really great Whangdoodles and grant him his heart's desire.

Julie Andrews Edwards, star of stage and screen, has written a unique and beloved story that has become a modern classic.
The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles is sure to continue to delight readers everywhere. This edition includes a new foreword by the author.-- Harper Collins

This month, we read THE LAST OF THE REALLY GREAT WHANGDOODLES by Julie Andrews Edwards. You know I absolutely adore Julie Andrews, but I wasn't a huge fan of this book. Nor was Booking Daughter. It was cute and had some important life lessons, but I thought it was aimed at a younger audience than our girls. I'll try to put together a review later this week with some more details.

I was surprised that most of the girls really enjoyed this book. I think the mothers didn't feel quite the same way. The girls liked the imaginary world and the imaginary characters, and they were very anxious to discuss it! We spent almost an hour talking about the book which is a very long time, especially considering that the girls were anxious to go swimming!

Summary: The book club is about to get a makeover....

Even if Megan would rather be at the mall, Cassidy is late for hockey practice, Emma's already read every book in existence, and Jess is missing her mother too much to care, the new book club is scheduled to meet every month.

But what begins as a mom-imposed ritual of reading Little Women soon helps four unlikely friends navigate the drama of middle school. From stolen journals, to secret crushes, to a fashion-fiasco first dance, the girls are up to their Wellie boots in drama. They can't help but wonder: What would Jo March do? -- Simon and Schuster

Next month, Booking Daughter and I are hosting book club. Booking Daughter knew exactly which book she wanted to pick -- THE MOTHER-DAUGHTER BOOK CLUB by Heather Vogel Frederick. I think she's already read it twice, but she wants to share it with her friends. I reviewed it last year and thought it was super-cute. I hope we'll inspire the girls to read LITTLE WOMEN in the future.

And, the super exciting news... Ms. Vogel Frederick agreed to do an author chat with us! This will be the first time the girls have the opportunity to talk to an author and I think they'll have a great time!

Review: Spaceheadz & Giveaway

Summary: The perfect combination of the age old experience of holding and pouring over a physical book with newest media technology that kids love!

Michael K. just started fifth grade at a new school. As if that wasn't hard enough, the kids he seems to have made friends with apparently aren't kids at all. They are aliens. Real aliens who have invaded our planet in the form of school children and a hamster. They have a mission to complete: to convince 3,140,001 kids to BE SPHDZ. But with a hamster as their leader, "kids" who talk like walking advertisements, and Michael K as their first convert, will the SPHDZ be able to keep their cover and pull off their assignment? -- Simon & Schuster

SPACEHEADZ by Jon Scieszka (made extra-strength by Francesco Sedita) and illustrated by Shane Prigmore is one of the most original and entertaining middle grade books that I've read in quite awhile. (Of course, I didn't really expect anything less from rock star author Jon Scieszka.) SPACEHEADZ tells the story of Michael K., a fifth grader who is starting a new school. He attempts to make friends but ends up attracting two very strange kids who say they are aliens. Bob and Jennifer (and a hamster) decide to recruit Michael K. to help them convert over 3 million kids to be SPHDZ. If Michael K. doesn't help, the aliens threaten to turn off the whole world!

While Michael is trying to get a handle on the situation with the "aliens," there is also another entertaining character who is trying to capture some aliens. Poor Agent Umber desperately wants to prove himself in his job, and he is willing to do almost anything to catch an alien. Agent Umber definitely provides some comic relief in this story (as if Jennifer and Bob don't provide enough with their incessant quoting of advertising slogans and literal interpretations of commercials) because he is just an accident waiting to happen.

Growing up, I was always the new kid in school because we moved around quite a bit. So I immediately understood Michael K. and his concerns about hanging around with the odd new kids. I thought Michael K. was just an adorable character and I loved his insights and his eventual scheming. I think many kids will agree with me and find themselves relating in some way to Michael K. as well -- whether it be trying to fit in, hanging out with some odd kids, having parents who don't understand, or just feeling like they have to save the world!

SPACEHEADZ is kind of like a graphic novel because there are loads of adorable illustrations by Mr. Prigmore, but there is also a fair amount of text on most pages. It really is a great mix of words and pictures, and I especially appreciated the science lessons that were thrown in. I also liked the format of the book -- the 160+ page book is made up of 38 relatively short chapters. Each chapter left off so that I wanted to keep reading!

SPACEHEADZ is geared towards seven to ten year olds, and I think that's about right. I do think that, as a whole, boys will appreciate this book a bit more than girls; however, I really liked it and I'm passing it on to Booking Daughter. What excites me so much about this book is that I can see even the most reluctant of readers not being able to put it down. Oh yeah -- I'm also really excited that this is the first book in a series!

As I was reading this book, I kept imagining all of the cute possibilities for website tie-ins. So I wasn't surprised to find that there are quite a few websites out there that can enhance your Spaceheadz experience:

  • At sphdz.com, you can sign up to be a SPHDZ and help stop the Earth from being turned off. I actually completed the registration and was given a hilarious name "Real Ketchup" -- I hate ketchup!"
  • At antialienagency.com, you can see what the government is doing to protect the Earth from the alien menace. This site actually does look like an official government site.
  • At mrshalleyscomets.com, you can see Michael K.'s fifth-grade class website. This one is pretty cute too and so looks like a teacher's website with pictures of artwork and announcements.
And, what more can really be said about Jon Scieszka? He is the first National Ambassador for Young People's Literature, named by the Library of Congress, and he has written so many fantastic books including THE TRUE STORY OF THE THREE LITTLE PIGS, THE TIME WARP TRIO series and the Caldecott Honor Book THE STINKY CHEESE MAN AND OTHER FAIRLY STUPID FAIRY TALES. In addition, Mr. Scieszka has a fantastic website called Guys Read. This site is a web-based literacy program for boys, and their mission is to help boys become self-motivated, lifelong readers. I thought the site was absolutely fantastic and I definitely recommend checking it out!

Trust me on this one! If you know of a boy between the ages of seven and ten, then you have to get a copy of SPACEHEADZ in his hands! It's a terrific book that's guaranteed to make kids (and grownups) laugh. I absolutely loved it!

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

Giveaway alert: Thanks to Simon & Schuster, I have two copies of SPACEHEADZ and two neon Spaceheadz pencils to share with two lucky readers! To enter, just fill out the form below. This contest will be open until September 6th at 11:59 p.m. ET, and I will notify the winners the following day. US and Canada mailing address only. Good luck!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Review: Simply from Scratch

Summary: Alicia Bessette writes with compassion and tenderness to illuminate the many unexpected ways people save each others' lives every day-often without even knowing it. Poignant, bittersweet, and strikingly honest, Simply from Scratch is a radiant celebration of friendship and the strength of the human spirit.

Rose-Ellen ("Zell") Carmichael Roy wears her late husband Nick's camouflage apron even when she's not in the kitchen. That's her widow style.

It's been over a year since Nick died tragically during a post-Katrina relief mission in New Orleans. Long enough, according to the grief pamphlets, to have begun to move on with her life. But Zell is still unable to enter her attic, which is full of Nick memories. She hasn't even turned on her oven because cooking was Nick's chore. That is, until she decides to enter the first annual Desserts that Warm the Soul baking contest, hoping to donate the grand prize to Katrina survivors in Nick's memory.

Meanwhile, Zell's nine-year-old neighbor, Ingrid Knox, is learning to cope with the loneliness of growing up without a mother. With an imagination as big as her heart, Ingrid treasures her doting father but begins to plot how she will meet the woman who abandoned her so many years ago. When an embarrassing baking mishap brings Zell and Ingrid together, they form an unlikely friendship that will alter both of their lives forever. Together, and with the help of a lively and loveable cast of friends and family, Zell and Ingrid embark on winning the Desserts that Warm the Soul contest - and learn that through the many sorrows and joys of life, with a little bit of flour and a pinch of love, anything is possible. -- Dutton

When I read the description for SIMPLY FROM SCRATCH by Alicia Bessette, it definitely appealed to me. To be honest, it sounded like a book that I'd adore! And, to makes things even sweeter, author Alicia Bessette is one of the 2010 Debs from The Debutante Ball and you know how I just love all of the Deb books. Oh yeah -- and cover isn't too shabby either! Not that I'd ever admit to reading a book based on its cover, but isn't this one just one of the best? I guess what I'm saying is that I was very excited to crack open this book.

I enjoyed SIMPLY FROM SCRATCH a great deal. I don't know if I'd go so far as to say that I absolutely loved it, but I did like it and wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to my friends. The novel definitely captured my attention as well as my heart, and I found the characters to be extremely likable. My favorite character was, of course, Zell and my heart just went out to her as she struggled with her grief after losing her husband. As I read this novel, I really liked seeing Zell begin to heal with the help of her family and friends.

Another thing I definitely appreciated about this novel was how the entire story unfolded. When the book begins, Zell is a not-so-recent widow who catches her oven on fire when she turns it on without checking inside first (I'm not judging her because I would be absolutely lost -- just saying that a year had passed and she was still not wearing a bra on a daily basis.) She discovers that her husband had hidden a present in there over a year ago because he knew she'd never look in or use the oven. The reader is immediately faced with quite a few questions from the get-go ... how did her husband die?, who is this EJ?, does Zell have a serious health problem?, and what is in the box? Throughout the course of the novel, the reader discovers answers to these questions in bits and pieces.

One of my favorite parts of this book was how it explored grief and the eventual healing process. There is no doubt that Zee was devastated when she lost her husband, and she pretty much shut down her life for an entire year. Despite pleas from her family and friends, she just wasn't able to even face life in general. I loved that it was the friendship of a nine year old girl Ingrid (along with a little help from her father and her step-grandmother) that helped Zee begin to grieve in a healthier way. Zee not only had to learn to move on, but she also had to learn some important lessons about forgiveness. Overall, I really appreciated so many of the messages in this novel.

And then there's all of the "things" that I liked that existed in this novel. I just love books about cooking food and this one mentioned food stuff a lot. Some of the recipes were just plain disgusting to me, but I did appreciate how the author used food as a way of comfort and healing. In addition, I really liked that Zell had an adopted Greyhound (just like the author.) I am not a dog owner, but I have always thought that if I ever got a dog that it would be a Greyhound. And finally, I appreciated that Ms. Bessette makes so much mention of Hurricane Katrina and the devastation it incurred on so many people. Through the use of Nick's emails, I feel as if the reader got a glimpse into the kind of help the victims need as well as how many wonderful people are that volunteered to help them.

I did have one slight issue with this book and I'm sure it's just a personal preference thing, but I found it a little bit odd. Most of the book is written in Zell's voice and I thought the author did a great job with that. At the end of the chapters, there is part written in third person about Zell's long-time friend EJ. And, then some sort of email correspondence between Zell and her husband Nick. I thought the emails were a nice touch and a great way to unfold the story about Nick; however, I didn't really "get" the EJ part. Don't get me wrong, I loved EJ (what little I got to know about him.) I just thought it was strange how there were a few pages about him stuck at the end of each chapter. I think it's possible that it would have worked for me if he had his own separate chapters, but I just didn't appreciate the presentation. I also felt as if I was teased with EJ's story. I think he was a great character and I actually wanted more of his story.

I do think SIMPLY FOR SCRATCH would make a fantastic book club pick for women of all ages. I wasn't able to find a reader's guide, but I don't think it would be difficult to come up with a few questions on your own. Plus, I think this novel is one of those where people just start talking and move on from there -- sometimes the best type of books for discussion. Some of the themes you might want to explore include love, family, friendships, loss, grief, healing, and forgiveness.

A very big part of the story is the baking contest that Zell and Ingrid decide to enter. After many baking mishaps (Zell never claimed to be a cook!), they finally stumble across a recipe that they think is a winner. I admit that I didn't try it, but I think it has potential with the black pepper and fruit. (I'm a big fan of a walnut biscotti recipe that I make that includes pepper!) What do you think?

Scrumpy Delight

Yield: One Scrumpy Delight. Serves two to four.

* For best flavor, use fresh pineapple, and grill slices before chopping. If using canned chopped pineapple, drain juice well.

  • 1 heaping cup well-chopped pineapple (if substituting fresh strawberries, apples, or peaches, wash and dry fruit completely
  • 2 ox. spreadable goat cheese, softened slightly in microwave (may substitute other preferred soft cheeses, such as cream cheese)
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lime juice
  • a scant 1/2 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper (sounds like a lot, but trust us)
  • Polly Pinch's Super Simp Flakey piecrust (may substitute store-bought crust, or make your own from scratch using a favorite recipe)
  • 1 1 1/2 oz. dark or milk chocolate bar
  • 2 teaspoons whole milk or cream
For garnish:
  • brown sugar
  • chilled fresh raspberries (may substitute blueberries)
  • fresh-ground pepper to taste
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Lightly grease a baking sheet.
2. Combine pineapple, cheese, honey, lime juice, and pepper in large mixing bowl.
3. Carefully lay piecrust flat on baking skeet. Repair any tears in dough with moistened fingertips.
4. Place chocolate bar in the center of piecrust.
5. Pour the pineapple mixture onto the chocolate bar. Using a spatula, spread the mixture out toward the edge of the dough, leaving about a one-inch edge.
6. Using fingertips, drag two opposite sides of piecrust to meet in the center, forming a rectangle. Brush the top of the crust with milk.
7. Cook for 20 to 25 minutes or until crust is golden brown.
8. Remove from oven. Sprinkle with brown sugar and pepper, if desired. Garnish with berries.
9. Using a sharp knife, divide into segments. Best served warm.

I enjoyed this heart-warming story and I think many women will agree. If you are a fan of chick lit or women's fiction or even books about food, then I suggest you check out SIMPLY FROM SCRATCH.

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

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, August 21, 2010

Kid Konnection: Ready for School

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 recently read to help prepare him for kindergarten. I thought it was appropriate to title this week's Kid Konnection "Ready for School" because this is our last weekend of the summer. Next Wednesday, Booking Son will be starting kindergarten and Booking Daughter will be starting Middle School.

Summary: Your buffalo is growing up. He plays with friends. He shares his toys. He's smart! But is he ready for kindergarten? (And is kindergarten ready for him?)

Is Your Buffalo Ready for Kindergarten? is a hilarious look at first-day-of-school jitters from author Audrey Vernick and illustrator Daniel Jennewein. -- Balzar + Bray

I first caught a sneak peak at the adorable book IS YOUR BUFFALO READY FOR KINDERGARTEN? by Audrey Vernick during BEA. I was on a tour with the illustrator Daniel Jennewein (Presenting Lenore's husband!) and he shared the book with a few of us. I immediately knew it was something special and I wanted to share it with Booking Son before he started school!

We absolutely loved this book! Booking Son has been having quite a few concerns about starting school, and I've been doing my best to assuage his fears. I think this book actually helped a bit. IS YOUR BUFFALO READY FOR KINDERGARTEN? described a lot of the activities and lessons that take place in a kindergarten classroom. And since the idea behind the book included a buffalo attending school, the information was presented in a very funny way.

Booking Son and I actually read this book just a few minutes after we got home from his kindergarten orientation. He was feeling slightly better after seeing his classroom, meeting his teacher, and taking a quick bus ride. However, I think this book reinforced that he will be okay to start school. After we finished the book, Booking Son told me that " oh yeah, the buffalo was definitely ready for kindergarten and I thinks I am too!"

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention how absolutely adorable the illustrations are in this book. They are cute and whimsical and perfectly complemented the story. All in all, I highly recommend this book!

Summary: Here's the purr-fect read-aloud for kindergarteners! When Mr. Bigbuttons finds a tiny stray kitty cat outside near the jungle gym, he knows exactly where to bring it—into the kindergarten classroom, of course. And so the children welcome their newest classmate, name her Tinker Toy, and share their circle time spots with her. Tinker Toy fits right in, even answering Teacher's questions with a loud "Meow!" J. Patrick Lewis is one of the most renowned children's poets writing today, and he has created a real gem. His simple rhyming text demands to be read aloud—and the large type and bright, irresistible illustrations by Ailie Busby make this a fantastic book for story time in classrooms and libraries. -- Schwartz & Wade

KINDERGARTEN CAT by J. Patrick Lewis and Ailie Busby is another very cute book that takes a look at a kindergarten classroom and a very special cat. Mr. Bigbottoms discovers a stray kitten and decides that the kindergarten classroom will make the perfect home. Of course, the kids adore the cat -- how could they not? The book shows the special friendship that grew between the children and the kitty.

The book is just ideal for teachers to read-aloud during circle time because there are just a few lines per page. In addition, the verses are catchy and almost read like a song. I especially liked the mixed media illustrations and they definitely enhanced the story. Booking Son loved looking at all of the colorful details on each page while I read the rhyming words.

Recommended for kindergarten and preschool aged children.

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

Summary: What a big day: Emily's going to school for the first time-and she's a little nervous. Soon, though, Emily meets new friends, and learns that school can be fun. Children will see exactly what to expect on their first day, and parents will find out how to prepare their child for this important transition. -- Sterling

HELPING HAND BOOKS: EMILY'S FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL by Sarah, Duchess of York and illustrated by Ian Cunliffe is part of the Helping Hand Book Series. Helping Hand Books are designed so parents and children can read a simple story and then discuss a difficult issue. Some of the topics covered in this series include becoming a new brother, dealing with bullies, handling strangers, and starting school.

In EMILY'S FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL, Emily is naturally a little nervous to leave her parents for an entire day. However, once she gets to school, she realizes that school is a lot of fun and the day just flies by. Of course, she can't wait to go back. It's a pretty predictable story for the parent, but I can see how it might help kids with their concerns.

At the end of the book, there is a section with ten helpful hints for parents of children who are starting school. These tips are written by an expert Dr. Richard Woolfson, PhD, not Sarah, Duchess of York. I generally agreed with the tips, but I also think that most of them were fairly obvious.

Cute book that should help to alleviate some of those first day jitters.

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

Summary: Annie Grace wears her “Adventure Annie” cape to her first day of kindergarten, and proceeds to barrel through the day, searching for adventure in every moment. Her interpretation of the class’s Gold Star Rules isn’t exactly what her teacher, Mr. Todd, had in mind. But somehow Annie does manage to save the day when two of her classmates get lost on their way to retrieve the afternoon snack. Spirited and funny, this is an introduction to kindergarten that will please kids and teachers alike. -- Dial Books for Young Readers

The main reason that I decided to read ADVENTURE ANNIE GOES TO KINDERGARTEN by Toni Buzzeo is because the illustrator Amy Wummer will be attending the 2010 Lititz Kidlit Festival (and this books counts toward that challenge!) However, it also dawned on me that it might be cute to read with Booking Son before school starts.

I thought ADVENTURE ANNIE GOES TO KINDERGARTEN was terrific! I couldn't help but love Adventure Annie and her spunky personality. She was always trying to find her next adventure and kindergarten seemed full of possibilities. When she learned that a gold star is awarded each day to the student who best follows the rules, Annie was determined to win. However, there was one slight problem. Annie's creative adventures weren't always in agreement with the teacher's rules.

There is no doubt that Annie's antics provide lots of laughs, and kids will just love the silliness. As a mother, though, I liked that this book also had some important lessons about kindergarten. The teacher's Kindergarten Gold Star Rules included rules about respect, making good decisions, using inside voices, and being kind and helpful to others.

I truly enjoyed this book and I especially liked Ms. Wummer's adorable illustrations. Highly recommend!

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