Saturday, December 28, 2013

Kid Konnection: Fun New Picture Books


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 fun new picture books.

Summary: "While walking through a toy store, the day before today, I overheard a crayon box with many things to say..." Once upon a time, Shane DeRolf wrote a poem. It was a deceptively simple poem, a charming little piece that celebrates the creation of harmony through diversity. The folks at the Ad Council heard it--and liked it so much that they made it the theme for their 1997 National Anti-Discrimination Campaign for Children. Following on the heels of nearly a year's worth of televised public service announcements, Random House is phonored to publish the picture book, illustrated in every color in the crayon box by dazzling newcomer Michael Letzig and conveying the sublimely simple message that when we all work together, the results are much more interesting and colorful. -- Random House

THE CRAYON BOX THAT TALKED by Shane DeRolf and illustrated by Michael Letzig is an adorable hardcover picture book that's the perfect size for little hands. However, it also introduces an important message about cooperation and acceptance.

The premise behind this powerful short story is that a little girl hears the crayons in a box bickering with each other so she decides to bring it home with her. After she creates a picture using all of the colors, the crayons realize that each one is special but when they work together they create something complete!

I found THE CRAYON BOX THAT TALKED to be so sweet and I loved the messages about diversity and acceptance. What I didn't realize until I sat down to write this review is that the book was based on a poem written by Shane DeRolf that celebrated harmony through diversity. This poem was chosen by the Ad Council and used as the theme for the 1997 National Anti-Discrimination Campaign for Children. Just a little tidbit for those of you interested in things like that!

THE CRAYON BOX THAT TALKED is a sweet little picture book with a very special message. Highly recommended.

Summary: Little Frog lives with his mommy and daddy. It's just the three of them, and Little Frog likes it that way. But one day, his parents tell him he is going to be a big brother—to NINE tadpoles!

Little Frog is not impressed with his baby siblings. They can't jump. They can't play drums. They can't do anything! All they do is keep Mommy and Daddy busy—too busy for Little Frog.

But with a little time, big brother realizes that tadpoles grow into little frogs, just like him. And having nine new playmates makes his family better than ever. -- Knopf

LITTLE FROG'S TADPOLE TROUBLE by Tatyana Feeney is a terrific book for toddlers and especially ones who are going to be big brothers or sisters. It has a good message about accepting new family members and the illustrations are as cute as the story!

Little Frog is an only frog and likes having his mother and father to himself. One day, his world is rocked when his parents tell him that he's going to be a big brother to nine tadpoles. Little Frog is frustrated that the baby tadpoles can't do anything... except require his parents' attention.

But one day, the nine tadpole turn into little frogs who can actually play with him, and Little Frog realizes that his family is even better with his little brothers and sisters!

Of course, I enjoyed this story about a big brother realizing how special his family is but it was the illustrations that really won my heart. They are simple and only use lime and pink, but they are just adorable. The dotted font was even the perfect complement to Little Frog's story!

LITTLE FROG'S TADPOLE TROUBLE is a delightful book and perfect for younger children who are facing a new sibling!

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!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Kid Konnection: Counting by 7s


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 middle grade book that's guaranteed to touch your heart.

Summary: In the tradition of Out of My Mind, Wonder, and Mockingbird, this is an intensely moving middle grade novel about being an outsider, coping with loss, and discovering the true meaning of family.

Willow Chance is a twelve-year-old genius, obsessed with nature and diagnosing medical conditions, who finds it comforting to count by 7s. It has never been easy for her to connect with anyone other than her adoptive parents, but that hasn’t kept her from leading a quietly happy life . . . until now.

Suddenly Willow’s world is tragically changed when her parents both die in a car crash, leaving her alone in a baffling world. The triumph of this book is that it is not a tragedy. This extraordinarily odd, but extraordinarily endearing, girl manages to push through her grief. Her journey to find a fascinatingly diverse and fully believable surrogate family is a joy and a revelation to read. -- Dial

Even though I'm way past the target age for middle grade fiction, I still love a good middle grade book. And that's precisely what COUNTING BY 7S by Holly Goldberg Sloan is -- a fantastic book. This novel introduces some pretty special characters and also has some wonderful messages. It's no wonder that it was a Buzz Book at this year's BEA and that it has received so many honors.

COUNTING BY 7S tells the story of Willow a twelve year old girl who is extraordinarily intelligent... but also a bit different from the other kids. She is obsessed with plants and medical conditions and she likes to count by 7s to calm herself down. She has few friends and doesn't really fit in with others, but her adoptive parents have always demonstrated how much they love her.

And then one day, tragedy strikes when Willow's parents are killed in an automobile accident. She is all alone with no family and friends, and yet she finds a way to survive and even prosper. With the help of a new "family," Willow discovers that she can belong with the right set of people!

I adored COUNTING BY 7S and it truly encompasses what I love about middle grade fiction. It had memorable characters, especially Willow, but it also touched upon so many relevant issues for today's kids. This novel explored what it's like to be different and long for a sense of belonging, and while most kids won't have to deal with the extremes that Willow faced, I do think they will relate to this character.

In addition, this book dealt with the different ways to handle loss. Honestly, I was blown away by how well the author explored the topic of grief. Of course, Willow faced the nightmare of losing her parents and really her entire support system; and she was naturally devastated. However, Ms. Sloan managed to make Willow's grief so real. My heart broke for Willow over and over again.

And finally, I loved the uplifting messages in COUNTING BY 7S. Through a very quirky cast of characters, the author demonstrated that acceptance and family can come in the least likely places. Willow also learned that no matter how much tragedy she faced, she had what it took to persevere and even find joy again!

Overall, COUNTING BY 7S is a wonderful book. It will make you laugh and cry, but most of all, it will make you fall in love with this resilient young girl! Highly recommended.

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review 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 18, 2013

Guest Review: The Men Who United the States

Summary: For more than two centuries, E pluribus unum—"Out of many, one"—has been featured on America's official government seals and stamped on its currency. But how did America become "one nation, indivisible"? In this monumental history, Simon Winchester addresses these questions, bringing together the breathtaking achievements of those American pioneers who helped to forge and unify the new nation, and who toiled fearlessly to bond the citizens and geography of the United States from its very beginnings. This sweeping narrative details how these daring men, some famous, some forgotten, left their mark on America's natural landscapes, through courage, ingenuity, and hard work.

Winchester follows the footsteps of America's most crucial innovators, thinkers, and explorers, from Lewis and Clark and the leaders of the Great Surveys of the West to the builders of the first transcontinental railroad and the curmudgeonly civil engineer who oversaw the creation of more than three million miles of highway. Winchester travels across vast swaths of the American landscape, from Pittsburgh to Portland, Seattle to Anchorage, Truckee to Laramie, using the five classical elements—Wood, Earth, Water, Fire, and Metal—to chart the contributions these adventurous leaders made to connect the diverse communities within the United States and ensure the future of the American project begun in 1776.

The Men Who United the States is an unforgettable journey of unprecedented scope across time and open spaces, providing a new lens through which to view American history, led by one of our most gifted writers. -- Harper

I haven't been reading much lately, so thankfully my dad came through with a review of THE MEN WHO UNITED THE STATES by Simon Winchester. Here are his thoughts:

In THE MEN WHO UNITED THE STATES, author Simon Winchester, a British-born historian who became a U.S. citizen on July 4, 2011, tries to answer the question of how America became one nation. Winchester contends that actual physical advancements such as canals, railroads and airplanes played a significant role in unifying the different states, the differing geography and the unique collection of citizens. 

Winchester divides his book into five sections based on the five classical elements of Asian philosophy: wood (representing early land surveys), earth (representing geological surveys), water (representing rivers and canals), fire (representing railroads), and metal (representing communications).

Winchester takes the reader from Thomas Jefferson’s Land Ordinance of 1785 which laid out a surveying system for the unsettled territories, through the geological mapping of the United States and the discovery of gold, through the development of the Erie Canal, the transcontinental railroad and the airplane, and finally through the communication revolution from the telegraph to radio to television to the internet.

Winchester tells stories about pioneers, miners, entrepreneurs, inventors, engineers and scientists. The author writes about the accomplishments of people we already know like Jefferson, Lewis and Clark, Samuel Morse, Robert Fulton and Thomas Edison but he also mentions characters we are not so familiar with; people like William Maclure, who detailed the first U.S. geological map; John Stevens, inventor of the first steam locomotive; Loammi Baldwin, designer of the canal system; Theodore Judah, promoter of the transcontinental railroad; Thomas McDonald, developer of the first modern road system; Morris Llewellyn Cooke, who developed rural electrification as part of Roosevelt’s New Deal; William Siemering, the first director of Nation Public Radio and J.C.R. Licklier, who conceived the forerunner to the internet. Dwight Eisenhower, already well known as a general and president, is highlighted in the book for his report in 1919 of the Army Transcontinental Motor Convoy which emphasized the need for a national highway system. 

Winchester utilizes an outstanding story telling technique in making his case. He shares interesting accounts like the origin of Route 66 and a story about the greatest diamond fraud in U.S. history. He also enhances his stories with his personal visits to places he writes about. For example, he followed the route of the Army Transcontinental Motor Convoy and visited the site of the diamond fraud.

Whether or not you agree with Winchester’s contention that technology served as the catalyst that brought the United States together, those that enjoy U.S. history will find THE MEN WHO UNITED THE STATES very interesting.

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

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Review: The Unofficial Girls Guide to New York

Summary: Visit Hannah, Marnie, Jessa, and Shoshanna’s favorite haunts in The Unofficial Girls Guide to New York

More than just a travel guide, The Unofficial Girls Guide to New York delivers an in-depth look at Girls’ physical and cultural landscape.
  • Stop in at Café Grumpy and learn how to make a French press coffee the way Ray and Hannah would 
  • Go behind the scenes at Greenhouse, where Hannah and Elijah spend a night out, and meet “iPad DJs” AndrewAndrew 
  • Recreate Jessa and Thomas-John’s Foundry wedding cake, with buttercream icing made from local NYC rooftop honey 
  • Tour the Salmagundi Club, site of Hannah’s cringeworthy reading and one of the city’s oldest and most prestigious art and literary associations Shop Girls-style in the West Village, Nolita, and beyond
  • Plus a lot more, from Greenpoint to Greenwich Village, and Bushwick warehouse parties to the Lower East Side gallery scene 
It’s the best way to visit Girls’ New York without paying for a plane ticket—or the perfect complement to your next trip.

Featuring 20 maps, 22 recipes, & more than 100 full-color photos -- Smart Pop

I hope I'm not too late with this post because THE UNOFFICIAL GIRLS GUIDE TO NEW YORK by Judy Gelman and Peter Zheutlin is a great gift idea for fans of HBO's television series Girls. I consider myself a pretty big fan of the show over the past two seasons (especially Season 1), and I'm anxiously awaiting its return in January.

In the meantime, THE UNOFFICIAL GIRLS GUIDE TO NEW YORK has provided me with some fun entertainment. It is part travel guide because it features many of the familiar locations that Hannah and the girls visited in New York, but it's also a great way to reminisce about the show. Since I love visiting New York each year for BEA, THE UNOFFICIAL GIRLS GUIDE TO NEW YORK has given me a whole new world to explore in May!

I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised by this book. Not only does is explore many of the neighborhoods that appear in the show, but it also showcases many restaurants. For those of you are familiar with the series Girls, you know how much the setting plays a role in the stories. I appreciate that THE UNOFFICIAL GIRLS GUIDE TO NEW YORK provides even more details about these places and truly brings them to life for me.

You might remember this author pairing because they wrote a book called THE UNOFFICIAL MAD MEN COOKBOOK: INSIDE THE KITCHENS, BARS, AND RESTAURANTS OF MAD MEN which I reviewed here. They are, first and foremost, cookbook authors so they managed to include lots of recipes in this book too. There is even the recipe for Serendipity's Frrrozen Hot Chocolate which some might say alone is worth the price of the book!

Probably the most exciting thing to me (since I have little, if any, social life) is that one of the nightclubs I visited a few years ago appeared in the book. It's called The Greenhouse and was featured in Season 2 when Hannah visited it, high on cocaine! I didn't catch it when I saw the show, but I'm going to have to go back and watch it again!

To learn more about the book, check out the official website here.

Fans of Girls are going to love this book! Highly recommended!

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

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Kid Konnection: Cool Creations in 35 Pieces


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 book that's perfect for the Lego fan in your life!

Summary: Creativity knows no bounds! LEGO artist Sean Kenney reuses the same thirty-five LEGO bricks to create a variety of images in all categories: vehicles, spaceships, home accessories, animals, nature, robots, and many other subjects. This new LEGO offering is sure to spark imagination and encourage kids to think outside the box, which is the message that Sean strongly promotes about creativity, imagination, and building with LEGO. -- Henry Holt

COOL CREATIONS IN 35 PIECES by Sean Kenney is a fantastic book for budding Lego artists. All too often, I buy a Lego kit (usually Star Wars) for Booking Son and my husband asks, "What happened to just playing with regular old Legos?" Well, COOL CREATIONS IN 35 PIECES is one answer to that question.

COOL CREATIONS IN 35 PIECES provides loads of different ideas for unique Lego creations using only 35 pieces. To make the book even cooler, it's the same 35 pieces for each creation! The author uses different color schemes, but all of the basic pieces are identical.


The creations Mr. Kenney makes include robots (even transforming ones), spacecraft, buildings, various animals, and even goofy faces! One idea is more creative than the next. And I like that the objects are easy to assemble so the book is relevant for kids of all ages.

Blurgh Robot
As a mom, I love how kids can use this book as a pattern to make Mr. Kenney's idea, but I also love how they can use it as a jumping off point for their own creations. In fact, the author actually encourages kids to come up with even more ideas for using no more than these 35 Lego Pieces.

COOL CREATIONS IN 35 PIECES is so much fun! Highly recommended!

Thanks to Goodman Media for providing a review 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 13, 2013

Gift Ideas from Penguin Classics

I've just discovered the perfect gift for the book lovers in your life!

Many of you have already seen the gorgeous book designs from the award-winning Penguin Classics Deluxe Editions. Well, now they've turned these great covers into tee-shirts and tote bags!

I received a few of the samples and I can assure you that both the tees and the totes are high quality, and they are even designed and produced right here in the good old US of A! I love that the shirts come in a variety of sizes -- including children's, and The Portable Dorothy Parker one even has a girl fit.

These custom t-shirts and heavy-duty cotton tote bags (perfect for holding books!) are designed with exclusive Penguin Classics cover art from books including The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Candide, Heart of Darkness, Moby-Dick, The Portable Dorothy Parker, The Wizard of Oz, and more. The cover art was designed by leading graphic and comic artists and illustrators including Chris Ware, Seth, Mike Mignola, Tony Millionaire, Rachell Sumpter, Jillian Tamaki, and Lilli Carré.

While I absolutely adore my Dorothy Parker tee, I also love the Huck Finn one that is the perfect size for Booking Son! Not only is The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn one of my favorite books, but the artwork of Huck smoking his pipe is incredible.


And if I'm being entirely honest, my favorite of the items is the Wizard of Oz book tote. It is absolutely beautiful and has such vibrant colors. I can't wait to load it up with my yarn and books and start using it. I'm sure it will be an eye-turner!

Front of Tote
Back of Tote

I can't rave enough about these unique tees and totes, and I'm certain that they will be perfect gifts for this holiday season. The tees are reasonably priced  at $28 and the totes are $25. You can purchase the Penguin Classics lifestyle items here.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Review: The Housemaid's Daughter

Summary: Barbara Mutch's stunning first novel tells a story of love and duty colliding on the arid plains of Apartheid-era South Africa

When Cathleen Harrington leaves her home in Ireland in 1919 to travel to South Africa, she knows that she does not love the man she is to marry there —her fiance Edward, whom she has not seen for five years. Isolated and estranged in a small town in the harsh Karoo desert, her only real companions are her diary and her housemaid, and later the housemaid's daughter, Ada. When Ada is born, Cathleen recognizes in her someone she can love and respond to in a way that she cannot with her own family.

Under Cathleen’s tutelage, Ada grows into an accomplished pianist and a reader who cannot resist turning the pages of the diary, discovering the secrets Cathleen sought to hide. As they grow closer, Ada sees new possibilities in front of her—a new horizon. But in one night, everything changes, and Cathleen comes home from a trip to find that Ada has disappeared, scorned by her own community. Cathleen must make a choice: should she conform to society, or search for the girl who has become closer to her than her own daughter?

Set against the backdrop of a beautiful, yet divided land, The Housemaid's Daughter is a startling and thought-provoking novel that intricately portrays the drama and heartbreak of two women who rise above cruelty to find love, hope, and redemption. -- St. Martin's Press

When I sat down to read THE HOUSEMAID'S DAUGHTER by Barbara Mutch in preparation for a blog tour, I had no idea how timely this read would end up being. THE HOUSEMAID'S DAUGHTER takes place in South Africa during Apartheid, and Nelson Mandela, who recently passed away, was referenced a few times for his work for the ANC.

THE HOUSEMAID'S DAUGHTER tells the story of Ada, the housemaid's daughter, and Cathleen, her employer. Cathleen, who was born in Ireland, arrived in the desert of South Africa to marry Edward, a man she never really loved. Despite having two children, Cathleen is lonely and eventually finds that she relates to Ada better than her own daughter.

Cathleen takes Ada under her wings and teaches her to read and play the piano. Ada's love of reading causes her to start reading Cathleen's diary and learning many of Cathleen's secrets. When Cathleen leaves home for a few months to visit her daughter, Ada unwillingly betrays her and mysteriously disappears. Cathleen desperately misses Ada and searches for her despite the social taboos associated with a wealthy white woman fraternizing with a black woman.

THE HOUSEMAID'S DAUGHTER is a beautiful story about a friendship between two women who have to overcome the odds. It demonstrates the power of love and forgiveness and ultimately redemption.

I enjoyed THE HOUSEMAID'S DAUGHTER quite a bit. It was a well-written novel with complex characters, and it managed to make me both think and feel. In addition, since it was historical fiction and took place during decades of the Apartheid, I felt as if I learned a few things about South Africa and its history. I definitely think Ms. Mutch did a great job of making these women's stories real while also making the setting of South Africa come to life.

One thing that really stood out to me about THE HOUSEMAID'S DAUGHTER was the writing. If I'm not mistaken, this is Ms. Mutch's first novel -- and I have to say that I was very impressed with how polished it was. I absolutely loved all of her descriptions of South Africa from the Karoo desert, to Cathleen's estate, to Johannesburg, to the mud huts that Ada lived in. She managed to make even the trees and animals real. My only wish is that she had given me more specifics about Apartheid, but that's because I don't really know much about it.

In addition, I loved how strong she made her female characters, namely Cathleen and Ada. These women who were born in such different circumstances and were divided by the color of their skin developed a love for each other that was so beautiful. Despite all of the impediments to their friendship, they managed to turn their back on society and support each other. Their courage and integrity were so admirable, and their actions were extremely heartwarming.

I've seen a comparison of THE HOUSEMAID'S DAUGHTER to THE HELP, and quite honestly, I don't know that it's a fair one. I guess there are some similarities of the master and servant relationships as well as friendship and race issues, but THE HOUSEMAID'S DAUGHTER is a quality book that stands on its own. It is rich with South African history and deals with some very serious issues, and it has a totally different feel to it than THE HELP.

THE HOUSEMAID'S DAUGHTER would make a fabulous book club selection. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find a reader's guide on-line. I'm not sure that a book club would need formal questions because this novel is ripe with discussion points. Some of the themes you might want to explore include race, class, friendship, parent/child relationships, forgiveness, loyalty, duty, faith, loss, grief, courage, and redemption.



Overall, I found THE HOUSEMAID'S DAUGHTER to be a compelling read. It's an intriguing story that will also touch your heart and make you think. Highly recommended!

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

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Giveaway: The Diviners

Summary: Do you believe there are ghosts and demons and Diviners among us?

Evie O'Neill has been exiled from her boring old hometown and shipped off to the bustling streets of New York City--and she is pos-i-tute-ly ecstatic. It's 1926, and New York is filled with speakeasies, Ziegfeld girls, and rakish pickpockets. The only catch is that she has to live with her uncle Will and his unhealthy obsession with the occult.

Evie worries he'll discover her darkest secret: a supernatural power that has only brought her trouble so far. But when the police find a murdered girl branded with a cryptic symbol and Will is called to the scene, Evie realizes her gift could help catch a serial killer.

As Evie jumps headlong into a dance with a murderer, other stories unfurled in the city that never sleeps. A young man named Memphis is caught between two worlds. A chorus girl named Theta is running from her past. A student named Jericho hides a shocking secret. And unknown to all, something dark and evil has awakened....

Printz Award-winning and New York Times bestselling author Libba Bray opens a brand-new historical series with The Diviners, where the glittering surface of the Roaring Twenties hides a mystical horror creeping across the country. -- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

It is with some embarrassment that I admit that I haven't yet read THE DIVINERS by Libba Bray. My intention was to post a review today along with a great giveaway, but life seems to be getting in the way of my reading time. Since I have heard so many good things about THE DIVINERS, I definitely want to read it; and it's sitting near the top of my TBR pile! Hopefully, you'll be hearing more from me about this novel in the very near future.

If you've ever read a novel by Libba Bray, then you already know what a fantastic and creative writer she is. She's truly one-of-a-kind. Here's a little teaser for THE DIVINERS:




You can learn more about THE DIVINERS by visiting the official website. You can also like the book on Facebook, follow Libba on Twitter, or even stop by Libba’s author site.

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


To celebrate the paperback release of THE DIVINERS, I have a copy of the novel plus a cute tote bag for one lucky reader courtesy of Little, Brown. To enter, just fill out the form below before Monday, December 23rd 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 9, 2013

Review: Practice to Deceive (Audio)

Summary: With more than 50 million copies of her thirty-four books in print, from The Stranger Beside Me, her chilling personal account of knowing Ted Bundy, to fourteen hardcover books— including Small Sacrifices; Green River, Running Red; and Too Late to Say Goodbye—and sixteen collections in her #1 bestselling Crime Files series, Ann Rule is without a doubt “America’s best true-crime writer” (Kirkus Reviews). In Practice to Deceive, her first book-length investigative chronicle since In the Still of the Night, Rule unravels a shattering case of Christmastime murder off the coast of Washington State—presented with the clarity, authority, and emotional depth that Rule’s readers expect. It’s a case with enough drama, greed, sex, and scandal to be called “The Real Housewives of Whidbey Island,” but this was not reality television. This was murder: pure, cruel, ugly, and senseless. And someone had to pay the price.

Nestled in Puget Sound, Whidbey Island is a gem of the Pacific Northwest; accessible only by ferry and the soaring Deception Pass Bridge, it is known for its artistic communities and stunning natural beauty. Life there is low-key, insular, and the island’s year-round residents tend to know one another’s business. But when the blooddrenched body of Russel Douglas was discovered the day after Christmas in his SUV in a hidden driveway near Whidbey’s most exclusive mansions, the whole island was shocked. A single bullet between his eyes was the cause of death, but no one could imagine who among them could plot such a devious, cold-blooded crime. At first, police suspected suicide, tragically common at the height of the holiday season. But when they found no gun in or near the SUV, Russel’s manner of death became homicide. Like a cast of characters from a classic mystery novel, a host of Whidbey residents fell under suspicion.

Brenna Douglas was Russel’s estranged and soon-to-be-ex wife, who allowed him to come home for a Christmas visit with their children. The couple owned the popular Just B’s salon. Brenna’s good friend Peggy Sue Thomas worked there, and Brenna complained often to her that Russel was physically and emotionally abusive. Peggy Sue’s own life has been one of extremes. Married three times, hers is a rags-to-riches-and-back-again tale in which she’s played many roles: aircraft mechanic, basketball coach, the “drop-dead gorgeous” beauty queen as a former Ms. Washington, Las Vegas limousine driver, million-dollar horse breeder, wealthy divorcée. But in 2003, her love affair with married guitarist Jim Huden led the two Whidbey Island natives to pursue their ultimate dreams of wealth and privilege—even at the expense of human life.

Unravel the tangled web woven by Russel Douglas’s murder in Practice to Deceive, the newest heart pounding true-crime tour de force from Ann Rule. -- Simon & Schuster Audio

I swear I've been reading books by Ann Rule for my entire adult life, and I've always been fascinated how real life is stranger than fiction. Ms. Rule certainly found her success as a true crime author with 34 books to her credit and over 50 million copies sold. I still remember reading THE STRANGER BESIDE ME when I was a student at Penn State and not being able to sleep because the story of Ted Bundy was so incredibly disturbing!

Ms. Rule's latest book is PRACTICE TO DECEIVE. It begins on Whidbey Island, just off the coast of Washington, during the holiday season of 2003 when Russel Douglas is brutally murdered. After suicide is ruled out, the police are at a loss as to who would want Douglas dead. They begin a long and detailed investigation into his death with his wife and her friends as possible suspects.

Surprisingly enough, it's Douglas' wife landlord Peggy Sue Thomas and her ex-husband Jim Huden that appear to be guilty. Both suspects have colored pasts, but nothing to make them seem like murderers. While police are confident that the two are, in fact, guilty of the murder, they still wonder about the motive. Could these two murder an "innocent" man just for the possibility of financial gain?

I honestly don't know whether my tastes have changed in the 20+ years that I've been reading true crime, or if PRACTICE TO DECEIVE just wasn't up to what I've come to expect from an Ann Rule book. While I did find aspects of this story to be interesting, I just wasn't truly caught up in it. And honestly, I'm not sure that the story was intriguing enough to merit an entire book. Granted the idea that two people who really didn't know Douglas would murder him in the way they did for a relatively small chance of financial gain is mind-boggling.

However, I felt as if something was missing from the story. As I reflect back on it, I think I had a few issues with the book. One of my problems was in how the story ended. It was very anti-climatic for me. Of course, that can't be helped because it is a true story, and I do think Ms. Rule was similarly disappointed, but I just felt as if the story was building for a really great trial and then... nothing!

Another issue I had with the story was the amount of background information that Ms. Rule included in the story. Naturally, there really weren't any likable characters (heck -- they were murderers), but I really felt as if she spent way too much time on the background of the characters and other tangents unrelated to the crime itself. Although it was kind of interesting in a twisted way, a big chuck of the story was spent on the history of Thomas' father and his first wife. In addition, I felt as if there were a lot of details about Thomas and Huden's past -- almost more than the actual crime and investigation. I could be wrong about this because I did listen to the audiobook version and I don't have the same "feel" as I do when I read the text, but that was my general impression.

Having voiced my concerns with PRACTICE TO DECEIVE, I still want to share that it was an interesting story and I think it was a worthwhile read. What I'm saying is that the story just didn't pack the same punch as other Ann Rule books have for me. However, there were elements of this book that did remind me of her other stories. She still did a good job explaining the crime, the investigation, and the trial. In addition, she made the characters (and especially the victim) very real to the reader.

As I mentioned earlier, I listened to the audio book of PRACTICE TO DECEIVE. It was read by Anne Twomey and I thought she did a fine job. The book was written in Ms. Rule's voice, and I could imagine Ms. Twomey as her the entire time I listened. It wasn't a particularly challenging narration job since there weren't a lot of characters or even different dialects, but I do think she was a good choice for the reader.

Overall, PRACTICE TO DECEIVE is an interesting look at a horrific crime and the unique cast of characters who were involved. Recommended to fans of true crime books.

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

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. 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 7, 2013

Kid Konnection: The Time-Traveling Fashionista and Cleopatra


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 the third book in a series that I just love.

Summary: Walk, talk, and dress like an Egyptian. When Louise Lambert tries on a lavender Grecian gown during a visit to the mysterious Traveling Fashionista Vintage Sale, she feels a familiar tug and falls back in time, arriving at the dusty base of an enormous pyramid. She has landed in ancient Egypt...or has she?

It turns out that Louise is on the legendary Old Hollywood film set of Cleopatra, but her time there is short-lived. Rummaging through the wardrobe tent, Louise gets her hands on a pearl necklace that dates back to 51 BC, and she suddenly finds herself whisked away once more, this time to the ancient city of Alexandria, Egypt. Gold and jewels shimmer in the Egyptian sunlight, but poisonous snakes and dangerous enemies also roam the palace halls. Louise quickly learns that life as a handmaiden to Queen Cleopatra is much more treacherous--and fashionable--than she ever could have imagined. -- Poppy

Just this week, THE TIME-TRAVELING FASHIONISTA AND CLEOPATRA, QUEEN OF THE NILE by Bianca Turetsky was released. This is the third book in the Time-Traveling Fashionista series, and Booking Daughter and I are both big fans of these books. So when I was asked to participate in a blog tour for the book, I immediately jumped at the chance.

In THE TIME-TRAVELING FASHIONISTA AND CLEOPATRA, QUEEN OF THE NILE, Louise finds herself transported to two different places and times; and she even has the opportunity to meet a young Cleopatra!

I really enjoyed this novel (and so did Booking Daughter!) I was thrilled that Louise visited both Hollywood and ancient Egypt because I find both of these times and locations to be fascinating. Once again, Louise gets herself into a bit of trouble and has to find a way to save the day while also getting back to the present.

I'm not entirely sure what I enjoy more about these books -- the tales of Louise's travel, the historical lessons that are thrown in, or the gorgeous color illustrations of the past and present-day fashion by Sandra Suy. Truly, I think the books in this series are the perfect blend of facts and fiction as well as the present and the past. And I really can't stress just how gorgeous all of the sketches are!

There is no doubt that the main premise of THE TIME-TRAVELING FASHIONISTA AND CLEOPATRA, QUEEN OF THE NILE is Louise's visits to the past; however, there are some interesting secondary plots in this novel.  Louise is a realistic pre-teen girl (except for the time travel!) who is facing the very same issues that tweens everywhere face. She feels awkward in her body and isn't at all confident about her appearance. In addition, her best friend now has a boyfriend, and Louise is feeling that they aren't as close as they used to be.

What I appreciated about THE TIME-TRAVELING FASHIONISTA AND CLEOPATRA, QUEEN OF THE NILE is that Louise not only learns about the past through her travels, she also learns some valuable things about herself. Through Cleopatra's actions, she learns the importance of self-confidence. In addition, she realizes that people and friendships can change. As a mom, I especially enjoyed the positive messages for young girls that appeared in the story!

As part of the blog tour for THE TIME-TRAVELING FASHIONISTA AND CLEOPATRA, QUEEN OF THE NILE, I was granted permission to print an excerpt from the novel. This scene takes place immediately after Louise is transported to ancient Egypt!

When Louise awoke, she had a sinking feeling she wasn’t in Hollywood anymore. She screamed. She was nose-to-nose with an intense-looking teenage girl who had tan olive skin, dark kohl eye makeup extending out past her brown almond-shaped eyes, a large hook nose, a thick neck, and a rather prominent chin.

“I didn’t mean to startle you,” the girl said tersely. She had a thick white ribbon tied around her head, and her dark waves were held back in a low bun with some escaped little frizzies framing her face, much like Louise’s own typical hairstyle. Her hair was a deep brown but with a reddish tint, as if she had used henna to color it.

“Oh, good, Charmian, you found it!” the girl continued. “Quickly, give it to me! I need to get back to my studies. An important Roman general is coming to the palace for dinner soon, and I have an idea I need your help with.” When the girl spoke, Louise caught a glimpse of her crooked yellowish teeth. Where she was now, they clearly didn’t have orthodontists. “Ummm…g-give what?” Louise stuttered, confused.

“Why, the pearl necklace I asked you to find, of course,” the girl explained impatiently as she yanked a thin chain from around Louise’s neck. Ouch! It was the same pearl necklace she had tried on from the trunk on the film set. Oh, why did she decide to take that necklace? She had finally found her dream job, was working for a famous costume designer alongside a Hollywood acting legend, and then she had to go and poke around in a trunk that specifically warned her against poking around. From experience, Louise knew she was going to need to keep an eye on that pearl necklace if she wanted any chance of making it home. But who was this girl? By the demanding tone of her voice, Louise had a feeling she had another boss to contend with. A boss who had just taken the iridescent pearl and gold chain—Louise’s ticket home—and dropped it into her satchel before hurrying out of the room with a scarlet red silk cape trailing dramatically behind her. (65-66)

In addition to this excerpt from THE TIME-TRAVELING FASHIONISTA AND CLEOPATRA, QUEEN OF THE NILE, I wanted to share with you the very fun website for the series. You will find descriptions for all three books in the series plus images from the clothes in Louise's closet. You can even take a Fashionista quiz!

I just adore the Time-Traveling Fashionista series and I think young girls will agree. Highly recommended for fashionistas and fans of historical fiction.

Thanks to Lucinda Literary and the publisher for a review copy of this novel.

*****
Bianca Turetsky is the author of the stylish Time-Traveling Fashionista series, which has been translated into nine languages. After graduating from Tufts University, Bianca began working for artist/filmmaker Julian Schnabel. She managed his studio for the past 11 years and was his assistant on the Academy Award-nominated film The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. She lives in a cozy studio apartment in Brooklyn, New York, that houses her very extensive and much-loved vintage collection. The third book in the series, The Time-Traveling Fashionista and Cleopatra, Queen of the Nile was released on December 3, 2013.

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 4, 2013

Giveaway: World Vision Colors of Africa Bracelet and Earrings Set


The holidays are quickly approaching and our lives are getting hectic with decorating, shopping, parties, wrapping and more! I am as guilty as the next person (if not more so) of getting caught up in the craziness and forgetting the true meaning of Christmas.

The fine folks at World Vision have offered a few ideas to make sure that you keep your heart in the holidays:

- Organize a family giving night and have kids select charitable gifts from an organization such as the World Vision Gift Catalog. Talk with your children about how giving back changes lives of children and families living in poverty and that their efforts truly make a difference.
- Host a house party for friends and family and ask your guests to contribute to a share of a group gift such as a farm animal, winter clothing or school supplies to families in need, or even a water well. Make the selection of the item, how to raise funds for that gift, and the collection of the money a collaborative, group effort.
- Be active in your giving -- volunteer at your local homeless shelter or senior living center; cook a meal or bake cookies for an elderly family member or neighbor.
Another way to give back is by ordering gifts through the World Vision Gift Catalog. The unique catalog offers more than 250 items that help fight poverty and save lives here in US and around the world. Donors can select one of the 30+ Handcrafted Gifts that can be given as a beautiful gift and at the same time help those in need.

World Vision is very near and dear to my heart. A few years ago, my husband and I wanted to help others and also let our children now just how fortunate they are. We decided to sponsor two African children, and we've continued to keep in touch with them. We receive letters from both of them letting us know how they and their families are faring as well as how they are doing in school. I feel so fortunate that we are in a situation where we give back.

But you don't have to sponsor a child to make a difference. Just check out the gorgeous gifts available in the World Vision Gift Catalog. Some examples of the gifts they offer include:

Colors of Africa Bracelet & Earring Set: This gorgeous Zakale jewelry set is handmade from recycled materials by Kenyan artisans reclaiming their own lives from poverty.

Cinnamon Box: Created from the dried inner bark of Cassia (Cinnamon) trees by skilled artisans in Vietnam; these boxes help families receive social and health insurance as well as the opportunity to apply for scholarship funds.

Hand-woven Headband: This beautiful, 100% cotton headband woven by skilled workers in Lake Atitlan in Guatemala helps address urgent needs of children, families or communities that might otherwise go unmet.

Ornament Set: This set includes three handmade Zakale wire and bead animal trio ornaments from Nairobi.

Gertie the Plush Goat: Gertie is available exclusively through World Vision and represents farm animals that are donated to children and families around the world and provide a steady supply of nutritious food and the surplus can be sold for extra income.

In addition with your donation, you can provide life-changing animals, clean water, items for schools, and even give hope to sexually exploited women.

My personal favorite is the Colors of Africa Bracelet and Earring Set. I was fortunate enough to receive this set and I can assure you that it's lovely. (The photo really doesn't do it justice!) All of the pieces are handmade in Nairobi from recycled materials and it's sure to be a conversation starter every time you wear it! I just adore the brightly colored charms!

Product Description: Help where it's needed most ... AND get a gift for yourself or someone you care about! With your gift of $100 or more to where most needed — which provides for the unique needs of children and families worldwide — you will receive this gorgeous Zakale bracelet and earring set from Nairobi. Zakale crafts are made from recycled materials by Kenyan artisans, who received a loan from World Vision to grow their business and lift themselves out of poverty. 

Approximate sizes: bracelet 8" long, earrings 2" long. Each is unique - size and color may vary slightly. -- World Vision


And now for the really fun part! I have the Colors of Africa Bracelet and Earrings Set to share with one lucky reader. To enter, just fill out the form below before December 11th 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 are interested in learning more about World Vision USA or their gift ideas, please check out their Facebook page and Twitter at @WorldVisionNews or @WorldVisionUSA. You can also take a look at this video which explains how the Gift Catalog works.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Guest Blogger: Linda Spalding & Giveaway

Summary: Winner of Canada's 2012 Governor General's Award for Fiction

In this provocative and starkly beautiful historical novel, a Quaker family moves from Pennsylvania to the Virginia frontier, where slaves are the only available workers and where the family’s values and beliefs are sorely tested.

In 1798, Daniel Dickinson, recently widowed and shunned by his fellow Quakers when he marries his young servant girl to help with his five small children, moves his shaken family down the Wilderness Road to the Virginia/Kentucky border. Although determined to hold on to his Quaker ways, and despite his most dearly held belief that slavery is a sin, Daniel becomes the owner of a young boy named Onesimus, setting in motion a twisted chain of events that will lead to tragedy and murder, forever changing his children’s lives and driving the book to an unexpected conclusion.

A powerful novel of sacrifice and redemption set in a tiny community on the edge of the frontier, this spellbinding narrative unfolds around Daniel’s struggle to maintain his faith; his young wife, Ruth, who must find her own way; and Mary, the eldest child, who is bound to a runaway slave by a terrible secret. Darkly evocative, The Purchase is as hard-edged as the realities of pioneer life. Its memorable characters, drawn with compassion and depth, are compellingly human, with lives that bring light to matters of loyalty and conscience. -- Pantheon

My intent was to have read and reviewed THE PURCHASE by Linda Spalding so I could share my thoughts prior to posting this interesting guest essay. However, life has been insane and I'm terribly behind in my reading. Rather than wait until I find the time to read this novel, I wanted to introduce you to this book (which sounds terrific, by the way) and the author. I hope you enjoy learning some of the "strange facts" that Ms. Spalding discovered in her research for THE PURCHASE. I know I did!

Strange Facts

One of the things I like best about writing is coming upon strange facts. Even when I’m working on fiction, there is research to be done: Locale. Weather. Trees and wildlife. History! And of course, clothes and habits. Writing The Purchase was a special treat in this regard. The story is based on a few facts I knew about my grandfather’s grandfather, a Quaker abolitionist who became a slave owner in 1798. In order to research his time and place, I found myself collecting all kinds of second-hand books. One of the best came from my mother’s library and involved life on a farm in southern Missouri before the Civil War. I figured southern Missouri wasn’t a lot different from south-western Virginia, so I read up on corn husking and winter amusements and what kinds of work children did on farms. It was in that book that I learned that nobody wore coats in the winter! This really surprised me. It was actually shocking to realize how impoverished those ante bellum lives were by our standards. I read a book about superstitions and another about herbal medicine and another about African religion. I read all the old Foxfire magazines I could get my hands on. But the most surprising source was Thomas Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia. It amazes me to think a man as hugely busy as Jefferson could have the time and patience to learn about and then write about every weed and flower and animal and tree and river in his state along with all the laws and the factories and the public revenues and expenses and the minerals and the aborigines, as he called them. Imagine a political figure today having that kind of interest in the natural world. And I believe Jefferson must have been as confounded by his investment in slavery as my ancestor was, since he refers to it, in his book, as a “political and moral evil.” “Our peculiar institution’ is what they called it in the South, which sounds pretty shame-faced to me, like someone with an addiction who shrugs it off as a medical necessity. Here’s another strange fact. Without the cotton gin, slavery might have disappeared long before the Civil War, but the new machine caused a great demand for more and more slaves to grow more and more cotton for the British mills. That was another surprise – another strange fact I learned along the way. The trouble was, there was one big, blank page in all my research. Here is what I needed to learn: What was the effect on a person of conscience who bought a human being? It was the question that most haunted me and which I was trying to answer by writing my book because I believe my family and those like us who bought into the “peculiar institution” were poisoned by the denial of truth and decency we hid behind. I believe our society is still reeling from that toxic effect because we all grow out of the soil scraped thin by our grandfathers. That’s another strange, thought-provoking fact and it kept me working on The Purchase until I had fully absorbed it to my satisfaction.

*****
Linda Spalding was born in Kansas and lived in Mexico and Hawaii before immigrating to Canada in 1982. She is the author of three critically acclaimed novels, Daughters of Captain Cook, The Paper Wife, and (with her daughter Esta) Mere. Her nonfiction includes The Follow (Canadian title, short-listed for the Trillium Book Award and the Pearson Writers’ Trust Prize, and published in the US as A Dark Place in the Jungle), Riska: Memories of a Dayak Girlhood (shortlisted for the Kiriyama Prize), and Who Named the Knife. She has been awarded the Harbourfront Festival Prize for her contribution to the Canadian literary community. The Purchase received Canada’s Governor General’s Literary Award and its Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize. Spalding lives in Toronto, where she is the editor of Brick magazine.

Visit Linda's website at www.lindaspalding.com.

Thanks so much to Ms. Spalding for this fantastic guest post, and make sure you check out THE PURCHASE! I can't wait to read it!

Giveaway alert: Thanks to the fine folks at Saichek Publicity and the publisher, I have a copy of THE PURCHASE to share with one lucky reader. To enter, just fill out the form below before December 16th at 11:59 p.m. EST. 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 2, 2013

Review: Trouble in Paradise (Audio)

Summary: With her besties Bailey and Toni in tow, Rachel leaves work and rainy LA behind and sets off for a much needed vacation in Aruba. Greeted by glittering sand and a balmy breeze, the three friends can't imagine anywhere more perfect. 

But just minutes after hitting the beach, they're approached by a panicked young woman. A gofer on the biggest reality hit since "Survivor," she's lost the show's child star and must find her, now, before anyone else realizes she's gone. Rachel, Bailey, and Toni put their dreams of paradise on hold and embark on a whirlwind search for the girl--a search that ends with a twist so disturbing no one, not even a fortune-teller, could have seen it coming... -- Hachette Audio

I always enjoy the Rachel Knight books by Marcia Clark. So when I found out that Ms. Clark had written a short story called TROUBLE IN PARADISE with all of the characters I've come to know and love, I jumped at the chance to read it -- or in this case, listen to it.

TROUBLE IN PARADISE takes place in Aruba when Rachel and her best friends Bailey and Toni take a much needed vacation at a gorgeous resort. However, these three can't seem to truly get away from the jobs that consume their lives. Only minutes after they check out the resort and the beach. a woman approaches them and is desperate for their help. She is a gofer for a major child celebrity who happens to have one of the biggest reality shows on television and also happens to be missing!

Rachel, Bailey, and Toni decide to help the woman search for the girl... but only for a few hours. Their "investigation" takes them all over the island and introduces them to a strange cast of characters including a fortune teller. What they discover is somewhat shocking, but actually makes total sense in a strange way!

TROUBLE IN PARADISE was a quick listen and ideal for my morning runs. I have to say that I didn't like it quite as much as the Rachel Knight novels, but I did enjoy this shorter (and lighter) version of a Rachel Knight investigation. It was fun to see the women away from Los Angeles and dealing with a kidnapping rather than a murder mystery. While Rachel still showed her spunky and determined nature, there were still plenty of comedic elements in this novel.

In addition, I appreciated the satire in this story. Granted, some of the topics in the story were easy picking! The kidnap victim in the story is a reality show star and will definitely remind readers of a certain someone. Plus, the star and her family, as well as the show's producers, provide ample opportunity to poke fun at our obsession with "reality" television. I couldn't help but giggle at some of their behavior!

I realize that it's probably harder in many ways to write a short story than a novel, and TROUBLE IN PARADISE just didn't have as much depth as I wanted from Rachel and her friends. Rather, the story was light and the ending was almost too odd for me. I wanted to be surprised, but I saw where the story was going pretty early on -- not that I figured out all of the details, but enough of them.

I can't wait until Ms. Clark's next Rachel Knight book comes out. In the meantime, TROUBLE IN PARADISE provided some fun and a few laughs!

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this audio 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. 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, November 30, 2013

Kid Konnection: Dear Santasaurus & 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 very fun book that's especially timely since the holidays are upon us!

Summary: Ernest desperately wants to stay on Santa's Nice List. But Ernest is also full of energy, ideas, mischief. Naughty comes easily to Ernest. Nice is harder.

But maybe if Ernest writes to Santasaurus about all the ways he's tried to be helpful and well-behaved, he can get that Jurassic Turbo Scooter X9 with the working headlight, racing fin, and secret compartment he has his eye on... -- Boyds Mill Press

DEAR SANTASAURUS by Stacy McAnulty and illustrated by Jef Kaminsky is an adorable picture book that many kids and parents will relate to. Ernest is a little dinosaur who wants a Jurassic Turbo Scooter. He decides to take up a letter campaign to Santasaurus outlining all of the ways that he is trying to be a good dino. Each month, there is a letter (or two) reminding Santasaurus that he wants the scooter while also chronicling some of his actions -- both the good and the bad. The reader will discover that Ernest likes to get into mischief but also that he can be nice. But can he be nice enough that Santasaurus will deliver his Jurassic Turbo Scooter X9?

DEAR SANTASAURUS is a very fun book and perfect for this time of the year when kids are preparing their Santa letters. Ernest and his letters are hilarious; and I think kids will find his antics, as well as his explanations, to be pretty darn funny. In addition, the illustrations are cute and colorful and the perfect complement to the story.

Highly recommended!

I am very excited to be part of The DEAR SANTASAURUS Blog tour which talks about books and cookies -- two of my favorite things. Ms. McAnulty has prepared a cute guest post listing the "Best of" dinosaur books. She also has a recipe for Red Velvet Crackle Cookies that looks terrific!


Awesome Dinosaur Books 
by Stacy McAnulty

I love award shows. The red carpet. The opening song. The anticipation. Yelling at the TV when the judges get it wrong. Unfortunately, there’s not a widely televised awards show for books. I guess there are just too many great choices and so many genres. I could host an award show for dinosaur picture books alone. I think my six-year-old son would make a great judge.

So let’s do it.

Best Dino Christmas Book: DEAR SANTASAURUS by Stacy McAnulty, Art by Jef Kaminisky (Yes, I wrote this one. The judge may be biased. He also thinks I’m the prettiest woman on earth.)
Best ABC Dinos Book: ALPHASAURUS by Megan E. Bryant, Art by Luciana Navarro Powell
Best Title So Nice They Named It Twice Book: DINOSAUR DINOSAUR by Kevin Lewis, Art by Daniel Kirk
Best Dino Book That Doesn’t Really Have a Dinosaur: DINOSAUR WOODS by George McClements
Best Dino Halloween Book: T.REX TRICK OR TREAT by Lois G. Grambling, Art by Jack E. Davis
Best Dino Mother’s Day Book: T.REX AND THE MOTHER’S DAY HUG by Lois G. Grambling, Art by Jack E. Davis
Best Dino Book Inspired by a 60’s Song: DINOSAUR PET by Marc Sedaka, Art by Tim Bowers
Best Dinos on Construction Site Book: BANG! BOOM! ROAR! By Nate Evans and Stephanie Gwyn Brown, Art by Christopher Santoro
Best Dino Vehicle Hybrid Book: DINOTRUX by Chris Gall
Best in a Dino Series: HOW DO DINOSAURS SAY I LOVE YOU? By Jane Yolen, Art by Mark Teague
Best Nonfiction Book About Baby Dinos: BORN TO BE GIANTS by Lita Judge
Best Mo Willems Book With Dinosaurs: GOLDILOCKS AND THE THREE DINOSAURS
Bestest of the Best Dino Book: WHEN DINOSAURS CAME WITH EVERYTHING by Elise Broach, Art by Davis Small Roar!

And now time for the daily cookie… Red Velvet Crackle Cookies
(visit http://stacymcanulty.blogspot.com/ for the recipe)



*****
Stacy lives in North Carolina with her three children, two dogs, and one husband. (She has zero dinosaurs.) DEAR SANTASAURUS (Boyd Mills Press, 2013) is her first picture book.

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

Giveaway alert: The author is pleased to offer a giveaway copy of DEAR SANTASAURUS to one winner (U.S. addresses). To enter, please fill out the form below before December 10th at 11:59 p.m. ET. I will randomly select and notify the winner the following day. 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 29, 2013

Book Club Exchange: Pamela Schoenewaldt

I'd like to welcome author Pamela Schoenewaldt to Book Club Exchange. Ms. Schoenewaldt is the author of two terrific historical fiction novels WHEN WE WERE STRANGERS and SWIMMING IN THE MOON. I recently reviewed SWIMMING IN THE MOON and I enjoyed it a great deal; however, that wasn't exactly surprising since I also really liked WHEN WE WERE STRANGERS. Both novels are immigration stories as well as coming-of-age tales -- two of my favorite types of books -- so it's no wonder that I'm a big fan of her work.

When Ms. Schoenewaldt offered a guest post, I jumped at the chance and immediately requested a special essay for my Book Club Exchange feature. I think you'll like what she came up with!

A Writer’s View of Book Clubs

Since publishing When We Were Strangers (2011) and Swimming in the Moon (2013), I’ve been to, Skyped to, emailed and speaker phoned to dozens of groups in homes, churches, schools, restaurants, retirement communities, back yards and book stores. All are different; most are mostly women; and in every one there’s warmth, welcome and intricate connections of books and life.

Since both of my books are about the immigrant experience, I’ve heard amazing stories of love and loss, adventure and discovery. I’ve also heard many people say their family members didn’t or couldn’t share their own stories and through my characters these readers have experienced the journeys of their ancestors. In reading many other titles, we’ve all discovered parts of our own or our families’ journeys.

Naturally, structure, or lack of it, varies. Organized clubs set their reading lists a year in advance. Mine spends ridiculous amounts of time picking the next book after each meeting; we’re never more than a month ahead. Some groups assign a presenter for each title and move methodically through a list of questions. A group of English teachers which read When We Were Strangers seemed to know the plot and themes better than I did and drew connections I hadn’t been consciously aware of. My group features disorganized discussion. A Rumanian mathematician friend wouldn’t last a meeting with us. In his group, each member assigns a grade 1 to 100, with decimals allowed, as in 93.5. Grades are defended and vigorously debated. Next, each person sums the book in four (4) words; then a hypothetical film version is thoroughly cast. Finally, each person has the opportunity to re-grade the book, although (naturally) my friend never, never changes his grade. I’m tired and a little stressed just describing Vlad’s process.

Often there’s food, usually fabulous. Some book clubs make meals inspired by the book they’ve just read. At least one I know has an artist who creates a centerpiece from the book. Last week, a book club hostess made a delicious bean soup dinner based on the "beans and bread" diet of the strikers in Swimming in the Moon.

My friend Ellen’s group (pictured, me being the one without a book) began when their children were toddlers; some members have grandchildren now. Through it all, they’ve been faithful friends in every chapter of life. In my city of Knoxville, TN, the “Third Friday” group has met (guess when) monthly since 1911. In Ohio, the 26-20 club started in 1894, with twenty members, meeting 26 times a year. The group stays at 20, exactly, with some fourth and fifth generation members.



In all this variety, book reading becomes the best it can be: personal discovery and social connection. Good fiction (usually) and good friends. Plot and life reflect and enhance each other. Books, wine, food, and friendship come together. There’s a respite from the busyness of life, intellectual stimulus and emotional journeying, friendly debate eased by wine and food; boundaries are stretched and new authors discovered. I’ve read and enjoyed titles I would never have discovered otherwise.

For writer and reader, book groups are a marvel. What’s yours like? How does it operate and how does it enrich your life? Let me know. And if you have a book group that would like to read Swimming in the Moon, let me know how I can help.

*****
Pamela Schoenewaldt lived for ten years in a small town outside Naples, Italy. Her short stories have appeared in literary magazines in England, France, Italy and the United States. Her play, “Espresso con mia madre” (Espresso with my Mother) was performed at Teatro Cilea in Naples. She taught writing for the University of Maryland, European Division and the University of Tennessee and now lives in Knoxville, Tennessee with her husband, Maurizio Conti, a physicist, and their dog Jesse, a philosopher.

A huge thanks to Ms. Schoenewaldt for participating in Book Club Exchange!

If you are interested in participating in a future Book Club Exchange, please contact me at bookingmama(at)gmail(dot)com.   

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Review: The Supreme Macaroni Company

Summary: In The Supreme Macaroni Company, Adriana Trigiani transports readers from the cobblestone streets of Greenwich Village to lush New Orleans to Italy and back again while exploring the tricky dynamics between Old World craftsmanship and New World ambition, all amid a passionate love affair that fuels one woman's determination to have it all.

For over a hundred years, the Angelini Shoe Company in Greenwich Village has relied on the leather produced by Vechiarelli & Son in Tuscany. This ancient business partnership provides the twist of fate for Valentine Roncalli, the schoolteacher turned shoemaker, to fall in love with Gianluca Vechiarelli, a tanner with a complex past . . . and a secret.

But after the wedding celebrations are over, Valentine wakes up to the hard reality of juggling the demands of a new business and the needs of her new family. Confronted with painful choices, Valentine remembers the wise words that inspired her in the early days of her beloved Angelini Shoe Company: "A person who can build a pair of shoes can do just about anything." Now the proud, passionate Valentine is going to fight for everything she wants and savor all she deserves—the bitter and the sweet of life itself.

Romantic and poignant, told with humor and warmth, and bursting with a cast of endearing characters, The Supreme Macaroni Company is a sumptuous feast of delights: an unforgettable narrative about family, work, romance, and the unexpected turns of life and fate. -- Harper

I've been anxiously awaiting this day for some time! It's the official release of THE SUPREME MACARONI COMPANY by Adriana Trigiani. If you follow my blog at all, then you already know that I love Adriana both as an author and a person; and I just love seeing how her vibrant personality pops through on every page of her novels.

That was certainly the case with THE SUPREME MACARONI COMPANY, the third installment in the Valentine series. I've heard that this is the final book in the series; however as a big fan of Valentine and her crazy family, I sure hope not. I think there are a lot more stories to be told -- if not Valentine's, then some other family members!

THE SUPREME MACARONI COMPANY picks up where the last book left off on the roof of the Angelini Shoe Company in Greenwich Village with Valentine's business partner and love interest Gianluca proposing marriage. The marriage isn't without challenges -- Valentine is a workaholic, Gianluca is a good deal older than Valentine with an ex-wife and a grown daughter, and of course Valentine's zany family! However, Valentine is fairly confident that she can handle it all.

Valentine quickly learns that it will take everything she has to balance her very full life, but she's determined to make it all work through all of the ups and downs of her passion-filled life!

Of course, I loved THE SUPREME MACARONI COMPANY! I adore the characters in this series and almost feel as if I could be part of their family. (In fact, if I'm being totally honest, Valentine's crazy aunt reminds me a bit of my Italian grandmother!) I love all of their quirks and crazy antics, and I found myself smiling (and even laughing) at them on many occasions. However, despite finding a great deal of humor in Valentine's family, I admit that this book touched my heart... quite deeply.

I hesitate to give too much away about this novel because it's best to experience it yourself. Suffice it to say, the Ms. Trigiani has a few surprises up her sleeve for her characters. Having said that, the "surprise" at the end didn't really seem like a shocker because there was a great deal of deliberate foreshadowing. As a reader, I knew what was coming, but I was extremely curious to see how the characters, and especially Valentine, dealt with it.

So what made this book so special to me besides that it was an Adriana Trigiani novel? If you've ever read one of her novels, then you already know that she's a master storyteller. She creates not only memorable characters, but she also brings her scenes to life like few authors. And in the case of THE SUPREME MACARONI COMPANY, she describes the art of shoemaking so well that you can picture ever single design right down to the individual cuts and stitches!

Of course, all of these things made THE SUPREME MACARONI COMPANY a wonderful story, but it was actually the messages that I took away from this story that brought it to the next level for me. Valentine is a very human character with her fair share of flaws -- just like the rest of us. However in this book, she grew and learned so much about herself. She realized that "having it all" isn't one bit easy and that being a good wife and mother is tough -- but so worth it! She also learned that there are many tough choices in life and that life can throw you some major curve balls. As a result of all of this, she realized what's truly important in her life.

I'm going to sound a little mushy here, but these messages really hit home for me. I really don't have much in common with Valentine, but somehow, the things she faced in this book and what she learned about herself made me think about my own life... and I mean really think. I know Adriana would love that her novel is having that effect on at least one reader, but I am fairly certain that many women who read this book will feel the same way!

THE SUPREME MACARONI COMPANY would make for a great book club discussion, although I think it would be best if your members had read the entire series first. There is a reading guide available with fifteen questions. Some of the themes you might want to explore include marriage, the balance of work and family, loss, secrets, family dynamics, ambition, and love.

I sincerely hope this isn't the last time I will read about Valentine, but if it is, THE SUPREME MACARONI COMPANY is a fitting farewell. Highly recommended.

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