Saturday, December 31, 2011

Kid Konnection: Pie

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 a delightful middle grade book.

Summary: From the award-winning author of So B. It, a story about family, friendship, and...pie!

When Alice's Aunt Polly passes away, she takes with her the secret to her world-famous pie-crust recipe. Or does she? In her will, Polly leaves the recipe to her extraordinarily surly cat Lardo...and then leaves Lardo in the care of Alice.

Suddenly Alice is thrust into the center of a piestorm, with everyone in town trying to be the next pie-contest winner... including Alice's mother and some of Alice's friends. The whole community is going pie-crazy... and it's up to Alice to discover the ingredients that really matter. Like family. And friendship. And enjoying what you do. --Scholastic
A few months ago, Kathy/Bermudaonion was raving about a middle grade novel called PIE by Sarah Weeks. I've been meaning to read it ever since I read her review, but for some reason (maybe it's the 1500+ books that I own), I didn't get around to picking it up until yesterday. And boy am I glad I did! I absolutely adored this book.

Despite having fairly high expectations about this novel, PIE exceeded all of them. My only regret is that the book is geared for 9 year olds and up so I'm not sure that I can get Booking Daughter to read it. PIE pretty much had it all as far as I'm concerned. I loved the characters, especially Alice, Charlie, and Aunt Polly; and I enjoyed the mystery element and the twist at the end. But I think it was how this book made me feel that made it such a winner for me. I laughed and I cried and PIE just warmed my heart through and through. (And it didn't hurt that it had pie recipes at the beginning of every chapter!)

PIE tells the story of Alice, a young girl whose Aunt Polly passes away unexpectedly. Alice positively idolized her Aunt Polly, and who can blame her? Aunt Polly was the kindest, most understanding, person that Alice had ever met; and Alice needed some extra special love since she wasn't exactly getting it from home. Aunt Polly also devoted her life to making pies. And they weren't just any pies. They were award winning pies that made her and her shop very famous.

When Aunt Polly dies, her will confuses Alice and her family. She leaves her secret pie crust recipe to her cat Lardo and the cat Lardo to Alice. Alice's mother is even more bitter towards Aunt Polly (if that's possible) and the entire town is thrown into a tizzy trying to win the next big pie award. Poor Alice (and her new friend Charlie) try to make sense of everything, and along the way, they discover some secrets, but they also learn so much more.

As cute as the characters and story are in PIE, I think I most loved the messages in this book. There were so many heartwarming lessons in this story about family and friends. However, there were some larger ones too about self-discovering, staying true to one's self, and happiness. I especially loved the turn-around that Alice's mother had when she discovered that it's most important to live your own life and do what you love.

PIE is just one of those books that makes me want to share it with everyone I know. Unfortunately, I think the girls in our mother daughter book club would find the book to be too young (although I do think they'd like it if they'd give it a try!) However, I do think this book lends itself perfectly to a mother daughter book club or even one like the after-school book club I used to run. Who knows? I might have to do the after school club again just for a reason to discuss PIE with some young girls.

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

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!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Wondrous Words Wednesday - December 28, 2011

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

This is a little spin on Wondrous Words Wednesday, but I still think it fits -- well sort of. I can't actually take credit for this idea. It was presented by an editor at my husband's employer, but I thought it sounded like a lot of fun.

Each year the American Dialectic Society comes up with a "word of the year." Below are the winners from years past:
2010: app
2009: tweet
2008: bailout
2007: subprime
2006: plutoed
2005: truthiness
2004: red state/blue state
2003: metrosexual
2002: weapons of mass destruction
2001: 9-11 (most often styled 9/11)

The American Dialectic Society won't announce their winner until early next year, but I thought we could come up with possibilities in the mean time. What word do you think should be the 2011 Word of the Year?

Monday, December 26, 2011

Review: The Drop

Summary: Harry Bosch has been given three years before he must retire from the LAPD, and he wants cases more fiercely than ever. In one morning, he gets two.

DNA from a 1989 rape and murder matches a 29-year-old convicted rapist. Was he an eight-year-old killer or has something gone terribly wrong in the new Regional Crime Lab? The latter possibility could compromise all of the lab's DNA cases currently in court.

Then Bosch and his partner are called to a death scene fraught with internal politics. Councilman Irvin Irving's son jumped or was pushed from a window at the Chateau Marmont. Irving, Bosch's longtime nemesis, has demanded that Harry handle the investigation.

Relentlessly pursuing both cases, Bosch makes two chilling discoveries: a killer operating unknown in the city for as many as three decades, and a political conspiracy that goes back into the dark history of the police department. -- Little, Brown

Remember how I've mentioned the past few weeks how crazy my life has been... and how my reading and blogging has suffered as a result of that? And I even went so far as to say that I've been in a bit of a reading slump? Well, a few days ago I realized that maybe I just needed to right book to make me get my "reading groove" back. That book was THE DROP by Michael Connelly.

Like many of you, I go crazy for the holidays -- the cooking, the baking, the cleaning, the wrapping, and the partying. It takes a ton of time and wears a girl out. In addition, I've added the extra challenge of starting a partial remodel on my kitchen. Needless to say reading hasn't been at the top of my to-do list. In fact, I pretty much decided not to worry about my blog until after the holidays.

And then, I opened up my mail and found a copy of THE DROP, the latest Harry Bosch novel from one of my all-time favorite authors Michael Connelly. I rushed through most of my chores for the day and started the book around 1:00 in the afternoon. And then I pretty much didn't come up for air until I finished it. Yep, that's right. A few days before Christmas and I read an almost 400 page book straight through. I am serious when I tell you that I was utterly and completely caught up in this novel and I couldn't put it down. I was so happy and it felt sooooo good.

Since I think Mr. Connelly is one of those authors who is a rock-star and Harry Bosch is one of the best characters ever, I had high hopes for THE DROP. And guess what? This novel lived up to my expectations and more. I absolutely can't rave enough about this book -- it was that good. Definitely one of my faves for 2011. (So glad I squeezed it in before the end of the year.)

In THE DROP, Harry Bosch is actually involved in solving two crimes -- a cold case for a sexual crime/murder where DNA has identified an eight year old suspect (weird, right?) and a murder (or is it a suicide?)  of a city official's (and Harry's arch nemesis') son. Both crimes were equally compelling and full of major shocks as well as twists and turns. Truly, the crime aspects of this novel were brilliant.

And then there's the more personal side of the story which I found to be equally interesting. I adore the troubled Harry character, and I loved seeing how the relationship with his teen daughter played out. But in THE DROP, the reader also gets to see a potential romantic interest for Harry. Harry's life is further complicated by discovering that he only has around two years left with the police force before he is forced to retire. In this novel, Harry contemplates his role as a detective and a father; and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing how he reconciled his future plans incorporating both of these roles. In addition, I loved how Harry discovered not only things about himself and his past, but also things about his "friends" on the force.

THE DROP isn't always an easy read, especially given what Harry discovers towards the end of the novel. I was actually on the edge of my seat while reading parts of the story, and I have to give credit to Mr. Connelly for causing that reaction in me. First of all, his descriptions of the crimes were so real.. and so horrific! And the pacing of the story, namely towards the climax, was just perfect. And I have to tell you that the twists and turns in this book were just amazing. But it was more than just that for me. In THE DROP, I became so engrossed in Harry's life that I felt his fear and anxiety as he came closer to the resolution of both crimes. It seemed as if I were along for the ride.

I hope you'll pardon my absolutely gushing for THE DROP, but I just loved it! As far as I'm concerned, it's a must-read!

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

Mystery Mondays is a 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, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas!

Booking Daughter (Age 12) and Booking Son (Age 7)
Have a very Merry Christmas from our family to yours!

I might not be around much the next few days, but I will be back to my regular blog postings after the New Year!!!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Kid Konnection: "Cows Can't" Edition

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 two new-to-us books that we both enjoyed a great deal.

Summary: Is it really true that cows can't jump, gorillas can't swim and sloths can't leap? Yes, but discover what these and other animals can do, as they swing, scamper and glide through Cows Can't Jump! In this humorous and inspirational adventure, animals focus on what they do best, comfortably aware they can't do everything, but proud of their own special skills. Vibrantly illustrated, Cows Can't Jump will help young readers learn diverse and dynamic words, while absorbing a subtle yet powerful message that builds self-esteem and teaches respect and humility. -- Jumping Cow Press

COWS CAN'T JUMP by Dave Reisman and illustrated by Jason A. Maas is a delightful book for young children. It is available in both a board book and softcover format so it's ideal for even the youngest of little listeners. And I am pretty sure that kids and parents alike will enjoy the adorable pictures and the overall messages of the story.

Booking Son, despite being a tad bit old for COWS CAN'T JUMP, actually had a great time reading it to me. He found the illustrations to be quite silly and he quickly picked up on the format of the book right away. He told me that he liked the book a lot, and when asked why, he told me that it was funny.

As a mom, I agreed with him, but I think I appreciated the message of COWS CAN'T JUMP a little more than he did. COWS CAN'T JUMP shows youngsters that animals have their own unique skills, and that's it's okay not to be able to do "everything." Since he wasn't exactly quick to pick up on this inspirational message, I pointed this out to him and explained that it was true for people too. Of course, he said, "I know that already." However, I thought this book was a great way to discuss it with him further. And for the record, he knows everything... and he's only seven!

I highly recommend COWS CAN'T JUMP because it is fun and educational. I love that it teaches not only what animals can (and can't do), but it also teaches children about diversity and tolerance!

Summary: Come inside and sing, laugh and howl with the lively and diverse animals of Cows Can't Quack. Young listeners and early readers, ages six months to six years, will be enchanted by the bright and expressive illustrations and the rhythmic and engaging text. This companion to the highly praised Cows Can't Jump imparts a humorous and empowering tale of tolerance, respect and humility and is bound to become a beloved bedtime and storytime favorite for kids and parents alike. -- Jumping Cow Press

COWS CAN'T QUACK by Dave Reisman and illustrated by Jason A. Maas is the recently released sequel to COWS CAN'T JUMP. I was a little worried that the book would be too similar to the first one, and that Booking Son would be bored by the repetition. That was certainly not the case.

In many ways, COWS CAN'T QUACK does have some things in common with COWS CAN'T JUMP. First of all, the format of the story is very similar to the first book. For example, cows can't quack, but they can moo; moose can't moo, but they can grunt; and so on. What made this book so different to me was that they animal sounds and the animals themselves were very unique. The book used some sounds that we don't usually include when teaching our children animal sounds. This book included donkeys who hee-haw, monkeys who chatter, goats who bleat, rabbits who coo, and many more. (And by the way, the only animals who appear in both book are the cows.)

Another thing COWS CAN'T QUACK has in common with COWS CAN'T JUMP is its major theme. Both books teach children the importance of respect and tolerance for others. I truly believe that this is an extremely important message and can't be stressed enough with children, and I also think it's never to early to start introducing these ideas.

COWS CAN'T QUACK is another great book to give to the kiddos in your life.

Thanks to the publisher for sending 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, December 23, 2011

Review: The Night Before Christmas App

Summary: It's America's favorite holiday poem -- bringing the joy of the holiday season magically to life. Christmas just wouldn't be Christmas without Clement C. Moore's classic tale.

In this first ever book from the iconic folk group Peter, Paul & Mary, this heartwarming poem is magnificently illustrated by acclaimed painter Eric Puybaret and rendered magically interactive by Touchoo...

So gather the family, turn on your iPad, iTouch, or iPhone, and experience "The Night Before Christmas" as never before!

  • Magical music and sounds by Peter, Paul & Mary
  • Acclaimed painter Eric Puybaret's magical art
  • Enchanting narration by Mary Travers on her last performance
  • Captivating and rich interactivity
  • Full control over the experience: Read myself, read to me, and record myself
  • Control over sounds and music
  • Auto page-flip for little ones
  • "This book belongs to" to fill in your child's name
Join the many who already enjoy this magical book in its physical form -- on your touch devices! -- Imagine Publishing

Booking Son loves to play with my iPad, so when I discovered that there was a new app based on the classic poem "The Night Before Christmas" by Clement C. Moore, I just knew I had to share it with them. Just this past week, I found him reading the book to himself with a big smile on his face. And it's also a family favorite since my daughter dances in a "Twas" show every other year. (The "Twas" recital tells the story of "The Night Before Christmas" though a variety of dances along with Mrs. Claus' reading of the poem.)

But before I shared this app with Booking Son, I thought I'd check it out for myself. I wasn't surprised to find that I enjoyed it a great deal. I loved having the story read to me while I played with all of the blinking icons. Honestly, this app is for kids of all ages from a young preschooler to an older grandparent, and there really is something for everyone.

For the youngsters, there is the read-to-me option as well as auto page-flip. There are also lots of lights and blinking objects that children can touch and bring to life. And the sound effects and music by Peter, Paul & Mary make this app extra special. However, this app can also be appreciated by older children and even adults. In addition to all of the fun things I mentioned for little ones, there is a read myself or a record myself option. 

Both Booking Son and I had a great time interacting with "The Night Before Christmas" app, but I'd be remiss if I didn't mention how beautiful the illustrations are. I was so caught up in what the app could do that I didn't appreciate the artwork until my second time through. Mr. Puybaret's paintings are the perfect complement to this classic story.

I can only imagine how many times Booking Son and I will play with this app during this holiday season. It's a wonderful way to revisit this timeless story and I highly recommend it!

The app is available for your Apple or Android device. Click here for a sneak peek!

Thanks to Charlesbridge for this offer.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Review: The Autobiography of Santa Claus

Summary: It all started when Jeff Guinn was assigned to write a piece full of little-known facts about Christmas for his paper, The Fort Worth Star-Telegram. A few months later, he received a call from a gentleman who told him that he showed the story to an important friend who didn’t think much of it. And who might that be? asked Jeff. The next thing he knew, he was whisked off to the North Pole to meet with this “very important friend,” and the rest is, well, as they say, history.

An enchanting holiday treasure,
The Autobiography of Santa Claus combines solid historical fact with legend to deliver the definitive story of Santa Claus. And who better to lead us through seventeen centuries of Christmas magic than good ol’ Saint Nick himself? Families will delight in each chapter of this new Christmas classic—one per each cold December night leading up to Christmas! -- Tarcher

It's that busy time of year when reading takes a backseat to life, but I did manage to read a book last week called THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF SANTA CLAUS as told to Jeff Guinn. My feet were kind of held to the fire since it was our December book club pick, and I swore to myself that I would get it read in time for our meeting. I'm happy to say that I completed the book... because it was our book club pick. However, if you read my meeting summary, then you already know that I didn't exactly love this book; and I'm not sure that I would have finished it had it not been for our book group.

Having said all that, I think I liked THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF SANTA CLAUS more than any one of my friends. There were more than a few who hated it! I am a sucker for holiday books so maybe that contributed to my opinion, but I think I was able to look for the positive since I knew I had to write this review. Although I do think I appreciated the premise of this book, and for that, I can give the author a few props. The description of this book definitely appealed to me and the reviews on Amazon were, for the most part, pretty positive. I think where I had issues was in the execution of the story.

My one friend summed this book up fairly well when she called it Santa Claus meets Forrest Gump. Basically, THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF SANTA CLAUS follows Santa throughout history from his early childhood up to more modern times. It also presents the origin of the Santa tradition in a wide variety of European counties. Initially, I thought it was interesting to learn the history of Santa Claus and I enjoyed Santa's voice; however, the book started to lose my interest when Santa encountered the famous figures and major events from history (i.e. the Forrest Gump parts.)

Unfortunately, I struggled to get through this book. It was just very repetitive for me -- from the running joke about Santa's weight to the odd assortment of historical characters that he met. It just seemed to me like the author was trying too hard to introduce characters (like St. Francis of Assisi and Attila the Hun) so he could tell their stories too. I admit that when Attila the Hun started working on Santa's team, I felt like the story jumped the shark!

Overall, I'd say that I was disappointed by THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF SANTA CLAUS. While it did have a unique premise, I felt that the execution didn't live up to its potential. I do give the author credit for doing a huge amount of research on both Santa and other famous historical characters, but it just didn't work for me.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Review: Bien Fait Specialty Cakes

A few weeks ago, I was contacted by the cakemaster at Bien Fait Specialty Cakes in Greensboro, Vermont. She asked if I was interested in sampling some of their "preservative free, fresh, tasty treats." Of course, I jumped at the chance. A short time later, I received a box full of goodies including a small loaves of Apple Cider Cake, Cranberry Almond Teacake, and Bourbon Fruitcake. In addition, I received a large loaf of a Maple Pecan Teacake.

I probably don't have to even tell you how delicious these cakes were. It was immediately apparent to me that these cakes were made with fresh ingredients -- not preservatives -- because they didn't taste "fake." (For those of you who bake, I think you know what I mean.) All of the cakes were chock full of nuts and candies and they were also quite pretty. In addition, the cakes will last for weeks in your refrigerator and even longer in the freezer.

The taste of these cakes is the most important aspect to me, but I also wanted to mention some other wonderful things about Bien Fait Cakes. First of all, they try to use as many local ingredients as possible including maple syrup from a mile down the road, fresh organic eggs from a farm three miles away, butter from a creamery less than 10 miles away, flour from a nearby mill, and cranberries picked a few miles from the bakery. They also package their products very nicely with handwritten notes and cards with the ingredients listed. Each cake was wrapped in tissue paper too!

Bien Fait Cakes are true artisan bakers. They aren't mass producing their cakes and all of their products are preservative free. And if that's not enough to convince you, they donate 100% of their profits to benefit social and cultural enrichment programming at Wonder & Wisdom Inc. Wonder & Wisdom is a nonprofit organization devoted to life-long learning through imaginative programming for people of all ages. I can't tell you how impressed I am with this company!

While I loved the samples I received, I couldn't help but look through the catalog to see what else is available. Needless to say, there are many other cakes that are also very appealing. Bien Fait is known for their fruitcakes (Brandied Fruitcake and Bourbon Fruitcake), but I have to tell you that the Amaretto Nutcake and the Lemon Berry Teacake sound fabulous. There is also a Sugar Free Cake for those of you who like to stay away from refined sugar and spirits. In addition, there is a variety of dessert bars and Vermont specialties available.

I am so happy that I "discovered" Bien Fait Specialty Cakes and I highly suggest taking a look at their website. Make sure you check out the Taster's Club!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Question & Answer with Caroline Preston

A few months ago, I posted a raving review of THE SCRAPBOOK OF FRANKIE PRATT: A NOVEL IN PICTURES by Caroline Preston. I truly was blown away by this unique novel which is told in the format of a scrapbook. I was fascinated by not only Frankie's story, but also the process the author used to write the book. So when Ms. Preston sent me a Q&A of some of the most asked questions that she received during her book tour, I just knew I had to share it with all of you.

When I was on my book tour for The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt, I was often asked similar questions about how I created a scrapbook novel. Here is a list of the top Frankie Pratt FAQ’s.

1. What gave you the idea for doing a novel as a scrapbook?

I like to say the idea of making a scrapbook novel was 40 years in the making. As a little girl, I used to pore over my grandmother’s flapper scrapbook filled with dance cards, letters from old boyfriends, ocean liner tickets, and even long curls snipped when she got her hair bobbed.

My first three novels were what I guess you’d call “conventional” format—i.e. just words. My third novel Gatsby’s Girl was inspired by the meticulous scrapbook F. Scott Fitzgerald kept about his first love, Ginevra King—her first note to him, her handkerchief, and a newspaper clipping about her marriage to another man. Later he would turn the story of his unrequited crush into The Great Gatsby.

When I was casting around for the idea for my fourth novel, I wanted to create something that was as visual and powerful as a scrapbook. And then I had a crazy idea—why not make a novel that WAS a scrapbook. Not a digital scrapbook, but an actual one made of real stuff that I cut up with scissors and pasted together with glue.

2. What came first—the story or the memorabilia?

I started with my character, Frankie Pratt, and the outlines of her story, which was set in the 1920’s. I imagined an 18-year-old girl who wanted to become a writer and her journey which would take her to Vassar, Greenwich Village, and Paris.

Then I hunted down and bought all the things that a girl like Frankie would glue in her scrapbook—postcards, movie tickets, Vassar report cards, menus, sheet music, fashion spreads, popular magazines, a New York subway map, a Paris guidebook, and of course love letters. In all, I collected over 600 pieces of vintage 1920’s ephemera

3. How did the memorabilia dictate the story?

Frankie’s story changed and evolved as I found surprising things—for example an original book cover for The Sun Also Rises. The book caused a huge fuss in Paris when it came out in 1926 because everyone recognized the characters, and she would have been right there to bear witness.

4. Why did you choose to set Frankie’s story in the 1920s?

Like a lot of people, I have a romantic obsession with the 1920’s when very aspect of life (especially for women) was turned upside down and reinvented. Women cut off their hair and hemlines, got the vote, went to work, and felt freed from Victorian behavior codes. Writing Frankie Pratt was a chance for me to indulge in some lovely time travel.

5. Where did you get a lot of the things featured in the scrapbook?

I had a surprising number of 1920’s items in my own collection of vintage paper. I stopped at every roadside antique store and junk shop I passed- in Mississippi, Virginia, New York and Illinois. (My favorite store is Whiting’s Old Paper in Mecanicsville, Va.) And also I bought over 300 items from eBay—so many that my mailman complained.

6. Do you think this was easier or harder than writing a novel in a more traditional manner?

Creating a scrapbook novel may not have been easier than writing a traditional novel, but it sure was a lot more fun! Writing a 300 page novel requires thousands of hours of sitting in a chair and staring at a blank computer screen. With Frankie Pratt, I could spend countless hours and dollars on eBay every day and tell my husband with a straight face that I was “working on my novel.”

7. What are you working on next?

I have started in on my next scrapbook novel, this one kept by a bride during her first year of marriage 1959-1960. I like to think of it as a prequel to Mad Men. My favorite finds so far: a 1959 Brides magazine, the Betty Crocker Bride’s Cookbook, a 1960 sex manual, View-Master slides, a set of bride and groom paper dolls…

A huge thanks to Ms. Preston for taking time from her busy touring schedule to send me some of her most-asked questions. Please do yourself a favor and check out this fantastic book!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Review: Death on a Platter

Summary: Josie Marcus plans to savor sampling the local St. Louis cuisine for a City Eats food tour. But her appetite is ruined at Tillie's Off the Hill Italian Restaurant when another customer is poisoned. Was the victim the real target-or is someone trying to ruin Tillie's reputation? It's up to Josie to find a killer who has no reservations about preparing a dish to die for... -- Obsidian Mystery

My reading time is almost non-existent the past few weeks (and especially the past few days), but I did have time to squeeze in a cute little cozy mystery for Mystery Mondays called DEATH ON A PLATTER by Elaine Viets. DEATH ON A PLATTER is the seventh book in the Josie Marcus Mystery Shopper series; and frankly, I don't know why it's taken me this long to discover these books.

I thought DEATH ON A PLATTER was a very fun read and it pretty much epitomized everything I love about cozies. It had a likable main character in Josie, an entertaining supporting cast of characters, and an interesting setting. In addition, I appreciated the premise behind these books -- a mystery shopper who moonlights as an amateur sleuth. Maybe it's my love of eating and shopping, but I really thought the idea behind this series is pretty original.

Truly, I think I enjoyed DEATH ON A PLATTER so much because I loved the characters. Josie is extremely entertaining and I enjoyed learning about her personal life almost as much as the murder mystery. She is a single mom of a tween (God bless her!) who also happens to live with her overbearing (yet very helpful) mom. Josie does a pretty good job of solving the murder on her own, but she gets some help along the way from some other "fun" characters -- her veterinarian boyfriend Ted and her best friend Alyce.

Besides the characters, I also really enjoyed the setting of the novel -- St. Louis. I had no idea that St. Louis has so many unique dining options and I love that they were featured in this story. Ms. Viets even included a section in the back of the book which goes into more detail about some of St. Louis' finest culinary specialties including toasted ravioli, gooey butter cake, square pizza pies, deep-fat fried brain sandwiches and barbecue.

Finally, I think I enjoyed this book so much because it had a creative murder mystery. In DEATH ON A PLATTER, a character kicks the bucket when he gets poisoned eating toasted ravioli. And it wasn't just "normal" poison. He died because he ingested castor beans. The book had an intriguing list of suspects, and any one of them could have committed the crime. I can't say that the conclusion of the novel was a total surprise for me, but it was still a fun ride to figure out the culprit(s) along with Josie.

DEATH ON A PLATTER was a cute murder mystery and I wouldn't hesitate to pick up another one of the Josie Marcus Mystery Shopper books. I highly recommend it for fans of cozies and/or fans of foodie books!

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

Mystery Mondays is a 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.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Kid Konnection: Toyland Express

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 a very fun (and very challenging) picture book that Booking Son and I just loved!

Summary: An amazing new search-and-find adventure from the creative mind of renowned photographer and author Walter Wick.

Amazing photographs accompany a search-and-find story by Walter Wick, the creator of award-winning picture books, the author and photographer of the
New York Times–bestselling "Can You See What I See?" series, and the photographer of the bestselling "I SPY" series.

Can You See What I See? Toyland Express, the eighth title in the bestselling search-and-find series, follows the life of a toy train from the workshop to the attic, only to be rescued at a yard sale and brought to life once again in a new home. As readers search for more than 250 hidden objects, they will also notice how the train takes on various transformations along its journey. -- Scholastic

I'm sure this sounds just awful, but sometimes I am just too tired to sit down and read a picture book before tucking Booking Son into bed. And I swear if I read one more Star Wars book, I'm going to scream. Maybe that's why I enjoyed CAN YOU SEE WHAT I SEE? TOYLAND EXPRESS: PICTURE PUZZLES TO SEARCH AND SOLVE by Walter Wick so darn much. Over the course of several nights, Booking Son and I had a lot of fun racing against each other to find the various images.

For those of you who aren't familiar with the Can You See What I See series, these books are almost like puzzles. Each page features an interesting photograph with lots and lots of fine detail. Basically, Mr. Wick, who is also the creator of the I Spy books, designs and builds miniature sets and then photographs them for his books. In addition to the beautiful photographs, there are also riddles on each page which list the 250 items that you are supposed to find.

I am probably going to embarrass myself over this, but I had a heck of a time finding all of the items on each page. I don't know if I'm lacking the mental power to do this or I'm just super slow. Booking Son was better at finding them than I was, but I swear we both thought this book was challenging... in a fun way. One thing I can definitely say about TOYLAND EXPRESS is that it is a book for all ages!

If you are looking for a fun-filled activity book this holiday season that is guaranteed to keep kids (and adults) entertained for hours, then I highly recommend TOYLAND EXPRESS!

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

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, December 16, 2011

Guest Review: American Emperor

Summary: In 1805, the United States was not twenty years old, an unformed infant. The government consisted of a few hundred people. The immense frontier swallowed up a tiny army of 3,300 soldiers. Following the Louisiana Purchase, no one even knew where the nation’s western border lay. Secessionist sentiment flared in New England and beyond the Appalachians. 

Burr had challenged Jefferson, his own running mate, in the presidential election of 1800. Indicted for murder in the dueling death of Alexander Hamilton in 1804, he dreamt huge dreams. He imagined an insurrection in New Orleans, a private invasion of Spanish Mexico and Florida, and a great empire rising on the Gulf of Mexico, which would swell when America’s western lands seceded from the Union. For two years, Burr pursued this audacious dream, enlisting support from the General-in-Chief of the Army, a paid agent of the Spanish king, and from other western leaders, including Andrew Jackson. When the army chief double-crossed Burr, Jefferson finally roused himself and ordered Burr prosecuted for treason. 

The trial featured the nation’s finest lawyers before the greatest judge in our history, Chief Justice John Marshall, Jefferson’s distant cousin and determined adversary. It became a contest over the nation’s identity: Should individual rights be sacrificed to punish a political apostate who challenged the nation’s very existence? In a revealing reversal of political philosophies, Jefferson championed government power over individual rights, while Marshall shielded the nation’s most notorious defendant. By concealing evidence, appealing to the rule of law, and exploiting the weaknesses of the government’s case, Burr won his freedom. 

Afterwards Burr left for Europe to pursue an equally outrageous scheme to liberate Spain’s American colonies, but finding no European sponsor, he returned to America and lived to an unrepentant old age. 

Stewart’s vivid account of Burr’s tumultuous life offers a rare and eye-opening description of the brand-new nation struggling to define itself. -- Simon & Schuster

Booking Pap Pap has been in a bit of a reading slump himself lately so I'm glad that I passed along AMERICAN EMPEROR: AARON BURR"S CHALLENGE TO JEFFERSON'S AMERICA by David O. Stewart. He even said something along the lines of, "Finally you gave me a good book!" when I saw him last week. So without further ado, here's what he thought:

When one thinks of Aaron Burr the first thing that comes to mind is that he killed Alexander Hamilton in a dual.  However, other information about Burr is not so well known.  David O. Stewart takes care of that void in AMERICAN EMPEROR.

Stewart gives us a detailed account of this Founding Father from 1800 to 1812.  He begins with Burr as the clear number 2 on the Republican Party presidential ticket with Thomas Jefferson in 1800.  Due to a quirk in the Electoral College system, Burr received an equal number of votes as Jefferson.  Rather than accept the vice-president role Burr actually challenged Jefferson for the presidency.  This challenge not only caused a rift in the relationship with Jefferson but gives the reader a sense of the character that would later strive to create his own country.  The duel with Hamilton occurred in 1804 while Burr was serving as the Vice-President.  It’s astounding to me that Burr continued to perform his duties as the Vice-President while wanted for murder in New York and New Jersey.

By 1805, no longer welcome in the Republican Party as a viable candidate and thirsting for power, Burr embarked on a two-year plan to create his own country by taking advantage of the fact that the settlers of the western territories of the United States felt neglected by the federal government, the residents of the territories acquired by the Louisiana Purchase were not excited about being part of the United States and a weak Spain left them vulnerable to attack in the Florida and Mexican territories.  Burr’s plan was ultimately discovered by the United States and he was tried for treason.  Two interesting characters in this episode were General James Wilkerson and Chief Justice John Marshall.  Wilkerson, serving jointly as a U.S. general and a spy for Spain, at first joined Burr’s quest and later played a role in bringing Burr to justice.  Chief Justice Marshall, a distant cousin of Jefferson and one of the great Supreme Court justices, presided over the trial that cleared Burr of all charges related to treason.  I found it intriguing that Andrew Jackson almost joined Burr’s cause.  An interesting aspect of the book is the author’s characterization of Thomas Jefferson’s handling of the Aaron Burr situation.

As amazing as it might seem, Burr did not quit there but spent several years in England and France attempting to obtain support for his plan to take over Florida and Mexican territories with him, of course, as the head of state.  He had no success in this effort.  Years later when the United States acquired these territories, Burr explained he was just ahead of his time.

AMERICAN EMPEROR is a well researched and very readable account of this portion of Aaron Burr’s life.  Stewart gives the reader great insight into his relationship with his daughter, his private life, his skills as a lawyer and his persuasive ability as a leader.   I would recommend this book to anyone with an interest in American history.     

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy and to Booking Pap Pap for his insightful review.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

December 2011 Book Club Meeting

Summary: It all started when Jeff Guinn was assigned to write a piece full of little-known facts about Christmas for his paper, The Fort Worth Star-Telegram. A few months later, he received a call from a gentleman who told him that he showed the story to an important friend who didn’t think much of it. And who might that be? asked Jeff. The next thing he knew, he was whisked off to the North Pole to meet with this “very important friend,” and the rest is, well, as they say, history.

An enchanting holiday treasure, The Autobiography of Santa Claus combines solid historical fact with legend to deliver the definitive story of Santa Claus. And who better to lead us through seventeen centuries of Christmas magic than good ol’ Saint Nick himself? Families will delight in each chapter of this new Christmas classic—one per each cold December night leading up to Christmas! -- Tarcher/Penguin

Earlier this week, our book club got together for our annual holiday meeting. Our hostess selected THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF SANTA CLAUS as told to Jeff Guinn. She thought it would be a light and fun read, and we were hoping that it would it get us in the holiday spirit.

Well... I don't think THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF SANTA CLAUS really was an enjoyable read for any of us. I was surprised that everyone finished the book except for one of us and she read over half. And none of us liked it -- not a one. In fact, some of our members absolutely hated it. I'm not entirely sure it was an ideal discussion book anyway, but considering how everyone felt about the book, I don't think any of us really wanted to spend any more time on it. I'll give my opinion in a few days in my review!

So, we had a nice meeting and ate some yummy food and talked... a  lot. We actually began the meeting with our book swap since one of our  members had to get home to her children. I ended up with a book that I already had (imagine that!) so I gave it away. But I didn't come home empty handed. One of my friends brought PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES for me.

Next month, we will be reading IN THE GARDEN OF BEASTS by Erik Larson. I have been wanting to read this one ever since BEA so I'm looking forward to it. Having said that, I'm a little worried about some of the reviews out there, but for the most part, they seem to be generally positive.

Summary: Erik Larson has been widely acclaimed as a master of narrative non-fiction, and in his new book, the bestselling author of Devil in the White City turns his hand to a remarkable story set during Hitler’s rise to power.

The time is 1933, the place, Berlin, when William E. Dodd becomes America’s first ambassador to Hitler’s Germany in a year that proved to be a turning point in history.

A mild-mannered professor from Chicago, Dodd brings along his wife, son, and flamboyant daughter, Martha. At first Martha is entranced by the parties and pomp, and the handsome young men of the Third Reich with their infectious enthusiasm for restoring Germany to a position of world prominence. Enamored of the “New Germany,” she has one affair after another, including with the suprisingly honorable first chief of the Gestapo, Rudolf Diels. But as evidence of Jewish persecution mounts, confirmed by chilling first-person testimony, her father telegraphs his concerns to a largely indifferent State Department back home. Dodd watches with alarm as Jews are attacked, the press is censored, and drafts of frightening new laws begin to circulate. As that first year unfolds and the shadows deepen, the Dodds experience days full of excitement, intrigue, romance—and ultimately, horror, when a climactic spasm of violence and murder reveals Hitler’s true character and ruthless ambition.

Suffused with the tense atmosphere of the period, and with unforgettable portraits of the bizarre Göring and the expectedly charming--yet wholly sinister--Goebbels,
In the Garden of Beasts lends a stunning, eyewitness perspective on events as they unfold in real time, revealing an era of surprising nuance and complexity. The result is a dazzling, addictively readable work that speaks volumes about why the world did not recognize the grave threat posed by Hitler until Berlin, and Europe, were awash in blood and terror. -- Crown

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Giveaway: A Discovery of Witches

Summary: In a sparkling debut, A Discovery of Witches became the "it" book of early 2011, bringing Deborah Harkness into the spotlight and galvanizing fans around the world. In this tale of passion and obsession, Diana Bishop, a young scholar and the descendant of witches, discovers a long-lost and enchanted alchemical manuscript deep in Oxford's Bodleian Library. Its reappearance summons a fantastical underworld, which she navigates with her leading man, vampire geneticist Matthew Clairmont. Harkness has created a universe to rival those of Anne Rice, Diana Gabaldon, and Elizabeth Kostova, and she adds a scholar's depth to this riveting story of magic and suspense. -- Penguin

There are many books that I wanted to read this year and didn't get around to, but perhaps the one I most regret not reading was A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES by Deborah Harkness. I definitely plan on reading it in the upcoming months, especially since the paperback version is being released soon. So many people I know just loved it!

I have a copy of the new paperback version of A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES to share with one lucky reader. To enter, just fill out the form below before December 22nd at 11:59 p.m. ET. I will randomly select and notify the winner the following day. This contest is open to those of you with US addresses only. Good luck!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Review: Blue Christmas & Giveaway

Summary: It's the week before Christmas, and antiques dealer Weezie Foley is in a frenzy to garnish her shop for the Savannah historical district decorating contest, which she intends to win. Weezie is ready to shoot herself with her glue gun by the time she's done, but the results are stunning. She's certainly one-upped the owners of the trendy boutique around the corner, but suddenly things start to go missing from her display, and there seems to be a mysterious midnight visitor to her shop. 

Still, Weezie has high hopes for the holiday—maybe in the form of an engagement ring from her chef boyfriend. But Daniel, always moody at the holidays, seems more distant than usual. Throw in Weezie's decidedly odd family, a 1950s Christmas tree pin, and even a little help from the King himself (Elvis, that is), and maybe there will be a pocketful of miracles for Weezie this Christmas Eve. 

Back by popular demand, this new edition of the holiday classic includes an essay by the author, tips for "keeping the happy in holidays," additional recipes, and more. -- Harper

I mentioned a few days ago that I'm in a bit of a reading slump. Normally during this time of the year, I devour holiday-themed books, but this year I seem to be too busy to read much of anything. And that's why BLUE CHRISTMAS by Mary Kay Andrews was just perfect for me. First of all, it's by Mary Kay Andrews, an author whom I just adore. Secondly, it's under 200 pages and a very quick read. And lastly, and perhaps most importantly, it's just a very fun book.

BLUE CHRISTMAS was originally published in 2006 and it was an immediate New York Times bestseller. However, for some reason, I had never read it until this year. The novel is set in Savannah (a fantastic city!) and continues the adventures of Weezie Foley and her best friend BeBe from Mary Kay Andrews' Savannah series (SAVANNAH BREEZE and SAVANNAH BLUES.)

In BLUE CHRISTMAS, antiques dealer Weezie Foley is desperate to win the decorating contest in historic Savannah, but to do that she has to beat her new competitors Cookie and Manny. She decides to go with a very unique storefront window featuring Elvis' Blue Christmas as a theme. However, things begin to go awry when she notices things missing from her window and surprise gifts start showing up in her truck. Despite the many mishaps and surprises along the way, Weezie is determined to salvage this holiday.

I thought BLUE CHRISTMAS was fantastic. It was exactly the type of book I needed to read to remind me of the magic of the holiday season. Of course, the characters in this story are great -- it is a Mary Kay Andrews' book, but I also loved the humor which seems to be a trademark of her novels. BLUE CHRISTMAS wasn't entirely surprising (and some readers might even say it's a tad bit predictable), but in my opinion, it is good holiday fun.

And this is just a little bonus, but BLUE CHRISTMAS has some fun extras included in the back of the book. There are some recipes of food and drinks that were mentioned in the story. In addition, there are Ms. Andrews' notes about her inspiration for the story and tips for keeping the "happy in holidays." She also includes a fun (and vintage) Christmas playlist!

And since BLUE CHRISTMAS is a terrific book to read this time of year, I thought I'd share some exciting news with you. From now through Friday December 23rd, the BLUE CHRISTMAS e-book will be marked down to $1.99 at all e-book retailers. That price makes it a perfect gift for yourself or someone you love!

Thanks to Tandem Literary for providing a review copy of this book.

Giveaway alert: I have a copy of BLUE CHRISTMAS to share with one lucky reader. To enter, just fill out the form below before Monday, December 19th at 11:59 p.m. ET. I will randomly select and notify the winner the following day. This contest is open to those of you with U.S. addresses only. Good luck!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Review: Mrs. Jeffries & the Mistletoe Mix-Up

Summary: Under a bundle of mistletoe, art collector Daniel McCourt lies with his throat slit, a bloody sword next to his body. Inspector Witherspoon is determined to solve the case-preferably before the eggnog is ladled out on Christmas Eve-but of course he will require assistance from the always sharp-witted housekeeper, Mrs. Jeffries, who has a few of her own theories on why McCourt had to die by the sword. -- Berkley

Since it's time again for Mystery Mondays, I thought I'd read a holiday-themed book this week -- MRS. JEFFRIES & THE MISTLETOE MIX-UP by Emily Brightwell. This novel is the 29th in the Victorian Mystery series, but these books were new to me. And because there's absolutely no way that I'm ever going to find the time to read the first 28th books, I decided to start with this one. I figure it's better late than never.

I thoroughly enjoyed MRS. JEFFRIES & THE MISTLETOE MIX-UP and, as far as mysteries go, I was impressed with this one. For those of you who aren't familiar with this series, the stories take place in Victorian London. Inspector Witherspoon works at Scotland Yard and is assigned various murders to solve. He's a pretty adept inspector, but his very loyal house staff (that he inherited from his aunt -- a Scotland Yard inspector doesn't make that much money!) always seems to get involved in the investigation and helps him to solve the crime. Mrs. Jeffries, more often than not, is the real brains behind the operation.

I don't know that I'd say that this time period, Victorian England, is one of my favorites; and maybe that's why I haven't ever read any of these books before. However, I found I enjoyed the setting of this story a great deal. Furthermore, I thought Ms. Brightwell does a good job of bringing the city and the time period to life. 

What I really liked, though, about MRS. JEFFRIES & THE MISTLETOE MIX-UP were the characters. Mrs. Jeffries is a wonderful amateur sleuth and I loved that the hired help assists her (and Inspector Witherspoon) in discovering the major clues in the murder mystery. All too often the upper class didn't treat their staffs as equals and I think it's so ironic that they are actually the eyes and ears of the house -- and that they are the ones to establish relationships with key witnesses. My only issue was that I found it kind of difficult keeping all of the names and roles straight for the first few chapters of the book. I can probably chalk that up to starting with the 29th book in the series instead of the first one!

As far a mysteries go, I thought MRS. JEFFRIES & THE MISTLETOE MIX-UP was very good. I appreciated how the clues unfolded and I liked that I discovered the information right along with the characters in the story. I did find myself trying to figure out the culprit (and I even guessed correctly), but I wouldn't say that the novel was predictable in the least. There were quite a few suspects, any of whom could have killed the victim, and I did change my mind on more than one occasion.

If you are a fan of cozies or are just looking for a holiday-themed book to read, then I recommend MRS. JEFFRIES & THE MISTLETOE MIX-UP. It's a fun  mystery with terrific characters.

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

Mystery Mondays is a 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.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Kid Konnection: Where Does Love Come From?

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 a new picture book which is all about love.

Summary: Where does love come from? Does it grow on a tree? Or swim in the sea? This collection of silly questions explains a complicated emotion in a fun, entertaining way that children can easily understand. Readers follow the book's intricately designed pages, which are similar in format to Accord's The Rainbow Book, to reveal a sweetly simple truth about love. As each die-cut page proposes another possible source, Where Does Love Come From? concludes with a declaration that readers likely already know . . . that "love comes from your heart." -- Accord Publishing

I immediately knew I was going to like the new picture book WHERE DOES LOVE COME FROM? by Milena Kirkova. The cover alone, with the cute cut out heart and teeny polka dot spine, won me over. However, it was the message of the book that really captured my heart.

WHERE DOES LOVE COME FROM? takes young readers on the journey to discovering just that -- where does love come from? Each page explores a possible place, such as growing on trees, lighting up the sky, or even blooming in a garden; and the book ends with the reality that it "comes from your heart." It is a completely adorable book that also teaches children a thing or two about the true meaning of love.

The book is pretty simplistic in its message and there isn't a lot of text per page which makes it perfect for toddlers and preschoolers, although I do think even elementary age children will enjoy reading the book and looking at the illustrations. The pages are made from a sturdy type of paper which makes the book more durable than a lot of picture books. As a mother, I appreciate that WHERE DOES LOVE COME FROM? explores the complex emotion of love in such a simple and fun way.

But what really stood out to me about WHERE DOES LOVE COME FROM? are the illustrations by Milena Kirkova. They are positively precious. Not only are their lots of bright colors and whimsical images, but there are also heart die-cuts on each page. These cut-outs allow colors from the past and future pages to peek through and add more depth to the already fun drawings.

Overall, I thought WHERE DOES LOVE COME FROM? was a very cute book, and I think it's one of that parents and children alike will enjoy reading together. Most definitely recommended!

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

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!