Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Review: My Nest Isn't Empty, It Just Has More Closet Space & Giveaway

Summary: Critics and readers loved Lisa Scottoline’s first collection of true-life stories, which only encouraged her—now she’s back with these all-new, exciting adventures. She’s farther down the road now, and the scenery has changed—ex-husbands Thing One and Thing Two are in her rear-view mirror, daughter Francesca has moved into an apartment, and Lisa’s finding the silver lining in her empty nest, which has lots more room for her shoes. And some things have stayed the same—Mother Mary is still the feistiest octogenarian on the planet, who won’t part with her recipe for tomato sauce or her thirty-year old bra.

In this book Lisa and Francesca spill all their family secrets—which sound a lot like yours, if you understand that three generations of women is the formula for spontaneous combustion.

Inspired by her weekly column entitled, “Chick Wit” for The Philadelphia Inquirer, this is a book you’ll have to put down—just to stop laughing. -- St. Martin's Press

I don't often read books that are a collection of essays, but when I heard that there was a new one inspired by best-selling writer Lisa Scottoline's Philadelphia Inquirer column "Chick Wit," I had a feeling that I might like it. I have always been a fan of Ms. Scottoline's and I heard some pretty good things about her first essay collection book WHY MY THIRD HUSBAND WILL BE A DOG. I'm so happy to say that I really enjoyed her second essay collection MY NEST ISN'T EMPTY, IT JUST HAS MORE CLOSET SPACE: THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF AN ORDINARY WOMAN. Of course, now I have to go back and read her first!

In MY NEST ISN'T EMPTY, Ms. Scottoline and her daughter Francesca Scottoline Serritella write some very entertaining essays about a wide variety of girly topics. They cover everything from dating the second (or third) time around, to empty nest syndrome, to dieting, to working from home, to family recipes, to separation anxiety. I found most of the essays to be very funny (and sometimes hilarious), but I admit that I was caught off guard by just how many of these stories managed to touch me. But then, I'm just a sucker for books that pay tribute to the women and their relationships.

I admit that these essay collection type books are hit and miss with me. Of course, there were some essays that I appreciated more than others; but overall, I enjoyed each and every one that appeared in MY NEST ISN'T EMPTY. I already knew that I appreciated Ms. Scottoline's writing and humor, but I was pleasantly surprised by just how talented (and funny) her daughter Francesca is. I have a feeling that Ms. Serritella is going to be a writer with a very bright future!

It's difficult for me to pick out a favorite essay or even two from this terrific book. While I did find myself cracking up over Francesca's attempts to get her mom ready for a blind date and the stories about Mother Mary, Ms. Scottoline's 80-something year old mother, I think I most enjoyed those stories that warmed my heart -- and there were quite a few. This book genuinely reflected a family's love for each other -- quirks and all; and I have to believe that these essays will resonate with woman of all ages.

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

Giveaway alert: I truly enjoyed MY NEST ISN'T EMPTY, IT JUST HAS MORE CLOSET SPACE and I think it would make a fantastic gift for a very special woman in your life -- including you! I have a copy of MY NEST ISN'T EMPTY to share with one lucky reader. To enter, just fill out the form below before December 6th at 11:59 p.m ET. I will randomly select and notify the winner the following day. This contest is open to those of you with U.S. addresses. Good luck!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Review: Taking the Reins & Giveaway

Summary: It’s time to ride! Girls can select their own endings in this story that takes place on the campus of Innerstar University™. Readers can imagine themselves as the main character, a girl who rides horses at the stable but steers clear of competition. Whenever there's an audience, her confidence heads for the hills. So when she's invited to ride a spirited horse in the next event, she has some tough choices to make. Will she find her confidence and climb on? With more than 20 different endings, girls will enjoy this book again and again to see how different decisions change the story. Plus, this interactive book comes with a secret access code to unlock additional endings online! -- American Girl

Booking Daughter and I both are huge fans of the American Girl books. In fact, I think Booking Daughter has probably read almost all of them. She loves the historical character ones as well as the mysteries and the crafts books, and she even subscribes to the magazine. I really can't rave enough about the quality of the American Girl publications.

Recently, American Girl has released a new series of books called Innerstar University. There are currently four books in this series, and we were fortunate enough to receive a copy of TAKING THE REINS by Alison Hart. All of the books in this series have a set of dilemmas/decisions which the characters face. The reader of the story gets to pretend that she is the main character of the story and ultimately "make" some important decisions. The various choices that the reader makes will determine the outcome of the book. In TAKING THE REINS, there are more than 20 different endings!

TAKING THE REINS is probably geared towards middle to late elementary age girls, but Booking Daughter still managed to enjoy the story. She liked reading this novel about a group of girls who attend Innerstar University. When one of the girls get injured and can't compete in the upcoming competition, "you" have the opportunity to fill her shoes. Unfortunately, "you" have a bad case of nerves and aren't sure that "you" learn to ride a new horse and compete in front of a crowd all before the next event. "You" must make some important decisions while at the same time not letting down your friends.

I read this book a few times and made some different choices along the way so I could see some of the various outcomes. Booking Daughter also read this book quite a few times, but her reason was because she was trying to get a specific outcome -- the one where the girls make cupcakes. She still hasn't found it, so she continues to read the book!

Besides having some great story lines, there are also some adorable pictures in the book. (I'm guessing that's how Booking Daughter discovered the cupcake ending!) The Innerstar University girls resemble a wide variety of the "My American Girl" dolls, and I can easily see young girls role-playing the stories in this book with their dolls.

As a mom, I liked each of the different outcomes and thought they all offered some great lessons about self confidence and friendship. In addition, I love that kids can read the books over and over again! I feel as if I'm getting more bang for my buck that way! I have fond memories of "Choose Your Own Adventure" stories from my childhood, and I'm so excited that young girls can do the same with these new Innerstar University books and especially TAKING THE REINS.

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

Giveaway alert: I have an extra copy of TAKING THE REINS to share with one lucky reader. To enter, just fill out the form below before December 5th at 11:59 p.m. ET. I will randomly select and notify the winner the following day. Contest is open to those of you with U.S. and Canada mailing addresses only. Good luck!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Review: Twinkie Chan's Crochet Goodies for Fashion Foodies

Summary: With Twinkie Chan's Crochet Goodies for Fashion Foodies, crocheters can have their cupcakes and wear them, too. The founder of her own popular line of food-inspired fashions, Twinkie Chan has whipped up a feast of head-turning scarves, mittens, hats, and more so that her many fans can learn to make her culinary creations at home.

You'll find recipes for food-themed scarves that feature sushi, salad, gingerbread men, buttered toast, eggs and bacon, ice-cream cones, popcorn boxes, and more. You'll also learn how to make a pair of strawberry fingerless mittens, a chocolate cupcake hat complete with a cherry on top, and even a coconut-lemon cake tissue box cozy. Twinkie Chan's Crochet Goodies for Fashion Foodies is divided into three chapters—Sweet Things, Fruits and Veggies, and Savory Stuff—and comes complete with an illustrated how-to section, lists of "ingredients" for each project, easy-to-follow, step-by-step directions, and full-color photos and illustrations. Beginning and experienced crafters alike will go wild for these quirky, colorful, wearable confections. -- Andrews McMeel

When I first discovered TWINKIE CHAN'S CROCHET GOODIES FOR FASHION FOODIES by Twinkie Chan, I couldn't get over how amazing (and original) the patterns were. I have been crocheting since my early 20s, but I've never seen scarves like these! I immediately fell in love with almost every pattern (each one is cuter than the last) and knew that I had to get started on making some of these "foodie" accessories.

TWINKIE CHAN'S CROCHET GOODIES FOR FASHION FOODIES includes 20 "Yummy Treats to Wear." The book is divided into the following sections: Sweet Things, Fruits & Veggies, and Savory Stuff. It's hard for me to pick a favorite pattern because I love so many of the scarves. Some of my top ones include the pink grapefruit scarf, the sushi scarf, the cookie scarf, the popcorn scarf, and the bacon and eggs scarf. Of course, those are my favorites at this snippet in time. All of the patterns are positively adorable and I hope to try many of them. Twinkie Chan also includes some basic crochet instructions as well as some on-line resources for crocheting in the beginning of the book.

I also really appreciated that, for the most part, the yarns in this book are readily available at local craft stores like Michaels and Jo-Anns. Since the stores around here aren't that large, I did have to place an on-line order for a few of the colors. There are a few specialty yarns listed in this book, but I think you can easily substitute more general (and less expensive yarns.) The only issue I've found so far in all my yarn shopping is that one of the colors for an easy-to-find yarn seems to have been discontinued-- it's not even showing up on the yarn-maker's website.

Much to my dismay, I'm probably too old to wear most of these accessories. Some 40 year old women could probably pull it off, but I'm not one of those! Fortunately, I have an 11 year old daughter who also loves this book. She marked at least eight of the patterns that she "'has to have." The first one that I tried is the Rocket Popsicle Scarf (I call it the Bomb Pop scarf!) I was able to finish it in a little over a day and I thought it turned out extremely well. The instructions were very clear and it was actually quite easy to make. Booking Daughter has worn it quite a few times already and the feedback has been very positive!

Next, I'm going to tackle the Ice Cream and Cookie scarves as well as the Strawberry Fingerless Mittens. I also plan on making the Pink Grapefruit Scarf as soon as I'm able to locate an alternative yellow yarn. Truly, there are so many wonderful ideas in this book. The ideas and color combinations are endless as are the different ways you can "decorate" the goodies. For example, you can make an assorted cookie scarf or a plain chocolate chip one. You can also make a cupcake scarf with assorted cake and icing flavors as well as different colored sprinkles. You are only limited by your imagination!

Check out this video to see how the cupcake scarf is made:

I have a feeling that this is going to be my go-to crochet project book for the next few months. I absolutely love the patterns and I can't stop planning my next projects. As far as I'm concerned, this book is a must-have for crocheters who love making fun and unique projects!

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

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Kid Konnection: Ivy + Bean - What's the Big Idea? & Giveaway

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 new book for middle elementary age kids from a series that I love!

Summary: It's the Science Fair, and the second grade is all over it! Some kids are making man-eating robots. Some kids are holding their breath for a very, very long time. Some kids are doing interesting things with vacuum cleaners. The theme, obviously, is global warming. But what should Ivy and Bean do? Something involving explosions? Or ropes? Something with ice cubes? Or maybe . . . maybe something different. -- Chronicle Books

IVY + BEAN: WHAT'S THE BIG IDEA? by Annie Barrows and illustrated by Sophie Blackall is the seventh book in the Ivy and Bean series. I have no doubt that fans of this series (like me!) will appreciate this latest installment. As a reader, I loved reading about Ivy and Bean's unlikely friendship as well as their creative attempts at a science fair project. However, as a parent, I loved that this book teaches children about the potential effects of global warming. I think WHAT'S THE BIG IDEA is a win/win for kids and parents alike.

In WHAT'S THE BIG IDEA, Ivy and Bean are learning about the effects of global warming on the world. Their teacher asks everyone in the class to create a project for the science fair that will cool down the earth.  The girls brainstorm to come up with an idea but quickly discover that there aren't an easy answers to this problem. In true and Bean fashion, they decide to jump on a trampoline while tossing ice cubes in the air and attempt to record the air temperature. Needless to say, this doesn't work. Time is running out and the girls still don't have a project for the science fair. Will they be able to come up with a project to cool the earth in time?

I loved the premise for this book, and I especially appreciated that it allows parents and teachers to discuss global warming with children. I absolutely adored some of the creative ideas that the other kids in the classroom came up with (one girl had each of her siblings hold their breath to cut down on carbon dioxide emissions!); however, I was most impressed with Ivy and Bean's last minute idea. They definitely got their message about global warming across while at the same time managing to teach the adults a thing or two about life.

Another feature about WHAT'S THE BIG IDEA? that I liked was the "study guide" in the back of the book. There was a further explanation about global warming as well as ideas for how the problem could be fixed. I think children who read this section will find that there aren't any easy answers to this problem -- just like Ivy and Bean did.

There is an entire website devoted to Ivy + Bean. Besides giving a run down on all of the book in the series, the website offers some other fun activities. Readers can join the fan club while teachers (and parents) can get ideas for activities that tie in with WHAT'S THE BIG IDEA? You can even print out a copy of the Certificate of Achievement that Ivy and Bean can earn at the Science Fair. If you'd like to learn more about this book, you can read an excerpt from Chapter 1.

I found IVY + BEAN: WHAT'S THE BIG IDEA to be a fun book that also teaches kids some important lessons about life and the environment. Highly recommended!

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

Giveaway alert: I have one copy of IVY + BEAN: WHAT'S THE BIG IDEA? to share with one lucky reader. To enter, just fill out the form below before December 3rd at 11:59 p.m ET. I will randomly select and notify the winner the following day. This contest is open to those of you with U.S. and Canada mailing addresses only. Good luck!

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, November 26, 2010

Review: Half Broke Horses

Summary: Those old cows knew trouble was coming before we did." So begins the story of Lily Casey Smith, Jeannette Walls's no-nonsense, resourceful, and spectacularly compelling grandmother. By age six, Lily was helping her father break horses. At fifteen, she left home to teach in a frontier town—riding five hundred miles on her pony, alone, to get to her job. She learned to drive a car and fly a plane. And, with her husband, Jim, she ran a vast ranch in Arizona. She raised two children, one of whom is Jeannette's memorable mother, Rosemary Smith Walls, unforgettably portrayed in The Glass Castle.

Lily survived tornadoes, droughts, floods, the Great Depression, and the most heartbreaking personal tragedy. She bristled at prejudice of all kinds—against women, Native Americans, and anyone else who didn't fit the mold. Rosemary Smith Walls always told Jeannette that she was like her grandmother, and in this true-life novel, Jeannette Walls channels that kindred spirit. Half Broke Horses is Laura Ingalls Wilder for adults, as riveting and dramatic as Isak Dinesen's Out of Africa or Beryl Markham's West with the Night. Destined to become a classic, it will transfix readers everywhere. -- Scribner

I mentioned a few weeks ago that my book club read HALF BROKE HORSES: A TRUE-LIFE NOVEL by Jeannette Walls. I had been excited to read this story ever since I saw Ms. Walls speak at the 2009 BEA Authors' Breakfast. I enjoyed her memoir GLASS CASTLES a great deal and I was very interested to see if I would appreciate HALF BROKE HORSES as much. Unfortunately, it didn't quite live up to my expectations.

That's not to say that I didn't like HALF BROKE HORSES because I did find quite a few things about this book that I enjoyed. I'm just saying that I didn't love it -- and I think everyone in my book club kind of agreed. The story was interesting and I thought the character of Lily, Ms. Walls' grandmother, was very well developed. It's just that I didn't find myself rushing back to read this book once I set it down.

I can't exactly put my finger on why I feel this way about the story, but I have a feeling that it's because I had some issues with Lily. I didn't feel like she was a very likable character and I couldn't really relate to her very much. It wasn't that I always felt that way about her though. In fact, for about the first third of the book, my heart went out to her and I found her courage to be extremely admirable. However, throughout the story, she faced so many disappointments and setbacks that she was forced to develop a pretty rough exterior. Because of these events, Lily developed some very strong convictions and stood by them despite the cost. I sometimes questioned whether she shouldn't have bitten her tongue a few times to save herself, but that wasn't in being with Lily's character. I did respect Lily for the life she led and the things she accomplished. I'm just saying that I didn't feel as much compassion towards her as I would have expected.

I found it extremely interesting that the women in my book club were all over the place with their feelings about Lily. One of my friends absolutely despised Lily (and especially her mothering skills) while another one respected her and thought they had a lot in common. Most of us were somewhere in the middle of these two extremes. What I will say about HALF BROKE HORSES is that it did provide my group with many topics for discussion. We could have talked about Lily for hours, but we eventually had to agree to disagree.

One thing that did stand out for me about this novel is Ms. Wells' writing. As was the case with GLASS CASTLE, I appreciated how Ms. Wells' told this story. She decided to tell Lily's story in Lily's own words, and I think that actually was a great decision. Despite not being able to really relate to Lily, I think I got a better understanding of her character by reading her private thoughts. In fact, I was able to get insight into some of her actions that I definitely would not have been able to understand otherwise.

I do recommend HALF BROKE HORSES as a good read for book clubs. In addition to discussion Lily's personality and behavior, there are many other themes to discuss as evident in this reading guide. Some of the discussion points that your group might want to explore include perseverance, grief, loss, convictions, parent/child relationships, motherhood, mental illness, and redemption. My group also found ourselves discussing Ms. Walls' memoir GLASS CASTLE in tandem with HALF BROKE HORSES -- there are some questions in the reading guide which addresses both books. I found it extremely interesting to discuss Rosemary's (Lily's daughter and Ms. Walls' mother) behavior and to see if it tied back to her upbringing.

I didn't love HALF BROKE HORSES like I had hoped, but it is definitely a worthwhile read. I especially appreciated it after reading GLASS CASTLE, and I think fans of that book will be interested in Lily.

I received an ARC of this book at the 2009 BEA.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Review: The Wizard of Oz Pop Up Book & Giveaway

Summary: This captivating title brings the beloved L. Frank Baum tale to life like never before--with gorgeous color illustrations by Paul Hess and incredible pop-up panoramas accented by atmospheric sounds and music. Leave the cornfields of Kansas behind on the clouds of a whooshing tornado, oil the rusty Tin Woodsman's squeaky joints, and discover the Emerald City as it rises before your eyes in one of the most incredible pop-up scenes ever created. The included replaceable batteries mean the sounds and music will last through many readings! -- Silver Dolphin

THE WIZARD OF OZ: A CLASSIC STORY POP-UP BOOK WITH SOUNDS by L. Frank Baum (retold by Libby Hamilton) and illustrated by Paul Hess is a very fun book that children are going to love. If the children in your life are anything like mine, then they are just drawn to pop up books. I guess it's the element of surprise that's slowly revealed as you turn the page. Oh wait -- maybe that's just the reason why I love pop up books.

THE WIZARD OF OZ isn't your typical children's pop up book, though. This book has wonderful images from the classic story The Wizard of Oz as well as a brief retelling of the story, but it also has something more. THE WIZARD OF OZ pop up book also has sound! I think the sound effects of the tornado and the flying monkeys are terrific, but I also love the little song that is played when you open the page that features the Emerald City. The mix of pop up images and sounds is guaranteed to entertain kids of all ages.

My children and I found this book to be delightful (my words, not theirs!) If you'd like to get a better idea of how the book looks, then check out this video below:

Silver Dolphin Books also offers a  pop up book with sounds for the childhood classic PETER PAN. Either gift would make a fantastic addition to a young child's library. Thanks to the publisher for sending me a review copy of this book.

Giveaway alert: The fine folks at Silver Dolphin Books have graciously offered to giveaway a copy of THE WIZARD OF OZ or any book on their site to one lucky Booking Mama reader. Head on over to their website and find a book for either yourself or someone you love, and then come back and fill out the form below before December 1st at 11:59 p.m. ET. I will randomly select and notify the winner the following day. Extra entries will be given if you follow Silver Dolphin Books on either Twitter and/or Facebook. The contest is open to those of you with U.S. addresses only. Good luck!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Giveaway: Zippo Candle Lighter

I recently discovered a great product and one that I most certainly need! It's the Zippo Candle Lighter and I love mine. I never really thought about how fantastic a candle lighter could be, but I do have to say that this one is pretty special. Of course, the cute design doesn't hurt. I have the red snowflake one pictured below.

Let me give you a little background on why this product is so relevant for me. I am being inundated with candles. Every year, Booking Daughter sells candles for her dance studio. We are asked to buy 5 at $15 each. Yes -- that's $75 above and beyond the cost of her regular dance classes. And then, Booking Daughter comes home the next week with another fund raiser for her drama department. Guess what for? Yep - candles again! This time I was asked to buy 10 at $10 each.

Now if you're anything like me when it comes to buying candles (or even if you're not so lucky), then I definitely recommend the Zippo Candle Lighter. These fashionable lighters come in four solid colors (Cabernet, Pink, Sea foam, and Pearl) as well as four patterned designs (Snowflake, Asian Floral, Cheetah, and Patriotic.) They have one that is guaranteed to suit everyone's tastes.

In addition, these candle lighters have some other great features including:

- Zippo’s Lifetime Guarantee
- A sleek ergonomic design
- A patented child safety button
- Available refills for endless use
- An adjustable flame dial

These candle lighters make the perfect stocking stuffer by themselves or even a great gift when paired with a candle. The patterned lighters are available in a very cute package that looks like a purse. This small "clutch" resembles faux black alligator skin and even has a cute little handle. Zippo Candle Lighters are priced between $14.95 and $19.99 and can fit into everyone's budget this holiday season.

Thanks to Zippo for providing me with a sample lighter.

Giveaway alert: Would you like to win a Zippo Candle Lighter of your choice for either yourself or someone special? Check out the different styles here and pick your favorite. Then, come back and fill out the form below before November 30th at 11:59 p.m. ET. I will randomly select and notify the winner the following day. This contest is open to those of you with U.S. addresses only. Good luck!

Review: Life After Yes

Summary: This is the story of Quinn—born Prudence Quinn O'Malley—a confused young Manhattan attorney who loses her father on that tragic September morning that changed everything. Now, at an existential crossroads in her life, Quinn must confront impossible questions about commitment and career, love and loss. Her idealistic beau desperately wants a wedding, and whisks her away to Paris just to propose. But then Quinn has a dream featuring judges and handcuffs and Nietzsche and Britney . . . and far too many grooms. Suddenly, her future isn't so clear. Quinn's world has become a minefield of men—some living, some gone, and traversing it safely is going to take a lot more than numerous glasses of pinot grigio. 

Life After Yes is a blisteringly honest, thoroughly modern tale of life and love in chaos, marking the arrival of a truly exciting new voice in contemporary fiction.-- Avon

When I first picked up LIFE AFTER YES by Aidan Donnelley Rowley, I immediately noticed how gorgeous the cover was. I do love that dress! The next thing I did was turn over the book and read the description, and I became even more intrigued -- I love "coming-of-age" stories. And even though Quinn appears to be all grown up -- she has a great career and she's engaged, she is obvious struggling in her life and trying to cope with some major baggage like losing her father on 9/11 and still having some feelings towards her ex. The premise sounded promising and I was hoping that it was one of those stories about a woman finding herself and some happiness.

LIFE AFTER YES definitely lived up to my expectations. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised by how deep this novel was. I wasn't exactly expecting chick lit (not that there's anything wrong with that!) but LIFE AFTER YES dealt with some very heavy issues such as death, loss, grief, depression, infidelity, and drinking problems to name a few. The book definitely wasn't a light read for me, although there was certainly humor woven into the story. At times, I felt bad for Quinn and her miserable existence; however, other times, I wanted to shake her until she woke up and realized the good things that did exist in her life. Overall, I just felt bad for how lost she seemed.

One very positive thing about LIFE AFTER YES was the writing -- it was fantastic. In fact, I was very surprised to discover that this book is Ms. Rowley's debut novel because I felt that her prose was very sophisticated. I have to admit that it took me a little while to really get into the story and the character of Quinn, but I think that was due to my busy schedule this time of year. Once I became vested in Quinn, the story really took off for me.

Ms. Rowley's writing style was different than most other books that I read (by different, I mean very good and very original.) Not only did she tell a great story, but she was able to effectively go back and forth between the present and the past. I think what impressed me the most about her writing though was her character development of Quinn. Quinn was a highly flawed character, but Ms. Quinn was able to make her so complex and so incredibly honest. I can guarantee that anyone who reads this book will not be able to easily forget Quinn.

Another thing that really stood out to me about LIFE AFTER YES were the various symbols and recurring themes that Ms. Rowley incorporated into the novel. I was extremely surprised (and impressed) with how well these worked in this story. For example, the book begins with a dream sequence about Quinn on her wedding day. Throughout the novel, the reader, along with Quinn, begins to understand what each part of the dream symbolizes. Another example of a theme that occurred throughout the book was the importance of names. Quinn's real name was Prudence (another huge theme here about the virtues of modern society!), yet she chose to go by Quinn despite hurting her parents' feelings. In addition, there are multiple references to black berries as they pertain to both the communication device as well as the fruit. I guess what I'm trying to say is that Ms. Rowley's use of themes was very smart and definitely gave me something to think about.

I'm fairly confident that every person who reads LIFE AFTER YES will be left with many thoughts running through their head. And that's exactly why this novel is such a fantastic book club selection. There is an outstanding reading guide which has 22 questions. The sheer length of this guide is a great indicator of just how much there is to discuss. Some of the topics you will want to further explore include 9/11, grief, loss, love, marriage, infidelity, secrets, dishonesty, alcohol problems, friendship, career, forgiveness, parent/child relationship, self actualization -- this list could go on and on.

The SheKnows Book Club will be discussing LIFE AFTER YES with Aidan Donnelly Rowley on Thursday, December 9th at 8-11pm ET. I'll be there and I'd love for you to join us.

I am very happy to say that in many ways LIFE AFTER YES was a coming-of-age story to me. This novel did explore Quinn's state of mind and her discontent, and it followed her as she examined herself and others. Fortunately, she did mature a great deal and I was very satisfied with how the book ended (but I won't guarantee that will be the case for every reader.) I highly recommend this book to fans of women's fiction as well as book groups.

Thanks to SheKnows Book Club for sending me a copy of this book.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Guest Review: The Emperor's Tomb

Summary: The tomb of China’s First Emperor, guarded by an underground army of terra-cotta warriors, has remained sealed for more than 2,000 years. Though it’s regarded as one of the greatest archaeological sites in the world, the Chinese government won’t allow anyone to open it. Why?

That question is at the heart of a dilemma faced by former Justice Department operative Cotton Malone, whose life is shattered when he receives an anonymous note carrying an unfamiliar Web address. Logging on, he sees Cassiopeia Vitt, a woman who’s saved his life more than once, being tortured at the hands of a mysterious man who has a single demand: Bring me the artifact she’s asked you to keep safe. The only problem is, Malone doesn’t have a clue what the man is talking about, since Cassiopeia has left nothing with him. So begins Malone’s most harrowing adventure to date—one that offers up astounding historical revelations, pits him against a ruthless ancient brotherhood, and sends him from Denmark to Belgium to Vietnam then on to China, a vast and mysterious land where danger lurks at every turn. -- Ballantine

I have read a few of Steve Berry's books in the past, and I've always found them to be great political thrillers. I was pretty certain that my dad, Booking Pap Pap, would love them too! So when I recently got the opportunity to review Mr. Berry's latest Cotton Malone novel THE EMPEROR'S TOMB, I thought I'd first give the book to him. Here are his thoughts;
THE EMPEROR'S TOMB, a political thriller, is my first Steve Berry novel. The book begins with Cotton Malone receiving an email informing him that his good friend Cassiopeia Vitt is being tortured and will be killed unless he delivers an important artifact. Vitt had been trying to find the kidnapped son of a Russian geologist living in China. Malone soon joins forces with a Russian agent, Victor Tomas and the U.S. Justice Department to save Vitt. As a result Malone and Vitt become involved in something much bigger – the struggle between two politicians vying to become ruler of China.

Berry takes the storyline from Europe to China where the reader learns about the tomb of Qin Shi, China’s first Emperor and the Terra Cotta Warriors, the many inventions and innovations of ancient China, the times of Chairman Mao and the role of eunuchs in the history of China. An ancient secret that may be hidden in Qin Shi’s tomb could potentially change the balance of power in the world. All these factors are neatly woven into the storyline that starts with a simple kidnapping and ends with the two candidates for China’s leadership face to face in a life and death struggle. The story twists and turns throughout as Berry keeps the reader guessing as to whom Malone and Vitt can trust. Chases through the tombs, several fires and plenty of killings keep the action moving for the reader.

I really enjoyed this novel and look forward to reading other Steve Berry books. The author did however make several references to Cotton, Vitt and Tomas being involved in past cases and as a first time reader I was sometimes left in the dark.

The ancient history of China creates a terrific backdrop for this thriller and the reader is not only entertained but receives a great history lesson. I found it interesting and informative that Berry provided notes at the end of the book to separate fact from fiction.

I recommend The Emperor’s Tomb to anyone who enjoys a good easy-to-read suspense thriller.

Thanks to Booking Pap Pap for his review and to Meryl L. Moss Media Relations for sending a review copy.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Review: The Adventures of Ook and Gluk & Huge Scholastic Book Giveaway

Summary: In this all-new graphic novel, George Beard and Harold Hutchins present the sensational saga of two silly caveboys named Ook and Gluk. Ook and Gluk have a pretty awesome life growing up together in Caveland, Ohio, in 500,001 BC - even though they're always getting in trouble with their nasty leader, Big Chief Goppernopper. But Ook and Gluk's idyllic life takes a turn for the terrible when an evil corporation from the future invades their quiet, prehistoric town. When Ook, Gluk, and their little dinosaur pal, Lily, are pulled through a time portal to the year 2222 AD, they discover that the world of the future is even worse than the devastated one they came from. Fortunately, they find a friend in Master Wong, a martial arts instructor who trains them in the ways of kung fu, so that they may one day return home and make things right again. And, like the other Captain Underpants books, The Adventures of Ook and Gluk, Kung-Fu Cavemen from the Future features the world's cheesiest animation technology, "Flip-O-Rama," in every chapter.-- Blue Sky Press

I have a feeling that THE ADVENTURES OF OOK AND GLUK, KUNG-FU CAVEMEN FROM THE FUTURE by Dav Pilkey, the creator of The Captain Underpants books, is a book that boys are going to love. This graphic novel aimed at 7 year olds and up is filled with two funny main characters, lots of action, time travel, bad guys, a kung-fu master, a dinosaur who throws up, and fight scenes! As a mom of a six year old boy, I know these elements are all very appealing.

While I did think THE ADVENTURES OF OOK AND GLUK, KUNG-FU CAVEMEN FROM THE FUTURE was very funny, I did have a little concern with this book. Since the premise of the book is that the comic strip is written by two young boys, there are lots (and lots) of misspelled words. In fact, it kind of reminded me of Booking Son's journal at school where he spells words based on the letters he hears. This graphic novel is fine for him right now because I'm reading it to him, but in a few more months (or years) when he is able to read independently, I'm worried that he might find this confusing. Or worse yet, he might think the misspelled words are fine.

There were many really great things about this book too. The characters who wrote the comic strip were positively hilarious (and rather silly.) In addition, I loved the drawings, especially the ones of the baby dinosaur. I also really thought the Flip-o-Rama pages were too cute. There are places marked for the reader's left hand and right thumb to rest, and the reader is told to turn the next page back and forth quickly so that the pages look animated. I know I had fun playing with these pages, so I can only imagine how much kids will like them.

There is a fun website devoted to the Ook and Gluk series. I had fun playing around with many of the options including the comic generator and the flip-o-rama workshop. There are also links to the "The Making of Ook and Gluk Movie" and a newsletter from the author. I think kids who enjoy these books are going to love this interactive site.

I think THE ADVENTURES OF OOK AND GLUK, KUNG-FU CAVEMEN FROM THE FUTURE is a fun book that boys will love. Despite my reservations about the misspellings, I did find it a very entertaining story!

And now for the really exciting news....

Give the gift of reading to your child this holiday season! Scholastic books make the perfect stocking stuffer for any child on your list.

We have a HUGE prize pack filled with the most popular children’s books in the marketplace to offer one lucky reader! Titles include CAPTAIN SKY BLUE, IT’S CHRISTMAS DAVID, OOK and GLUK as well as TONY BALONEY, ODIOUS OGRE and I SPY CHRISTMAS A CHRISTMAS TREE!
To win this prize pack valued at $89.75, just fill out the form below before December 5th at 11:59 p.m. ET. I will randomly select and notify the winner the following day. This giveaway is open to those of you with U.S. addresses only. Good luck!

Thanks to Big Honcho Media and Scholastic for sponsoring this giveaway and providing me a review copy of this book.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Review: Cranberry Thanksgiving

Summary: Grandmother certainly didn't want to ask Mr. Whiskers for Thanksgiving dinner! 

She was very angry when Maggie asked him. 

She was even more angry when SOMEONE stole her favorite, secret recipe for cranberry bread! 

Was Mr. Whiskers the thief?-- Parents' Magazine Press

A few weeks ago, I was scouring our local library's "free-to-a-good-home" table, and I was positively delighted to find a very old (1971) copy of CRANBERRY THANKSGIVING by Wende and Harry Devlin. I have very fond memories of this book as a child, but I honestly haven't thought about this book for many, many years. I was so excited to bring it home and share it with my kids!

CRANBERRY THANKSGIVING is just a classic and I totally understand why. The sweet picture book tells the story of Maggie and her grandmother who live on the edge of a cranberry bog. Maggie's grandmother is hosting Thanksgiving dinner and both she and Maggie are allowed to invite one guest. Maggie's grandmother invites a spiffy man who is staying at the local hotel, and Maggie (much to her grandmother's chagrin) invites their scruffy looking neighbor, Mr. Whiskers. When Maggie's grandmother's secret recipe for her famous cranberry bread gets stolen during dinner, she immediately thinks the culprit is Mr. Whiskers. Fortunately grandmother is wrong and learns a valuable lesson in the process -- looks can be deceiving!

I wasn't aware of this until I started to write my review, but there is an entire series of books based on Cranberry Thanksgiving. The series of 15 books includes CRANBERRY MYSTERY, CRANBERRY HALLOWEEN, and and CRANBERRY CHRISTMAS to name just a few. Guess what I'll be looking for the next time I visit the library?

One memory I have of this book is reading it with my mom. I absolutely begged her to make the cranberry bread recipe included in the back of the book, but to no avail. My mom doesn't like cranberries; and as a result, she never made cranberry bread. I still tease her that I was neglected because I never had cranberry bread until I was an adult. Isn't it ironic that cranberry bread is now one of my favorite foods? In fact, I always made a few loaves around the holiday season! (My dad and sister love it too!)

I wanted to share with you the recipe for cranberry bread that is included in CRANBERRY THANKSGIVING. It's not exactly the one that I make every year, but it's pretty darn close!

Grandmother's Famous Cranberry Bread
(Get Mother to help)

2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup butter or margarine
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon grated orange peel
3/4 cup orange juice
1 1/2 cup light raisins 
1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries, chopped

Sift flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda into a large bowl. Cut in butter until mixture is crumbly. Add egg, orange peel, and orange juice all at once; stir just until mixture is evenly moist. Fold in raisins and cranberries.

Spoon into a greased 9x5x3-inch loaf pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour and 10 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Remove from pan; cool on a wire rack.

If you choose, you may substitute cranberries for the raisins to have an all cranberry bread.

I found CRANBERRY THANKSGIVING to be delightful, and it was as good as I remember! I love the illustrations and the story, and I think the message is one that we can never hear too often -- especially during the holiday season!
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, November 20, 2010

Kid Konnection: New Releases

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 fun books that I'm sure you will be hearing a lot about in the upcoming weeks!

Summary: In this tender, beautiful letter to his daughters, President Barack Obama has written a moving tribute to thirteen groundbreaking Americans and the ideals that have shaped our nation. From the artistry of Georgia O'Keeffe, to the courage of Jackie Robinson, to the patriotism of George Washington, President Obama sees the traits of these heroes within his own children, and within all of America’s children.

Breathtaking, evocative illustrations by award-winning artist Loren Long at once capture the personalities and achievements of these great Americans and the innocence and promise of childhood.

This beautiful book celebrates the characteristics that unite all Americans, from our nation’s founders to generations to come. It is about the potential within each of us to pursue our dreams and forge our own paths. It is a treasure to cherish with your family forever. -- Knopf

I was so excited to receive a copy of OF THEE I SING: A LETTER TO MY DAUGHTERS by Barack Obama and illustrated by Loren Long. I had seen the cover of the book and I thought it was gorgeous. Plus it just happens to be written by the President of the United States for his daughters. I admit I was a little curious about this picture book and I wondered if it was any good. (Isn't that just awful to approach a book like that?)

I'm happy to say that I really, really liked this book and I highly recommend it to parents and teachers. It's just one of those books that we should be reading to our children. I adored the overall message in this book -- that every child is wonderful and is someone special. But I also loved that this book featured (and paid tribute to) thirteen amazing Americans from George Washington, to Helen Keller to Sitting Bull to Jane Addams. Each page featured a different American hero with a few details on their accomplishments. And in the back of the book, each person was listed with a more detailed (albeit still brief) bio. To me, this book is a great way to introduce some of the great Americans and I hope that by reading it, children will be encouraged to learn more about these individuals.

Not only is it educational, but it is also beautiful. I absolutely love the illustrations by Loren Long. Loren Long is an award-winning and New York Times bestselling artist, and I can clearly see why. I appreciated the images of the famous Americans, and I especially loved the last full page of the book where our country is symbolized through children of all different races, religions, and beliefs -- with all different talents. I found myself getting a little misty-eyed as I read it to Booking Son.

I truly loved OF THEE I SING and it's one of those books that I know we will read over and over again. It's a beautiful tribute to thirteen very important U.S. citizens, but it also has a great message for our children. I hope Malia and Sasha appreciate this book as much as our family did!

Summary: Expect adventure, heart, humor, and hair . . . lots of hair, when Disney Tangled comes to theaters Holiday 2010! With super simple text and full-color illustrations, this Step 1 reader is based on Disney’s swashbuckling, computer-animated comedy. -- Random House

My kids and I are so excited that the release date for the new Disney movie Tangled is less than a week away! We've seen the previews and we can hardly wait to go see it. Since my kids have off almost a week for Thanksgiving, my intentions are that we'll fill one of our afternoons at the movie theater. In the meantime, Booking Son has been keeping entertained with a few books that tie into the movie.

The first book that we tackled was DISNEY'S TANGLED: KINGDOM OF COLOR, written by Melissa Lagonegro and illustrated by Jean-Paul Orpinas, Elena Naggi, and Studio IBOIX. KINGDOM OF COLOR is a Step Into Reading book -- Level 1 so I thought it would be perfect for Booking Son. He is just beginning to read and this book had only a few very easy words per page.

He did an excellent job with this book (much to the delight of his mom!), and I thought the words matched up nicely with the pictures. He didn't need much help with the words, but I could see him checking out the illustrations when he was stuck on a word. His only issue with the book is that it was a little too girly for him. Since the book was primarily about colors and Rapunzel, I could understand his issue. I have a feeling that the movie will be more enjoyable to him because of the male characters, Flynn and Pascal the chameleon.

Ideal for very early readers!

Summary: Expect adventure, heart, humor, and hair . . . lots of hair, when Disney Tangled comes to theaters Holiday 2010! With over 64 pages of gorgeous full-color illustrations, this hardcover Read-Aloud Storybook retells the complete story of the swashbuckling, computer-animated comedy. -- Random House

TANGLED: A READ-ALOUD STORYBOOK, written by Heather Knowles and illustrated by Jean-Paul Orpinas and Studio IBOIX is a beautiful storybook which tells the story of the movie Tangled. The book closely resembles the classic fairy tale Rapunzel, but it has a few modern updates. This book definitely made me even more excited to see the movie.

I thought this story was fantastic. I really liked reading this book to Booking Son prior to seeing the movie, but I have a feeling that we'll be reading it after we see the movie as well. TANGLED is everything I expect in a Disney story. It has a beautiful princess, a villain, a handsome "prince", action, adventure, humor, etc. I thought this book even had enough suspense to keep young boys interested!

I think TANGLED: A READ-ALOUD STORYBOOK is geared towards elementary age children because the book is relatively long for a picture book. In addition, there are quite a few sentences/paragraphs per page. I found that it was a little long for a bedtime story, so we spread it out over the course of a few nights. I think older elementary age kids will like to read it independently.

Of course, the pictures in this book are gorgeous. TANGLED is chock full of beautiful pictures that appear throughout the book's 64 pages. They represent images from the movie... and you all know that Disney knows how to make beautiful animated classics. I loved all of the colors in the kingdom as well as the detailed pictures of the characters, and there is so much to look at on each page.

TANGLED is a fun story which is guaranteed to entertain youngsters (and their moms!)

Thanks to the publisher for sending me copies of this 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!