Saturday, November 28, 2015

Kid Konnection: All I Want for Christmas is You

Every Saturday, I host a feature called Kid Konnection -- a regular weekend feature about anything related to children's books. This week I'm totally in the mood for Christmas and want to share with you an adorable book by a famous singer.

Summary: Mariah Carey’s All I Want for Christmas Is You, one of the bestselling and most beloved songs of all time, brings Christmas joy to countless listeners of all ages every year. And now its classic lyrics will bring that same holiday spirit to readers of all ages in this one-of-a-kind picture book about a young girl whose greatest Christmas wish is for a new puppy! Full of festive December moments with family, friends, presents, and of course, Santa Claus—and featuring lively yuletide illustrations alongside the complete song lyrics—All I Want for Christmas Is You will become a cherished part of your family’s Christmas traditions for many years to come. -- Doubleday

One of my favorite Christmas songs is All I Want for Christmas is You by Mariah Carey. I've always liked the song, but when my daughter danced a Christmas kickline a few years ago at a basketball game, the song meant even more to me. In fact when it comes on the radio, she immediately begins "dancing" her routine!

So when the adorable picture book ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS IS YOU arrived in the mail a few weeks ago, I was pretty excited to take a peek. I couldn't believe how cute it was. The illustrations by Colleen Madden are just beautiful, and you can tell from the cover just how sweet they are!

ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS IS YOU takes the lyrics to the bestselling Christmas song by Mariah Carey and tells a story about a young girl who wants a puppy for Christmas. "I don't want a lot for Christmas. There is just one thing I need." It all makes sense now, right? The story shows the little girl involved in holiday activities as she dreams about her new puppy.

This picture book is sure to be a classic in many homes with parents and kids alike. It's really sweet and just brings a smile to my face. There is one illustration where the little girl is playing in the snow and makes a precious snow puppy with pine cones for ears and tail. It makes me smile every time I see it!

I don't think I'm giving too much away to say that the book does have a happy ending. Holidays are the best time for wishes to come true, and in the case of ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS IS YOU, one special little girl gets exactly what her heart desires!

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!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Review: London Soho New York Cosmetic Bags

If I'm being entirely honest, books kind of take a back seat to almost everything this time of year. As the holidays approach, I am much more focused on crocheting and knitting scarves and boot cuffs, making ornaments, decorating the house, and shopping for gifts. I'm sure most of you can relate!

I feel like I'm in pretty good shape for Christmas... except for buying gifts. But I think I've found something perfect for at least one of my six nieces. It's a Cinderella cosmetic bag that's absolutely adorable and it retails for $9.99. What a great gift at a great price!

LONDON SOHO NEW YORK® has teamed up with Walgreens to offer a charming Disney collection of cosmetic bags featuring Cinderella. These bags are available exclusively at Walgreens and include a train case, organizer, two wristlets and 2 piece clutch set. LONDON SOHO NEW YORK® is known for versatile, long-lasting and on-trend cosmetic bags; and I think they've hit it out of the part with the beautiful collection of Cinderella-inspired ones.

Train Case $11.99
2 Piece Clutch Set $9.99
Wristlet $7.99
Wristlet $7.99
I was fortunate enough to receive the Cinderella organizer which is a great size for my travel make-up needs. It's 8 x 3.75 x 5.25. The front and back of the bag both feature Cinderella and her price dancing at the ball, and the iridescent colors and shiny silver trim are so pretty. This bag even caught the eye of my teenage daughter!

I think these LONDON SOHO NEW YORK® Cinderella cosmetic are great gift ideas for the upcoming holiday season. How cute would one of these bags be filled with cosmetics for the young girl (or young at heart girl) in your life? Make sure you check out Walgreens for their line of Cinderella cosmetics too!

Thanks to Creative Media Marketing for providing a sample bag for review!

Monday, November 23, 2015

Review: Pop Goes the Weasel

Summary: A man’s body is found in an empty house. A gruesome memento of his murder is sent to his wife and children.

He is the first victim, and Detective Helen Grace knows he will not be the last. But why would a happily married man be this far from home in the dead of night?

The media call it Jack the Ripper in reverse: a serial killer preying on family men who lead hidden double lives.

Helen can sense the fury behind the murders. But what she cannot possibly predict is how volatile this killer is—or what is waiting for her at the end of the chase…. -- NAL

I couldn't wait to read POP GOES THE WEASEL by M.J. Arlidge after loving his first novel in the Detective Helen Grace series EENY MEENY. EENY MEENY was a fantastic thriller that was a just-right blend of scariness and mystery; and I loved the complex characters, especially Helen Grace. I admit I was a little curious to see if the next book in the series would live up to my expectations.

And I'm so happy to say that POP GOES THE WEASEL was terrific! Once again, it had a creepiness factor (but not over-the-top) while also having an intriguing mystery. I devoured it in just two days and that's really saying something considering that I have next to no reading time.

POP GOES THE WEASEL begins with a man's body being discovered in a sketchy house and a gruesome package delivered to his wife and children. It is evident to Detective Helen Grace that this is the work of not only a brutal murderer but also a serial killer. As more men are found dead, Helen is unfortunately proven right.

All of the men have one thing in common -- they lead secret lives visiting on-line porn sites and frequenting prostitutes. As Helen and her team begin to work these murders, they are surprised to discover a female prostitute seems to be the guilty party. As Helen closes in on the murder, she also has to balance a pesky reporter who seems to be everywhere and politics with her new boss. Can Helen and her team stop this murderer before she strikes again?

I love this series and I won't hesitate to read any of the books featuring Detective Helen Grace. It's a good thing that another one is coming soon! I absolutely love the grittiness and complexity of Helen's character while also appreciated her intuition when it comes to solving horrific crimes. Helen's story is intriguing enough given her past and the baggage associated with it; however, when the author also adds strange and twisted murders to the mix, it just makes a great read!

One of my favorite things about this series (which I can now say after reading two of the books!) is that the character development is just so good. I've already mentioned how much Helen interests me, but the secondary characters are also fairly well developed. I think the author does a wonderful job of not only bringing the characters to life but also making them very human. Often times, the main character is the only three-dimensional character; however in this series, it seems like there are side stories which also have some substance to them.

As far as murder mysteries go, POP GOES THE WEASEL had it all. The author takes the reader on a fun ride full of twists and turns until he eventually reveals the culprit in an ah-hah moment. I had no clue until the very end who was responsible for the murders (probably exactly when the author wanted me to!), but it all made perfect sense. I loved how the story ended and the loose ends were tied up. 

I absolutely can't rave enough about POP GOES THE WEASEL and EENY MEENY. Highly recommended for fans of mysteries and thrillers.

Thanks to the publisher for providing an e-copy of this novel.

Mystery Mondays is a regular feature where I review all types of mystery books -- traditional mysteries, suspense/thrillers, and even cozies! Please feel free to share your thoughts on any recent mystery books that you've read.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Kid Konnection: Mother Bruce

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 picture book about a bear who gets more than he expects for dinner!

Summary: Bruce the bear likes to keep to himself. That, and eat eggs. But when his hard-boiled goose eggs turn out to be real, live goslings, he starts to lose his appetite. And even worse, the goslings are convinced he’s their mother. Bruce tries to get the geese to go south, but he can’t seem to rid himself of his new companions. What’s a bear to do? -- Disney/Hyperion

MOTHER BRUCE by Ryan T. Higgins is absolutely adorable! I admit that I wasn't entirely sold on the concept from the book's description but this book turned out to be fantastic! I loved it!

Bruce the bear is quite the grumpy bear. He lives by himself and doesn't really like anything... except eggs. And not just any eggs, fancy cooked eggs. That's right. Bruce loves to find gourmet egg recipes and make them.

One day, Bruce decides to make a recipe for hard-boiled goose eggs drizzled with honey-salmon sauce. He gathers all of the ingredients but discovers that his eggs aren't exactly ready for eating! When Bruce goes out to get wood for his fire, the eggs hatch into adorable little baby goslings.

What's even funnier is that these little baby geese decide that Bruce is their mama! Bruce tries to return the goslings to their mommy, but she has already flown south for the winter. Bruce the bear tries everything to get rid of the babies, but they always seem to find their way back to their "mama." So... Bruce reluctantly takes care of the goslings.

MOTHER BRUCE is just so adorable! The book is a sweet story about an unlikely family but there is just so much humor on almost every page. Parents and kids alike will laugh out loud at Bruce's desperation. In fact, there are a few jokes that I think are intended just for the parents. I think it's one of those picture books that you can read over and over again!

I also love the illustrations in MOTHER BRUCE. You can tell from the cover just how cute they are. Bruce's expressions are hilarious and the goslings are precious. There are only a few words per page (the pictures really do a wonderful job of telling the story), so it's ideal for even reluctant listeners.

Check out the cute gift set that my family will be wearing on Thanksgiving!
As Thanksgiving approaches, there is a fun promotion for MOTHER BRUCE. Share your "Hungry as a Bear" photos and use hashtag "FollowBruce" to help celebrate the release of this terrific picture book!
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!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Review: Don't Jump

Summary: Don’t Jump, chronicles a woman’s quest to find her place and purpose amidst sex, drugs, rock n’ roll and celebrity. It’s a story of unfulfilled potential, addiction, and bad behavior. Ultimately, it’s a story of redemption, told with levity and a wicked sense of fun.

Don’t Jump takes us backstage and off-screen with a world famous athlete, rockers, movie stars, and some of the biggest names in comedy. A unique female perspective, it’s an inside view from outsider. From the kings of late night, to America’s #1 shock jock, to the top sitcom earners of all time, we glimpse their humanity, previously unexposed.

Andi’s story drives Don’t Jump––her descent and her resurrection. The celebrities who populate her life add spice and flavor but, it’s Andi’s perceptions that fuel the narrative. Smart, sassy and sexy, she projects confidence and success. But beneath her cool exterior, she knows she's "simple, boring and fat."

Seeking solutions for her disintegrating marriage, tumultuous show biz ups and downs, her slow and painful recovery, and mid-life transition, Don’t Jump explores Andi’s journey to make her life count. -- Random Content

DON'T JUMP: SEX, DRUGS, ROCK 'N ROLL... AND MY F**KING MOTHER by Vicki Abelson is not a book that I'd normally pick up... yet the description sounded intriguing. I love tell-all books, and while DON'T JUMP isn't exactly a memoir, I suspect there's a fair amount of truth to the stories.

DON'T JUMP is a novel about Andi, a woman who experiences quite a few ups and downs as she tries to find herself and her purpose. Andi is a smart woman who tries her hand at acting, comedy and then promotion while living a pretty wild life by my standards. (In fact, she seems to have led a very similar life to author Vicki Abelson.) Andi has encounters with a popular sports star, famous musicians, actors, and comics; and she doesn't hesitate to share all of the juicy details in this novel.

Andi's life experiences are interesting to say the least. Her partying ways and then her clean up efforts are well chronicled; however, it's her insight into not only the world of celebrity, but her own personal struggles, that make this book worth reading.

I am glad that I read DON'T JUMP and I definitely enjoyed parts of this novel. The writing was smart and hilarious which I appreciated, but there were also parts of this story that were very tender and heartwarming. I especially liked that the story showed both the ups and downs of Andi's life and career and that ultimately it was one of redemption.

I certainly was shocked by Ms. Abelson's honestly, which was brutal at times, in telling this tale. (Here, I'm assuming that many of Andi's stories were, in fact, the same as Ms. Abelson's.) Having said that, I enjoyed these scenes which were no doubt interesting! Whether is was stories about her bosses, the men in her life, or even her own personal issues, these descriptions were truly honest even if that portrayed Andi in a bad light. In fact, there were some scenes that were so "honest" that they were almost difficult to read!

I will admit that there were parts of this book that just didn't hold my interest like I had hoped -- namely some of the parts about her career. I definitely enjoyed the stories about her early acting career and I really liked the ones about her attempts at comedy; however, once she began describing her promotion work at clubs, I found my interest waning. Overall, I think the book was a little too long and a few sections could have been cut, but that's just my opinion.

DON'T JUMP is a roller coaster ride through one woman's life. Recommended to fans of roman a clefs and celebrity tell-alls!

Thanks to Get Red PR for providing a review copy of this book.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Review: The Time Garden & The Time Chamber

Summary: A dazzlingly beautiful coloring book for all ages, The Time Garden will sweep you away into a whimsical cuckoo clock–inspired world, created in intricate pen and ink by the internationally best-selling Korean artist Daria Song. Then, explore the magical world outside the clock through the eyes of a fairy in the sequel, The Time Chamber: A Magical Story and Coloring Book.

Journey through the doors of a mysterious cuckoo clock into its inky innerworkings to discover a magical land of clock gears, rooftops, starry skies, and giant flying owls—all ready for you to customize with whatever colors you can dream up.

Cuckoo . . . cuckoo . . . cuckoo . . . When the clock strikes midnight, you’ll wonder, was it all a dream?

The Time Garden features extra-thick craft paper, ideal for non bleed-through coloring, and the jacketed cover with flaps is removable and colorable. Special gold-foil stamping on the cover and spine and a To/From page make it perfect for gifting to adults and kids alike. -- Ten Speed Press

You would have to be living under a rock not to notice all of the coloring books that are available for adults. My sister has even jumped on the bandwagon and bought herself coloring books -- she says it's relaxing. Well, I could certainly use a way to relax while watching television in the evening with my family. (I usually bead Christmas ornaments or make scarves!) I'm not really sure I even know how to relax!

So when Ten Speed Press offered to send me a copy of THE TIME GARDEN: A MAGICAL JOURNEY AND COLORING BOOK by Daria Song, I jumped at the chance. This "adult" coloring book is absolutely beautiful. Honestly, I was blown away by Ms. Song's drawings. Just check out two of the pages from this coloring book.

THE TIME GARDEN begins with a short story about a young girl who has an amazing imagination. When her father brings home a cuckoo clock, she decides to check it out. She discovers a little fairy inside the clock and is so startled that she falls flat on her back. After she recovers, she ends up chasing the fairy and discovering new worlds full of beauty and mystery!

I love that THE TIME GARDEN tells a story, first with worlds and then with detailed drawings! The beautiful story makes it perfect for children of all ages and adults, and the various illustrations (some more detailed than others) are guaranteed to keep color enthusiasts busy for some time. I can see why the coloring craze is here!

I had great plans to take pictures of the pages I colored; however, I do have my pride. Since I haven't really colored for almost 40 years, I think I need some practice before sharing my artwork with others. I will tell you that I did find the coloring very relaxing (for the most part -- I am Type A personality after all), and I loved the assortment of illustrations. Depending on my mood and patience level, I could always find a page that I wanted to color.

There is a sequel to THE TIME GARDEN. It's called THE TIME CHAMBER: A MAGICAL STORY AND COLORING BOOK, and I admit that I was thrilled that this book unexpectedly showed up last week! Like THE TIME GARDEN, this book is gorgeous and entertaining.

Summary: This second book in the bestselling Time coloring series features the voyage of a fairy who, when the cuckoo clock chimes midnight, enters the human world. To the tiny fairy, everything seems enormous and magical, from the curtains to the chandelier to a mystical rowboat that takes her further into an inky adventure. With her she packs her favorite items, which colorers can find throughout the book’s pages: an owl-feathered pen, a star-scented spray, a time tape measure…even the key to the time chamber itself!

Filled with the imaginative, intricately detailed illustrations Song’s readers have come to love, The Time Chamber presents a view of our world made new—and ready for coloring.

The Time Chamber features extra-thick craft paper, ideal for non bleed-through coloring, and the jacketed cover with flaps is removable and colorable. Special gold-foil stamping on the cover and spine and a To/From page make it perfect for gifting to adults and kids alike. -- Ten Speed Press

Both THE TIME GARDEN and THE TIME CHAMBER make perfect gifts for the holiday season. You will be pleasantly surprised by the quality of these coloring books, with their heavy pages and gold-foil embossed covers (which are removable for easier coloring.) In addition, there is a To/From page in the front which makes it ideal to share with someone special in your life.

I can't rave enough about these two coloring books. Highly recommended!

Thanks to the publisher for providing review copies of these books.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Review: Christmas Bells

Summary: New York Times bestselling author Jennifer Chiaverini celebrates Christmas, past and present, with a wondrous novel inspired by the classic poem “Christmas Bells,” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

I heard the bells on Christmas Day/ Their old familiar carols play/ And wild and sweet/ The words repeat/Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

In 1860, the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow family celebrated Christmas at Craigie House, their home in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The publication of Longfellow’s classic Revolutionary War poem, “Paul Revere’s Ride,” was less than a month hence, and the country’s grave political unrest weighed heavily on his mind. Yet with his beloved wife, Fanny, and their five adored children at his side, the delights of the season prevailed.

In present-day Boston, a dedicated teacher in the Watertown public school system is stunned by somber holiday tidings. Sophia’s music program has been sacrificed to budget cuts, and she worries not only about her impending unemployment but also about the consequences to her underprivileged students. At the church where she volunteers as music director, Sophia tries to forget her cares as she leads the children’s choir in rehearsal for a Christmas Eve concert. Inspired to honor a local artist, Sophia has chosen a carol set to a poem by Longfellow, moved by the glorious words he penned one Christmas Day long ago, even as he suffered great loss.

Christmas Bells chronicles the events of 1863, when the peace and contentment of Longfellow’s family circle was suddenly, tragically broken, cutting even deeper than the privations of wartime. Through the pain of profound loss and hardship, Longfellow’s patriotism never failed, nor did the power of his language. “Christmas Bells,” the poem he wrote that holiday, lives on, spoken as verse and sung as a hymn.

Jennifer Chiaverini’s resonant and heartfelt novel for the season reminds us why we must continue to hear glad tidings, even as we are tested by strife. Reading Christmas Bells evokes the resplendent joy of a chorus of voices raised in reverent song. -- Dutton

I know it might seem a little early to be reviewing a Christmas book here at Booking Mama, but I can promise you that the holiday will be here before we know it. And what's better to get you in the festive spirit than a heartwarming Christmas story? New York Times bestselling author Jennifer Chiaverini has written a sweet novel called CHRISTMAS BELLS that's just perfect for this time of year!

CHRISTMAS BELLS was inspired by the classic poem "Christmas Bells" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The story goes back and forth between the present and the past and links the stories of various church members with Longfellow's life in the 1860s.

The novel begins in Boston with Sophie, a music teacher whose life isn't going exactly to plan. The music program at her elementary school has been cut due to budget constraints and she will soon be out of work. In addition, she has some personal issues (i.e. her love life) that she needs to figure out. She manages to push aside her concerns as she prepares the children's choir for their Christmas Eve concert. Naturally, the kids will be performing the carol "Christmas Bells" written by local artist Henry Wadsworh Longfellow.

CHRISTMAS BELLS also shows Longfellow's life in 1863 when a horrible tragedy hits his family. To make matters even worse, the country in on the brink of war. Longfellow struggles to keep his patriotism, faith and family together despite the troubles they face.

In addition to Longfellow's and Sophie's stories, the novel also features vignettes of various members of St. Margaret's church. The reader is introduced to the challenges that children in the choir, their parents, parishioners, the priest and even a nun face. All of the stories in CHRISTMAS BELLS are linked in some way and promise to touch your heart this holiday season.

It's been awhile since I've read a novel by Ms. Chiaverini, and I was quickly reminded why I loved her novels so much. She manages to link the present and the past effectively, but she also weaves beautiful tales about people. I knew next to nothing about Longfellow's life, so I found his story to be fascinating; however, it was the touching stories about the present day church members that really warmed my heart.

And that's what I most loved about CHRISTMAS BELLS -- the way this book made me feel. During the holiday season, it's so easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle and the preparations. I need books like this one to ground me and remember the what's important to me during this time of year -- family, friends, and church. Ms. Chiaverini really brings the various church members to life through these vignettes and their stories will definitely resonate with readers.

CHRISTMAS BELLS would be a great pick for your December book club. While the book does present Longfellow's story which many will find interesting, it really shows the kindness of the human heart... and who doesn't need an uplifting story like that during the holidays? Highly recommended!

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

Monday, November 16, 2015

Review: The Crossing

Summary: Detective Harry Bosch has retired from the LAPD, but his half-brother, defense attorney Mickey Haller, needs his help. The murder rap against his client seems ironclad, but Mickey is sure it's a setup. Though it goes against all his instincts, Bosch takes the case. With the secret help of his former LAPD partner Lucia Soto, he turns the investigation inside the police department. But as Bosch gets closer to discovering the truth, he makes himself a target. -- Little, Brown

Hands down -- one of my favorite authors is Michael Connelly. I have read every single one of the books starring Harry Bosch; and for the most part, I have loved each and every one of them. His latest Bosch novel is titled THE CROSSING and it's absolutely terrific!

Bosch finds himself in a bit of a different situation at the start of THE CROSSING. He is no longer employed by the L.A.P.D., and if truth be told, he's not exactly feeling like himself. Harry is a cop through and through so when his half-brother Mickey Haller, the Lincoln Lawyer himself, asks for him to help investigate his latest client who is accused of murder, Harry can't help but look into it.

The thing is... Bosch is reluctant to help Mickey because he feels like a traitor and he's worried what his old friends on the force might think. Mickey swears that his client is innocent despite the DNA evidence that is pretty convincing, so Bosch agrees to check it out; however, he finds that it's not as easy to investigate a crime when you don't have your police credentials. He gets a little help from his ex-partner Lucia Soto and starts to think that maybe Haller's client was set-up.

Bosch gets consumed with the case (big surprise there!), and he uncovers more than he expected. The case is quite complex and eventually takes him to his old home -- the L.A.P.D. As Bosch gets closer and closer to the truth, he finds himself and his family at risk!

I loved THE CROSSING!!! I have been in the mood for mysteries lately, and this novel was exactly what I needed. Connelly is a master of crime novels and his characters are so well developed. Once again, he wrote a brilliant mystery that kept my interest; however, I really think it's Bosch's character that I really adored.

For those of you who have read a Harry Bosch novel, then you already know what a special character Bosch is. If you aren't familiar with him yet, then what are you waiting for? Bosch is a deeply flawed man who is also a brilliant investigator. I love that he's willing to do what it takes to get to the root of a crime... even if that means walking a fine line with the law.

However, it's Bosch's personal struggles that really interest me. I loved how well the author portrayed the issues Bosch was having with his transition to civilian life as well as his reluctance to handle the case with his brother. I also appreciated the way Connelly portrayed the challenges Bosch faces with his teenage daughter.

I thought the mystery aspect of THE CROSSING was outstanding. The story was extremely complex and I thought the way it was revealed was so good. I honestly couldn't put this book down. The mystery was much more twisted than I was expecting which also added to my appreciation of the novel.

Overall, THE CROSSING was an outstanding novel but I wouldn't expect anything less from Michael Connelly. Highly recommended.

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

Mystery Mondays is a regular feature where I review all types of mystery books -- traditional mysteries, suspense/thrillers, and even cozies! Please feel free to share your thoughts on any recent mystery books that you've read.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Kid Konnection: Dear Santa, Love, Rachel Rosenstein & 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 an adorable book about a little girl that desperately wants to celebrate Christmas.

Summary: Rachel Rosenstein is determined to celebrate Christmas this year—and the fact that her family is Jewish is not going to stop her. In a series of hilarious and heartwarming mishaps, Rachel writes a letter to Santa explaining her cause, pays him a visit at the mall, and covertly decorates her house on Christmas Eve (right down to latkes for Santa and his reindeer). And while Rachel may wrestle with her culture, customs, and love of sparkly Christmas ornaments, she also comes away with a brighter understanding of her own identity and of the gift of friends and family. -- Doubleday

DEAR SANTA, LOVE, RACHEL ROSENSTEIN, written by Amanda Peet and Andrea Troyer and illustrated by Christine Davenier, is guaranteed to warm your heart whether you celebrate Christmas or not! This picture book, aimed at kids three to seven years old, tells the story of Rachel Rosenstein, a young Jewish girl who is desperate to celebrate Christmas. She yearns for the lights, Christmas trees, and even gifts from Santa Claus!

Rachel is determined to have Santa bring her presents so she decides to write a letter like her friends do each and every year explaining her situation. She even visits Santa at the mall and gets her picture taken. On Christmas Eve, Rachel secretly decorates her house in preparation for his arrival.

It's no surprise that Rachel is a little disappointed when she wakes up on Christmas morning; however, Rachel realizes that she's not the only kid who doesn't celebrate Christmas. In addition, Rachel begins to truly appreciate the specialness of her own culture and family customs.

I adored DEAR SANTA, LOVE, RACHEL ROSENSTEIN! This picture book is adorable -- the story and the illustrations are something special. Rachel is just a lovable little girl and her creativity and perseverance are something to be admired. She also happens to be pretty funny!

And that's what I loved about this book -- it is both funny and heartwarming. Rachel just wants to celebrate Christmas and have a visit from Santa like so many of her friends. In her efforts to garner a visit from Santa, she has a series of mishaps that are very funny; and I can guarantee more than a few smiles from parents and kids alike.

And while DEAR SANTA, LOVE, RACHEL ROSENSTEIN is very entertaining, it's also touching. Rachel reminisces about all of the Jewish holidays that her family celebrates together, and she eventually learns to appreciate her culture and heritage. It's pretty sweet when Rachel realizes that she's not the only kid who doesn't celebrate Christmas, and I love how much she "grows up" by the last page of book.

As a parent, I really enjoyed DEAR SANTA, LOVE, RACHEL ROSENSTEIN, but more importantly, I think this picture book is terrific for kids of all cultures! Children who don't celebrate Christmas will relate to Rachel and appreciate her feelings, while kids who do celebrate Christmas can learn something about the Jewish faith and their celebrations.

Overall, DEAR SANTA, LOVE, RACHEL ROSENSTEIN is a wonderful picture book that is funny, heartwarming and educational. Highly recommended!

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

Giveaway alert: I have two copies of DEAR SANTA, LOVE, RACHEL ROSENSTEIN courtesy of Penguin Random House -- one to keep, and one to share. To enter, just fill out the form below before Friday, November 27th 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!

Amanda Peet is an actress and playwright. Her first play, "The Commons of Pensacola," starring Blythe Danner and Sarah Jessica Parker, opened to critical acclaim in 2014 at Manhattan Theater Club. A native of New York, Peet graduated from Columbia University with a degree in American History. She has appeared in numerous films, including "Please Give," "Syriana," "Something's Gotta Give," and "The Whole Nine Yards." She also starred in the TV series "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip," and the Broadway revival of Neil Simon's "Barefoot in the Park." Peet stars in a new comedy series, "Togetherness" for HBO, debuting in fall 2014.

Andrea Troyer grew up in Minnesota and received an MFA from the University of California, Irvine. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two young boys.

Christine Davenier is the illustrator of many children's books, including Julie Andrews's "The Very Fairy Princess" series. She lives in Paris, France.

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!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Review: Sharing the Bread

Summary: Celebrate food and family with this heartwarming Thanksgiving picture book. We will share the risen bread. / Our made-with-love Thanksgiving spread. / Grateful to be warm and fed. / We will share the bread. In this spirited ode to the holiday, set at the turn of the twentieth century, a large family works together to make their special meal. Mama prepares the turkey, Daddy tends the fire, Sister kneads, and Brother bastes. Everyone—from Grandma and Grandpa to the littlest baby—has a special job to do. Told in spare, rhythmic verse and lively illustrations, Sharing the Bread is a perfect read-aloud to celebrate the Thanksgiving tradition. -- Schwartz & Wade

You might be surprised to see me reviewing a picture book in the middle of the week, but I just realized that Thanksgiving is exactly two weeks away! I can't believe it's so close, and I think part of the reason is that our weather has been so warm that it doesn't feel like November. Since there are only fourteen more days until Thanksgiving, I wanted to share with you a wonderful book that celebrates the season so you can have time to share it with your kids.

SHARING THE BREAD: AN OLD-FASHIONED THANKSGIVING STORY by Pat Zietlow Miller and Jill McElmurry is just perfect for this time of year. It's a sweet story that celebrates Thanksgiving and family, and it's certain to get you in the mood for the holidays. The story takes place at the turn of the 20th century, and it's absolutely delightful to see the characters' fashions and cooking tools.

The story is told in rhyming text with only a few lines per page which makes it perfect to read-aloud! Everyone in the family contributes to preparing the Thanksgiving meal. Mom fixes the turkey, while sister makes the bread and brother bastes the bird. Even Grandma and Grandpa have special tasks that allow them to contribute to the special meal. The story ends with the entire family sitting at the table and showing thanks for what they have!

There are so many great things about this book, but I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the gorgeous illustrations. The pictures were the perfect complement to this old-fashioned Thanksgiving story, and they definitely evoke feelings of warmth and comfort. I also loved how the artist incorporated so many textures and patterns into her drawings -- they truly were special.

I loved SHARING THE BREAD! It's such a heartwarming story about the special feelings we share with our family during the holidays. Highly recommended!

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

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Review: The Clasp

Summary: Kezia, Nathaniel, and Victor are reunited for the extravagant wedding of a college friend. Now at the tail end of their twenties, they arrive completely absorbed in their own lives-Kezia the second-in-command to a madwoman jewelry designer in Manhattan; Nathaniel the former literary cool kid, selling his wares in Hollywood; and the Eeyore-esque Victor, just fired from a middling search engine. They soon slip back into old roles: Victor loves Kezia. Kezia loves Nathaniel. Nathaniel loves Nathaniel.

In the midst of all this semi-merriment, Victor passes out in the mother of the groom's bedroom. He wakes to her jovially slapping him across the face. Instead of a scolding, she offers Victor a story she's never even told her son, about a valuable necklace that disappeared during the Nazi occupation of France.

And so a madcap adventure is set into motion, one that leads Victor, Kezia, and Nathaniel from Miami to New York and L.A. to Paris and across France, until they converge at the estate of Guy de Maupassant, author of the classic short story "The Necklace."

Heartfelt, suspenseful, and told with Sloane Crosley's inimitable spark and wit, The Clasp is a story of friends struggling to fit together now that their lives haven't gone as planned, of how to separate the real from the fake. Such a task might be possible when it comes to precious stones, but is far more difficult to pull off with humans. -- FSG

I was so excited to see that Sloane Crosley had written her first novel novel. I remember Ms. Crosley back in my early days of blogging when she was a publicist. I own her her essay collections but haven't read them yet; and rather than going back and starting from the beginning, I decided to read her novel THE CLASP first.

THE CLASP tells the story of three friends from college who are brought back together for the wedding of a friend. They are in their late 20s and are all pretty much consumed with themselves. Kezia works for a jewelry designer (think The Devil Wears Prada type of boss!), while Nathaniel is trying to make it as a writer in LA. Meanwhile, Victor has just lost his job with a second (or third tier) search engine company. Their friendships are a bit complicated because Kezia wants Nathaniel and Victor wants Kezia... and Nathaniel is kind of all about Nathaniel!

At the wedding, Victor ends up have a drunken discussion with the groom's mother. She tells him a secret about a valuable necklace that went missing during World War II when the Nazis were occupying France. Victor can't get this story out of his mind so he sets out to France to find this lost necklace. The three friends end up meeting again at the estate of Guy de Maupassant  author of the short story "The Necklace."

To be entirely honest, I wasn't sure that I was the target audience for THE CLASP; and while I enjoyed the book, I'm not sure I totally "got it." It's not that the story was complicated. Rather, I just think that my middle-aged life in Central PA is just so different from what these three characters were experiencing! Having said that, though, I did enjoy the novel; and I definitely appreciated Ms. Crosley's writing.

THE CLASP was a unique story! I liked how she tied the necklace in the novel to the classic short story "The Necklace" by Guy de Maupassant. (I probably shouldn't admit this, but I have never read that story although I don't think that really affected my appreciation of the novel.) Ms. Crosley did a wonderful job of using the story as an inspiration to her own novel, and I especially enjoyed seeing how the messages in the original story appeared in the character's lives in THE CLASP.

Another fun aspect of this novel was the actual quest to discover the missing necklace. It was a tad bit silly and almost caper-like as Victor became obsessed with finding it. I definitely laughed a few times at his antics, and I thought these scenes were very well written.

And that brings me to my next point... Ms. Crosley is an outstanding writer. Her writing is so smart and her wit is razor-sharp. I thought her character development was extremely well done, and it was interesting to see their growth (or lack thereof) throughout the course of the story. There were many times that I re-read sections of the novel because the writing was just so good! I definitely look forward to more of her novels.

Overall, I was impressed with the writing skills that Ms. Crosley demonstrated in this novel. Recommended to fans of literary fiction!

I received a copy of this novel at the 2015 BEA.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

World Vision Gift Ideas & Giveaway

I was waiting until November but now that it's already the 10th, I've started to think about the upcoming holiday season. I've done a little shopping and even purchased a few gifts for my nephews. However, I still have a ton of shopping to do... and I can bet you're in a similar situation!

I think I can make things a little easier for you with the The World Vision Gift Catalog! There are so many beautiful hand-made gifts available and even more importantly you will be helping people all over the world who are in need! Since 1996, the World Vision Gift Catalog has grown in popularity as a gift-giving alternative. Last year alone, more than 822,000 people were helped through funds generated by the Catalog.  

The 2015 World Vision Gift Catalog contains more than 250 poverty-fighting gifts, ranging in price from $16 to $39,000, that improve the quality of life for struggling children and families in the U.S. and around the world. I found so many amazing gift ideas for myself and others on my list.

It's really difficult to chose just one item for review, but I selected the Mango Wood Bracelet. Isn't it gorgeous and, to be honest, the picture doesn't do it justice. The lovely mango wood beaded bracelet was handcrafted in Indonesia, and the colorful beads guarantee that it will match every outfit. A creative community on the island of Java makes these unique bracelets to help provide a sustainable income and care for their children. A devoted mother leads this artisan group so it's the perfect gift to celebrate a mother in your life for a donation of only $45.

There are so many special items that it's really difficult to choose only a few to feature. I personally love (and wear all of the time!) the Silver Vines Cuff that is designed by artisans in Old Delhi, India and free for a donation of $85. I received one of these bracelets last year, and I can assure you it's both gorgeous and durable. I also love the Royal Silk Scarf that is yours with a gift of $95 and the Balinese Multi-strand Necklace which is free with a gift of $85. Make sure you check out all of their handcrafted gifts here.

Silver Vines Cuff
Royal Silk Scarf
Balinese Multi-strand Necklace

Make sure you check out the World Vision Facebook page at WorldVision and Twitter at @WorldVisionNews and @WorldVisionUSA.

To order from World Vision’s Gift Catalog, call 855-WV-GIFTS or visit

Everything in this catalog, whether it be one of the handcrafted gifts that you receive for a donation or even a donation in someone's name for ducks, goats, chickens, etc., would make an amazing gift for someone special. You can also purchase a share of a hand-drilled well, medicine, clothes, and more for people who really need assistance. My family has been a supporter of World Vision for years, and it's always nice to give back... especially this time of year.

Giveaway alert: Thanks to the wonderful folks at World Vision, I have a Mango Wood Bracelet to share with one lucky reader. To enter, just fill out the form below before November 23rd 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, November 9, 2015

Review: Corrupted

Summary: Bennie Rosato the founder of the Rosato & DiNunzio law firm hides her big heart beneath her tough-as-nails exterior and she doesn't like to fail. Now, a case from her past shows her how differently things might have turned out. Thirteen years ago, Bennie Rosato took on Jason Lefkavick, a twelve-year-old boy who was sent to a juvenile detention center after fighting a class bully. Bennie couldn't free Jason, and to this day it's the case that haunts her. Jason has grown up in and out of juvenile prison, and his adulthood hasn't been any easier. Bennie no longer represents those accused of murder, but when Jason is indicted for killing the same bully he fought with as a kid, she sees no choice but to represent him. She doesn't know whether or not to believe his claims of innocence, but she knows she owes him for past failures-of the law, of the juvenile justice system, and of herself. Forced to relive the darkest period of her life, Bennie will do everything in her power to get the truth, and justice. -- St. Martin's Press

I have been reading pretty regularly these past few weeks, but all I want to read are mysteries and thrillers. That isn't really a problem because so many great mystery authors are releasing new books. The latest novel that really captured my interest was CORRUPTED by Lisa Scottoline. This is another book in her Rosato and DiNunzio series, and I thought it was excellent!

Bennie Rosato is called to defend Jason Lefkavick after he is accused of murdering his childhood rival. Bennie can't help but take the case since she has been living with guilt for the past thirteen years for "failing" Jason. Twelve-year-old Jason was sent to a juvenile detention facility after fighting a class bully, and his father hired Bennie to help free Jason. Bennie wasn't able to help Jason, and he ultimately ended up living a troubled life -- going in and out of juvie.

Even though Bennie doesn't handle murder cases, she takes on Jason's case. Despite being found covered in blood and holding a knife, Jason swears that he is innocent. Bennie isn't quite sure what to think about Jason -- the evidence is convincing; however, she feels as if she owes him for not being able to save him thirteen years ago.

As Bennie begins investigating Jason's case, many feelings from her past are brought back to the forefront. She is forced to reflect back on how she failed Jason and his father, how the system failed Jason, and even some personal losses of her own. Bennie is willing to do whatever it takes to save Jason this time around... even if that means going against the wishes of her client!

I was highly entertained by CORRUPTED. I am a big fan of Ms. Scottoline's books and this one was no exception. I enjoy the character of Bennie with her gruff exterior and big heart, and I appreciated how this novel explored so much of her past while also showing her amazing courtroom skills. I was definitely kept guessing about Jason's innocence and what possibly could have happened at the murder scene. Overall, I think fans of mysteries and courtroom thrillers will love this book!

One of my absolute favorite things about CORRUPTED was Bennie. I just love this character! She is a strong and smart woman who also provides a few laughs for the reader. In this novel, her complexity really showed through. The author used flashbacks to explain what happened between Bennie and Jason thirteen years ago, and this allowed for some very interesting insight into Bennie's past. Bennie not only had to deal with the guilt from disappointing Jason, but she also had cope with the losses associated with the end of a personal relationship.

Another great part of CORRUPTED were the courtroom scenes. I love courtroom thrillers and actually haven't read one for quite awhile! Bennie is just a master lawyer and I loved her interrogations and cross examinations. Needless to say, Ms. Scottoline is a master of writing these scenes too. I thought these trial scenes in CORRUPTED were especially realistic and tight!

Lisa Scottoline doesn't disappoint in her latest novel CORRUPTED. It's a well-written and fast-paced story that's full of surprises. Highly recommended!

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

Mystery Mondays is a regular feature where I review all types of mystery books -- traditional mysteries, suspense/thrillers, and even cozies! Please feel free to share your thoughts on any recent mystery books that you've read.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Kid Konnection: The Trouble with Ants

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 book that's the start of a new series!

Summary: Science-obsessed fourth grader Nora has ants all figured out—now she just has to try to understand her fellow humans!

The trouble with ants is . . .
. . . people think they’re boring.
. . . they are not cuddly.
. . . who would ever want them for a pet?

Nora Alpers is using her new notebook to record the behavior of ants. Why? Because they are fascinating! Unfortunately, no one agrees with her. Her mom is not happy about them being in the house, and when Nora brings her ant farm to school for show and tell, her classmates are not very impressed. They are more interested in cat videos, basketball practice, or trying to set a Guinness World Record (although Nora wouldn’t mind that).

Mostly they are distracted by the assignment their teacher Coach Joe has given them—to write a persuasive speech and change people’s minds about something. Will Nora convince her friends that ants are as interesting as she thinks they are? Or will everyone still think of ants as nothing but trouble? -- Knopf

I just love middle grade books especially ones like THE NORA NOTEBOOKS: THE TROUBLE WITH ANTS by Claudia Mills and illustrated by Katie Kath. This is the first book in a new series, and I think it's a great start. This book was entertaining and it had some great messages!

Nora is a fourth-grader who loves ants! When she receives a new notebook, she can't wait to start recording the behavior of the ants in her new ant farm. While Nora loves ants, not everyone understands her passion for the creatures. In fact, her entire class goes crazy when she brings her ant farm to school!

It's probably obvious that Nora doesn't exactly fit in with the other fourth graders. Both of her parents and scientists and Nora loves science. The other girls in her class are more interested in watching cute cat videos, and the boys seem to be interested in sports. Nora even has friends who are boys -- that she's not crushing on. Imagine that!

Nora is one smart chickie and very determined to prove herself. So much so that she decides she wants to set the world record for being the youngest person to ever have an article published in a journal. She studies her ants, watches for behavior changes, and even makes hypotheses. She writes up her findings and sends them off to Nature magazine hoping to be published.

Meanwhile Nora's teacher, Coach Joe, gives the class an assignment to write a persuasive speech and change people's minds about something, Nora wants to convince her classmates that ants and research and science aren't boring. Based on her classmates behavior when she tried to show them her ant farm, Nora has her hands full!

I thought THE TROUBLE WITH ANTS was adorable. The book was written for a young middle grade audience, and the illustrations in each chapter were the perfect complement to the story. I loved Nora, even though (or maybe because) she was a bit quirky. And I do think boys and girls alike will appreciate her story and her passion towards something unusual.

I was impressed with how cute THE TROUBLE WITH ANTS was. There was plenty of humor in the story that will appeal to kids. The descriptions of the cat videos were hilarious, and I loved the banter between the two kids who had crushes on each other. In addition, Nora's good friends had an interesting experience of their own when their dog got skunked. Thank goodness, Nora knows a lot about science!

As a parent, I really appreciated this story. It was exactly the type of book that I would like to see kids read. Most kids will be able to relate to the characters and the story, while also being entertained with the humor and situations. In addition, there were some fantastic messages in the story. First of all, Nora shows children that it's okay to be different and have a passion for something unusual. The story also taught kids a thing or two about acceptance and friendship. Finally, I loved that this book showed the importance of science in children's lives, and especially girls' lives!

I was definitely impressed with THE TROUBLE WITH ANTS. I look forward to more of The Nora Notebooks books in the future. Highly recommended for kids ages 7 - 10.

Thanks to Blue Slip Media for providing a review copy of this novel.

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!

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Review: The Cake Therapist

Summary: A fiction debut that will leave you wanting seconds, from an award-winning cookbook author.

Claire “Neely” O’Neil is a pastry chef of extraordinary talent. Every great chef can taste shimmering, elusive flavors that most of us miss, but Neely can “taste” feelings—cinnamon makes you remember; plum is pleased with itself; orange is a wake-up call. When flavor and feeling give Neely a glimpse of someone’s inner self, she can customize her creations to help that person celebrate love, overcome fear, even mourn a devastating loss.

Maybe that’s why she feels the need to go home to Millcreek Valley at a time when her life seems about to fall apart. The bakery she opens in her hometown is perfect, intimate, just what she’s always dreamed of—and yet, as she meets her new customers, Neely has a sense of secrets, some dark, some perhaps with tempting possibilities. A recurring flavor of alarming intensity signals to her perfect palate a long-ago story that must be told.

Neely has always been able to help everyone else. Getting to the end of this story may be just what she needs to help herself. -- Berkley

I am super late with my review for THE CAKE THERAPIST by Judith Fertig. I actually read this novel over the summer when we were vacationing in the Outer Banks, but I have seriously procrastinated in putting down my thoughts. I wanted to love this book based on both the cover (one of my recent faves!) and the book's description; however, it just didn't appeal to me like I had hoped.

Neely O'Neil is a pastry chef with a special talent. She can "taste" feelings and get a glimpse into someone's life. As a result, she can come up with some amazing concoctions to help people deal with what's hurting them.

When her life is unravels, she decides to head home to Millcreek Valley and open a bakery that specializes in cakes. Because of her special skills, Neely has the ability to cater certain cakes to the customer's needs -- even making the perfect blend of cake and icing for disagreeing brides and grooms. When Neely finds that one of her "tastes" isn't quite right, she is forced to explore some dark secrets about the past while also trying to forge ahead with her future.

I tried to love THE CAKE THERAPIST but it just didn't work for me. The story had a lot of potential with the amazing descriptions and the complicated main character. I think the basic idea of the novel was sound, and I even appreciated that the author used flashbacks to reveal the past secrets; however, the two different stories took awhile coming together. I much preferred the present day story to the past, and I had issues with how much detail was used to describe everything Neely "tasted."

I will say that the descriptions of the cakes and flavors were quite appealing. Ms. Fertig is a cookbook author in addition to being a novelist, and her comfort level with food was apparent. I craved sweets the entire time I read the book -- actually from the moment I saw the gorgeous cover, and I loved the idea of Neely's bakery in her small hometown.

I hate to be so negative about this novel. It wasn't a bad book, it just wasn't my cup of tea. I did like certain parts of this story and the author's writing. What I most enjoyed about this novel was the character of Neely. I enjoyed her complexity and how she worked through her issues in her life. In addition, I appreciated how the author used magical realism in the story. I am not a huge fan of magic realism but I think it was an important part of this story. And finally, I did like that there was a mystery aspect to the novel that wasn't totally revealed until the two stories came together.

THE CAKE THERAPIST didn't quite live up to my expectations, but there is definitely an audience for this novel that will love Neely and her special skills. Recommended to fans of foodie books, magical realism, and women's fiction.

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