Friday, November 30, 2012

Reagan Arthur Books Challenge

Like many of you, I've kind of dropped the ball on participating in challenges lately. I no longer enjoy the pressure of "having" to read with specific deadlines. And I find that I'm hesitant to commit to anything! So I understand that many of you are probably in the same boat.

However, I wanted to remind you that there is a fun challenge out there that is pressure-free. It's the The Reagan Arthur Books Challenge, hosted by Kathy of Bermudaonion's Weblog and me. This challenge is a perpetual challenge which means NO PRESSURE! The goal is simply to read the Reagan Arthur books that look good to you. There are no numbers, time limits, or basically any steadfast rules. 

For those of you who aren't familiar with Reagan Arthur Books, it's an imprint of Little, Brown and Company, and it's goal is "to give readers what they want most: the unique and lasting pleasure of sitting alone with a good book, being moved and entertained and even changed forever."

Reagan Arthur has published a wide variety of quality books over the past few years. Some past books that I have really enjoyed are BOSSYPANTS by Tina Fey, THE 500 by Matthew Quirk, and THE LIFEBOAT by Charlotte Regan.  There is also a fantastic book coming out soon that I can hardly wait for called LIFE AFTER LIFE by Kate Atkinson.
 
You can read more about the Reagan Arthur Books Challenge here and you can sign up here.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Review: Wish You Were Eyre

Summary: It’s a dream come true for Megan, who’s jet-setting to Paris for Fashion Week with Gigi. Meanwhile, back in Concord, Mrs. Wong decides to run for mayor, so Emma and Stewart team up to make her campaign a success. Jess and Cassidy are also hoping for victories, Jess in the a cappella finals with the MadriGals and Cassidy in the national hockey championships with her teammates. In the midst of it all, the girls—along with their Wyoming pen pals, who drop in for a visit over Spring Break—dive into Charlotte BrontĂ«’s classic Jane Eyre. Some real life romance follows, as Becca may have found a Mr. Rochester of her own.

And then there’s the matter of a certain wedding. The book club girls, their families, the British Berkeley brothers, and even Stinkerbelle will be attending the ceremony, which means there might be some bumps before the bride waltzes down the aisle…. -- Simon & Schuster


It was with a little sadness that I picked up WISH YOU WERE EYRE by Heather Vogel Frederick. This novel is the sixth, and last, book in The Mother-Daughter Book Club series; and I have so enjoyed reading and discussing this series with my daughter. I have enjoyed seeing these young girls (and even their mothers) change through the years, and I have also loved seeing how the author managed to tie each book to a famous piece of literature. Needless to say, I am extremely sad that next fall I won't have another one of these novels to look forward to!

WISH YOU WERE EYRE picks up right where HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS left off. Spring Break is quickly approaching and all of the girls are incredibly busy with school, after-school activities, and of course, their mother-daughter book club. Megan is getting ready to head to Paris' Fashion Week with her grandmother, while her mother makes a run for mayor of Concord with Emma and her boyfriend Stewart as her campaign managers. Meanwhile, Jess is hoping to head to the a cappella finals and Cassidy wants to win the national hockey championships. And Becca takes a trip with her grandmother to Minnesota (not nearly as glamorous as Paris!) where she manages finds a little romance.

Despite all of the trips and activities, the girls still have a little time for fun. Their Wyoming pen pals (from the novel DEAR PEN PAL) visit Concord, and all of the girls discuss Charlotte Bronte's JANE EYRE. Once again, the girls are surprised by the relevance of the novel and how it pertains to their present-day lives. As the girls move towards the end of their high school years, they all realize that many changes are in store for them. However, they still manage to shake things and make a little mischief before they part ways!

Booking Daughter and I both thought WISH YOU WERE EYRE was a fantastic way to end this series. In fact, I probably shouldn't admit this, but I teared up at the end of this story. As the girls and their moms reminisced about the past and their old book club meetings, I found myself fondly remembering all of the fun I had reading these books and getting to know these characters. And truth be told, it also made me realize how quickly my own "little girl" is growing up!

As is the case with every book in this series, in WISH YOU WERE EYRE, the girls and their mothers read a book for their book club. This time, it was JANE EYRE and the author definitely did a great job tying the characters and plot of JANE EYRE to these girls' lives. Becca even met her own Mr. Rochester! I haven't read JANE EYRE yet, but I intend to pick it up shortly because this novel gave enough teasers to pique my interest. In addition, I love how Emma's mother (the librarian) always includes "fun facts" about the book and the author that she shares with the girls at their meetings. I loved learning a little trivia about Ms. Bronte (and her family), and I think it's terrific that Ms. Frederick manages to make these books educational in addition to entertaining.

I was definitely wearing my "mom hat" while typing that last sentence, but I also want to mention that I like WISH YOU WERE EYRE, and all of the books in the series, have some very positive messages. I will say that the girls don't always act like nice young ladies, though their behavior is probably pretty realistic. However, by the end of the books, they learn valuable lessons about friendship and kindness; and they even end up doing the "right thing." I think the overall positive messages, along with likable characters and  an entertaining story, make these books ideal for tween girls.

WISH YOU WERE EYRE would make a great book club pick especially for mother-daughter groups. Our group read the first book in the series a few years ago and it was a big hit. Of course it didn't hurt that the author called in! There is a reading guide in the back of the book with some great questions. Some of the themes you might want to explore include jealousy, first impressions. quick judgments, sibling relationships, friendship, travel, false accusations, guilt, hobbies, and competition.

I adored WISH YOU WERE EYRE despite being a little sad about the end of the series. I highly recommend this novel (and the rest of the series) to tween girls... and their mothers!

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

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Review: Brain on Fire

Summary: One day in 2009, twenty-four-year-old Susannah Cahalan woke up alone in a strange hospital room, strapped to her bed, under guard, and unable to move or speak. A wristband marked her as a “flight risk,” and her medical records—chronicling a monthlong hospital stay of which she had no memory at all—showed hallucinations, violence, and dangerous instability. Only weeks earlier, Susannah had been on the threshold of a new, adult life: a healthy, ambitious college grad a few months into her first serious relationship and a promising career as a cub reporter at a major New York newspaper. Who was the stranger who had taken over her body? What was happening to her mind? 

In this swift and breathtaking narrative, Susannah tells the astonishing true story of her inexplicable descent into madness and the brilliant, lifesaving diagnosis that nearly didn’t happen. A team of doctors would spend a month—and more than a million dollars—trying desperately to pin down a medical explanation for what had gone wrong. Meanwhile, as the days passed and her family, boyfriend, and friends helplessly stood watch by her bed, she began to move inexorably through psychosis into catatonia and, ultimately, toward death. Yet even as this period nearly tore her family apart, it offered an extraordinary testament to their faith in Susannah and their refusal to let her go. 

Then, at the last minute, celebrated neurologist Souhel Najjar joined her team and, with the help of a lucky, ingenious test, saved her life. He recognized the symptoms of a newly discovered autoimmune disorder in which the body attacks the brain, a disease now thought to be tied to both schizophrenia and autism, and perhaps the root of “demonic possessions” throughout history. 

Far more than simply a riveting read and a crackling medical mystery, Brain on Fire is the powerful account of one woman’s struggle to recapture her identity and to rediscover herself among the fragments left behind. Using all her considerable journalistic skills, and building from hospital records and surveillance video, interviews with family and friends, and excerpts from the deeply moving journal her father kept during her illness, Susannah pieces together the story of her “lost month” to write an unforgettable memoir about memory and identity, faith and love. It is an important, profoundly compelling tale of survival and perseverance that is destined to become a classic. -- Free Press

When I first received a copy of BRAIN ON FIRE: MY MONTH OF MADNESS by Susannah Cahalan, I wasn't exactly sure that it appealed to me. I like the occasional memoir and thought the story sounded kind of/sort of interesting, but it wasn't screaming out to me so I put it aside. And then, I started seeing a lot of magazine features and reading some positive reviews; and I started seeing the story in an entirely new light. I actually dropped another book I was reading to pick up this one!

All I can say is "Wow! What a story!" I had no idea how gripping this novel would be. BRAIN ON FIRE is about Susannah Cahalan, a young woman who was working as a reporter for the New York Post and seemingly had it all. When Ms. Cahalan started to exhibit some flu-like symptoms, she wasn't all that concerned. However, her health quickly deteriorated and she descended into a month of madness where she nearly died! She became very ill and even paranoid, had seizures, and eventually became psychotic and catatonic.

Doctors had absolutely no idea what was wrong with Ms. Cahalan. MRIs and other tests kept coming back as normal and her symptoms weren't consistent with any known disease. It wasn't until a brilliant neurosurgeon Dr. Najjar was put on her case that Ms. Cahalan was finally diagnosed with a newly discovered and rare autoimmune disorder that attacks the brain. (He got his first clue through a very basic test that asks a patient to draw a clock!) Fortunately, the medical team was able to then treat Ms. Cahalan and she returned to normal. She has has virtually no memory of her hospital stay or that month of madness; however, she pieced together stories from doctors and relatives, hospital records, and even video to tell her incredible story.

Do I even need to tell you how terrifying this book was for me to read? Ms. Cahalan's story could happen to anyone... anytime for no apparent reason; and don't think I wasn't constantly thinking of that as I read BRAIN ON FIRE. In fact, I'm sure the next time I'm sick, I'll convince myself that I have this autoimmune disorder. Of course, my heart went out to Ms. Cahalan and her family for having to experience these horrors; and I found her story about the doctors' plight to solve her medical mystery to be fascinating. Needless to say, I was riveted to the book. It just goes to show that real life is stranger than fiction!

Besides being blown away by Ms. Cahalan's personal story, I was surprised by how much this book made me think. First, Ms. Cahalan appeared to be suffering from some sort of mental illness, and I have no doubt that most medical professionals would have just written her off. (There is no doubt that some luck played into the picture for Ms. Cahalan!) I immediately started to wonder how many people who seem to be suffering from mental illnesses are actually suffering from autoimmune diseases? Ms. Cahalan's disease was relatively newly discovered and I can bet that there are many individuals living in mental institutions that can be cured if we only knew what was wrong with them.

In addition, BRAIN ON FIRE made me rethink many of my views about mental illness. Just reading about the horrors that Ms. Cahalan and her family faced made me so sad and even sick to my stomach. I have a profound respect for people dealing with mental illness whether it be personally or as caretakers; and I can't rave enough about the hospital workers that dedicate their lives to helping others.

And finally, I can't stop thinking about the wonderful support system that Ms. Cahalan had in place. Her family and friends were truly remarkable, and I have no doubt that they played a major role in her recovery. But what was even more special to me was her boyfriend. He stood by her through some pretty horrific times and they had only been together for about half a year. What a fantastic, stand-up guy!

BRAIN ON FIRE would make a terrific book club selection. It's non-fiction which would be a plus as far as I'm concerned because my group rarely reads any true stories. In addition, there are so many interesting things to discuss from the medical aspects, to how her family (and boyfriend) coped, to how Ms. Cahalan was able to recover (both physically and mentally) from her experiences. Some other topics include memory, family dynamics, the meaning of the title, faith, suffering, and of course mental illness.

BRAIN ON FIRE truly amazed me from the very first paragraph. Highly recommended!

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

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Review: My Ideal Bookshelf

Summary: The books that we choose to keep --let alone read-- can say a lot about who we are and how we see ourselves. In MY IDEAL BOOKSHELF, dozens of leading cultural figures share the books that matter to them most; books that define their dreams and ambitions and in many cases helped them find their way in the world. Contributors include Malcolm Gladwell, Thomas Keller, Michael Chabon, Alice Waters, James Patterson, Maira Kalman, Judd Apatow, Chuck Klosterman, Miranda July, Alex Ross, Nancy Pearl, David Chang, Patti Smith, Jennifer Egan, and Dave Eggers, among many others. With colorful and endearingly hand-rendered images of book spines by Jane Mount, and first-person commentary from all the contributors, this is a perfect gift for avid readers, writers, and all who have known the influence of a great book. -- Little, Brown

Over the next few weeks, I will be sharing with you some great gift-giving ideas for the book lovers in your life. The first book I "discovered" is MY IDEAL BOOKSHELF, art by Jane Mount and edited by Thessaly La Force. It's actually perfect for book lovers, and it's as gorgeous as it is interesting!

MY IDEAL BOOKSHELF is terrific for nosy readers like me. (I prefer inquisitive, but I think nosy is probably a better description!) I'm one of those people who believe I can tell so much about a person based on their reading tastes. In addition, I am always on the lookout for book suggestions to add to my huge book wish-list. One of the first questions I always ask authors when I meet them or have the opportunity to interview them is, "What is your favorite book or who is your favorite author?" And if I ever have the chance to meet any celebrities, I'm sure I'd ask them the same question.

And that's the beauty of MY IDEAL BOOKSHELF -- it's a collection of book recommendations from famous people! Actually, MY IDEAL BOOKSHELF  has essays by over one hundred pop culture icons, including authors, musicians, artists, actors, producers, and more, about their favorite books. These first person essays were put together by Jane Mount based on interviews with the subjects; and naturally, they are as unique as the individuals who "wrote" them. Some talk about how particular books have changed their lives, while others discuss their favorite authors.

I was so caught up in learning what some of my favorite celebs had to say about their ideal bookshelf that I initially just focused on reading their essays. However, I found that I kept stopping to look at the beautiful illustrations by Thessaly La Force. Ms. La Force created colorful renderings of book spines for each contributor's bookshelf. I knew that I was attracted to the cover of the book, but it was the inside artwork that really captured my attention. I enjoyed the illustrator's interpretation of each bookshelf -- some were very organized while others were arranged more haphazardly. Either way, she did a wonderful job of capturing the "personality" of each celebrity's book collection.

On a personal note, I found many of the essays to be interesting; however, I did have a few favorites. I thought Judd Apatow's was pretty funny, and Roseanne Cash's touched my heart when she talked about her relationship with her father. However, I have to say that I most appreciated the various authors' bookshelves. I absolutely loved reading about their favorite books and how these books influenced not only their personal lives, but also their writing styles.

In conclusion, THE IDEAL BOOKSHELF is a gem of a book; and I think book lovers will appreciate this wonderful tribute to the importance of books.

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

Monday, November 26, 2012

Review: The Black Box

Summary: In a case that spans 20 years, Harry Bosch links the bullet from a recent crime to a file from 1992, the killing of a young female photographer during the L.A. riots. Harry originally investigated the murder, but it was then handed off to the Riot Crimes Task Force and never solved.

Now Bosch's ballistics match indicates that her death was not random violence, but something more personal, and connected to a deeper intrigue. Like an investigator combing through the wreckage after a plane crash, Bosch searches for the "black box," the one piece of evidence that will pull the case together.

Riveting and relentlessly paced, THE BLACK BOX leads Harry Bosch, "one of the greats of crime fiction" (New York Daily News), into one of his most fraught and perilous cases. -- Little, Brown


If you are a frequent visitor to my blog, then you already know that I'm a huge fan of Michael Connelly. In fact, I pretty much adore all his novels, especially his Harry Bosch ones; and I couldn't wait to read his latest 
THE BLACK BOX. This novel is the eighteenth book in this series (and his 25th book overall), and I can say that he just keeps getting better and better.

I thought THE BLACK BOX was superb and it very well might go down as one of my favorite Harry Bosch books yet. (While I always enjoy Mr. Connelly's books, I'd be lying if I didn't admit that some are definitely better than others.) For fear that you might think I'm biased because I do have a major author crush on Mr. Connelly, I want to share with you some of the other praise that this book is generating. It's already received a Starred Review from Publishers' Weekly and Booklist; and it's been named one of Publishers Weekly’s Best Books of 2012.

THE BLACK BOX is about Harry Bosch's persistent attempts to solve a twenty year old murder case. During the riots that followed the Rodney King verdict back in 1992, a young female photojournalist was murdered. Bosch was originally assigned to the case; however, it fell under the jurisdiction of the overwhelmed Riot Crimes Task Force and was never solved.

Bosch is now working on solving cold cases for the L.A. Police Department, and he once again begins to investigate this murder. He suspects that the journalist's death wasn't random, and the ballistics report indicates that he might be onto something. He digs deeper, searching for something that will give him some answers -- i.e. the "black box;" and he eventually discovers a web of lies and deceit that have been kept secret for over two decades.

THE BLACK BOX epitomized everything I've come to love about the Harry Bosch books. It goes without saying that Mr. Connelly can weave a fantastic police procedural, and THE BLACK BOX did have a wonderful murder mystery. However, this novel also did a great job in continuing to show Harry's personal story, namely his growth as a police officer and a father.

I'm pretty sure that I've read every Harry Bosch book, and Bosch is definitely one of my favorite characters in any crime series. I've loved the complexity of his character, especially the trials and tribulations that he's faced through the years, but this novel really demonstrated just how much Harry has changed since discovering his daughter. I thought the character development in both Bosch and his sixteen year old daughter Madeline was outstanding, and I thoroughly enjoyed their interactions with each other. I have a feeling that Madeline is a chip off the old block in both her stubbornness as well as her perceptiveness.

While I do love Bosch's character, I mainly read these novels because I love how well Mr. Connelly constructs a mystery. And I can say that THE BLACK BOX didn't disappoint. I appreciate that Bosch is currently working to solve cold cases, and my interest was definitely piqued with the twenty year old murder mystery of a female photojournalist. I liked how the murder was seemingly tied to the L.A. riots because I found the author's descriptions of the mayhem to be fascinating. But at the same time, I appreciated how Bosch persistently tracked down the culprit(s), step-by-step, with only a small clue here and there.

I also found THE BLACK BOX to be fairly suspenseful. I thought the side story of the investigation into Bosch's questionable behavior was a interesting, and I admit that I was worried that Bosch might once again find himself in trouble with the brass. (At this point, I'm just not quite sure what more Mr. Connelly will do with this character.) However, Bosch's personal investigation into the twenty year old murder also proved to be pretty darn suspenseful in a more traditional way. Bosch found himself seriously at risk, and while I didn't think the author would kill him off, I was a little nervous!

Overall, I think THE BLACK BOX is one of Mr. Connelly's best Harry Bosch books; and obviously, I think everyone should read not only this book, but all of the books in this series.



Thanks to the publisher for providing a review 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.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Giveaway: Cake Mix Doctor Gluten-Free Cookbooks

Summary: Unbelievably gluten-free pizza! Unbelievably gluten-free fried chicken! Unbelievably gluten-free pasta! Plus breads, dumplings, fritters, pies, cakes, puddings, and more. For the 30 million Americans who have an allergy or sensitivity to gluten—and their families, who want to reclaim the dinner experience of everyone eating the same thing—Anne Byrn creates 125 amazing dishes where the gluten is gone, and never missed.

Author also of The Cake Mix Doctor Bakes Gluten-Free, and other cookbooks, Anne Byrn knows how to deliver incredible flavors. She replaces wheat, barley, and rye with gluten-free ingredients and employs creative techniques for achieving flawless textures and consistencies. These are recipes that taste as good—not almost as good—as they should: Tomato Panzanella Salad. Baked French Onion Soup. Spaghetti Carbonara. Grilled Chicken and Pesto Pizza. The Best GF Meat Loaf. Plus dessert: Warm Lemon Pudding Cake, Gluten- Free Red Velvet Cake, Fresh Orange Cupcakes, Old-Fashioned Peach and Blueberry Cobbler, and Gluten-Free Saucepan Brownies.

Includes how to convert favorite recipes and tips for eating gluten-free on a budget. -- Workman


Summary: Thirty million Americans are gluten-intolerant or have a gluten sensitivity, eliminating it from their diets because gluten—a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley—has been implicated in health issues ranging from respiratory problems and abdominal discomfort to anemia, anxiety, and infertility. The food industry has bullishly taken notice. Gluten-free baking products, including cake mixes from Betty Crocker, King Arthur, Whole Foods, and others, have increased sevenfold on grocery shelves in recent years, and the number of other gluten-free products has grown as well—832 were introduced in 2008 alone.  And gluten-free options are on the menu of national restaurants like Boston Market, Chili’s, Ruby Tuesday, Outback Steakhouse, and others.

Now comes even sweeter news for people looking to cut gluten from their diets: Anne Byrn shows how to transform gluten-free cake mixes into 76 rich, decadent, easy-to-make, impossible-to-resist desserts. Performing the magic that’s made her a bestselling baking author with over 33 million copies of her books in print, she doctors mixes with additions like almond extract, fresh berries, cocoa powder, grated coconut, cinnamon, lime zest, and more—naturally, all gluten-free ingredients—and voilĂ : Tres Leches Cake with Whipped Cream and Summer Berries, Almond Cream Cheese Pound Cake, Chocolate Cupcakes with Milk Chocolate Ganache, Caramel Melted Ice Cream Cake, Warm Tarte Tatin Apple Cake, plus brownies, bars, muffins, and cookies. Dessert is back on the menu.  -- Workman

Over these past few weeks, I've been trying out some recipes from the new cookbook UNBELIEVABLY GLUTEN-FREE! by Anne Byrn.As part of this tour, I was asked to make the Gluten-Free Mac & Cheese, and item from the Holiday Sampler (I made the Pumpkin Spice Bread), and now any dessert from either UNBELIEVABLY GLUTEN-FREE or THE CAKE MIX DOCTOR BAKES GLUTEN-FREE. I decided to try the Warm Lemon Pudding Cake from UNBELIEVABLY GLUTEN, and I think it's my favorite of the three!

This recipe is extremely simple and starts with a gluten-free baking mix! (I guess that's why Ms. Byrn is better known as the Cake Mix Doctor!) The rest of the ingredients were fresh and included sugar, eggs, milk, and lemons. It was incredibly simple to make and only took about five minutes of prep time. I baked it for about 40 minutes and served it while it was warm. I have a feeling that this is the best way to eat it!

This Warm Lemon Pudding Cake was so light and delicious! I absolutely loved how the dessert was part cake and part pudding, and I wouldn't hesitate to serve this to my friends. I bet no one would even know it was gluten-free!



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.

Giveaway alert: I have copies of both UNBELIEVABLY GLUTEN-FREE! and THE CAKE MIX DOCTOR BAKES GLUTEN-FREE to share with one lucky reader. To enter, just fill out the form below before Saturday, December 1st at 11:59 p.m. ET. I will randomly select and notify the winner the following day. This contest is open to those of you with U.S. and Canada addresses only. Good luck!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Kid Konnection: The Carpenter's Gift & 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 a beautiful picture book that celebrates the 80th anniversary of the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree.

Summary: This new classic Christmas gift book "brings together two great traditions: the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree and the neighbor-helping-neighbor program of Habitat for Humanity." Opening in Depression-era New York City, The Carpenter's Gift tells the story of eight-year-old Henry and his father selling Christmas trees. They give a Christmas tree to construction workers building Rockefeller Center and celebrate together. Through the kindness of the construction workers and neighbors, Henry gets his wish for a nice, warm home to replace his family's drafty shack. He plants a pinecone from that first Rockefeller Center Tree. As an old man, Henry repays the gift by donating the enormous tree that has grown from that pinecone. After bringing joy to thousands as the Rockefeller Center tree, its wood will be used to build a home for another family in need. -- Random House

If you are looking for a picture book to give a special child in your life this holiday season, then look no further. THE CARPENTER'S GIFT: A CHRISTMAS TALE ABOUT THE ROCKEFELLER CENTER TREE by David Rubel and illustrated by Jim LaMarche is perfect! It's a beautifully illustrated story about the the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree and the charity Habitat for Humanity, but it also contains an extremely special message about the importance of giving back.

THE CARPENTER'S GIFT takes place in New York City during the Depression. A poor, young boy named Henry and his father head to Manhattan to sell Christmas trees. They end up giving one of their trees to the construction workers who are building Rockefeller Center. In return, these same workers show up at Henry's house the following day and repay the kindness by building Henry's family a new home.

Henry ends up planting a pine cone from that first Rockefeller Center Tree, and through the years, that pine cone grows into a beautiful tree. The story comes full circle when Henry donates that very same tree to serve as the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. Not only does the tree bring holiday job to thousands, but the wood is also used to build a new home for another family.

I have to admit that THE CARPENTER'S GIFT touched my heart and I might have even shed a tear or two. It's just a sweet story with such a profound message, and it epitomizes everything I love about the holiday season. I tend to get caught up in the hustle and bustle and even forget the real meaning of Christmas. I love that I can read THE CARPENTER'S GIFT, especially with my kids, and take some time to recognize that I have a duty to give back to those less fortunate than I.

THE CARPENTER'S GIFT was written in collaboration with Habitat for Humanity, and there is information about both the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree and Habitat for Humanity in the back of the book. I didn't know this prior to reading this THE CARPENTER'S GIFT, but Habitat for Humanity has an annual tradition, which began in 2007, of using wood milled from the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree to build a home for a family in need.

Check out this video about the making of THE CARPENTER'S GIFT:

And I'm thrilled to say that the author of THE CARPENTER'S GIFT, David Rubel, has written a special guest post giving readers a glimpse into the inspiration behind his book:

When I wrote The Carpenter’s Gift during the fall and winter of 2010–2011, there was no way I could avoid thinking about the similarities between the Great Depression of the 1930s and the economic difficulties of the present day. No one knew in 1931 just how bad things would get, and we didn’t know either in 2010 what greater difficulties the future would hold. The parallels between the 1930s and the current state of the economy still resonate today, I think.

But that wasn’t the only connection I made to Depression-era America. While writing The Carpenter’s Gift, I also thought a lot about the Frank Capra film It’s a Wonderful Life, which also recalls the Great Depression but in a Habitat sort of way. In that film, the main character, George Bailey, spends most of his life helping the townspeople of Bedford Falls build simple, decent, affordable homes. This work comes at the expense of his own dreams and ambitions, but he does it gladly until, in a moment of crisis, he doubts whether he has made the right choice for himself and his family. Happily, his neighbors rally to him in his time of need, and he remembers why he took on the work of helping others in the first place: because giving of himself made him feel so good inside. 

Whenever I watch that movie, I always tear up at the end when George finds redemption in the love and gratitude of his neighbors. The entire film really builds to that moment, in which the feeling of finding one’s place in a moral, spiritually generous world is so exquisitely distilled. I kept thinking about that scene while writing Carpenter’s Gift because I wanted that feeling to permeate my story as well. As I wrote and edited what I had written, I literally asked myself, Will these words make readers feel the way I feel when I watch It’s a Wonderful Life? It was especially important to me that the last scene of the book, in which Henry passes the hammer on to the young girl, evoke this feeling strongly. I can remember the afternoon I wrote that scene and then read it over for the first time. I teared up the same way I do when Gorge Bailey realizes that his life does have meaning. Is there really any better way to feel? 

I adored everything about THE CARPENTER'S GIFT and I highly recommend reading it this holiday season!

You can check out the rest of the tour here:

Wednesday, November 21st, 2012: TheChildrensBookReview.com
Thursday, November 22nd, 2012: CrackingtheCover.com
Friday, November 23rd, 2012: The Book Maven’s Haven

Sunday, November 25th, 2012: {Eat the Book}
Monday, November 26th, 2012: Maestra Amanda’s Boohkshelf
Tuesday, November 27th, 2012: HeiseReads.com
Wednesday, November 28th, 2012 · Nerdy Book Club · Watch. Connect. Read · SharpRead

Giveaway alert: I have a copy of THE CARPENTER'S GIFT to share with one lucky reader. To enter, just fill out the form below before November 30th at 11:59 p.m. ET. I will randomly select and notify the winner the following day. This contest is open to those of you with U.S. addresses only. Good luck!
If you'd like to participate in Kid Konnection and share a post about anything related to children's books (picture, middle grade, or young adult) from the past week, please leave a comment as well as a link below with your name/blog name and the title of the book! Feel free to grab the little button too!

Friday, November 23, 2012

Review: To Kill a Mockingbird Movie

Last Thursday, my husband and I were fortunate enough to attend To Kill a Mockingbird, a movie event hosted by NCM Fathom Events, Turner Classic Movies and Universal Pictures. The movie played in select theaters across the country as a way to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of To Kill A Mockingbird starring Academy Award® Winning Actor Gregory Peck.

I just love To Kill a Mockingbird in any format! It's my all-time favorite novel and it's one of my very favorite movies too. It was such a treat for me to finally see it on the big-screen. In no way, do I feel that I can ever write a "review" for it because as far as I'm concerned, everything about the movie (and the book for that matter) is just about perfect.

I have to admit that my husband wasn't exactly thrilled that we were attending To Kill a Mockingbird on a rare date night. He hasn't ever read the novel so he doesn't have the love for Ms. Lee's story like I do. And I had already "made him sit through it" (his words) once before. However, I do think he enjoyed the movie and all of its powerful messages. We were both blown away (although he probably wouldn't use those words) by Gregory Peck's portrayal of Atticus Finch. In my opinion, it is quite possibly the best performance ever, but I'm a little biased!

One of the highlights for me of seeing this movie was the feature prior to the movie. My husband was getting a little impatient, but I was fascinated by anything and everything relating to this story. Although I've read a lot about the book and the movie, I still managed to learn some interesting tidbits. Many of the facts that they shared are included in this link about TKAM trivia!

And finally, I found that there is a new 50th anniversary DVD issue of To Kill a Mockingbird that just came out this year. Guess what's going on my Christmas wishlist?

Thanks to Harper Collins and Fathom Events for providing the movie passes.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving

I don't think I'll be reading much over the next few days. And quite honestly, that's okay because the next few days are meant for family. Today, my family will be doing dinner at my parents' house along with my sister's family. While I don't have to prepare the turkey, I will help my mom get things ready and do lots of dishes. I'll also be bringing homemade cranberry sauce, maple-glazed sweet potatoes, cranberry orange bread, and pecan pie squares.

And then tomorrow, it's all about the shopping and decorating. I know some people (including my husband) think we're crazy to go shopping on Black Friday, but it's a family tradition. I don't even plan to get much Christmas shopping done, but I wouldn't mind finding a few bargains. Then around mid-afternoon, I'll head home and decorate the house.. everything but the tree. I'll save that for Sunday when I am less tired and can actually enjoy looking at all of our ornaments.

I hope all of you have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Review: The End of Your Life Book Club (Audio)

Summary: “What are you reading?”

That’s the question Will Schwalbe asks his mother, Mary Anne, as they sit in the waiting room of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. In 2007, Mary Anne returned from a humanitarian trip to Pakistan and Afghanistan suffering from what her doctors believed was a rare type of hepatitis. Months later she was diagnosed with a form of advanced pancreatic cancer, which is almost always fatal, often in six months or less.

This is the inspiring true story of a son and his mother, who start a “book club” that brings them together as her life comes to a close. Over the next two years, Will and Mary Anne carry on conversations that are both wide-ranging and deeply personal, prompted by an eclectic array of books and a shared passion for reading. Their list jumps from classic to popular, from poetry to mysteries, from fantastic to spiritual. The issues they discuss include questions of faith and courage as well as everyday topics such as expressing gratitude and learning to listen. Throughout, they are constantly reminded of the power of books to comfort us, astonish us, teach us, and tell us what we need to do with our lives and in the world. Reading isn’t the opposite of doing; it’s the opposite of dying.

Will and Mary Anne share their hopes and concerns with each other—and rediscover their lives—through their favorite books. When they read, they aren’t a sick person and a well person, but a mother and a son taking a journey together. The result is a profoundly moving tale of loss that is also a joyful, and often humorous, celebration of life: Will’s love letter to his mother, and theirs to the printed page.  -- Random House Audio


Over the past few weeks, I consider myself fortunate that I was able to listen to THE END OF YOUR LIFE BOOK CLUB by Will Schwalbe during my morning runs. This book managed to touch my heart like few books do, and I truly can't stress just how special it was to me. I began each day with an inspiring message (or two), and I loved how this book celebrated a woman's life as well as the power of a good book.

THE END OF YOUR LIFE BOOK CLUB is Will Schwalbe's heartfelt story about the "book club" he and his mother formed in the final years of her life. When Mary Anne Schwalbe was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, she and her son found that they were spending many hours in waiting rooms. It all started innocently enough one day when Mr. Schwalbe asked his mother, who was a fellow long-time reader, what she was reading. This simple question spurred a semi-regular "book club" with Mr. Schwalbe and his mother as the members. Over the next two years, these two spent countless hours discussing a wide variety of books and getting to know each other as they waited for various doctor visits and treatments.

I am having a very hard time articulating just how much THE END OF YOUR LIFE BOOK CLUB affected me. I'm almost ready to stop writing and just tell you to read it -- that would probably be best. However, I will try to share some of my gut reactions because I feel I have a duty (of sorts) to encourage others to read this book. THE END OF YOUR LIFE BOOK CLUB could very well be one of those life-changing reads. I think it was for me!

I have a feeling that this book will affect everyone who reads it in some way; however, I do think different readers will take away different things from Mr. Schwalbe's story. It might be as simple as getting some book recommendations for future reads. Some might treasure the story about a devoted mother and son, while others might appreciate it more on an intellectual level, i.e. how two intelligent people interpreted many thought-provoking books. It's also possible that this book can help individuals who are dying from a terminal disease or even the loved ones of those who are dying. It might even cause some readers to become more compassionate to those in need and realize our responsibility to help others. There is no doubt that Mrs. Schwalbe is one special and inspirational woman.

I've only touched the surface of some of my feelings about this book, but suffice it to say that I think you'd be hard-pressed not to be affected by these two amazing people. If I'm being entirely honest, I wasn't sure what to expect when I picked up THE END OF YOUR LIFE BOOK CLUB. I know for a fact that I wasn't expecting this book to be so touching and so thought-provoking. In hindsight, I think I was expecting more on the book discussion; however, I am so happy that Mr. Schwalbe chose to tell this story in the way he did. I loved his candor and his beautiful tribute to his mother, and it was so much more than I ever hoped to get out of this book!

What could be a better book club discussion than a book about a real-life book club? Naturally, I'm going to recommend a book like THE END OF YOUR LIFE BOOK CLUB as a selection for your next meeting! I adored this book and everything it represented. There is a reading guide available with fifteen fantastic questions. I can always tell how much potential a book has a great discussion when I want to call a friend and talk about the discussion questions. And that's exactly how I feel about these! Some of the themes you might want to discuss in more detail are the power of books, death, grief, family dynamics, parent/child relationships, charity, perseverance, faith, politics, war, and "magical thinking." Because I do think this book will resonate with so many readers, I have a feeling that the topics are almost limitless!

The audio book of THE END OF YOUR LIFE BOOK CLUB was read by Jeff Harding, and I thought he did a wonderful job. I wasn't familiar with Mr. Harding as an audio book narrator, but that doesn't mean anything since I'm still a relative newbie to this format. Evidently, he's read some pretty major books including THE DAVINCI CODE. I was impressed with his interpretation of Mr. Schwalbe's story, and I thought he gave just the right amount of emotion to the story.

I'm not sure that I expressed just how much THE END OF YOUR LIFE BOOK CLUB touched me. It was a beautiful tribute to one man's love of his mother and reading, and I consider it a must-read book.

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

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Review: Orphan Train

Summary: Vivian Daly has lived a quiet life on the coast of Maine, but in her attic, hidden in trunks, are vestiges of a turbulent past. Seventeen-year-old Molly Ayer knows that a community service position helping an elderly woman clean out her home is the only think keeping her out of juvie and worse.

As Molly helps Vivian sort through her possessions and memories, she discovers that she and Vivian aren't as different as they appear. A young Irish immigrant orphaned in New York City, Vivian was put on an orphan train to the Midwest, bound for the home of a stranger, with hundreds of other children whose destinies would be determined by luck and chance. Molly, a Penobscot Indian who has spent her youth in and out of foster homes, is also an outsider being raised by strangers, and she, too, has questions about the past.

Moving between contemporary Maine and early-twentieth-century Minnesota, Orphan Train is a powerful tale of upheaval and resilience, second chances, and unexpected friendship. -- William Morrow

While reading THE CHAPERONE by Laura Moriarty earlier this year, I was introduced to the term "orphan train." If you are like me and unfamiliar with orphan trains, you can learn more about them here. Briefly, there were about 30,000 homeless children in New York City in the 1850s. One man, Charles Loring Brace, the founder of The Children's Aid Society, thought it might be best to remove these children from the city streets and place them in "morally upright" homes. As a result, the orphan trains relocated more than 120,000 children to homes in the Midwest where they lived and worked on farms. It is now considered the beginning of foster-care in the United States.

At the time, I was fascinated by the idea of orphan trains and couldn't believe I hadn't run across more novels exploring this topic. So when I discovered that Christina Baker Kline's new novel ORPHAN TRAIN told the story of a young orphan girl who was transferred from New York City to the Midwest to a new home with strangers, I knew I wanted to read it. Even though the book doesn't come out until April, I was fortunate enough to receive an early copy and wanted to share it with you right away!

ORPHAN TRAIN tells the story of two women who have more in common than what first meets the eye.  Molly is a troubled teen who is doing community service for Vivian, an elderly woman who lives all alone surrounded by boxes containing mementos from her past. As Molly begins to sort through Vivian's boxes, both women learn that they were orphans who raised by strangers and struggled to fit in. By sharing their stories, they gain an appreciation of each other and forge a special bond of friendship.

I thoroughly enjoyed ORPHAN TRAIN, and I can certainly see why so many readers have such wonderful things to say about Ms. Kline's writing. I was very impressed with her storytelling abilities, especially how she went back and forth between the present day and the past. In addition, I appreciated her character development and how she was able to link together Vivian and Molly's characters when initially I thought they had little in common. ORPHAN TRAIN was a wonderful read that entertained me and most definitely touched my heart.

One of the best things that I can say about ORPHAN TRAIN is how much this story affected me. While I can't say that I was able to directly relate to either Vivian or Molly, for some reason, these characters really got under my skin... in a good way. I think Ms. Kline's descriptions of both characters' childhoods, namely the abandonment and loneliness aspects, made me want to cry for them; and as a result, I felt fully vested in both of their stories. In particular, I found the details about Vivian's experiences on the orphan train to be utterly heartbreaking. That also goes to show how effective the author was at bringing these events to life!

I honestly can't say which story I preferred more -- the present day one or the flashback one. Both stories were very interesting and fit together perfectly. I did enjoy how there were so many parallels in the characters' stories; and I especially liked how Vivian's story offered some much needed hope for Molly. There was a time in Vivian's story where it read a bit like a romance, with star-crossed lovers and a fair amount of coincidence; however, I actually chose to look at it as a beautiful love story. I wanted the characters in this book to find happiness in any way possible!

This shouldn't come as a surprise to you, but I think ORPHAN TRAIN would make a fantastic book club selection. The characters are extremely interesting and certainly will generate some discussion; however, there are also some universal themes which might be interesting to talk about. Some of the topics you might want to explore include love, parent/child relationships, forgiveness, second chances, goodbyes, trust, change, and friendship.

Truly, I thought ORPHAN TRAIN was an excellent book with very memorable characters; and it certainly showed that friendship can be found in the most unlikely places. Highly recommended!

Thanks to The Bookreporter Network for providing a review copy of this novel.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Review: Iced Chiffon

Summary: There’s always something to gossip about in Savannah, Georgia, and Reagan Summerside always seems to be in the middle of it. She’s busy enough running her consignment shop, The Prissy Fox, with her vivacious Auntie KiKi, but now the gossip—and the sales—are about to pick up after a gruesome discovery…

Reagan’s messy divorce has left her with nothing but a run-down Victorian and a bunch of designer clothes. Strapped for cash, Reagan makes use of the two things she has left, turning the first floor of her home into a consignment shop and filling it with the remnants of her rich-wife wardrobe.
Thanks to his cunning lawyer Walker Boone, her ex got everything else, including the Lexus—not to mention a young blond cupcake. When Reagan finds the cupcake dead in the Lexus, she’s determined to beat Boone to finding the murderer. As it turns out, the gossip fiends flooding Reagan’s shop will give her a lot more than just their unwanted clothes—they have information more precious than a vintage Louis Vuitton… -- Berkley

I've been in a bit of a reading slump lately, and I think this happens to me every year around the holidays. My mind races, and I have difficulty not only finding the time to read but also being able to concentrate on a book. So I decided to pick up a cozy called ICED CHIFFON by Duffy Brown. I figured a fun cozy might be exactly what I needed!

ICED CHIFFON is the first book in the Consignment Shop Mystery series, and it was just right to get me out of my reading slump. This novel begins with Reagan Summerside -- flat broke and desperate to keep her house after her messy divorce. She begins selling off anything she has of value including her furniture and her designer clothes. Fortunately, her "sale" enables her to start her own consignment business called The Pirssy Fox.

Reagan is still reeling from her divorce -- both her ex and his lawyer Walker Boone seemed to make out much better than she. Her ex even landed himself a young "cupcake" (as Reagan refers to her.) However, Reagan discovers the "cupcake" dead in the back of her ex's Lexus; and Reagan's ex is the prime suspect. Reagan can't afford to have him go to jail or she could lose her renovated Victorian house, so she sets out (with the help of her zany Aunt KiKi) to discover the murderer. Along the way, she finds herself caught up in a very sticky murder mystery where even her life is at risk.

I thought ICED CHIFFON was a fun read and I am so glad that I started this series at the beginning. I loved getting an understanding of Reagan , i.e. her passion towards her renovated house and the beginnings of her consignment business. Furthermore, I also learning about her relationship "issues" including the baggage with her ex as well as the tension with Walker. I actually can't wait to read the next book in this series to see what happens between Reagan and Walker. I have a feeling that there will be some sparks flying!

ICED CHIFFON takes place in Savannah, Georgia, a terrific setting; and I think the author did a great job bringing this wonderful city to life. I enjoyed her details about the stores and the restaurants, but I also liked how she described the city's inhabitants. Her actual descriptions of Savannah's natural beauty -- the trees, flowers, and more -- made me desperately want to visit this historic city.

As far as mysteries go, I thought ICED CHIFFON had a pretty good one. I appreciated how the author had Reagan and her Aunt Kiki go through all of the suspects and motives, and then clear them one-by-one. I am a relatively organized thinker and had no issues with keeping all of the potential suspects and their relationships straight.

Overall, I do recommend ICED CHIFFON for fans of cozies. It has an especially beautiful setting and a likable main character in Reagan. Plus, there are lots of references to designer clothes!

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review 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.


Sunday, November 18, 2012

Review: Unbelievably Gluten-Free Holiday Sampler

Summary: Unbelievably gluten-free pizza! Unbelievably gluten-free fried chicken! Unbelievably gluten-free pasta! Plus breads, dumplings, fritters, pies, cakes, puddings, and more. For the 30 million Americans who have an allergy or sensitivity to gluten—and their families, who want to reclaim the dinner experience of everyone eating the same thing—Anne Byrn creates 125 amazing dishes where the gluten is gone, and never missed.

Author also of The Cake Mix Doctor Bakes Gluten-Free, and other cookbooks, Anne Byrn knows how to deliver incredible flavors. She replaces wheat, barley, and rye with gluten-free ingredients and employs creative techniques for achieving flawless textures and consistencies. These are recipes that taste as good—not almost as good—as they should: Tomato Panzanella Salad. Baked French Onion Soup. Spaghetti Carbonara. Grilled Chicken and Pesto Pizza. The Best GF Meat Loaf. Plus dessert: Warm Lemon Pudding Cake, Gluten- Free Red Velvet Cake, Fresh Orange Cupcakes, Old-Fashioned Peach and Blueberry Cobbler, and Gluten-Free Saucepan Brownies.

Includes how to convert favorite recipes and tips for eating gluten-free on a budget. -- Workman


Last week, I reviewed the new cookbook UNBELIEVABLY GLUTEN-FREE! by Anne Byrn. I have to say I was pretty impressed with the range of recipes as well as the simplicity of the directions. I made the Gluten Free Mac & Cheese and had pretty good results. What can go wrong with lots of cheese and whipping cream, right?

This week, I wanted to try something a little different. As a participating member of the UNBELIEVABLY GLUTEN-FREE Blog Tour, we were asked to make something from the Unbelievably Gluten-Free Holiday Sampler. And since it is almost Thanksgiving, I thought I'd try the Pumpkin Spice Bread.

The recipe couldn't have been easier since it started with a gluten-free baking mix. I loved that I didn't have to buy the various gluten-free flour replacements. I ended up using the Bisquick mix which is very easy to find, and it only took me about five minutes of prep (plus 50 minutes of baking) to have a big old loaf of gluten-free pumpkin bread.

I'm not sure I'd say my result was just as good as "regular" pumpkin bread, but it was very yummy. I was happy with the result; and if I were on a gluten-free diet, I would definitely be satisfied. I especially liked that the recipe had a lot of vanilla extract because the vanilla flavor really came through, but I might use more cinnamon next time. (I love cinnamon!)

What impressed me the most about this recipe (or maybe I should say surprised me the most) was the texture of the pumpkin bread. It was extremely moist and I would never have guessed that it was gluten-free!


Make sure you check out the Unbelievably Gluten-Free Holiday Sampler! The Pumpkin Bread recipe is included along with some other delicious recipes that are perfect for the holidays like Pumpkin Pie, Corn Bread Dressing, and Baked Apricots.

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this cookbook and allowing me to participate in the UNBELIEVABLY GLUTEN-FREE Blog Tour.

Over the next week or so, I will be sharing more about this fantastic cookbook and maybe even trying another new recipe. There will also be a fabulous giveaway so stay tuned.

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

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Kid Konnection: Thanksgiving 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 you two Thanksgiving themed books that are perfect for early readers.

Summary: It's Thanksgiving time and Room One is getting ready for their very own Thanksgiving feast! There's even a contest to see which room can write the best thankful list. The winners will get a pumpkin pie! Only it turns out being thankful is harder than it looks. Because Junie B. is not actually thankful for Tattletale May. Or squash. Or scratchy pilgrim costumes. And pumpkin pie makes her vomit, anyway. (But Junie B. is thankful for yummy cranberry sauce that's shaped like a can. And biscuits that explode from their can. And nipsy doodles!) Will Room 1 win the disgusting pie? Can May and Junie B. find common ground? Or will this Thanksgiving feast turn into a Turkey Day Disaster? -- Random House

For those of you with early readers, I'm sure this book (or at least this series) is a familiar one. Booking Daughter devoured Junie B. Jones' books when she was young, and I'm certain she would have been excited to read about June B.' Thanksgiving-related shenanigans. It's been a very long time since I've sat down and read a Junie B. Jones book, but I thought JUNIE B., FIRST GRADER - TURKEYS WE HAVE LOVED AND EATEN (AND OTHER THANKFUL STUFF) by Barbara Park and illustrated by Denise Brunkus seemed appropriate for this time of year.

In TURKEYS WE HAVE LOVED AND EATEN (AND OTHER THANKFUL STUFF), Junie's first grade class is preparing for their Thanksgiving party. There will be food, costumes, and even a prize for the best class thankful list. Of course, silliness ensues as the kids come up with their individual lists; and even some minor disagreements break out. However, Junie B. eventually realizes that it is possible to find common ground with your classroom rival -- kind of like the Pilgrims and the Indians!

I thought TURKEYS WE HAVE LOVED AND EATEN (AND OTHER THANKFUL STUFF) was very cute. It definitely reminded me of why the Junie B. books have been so successful! Junie B. is a great character and loads of fun, and children are drawn to her funny thoughts and actions. I especially liked that, despite the craziness, Junie B. did manage to learn a lesson or two.

I know a lot of parents aren't big fans of Junie B. books, and I guess I can see some of their arguments. (Junie isn't always the most well-behaved kid.) However, I have always thought they were kind of fun. And heck if it gets kids excited about reading -- even those who are reluctant to make the jump to chapter books, then I'm all for them. I think the Junie B. books are fantastic for early readers because the mix of words and pictures aren't intimidating. Plus, Junie B. is a hoot and kids love silly stories.

TURKEYS WE HAVE LOVED AND EATEN (AND OTHER THANKFUL STUFF) is a fun book that's perfect to get your early reader ready for Thanksgiving and thinking about what they might be thankful for!

Summary: Every year, the president pardons one turkey for Thanksgiving. One. But KC and her best friend, Marshall, think one isn't enough! This year, they want to gather lots of turkeys to be spared. The night before the holiday, the turkeys are in a big flock on the National Mall waiting to be set free. The next morning, they're gone! Who would steal 117 Thanksgiving turkeys? KC and Marshall have to ruffle some feathers to find out! -- Random House

TURKEY TROUBLE ON THE NATIONAL MALL by Ronald Roy and illustrated by Timothy Bush is the fourteenth book in the Capital Mystery series; however, it's the first one that I've ever read. I actually really like the idea of these books -- mysteries that take place in Washington, DC and are solved by two friends -- because not only are they fun to try to solve, but they also teach children about the landmarks and history of Washington, DC.

In TURKEY TROUBLE ON THE NATIONAL MALL, KC and her best friend Marshall decide (well mainly KC) that more than just one turkey should be pardoned. She decides that senators and congressmen should all pardon a turkey and bring them to a cage set up in the National Mall. Their plan seems to be working until they come back the next day and all of the turkeys are missing! It's up to KC and Marshall to solve the mystery and find the turkeys... before it's too late!

I thought TURKEY TROUBLE was adorable. I read it a few days ago and Booking Son became very interested. (He has since started reading it and is about half way through. He seems to be liking it a lot so far!) I liked the little twists and turns concerning the possible suspects, but I especially liked the characters of KC and Marshall. KC is definitely a smart and spunky girl and I think Marshall offsets her personality perfectly.

In addition to being a cute mystery, this book also explains the history behind the presidential pardon of a turkey. There are fun facts in the back of the book which make learning fun, but there are also some educational things written into the story. I am really looking forward to getting more of this series for Booking Son!

I recommend TURKEY TROUBLE ON THE NATIONAL MALL to early readers who enjoy mysteries as well as children who want to learn more about our nation's capital.
Thanks to the publisher for providing review 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, November 16, 2012

Review: When It Happens to You & Giveaway

Summary: When it happens to you, you will be surprised. That thing they say about how you knew all the time, but just weren't facing it? That might be the case, but nevertheless, there you will be. 

Molly Ringwald mines the complexities of modern relationships in this gripping and nuanced collection of interlinked stories. Writing with a deep compassion for human imperfection, Ringwald follows a Los Angeles family and their friends and neighbors while they negotiate the hazardous terrain of everyday life—revealing the deceptions, heartbreak, and vulnerability familiar to us all. 

In "The Harvest Moon," a stay-at-home mom grapples with age, infertility, and an increasingly distant husband. In "Ursa Minor," a former children's television star tries to rebuild his life after being hospitalized for "exhaustion." An elderly woman mourns the loss of her husband and her estranged relationship with her daughter in "The Little One." In "My Olivia," a single mother finds untapped reserves of strength to protect her flamboyant six-year-old son who wishes only to wear dresses and be addressed as Olivia. And in the devastating title story, a betrayed wife chronicles her pain and alienation, leading to an eviscerating denouement. 

As the lives of these characters converge and diverge in unexpected ways, Ringwald reveals a startling eye for the universality of loss, love, and the search for connection. An unflinching yet poignant examination of the intricacies of the human heart, When It Happens to You is an auspicious literary debut. -- !t Books

I was extremely excited when my book club decided to read WHEN IT HAPPENS TO YOU by Molly Ringwald for November. Like many women in their 40s, I grew up watching Molly Ringwald star in so many terrific movies like SIXTEEN CANDLES, BREAKFAST CLUB, and PRETTY IN PINK; and when I learned that she was now trying her hand at writing fiction, I admit my interest was piqued.

After reading (and partially listening to) WHEN IT HAPPENS TO YOU, my initial reaction was that I was very impressed with Ms. Ringwald's writing. I really enjoyed WHEN IT HAPPENS TO YOU, and I think the main reason was the the stories were about real topics that touch everyone's lives. This novel delved into marriage, love, loss, adultery, infertility, parenting issues, second chances, and forgiveness. I especially appreciated how all of these short stories were intertwined, and I liked getting glimpses into the characters lives. It also didn't hurt that I really like Ms. Ringwald's way with words. I found many of her passages to be gorgeous as well as deeply affecting.

WHEN IT HAPPENS TO YOU is as the title states "a novel in stories." The book begins with a story about Greta, a stay-at-home mom of six year old Charlotte, who is trying to come to terms with the various problems in her life. She is desperate to have another child and instead is battling infertility. In addition, she senses that her obsession with having another baby might be causing her husband Phillip to pull away from her. Greta and her feelings were all very real to me, and I liked how well Ms. Ringwald brought her story to life.

Greta, Phillip, and Charlotte do appear again in other stories in WHEN IT HAPPENS TO YOU, and for the most part, they are the common thread in all of the stories; however, there are also stories about their family, friends, and neighbors. There really weren't any stories that I didn't like at all, but naturally there were some that stood out to me more than others. "The Harvest Moon," which is the first story about Greta and her infertility was one of them. As was the last story about Greta and Phillip titled "The Places You Don't Walk Away From."

But my all-time favorite was called "My Olivia" This short story featured a single mother and her son Oliver (who was a classmate of Charlotte's) who at six years old was determined that he was a girl. He wanted to wear dresses and have long hair, and he insisted that he be called Olivia. This story about a mother's love for her child and her desire to do right by him broke my heart. I thought it was absolutely beautiful and extremely powerful.

I always think that I am not one who enjoys short story collections; however, I'm beginning to think that's not the case. I actually really enjoy novels that are told in linked short stories like WHEN IT HAPPENS TO YOU and OLIVE KITTERIDGE, and I love when characters or scenes overlap. In the case of WHEN IT HAPPENS TO YOU, I liked when the author gave the reader a scene told through the eyes of the different characters involved. It's always interesting for me to see how different people interpret the same situation... both in books and real life for that matter.

I was fortunate enough to both listen to and physically read WHEN IT HAPPENS TO YOU. The audio book is narrated by Ms. Ringwald, and I think that made it extra-special to me. I love when an author is able to read his or her own words because I think their personal passion comes through. Ms. Ringwald did an outstanding job with capturing the right tone for this book, and I wouldn't hesitate to listen to another book narrated by her. (And I guess there are a few more out there!)

I thought WHEN IT HAPPENS TO YOU was an outstanding choice for a book club discussion. Most of our members at least enjoyed it, but not all of them were as impressed as I was. One member wanted more character development, and another found that she didn't really care about any of the characters. We were a little scattered last night, so we didn't discuss the book for very long; however, some of the themes you might want to explore with your group include love, loss, grief, parenting, betrayal, forgiveness, romantic relationships, infidelity, infertility, communication, and many more.

WHEN IT HAPPENS TO YOU was a terrific read for me, and I recommend it to fans of Molly Ringwald's as well as fans of short stories.

Giveaway alert: I have a copy of WHEN IT HAPPENS TO YOU to share with one lucky Booking Mama reader. To enter, just fill out the form below before Thursday, November 29th 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!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Review: Friendkeeping

Summary: From the beloved and bestselling memoirist comes a funny and affecting look at making the most of our friendships in an age of isolation.

With her inimitable wit and disarming warmth, Julie Klam shares with us her experiences, advice, and insight in Friendkeeping, a candid, hilarious look at some of the most meaningful and enjoyable relationships in our lives: our friendships.  

After her bestselling You Had Me at Woof, about relationships with dogs, Klam now turns her attention to human relationships to great effect. She examines everything—from the curious world of online friendship to the intersection of friendship and motherhood. She even explores how to hang on to our friendships in the toughest circumstances: when schadenfreude rears its ugly head or when we don’t like our friend’s mate.  

Klam relays a mix of brand-new and time-tested wisdom—she finds that longtime friends really can grow up without growing apart; that communication is key; that friendship is one of life’s great, free sources of happiness; that you’re not a friend, just a doormat, if you don’t get back what you give—and her discoveries range from amusing to deeply important.  

Charming, bracingly honest, and compulsively readable, Friendkeeping is an irresistible book, a treat that you’ll want to share with your best friends right away. Brimming with keen observations and laugh-out-loud moments, it’s delivered in the lively, accessible voice that Julie Klam’s readers have come to know and love. -- Riverhead
 
I can hardly believe that I've never read a book written by Julie Klam, but it's true. Even after kind of/sort of meeting her at a BEA party, I still hadn't picked up one of her books until FRIENDKEEPING:A FIELD GUIDE TO THE PEOPLE YOU LOVE, HATE, AND CAN'T LIVE WITHOUT arrived at my door. A funny book about friendship -- all of the ups and downs? I thought that might be what I need to get out of the cold weather/pre-holiday reading doldrums.

FRIENDKEEPING is basically Ms. Klam's personal advice book on all things related to friends and friendships. I have to admit when I started reading this book, I wondered what made Ms. Klam such an expert on friendship that she could write over 200 pages on the subject matter. (I told you that I'm in a bit of a funk right now!) However, I was quickly charmed by her intelligent insights and sharp wit. Moreover, I realized that she does have a grasp on friendship that I never could hope to have, and her advice is extremely sound. Never once did I feel she was preaching to me... and I think that was extremely critical to my enjoyment of this book.

The book is organized in chapters by subject matter. For example, she writes about sharing secrets, how to handle a friendship with three people, how to cope with not liking your friends' significant others, how to keep up a long-distance friendship and much more. It's the chapter titles, though, that really impressed me... and made me laugh quite a bit. Just to give you a little sense of the author's sense of humor, here are some of the ones that made me chuckle: Don't Be a Drain, When the Dog Bites, When the Bee Stings, Missed Connections, and From @Friends to IRL.

FRIENDKEEPING delves into all types of friendships from our childhood ones to our adult ones; and it even explores long-term and short-term friendships. However, I admit that one of my favorite chapters was on how online friendship has changed Ms. Klam's life. There were many parts of the book that I was able to relate to, but her thoughts on Twitter, Facebook, and other online social media communication were extremely close to my own. I loved her descriptions of the times she finally got to meet many of her on-line friends (or as my husband refers to them -- fake friends), and I have a feeling that many book bloggers will feel the exact same way.

Another part of FRIENDKEEPING that I liked was how Ms. Klam described how much she's learned about relationships, and especially friendships, from watching how her young daughter Violet interacts with her friends. I loved Ms. Klam's stories about Violet, and even her own childhood; and I think being a mother has definitely enhanced Ms. Klam's ability to not only understand various types of friendships, but also how to be a better friend.

Overall, I enjoyed FRIENDKEEPING a great deal and I think it's a fun read. It's an ideal gift this holiday season for all of the friends in your life!

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