Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Announcing Cool Down with Agatha Christie

Have you heard the very exciting news that Harper Collins is reissuing all of Agatha Christie’s books?

I say "very exciting news" because I have very fond memories of Agatha Christie's mysteries and I can't wait to re-discover them all over again. Agatha Christie's novels were some of the first grown-up books that I ever read and they also contributed to my love of mysteries. I am pretty sure that I'm not alone with these fond memories of Agatha Christie.

To celebrate, the fine folks at Harper Collins as well as some fellow bloggers have decided that it would be fun to host an Agatha Christie Summer Read-along Extravaganza called “Cool Down with Agatha Christie.” This read-along will take place this summer and give many of you the opportunity to indulge in some terrific stories. If you're not up for reading or just want a change of pace, there will also be opportunities to participate in some movie viewings.

Here’s the scoop about the reissues directly from HarperCollins:

HarperCollins is proud to now be Agatha Christie’s global publisher and will be reissuing all of her books in beautiful trade paperback editions. These wonderful authentic editions are exactly as Christie wrote them using the original UK texts. Read all of the Christie mysteries including the Hercule Poirot Mysteries, the Miss Marple Mysteries, and the Tommy and Tuppence Mysteries (Winter 2012). And don’t miss a single one of Christie’s stand-alone novels and short stories.

I am extremely excited about the Cool Down With Agatha Christie read-along because I will be hosting a few read-alongs of Hercule Poirot books during the fourth (or one time, third) Thursday of every month. If you want to start reading early (or just plan ahead), here is my schedule:

June 23rd: THREE ACT TRAGEDY (Note: This title will tie into the June movie selection.)
August 18th: THE A.B.C. MURDERS

There will be plenty of opportunities for free books and other prizes for those of you who participate. Each blogger will have five copies of their books to give away to people who sign-up for the read-along. There will also be a "mystery" prizes for one participant in each discussion.

Feel free to grab the general button (at the top of the post) and/or the one specifically for my Hercule Poirot read-along:

While I'm hosting the Hercule Poirot portion of the read-along, there are four other bloggers who will also be participating. Here's what they will be reading:

Jen from Book Club Girl will be hosting Agatha Christie short stories
Jen from Devourer of Books will be hosting Stand-alones
Melissa from The Sunday Book Review will be hosting Miss Marple
Nicole from Linus’s Blanket will be hosting movies


June 6th-June 12th: Short Stories on Book Club Girl (THE TUESDAY NIGHT CLUB)

June 13th-June19th: Miss Marple on The Sunday Book Review (4:50 FROM PADDINGTON)

June 20th-June 26th: Poirot on Booking Mama (THREE ACT TRAGEDY)

June 20th-June 26th: Film post on Linus's Blanket (THREE ACT TRAGEDY airing on PBS June 19th)

June 27th-July 3rd Standalones on Devourer of Books (ENDLESS NIGHT)

June 27th-July 3rd: Film post on Linus’s Blanket (THE CLOCKS airing on PBS June 26th)

July 4th-July 10th: Short Stories on BookClub Girl (THREE BLIND MICE)

July 4th-July 10th: Film Post on Linus's Blanket (HALLOWE'EN PARTY airing on PBS July 3rd)

July 11th-July 17th: Miss Marple on The Sunday Book Review (A CARIBBEAN MYSTERY)

July 11th-July 17th:  Film post on Linus's Blanket (THE PALE HORSE airing on PBS July 10th)

July 18th-July 24th: Poirot on Booking Mama (MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS)

July 25th-July 30th: Standalones on Devourer of Books (AND THEN THERE WERE NONE (previously known as TEN LITTLE INDIANS))

August 1st-August 7th: Short Stories on Book Club Girl (WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION)

August 8th-August 14th:  Miss Marple on The Sunday Book Review (A MURDER IS ANNOUNCED)

August 15th-August 21st: Poirot on  Booking Mama (THE A.B.C. MURDERS)

August 22nd-August 28th: Standalones on Devourer of Books (ORDEAL BY INNOCENCE)

Make sure you check out each of their sites for more information! You can also learn more at the official website or the official facebook page. In addition, you can join in the discussion by using the Twitter Hashtag #agathachristie. 

I hope you'll join me (and my fellow hosts) in some (or all!) of the read-alongs. We wanted to keep this fun, so you can participate in as many or as few as you want. If you plan to participate in any of the events, we encourage to leave a link on the Mr. Linky below (please note, all of our blogs have the same Mr. Linky, so you only need to leave your information once), either to an announcement post or to your blog in general:

If you are interested in participating in my first read-along for THREE ACT TRAGEDY, please fill out the form below. I will randomly select five people to receive copies of the book from the publisher. Please sign up by Friday, June 3 at 11:59 p.m ET and I will notify the winners the following day. You don't have to have a blog to participate.

Monday, May 30, 2011

BEA 2011 Highlights -- Monday (Day 1)

I have been home from BEA 2011 for a few days now and I'm still not entirely sure that I've recovered. I missed my family a great deal and I'm glad to be home, but I did have the most amazing time. And I'd be lying if I didn't say that I'm already looking forward to next year's conference.

I took the train from Harrisburg to New York first thing Monday morning. I absolutely love taking the train because it gives me three hours of quality reading time. I finished one very good (yet disturbing) book (THE END OF EVERYTHING by Megan Abbott) and read half of another beautiful book (DREAMS OF JOY by Lisa See.) I knew I was going to meet both authors in New York and I wanted to be able to say that I was at least familiar with their latest novels.

I arrived in New York around 11:00 and went directly to my hotel, The Manhattan, in Times Square. I couldn't believe how cold and dreary it was (and to think I didn't even bring a jacket!) I was so excited to meet up with my roomie for the week, Kathy/BermudaOnion, but unfortunately her plane was delayed so I had to wait about a half hour for her. She still arrived in plenty of time for our scheduled lunch with one of my very favorite book people, Miriam Parker of Hachette/Mulholland Books. We had some amazing pizza and bruschetta at John's Pizza as well as some terrific conversation! It was a great way to kick off the week.

After lunch, Kathy and I headed to the Random House Tea. Of course, I was looking forward to catching-up with all my good blogging friends, but I was also very excited to see Lisa See. I am a huge fan of Ms. See's and I had a feeling that we might get autographed copies of her latest novel DREAMS OF JOY -- I was right. After we had the opportunity to create our own swag bag of books and visit with each other, Ms. See spoke a bit about her book. She's an incredibly funny and dynamic speaker and I was very impressed. It wouldn't have been a tea party without some awesome food. We had grapefruit mimosas with blackberries (YUM!) along with a variety of hot and iced teas from Bosie Tea Parlor. There were also some beautiful sandwiches (which I didn't try because I'm not a fan of mayo) and some amazing macarons. I was already familiar with Bosie because I had visited it two weeks ago when I had my Greenwich Village tour with Lauren Belfer -- you can read more about that awesome time here. Overall, it was just so much fun! (Sorry that my pictures didn't turn out.)

 Kathy and I headed back to our hotel to quickly freshen up before heading out to another party! (If you haven't gotten the idea yet, BEA is full of parties!) This time, we were fortunate enough to be invited to Picador's party at the Flatiron Building. We decided to save a few bucks this trip and use the subway, and I'm very excited to say that it was a breeze (thanks to Hopstop!) It was once we got there that things became a little interesting...to say the least.

What's coming next might just be the most memorable thing that happened to me at BEA 2011. When Kathy and I arrived at the Flatiron building, we went up to a table and gave the woman our names. We didn't have name tags (which I thought was a little strange because I knew I had RSVP'd) so she wrote down our names on tags and sent us up to the 10th floor. We arrived and were immediately ushered into an office that was definitely set up for a big party. There were two open bars, hors d'oeuvres, and lots of bookish people. I ordered the drink special -- a pomegranate martini (which was delicious, by the way) and started mingling and handing out my business cards. I did mention to Kathy that I thought it was odd that no other bloggers were there and that there were so many kids' books sitting around, but I honestly was just enjoying the martini. Do you see where this is going?

All of a sudden, Kathy mentions that our invitation was for the 19th floor and we were on the 10th floor. I about spit my martini out -- WE WERE AT THE WRONG PARTY. Suddenly everything made sense. I set my martini down, and apologized and quickly backed out of the party. Everyone at Macmillan was extremely gracious, but I was so embarrassed. They insisted that we take a goodie bag and I couldn't say no, could I? When Kathy and I arrived at the elevators, we saw some of our friends who were much quicker in realizing that they were at the wrong party; and we all headed to the Picador party! Who would think that Kathy and I would be "Party Crashers?"

I have to say that the Picador party was a blast. It was a small party in a more intimate setting, and I know everyone there had an amazing time. There was so much talk about books and BEA and the Picador people were so nice. We were given the cutest book bags
Photo courtesy of Picador
and lots of champagne
Photo courtesy of Picador
and yummy fruits and cheeses
Photo courtesy of Picador
 and lots of good company.

(Photo courtesy of Picador)
We also managed to snag some pretty awesome titles! I was excited to learn that Picador is planning on starting an on-line book club over the summer. We were tossing around some ideas for books, but nothing definite was decided...yet. Stay tuned because I'll be sure to share more on this awesome idea when it's officially announced!

After the party, Kathy and I headed out to catch a quick bite to eat with Carey/Tome Traveller. We ended up at a little design-your-own wrap and sandwich place, and I had a very good Mexican inspired wrap. It was nice to visit with Carey since I hadn't seen her since last year's BEA.

Then it was back to the hotel for Kathy and me via the subway -- we were almost getting comfortable with navigating the trains. Of course once we got back to The Manhattan, we were too wound up to fall asleep because the day had been so exciting and we had so much to discuss. And we also wanted to talk about THE END OF EVERYTHING which we had both finished earlier in the day -- we had our own mini book club!

If the rest of the week was anything like my first day, then I knew I was in for a very fun-filled and action-packed week!

Review: Lost and Fondue

Summary: When a body is found in a long-abandoned winery, cheese shop owner Charlotte Bessette trades in her fondue fork for a flashlight to clear a friend's niece of suspicion. But as Charlotte starts to turn up the truth, the killer starts turning up the heat. -- Berkley Prime Crime

I am so glad that I've decided to read more mystery books and especially cozies because I am having so much fun. While I admit to enjoying most cozies that I read, some do stand out a bit more than others. Case in point... LOST AND FONDUE by Avery Aames. This book epitomizes everything I love about the cozy genre! It had interesting and likable characters and a well executed murder plot. Plus, there was lots of talk about wine and cheese and even a few delicious sounding recipes thrown in.

If you aren't familiar with the Cheese Shop Mystery series, here's a very quick and dirty summary. Charlotte, a single woman in her early 30s, owns a cheese shop in a small Ohio town. She also acts as an amateur sleuth in her free time because murders just happen to take place when she's around. Charlotte is surrounded by lots of family and friends (I just love her grandparents) as well as a boyfriend with many secrets. I found her to be extremely likable albeit a little nosy!

I thoroughly enjoyed LOST AND FONDUE, and I'd have to say it's one of the best cozies that I've read lately. In fact, I was very impressed with so many things in this book. I thought the mystery was very well designed and even a little more complex than I was expecting; and I wasn't able to figure out the culprit or his or her reason why until it was revealed to me at the end of the book. In addition, I really liked all of the mystery surrounding Charlotte's boyfriend, and I hope to learn more in the next book. I also thought the town and the cheese shop were positively adorable, and I did learn a thing or two about different types of cheeses.

LOST AND FONDUE is the second book in the CHEESE SHOP MYSTERY series. Unfortunately I didn't read the first book in the series THE LONG QUICHE GOODBYE; however, I had no problems catching up with the characters and their personalities. I enjoyed LOST AND FONDUE so much that I will definitely be going back and reading the first book in the series -- sooner rather than later. These books are quick reads so I look forward to be "caught up" with this series long before the third one comes out. 

If you are a fan of cozies and foodie books, then I definitely recommend checking out LOST AND FONDUE.

Thanks to the publisher for sending a review 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, May 29, 2011

Review: Carrots 'N' Cake

Summary: Let them eat cake! From one of the most popular blogs on the internet comes an innovative, even fun way to diet. Carrots 'N' Cake is all about eating your carrots…and savoring your cupcake, too.
 For some people, losing weight means restrictive dieting, obsessive calorie counting, and constant hunger. Not Tina Haupert! She learned that it didn't have to be that way. Tina shows how to drop the pounds and keep them off by adopting eating habits that are healthy, balanced, and above all, livable. She serves up easy-to-follow fitness routines, food tips, and her most popular feature: cookie Friday.

Hang with your friends on a Friday night without packing on the alcohol pounds
Navigate buffet tables at parties
Handle the holidays painlessly.
And more! -- Sterling

When I agreed to review CARROTS 'N' CAKE: HEALTHY LIVING ONE CARROT AND CUPCAKE AT A TIME by Tina Haupert, I admit that I was expecting a cookbook with lots of healthy recipes. And there were some recipes in this book, but for the most part, it was Ms. Haupert's story about her journey to healthy eating.

Each chapter in the book began with Ms. Haupert's personal story as well as her advice for a healthier lifestyle; and then at the end of the chapter, there are a few recipes that she referenced in the text. This book has lots of information about Ms. Haupert's personal life, and I'm not sure it added much to my appreciation of the book. I realize that she is trying to inspire others through her experiences, and I commend her for that. However, I just don't think all of the personal information about her husband and dog was pertinent to me.

I don't want to say that I was disappointed in CARROTS 'N' CAKE, but I was hoping for more of a cookbook with healthy recipes. Even though there were 50 recipes in this book, I definitely wouldn't classify it as a cookbook. There was lots of text and no pictures and it was more of Ms. Haupert's personal approach to healthy living. The book definitely has its merits, but I think it would be most appreciated by those people who are already familiar with Ms. Haupert and her blog Carrots 'N' Cake

Prior to picking up CARROTS 'N' CAKE, I had never heard of the blog Carrots 'N' Cake (although that's not surprising since most of my blog reading is book related!) I can certainly see why her blog has become so popular and how her story has inspired many people to lose weight and exercise. She's accomplished a great deal and she's only 30 years old! Carrots 'N' Cake is beautifully designed and her photographs of food are gorgeous. And I love how she gives her readers the details of her dieting journey -- both the ups and the downs.

And that was one thing I really did appreciate about this book -- that Ms. Haupert admitted she has good days and bad days. She teaches readers not to beat themselves up when they "fail." Rather, they should just start again with healthy eating and exercising. She also has some fantastic messages about learning to make the right eating choices (especially when eating out) as well as plans for effective strength training and cardio workouts.

There was one huge benefit to me of CARROTS 'N' CAKE that I wasn't expecting. Many of the recipes for "treats" like muffins, cookies, etc. were allergy friendly for Booking Son. That means there are  quite a few egg-free, dairy-free, and peanut and tree nut-free recipes! The recipes aren't being sold as allergy friendly, but I have a feeling that moms like me will truly appreciate these goodies!

I think fans of the blog Carrots 'N' Cake will enjoy this book as well as individuals who are looking for an inspirational healthy eating book.

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

Thanks to FSB Associates for providing a review copy of this book.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Kid Konnection: Beauty Queens & Giveaway

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 my thoughts about a very fun book by Libba Bray called BEAUTY QUEENS.

Summary: From bestselling, Printz Award-winning author Libba Bray, the story of a plane of beauty pageant contestants that crashes on a desert island.Teen beauty queens. A "Lost"- like island. Mysteries and dangers. No access to emall. And the spirit of fierce, feral competition that lives underground in girls, a savage brutality that can only be revealed by a journey into the heart of non-exfoliated darkness. Oh, the horror, the horror! Only funnier. With evening gowns. And a body count. -- Scholastic

I have heard so many great things about Libba Bray; however, I've never read one of her novels... until now. I recently read her latest young adult book BEAUTY QUEENS, and I have to say that I found it very entertaining to say the least. I can definitely see why Ms. Bray has become so popular among teen readers.

The premise behind BEAUTY QUEENS is pretty outrageous -- and very funny! A plane teen beauty pageant contestants makes a crash landing on a deserted island. None of the "adults" survive the crash and many of the pageant contestants are goners too. The teen girls who make it are forced to use their skills to stay alive, and their true colors -- both the good and the bad -- definitely shine through.

I hesitate to tell much more about the plot because I do think readers should have the same opportunity as I did to experience this novel without spoilers. I was continually caught off guard by the absurdity of the situation as well as the girls' reactions to pretty much everything, and I found myself laughing (a lot) while reading BEAUTY QUEENS. This book was just plain crazy and a lot of fun. It was full of beauty queen (and overall teen) stereotypes, acerbic social commentary, and very smart satire; and I have a feeling that I was shaking my head a great deal while reading it.

BEAUTY QUEENS is a crazy ride, full of memorable characters; and I did enjoy it a great deal. I won't go so far as to say I loved it, but I definitely appreciated it. One thing that I did like was how much the characters grew by the end of the novel. Because they were stranded on a deserted island, the girls were forced to spend a lot of time with each other.. and themselves. All the pageantry competition fell by the wayside as the girls realized that they needed to work together as a team. In addition, all of the girls realized something valuable about themselves, whether it be to follow their own dreams, how to stand up to their parents or even something about their sexual orientation. Some readers might say that the ending was too predictable or that it was wrapped up too neatly, but I liked the overall messages. 

As a grown woman, I thought BEAUTY QUEENS was a fun read. I should probably put on my mom hat, though, and tell you that it is not a book that my tween daughter will be reading any time soon. I'm pretty sure that the wit and astute social commentary would be lost on her anyway. But that's all beside the point. BEAUTY QUEENS had some very interesting teenage behavior that she's not ready to process. For example, there was teenage drinking, teenage sex (although they did use protection), foul language, gay and transgender characters, and more. It's definitely a book for a more mature young adult audience.

BEAUTY QUEENS is certainly a unique book and unlike anything I've ever read. If you are looking for a smart and funny novel about beauty queens, then I definitely recommend it!

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

Giveaway alert: I have two copies of BEAUTY QUEENS to share with two lucky readers. To enter, just fill out the form below before June 10th at 11:59 p.m. ET. I will randomly select and notify the winners the following day. The contest is open to those of you with U.S. addresses only. Good luck!

Scholastic has launched a new online community called This Is Teen to connect readers with their favorite YA authors and books. Visit their page on Facebook for all the latest news on Libba Bray and her new book Beauty Queens: www.facebook.com/thisisteen.  

And here's another terrific contest with a fantastic prize....

Ladies and gentlemen, we want to know WHAT MAKES YOU A BEAUTY QUEEN?
Being a Beauty Queen like the ones in Libba Bray's new novel means being true to
yourself and who you want to be.  Tell us in 500 words or less what makes
you a Beauty Queen, and you could win a $250 Amex Gift Card to use toward
whatever makes you feel most awesome.  Or you could opt for a $250 gift card
to Sephora.  Whatever you choose, we will also send you a signed copy of the
book and your very own tiara!

To enter go to http://www.thisisteen.com/Contest.htm

NO PURCHASE NECESSARY.  Open to legal US residents ages 13 to 18.  Deadline to enter 5pm EST on July 1, 2011.  Void where prohibited.  For complete details and official rules go to www.ThisIsTeen.com

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

Friday, May 27, 2011

Guest Review: A Hard Death

Summary: Brilliant forensic pathologist Edward Jenner returns in this explosive sequel to Precious Blood—an edgy, electrifying thriller set in a small-town coastal community where nothing is as it seems. 

Edward Jenner, introduced in Precious Blood, has survived the horrific ordeal of the Inquisitor serial killings in New York, but not the political fallout. His state medical license suspended, Jenner finds himself banished to Douglas County in coastal Florida, working as a medical examiner in the balmy seaside resort of Port Fontaine. 

But there's a seamy underside to picturesque Douglas County. First Jenner finds the bodies of a murdered man and woman decaying in a sunken car. Then an anonymous call in the middle of the night leads him to a gruesome discovery in the heart of the Everglades. He finds traces of a shadowy criminal conspiracy, and soon learns that he can trust no one. 

With his life on the line, Jenner refuses to walk away and let the murderers go unpunished. The result is dark Florida noir, a fierce, edge-of-the-seat thriller from an emerging master of the genre. -- Harper

Booking Pap Pap is back with another fantastic review. This time it's for A HARD DEATH by Jonathan Hayes. I had a feeling when I read the description for this one that it would be right up his alley!

Here are his thoughts:

In A HARD DEATH, author Jonathan Hayes brings back Edward Jenner, the hero in his first novel, PRECIOUS BLOOD. Jenner, a criminal pathologist, having been banished from practicing in New York, has hit rock bottom and is trying to pull his life together. Desperate to find a job, Jenner accepts an offer to fill in for his friend and mentor, the Douglas County Florida medical examiner, while he takes a long needed vacation. What Jenner anticipates as an easy time after his New York ordeal quickly changes with the discovery of the bodies of a murdered man and woman in a sunken car that turn out to be the medical examiner and his wife. Shortly thereafter two sets of hanged bodies are discovered in a remote part of the Everglades. Jenner soon realizes that the murders are related.

Jenner’s life is further complicated when the crimes become national news and the female reporter who ruined his New York career arrives in Florida. By rehashing the old New York story, she manages to get Jenner fired. After Jenner’s life is threatened and his detective friend is murdered, he refuses to let go of the case he knows will be swept under the carpet after he departs.

Hayes brings an interesting aspect to the novel by using his experience as a real life forensic pathologist to describe some of the crime scene and crime lab activity. Hayes’ characters are real life and complex. His hero, Edward Jenner, is not the perfect good guy and one of the women, a single mother, has an extremely complicated life. One aspect of the novel I didn’t care for was the excessive use of the infamous four-letter word that actually was a distraction.

A HARD DEATH is an exciting thriller with a quick paced plot. There’s something for everyone in this forensic thriller – the eerie setting in the Florida Everglades; a Mexican drug cartel; illegal aliens; a child sex ring; corrupt police; beautiful women: an uncomfortable father-daughter relationship; an unethical mortician and plenty of dead bodies. I would recommend this book to anyone who likes a good easy-to-read thriller.

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

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Book Club Exchange: Lynne Bryant

It's been awhile but Book Club Exchange, a feature on Booking Mama which highlights anything and everything book club-related, is back! Today, I am so excited to welcome author Lynne Bryant, author of CATFISH ALLEY. I read this novel a few months ago, and I thought it was fantastic. You can read my review here.

I am very grateful that Ms. Bryant took time from her busy touring schedule to write this guest post about some of the ways that CATFISH ALLEY is ideal for book clubs. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

The Satisfaction of Storytelling

Is there anything more delicious than the anticipation of sharing a good story with a friend? It is with this kind of eagerness that I look forward to sharing my debut novel Catfish Alley with you. I am a great believer in the power of storytelling to not only entertain us, but to challenge our thinking, and, every now and then, to change our lives. I have been thrilled to discover my voice as a writer and to share my Southern roots through the quiet power of the written word.

The wonderful thing about fiction, and about being a member of a book club, is the freedom to gossip about the characters in a novel without guilt! We get to try on new personas, step into the perspective of someone completely different from us, or become indignant, even enraged, at the actions of a particularly nasty character. And, in so doing, we usually learn something about ourselves. Like good friends, we feel we know both the flaws and the triumphs of the people in the stories we love. We sometimes find ourselves paradoxically weeping for the villain, or inwardly scolding the hero or heroine for his or her thoughtless decisions. And just like many of life’s ironies, a compelling story can render us helpless to stop reading until we’ve finished, while at the same time dreading the story’s end.

A story is a shared experience. Both storyteller and listener/reader can, for just a little while, step into another world and be anyone they want to be. They can each feel anything they want toward a character: hatred, anger, lust, revulsion, fear, disapproval, envy. All emotions are fair game. A good story allows us that glorious empathic release.

Catfish Alley tells a story about a storyteller. Roxanne Reeves can only complete her assigned task of creating an African American tour for her small town of Clarksville, Mississippi by listening to the stories of Grace Clark, a beloved local retired black schoolteacher. Grace’s way of helping Roxanne understand the depth of meaning of the seemingly insignificant places identified for the tour is to share with her the stories of the people who inhabited those places and lived out their joys and sorrows within their narrow confines.

From the early readers of Catfish Alley, I’m hearing that my novel can evoke strong emotions and raise questions about race, class, justice, and what it means to be authentic. I value the feedback on Catfish Alley and the stories that readers have already shared with me from their own experiences.

From a storyteller, about a storyteller, to a story reader… I offer Catfish Alley. I love getting your comments and questions about Catfish Alley, and I’ve provided a discussion guide for reading groups with the kinds of thought-provoking questions that Catfish Alley tends to raise. If you’d like to have me join your reading group or book club via telephone conference, Skype, email, or old fashioned person-to-person, if I can make it, I would love to hear from you! Thank you for sharing this story with me. You can learn more about me, and read my blog at www.lynne-bryant.com

Lynne Bryant was born and raised in rural Mississippi, where her maternal grandparents farmed cotton and her mother is one of their fifteen children. She grew up during the era of the Civil Rights Movement and came of age during the volatile integration of Mississippi’s schools. She attended nursing school at Mississippi University for Women, and then went on to complete both a masters in nursing from Ole Miss and a PhD in nursing from the University of Colorado. She now teaches nursing full-time in Colorado, but the home of her heart will always be Mississippi.

She came to writing later in life, finally allowing herself to unleash a love of storytelling and a lifetime of struggling to understand the complex race relations in Mississippi. Her stories tackle issues most Southerners can identify with, and, like her, have struggled to understand. Her debut novel, Catfish Alley, will be released by NAL/Penguin in spring 2011.

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

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Review: Cut & Giveaway

Summary: Fifteen-year-old Callie isn't speaking to anybody, not even to her therapist at Sea Pines, the "residential treatment facility" where her parents and doctor sent her after discovering that she cuts herself. As her story unfolds, Callie reluctantly become involved with the other "guests" at Sea Pines _ finding her voice and confronting the trauma that triggered her behavior. -- Push

When I received a copy of the 10th anniversary edition of CUT by Patricia McCormick, I wasn't sure if I had read it, so I decided to read it (possibly again) just to be sure. I can now say that I am positive that I never read CUT because I know I'd remember. This story about a girl who cuts herself deeply affected me -- as a reader and especially as a mom.

CUTE tells the story of Callie a teen girl whose parents forced her to enter a treatment facility because they discovered that she has been cutting herself. Naturally, Callie doesn't want to be there or be helped by the staff professionals; and she has basically cut herself off from all human contact. Throughout the course of CUT, Callie begins to open up to the fellow residents, the psychiatric help, and her family; and she eventually begins to deal with her cutting issues and the reasons behind them.

I don't know if this book affected me so much because I'm the mother of a teen girl, but I can say that this novel broke my heart and also scared me a great deal. It was clear that Callie was in so much pain, as were the other girls who were receiving psychiatric treatment for their illnesses, and I was just sick for the pain these young girls were experiencing. I can promise you that CUT will not always be easy to read, but it's most definitely a worthwhile one.

One thing that I enjoyed about CUT was how it captured my attention. I couldn't put the book down and I even read it in one sitting. CUT is a pretty short novel, but those 150+ pages pack a powerful punch. I was intrigued by Callie and I wanted to get to know her better. It also helped that I wanted to know why Callie was cutting herself and that didn't come until the latter part of the book. In some ways, CUT almost read as a mystery of sorts because I didn't know what had pushed Callie to these extreme measures. 

CUT was Patricia McCormick's debut novel and I think it was a very impressive start. (She has since written some fantastic YA novels!) I really liked Ms. McCormick's writing style, and I especially appreciated how she captured Callie's voice. I also thought it was very unique how Callie addressed the reader, at times, as "you." It's evident that Ms. McCormick researched cutting disorders and treatment facilities because the entire book just seemed so real.

CUT is an extremely powerful novel and one that lends itself to discussion. In fact, I can easily see teen book clubs and/or mother-daughter book clubs wanting to talk about this novel. There are twelve discussion questions posted on the author's website which are appropriate for book groups or classrooms. Some of the themes you might want to explore include family dynamics, guilt, mental illness, communication, blame, attention, isolation, and of course, cutting.

CUT is a novel which will touch your heart and, at the same time, make you think. I highly recommend it to teens and parents of teens.

Thanks to Big Honcho for providing a review copy of this novel.

Giveaway alert: I have two copies of CUT to share with two very lucky readers. To enter, just fill out the form below before Tuesday, June 7th at 11:59 p.m. ET. I will randomly select and notify the winners the following day. This contest is open to those of you with U.S. mailing addresses only. Good luck!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Product Review: Invisible Glass

Summary: You won’t find a better glass cleaner than Invisible Glass, and we’ll prove it with this Ultimate Glass Cleaning Kit.  In it you’ll find everything you need to clean all types of glass at home, work, or play.  Most orders SHIP WITHIN A DAY so you can enjoy the ultimate glass cleaning experience right away!

Kit includes one each of Invisible Glass aerosol, trigger, wipes canister, and Reach & Clean glass cleaning tool kit, 2 packets of Invisible Glass with Rain Repellent (2 wipes/packet), 1 Headlight Lens Restoration Kit, 20 individually packaged Lens Wipes, and 1 microfiber glass cleaning towel. 

A few weeks ago, I was asked if I was interested in reviewing a product called INVISIBLE GLASS. As hard as I tried, I wasn't able to find any way to tie in a glass cleaner with books; however, I still really wanted to test out this product. I guess it just falls under the "and occasionally some other things" part of my blog's description!

Many of you probably don't know this about me, but I clean... a lot. Every Thursday and Friday morning, I clean my house; and I mean every Thursday and Friday morning. And as strange as this might sound, I love finding good cleaning solutions. Since I had never heard of INVISIBLE GLASS, I figured it was worth a try.

And boy am I glad I agreed to test INVISIBLE GLASS because it is good stuff. Right after I opened the kit, I actually went around my house and cleaned all of the glass and mirrors. I didn't even wait until my regularly scheduled cleaning days. I tried both the trigger pump and aerosol product, and both were excellent. No streaks and no residue, and I was one happy cleaner.

I was fortunate enough to receive the INVISIBLE GLASS ULTIMATE CLEANING KIT which is valued at $29.95. Included in the kit were an Invisible Glass aerosol, trigger, wipes canister, and Reach & Clean glass cleaning tool kit, two packets of Invisible Glass with Rain Repellent (two wipes/packet), a Headlight Lens Restoration Kit, twenty individually packaged Lens Wipes, and a microfiber glass cleaning towel. It's a fantastic starter kit as well as a great bargain.

Here's a little bit of information about the company: INVISIBLE GLASS was invented about a dozen years ago. It is the #1 selling glass cleaner in auto stores; however, it also works on all types of glass including glass doors, windows, tabletops, cook tops, appliances, and more. INVISIBLE GLASS was developed with two simple objectives: superior cleaning power and invisible clarity. It contains no dyes, scents, soaps, or foams that leave behind streaky residue.

I absolutely love INVISIBLE GLASS and I can't say enough good things about these products. In fact, my mom and I are planning on splitting a case in the near future. (She, too, likes to discover good cleaning products -- it must be genetic!) INVISIBLE GLASS can be ordered on-line here or purchased at many local stores including Lowes, Target and Wal-Mart.

Thanks to Stoner Inc. for providing a sample of INVISIBLE GLASS.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Review: A Pizza to Die For

Summary: Though it’s an unseasonably chilly October in Timber Ridge, North Carolina, Eleanor Swift is warm and cozy in A Slice of Delight—her scrumptious pizzeria. But when snooty Judson Sizemore breezes into town to open an upper-crust pizza parlor nearby, Eleanor’s biggest worry is that her beloved restaurant’s days may be numbered…until she hears Judson’s days have come to a most gruesome end…

Since half the town saw Judson causing a ruckus in A Slice of Delight before he expired, Eleanor and her saucy sister, Maddie, are the prime suspects. The only way out is to prove their innocence. Soon, a little surreptitious sleuthing reveals that the dough behind Judson’s impending pizzeria came from Timber Ridge’s resident recluse: crusty oddball millionaire Nathan Pane. It turns out he’s Judson’s long-lost uncle…and someone is after him, too.

As Eleanor digs deeper, her suspect list grows longer than the local soccer team’s pizza order—and life in the once quiet town heats up like Maddie’s five-alarm Volcano pie. Could it be Judson’s gold-digging sister? Or her secret boyfriend? Between working on the case, keeping her customers happy, and even finding time for an old flame, Eleanor’s plate is full. But with an unhinged murderer closing in, she’ll have to move very quickly—and very carefully—because the killer is already much closer than she thinks… -- Kensington

After a few weeks of reading (and enjoying) cozies, I've decided that it might not be the best thing for my diet. For some reason, I am not only drawn to cute cozies, but I'm also attracted to the series that pertain for food! I love reading about food and if recipes are included in the book, all the better. So when I found out that there is a series of Pizza Lovers Mysteries, I just knew I had to check one out!

A PIZZA TO DIE FOR by Chris Cavender is the third book in the series, and it does talk about pizza a lot! I was hungry and craving good pizza (we don't have good pizza here in Central Pennsylvania) the entire time I read this cute story. There was even a yummy sounding recipe for a Deep Dish Pizza Filling and Topping included in the back of the book. While I'm not a fan of thick crusts, the recipe did look awfully good.

I find it difficult to write reviews about cozy mysteries. I think readers either like this genre or not. Having said that, I did find A PIZZA TO DIE FOR to be a good read. It was a fun way to spend a few hours and just escape from life. The story was cute, the cast of characters was likable, and the mystery kept me guessing. As far as I'm concerned, that's what I look for in a cozy.

The Pizza Lovers Mysteries are about Eleanor, a young widow who runs a small town pizzeria in North Carolina. She also likes to help solve murders in her free time. In A PIZZA TO DIE FOR, a slick guy comes to town an decides to open a fancy pizza joint -- right down the street from Eleanor's shop. When he is mysteriously found dead in his new restaurant, Eleanor is a prime suspect. With the help of some friends, Eleanor proves her innocence while, at the same time, finding the real murderer.

I really liked Eleanor's character as well as her spunky sister. In addition, I thought the supporting characters were intriguing, especially some of the people involved with the victim. I found that the mystery was a good one. I didn't solve the crime until the very end of the book, but I admit that I don't spend a lot of time trying to figure out the culprits when I read a cozy. And there were quite a few twists and surprises that made things interesting for me.

While I would have preferred to start on the first book in the series (because that's my natural inclination), I didn't have any problem following the story or the characters. There were plenty of references to the past two books (without spoilers!), and A PIZZA TO DIE FOR definitely worked as a stand-alone. That's probably because the author of the book, Chris Cavender, is a long-time pro at writing mystery novels. Chris Cavender is actually a pseudonym for an author who has been nominated for an Agatha Award and been on the Mystery Booksellers Association national bestseller list nine times.

I did have to chuckle at a scene in A PIZZA TO DIE FOR when one of the characters references an old mystery series that was dropped by the publisher. I have a feeling this was a little jab from the author, and I found it to be quite funny!

If you are fan of cozies or foodie books, then I definitely suggest trying out A PIZZA TO DIE FOR or any of the books in the Pizza Lovers Mystery series!

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

Mystery Mondays is a "somewhat" regular feature where I review all types of mystery books -- traditional mysteries, suspense/thrillers, and even cozies! It's appearing one day early this week because I have a scheduled tour for tomorrow. Please feel free to share your thoughts on any recent mystery books that you've read.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Review: Nutrition Diva's Secrets for a Healthy Diet

Summary: Tired of trying to figure out what you should be eating for breakfast, or whether it’s ever OK to eat before going to bed? Want to know which type of milk, or cereals, or meats are best so that food shopping is easier?

Millions of people already eat, look, and feel better thanks to popular podcast host and board-certified nutritionist Monica Reinagel. In her highly-anticipated guidebook she sorts through all the conflicting nutrition information out there—and busts outdated food myths—so you’ll know exactly what to eat (and what to avoid) once and for all. Don’t worry if pasta makes you happy, if chocolate keeps you sane, or if you just can’t stand broccoli; no food is off limits and none is required. Instead, Monica walks you through every aisle of the grocery store and through each meal and snack of the day, helping you make healthier choices and answering your burning questions, including:

· How often should you eat?

· Which organic foods are worth the extra cost?

· Does cooking vegetables destroy the vitamins?

· Should foods be combined in certain ways for better digestion?

Complete with grocery shopping lists, simple, delicious recipes, and sample meal plans, Nutrition Diva’s Secrets for a Healthy Diet will have you feeling healthier, looking better than ever before, and no longer worrying about what to eat for dinner. -- St. Martin's Griffin

It seems like I'm always trying to lead a healthier lifestyle. I try to work out and eat right, but often times, I quickly lapse back into my old bad habits. So every now and then, I try to read a book about nutrition and/or exercise to keep me back on track. The latest one that I picked up was NUTRITION DIVA'S SECRETS FOR A HEALTHY DIET: WHAT TO EAT, WHAT TO AVOID, AND WHAT TO STOP WORRYING ABOUT by Monica Reinagel, MS, LN, CNS.

Overall, I found SECRETS FOR A HEALTHY DIET to be very interesting. It's not exactly a book that I recommend attempting to read in a few sittings like I did unless you really don't know much about healthy eating. I found that I already knew much of the information in this book, but I do read a lot of articles and books about this subject matter. For someone like me, I think this book best acts as a valuable reference tool. I can easily see me picking it up again when I have a question about a specific type of food or when I am looking for a healthy recipe.

There is no doubt that NUTRITION DIVA'S SECRETS FOR A HEALTHY DIET does provide some terrific information about healthy eating. I thought the book was set up in a very unique and user-friendly way. There are two major parts -- Nutrition Diva's Guide to the Grocery Store and The 24-Hour Diet Makeover. I probably most appreciated the section on how to most effectively grocery shop. (Hint: Start with the perimeters for the freshest and healthiest foods.) I enjoyed learning some new facts about healthy (and not-so-healthy) food; however, I also liked some of Nutrition Diva's sensible dieting advice.

One thing that I definitely appreciated about this book was the author's tone. She was very informative and offered tons of advice without being preachy. In addition, her ideas made a lot of sense and were very doable. I felt as if she offered the "right" things to do but also realizes that moderation is the key. If you are interested in learning more about Nutrition Diva and her healthy eating advice, you can check out her website.

Probably what impressed me the most about this book were the various recipes. I always enjoy looking through cookbooks for new ideas, and this book had some very tempting ones. I appreciated that there were a wide range of ideas including breakfast and side dishes. In addition, I loved that she included some charts and graphics which summarized much of the data in the book. For example, she included sample meal plans for various types of eaters as well as a detailed shopping guide and a serving size guide. I found that this information in the back of the book was very helpful to implementing Nutrition Diva's concepts.

I wanted to try at least one of the recipes before writing this review, so I decided to make Apple Pie Oatmeal. I love all things apple and I do enjoy a hot breakfast, so this recipe was perfect for me!

Apple Pie Oatmeal
Serves 1

3/4 cup water
1/3 cup old-fashioned rolled oats or rolled whole grains
1/2 small apple, diced
1/4 teaspoon apple (or pumpkin) pie seasoning or cinnamon
Pinch of salt
2 tablespoons chopped walnuts
Honey, maple syrup, or other sweetener, to taste

1. Combine water, oats or grains, apple, spices, and salt in saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until creamy, about 6-8 minutes.

2. Spoon into individual bowls, sprinkle with nuts, and top (sparingly) with honey, maple syrup, or another sweetener.

TIP: You'll need less sweetener if you drizzle or sprinkle it on top rather than stirring it in.

If you are looking for a good resource on healthy eating that's not preachy, then I recommend NUTRITION DIVA'S SECRETS FOR A HEALTHY DIET. 

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this 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, May 21, 2011

Kid Konnection: Entertaining Picture Books

Every Saturday, I host a feature called Kid Konnection -- a regular weekend feature about anything related to children's books. Today, I'm going to share with you a couple of terrific picture books that Booking Son and I recently read. As he is getting better at reading, I fear our days of picture book reading are coming to an end.

Summary: Acclaimed picture book biographer Jeanette Winter has found her perfect subject: Jane Goodall, the great observer of chimpanzees. Follow Jane from her childhood in London watching a robin on her windowsill, to her years in the African forests of Gombe, Tanzania, invited by brilliant scientist Louis Leakey to observe chimps, to her worldwide crusade to save these primates who are now in danger of extinction, and their habitat. Young animal lovers and Winter's many fans will welcome this fascinating and moving portrait of an extraordinary person and the animals to whom she has dedicated her life. -- Schwartz & Wade

I have always been a huge fan of Jane Goodall's, but evidently she is becoming very popular right now with children too. A few weeks ago, I reviewed a cute book about her childhood called ME...JANE. And now I found another book about Ms. Goodall's called THE WATCHER: JANE GOODALL'S LIFE WITH THE CHIMPS by Jeanette Winter. I absolutely loved this book and Booking Son agreed. Plus, it's received starred reviews from Booklist and Kirkus.

I have read a few books about Jane Goodall and already knew that was an incredibly woman, but now I can share her "awesomeness" with my children through THE WATCHER. This picture book tells the story of Jane Goodall from her early childhood on a farm to her present day work as a worldwide ambassador for awareness of chimpanzees, and it's must better at explaining her accomplishments than I could ever be. In addition, THE WATCHER also demonstrates that kids can make a difference in the world and help save our environment and its animals.

The illustrations in this book were charming and perfectly complemented the story. They were sometimes a little whimsical and always very colorful. I especially liked the pages where the chimpanzees were features -- too cute! Evidently the pictures did a good job of showing how Ms. Goodall changed through the years because Booking Son commented on how the book covered her entire life. He asked me if she was old now because he thought the pictures showed that.

THE WATCHER is a fabulous book and I highly recommend it! Teachers and parents alike will enjoy sharing Ms. Goodall's accomplishments with their students and children.

Summary: Meet Chamelia! Chamelia is a chameleon. Most chameleons like to blend in, but Chamelia prefers to stand out. She just loves being the center of attention. But when standing out means being left out, can Chamelia learn to share the spotlight? -- Little, Brown

CHAMELIA by Ethan Long is another adorable book. While it might be considered less educational than the prior book since it's based on a fictional chameleon, it still has a very valuable message. I thought Chamelia and her sense of fashion were just precious!

Chamelia isn't like most chameleons because she tried to stand apart from her environment -- not blend in. She strives to be the center of attention and uses her fashion sense to do so! (In fact, she reminded me a bit of one of my favorite kids' book characters -- Olivia!) But when Camelia learns that standing out can also mean being left out, she realizes that being part of the crowd isn't so bad!

I can't stress how much I loved this book. Chamelia is a wonderful character and the message is a very important one too! (I sometimes think we can place too much value on being an individual all of the time!) In addition, the illustrations were beyond cute. I absolutely loved how the author made Chamelia "stand out" with her textured and patterned clothes -- I think he used mixed media on Chamelia while the rest of the characters were drawn as "normal." I especially liked Chamelia's particular color of green!

While the story is certainly entertaining as it is, there are more opportunities for some book-related fun. The publisher has posted some fun downloads relating to CHAMELIA including a maze, a matching game, and a coloring page. Be sure to check them out if you want a better idea of how adorable Chamelia is!

Thanks to the publisher 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!