Saturday, April 30, 2011

Kid Konnection: Graphic Novel Series

Every Saturday, I host a feature called Kid Konnection -- a regular weekend feature about anything related to children's books. This week I'm going to share with you a few fun graphic novels that I've recently read.

Summary: Summer is drawing to a close, and the Zelnicks travel to the family farm in Minnesota for their vacation. Aldo’s mom is eager for him to experience the things she loved as a girl…shucking sweet corn, milking cows, gathering eggs. A week of FRESH AIR and living off the land!

But Aldo suspects that farm life isn’t all it’s cracked up to be...and it’s worse than he feared. The rooster wakes him at dawn, the chores nearly do him in, and Timothy and the cousins—identical twin pranksters—are in cahoots against him. Plus, the creepy, old portrait of his great-grandfather Aldo (the very one he’s named after) seems to be watching him from his frame on the wall…

All this without the comforts of TV or computer—because the Anderson farm is (gasp!) technology-free. 

Last year, I discovered an adorable graphic novel series by Karla Oceanak and illustrated by Kendra Spanjer about a very special kid -- Aldo Zelnick. Aldo isn't exactly a cool kid, but he has a great imagination and he's an awesome artist. He loves to draw and write in his "notebooks", and these "notebooks" are being published as very entertaining books for late elementary and early middle grade aged readers. 
I loved the first two books in the series -- ARTSY-FARTSY (my review) and  BOGUS (my review.) Both books were not only entertaining stories about Aldo and his antics, but they were also educational. Each book in this series features a letter of the alphabet and includes a glossary in the back of the book with loads of letter appropriate words! The third book in the series focuses on "C" words and is called CAHOOTS: AN ALDO ZELNICK COMIC NOVEL

In CAHOOTS, Aldo and his family head to their cousins' farm in Minnesota as part of their summer vacation. Aldo isn't the most outdoorsy-type guy so it's not exactly his dream trip. However, when he figures out that there are no electronic devices allowed and that he's expected to do chores on the farm, he's just plain miserable. And then to add insult to injury, his twin cousins are constantly pulling pranks on Aldo -- some involving animals and their excrement!

CAHOOTS was a fun-filled story just like the rest of the books in this series. I loved the message and the surprise ending, and I especially appreciated the glossary in the back of the book with all the "C" words. I loved Aldo's humorous drawings as well as his insights into his life; and I was glad to see that his cartoon strip, Bacon Boy, was back!

If you haven't seen this middle grade series yet, then I definitely suggest you do -- and soon! The books are full of laughs and also help kids learn some new vocabulary words. What a great combo!

Summary: The Breakfast Bunch is excited for the upcoming bake sale—and the best part is that it's raising money for an awesome field trip.  But when all the snacks go missing, it's no laughing matter.  Someone is sabotaging the bake sale.  But why?

Lunch Lady and the Breakfast Bunch are hot on the trail . . . one brownie crumb at a time. -- Knopf

LUNCH LADY AND THE BAKE SALE BANDIT by Jarrett J. Krosoczka is the fifth book in the Lunch Lady graphic novel series, and it has all the qualities that I've come to love from these books. It has terrific illustrations, a cute whodunit, and action packed fighting sequences. I can pretty much guarantee that this book will make reading fun for young kids ages 7 - 10.  Even the most reluctant of readers will look forward to reading about Lunch Lady and her very cool gadgets!

In LUNCH LADY AND THE BAKE SALE BANDIT, the kids are holding a bake sale to raise money for a future field trip. When the goodies go missing, Lunch Lady and the Breakfast Bunch are determined to find the culprit and save the day. Along the way, Lunch Lady and her sidekick have to battle the bad guy using some cool fighting moves and their kitchen-themed gadgets!

I can't tell you how much I love this series. The books are so cute, and they are a great mix of humor and mystery. If you are looking for a fun graphic novel for early readers, then I highly recommend checking out LUNCH LADY AND THE BAKE SALE BANDIT as well as the entire Lunch Lady series.

Thanks to the publishers for sending me copies of these books.

If you'd like to participate in Kid Konnection and share a post about anything related to children's books (picture, middle grade, or young adult) from the past week, please leave a comment as well as a link below with your name/blog name and the title of the book! Feel free to grab the little button too!

Friday, April 29, 2011

Review: The Bride's House

Summary: From the New York Times bestselling author of Whiter Than Snow and Prayers for Sale comes a novel about the secrets and passions of three generations of women who have all lived in the same Victorian home called the Bride’s House. 

It’s 1880, and for unassuming seventeen-year-old Nealie Bent, the Bride’s House is a fairy tale come to life. It seems as if it is being built precisely for her and Will Spaulding, the man she is convinced she will marry. But life doesn’t go according to plan, and Nealie finds herself in the Bride’s House pregnant---and married to another.

For Pearl, growing up in the Bride’s House is akin to being raised in a mausoleum. Her father has fashioned the house into a shrine to the woman he loved, resisting all forms of change. When the enterprising young Frank Curry comes along and asks for Pearl’s hand in marriage, her father sabotages the union. But he underestimates the lengths to which the women in the Bride’s House will go for love.

Susan is the latest in the line of strong and willful women in the Bride’s House. She’s proud of the women who came before her, but the Bride’s House hides secrets that will force her to question what she wants and who she loves.

Sandra Dallas has once again written a novel rich in storytelling and history, peopled by living, breathing characters that will grab hold of you and not let you go. -- St. Martin's Press

I should start this review by stating that I am a pretty big Sandra Dallas fan. I have read all of her books (except one but I do own it!) and I love her blend of history, unique settings and special characters. So when I learned that Ms. Dallas has a new book out called THE BRIDE'S HOUSE, I jumped at the chance to review it!

I don't know if I'd go so far as to say that THE BRIDE'S HOUSE is my all-time favorite Sandra Dallas novel, but I still enjoyed it a great deal. It does have all the elements that I've come to know and love about her books including interesting settings, dynamic (and very complex) characters, and an intriguing storyline. I appreciated how this novel covered three generations of women, and I liked seeing how the times changed for women through the years.

I also really liked how Ms. Dallas decided to tell the stories of Nealie, Pearl and Susan. The book is divided into three sections -- one for each of the women who lived in the Bride's House. I thought she did an excellent job of developing the individual characters too. Despite being grandmother, mother, and daughter, all three women were very different in how they approached life and their relationships. However, there are similarities between the women (I guess they were hereditary) that readers will recognize.

What I found different about THE BRIDE'S HOUSE than some of Ms. Dallas' other novels is that it took me awhile to get really caught up in the story. The first section of the book was about Nealie, and while I did think Nealie was interesting (and a bit funny), I had a hard time warming up to her character. Having said that, I think the book definitely picked up after that first section and I found myself genuinely liking the other two women. (One thing is for sure -- my heart went out to each of these women!) I especially enjoyed the last section because there were so many secrets of the Bride's House revealed -- some of which I found quite surprising.

I have to say that I did appreciate many of the themes of THE BRIDE'S HOUSE. I absolutely loved how Ms. Dallas brought the house itself to life and it actually became quite powerful as another (almost) character in the story. In addition, I loved how the book looked at all sorts of relationships -- husband/wife, mother/daughter, father/daughter, etc.; and I found it very interesting to see all of the ways that love presented itself in this story.

The inspiration for THE BRIDE'S HOUSE was another one of my favorite things about this novel. A few years ago, Ms. Dallas and her husband bought a derelict house in a once-elegant mining town home in Georgetown, Colorado. A preservation architect declared it a Bride's House because of ornate staircase. Over three years, Ms. Dallas and her husband renovated the house restoring it to its once elegant state. Ironically, the novel THE BRIDE'S HOUSE also took Ms. Dallas three years to write!

As is the case with all of Ms. Dallas' novels, THE BRIDE'S HOUSE definitely would make for an interesting book club discussion. I imagine you could discuss the actions of the three main female characters (as well as some of their male counterparts) for hours. However, there are also some other interesting themes to explore including the role of a mother, mother/daughter relationships, marriage, love, duty/obligation, war, control, and secrets. There is a reading guide with 12 very intriguing questions to help facilitate your discussion.

I recommend THE BRIDE'S HOUSE to fans of Sandra Dallas as well as readers who enjoy multi-generational family sagas.

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

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Review: Planting Dandelions

Summary: In the family of Jen Lancaster and Elizabeth Gilbert, Kyran Pittman is the laid-back middle sister: warm and witty and confiding, with an addictively smart and genuine voice-but married with three kids and living in the heartland. Relatable and real, she writes about family in a way that highlights all its humor, while at the same time honoring its depth.

A regular contributor to
Good Housekeeping, Pittman is well loved because she is funny and honest and self-deprecating, because her own household is in chaos ("semi-domesticated"), and because she inspires readers in their own domestic lives. In these eighteen linked, chronological essays, Pittman covers the first twelve years of becoming a family, writing candidly and hilariously about things like learning to maintain a marriage over time; dealing with the challenges of sex after childbirth; saying good-bye to her younger self and embracing the still attractive, forty-year-old version; and trying to "recession- proof" her family (i.e., downsize to avoid foreclosure).

From a fresh new talent, celebrating the joys and trials of a new generation of parents,
Planting Dandelions is an entertaining tribute to choosing the white-picket fence over the other options available, even if you don't manage to live up to its ideals every day. -- Riverhead

I'm not entirely sure that I would have picked up PLANTING DANDELIONS: FIELD NOTES FROM A SEMI-DOMESTICATED LIFE by Kyran Pittman without some gentle coaxing from a friend. This particular friend has never led me wrong before, and I've found over the past few years that we have very similar reactions to literary novels. The question was: would we agree about a collection of real-life essays about a mom?

The answer is yes! (I think I might have found my reading soul mate!) I enjoyed PLANTING DANDELIONS very much, and I really think a lot of women are going to relate to this funny, yet heart-warming, book. I say women (in italics) because this book is primarily about a woman who left her free-style type life behind to move to get married, move to Arkansas, and become a mother to three boys -- so it makes sense that it's going to appeal to the mom crowd. However, I don't want to say that this is just a book for mothers because that friend I mentioned earlier is single and childless; and she found this book to be very entertaining as well.

PLANTING DANDELIONS is a collection of essays about Kyran Pittman's life as a wife and mother. When I first started reading this book, I didn't think Ms. Pittman and I had very much in common -- she was much more fun and adventurous than I -- but it only took a few chapters to realize that much of what Ms. Pittman has felt as a mom and woman resides inside all of us. And I think that's one of the reasons that I liked PLANTING DANDELIONS so much. I could relate to her feelings about being a wife and mother. I found myself nodding my head and laughing at many of her stories (I know moms of boys will chuckle at quite a few as will women over 40!), but I also found my heart warming as she talked about how special her family is to her.

There is no doubt that some of the stories in PLANTING DANDELIONS were downright hilarious. I especially enjoyed the ones about the changes she experienced while being pregnant and also the changes to her body after childbirth! The chapters about her kids were quite entertaining too especially as they pertain to the male sense of humor (i.e. potty humor.) But I also found myself touched by quite a few of the stories. There were a few that really made me pause and reflect like the one about her decision to become an American citizen and the one about the difficulties she faced in her marriage.

As is the case anytime I read a collection of essays like PLANTING DANDELIONS, I enjoyed more chapters than others; however, I found that I enjoyed all of them in some way. Maybe it was the humor or how the story touched my heart, but all of Ms. Pittman's essays were written with such an authentic voice. I truly appreciated Ms. Pittman's honestly (and sometimes it was brutal honesty), and I'm not sure I could ever talk about (nevertheless write about) some of the things she did. But I will say that these stories did make for some fun reading.

I was a little surprised to discover that there is a reading guide for PLANTING DANDELIONS. However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that this book would be very fun to discuss -- especially with a group of moms! There are ten questions in this guide and some of the topics you might wan to explore include marriage, family, pregnancy, child rearing, commitment, acceptance, and loyalty.

If you are looking for a quick, yet entertaining read about being a wife and mother, then I do suggest PLANTING DANDELIONS. It would make a great Mother's Day gift for the women in your life -- or even yourself!

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

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Review: The Violets of March

Summary: In her twenties, Emily Wilson was on top of the world: she had a bestselling novel, a husband plucked from the pages of GQ, and a one-way ticket to happily ever after.

Ten years later, the tide has turned on Emily's good fortune. So when her great-aunt Bee invites her to spend the month of March on Bainbridge Island in Washington State, Emily accepts, longing to be healed by the sea. Researching her next book, Emily discovers a red velvet diary, dated 1943, whose contents reveal startling connections to her own life.

A mesmerizing debut with an idyllic setting and intriguing dual story line,
The Violets of March announces Sarah Jio as a writer to watch. -- Plume

I have been anxiously awaiting the release of THE VIOLETS OF MARCH by Sarah Jio. Ms. Jio is one of the authors who are featured on The Debutante Ball -- a group blog of debut writers. I am a big fan of the books (and the authors), and I can honestly say I've never read a book by a deb that I didn't enjoy.

I enjoyed THE VIOLETS OF MARCH, but I have to admit that I'm not quite sure I'd say I loved it. I appreciated the premise of the novel a great deal, and I enjoyed how the story wove back and forth between the present and the diary entries of the past. I also loved how Ms. Jio brought the setting of Bainbridge Island to life. She did such a great job of describing the beautiful locale that it became another character in this story.

So it sounds like THE VIOLETS OF MARCH should have really worked for me, and it did on some levels, but I had some issues with Emily's character. I just wasn't able to really connect with her and I felt as if I never got to know her. While my heart went out to her -- her husband left her for another woman and she had been experiencing writer's block for almost a decade, I didn't care about her as much as I expected. I think because I couldn't relate to her, I was left wanting for more as I read her parts of the story.

While I did experience a certain disconnect with Emily, I found that I was very caught up in the diary storyline. I loved the mystery behind the story and the characters, and I liked how Ms. Jio tied Emily's current life to the characters' past actions. Not only did parts of Emily's life mirror the past, but there were also unique connections between the characters through songs and books. In addition, I especially appreciated how Ms. Jio transitioned between the present day and the diary entries, and I thought she did a very good job of creating some extremely interesting (and memorable) characters.

I think what I most enjoyed about THE VIOLETS OF MARCH is how it made me feel while reading it. The mystery surrounding the events of the past caused me speculate, and I really enjoyed that about the story. But I also loved how this book explored the theme of loss. Loss is such a huge part of this novel -- both the present and the past story lines -- and it definitely struck a chord with me. I also enjoyed how this novel handled the concept of forgiveness. I am pretty confident in saying that most readers will be able to relate to at least some of the examples of loss and/or forgiveness in this story.

THE VIOLETS OF MARCH would make an excellent book club pick! I can only speak for my group, but I'm pretty sure that there would be some dissenting views on the character of Emily -- so that could be interesting. In addition, there are many interesting themes that appear throughout the story including mother-daughter relationships, divorce, love, loss, betrayal, forgiveness, and secrets. A reading guide with twelve questions is also available which will help facilitate your discussion.

I enjoyed THE VIOLETS OF MARCH a great deal. I'm not sure I'd go so far as to say that it's one of my top reads for 2011; however, I did find it a worthwhile read and I do think it will make for a very interesting discussion!

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

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Guest Review: Lost in Shangri-La

Summary: On May 13, 1945, twenty-four American servicemen and WACs boarded a transport plane for a sightseeing trip over “Shangri-La,” a beautiful and mysterious valley deep within the jungle-covered mountains of Dutch New Guinea. Unlike the peaceful Tibetan monks of James Hilton’s bestselling novel Lost Horizon, this Shangri-La was home to spear-carrying tribesmen, warriors rumored to be cannibals. 

But the pleasure tour became an unforgettable battle for survival when the plane crashed. Miraculously, three passengers pulled through. Margaret Hastings, barefoot and burned, had no choice but to wear her dead best friend’s shoes. John McCollom, grieving the death of his twin brother also aboard the plane, masked his grief with stoicism. Kenneth Decker, too, was severely burned and suffered a gaping head wound.

Emotionally devastated, badly injured, and vulnerable to the hidden dangers of the jungle, the trio faced certain death unless they left the crash site. Caught between man-eating headhunters and enemy Japanese, the wounded passengers endured a harrowing hike down the mountainside—a journey into the unknown that would lead them straight into a primitive tribe of superstitious natives who had never before seen a white man—or woman.

Drawn from interviews, declassified U.S. Army documents, personal photos and mementos, a survivor’s diary, a rescuer’s journal, and original film footage, Lost in Shangri-La recounts this incredible true-life adventure for the first time. Mitchell Zuckoff reveals how the determined trio—dehydrated, sick, and in pain—traversed the dense jungle to find help; how a brave band of paratroopers risked their own lives to save the survivors; and how a cowboy colonel attempted a previously untested rescue mission to get them out.

By trekking into the New Guinea jungle, visiting remote villages, and rediscovering the crash site, Zuckoff also captures the contemporary natives’ remembrances of the long-ago day when strange creatures fell from the sky. A riveting work of narrative nonfiction that vividly brings to life an odyssey at times terrifying, enlightening, and comic, Lost in Shangri-La is a thrill ride from beginning to end. -- Harper

You know how there are some books you see and you immediately think of someone who might like it? Well that was certainly the case with LOST IN SHANGRI-LA: A TRUE STORY OF SURVIVAL, ADVENTURE, AND THE MOST INCREDIBLE RESCUE MISSION OF WORLD WAR II by Mitchell Zuckoff. When I read the book's description, I immediately thought of my dad. I had a feeling that he would find this book fascinating...and I was right! Here are his thoughts:

In his novel LOST IN SHANGRI-LA, Mitchell Zuckoff takes us back to World War II where a C-47 transport plane carrying 24 military personnel on a sightseeing joy ride disappears over the unchartered mountainous jungles of New Guinea.

Zuckoff describes in great detail the true story of the May 13, 1945 plane crash and rescue of the three survivors, one WAC and two servicemen.  The three survivors faced the risk of untreated injuries, primitive tribes, unfriendly terrain and Japanese soldiers as they struggled to stay alive while waiting to be rescued.  The 12-member rescue team arrived in one week but it took another three weeks before a creative and daring “air snatch’ was devised to remove the rescue team and survivors from the New Guinea hidden valley.

The author makes use of a tremendous amount of research in telling his story, including personal journals, photographs, military records and eyewitness interviews.  Zuckoff even made a trip back to the Shangri-La (now called BaliemValley) to talk to surviving tribal witnesses and visit the crash site.  Zuckoff‘s detailed information about the characters in the novel serves to make them more realistic to the reader.  The epilogue which is a brief account of what happened to each of the key characters after the rescue also helps bring the characters to life.  His background information about the Philippines at the time of World War II added a very meaningful perspective to the American-led Pilipino paratroopers who carried out the rescue operation.  He also includes an interesting account of a wealthy amateur anthropologist who was the first white visitor to the valley in the 1930s.  When Zuckoff’s research of the natives and their customs is meshed with the impressions of the tribes presented in the personal journals, it gives a great, sometimes amusing perspective of the communications among the survivors, the rescue team and the native tribes.  Accounts of press correspondent flyovers and an inebriated filmmaker parachute drop into the valley add a bit of bizarre activity to an otherwise serious novel.

LOST IN SHANGRI-LA is a very readable, fast-paced entertaining non-fiction novel about a beautiful WAC, a lush hidden valley, primitive tribes and a daring air rescue.  Can anyone say movie?  This is a great book.  I highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in World War II or to anyone who likes a great story.  

Thanks so much to the publisher for sending a review copy of this book and to Booking Pap Pap for his awesome (as usual) review!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Review: A Lesson in Secrets

Summary: Maisie Dobbs' first assignment for the British Secret Service takes her undercover to Cambridge as a professor—and leads to the investigation of a web of activities being conducted by the emerging Nazi Party. 

In the summer of 1932, Maisie Dobbs' career takes an exciting new turn when she accepts an undercover assignment directed by Scotland Yard's Special Branch and the Secret Service. Posing as a junior lecturer, she is sent to a private college in Cambridge to monitor any activities "not in the interests of His Majesty's government." 

When the college's controversial pacifist founder and principal, Greville Liddicote, is murdered, Maisie is directed to stand back as Detective Chief Superintendent Robert MacFarlane and Detective Chief Inspector Richard Stratton spearhead the investigation. She soon discovers, however, that the circumstances of Liddicote's death appear inextricably linked to the suspicious comings and goings of faculty and students under her surveillance. 

To unravel this web, Maisie must overcome a reluctant Secret Service, discover shameful hidden truths about Britain's conduct during the Great War, and face off against the rising powers of the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei—the Nazi Party—in Britain. 

As the storm clouds of World War II gather on the horizon, this pivotal chapter in the life of Maisie Dobbs foreshadows new challenges and powerful enemies facing the psychologist and investigator—and will engage new readers and loyal fans of this "outstanding" series (Marilyn Stasio, New York Times Book Review).-- Harper

When I began Book Club Girls  Mad for Maisie readalong a few months ago, I admit that I was more than a little concerned about being able to read eight Maisie Dobbs books in a little over two months. However, I immediately fell in love with this series and I can now say that I truly am Mad for Maisie. This might sound a bit odd, but reading the eighth novel A LESSON IN SECRETS by Jacqueline Winspear was almost bittersweet for me because I realized that I won't be able to just pick up another Maisie book in a week or two. I am caught up in this series and will have to wait until the next book is released!

I thoroughly enjoyed A LESSON IN SECRETS, but that shouldn't come as any surprise to you considering that I have pretty much loved all of the books in this series. Once again, I thought the mystery was a good one and kept me guessing --  although I did think I had it solved from the very start. Maisie begins working undercover at a local college to report on questionable activities against the Crown when she surprisingly discovers a dead body. Of course, there were some other minor mysteries too that Maisie and her associate were working on. As I read the novel, I began doubting myself and constantly changing my mind; and that's what one of the things that made this book so good to me. In fact, I thought A LESSON IN SECRETS was a little more mystery-focused than some of the books.

I do love the mystery parts of these novels, but I admit that I hold a close place in my heart for Maisie; and I love all the story lines about her personal life. For the past eight novels, I've seen how much she's grown as a character -- from a little girl working as a maid to a confident 30-something year old woman. She's had a incredibly difficult life, dealing with many tragic losses; however, in A LESSON IN SECRETS, I really thought the true Maisie came through! She was confident and definitely a little more relaxed and she was also admitting her feelings towards a certain man. In addition, I loved how she channeled Maurice and found herself helping those less fortunate with her new-found wealth.

Since the Maisie books take place during the time period between WWI and WWII, the after effects of the war have been a huge theme in every novel. I have loved how Ms. Winspear has explored so many of the ways that a war can affect not only soldiers but also the families who lost loved ones. In addition, I started to notice a few books ago that there were many changes occurring for Europe and some of the characters were even sensing that another conflict might be on the horizon. In A LESSON IN SECRETS, Ms. Winspear introduced the rise of the Nazi Party and Hitler's destructive ideas. Of course, Maisie sensed that the Nazi party might be more of a threat than many initially thought -- because Maisie's just smart like that!

I finish this review with a bit of sadness because I'm going to miss Maisie. I absolutely love this series -- it's one of my favorites; and I am definitely looking forward to the next novel! If you haven't discovered this series yet, then what are you waiting for?

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

Mystery Mondays is a "somewhat" regular feature where I review all types of mystery books -- traditional mysteries, suspense/thrillers, and even cozies! Please feel free to share your thoughts on any recent mystery books that you've read.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Author Event with Sarah Blake

Sarah Blake author of THE POSTMISTRESS

I certainly had my fair share of book events last week (which is rare here in Central Pennsylvania!) I had my April book club meeting, the Rebecca Rasmussen event, and another little event -- a luncheon with Sarah Blake, author of THE POSTMISTRESS! In honor of National Library Week, The Council of Friends of Lancaster County Public Libraries hosted a luncheon featuring Sarah Blake. It was a wonderful time!

My good friend Sam, the owner of Aaron's Books, worked with the Council of Friends to help bring Ms. Blake to Lancaster. She had her hands full with the event and she was looking for some help to man book sales. As soon as I figured out daycare, I offered to help -- I swear in my next life I'm going to work at a bookstore!

The event was amazing and I thought it went very well. There were over 400 attendees, predominantly female, and it seemed like almost everyone had read (and enjoyed) the novel. The venue was gorgeous and the food was surprisingly good! There was also a raffle of gorgeous baskets to support the library system. Of course, I didn't win anything, but I was excited that Sam did -- it's almost as good as winning when a friend does!

Needless to say, I was thrilled for the opportunity to be at the Sarah Blake event, but Sam had another surprise for me! I got to sit at the head table with Sarah Blake!!!! Squeeeee! Ms. Blake was incredibly gracious and had a wonderful sense of humor. I couldn't help but love her. After we ate, Ms. Blake read from her novel and then spoke to "Writing Historical Fiction: Behind the Scenes." I really enjoyed her talk and I now have even a greater appreciation for her novel. She also answered quite a few questions and hung around to sign books.

All in all, I had an amazing time and can't wait for the next Friends event. They announced at the luncheon that next year, Geraldine Brooks will be the speaker! Squeeeee again!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Kid Konnection: Gossip From the Girls' Room & Guest Post

Every Saturday, I host a feature called Kid Konnection -- a regular weekend feature about anything related to children's books. This week I'm going to share with you a fun book geared towards middle grade girls as well as a guest post from the author!

Summary: Gossip from the Girls’ Room fills readers in on all there is to learn about middle school life at Middlebrooke, where Sofia has her very own blog and discusses all the juicy gossip that comes out of the Girls’ room; read along to find out just what happens when class is not in session.

In Sofia's words . . .

Mia St. Claire is only
the most popular girl in all of Middlebrooke Middle School. For three very obvious reasons:
1. She's very rich.
2. She has tons of money.
3. She can buy anything and everything she wants. And she does.
I'm sure people like her for other reasons too, but none of those reasons are obvious enough for me to really know. Or care about, for that matter. -- Delacorte Press

When I first saw the cover of GOSSIP FROM THE GIRLS' ROOM: A BLOGTASTIC! NOVEL by Rose Cooper, I just knew Booking Daughter was going to grab it! First of all it's pink and black (two of her favorite colors especially when together) and then it had plaid, hearts, and the face of a cute girl. Could this book look more perfect for tween girls? Personally, I was attracted to it for some of the same reasons, but I liked that it was subtitled "a Blogtastic! Novel." For some reason, I'm just drawn to all-things blog-related!

I thought GOSSIP FROM THE GIRLS' ROOM was a very fun book and one that tweens are going to enjoy. I don't know that I'd go so far as to say that I loved it, but I did find it entertaining and good for a few laughs. However, Booking Daughter really liked it and thought it was hilarious. Even though I had just finished reading it (literally minutes before), she kept stopping to read cute snippets aloud -- and then she'd laugh like a nut! What I quickly realized is that GOSSIP FROM THE GIRLS' ROOM is definitely geared towards late elementary and middle grade girls, and I am pretty sure that young girls are going to appreciate it.

And I'm not so far away from my tween years to understand why this book is so appealing. I admit that I am a sucker for books that are written in the form of a notebook. I love the lined pages with the faux handwriting, and if there are cute little drawings (like there are in GOSSIP FROM THE GIRL'S ROOM) all the better! The book is a very quick read because of the format, and I think even reluctant readers are going to want to read this novel.

As a mom, I liked some of the messages in the story. Despite not being too sure about Sofia's behavior in the beginning of the book, I had a feeling that she'd eventually come around. Sofia was so desperate to be popular and part of the in-crowd that she created a gossip blog. Rather than try to make friends with nice kids -- in the traditional way, she decided that her road to popularity would be paved with vicious rumors. She wasn't concerned with what she said or whom she'd hurt -- even if it included her friends. Fortunately, Sophia was a good kid at heart and realized how destructive her behavior was. I appreciated that there were some valuable lessons in this novel about friendship, gossip, loyalty, jealousy, and bullying.

Overall, I thought GOSSIP FROM THE GIRLS' ROOM was a cute book and I do recommend it to tween girls!

Thanks to the publisher for sending an ARC of this book.

I am also very excited that the author of GOSSIP FROM THE GIRLS' ROOM, Rose Cooper, took time from her busy schedule to write this very interesting guest post about bullying. I admire Ms. Cooper for bringing this important topic to the forefront with this essay and her books!

In my debut book, GOSSIP FROM THE GIRLS’ ROOM, my main character, 6th grader Sofia, is so desperate to become popular, she resorts to blogging and even embellishing much of what she overhears from other students. Even if it means hurting her friends. She learns a valuable lesson though when she finds herself on the receiving end of the gossip as well.

As a kid, I was bullied for ridiculous things, and teased about things I had no control over. My mom worked at my school-strike one. My dad was a mortician-strike two. I lived on cemetery grounds.-strike three. We won’t even talk about the time I was picked up from school in a hearse. And, much like my character, students embellished the facts because it made it more interesting. No, I never slept in a coffin and my parents weren’t vampires.

But I remember how it felt to be picked on. And now having three kids of my own, I can’t help but feel over protective. Besides bullying of the verbal and physical kind, kids now have the ammunition of the internet. What some kids don’t realize or just fail to even think about is once you put something out there on the internet, you cannot take it back. And anyone has access to it.

The second book in the series, RUMORS FROM THE BOYS’ ROOM (out 10-11-11), deals with Sofia learning from past mistakes and dealing with the temptations (and ridicule) that most kids face at one point or another. I‘m not expecting my books to change anyone, but it would be fantastic if it could help even one kid overcome their feelings of insecurity, even for a moment, or add some laughter to their day.

Follow Rose Cooper on her blog tour to promote GOSSIP FROM THE GIRLS’ ROOM:

Monday, April 18th - The Misadventures of Candyland
Tuesday, April 19th - The Quintessentially Questionable Query Experiment
Wednesday, April 20th - Rambles & Randomness
Thursday, April 21st - Unedited
Friday, April 22nd - Talli Roland
Monday, April 25th - Random Acts of Reading
Tuesday, April 26th - Amie Borst

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, April 22, 2011

An Evening with Rebecca Rasmussen

Rebecca Rasmussen, author of THE BIRD SISTERS
Life has been absolutely crazy for me the past few weeks; and as a result, I'm finding myself a little behind with posts. But I'm going to believe/live the adage that "it's better late than never," right?

Last week, I had the absolutely pleasure to meet Rebecca Rasmussen, author of one of my favorite books of the year  THE BIRD SISTERS. If you have any doubt about how much I loved this book, you can read my review here. I had been looking forward to meeting Rebecca for a few months -- even before I read her wonderful debut novel -- because I already considered her a friend. I "met" Rebecca awhile back on twitter (where she's extremely active); and she seems to be everywhere in the blogosphere!

Rebecca was appearing at the Whistlestop Bookshop in Carlisle, PA. (Believe it or not, I had never visited this quaint independent bookstore even though it's only a half hour away. I fell in love with the story and I will definitely be going back!) The owner had a nice spread including wine, cheese and crackers and fruit, but the highlight of the evening was when Rebecca sat down to read from THE BIRD SISTERS. Rebecca is a fantastic reader and it was apparent how much this book means to her. You could just "sense her passion" as one attendee noted!

Rebecca is exactly like I was expecting -- she's smart, funny, and gorgeous! And I'm so glad that I was finally able to meet her for real -- my husband can no longer refer to her as one of my "fake friends." After her reading and (very successful) signing event, Rebecca and I (along with some "new" friends) headed to a nearby bar for drinks and dinner. I had a blast and I so wish Rebecca lived closer because I do think we'd be great friends!

Rebecca is doing a pretty extensive tour for THE BIRD SISTERS, so if she's in your neck of the woods, you should definitely visit. And if not, you should still read the novel -- it's fantastic!

Update: I totally forgot to mention another highlight of my evening! (I was in a rush to get my posts ready before leaving town for the Easter holiday.) I was finally able to meet another "fake" friend -- Harvey Freedenberg. I "met" Harvey a few years ago on Twitter and was pleasantly surprised to learn that he's a fellow booklover in good old Central PA. Harvey is a freelance book reviewer, and his terrific (and insightful) reviews have appeared in some major publications including Book Page,, and Harrisburg Magazine.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Review: The True Story of Hansel and Gretel

Summary: In the last months of the Nazi occupation of Poland, two children are left by their father and stepmother to find safety in a dense forest. Because their real names will reveal their Jewishness, they are renamed "Hansel" and "Gretel." They wander in the woods until they are taken in by Magda, an eccentric and stubborn old woman called "witch" by the nearby villagers. Magda is determined to save them, even as a German officer arrives in the village with his own plans for the children.

Combining classic themes of fairy tales and war literature, this haunting novel of journey and survival, of redemption and memory, powerfully depicts how war is experienced by families and especially by children, and tells a resonant, riveting story. -- Penguin

I have to admit that I wasn't exactly thrilled when my book club decided to read THE TRUE STORY OF HANSEL AND GRETEL by Louise Murphy for our April meeting. I can't even tell you why I had these feelings because I have had a few friends who raved about this book. And while I tend to enjoy (appreciate is probably a better word) Holocaust and World War II novels, I just had a feeling that I wasn't going to rave about this book. I think I was afraid of the potential for sadness and tragedy especially as they relate to children.

Maybe it's the case of a self-fulfilling prophecy, but I thought THE TRUE STORY OF HANSEL AND GRETEL was just okay. I definitely didn't hate it, but I didn't love it either. And I was correct in thinking that it would be dark and even graphic in parts. I think the premise behind the story -- a retelling of the fairytale Hansel and Gretel which takes place during the Nazi occupation of Poland -- was nothing very clever. However, the execution of certain parts of the story left me wanting for more. For example, there was a chase at the end of the book that I just felt wasn't necessary. (I wasn't alone with these thoughts at book club. Maybe I was more vocal about them, but....)

Rather than focus on the few things that didn't work for me, I'm going to mention some of the really strong things about this story! I mentioned that I loved the idea behind THE TRUE STORY OF HANSEL AND GRETEL, but I also appreciated how the author wove the entire fairy tale theme throughout the story. Not only did she do a good job of incorporating the story of Hansel and Gretel -- from the bread crumbs, to the "evil" stepmother, to the "witch," to the oven -- into this novel, but she also included other aspects of traditional fairy tales into the novel. The book really read like a grown-up fairy tale with magic and symbolism (and even darkness) throughout the story.

I also appreciated how Ms. Murphy twisted the Hansel and Gretel fairy tale to fit her story. I hesitate to say too much about the sheer beauty of this because I don't want to give anything away, but I loved the slant she took on the witch, the stepmother, and Gretel's mental state. I thought these unusual renderings still stayed true to the elements of the classic fairy tale while actually giving the story (and the characters) a little more depth. Plus, I liked that these interpretations made me pause and think. They reminded me that things may not be as they first appear in this story.

I do think THE TRUE STORY OF HANSEL AND GRETEL was an excellent choice for our book club. All of the women appreciated the idea behind the story, but not all of us loved it. Having said that, none of us hated it either so that's saying something. I do think there were enough dissenting opinions about the story to make an extremely interesting discussion. We actually found ourselves talking about character development and writing techniques rather than just the typical discussion questions. There is a reading guide available which I thought was pretty thorough, although (for whatever reason) we didn't find ourselves using it at all. Some of the themes you might want to discuss include fairy tale elements, memory, animals as symbols, good versus evil, magic, religion, and war.

If you are interested in World War II novels or you are looking for a unique twist on a fairy tale, then I do recommend THE TRUE STORY OF HANSEL AND GRETEL. While I wasn't blown away by the entire novel, it was definitely a worthwhile read and made for a very interesting discussion.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Review: Guilt by Association

Summary: Los Angeles D.A. Rachel Knight is a tenacious, wise-cracking, and fiercely intelligent prosecutor in the city's most elite division. When her colleague, Jake, is found dead at a grisly crime scene, Rachel is shaken to the core. She must take over his toughest case: the assault of a young woman from a prominent family.

But she can't stop herself from digging deeper into Jake's death, a decision that exposes a world of power and violence and will have her risking her reputation--and her life--to find the truth.

With her tremendous expertise in the nuances of L.A. courts and crime, and with a vibrant ensemble cast of characters, Marcia Clark combines intimate detail, riotous humor, and visceral action in a debut thriller that marks the launch of a major new figure on the crime-writing scene. -- Mulholland

Many of you have probably heard of Mulholland Books, the new Little, Brown imprint which features crime novels, thrillers, police procedurals, spy stories, even supernatural suspense! I am so excited about this imprint because one of my unofficial goals this year is to read more of these types of books. Recently, I was checking out all of the upcoming releases, and many caught my eye; however, the first one I picked up was GUILT BY ASSOCIATION (which just happens to be the first Mulholland release) by Marcia Clark. Yes...that Marcia Clark, one of the prosecutors in the O.J. Simpson trial.

Quite a few years ago, I actually read Marcia Clark's memoir and I found the book to be very interesting. I was impressed with Ms. Clark's writing style as well as her honesty, but I wasn't sure how both of those things would translate to a novel. After reading GUILT BY ASSOCIATION, I have to say that she can definitely weave a story; and I honestly believe that Ms. Clark has a future as a crime novelist. I loved GUILT BY ASSOCIATION -- from the characters to the storyline to the unexpected twists.

There are many very good things about this novel, but one thing that really stood out for me was the character of Rachel. Rachel is a Los Angeles District Attorney and she's also smart, tough as nails, and even a little bit funny. I absolutely loved her. She is both compassionate to victims, and at the same time, very persistent; and I admired her devotion to her career. However, and this is a big one, she's got some issues because of that devotion to her job. Rachel's a workaholic and a commitment-phobe, and she's actually pretty complex. All in all -- a great female lead!
While reading GUILT BY ASSOCIATION, I often times felt as if I were getting an inside view into a Special Prosecutor's Office. There is no doubt that some of Rachel's experiences in this novel were based on Ms. Clark's real-life experiences as a L.A. District Attorney, and I especially enjoyed the glimpses into the life of a big city prosecutor. However, I'm still left wondering how much of Rachel's actual character, especially her personality and private life, was based on Ms. Clark.

I also liked some of the secondary characters in this story, namely Rachel's best friends Bailey, a cop, and Toni, a co-worker. I loved how all of these women were portrayed as extremely capable, but I also appreciated how they valued their friendships with each other. In addition, I really liked Rachel's potential love interest (or at least who I want to be her potential love interest), and I actually had hoped that he would play a bigger role in this book. One thing's for sure... GUILT BY ASSOCIATION is all about the Girl Power. These girls definitely kicked some butt!

In addition to the characters, I thought the mysteries in this novel were very good. I don't want to give away any spoilers, but suffice it to say, that I was impressed with how the crimes were resolved. I've read enough of this genre to think that the separate crimes had to be related; however, I was kept in the dark (for the most part) until the very end of the novel. As I read GUILT BY ASSOCIATION, I kept waiting to see how Ms. Clark would wrap up the crimes; and I have to say that I was very satisfied with the conclusion. I loved that I was kept guessing; and at the same time, I enjoyed the ups and downs as well as the surprise twists!

If you are a fan of crime novels, then I highly recommend GUILT BY ASSOCIATION. It's a terrific read that's guaranteed to keep you entertained from the first page to the last.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me an ARC of this novel.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Book Club Exchange: Barbara Dee

I'd like to welcome one of my favorite Middle-Grade authors, Barbara Dee to  Book Club Exchange, a (somewhat) regular feature on Booking Mama which highlights anything and everything book club-related! Earlier today, I reviewed Ms. Dee's latest book TRAUMA QUEEN; and I found it to be a very entertaining story about a unique mother-daughter relationship. I hope you'll enjoy Ms. Dee's essay about how she went about writing a mother-daughter book!

Writing A Mother-Daughter Book

Sometimes kids ask me how I know what it feels like to be twelve.

I always answer the same way: “Well, actually, I am twelve.”

I wait for the kid to look at me as if I’m crazy. It’s usually immediate. Then I add: “I’m also fourteen. And seventeen. And twenty-one. And twenty eight. And thirty five….”

I’m not being cute. This is what I truly believe. I think every grownup is just a collection of birthday parties. Or, as the great Madeleine L’Engle once put it, “The great thing about getting older is that you don’t lose all the other ages you’ve been.”

This is why it seems so natural for me to write in the voice of Marigold, the main character of Trauma Queen. I still have painfully strong memories of being thirteen years old, and cringing at my mom’s behavior. It doesn’t take much for me to access those thirteen-year-old feelings; I haven’t outgrown them or consigned them to some sort of emotional compost heap.

But of course I’ve had a lot of birthday parties since then—and in fact, I’m now a mom of three teenage kids. So like every other mom, I have the privilege of a dual perspective—and that means I can empathize with both the mom and the daughter in the book.

In a way I guess you could call Trauma Queen the product of a mother-daughter book club—with me as the only member! Yes, the book is daughter-centric: you get Marigold’s perspective throughout, and for the most part, her reactions are pretty reasonable. She can be a bit judgmental sometimes, but how can you blame her? Becca is quite a challenge to have as a mother—not just because of her over-the-top performance pieces, her tendency to get confrontational, and her affinity for dramatic exits. She also doesn’t get—or doesn’t want to get—how her own behavior affects her daughter. She says she “cherishes those mother-daughter chats,” but is she listening when Marigold tries to talk to her? Not really. At least, not always.

But is Becca a bad mom, or a “mother of doom?” Not at all. She’s an artist—maybe not a great artist or even a good one, but one who’s trying her best to stay true to her art, while singlehandedly raising two daughters. She loves both her daughters deeply—she just hasn’t figured out how to balance work and family. She also needs to work harder on PR—not just with her audience, and with her community, but also with her daughters, especially Marigold.

Okay, that’s an oversimplification. But I do believe that Becca’s heart is in the right place. She makes mistakes (a few of them big ones!), but she also tries to make things right. And how can you fault a mom who tries to teach her daughter that “whenever someone is getting in your face, you need to look ‘em right in the eye and speak out?” Standing up to bullies, standing up for yourself, not being afraid to challenge authority—those are some of the most important lessons we can teach our daughters, and Becca doesn’t shirk that responsibility.

Plus, and believe me, I say this with a mother’s love, Marigold isn’t the most docile daughter in the world. Or the least drama-queeny, either. In all fairness, she’s really a handful, too.

So, as a mom myself, do I see Becca’s point of view? Do I empathize with her as she tries to navigate those (sometimes tricky) mother-daughter waters? Do I actually like her? Yes, yes, and yes.

But as a daughter, would I want her for a mom? No way. She’d drive me crazy.

Trauma Queen fab giveaway! Three lucky winners will receive one copy of TRAUMA QUEEN by Barbara Dee along with a limited edition t-shirt! To enter, send an e-mail to In the body of the e-mail, include your name and e-mail address (if you're under 13, have a parent enter for you). One entry per person and prizes will only be shipped to US or Canadian addresses. Entries must be received by midnight (PDT) on 5/13/11. Winners will be selected in a random drawing on 5/14/11 and notified via email.

Barbara Dee is the author of the tween novels Just Another Day in my Insanely Real Life, Solving Zoe (2010 Bank Street Best Children's Books of the Year), This Is Me From Now On, and Trauma Queen. She lives with her family in Westchester County, New York. You can visit her on the web at

I am so grateful to Ms. Dee for taking time from her busy schedule to write this special guest post. If you are interested in participating in a future Book Club Exchange, please contact me at bookingmama(at)gmail(dot)com.

Review: Trauma Queen

Summary: Every tween girl knows what it's like to have a mom who can be a little embarrasing at times. But for Marigold, it goes way beyond embarrassing. Marigold's single mom is a performance artist, meaning she stages dramatic, wacky performances to express her personal beliefs. Things like wrapping herself in saran wrap for a piece on plastic surgery, or inviting people over in the middle of the night to videotape her sleeping. In fact, Marigold's mom's performances caused such a ruckus in their last town that the two of them, along with Marigold's little sister, have just had to move. Now Marigold's starting a new school, missing her best friend like crazy, and trying to fit in all over again in the shadow of a mom who's famous for all the wrong reasons. As if that's not bad enough, Marigold's mom takes on a new job--teaching drama at Marigold's school! Now all the kids know instantly just how weird her mom is, and Marigold's worried she'll never be able to have a friendship that can survive her mother. -- Aladdin

I think I've read all of Barbara Dee's middle grade books and I have to say that each and every one of them is special in their own way. Her most recent book is called TRAUMA QUEEN and tells the story of a very unique mother-daughter relationship. I think many moms and their tween daughters will relate to this hilarious (and touching) story about the tension between Marigold and her mom.

I bet if you'd ask most tween girls, they could tell you a story about a time or two when their moms embarrassed them. I'm not naive enough to think that Booking Daughter doesn't have her own set of stories; however, I am pretty confident in saying that nothing I've done has come close to the things that Marigold's mom has done to embarrass her. Marigold has a larger-than-life mom who considers herself a performance artist. In other words, she's a very creative and dramatic actress who does somewhat wacky performances to convey her personal beliefs. For example, Saran Wrap and olive oil were both used as props to get her points across about plastic surgery and our gas-guzzling society.

But embarrassing as Marigold's mom has been in the past, it was what Marigold's mom did in their last hometown that really put poor Marigold over-the-edge -- you'll have to read the book to get the inside scoop on this! When Marigold's mother decides that they have to move to a new town -- for a fresh start, Marigold is once again forced to start a new school (which isn't easy in the 7th grade) and make new friends. However, Marigold's life really takes a turn for the "dramatic" when her mom begins teaching an after-school drama club at Marigold's new school.

I thought TRAUMA QUEEN was such a fun book and I just loved how it explored some very real tween situation. While Marigold's life was a little more "dramatic" than most tweens, I still think young girls will relate to her feelings of embarrassment and insecurity. Not only will they be able to appreciate the relationship Marigold has with her mom, but some might even recognize themselves in Marigold's attempts to make friends in a new school as well as her own creative way to express her feelings. And I think most moms will agree that the messages in this book about acceptance and forgiveness are just terrific!

TRAUMA QUEEN would be an ideal book selection for a mother daughter book club especially since the mother daughter relationship is such a strong theme in the story. I found this great reading guide on the author's website which delves into many of the book's interesting issues including mother/child relationships, the importance of grandmothers, friendships, embarrassing moments, and "drama" to name just a few. I appreciated that the questions were geared towards tweens and allows them to discuss many of the issues they face on a regular basis.

I thoroughly enjoyed TRAUMA QUEEN and I definitely recommend it for tween girls. Make sure you check out Barbara Dee's fantastic Book Club Exchange guest post!

Thanks to Blue Slip Media for sending me a copy of this novel.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Review: Devil's Food Cake Murder

Summary: These days, everyone in Lake Eden, Minnesota, is buzzing with activity, and Hannah Swensen is no exception. But no matter how busy she may be, Hannah can always find time to help a friend in need—especially when he’s been murdered…

Hannah Swensen has to admit that her life is pretty sweet. Things are going well in the romance department, and her bakery’s delectable confections are selling almost as fast as she can bake them. Even her good friend Claire is on Cloud Nine, head over heels with her new husband, Reverend Bob Knudson. If only they could find time to take their honeymoon!

When Bob’s childhood friend, Matthew Walters, comes to town, it seems like divine intervention. Matthew, like Bob, is a Lutheran minister with a stubborn sweet tooth. Since he’s on sabbatical, Matthew is happy to fill in for Bob while he and Claire take that long-awaited honeymoon. It sounds like the perfect plan—until Hannah finds Matthew in the rectory, face-down in a plate full of Devil’s Food Cake, a single bullet in his head.

Determined to find out who killed Matthew, Hannah starts asking questions—and discovers that the good Reverend wasn’t quite the saintly fellow he appeared to be. But could the gold Sacagawea coins in Sunday’s collection plate hold the key to solving the crime? Or is the murder connected to that big jewel heist out in Minneapolis? Is it possible that Matthew’s love of chocolate somehow led to his downfall? It will take some more digging to find out, but Hannah is sure of one thing: even the most half-baked murder plot can be oh so deadly… -- Kensington 

It's been a long time since I've picked up one of Joanne Fluke's Hannah Swensen Mysteries, but I do remember having some fond memories of these cozies. As a dessert lover, I am drawn to the yummy-sounding titles as well as the colorful covers; however, I also like the mysteries and the characters. The latest novel in the series is called DEVIL'S FOOD CAKE MURDER, and I thought it was a quick and fun read.

If you are not familiar with the Hannah Swensen Mysteries, Hannah is the owner of a small cookie store/bakery in Lake Eden, Minnesota. (As a result, she makes lots of different dessert recipes and she's kind enough to share her recipes!) Despite the quaint surroundings, Lake Eden has its fair share of crimes -- namely murders; and Hannah, with the help of her family and friends, likes to spend her spare time solving crimes.

In DEVIL'S FOOD CAKE MURDER, the murder takes place at the local church -- thus the tie-in with the Devil part of the title! Matthew Walters, a minister who grew up in Lake Eden returns to fill in for Bob while he is away on his honeymoon with Claire. Matthew has changed a great deal since his childhood, and some of his behavior is downright questionable. When Hannah goes searching for a missing Matthew, she is shocked to find him dead in his office. Needless to say, Hannah finds herself right smack in the middle of a murder investigation.

One of my absolutely favorite things about the Hannah Swenson Mysteries (and especially DEVIL'S FOOD CAKE MURDER) is that there are loads of recipes -- 25 in this book alone! Of course, most of them are for desserts, but there are even a few main dish and side dish recipes. Some of the ones that really stood out to me were Carrot-Oatmeal Muffins, Raspberry Vinegar Cookies, and the Chocolate-Covered Raisin Cookies. I particularly enjoyed that the recipes were written in very easy-to-understand directions and they even include variations as well as notes from Hannah.

DEVIL'S FOOD CAKE MURDER was just cute and a fun way to escape for a few hours. The murder wasn't overly complex, but there were a few twists and turns along the way. In addition to the crime, the reader is also given an inside glimpse into Hannah's personal life -- both with her mother, sisters, and her romantic interests. I enjoyed reading DEVIL'S FOOD CAKE MURDER and wouldn't hesitate to read more of this series -- especially if the recipes in the other books are as good as these.

If you are a fan of cozies like I am, then I recommend DEVIL'S FOOD CAKE MURDER. My only warning is that you will get dessert cravings while reading this mystery!

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

Mystery Mondays is a "somewhat" regular feature where I review all types of mystery books -- traditional mysteries, suspense/thrillers, and even cozies! Please feel free to share your thoughts on any recent mystery books that you've read.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Guest Review: The Philosophical Breakfast Club

Summary: The Philosophical Breakfast Club recounts the life and work of four men who met as students at Cambridge University: Charles Babbage, John Herschel, William Whewell, and Richard Jones.  Recognizing that they shared a love of science (as well as good food and drink) they began to meet on Sunday mornings to talk about the state of science in Britain and the world at large.  Inspired by the great 17th century scientific reformer and political figure Francis Bacon—another former student of Cambridge—the Philosophical Breakfast Club plotted to bring about a new scientific revolution.   And to a remarkable extent, they succeeded, even in ways they never intended.

 Historian of science and philosopher Laura J. Snyder
exposes the political passions, religious impulses, friendships, rivalries, and love of knowledge—and power—that drove these extraordinary men.  Whewell (who not only invented the word “scientist,” but also founded the fields of crystallography, mathematical economics, and the science of tides), Babbage (a mathematical genius who invented the modern computer), Herschel (who mapped the skies of the Southern Hemisphere and contributed to the invention of photography), and Jones (a curate who shaped the science of economics) were at the vanguard of the modernization of science.

This absorbing narrative of people, science and ideas
  chronicles the intellectual revolution inaugurated by these men, one that continues to mold our understanding of the world around us and of our place within it.  Drawing upon the voluminous correspondence between the four men over the fifty years of their work, Laura J. Snyder shows how friendship worked to spur the men on to greater accomplishments, and how it enabled them to transform science and help create the modern world. -- Broadway

I admit that THE PHILOSOPHICAL BREAKFAST CLUB: FOUR REMARKABLE FRIENDS WHO TRANSFORMED SCIENCE AND CHANGED THE WORLD by Laura J. Snyder probably isn't a book that I'd pick up, although it does sound interesting. So I guess it's a good thing that Booking Pap Pap decided that he wanted to read it. Here are his thoughts:

THE PHILOSOPHICAL BREAKFAST CLUB is an historical account of four men, Charles Babbage, William Whewell, John Herschel and Richard Jones, who transformed science in the nineteenth century. These men, inspired by the inductive methodology of seventeenth century Francis Bacon, met regularly during their time together at Cambridge University in 1812-13 to discuss all aspects of science in Britain and the world and philosophized on ways to improve it. These men remained lifelong friends and spearheaded the efforts that actually changed science from a part time endeavor to a profession where scientific methods and contributions to the betterment of mankind became the driving forces.  

Author Laura Snyder details for the reader the tremendous influence these men had on the sciences of their day as well as the future. For example, among the many achievements of these men, Charles Babbage is credited with the invention of the computer and refining cipher techniques; William Whewell invented the word “scientist”, founded the field of mathematical economics and the science of tides; John Herschel contributed to the invention of photography and discovered Uranus and Richard Jones redefined the science of economics. The author discusses both the private and public lives of these men giving the reader a great perspective of how they balanced both aspects.

Snyder fills the book with good stories and plenty of facts that provide a clear representation of the scientific, social and political climate of nineteenth century England. She addresses the history of economic thought as it moved toward a society responsible to assist its poor and comments on the labor and technology issues associated with the Industrial Revolution. Snyder also discusses the scientific-religious disputes of the time and points out the rare instances where women were active in the science community. Her stories on the original “penny post”; the controversy between a French and an English mathematician concerning calculations used in locating Neptune; and Whewell’s inspiration to Charles Darwin in forming his theory of evolution were most interesting.

If I had one criticism of the book, in some cases Ms. Snyder goes into too much detail in describing some of the scientific information. For example the discussions on Bacon’s inductive methodology were more than I could absorb. er detailed explanations of the Morse code and various ciphering techniques were quite laborious for me. 

Anyone with an interest in history or science will find THE PHILOSOPHICAL BREAKFAST CLUB a fascinating and challenging read.

Thanks to the publisher for sending a copy of this book and to Booking Pap Pap for another great review.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Kid Konnection: Easter Basket Treats

Every Saturday, I host a feature called Kid Konnection -- a regular weekend feature about anything related to children's books. Since Easter is right around the corner, I've decided to share with you some great gift ideas!

Summary: The brilliantly colorful follow-up to Lisa McCue's best-selling Quiet Bunny!

Quiet Bunny loves the bright colors of spring: the yellow ducks, green frogs, and blue jays-everything but his own brown, wintry white fur. It takes the help of a wise old owl for Bunny to realize that it's the rainbow of colors-including his own-that makes the world so beautiful.  -- Sterling

Quiet Bunny is back in QUIET BUNNY'S MANY COLORS by  Lisa McCue! A few years ago, Booking Son and I reviewed QUIET BUNNY, and we both found this book to be delightful. QUIET BUNNY'S MANY COLORS caused us to have the exact same reaction! I absolutely loved the gorgeous illustrations and Quiet Bunny's quest to look more "spring-like."

In QUIET BUNNY'S MANY COLORS, Quiet Bunny decides that he loves the colors of Spring and wants to be yellow like daffodils, blue like blueberries, green like a frog, and red like the mud. He uses his very creative mind to try to change his appearance, but quickly learns that none of his ideas will permanently change him to look more colorful. In the end, Quiet Bunny (with the help of a wise owl) realizes that everything is a different color and everyone is beautiful!

If I'm being entirely honest, I think QUIET BUNNY'S MANY COLORS is even cuter that QUIET BUNNY. There are so many wonderful illustrations in this book, and they are just filled with bright colors. I loved Quiet Bunny's facial expressions, but I also appreciated the beautiful flowers and animal-life. Each page has loads of  interesting things for little ones to discover, and Booking Son even enjoyed looking at the book over and over again.

Of course, the story was precious, but I loved the overall message that everyone is beautiful! Highly recommended!

Summary: The Squad plans a summer picnic and a fireworks show for all of Super Hero City, but the villains plot to pull the plug on the party. When Dormammu's magic leaves the picnic plans all wet, can Captain America save the day or will their fireworks fizzle out? -- LB Kids

I had a feeling that CAPTAIN AMERICA TO THE RESCUE was going to be a huge hit with Booking Son. He just loves his action figures and he does have a set of Marvel Super Hero Squad ones (plus some vehicles and the headquarters.) When I discovered that there was a series of Marvel Super Hero Squad books, I knew we had to take a peek!

When Booking Son discovered this book, he was absolutely thrilled. We had to read it right away! CAPTAIN AMERICA TO THE RESCUE had only a few sentences per page, and I think it can almost serve as an early reader book. The story is classic super-hero stuff -- the good guys versus the bad guys; and Booking Son loved it!

In addition to the short story, there are also a few images in the front of the book that the reader is supposed to find somewhere in the story. Booking Son wasn't interested in first; however, he quickly identified the pictures while we were reading the story. They were pretty easy to find, but I do think this book is aimed at a slightly younger crowd.

CAPTAIN AMERICAN TO THE RESCUE is sure to be popular with younger fans of the Marvel Super Hero Squad!

Summary: In this Super Hero Squad 8 x 8 paperback, it's heroes against villains on the basketball court. Wolverine suspects that Dr. Doom's team of misfits won't play fair-and he's right! Magneto has injected the basketballs with magnets so that he can control the game! Can Wolverine rally the team to keep from getting slam dunked? -- LB Kids

MAGNETO VERSUS WOLVERINE is another book in the Marvel Super Hero Squad series. It's slightly longer than CAPTAIN AMERICA TO THE RESCUE, and there are a few more words per page. It's still appropriate for the 4-8 year old age range.

In MAGNETO VERSUS WOLVERINE, there is still the traditional superhero plot of good versus evil. This time instead of fighting crime, the superheroes are playing a basketball game versus the villains. When the villains tamper with the basketballs to they can win, the superheroes quickly find themselves getting crushed. Thank goodness Wolverine steps in to save the day.

MAGNETO VERSUS WOLVERINE is a very cute book that is sure to appeal to little boys! It was definitely a winner in our house.

Summary: Young fans will have a blast with this 12-page sticker book featuring all their favorite Marvel Super Heroes and Villains. Complete puzzles and create match-ups! This activity book provides endless hours of fun!

When the most famous heroes on the planet unite to face the world's greatest villains, you get the biggest, most family-friendly super hero team-up in history: the Marvel Super Hero Squad. Every day in Super Hero City is full of exciting surprises, as Iron Man, Spider-Man, Hulk, Wolverine, Thor, The Fantastic Four, and many more classic characters work together to defeat the bad guys from Villainville. Only the Super Hero Squad can protect their neighborhood and friends through wholesome heroics and fast-paced adventures! -- LB Kids

Out of all the Marvel Super Hero Squad books, SUPER HEROES VERSUS VILLAINS REUSABLE STICKER BOOK might have just been the biggest hit. What kid can resist stickers - and reusable ones at that? Not Booking Son for sure! This workbook has already provided a great deal of entertainment for my little guy.

In addition to the opportunities to apply stickers all over this workbook, there are other pages devoted to games like tic-tac-tough, picture puzzlers, and a door hangar. SUPER HEROES VERSUS VILLAINS REUSABLE STICKER BOOK is a perfect gift for Easter or anytime of the year.

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, April 15, 2011

Review: The Emerald Atlas

Summary: Kate, Michael, and Emma have been in one orphanage after another for the last ten years, passed along like lost baggage.

Yet these unwanted children are more remarkable than they could possibly imagine. Ripped from their parents as babies, they are being protected from a horrible evil of devastating power, an evil they know nothing about.

Until now.

Before long, Kate, Michael, and Emma are on a journey to dangerous and secret corners of the world...a journey of allies and enemies, of magic and mayhem.  And—if an ancient prophesy is correct—what they do can change history, and it is up to them to set things right.

The Emerald Atlas brims with humor and action as it charts Kate, Michael, and Emma's extraordinary adventures through an unforgettable, enchanted world. -- Knopf

I debated featuring THE EMERALD ATLAS by John Stephens for this week's Kid Konnection, but I really felt as if I couldn't wait even another day to share my thoughts about this book. This book is fantastic and I think middle graders will just devour it. This story has fantasy, time travel, action, and adventure along with a great cast of characters. It's also exciting, heart-warming, and funny! And as a mom, I loved that there are some nice messages about honesty, devotion and the importance of family. It's all all-around terrific read!

Kids will love all of the fantasy and action/adventure scenes in THE EMERALD ATLAS (and I have to admit I actually enjoyed them too!) When Kate, Michael, and Emma find themselves moved to, yet again, another orphanage, they realize that this time might be a little bit different. They are quickly swept up into a journey to the past where they encounter a very evil woman, some mystical creatures, as well as a magical land. They also learn that the book in their possession holds the power to save people's lives. It's up to Kate, Michael, and Emma to figure out how!

I have to admit that I'm not usually a fan of fantasy -- I always make an exception for the Harry Potter books though because I loved them! However, I found myself drawn into THE EMERALD ATLAS from the very start. To be honest, I think it's because I loved the characters so much. The kids were each very special in their own way (and I'm sure that kids are going to be able to relate to at least one of them!); but I also thought that the adult characters, Gabriel and Dr. Pym, were interesting. Kate, Michael, and Emma had led rather depressing lives -- they had no parents, they grew up in orphanages, they were bullied, etc.; but somehow, they got through and perhaps were even made stronger as a result of the challenges they faced. Whatever the case might be, they certainly were smart and strong and loyal -- and all of these traits served them well in THE EMERALD ATLAS.

THE EMERALD ATLAS is the first book in a planned trilogy and I must say that I am looking forward to the next installment already! I was satisfied with how book one wrapped up; however, I must say that the author also did a great job of setting up book two. There were enough teasers/cliffhangers that I was left anticipating what the future (or should I also say the past?) will hold for Kate Michael, and Emma. If the next two books are anything like THE EMERALD ATLAS, then I'm predicting huge things for this series and Mr. Stephens.

There is a gorgeous website devoted to THE EMERALD ATLAS. I thought the illustrations were terrific and captured the essence of the book perfectly. In addition, you can learn more about the characters and the author, and you can watch a trailer for the book and read an excerpt. You can even download an Emerald Atlas iron-on!

I recently discovered that there is an audiobook available for THE EMERALD ATLAS! It's narrated by Grammy and Tony Award winning narrator Jim Dale (who just happens to be the man behind the 146 voices that appeared in the Harry Potter novels.) I am dying to get this book on audio, and I think it would be perfect for our entire family during our upcoming 20 hour road trip!

I found THE EMERALD ATLAS to be a terrific middle-grade book, and I'm sure is going to appeal to a lot of fantasy and adventure fans!

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