Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Giveaway: Tempting Fate

It's Jane Green week here at Booking Mama! Not really, but I was excited to first share my review of Jane Green's new novel SAVING GRACE yesterday and now offer a fantastic giveaway of Ms. Green's last novel TEMPTING FATE. I reviewed TEMPTING FATE when it first came out last March and I definitely had some strong feelings about it! Both novels are must-reads for fans of Jane Green as well as readers who appreciate thought-provoking women's fiction.

I just happen to have a copy of TEMPTING FATE along with two sets of custom TEMPTING FATE wine charms. Each set has four charms -- a purse, a shoe, sunglasses, and a goblet. How cute are these charms? 

To enter, just fill out the form below before January 6th at 11:59 p.m. 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!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Review: Saving Grace

Summary: Grace and Ted Chapman are widely regarded as the perfect literary power couple. Ted is a successful novelist and Grace, his wife of twenty years, is beautiful, stylish, carefree, and a wonderful homemaker. But what no one sees, what is churning under the surface, is Ted’s rages. His mood swings. And the precarious house of cards that their lifestyle is built upon. When Ted’s longtime assistant and mainstay leaves, the house of cards begins to crumble and Grace, with dark secrets in her past, is most vulnerable. She finds herself in need of help but with no one to turn to…until the perfect new assistant shows up out of the blue. To the rescue comes Beth, a competent young woman who can handle Ted and has the calm efficiency to weather the storms that threaten to engulf the Chapman household. Soon, though, it’s clear to Grace that Beth might be too good to be true. This new interloper might be the biggest threat of all, one that could cost Grace her marriage, her reputation, and even her sanity. With everything at stake and no one to confide in, Grace must find a way to save herself before it is too late.

Powerful and riveting, Jane Green's Saving Grace will have you on the edge of your seat as you follow Grace on her harrowing journey to rock bottom and back. -- St. Martin's Press

I have been a huge fan of Jane Green for years! I have adored many of her books, and I love that they can both make me laugh and make me cry. Her sixteenth and latest novel SAVING GRACE is another story that can't help but touch readers' hearts.

SAVING GRACE tells the story of Grace Chapman, a woman who seemingly has it all. She has been married to Ted, a successful writer, for 20 years; and they are quite the power couple. However, Ted has a dark side that Grace is all too aware of. He has major mood swings and Grace will do almost anything to keep the peace.

When Ted's stable assistant leaves, he becomes even more volatile. Grace doesn't have the skills to manage Ted's career and their house which makes him even more frustrated. When she hires Beth to become his assistant, she believes that's the answer --  maybe (just maybe) Ted will be happier. However, Beth isn't what she seems, and Grace's learns that Beth might ultimately destroy everything in Grace's life.

I was really excited to read SAVING GRACE -- first because I have enjoyed so many of Jane Green's novels, and second because the premise sounded terrific. I have to admit that, while I did enjoy much of this story, it wasn't my all-time favorite Jane Green novel...although that would really be saying something. There is no doubt that I enjoyed this "twisted" story and my heart really did go out to Grace, but I just didn't love this story like I had hoped.

Having said that, SAVING GRACE is an intriguing story with some great characters. I really liked Grace and I was definitely rooting for her. I found the portrayal of her relationship with her husband to be very well written, and I do think many women will relate to her story. Personally, I was impressed that I was able to relate to Grace despite not having anything even remotely similar happen to me. Overall, Ms. Green did a great job in making Grace a realistic character that I cared about.

And then there's Beth. I can't say I liked her character one bit, but I did find her interesting... in a twisted way. She was horrible and conniving, and it was fun to see Ms. Green write about such a despicable person. I felt similarly about Ted's character although I did feel as if he were a bit one dimensional.

One thing I really appreciated about this novel was how it explored mental illness. As Grace begins to "lose her mind," it wasn't difficult to see how some one's life can be turned upside down so quickly. SAVING GRACE really make me think about mental illness and ultimately treatments, and what our family would do if facing a similar situation.

I also really liked a few "minor" things about this novel including the themes of friendship and cooking. There are lots of delicious sounding recipes in the novel -- I have no doubt Jane Green is a wonderful hostess! In addition, I love that this novel, and all of the author's novels, have recurring themes of friendship and sisterhood.

It would be a Jane Green book if it weren't ideal for book clubs, and of course, SAVING GRACE is perfect for a discussion. There is a reading guide available with twelve thought-provoking questions. Some of the themes you might want to explore include marriage, adultery, mental illness, treatments, diagnoses, intuition, and friendship. 

SAVING GRACE is an interesting novel about what can happen when a woman's world falls apart. Recommended for fans of Jane Green and women's fiction.

Thanks to Sarah Hall Productions for a copy of this novel.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Kid Konnection: Hermelin

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 cute picture book about a special little detective.

Summary: Hermelin is a special little mouse. He was born in a box of cheese and lives in an attic at 33 Offley Street. He can read books and type notes on his typewriter. Most importantly, Hermelin can solve mysteries. And the people of Offley Street are in need of a detective!

Again and again, Hermelin is on the case—the anonymous hero. But when his neighbors invite him to a thank-you party in his honor and find out who Hermelin really is—a MOUSE!—will he still be welcome on Offley Street? -- Knopf

There are quite a few cute picture books out there, but I think HERMELIN THE DETECTIVE MOUSE by Mini Grey ranks right up there. I loved this story about a smart little mouse who helps solve crimes on Offley Street.

Hermelin is much smarter than the average mouse. He learned early on that he could read, write, and even type notes on a typewriter. When he discovers that the folks who live on Offley Street have some missing items, he decides to use his skills to help solve the mysteries. He has a great deal of success and the people want to throw a party to thank this anonymous hero.

When Hermelin arrives at the party, the residents of Offley Street are surprised to say the least... and quite afraid of a little mouse. Hermelin is shocked and discovers that mice aren't exactly welcome in most homes. However, Hermelin finds a special friend who accepts him for who he is!

I loved HERMELIN THE DETECTIVE MOUSE. It's a great story that is entertaining in its adventure aspect but also teaches kids a thing or two about friendship and acceptance. I actually thought the book was pretty adorable and that's before I realized how special the messages in the story were. It's just an all around terrific picture book for youngsters.

Naturally I'm a sucker for stories that teach kids about friendship and acceptance, but I also love the way the story was told. The illustrations were wonderful and they had so much to see on each and every page. I especially appreciated that Hermelin was the narrator and he used typed notes to tell his story! In addition, I loved the humor in this story. The characters, and especially Hermelin, were hilarious at times.

Overall, I thought HERMELIN THE DETECTIVE MOUSE was a fantastic picture book and sure to be a hit with parents and kids alike!

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!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Kid Konnection: Everything I Need to Know About Christmas I Learned From a Little Golden Book

Every Saturday, I host a feature called Kid Konnection -- a regular weekend feature about anything related to children's books. This week, I'm going to share with you a fun book for kids and adults that's perfect for Christmastime.

Summary: The Poky Little Puppy, the Gingerbread Man, and many other classic Golden Books characters help illustrate this wise and witty guide to the holidays! Delightfully retro yet utterly of the moment, this companion to the bestselling EVERYTHING NEED TO KNOW I LEARNED FROM A LITTLE GOLDEN BOOK will delight fans of those gold foil-spined treasures. Featuring iconic art from Golden Books luminaries including Eloise Wilkin, Richard Scarry, J.P. Miller, Garth Williams, and more — this collection is a must for maintaining ever-important holiday cheer! -- Random House BFYR

Remember Little Golden Books? I sure do! Every time my mom took me with her to the grocery store, I was allowed to pick out one.  They were a quarter, believe it or not; and I loved them. Well, there is a new book out that will bring back fond memories of Little Golden Books. It's called EVERYTHING I NEED TO KNOW ABOUT CHRISTMAS I LEARNED FROM A LITTLE GOLDEN BOOK by Diane Muldrow, and it's a very cute way to get into the Christmas spirit while taking a walk down memory lane.

EVERYTHING I NEED TO KNOW ABOUT CHRISTMAS I LEARNED FROM A LITTLE GOLDEN BOOK is chock full of advice for navigating the holiday season. I just adored this book, and it's such a creative way to combine books from my childhood! It was sweet to recognize classic characters like the Pokey Little Puppy and The Gingerbread Man, but it was even more exciting to see actual images from some of the books I remembered enjoying when I was a kid. I almost got teary when I saw a page from MY LITTLE GOLDEN BOOK ABOUT GOD. I think I took this book with me to church every week for years!

Although I did love the walk down memory lane, I also liked the advice this book had to offer. There is no doubt that the holidays are hectic times -- and that's an understatement for me this week; and this book reminds you of all that has to be done. However, it also reminds you to keep in mind the reason for the season. I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by the ending and I can't wait to share it with my kids!

EVERYTHING I NEED TO KNOW ABOUT CHRISTMAS I LEARNED FROM A LITTLE GOLDEN BOOK is a special book that will become another Little Golden Book classic in our house. 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!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Review: Mr. Clean Magic Erasers

I know! I know! There is absolutely no way I can make this review book-related! I guess it falls under the "occasionally some other things" part of this blog.

I have to admit that I haven't really been reading all that much this past week. Things are pretty crazy in our house with the upcoming Christmas holiday. In fact, we are hosting a BIG party tomorrow and that's just the start of our entertaining. We will be hosting company for dinner on the 23rd, a brunch on the 24th, and then dinner again on Christmas Eve.

So in preparation for all of that, I've been cooking and cleaning... a lot. I clean every Thursday and Friday, but I want things extra-special for the next few days if you get my drift. That's why I so eagerly accepted a sample of Mr. Clean Magic Erasers - Extra Power. After I saw all of the uses for this product, I was a bit blown away. And I wanted to see if they really worked as promised.

All I can say is "wow!" These magic erasers are fantastic. I used them in a variety of ways, but my favorite was getting the scum out of the kids' sinks and tub! All you need to do is add water to the magic eraser and scrub. No harsh chemicals are necessary. Of course, you should test the magic erasers on a small surface before the entire area.

Holidays are actually the perfect time of the year to use Mr. Clean Magic Erasers. Actress, singer, songwriter and founder of The Real Girl’s Kitchen, Haylie Duff, is sharing some of her top holiday tips for cooking, cleaning and entertaining using Mr. Clean Magic Eraser Extra Power:

I love cooking for the holidays with recipes from The Real Girl’s Kitchen! For cleanup, I use my favorite kitchen accessory: the Mr. Clean Magic Eraser Extra Power! It makes cleaning cookie sheets, pie pans and a million other tough jobs so much easier! 

For a festive place setting, use Sharpies on glass or ceramic tiles. Wipe away with the Mr. Clean Magic Eraser and you can use the tiles over and over again! 

Tackle sticky drink spills on floors and baseboard days after a holiday party with Mr. Clean Magic Eraser.

I have no doubt after Saturday's party, I will find many more cleaning uses for Mr. Clean Magic Erasers! One thing I already know that I will be doing is using my magic erasers to get that sticky price tag residue off of packages. I just hate using my fingernails and I still never get all of it off!

After you try Mr. Clean Magic Erasers, you can add to the #MrCleanMillion uses by sharing your Magic Eraser tips on Twitter with @MrClean. For more helpful uses, check out for some Mr. Clean Magic Eraser inspiration.

Thanks to Citizen for providing a sample for review of this product.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Review: Choice Organic Teas

I primarily stick to writing reviews about books, but occasionally I write one about a product I love. In this case, it's Choice Organic Teas. Teas and books are a staple in my house and didn't C.S. Lewis say, "You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me."?

A few weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to receive a box of Choice Organic Teas. Here's what I've been sampling:

Lift your spirits with this traditional tea that's aromatic and full of flavor. We blend brisk Ceylon and Indian black teas from select mountain gardens with essential oil of Italian bergamot from Calabria. The medium body and clean flavor of this popular classic will have you feeling revived and ready to go.

Treat yourself to a cup of peace and quiet. Treasured through the ages for its soothing effects, this flower holds an honored place in herbal remedy folklore. Our select Egyptian chamomile has a round, deep body and lingering sweetness with an elegant, floral flavor. It's free of caffeine to create an oasis of calm. (Caffeine Free)

Thrill your senses with this naturally caffeine-free twist on traditional chai. We blend rich South African rooibos with the finest masala spices for a cup that's warming, robust and subtly sweet. It's a luscious treat that pairs wonderfully with milk and sweetener. (Caffeine Free)

Breathe deep and help maintain healthy airways with this refreshing blend.** Echinacea, one of the most popular immunity-supporting herbs, is paired with elder flower, trusted by herbalists to support healthy sinuses, ears, and throats.** Eucalyptus, known for thousands of years to help support normal respiratory function for healthy breathing, completes the blend.** Enjoy this amber cup with a bright, minty taste. (Caffeine Free)

Support throat comfort with this cooling brew that combines trusted elements of traditional Egyptian and Chinese herbal formulas.** Smooth, slippery marshmallow root coats and caresses while sweet licorice root cools and soothes.** Anise, Europe’s most popular herb to calm the occasional cough**, lends an irresistible licorice flavor. It’s a slightly sweet, velvety blend sure to please and ease your throat.** (Caffeine Free)

Since the weather has been cold and life has been crazy, it's been nice to sit down with the various tea blends although I admit I haven't tried the Breathing Space or Throat Cozy yet. I'm sure by the end of the holiday season, I will contract a cold or feel a bit under the weather; and I'm confident I will be enjoying those teas as well.

Choice Organic Teas is the original organic tea company and has a wide variety of teas that are perfect for the holiday season. There are teas that are perfect for tea/food pairings as well as teas that can help support digestion in case you overindulge! There are black, white, oolong, and green teas along with herbal and wellness teas to name a few. I was truly impressed by the number of different teas that Choice Organic Teas offer.

Here are some great holiday ideas for using Choice Organic Teas:

1. Soothe Your Stomach… After Your Holiday Dinner, try Easy Digest Wellness Tea
Instead of grabbing a cup of coffee at the end of a heavy meal, try the Choice Organic Teas Easy Digest tea. This warming tonic was formulated to aid digestion and relieve occasional indigestion, which often happens after a big Thanksgiving dinner!

2. Energize Yourself for Holiday Parties or Post-Dinner Game Night
The party is often just starting up after dinner, and with a belly full of turkey, one sometimes needs a little boost to go the extra mile! The Choice Organic Teas Energy Boost Tea is a fantastic compliment to a busy schedule--this crisp, lively blend supports healthy energy levels and vitality with energizing green tea.

3. Pair Sweet Cookies with an Earthy Oolong Tea
A delicious Oolong tea pairs well with homemade Christmas cookies or gingerbread treats. The complexity and gentle earthiness of this sophisticated tea makes it the perfect compliment to sweets.

4. Bake with Tea! Try Chai Pumpkin Bread
Consider making a delicious pumpkin bread for a Thanksgiving morning brunch item or a hostess gift for all of those holiday parties. This Chai Pumpkin Bread blends warm and spicy chai tea with yummy pumpkin for a fantastic holiday treat.

1/2 c sugar
1/2 c butter, at room temperature
1 c canned pumpkin
2 large eggs
2 bags of Choice Organic Teas Chai Spice Black Tea, steeped in 1/2 c boiling water
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/3 c all-purpose flour
2/3 c whole-wheat flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp each cardamom, ginger, and black pepper
1/4 tsp each cloves, nutmeg, and allspice

Preheat oven to 350. In a large bowl, use a mixer to beat together sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Add pumpkin, eggs, chai tea liquid, and vanilla and stir until well combined. Add flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices and stir just until evenly moistened. Pour into prepared 8" loaf pan. Bake 45-55 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool at least 20 minutes before serving. Original recipe from 28 Cooks (adapted with chai tea addition)

5. Offer Your Guests a Signature “spirited” Tea Recipe--Hot Tea Grog
Warm your guests up with Hot Tea Grog, a spicy tea drink with cloves, rum and cognac. The clove flavor and dark run make this a bit of an exotic tasting brew for a festive variation on traditional holiday spirits (serves 4).

4 cups brewed tea (using Choice Organic Teas Wild Forest Black, Classic Black, or English Breakfast Tea)
4 oz cognac
4oz dark rum
Several cloves
2 tsp honey
2 Pinches of nutmeg
Brew four cups of tea using the black tea of your choice. Remove tea bags or tea leaves and pour into saucepan. Add other ingredients to saucepan and heat thoroughly over medium heat. Serve hot with a cinnamon stick in each mug.

You can have Choice Organic Teas delivered to your home or you can find them at a store near you. Right now they have free shipping on orders over $29!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Review: The Novel Cure & Giveaway

Summary: A novel is a story transmitted from the novelist to the reader. It offers distraction, entertainment, and an opportunity to unwind or focus. But it can also be something more powerful—a way to learn about how to live. Read at the right moment in your life, a novel can—quite literally—change it.

The Novel Cure is a reminder of that power. To create this apothecary, the authors have trawled two thousand years of literature for novels that effectively promote happiness, health, and sanity, written by brilliant minds who knew what it meant to be human and wrote their life lessons into their fiction. Structured like a reference book, readers simply look up their ailment, be it agoraphobia, boredom, or a midlife crisis, and are given a novel to read as the antidote. Bibliotherapy does not discriminate between pains of the body and pains of the head (or heart). Aware that you’ve been cowardly? Pick up To Kill a Mockingbird for an injection of courage. Experiencing a sudden, acute fear of death? Read One Hundred Years of Solitude for some perspective on the larger cycle of life. Nervous about throwing a dinner party? Ali Smith’s There but for The will convince you that yours could never go that wrong. Whatever your condition, the prescription is simple: a novel (or two), to be read at regular intervals and in nice long chunks until you finish. Some treatments will lead to a complete cure. Others will offer solace, showing that you’re not the first to experience these emotions. The Novel Cure is also peppered with useful lists and sidebars recommending the best novels to read when you’re stuck in traffic or can’t fall asleep, the most important novels to read during every decade of life, and many more.

Brilliant in concept and deeply satisfying in execution, The Novel Cure belongs on everyone’s bookshelf and in every medicine cabinet. It will make even the most well-read fiction aficionado pick up a novel he’s never heard of, and see familiar ones with new eyes. Mostly, it will reaffirm literature’s ability to distract and transport, to resonate and reassure, to change the way we see the world and our place in it. -- Penguin

Have you ever wondered why you read? I certainly have! It's a wonderful way for me to escape. Sometimes I "visit" exciting places. Other times, I "meet" really amazing people. And if I'm lucky, sometimes I can get caught up in a story and forget everything for a few hours. To me, that's the beauty of novels.

Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderking, the authors of THE NOVEL CURE: FROM ABANDONMENT TO ZESTLESSNESS: 751 BOOKS TO CURE WHAT AILS YOU, have found an entirely new reason to read novels; and I think it's terrific! Their new book has reading suggestions based on what ails you... in other words, bibliotherapy. THE NOVEL CURE has book advice for almost any feeling or event I can think of including depression, lack of courage, childbirth, addiction, and more. There are even book recommendations for control freaks and being a genius!

I have to admit that I didn't read this book through from the first to the last page; however, I'm pretty sure that's not the idea of the book. Rather, I consider THE NOVEL CURE to be a reference book of sorts. I actually skimmed the book to get an idea of the "ailments" and the recommendations, and then I went back and looked up some of my feelings to see what I should be reading. There were some well-known novels and then quite a few that I had never heard of as well as both classic and contemporary ones -- basically, a great mix and definitely something for everyone.

Berthoud and Elderking have really created an interesting book... and a great gift idea for the upcoming holiday season. I was so impressed to learn that they searched through 2,000 years of literature for find the best matches. I thought it was a lot of fun to see their recommendations (as well as their list of ailments); and I found that once I started skimming the book, I couldn't stop reading it. I have a feeling that book lovers are going to truly appreciate this book!

THE NOVEL CURE is arranged in alphabetical order by ailment, and there is also an index in the back. Believe me when I say that this book is thorough! In addition to offering reading recommendations, this book also has some great lists like "The Ten Best Escapist Novels" and "The Ten Best Novels to Be Read in the Hospital."

I honestly loved everything about this book and can't decide what I appreciated more -- the recommendations or the compilations.

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

Giveaway alert: I have a copy of THE NOVEL CURE to share with one lucky reader. To enter, just fill out the form below before December 21st at 11:59 p.m. EST. I will notify the winner the following day. This contest is open to those of you with U.S. addresses only. Good luck!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Kid Konnection: Roc and Roe's Twelve Days of Christmas

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 an adorable picture book that's perfect for this time of year.

Summary: Nick Cannon and Mariah Carey's twins, Roc (Moroccan) and Roe (Monroe), put their own fun spin on "The Twelve Days of Christmas"!

Roc and Roe, the twins of beloved celebrity couple Nick Cannon and Mariah Carey, put their own unique spin on the Christmas carol "The Twelve Days of Christmas."

In a fun and great Christmas picture book modeled after the popular carol, Roc and Roe decorate a Christmas tree with six festive fairies, FIVE GOLDEN BELLS, four skiing snowmen, and more.

Children and parents alike will love singing along with this new version of the Christmas classic! -- Scholastic

ROC AND ROE'S TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS by Nick Cannon and illustrated by AG Ford is a very fun Christmas picture book. I absolutely loved both the story and the illustrations, and I'm certain kids and parents alike will appreciate this new take on the traditional carol "Twelve Days of Christmas."

In ROC AND ROE'S TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS, the children set out to decorate their tree. The book is written in the same format as the Christmas carol. For example, on the first day of Christmas they put an angel with sparkly, shiny wings. On the fifth day, they put on five golden bells... and so on and so on. The story continues for twelve days until their entire Christmas tree is decorated.

Nick Cannon, host of America's Got Talent and multi-faceted entertainer, wrote ROC AND ROE'S TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS; and the stars are none other than Roc and Roe, Mariah Carey and Nick Cannon's twins. I think the book is a sweet tribute to his family, and I especially liked how their images kept appearing throughout the book.

What I absolutely loved about this book are the illustrations by AG Ford. He is an award winning illustrator and it's obvious why. This book is just precious from the two cute kids and their sweet expressions, to the decorations, to the Christmas tree itself. I loved how detailed the illustrations were on each and every page.

I'm a sucker for Christmas books, and ROE AND ROE'S TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS definitely made me smile. Recommended to preschool age kids... and their parents.

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!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Giveaway: North of Boston

Summary: Like Smilla’s Sense of Snow combined with the best of Dennis Lehane, North of Boston is a dark and deeply atmospheric thriller with a sharp-witted, tough-talking heroine readers will be clamoring to meet again. 

Boston-bred Pirio Kasparov is out on her friend Ned’s fishing boat when a freighter rams into them, dumping them both into the icy waters of the North Atlantic. Somehow, she survives nearly four hours before being rescued. Ned is not so lucky. Pirio can’t shake the feeling that what happened was no accident, a suspicion seconded by her cynical Russian-immigrant father. And when Pirio teams up with the unlikeliest of partners, she begins unraveling a terrifying plot that leads to the frozen reaches of the Canadian arctic, where she confronts her ultimate challenge: to trust herself. -- Penguin

One book that I really enjoyed last year was NORTH OF BOSTON by Elisabeth Elo. You can read my review here. This novel was a terrific literary thriller with a very interesting main character. Truly, this book had it all -- suspense, mystery, action-packed scenes, and more. I was very impressed with Ms. Elo's writing as were Publishers Weekly and Booklist who both gave the book starred reviews.

To celebrate the paperback release of NORTH OF BOSTON on December 30th, I have a wonderful giveaway. Thanks to the fine folks at Penguin, I have a copy of NORTH OF BOSTON to share with one lucky reader. To enter, just fill out the form below before December 18th 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!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Review: The Complete Do-It-Yourself Manual & Giveaway

Summary: Reader’s Digest and The Family Handyman—the world’s largest home improvement magazine—have teamed up to produce 528 pages of up-to-date, authoritative home improvement information.

Since 1973, millions of people have bought, used and loved Reader’s Digest Complete Do-It-Yourself Manual. Other home improvement books have come and gone over the years, but none has covered the subject more comprehensively.

This new edition preserves the best elements of the original—including the clear and accurate step-by-step instructions and can-do attitude—while adding new photos, illustrations and wisdom from the archives of The Family Handyman magazine.

The result? A practical and colorful guide that follows the original’s unique proposition: With the right instructions, tools and encouragement, the average homeowner can successfully complete many typical home improvement projects and repairs! -- Reader's Digest

Over the past few weeks, I think I've provided some pretty decent gift ideas for the upcoming holiday season... if I do say so myself. Well, now I've found another one. It's THE READER'S DIGEST COMPLETE DO-IT-YOURSELF MANUAL, and it's ideal for rookie or seasoned handymen and handywomen.

THE COMPLETE DO-IT-YOURSELF MANUAL has been around since 1973, and I can only imagine how many people it's helped with home improvement. This 530+ page book is newly updated and includes instructions from The Family Handyman, the world's largest home improvement magazine.

I am probably the least qualified person to review this book because I do absolutely nothing as far as fixing things around the house go. I can change light bulbs and paint, but that's about my limit. On second thought, maybe it's a good thing for me to review THE COMPLETE DO-IT-YOURSELF MANUAL because I am definitely starting without any knowledge base.

I think this reference book for all things "handy" is fantastic. I'm not exactly saying that I feel I could tackle any job around the house, but I definitely know where to look before calling someone for help. There are specific instructions for both basic and complicated jobs, and the pictures are extremely detailed. I was very impressed with the thoroughness of THE COMPLETE DO-IT-YOURSELF MANUAL.

I want to give you an idea of the projects covered in THE COMPLETE DO-IT-YOURSELF MANUAL because the range is amazing. The book is divided into the following chapters: Your Home, Hand Tools, Power Tools, Fasteners & Adhesives, Plumbing, Electricity, Home Climate, Interior Repairs & Improvements, Painting & Wallpapering, Exteriors, Landscaping, Windows & Doors,  Concrete, Masonry, & Asphalt, Woodworking & Furniture Repairs, Metals & Plastics, Healthy Home & Emergency Repairs, and Storage Projects. There are dozens of projects in each section!

I think THE COMPLETE DO-IT-YOURSELF MANUAL is a must-have resource for every home regardless of the owners' skill levels. Highly recommended!

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

Giveaway alert: I have a copy of THE COMPLETE DO-IT-YOURSELF MANUAL to share with one lucky reader. To enter, just fill out the form below before December 17th 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 in the U.S. only. Good luck!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Review: A Sudden Light

Summary: The bestselling author of The Art of Racing in the Rain presents a long-awaited new novel in which a boy trying to save his parents’ marriage uncovers a vast legacy of family secrets.

In the summer of 1990, fourteen-year-old Trevor Riddell gets his first glimpse of Riddell House. Built from the spoils of a massive timber fortune, the legendary family mansion is constructed of giant whole trees and is set on a huge estate overlooking Seattle’s Puget Sound. Trevor’s bankrupt parents have begun a trial separation, and his father, Jones Riddell, has brought Trevor to Riddell House with a goal: to join forces with his sister, Serena, dispatch the ailing and elderly Grandpa Samuel to a nursing home, sell off the house and property for development, divide up the profits, and live happily ever after.

But as Trevor explores the house’s secret stairways and hidden rooms, he discovers a spirit lingering in Riddell House whose agenda is at odds with the family plan. Only Trevor’s willingness to face the dark past of his forefathers will reveal the key to his family’s future.

Spellbinding and atmospheric, A Sudden Light is rich with unconventional characters, scenes of transcendent natural beauty, and unforgettable moments of emotional truth that reflect Garth Stein’s outsized capacity for empathy and keen understanding of human motivation—a triumphant work of a master storyteller at the height of his power. -- Simon and Schuster

Like many readers, I have been waiting for a new novel by Garth Stein. I was very excited to discover at this year's BEA that Mr. Stein had a book coming out called A SUDDEN LIGHT; however, I admit that I wasn't as thrilled to read it after I read the book's description -- I'm not a big fan of ghost stories. In addition, the review from Kirkus kind of scared me away. For whatever reason, I decided to pick it up, and I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised.

A SUDDEN LIGHT is Trevor Riddell's reflections on the summer of his 14th birthday. It was 1990 and Trevor and his father travel to the Seattle to visit the Riddell House, a family estate that was built with money from the timber industry. Trevor is troubled by his parents' recent separation and his father Jones is trying to come to terms with the death of his mother.

Jones' sister Serena and his father who is suffering from dementia (and possibly alcoholism) live in the house; however, Jones and Serena would like to have their father put into a nursing home and liquidate the estate. Jones is hoping that the money he would receive would help repair his failing marriage.

Trevor begins to explore the house with all of its hidden stairways and rooms only to discover a spirit of an ancestor who doesn't want them to sell the house. As Trevor tries to learn the truth about this ghost, he uncovers that his family has a very dark and secret past.

I actually enjoyed A SUDDEN LIGHT quite a bit. I didn't love it, but I did enjoy the novel. The story was told by an adult Trevor reflecting back on his past, but the book did read like a story told by a teenager albeit a pretty smart and insightful one. I definitely appreciated Trevor -- in fact, he was one of the few really well-developed characters in the novel to me; and I enjoyed seeing him figure out the secrets. Trevor did a lot of growing up that summer; and in many ways, A SUDDEN LIGHT was a coming-of-age story... and I do love those types of books.

I also really enjoyed the mystery aspect of this story. It was apparent from the start that there were a lot of secrets in the story, and I had a feeling that some of them were going to be doozies. It was fun to be along for the ride with Trevor as he figured out the story of the spirit (or spirits!); and I was surprised by how dark some of this story actually was. The Riddells were one dysfunctional family to say the least.

I tend to shy away from ghost stories or any books that deal in the supernatural -- they just aren't my thing; however, I thought the spirits were handled very well in this novel. By that, I mean that I didn't have any major issues with them... and that's saying something. I do have to admit that I enjoyed learning about the Riddell's past more through the stories and the letters than the spirits, but I recognize that's just my preference. I'm sure there are plenty of readers who would appreciate the ghost part of this novel.

A SUDDEN LIGHT would make an interesting pick for book clubs. I do believe that there is a great deal to discuss in this novel especially given the all out craziness of the Riddells. There is a reading guide available with 15 questions as well as some ideas to enhance your book club meeting. Naturally, there are some discussion-worthy topics including sibling relationships, parent/child relationships, marriage, loss, grief, redemption, truth, and lots more about family dynamics. However, there is also interesting commentary about nature and the environment.

I enjoyed A SUDDEN LIGHT and recommend it to fans of ghost stories and mysteries.

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

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Review: Uniquely Greek Spreads

When I was asked to try Uniquely Greek Hand Crafted Feta Cheese Spreads, I jumped at the chance. There is a fantastic Greek restaurant in our town that serves a feta spread appetizer, and I always order it every time I visit the restaurant. My one friend loves it so much that she orders it to-go for all of her parties! And another one of my friends has tried to duplicate the recipe... with pretty good results!

Yes, I could drive 15 minutes and order feta dip, or I could try to make my own; however, I haven't done either of those things. Instead I've found the perfect solution Uniquely Greek Hand Crafted Feta Cheese. These dips come in four flavors and are absolutely amazing! Seriously, I can't stop eating them with crackers, celery, veggies, and chips. Check out these fantastic flavors of the feta spreads:

Summary: We start with only the finest red peppers, fire roast to perfection, then infuse with domestic feta, garlic and cream cheese to give an extra kick to any recipe. Tip: substitute our Fire Roasted Red Pepper Spread in any recipe that calls for low fat mayo or cream cheese to add a little zing!

Summary: Is it the fresh spinach? Or could it be the feta and garlic? Maybe it's the perfect blend of each ingredient with cream cheese? We won’t spill our secret, but we will tell you that it's decadently delicious. Eating our Simply Spinach Spread will make Popeye proud.

Summary: This isn't your run-of-the-mill buffalo flavor you find at the local BBQ joint. We take the perfect amount of spices, add our signature feta cheese, blend together with only the finest cream cheese to make a spicy, yet flavorful spread. Keep enough Spicy Buffalo Spread on hand for your next get-together so you won't have to - dare we say - wing it.

Summary: Why import Kalamata olives from Greece? Because if we didn't, our Kalamata Olive Spread wouldn't have that authentic Greek flavor that everyone loves ... and quite frankly, it just wouldn’t taste so darn good either! Kalamata olives infused with feta cheese, garlic and cream cheese ... some say it has a miraculous combination of flavors, we say it would be a sin not to try it.

There are so many great things about Uniquely Greek spreads! The company was started by a brother/sister duo right here in Pennsylvania. You can read more about their story here. In addition, the ingredients are all-natural and have NO artificial flavors, colors, additives, preservatives or fillers. They are also gluten-free!

While I have been using these spreads as dips, there are actually quite a few uses for them. Of course,  I'd have to stop eating them out of the container to try them in some recipes. The Uniquely Greek website has some recipes which I'm dying to try including a Greek-Style Stuffed Chicken Breast and a Back-to-School Pasta Bake. There is also a Greek Six-Layer Party Dip that looks interesting.

My only issue with Uniquely Greek Spreads is that I can't get them in a local store. The products are currently being carried by Whole Foods and MOMs as well as a few other places. I am desperately hoping that Wegmans soon carries them. In fact, I'm going to email them about it today. See how serious I am about these dips? In the meantime, I am just grateful that I can order them on-line and have them shipped directly to my house.

If you can't tell, I am crazy about Uniquely Greek Spreads. Give them a try!

Monday, December 8, 2014

Review: The Burning Room

Summary: In the LAPD's Open-Unsolved Unit, not many murder victims die a decade after the crime. So when a man succumbs to complications from being shot by a stray bullet ten years earlier, Bosch catches a case in which the body is still fresh, but any other clues are virtually nonexistent. Even a veteran cop would find this one tough going, but Bosch's new partner, Detective Lucia Soto, has no homicide experience. A young star in the department, Soto has been assigned to Bosch so that he can pass on to her his hard-won expertise.

Now Bosch and Soto are tasked with solving a murder that turns out to be highly charged and politically sensitive. Beginning with the bullet that has been lodged for years in the victim's spine, they must pull new leads from years-old evidence, and these soon reveal that the shooting was anything but random.

As their investigation picks up speed, it leads to another unsolved case with even greater stakes: the deaths of several children in a fire that occurred twenty years ago. But when their work starts to threaten careers and lives, Bosch and Soto must decide whether it is worth risking everything to find the truth, or if it's safer to let some secrets stay buried.

In a swiftly-moving novel as relentless and compelling as its hero, Michael Connelly shows once again why Harry Bosch is "one of the most popular and enduring figures in American crime fiction" (Chicago Tribune). -- Little, Brown & Co.

One of my all time favorite authors is Michael Connelly. I pretty much love all of his novels, and there is definitely a soft spot in my heart for his Harry Bosch series. I started reading these books over twenty years ago -- that's just crazy -- and I still get excited every time a new book is released. Connelly's latest Harry Bosch novel is titled THE BURNING ROOM, and it doesn't disappoint!

In THE BURNING ROOM, Bosch is working in the LAPD's Open-Unsolved Unit, basically cold cases. In an unusual case, a man dies from complications due to a stray bullet hitting him a decade earlier. The medical examiner is able to recover the bullet from his spinal cord, and Harry has himself some evidence. He truly doesn't have much to go on, but he and his brand-spanking new partner Lucia Soto are determined to get to the bottom of this crime.

In what was initially thought a gang-related shooting, Bosch and Soto begin to look at the case differently. They wonder if the bullet wasn't random at all. Rather, it was meant for one of the man's bandmates so they begin checking out potential leads from this angle. The discover that this crime has both political and monetary implications that threaten some powerful individuals.

In the meantime, Bosch and Soto are working another case that is personal for Soto. It's an even "colder" case -- over 20 years ago -- and involved a fire that killed adults and children working on a daycare center. What they begin to suspect is that this fire might be linked to another unsolved crime which has even bigger implications.

It won't come as any surprise to you that I loved THE BURNING ROOM. This book was really, really good; and it incorporated everything I've come to love from a Harry Bosch novel (or Michael Connelly book for that matter.) Bosch is one of my all-time favorite detectives, and that combined with Mr. Connelly's crazy-good writing skills, made THE BURNING ROOM an excellent read.

One thing that I loved about this book was the character of Harry Bosch. He is just an outstanding detective character. He's smart and bucks authority at every corner; and he's also just about as complex as a cop character can be. THE BURNING ROOM didn't focus so much on Harry's personal life, although there were some scenes with his daughter and even a "date" for Harry. The story instead had Harry doing what Harry does best -- solving crimes. In addition, I really liked how Harry was a responsible for training Soto. It was nice to see a softer side to Harry, and in this novel, he seemed to be a terrific mentor figure.

Of course, the mystery angle (or should I say angles) of the story were terrific. I loved that there were some twists and turns, but not too many; and I especially appreciated how complicated the cases were. I guess that's why they were still unsolved after 10 and 20 years! I adored seeing Harry dig into the cases, with some great help from Soto, and begin to figure out the complexities of both crimes.

Another fun thing about THE BURNING ROOM was the humor in the novel. Let me say that many of the Bosch stories are deep and dark and have virtually nothing funny in them. However, the book did have some comedic scenes. There was one scene (okay maybe a few scenes) where Harry shows his blatant disregard for author that cracked me up, and there was another scene where he encounters a witness that definitely had some humor woven into it.

Having said all of this, I did have one beef with the story... and that was the ending. There is nothing "wrong" with the ending except that it's not what I wanted or expected. It's difficult for me to write this without giving anything away, but suffice it to say, I sure hope the ending isn't what I think it is. I'm hoping that there is enough of an open-ended aspect to this book that I can interpret it how I want to!

Overall, THE BURNING ROOM was an excellent mystery, and I'm sure fans of the Connelly and Bosch won't want to miss it.

I received an electronic copy of this novel via Net Galley.

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 6, 2014

Kid Konnection: Glory O'Brien's History of the Future (Audio)

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 unique young adult book by a very special author.

Summary: In this masterpiece about freedom, feminism, and destiny, Printz Honor author A.S. King tells the epic story of a girl coping with devastating loss at long last--a girl who has no idea that the future needs her, and that the present needs her even more.

Graduating from high school is a time of limitless possibilities--but not for Glory, who has no plan for what's next. Her mother committed suicide when Glory was only four years old, and she's never stopped wondering if she will eventually go the same way...until a transformative night when she begins to experience an astonishing new power to see a person's infinite past and future. From ancient ancestors to many generations forward, Glory is bombarded with visions--and what she sees ahead of her is terrifying: A tyrannical new leader raises an army. Women's rights disappear. A violent second civil war breaks out. And young girls vanish daily, sold off or interned in camps. Glory makes it her mission to record everything she sees, hoping her notes will somehow make a difference. She may not see a future for herself, but she'll do anything to make sure this one doesn't come to pass. -- Hachette Audio

I pretty much knew I was in for a treat when I started listening to GLORY O'BRIEN'S HISTORY OF THE FUTURE by A.S. King. Ms. King is an incredible writer and I can honestly say that I have no idea how she comes up with the subjects for her books. She is extremely gifted in storytelling, and at the same time, she manages to touch upon thought-provoking and relevant issues for today's teens. It's no wonder that the New York Times Book Review has said, "A.S. King is one of the best Y.A. writers working today."

She has really outdone herself with GLORY O'BRIEN'S HISTORY OF THE FUTURE. Bear with me while I describe this novel because it's a little bit out there. But trust me... it all works beautifully. In GLORY O'BRIEN, Ms. King explores the thoughts and feelings of Glory, a girl on the brink of her high school graduation. Glory isn't really sure what she wants to do with her life, and part of the reason for that is her difficult childhood. Glory's mother committed suicide when Glory was four years old, and Glory has always wondered whether she will follow in her mother's footsteps.

Now here's the "different" part of the book.... One evening, Glory and her friend drink a dead bat's blood and begin seeing a person's past and future. For example, if Glory is shopping at the mall and looks at a stranger, she can tell about that person's ancestors as well as their future generations. Glory is overwhelmed with all of these visions, but even worse, she sees that the future of our world has some pretty terrible conditions.

There is another civil war and it's very violent. There is a horrible leader who builds an army. In addition, women's rights disappear and young girls are sold off or confined in camps. It's definitely not a pretty picture and Glory isn't sure what she can do about it. She begins to write her visions down in a notebook and hopes that it might make a difference.

Needless to say, GLORY O'BRIEN'S HISTORY OF THE FUTURE is like nothing I've ever read... not even any of Ms. King's unique stories! I mean that in the very best way though. This book is crazy good and delves into some heavy issues. I love that the author isn't afraid to face these issues head on, and even better, she isn't afraid to write to teens like the intelligent people they are.

This book was so good on so many levels. It probably goes without saying that the writing is stellar. Ms. King weaves the story back and forth between Glory's present day life and her writings about the future she sees in her visions. While I found her ideas about the future to be fascinating... and extremely scary, I loved the honestly of Glory's story. Because Glory was facing graduation, a time when many kids know the next step in their future, Glory had to deal with so many big issues. Just imagine seeing the future when you looked at strangers; however, she really needed to deal with her past -- the death of her mother -- before she could move forward in her own life.

The future in this novel is one that definitely made me think, and I'm certain that was Ms. King's intent. I would love to see schools, mom/daughter book clubs, and teen book clubs discuss this novel. There are just so many relevant facets of the story including decisions, future, changes, death, grief, loss, friendship, suicide, healing, and more that teens should explore. In addition, there is quite a bit of social commentary on the state of the future world... and our country's past.

I listened to the audiobook of GLORY O'BRIEN'S HISTORY OF THE FUTURE and it was very good. The novel was read by Christine Lakin and she did a great job especially with Glory's voice. Since the story was told in first person, much of the book was Glory's voice; however, she also did a few other voices including Glory's father and her friend. I found her to be very pleasing to listen to.

GLORY O'BRIEN'S HISTORY OF THE FUTURE is an outstanding read -- both entertaining and thought-provoking. Most highly recommended!

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

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 5, 2014

Giveaway: One Plus One

Summary: One single mom. One chaotic family. One quirky stranger. One irresistible love story from the New York Times bestselling author of Me Before You

American audiences have fallen in love with Jojo Moyes. Ever since she debuted Stateside she has captivated readers and reviewers alike, and hit the New York Times bestseller list with the word-of-mouth sensation Me Before You. Now, with One Plus One, she’s written another contemporary opposites-attract love story.

Suppose your life sucks. A lot. Your husband has done a vanishing act, your teenage stepson is being bullied, and your math whiz daughter has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that you can’t afford to pay for. That’s Jess’s life in a nutshell—until an unexpected knight in shining armor offers to rescue them. Only Jess’s knight turns out to be Geeky Ed, the obnoxious tech millionaire whose vacation home she happens to clean. But Ed has big problems of his own, and driving the dysfunctional family to the Math Olympiad feels like his first unselfish act in ages . . . maybe ever.

One Plus One is Jojo Moyes at her astounding best. You’ll laugh, you’ll weep, and when you flip the last page, you’ll want to start all over again. -- Penguin Books

Last summer, I read a terrific book by Jojo Moyes called ONE PLUS ONE. You can read my review here. I absolutely adored this love story about a single mom who heads out with her family to Scotland and ends up meeting her "knight in shining armor." This book made me laugh and it also warmed my heart. As far as I'm concerned, it's a must-read!

Thanks to the publisher, I have a copy of ONE PLUS ONE to share with one lucky reader. To enter, just fill out the form below before December 11th 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!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Review: What I Had Before I Had You

Summary: Written in radiant prose and with stunning psychological acuity, award-winning author Sarah Cornwell's What I Had Before I Had You is a deeply poignant story that captures the joys and sorrows of growing up and learning to let go.

Olivia Reed was fifteen when she left her hometown of Ocean Vista on the Jersey Shore. Two decades later, divorced and unstrung, she returns with her teenage daughter, Carrie, and nine-year-old son, Daniel, recently diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Distracted by thoughts of the past, Olivia fails to notice when Daniel disappears from her side. Her frantic search for him sparks memories of the summer of 1987, when she exploded out of the cocoon of her mother's fierce, smothering love and into a sudden, full-throttle adolescence, complete with dangerous new friends, first love, and a rebellion so intense that it utterly recharted the course of her life.

Olivia's mother, Myla, was a practicing psychic whose powers waxed and waned along with her mercurial moods. Myla raised Olivia to be a guarded child, and also to believe in the ever-present infant ghosts of her twin sisters, whom Myla took care of as if they were alive—diapers, baby food, an empty nursery kept like a shrine. At fifteen, Olivia saw her sisters for the first time, not as ghostly infants but as teenagers on the beach. But when Myla denied her vision, Olivia set out to learn the truth—a journey that led to shattering discoveries about herself and her family.

Sarah Cornwell seamlessly weaves together the past and the present in this riveting debut novel, as she examines the relationships between mothers and daughters, and the powerful forces of loss, family history, and magical thinking. -- Harper Perennial

At this year's BEA, I attended a speed dating event for potential book club books. I think I've referenced that event about ten times so far this year because I had such a great time. One of the novels that sounded fantastic was WHAT I HAD BEFORE I HAD YOU by Sarah Cornwell. I was so intrigued by this book that I selected it as my book club selection for November.

WHAT I HAD BEFORE YOU tells the story of Olivia Reed, a mother who is returning to her hometown on the Jersey Shore. She hasn't been back for twenty years, since she ran away when she was 15; and she's now returning with her two children, Carrie and Daniel, her nine year old with bipolar disorder. Between returning home and having thoughts about her troubled past, Olivia misses seeing Daniel disappear.

Olivia's search brings to light many of her memories when she was a 15 year old teen living in Ocean Vista. Her mother, Myla was self-proclaimed psychic who had severe mood and behavior swings. Myla was extremely overprotective of Olivia and brought her up to believe that the ghosts of her twins were regular visitors to the household. Needless to say, Olivia didn't have a very secure upbringing!

One day, Olivia sees her sisters playing at the beach and she begins to think that she has her mother's psychic powers. However, Myla quickly poo poos that causing Olivia to wonder what's real about her life. As a result, Olivia sets out to discover the truth and learns more than she ever expected about her mother and her family.

It's hard to believe that WHAT I HAD BEFORE I HAD YOU is the author's first book. It is extremely well written with some beautiful prose, but it also has a element of mystery/suspense. It was also thought-provoking (always a good thing in my mind), and it moved me. All in all, a great start to what I'm sure will be a successful career for Ms. Cornwell.

One thing that definitely stood out to me about this novel was how it explored mental illness. I thought I was somewhat familiar with bipolar disorder, but WHAT I HAD BEFORE I HAD YOU brought it to a new level for me. I found Daniel's behavior to be interesting, but what I appreciated even more was how Myra's mental issues affected Olivia. I honestly felt the portrayal of Olivia's teen years was brutally honest and so real.

I also really liked that this novel had an element of mystery to it. I honestly wasn't sure if Myra was seeing ghosts or real girls, and then if they were real, who were they? In addition, I was extremely curious about where Daniel went. I certainly wasn't expecting this book to have this suspense angle, and I admit I was very surprised when I discovered the truth. While I wouldn't say this novel was a true mystery, I did find the questions about Olivia's past to be intriguing; and they definitely made me turn the pages.

And last but not least, the stories in WHAT I HAD BEFORE I HAD YOU were told in such a unique fashion. Olivia's story went back and forth between the present and the past, and I absolutely loved how the author blended the stories. There were parts of this novel that seemed almost manic and were definitely blurred, and at first, I was a bit confused. However, once I realized what the author was doing, I thought it was brilliant! I also appreciated how the author showed the similarities (and differences) in Myra and Olivia's relationship with Olivia and Carrie's relationship.

It should be obvious given both the description of the WHAT I HAD BEFORE I HAD YOU and my thoughts about the novel that this book would make an excellent book club discussion. There are so many things to discuss including mother/daughter relationships, memory, mental illness, acceptance, forgiveness, family, friendship, and more. In fact, there is a wonderful reading guide with eleven questions although I'm not certain that you will need it to drive discussion.

While I absolutely loved so many things about WHAT I HAD BEFORE I HAD YOU, I have to tell you that my book club wasn't entirely in agreement. A few of my friends had issues with the ending... and to be honest, I definitely see where they are coming from. However, despite the different views, I think I can safely say that we all found this novel to be extremely discussion-worthy. We were especially focused on discussing mental illness and the effect it has on family and friends as well as the complicated relationships between mothers and daughters.

I'm actually a bit surprised that WHAT I HAD BEFORE I HAD YOU isn't popping up more as a potential book club read. This novel is beautifully written and it's also a page turner. Highly recommended.

Thanks to the publisher for providing copies of WHAT I HAD BEFORE I HAD YOU.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Review: Literary Tattoos

I've discovered another great gift idea for the upcoming holiday season -- it's literary tattoos by Litographs is a fantastic company with so many cool products. Basically, they "create art from books." Their products are designed to reflect the connection between a reader and his or her favorite book. What could be better for the book-lover in your life?

The idea of a temporary tattoo with a quotation from literature is perfect for me. I'm not exactly the type to get a permanent tattoo; however, there is a part of me that's drawn to displaying a book-related tattoo. Litographs sent me a few to choose and I selected this one:
Litographs has so many temporary tattoos to choose from. I was sent a few sample images and selected "Brevity is the soul of wit" from Hamlet. I liked this one, but my husband quickly pointed out to me that I probably selected the "wrong" one given my wordiness!

I can't wait to show off my "tat" at the gym this morning! Next up... Pride and Prejudice.

The tattoo was extremely simple to apply and took less than a minute. If you've ever put a temporary tattoo on a kid, it's the same idea. Place the tattoo face down on clean skin, wet thoroughly and hold in place for 30 seconds. Voila!

One thing about Litograph's tattoos is that there's something for everyone. Check out their variety of tattoos here. I absolutely love that the tattoos come in all shapes and sizes. There are phrases or images from lots of classics including Alice in Wonderland, Moby Dick, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and much more!

Here are some examples of their awesome tattoos:

The Wizard of Oz
Peter Pan
Pride and Prejudice
Litographs sells some awesome tattoos, but they also have t-shirts, posters, and totes. These products are a book-lover's dream. I honestly get overwhelmed when I look at all of their offerings -- and I don't mean that in a bad way. I am so in love with their t-shirts. They actually print a tee with the text (up to 40,000 words) from a favorite book!

Make sure you visit for a great selection of temporary literary tattoos. And while you're there, check out their other great gift ideas!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Giveaway: Penguin Christmas Classics

Summary: First published on December 19, 1843, A Christmas Carol was an instant classic: Londoners thronged to hear Dickens read it in person and bought out the first printing in days. Its reception was so ecstatic that it is credited with helping to revive interest among the Victorians in Christmas traditions, including caroling and holiday cards, as well as inciting an unexpected wave of charitable giving from Britain’s Industrial Age robber barons. Originally conceived as a pamphlet against exploitative capitalism before taking its current form, it has inspired dozens of theatrical and movie adaptions, and its characters, from Scrooge to Tiny Tim, are forever inscribed in our hearts and minds. -- Christmas Classics

Summary: Christmas at Thompson Hall brings together the best of the Christmas stories of Anthony Trollope, one of the most successful, prolific, and respected English novelists of the nineteenth century. Characterized by insightful, psychologically rich, and sometimes wryly humorous depictions of the middle class and gentry of Victorian England—and inspired occasionally by missives in the “lost letter” box of the provincial post office that Trollope ran—these tales helped to enshrine the traditions of the decorated Christmas tree, the holiday turkey, and the giving of store-bought gifts. Today, they open a window onto a time when carolers filled the streets and each house’s door displayed a wreath of evergreen boughs, a time at once distant and yet startlingly familiar.-- Christmas Classics

Summary: A Merry Christmas collects the treasured holiday tales of Louisa May Alcott, from the dearly familiar Yuletide benevolence of Marmee and her “little women” to the timeless “What Love Can Do,” wherein the residents of a boarding house come together to make a lovely Christmas for two poor girls. Wildly popular at the time of their publication—readers deluged Alcott with letters demanding sequels—and drawing on Alcott’s family and experiences in the abolitionist and women’s suffrage movements, these stories have the authentic texture and detail of Christmas in nineteenth-century America, while their emphasis on generosity and charity make them timeless embodiments of the Christmas spirit. -- Christmas Classics

Summary: Written in 1831 by the father of Russian literature, this uproarious tale tells of the blacksmith Vakula’s battle with the devil, who has stolen the moon and hidden it in his pocket, allowing him to wreak havoc on the village of Dikanka. Both the devil and Vakula are in love with Oksana, the most beautiful girl in Dikanka. Vakula is determined to win her over; the devil, equally determined, unleashes a snowstorm to thwart Vakula’s efforts. Zany and mischievous, and drawing inspiration from the folk tales of Gogol’s far-flung village in Ukraine, The Night Before Christmas is the basis for many movie and opera adaptations, and is still read aloud to children on Christmas Eve in Ukraine and Russia. -- Christmas Classics

Summary:Written in 1816 by one of the leaders of German Romanticism for his children, nephews, and nieces, The Nutcracker captures better than any other story a child’s wonder at Christmas. The gift of a handsomely decorated nutcracker from a mysterious uncle sets the stage for a Christmas Eve like no other for the little girl Marie. That night, Marie’s extraordinary present comes to life, defends her from the taunting Mouse King, and whisks her off to the Kingdom of Dolls. The inspiration for the classic ballet, E. T. A. Hoffmann’s irresistible tale of magic and childhood adventure continues to captivate readers of all ages. Today, many of the most enchanting symbols of Christmas, from nutcrackers to sugar plums to mistletoe, are still imbued with the power of this story. -- Christmas Classics

It beginning to look a lot like Christmas here at Booking Mama! I am definitely in the Christmas mood! My shopping and decorating are done, and I've been busy making sequin ornaments all weekend. I'm also in the mood to start reading some Christmas stories. Fortunately, Penguin has released five amazing books this fall as part of their Christmas Classics series that are perfect for this time of year!

The Penguin Christmas Classics series features a combination of the world’s most cherished Christmas stories including A CHRISTMAS CAROL by Charles Dickens, CHRISTMAS AT THOMPSON HALL: AND OTHER CHRISTMAS STORIES by Anthony Trollope, A MERRY CHRISTMAS: AND OTHER CHRISTMAS STORIES by Louisa May Alcott, THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS by Nikolai Gogol, and THE NUTCRACKER by E.T.A. Hoffmann. These stories are truly classics, and I'm excited (and a little embarrassed) to say that I haven't read most of them.

These books aren't only some of the greatest Christmas stories ever written, but they are also beautiful! These books have foil-stamped jackets, decorative endpapers, and nameplates for personalization; and each book features a different scene of a cardinal in a tree. They come in a small trim size that makes them perfect for stocking stuffer gifts too.

And now I want to share my Christmas spirit with all of you! Thanks to the wonderful folks at Penguin, I have a terrific giveaway for a set of Penguin Christmas Classics. To enter, just fill out the form below before December 9th 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. address only. Good luck!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Review: Scorched Eggs & Giveaway

Summary: As Suzanne is getting her hair colored at Root 66, she’s stunned to witness the County Services office next door suddenly go up in flames. Concerned neighbors throng the streets, and the fire department does their best. Unfortunately, their best isn’t enough to save longtime civil service worker—and friend to the Cackleberry Club—Hannah Venable.

Soon enough, it’s discovered that an accelerant was used to fan the flames. Someone set the fire on purpose—was Hannah the intended victim? Suzanne, Petra, and Toni vow to smoke out the culprit.

Unfortunately, the list of suspects is as varied as the Cackleberry Club’s menu. When Suzanne finds a possible connection between the fire and the nearby Prairie Star Casino, she comes to realize that the arsonist wanted something very big and bad kept secret. And if the ladies aren’t careful, they may be the ones gambling with their lives… --- Berkley Prime Crime

One good thing about being a fan of Laura Childs and her mysteries series is that there seems to be a new book out every few months. I honestly don't know how she does it! Her latest cozy is part of her Cackleberry Club series and it's called SCORCHED EGGS. I'm certain fans of this series, and for that matter fans of cozy mysteries, will appreciate it!

SCORCHED EGGS features Suzanne, the owner of the Cackleberry Club and part-time amateur sleuth. In this novel, she is getting her hair colored when the County Services building next door goes up in flames. Despite everyone's best efforts, Suzanne's friend Hannah Venable dies in the fire.

Trouble seems to find Suzanne so it's not surprise that investigators quickly learn that an accelerant was used to start the fire. Suzanne and her co-workers, Petra and Toni, decide that the police need their help to solve the crime.

The suspect list is pretty big for the small town of Kindred, and no one seems to have an idea why someone would want to set fire to the building or try to kill Hannah. When Suzanne discovers a clue that's related to the nearby casino, she discovers that the stakes are much higher than she initially thought. Can Suzanne get to the bottom of this mystery before her life is at risk?

SCORCHED EGGS was a very fun book and perfect for this time of year. It's not holiday related but it is a quick read and has some amazing descriptions of food. There are even recipe ideas included in the back of the book. You might even get an idea or two for a holiday brunch.

What I enjoy so much about cozy mysteries, and especially those written by Laura Childs, is that they are... well, cozy! I know what I'm going to get -- a good mystery with likable characters and a great setting -- and Ms. Childs never disappoints. I have really come to like Suzanne, Petra, and Toni; and I think they relationships and the dynamics between them are cute and relatable. In addition, I jut love the details about the restaurant and its neighboring shops as well as all of the delicious-sounding food they serve.

Since SCORCHED EGGS is first and foremost a mystery, I should probably mention that I thought the secret of the fire was a good one. I appreciated Suzanne's sleuthing skills and I honestly was never able to truly identify the culprit... although it seemed like I was able to eliminate quite a few suspects.

There is no doubt that SCORCHED EGGS was an entertaining mystery book. However, I also really appreciated how much humor was woven into the story. (I know... it sounds crazy that a murder mystery could be funny!) Toni and her husband are quite the characters, and even Petra with her serious nature has moments of being funny. The town policeman is also hilarious with his demeanor and predictability about visiting the Cackleberry Club and ordering his sweets.

SCORCHED EGGS is another great addition to the Cackleberry Club series and I definitely look forward to reading more of Ms. Childs' books.

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

Giveaway alert: I have signed copies of SCORCHED EGGS to share with two lucky readers. To enter, just fill out the form below before December 8th at 11:59 p.m. EST. I will randomly select and notify the winners the following day. This contest is open to those of you with U.S. addresses only. Good luck!

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.