Saturday, November 29, 2008

Wow! Big giveaway!

No, not from me, though I have a couple to post next week :) Penguin is offering not just one book, but a BOX of books! Enter here, at Presenting Lenore, for a chance to win a boxful of YA novels.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Amadi's Snowman Giveaway!

Holly has done a great review that sums up why I loved this book! It was a bit long in text for my daughter (not quite two), but older children will love it. If you would like to win your very own copy, here's what you do:

1. Leave a comment here telling us about a book that changed the way you thought about reading. (If you were like me, and can't remember a time you didn't love reading, tell me about a book that changed the way you thought about something else.) - ONE ENTRY

2. Leave a comment on Holly's review - A BONUS ENTRY

3. Blog about this contest and tell us that you did - THREE ENTRIES!

Enter no later than Monday, December 1 at midnight, EST, and I will announce the winner on Tuesday. Good luck!

Picture Book Thursday: Virtual Blog Tour Stop!

We have a special installment of Picture Book Thursday today! A little while ago, Allison and I were contacted by Tilbury House Publishing and asked if we'd like a review copy of Amadi's Snowman by Katia Novet Saint-lot. We jumped at the chance! And then we were asked to be a stop on Katia's virtual book tour! We were very excited about that and of course said yes!

Amadi's Snowman is a delightful picture book about a young Nigerian boy who thinks he doesn't need to read to be a good businessman. Amadi runs away to the market just as his reading teacher is supposed to arrive. He spies an older boy reading a book about a snowman and becomes fascinated. The boy tells him that frozen rainwater is snow. He is chased away by the bookseller before he can find out more about snow and the snowman. He goes about his day but a whole new world has opened up for him. For the first time, he notices billboards and wonders what they say. He sees the other boys in a new light when he tells them about the snow and they have never heard of it and don't seem to care about it. He returns home to find his reading teacher has left him a present: the snowman book! In the end, he decides learning to read could be a great thing!

Saint-Lot has done a terrific job writing a story for children that more than touches the surface. Children can learn the value of learning through reading. Just as Amadi is learning about snow and another climate, my children reading Amadi's story can learn about a warmer climate where snow does not exist, and a culture very different from their own. I think this book also works well because the main character is a boy. Statistics show that boys read less than girls. This story shows a reluctant reader overcoming his assumptions about picking up a book and the joy that comes along with it.

And I have to acknowledge the illustrator, Dimitrea Tokunbo. She has done a great job of bringing Amadi to life. The images throughout the book are engaging and interesting. I really like the stylized images and how they are framed.

I only have good things to say about the book. If I had to strain hard to come up with anything, I'd just say the text is a bit on the long side, but my five year old remained engaged and very interested when I read the book to her. I believe the illustrations really drew her in. I think a 6-8 year old would really find the book interesting.

About the Author:
Author Katia Novet Saint-Lot grew up in Paris but spent her summers visiting her mother's family in Spain. She has also lived in the U.K. and the U.S. Her husband's work for UNICEF took them to Nigeria, and their experiences there provided the background for Amadi's story. They now live in India with their two daughters. As a child, Katia loved reading more than anything else. She also dreamed of becoming a writer and longed for travels to faraway places—she's now busy living her dreams with her family.

About the Illustrator:
Illustrator Dimitrea Tokunbo brings to life the day-to-day experiences of life in Nigeria, where her father grew up. "I want to represent the beauty of all children. I fell that growing up biracial, having a direct connection to two different cultures in the American context, gives my art a spirit and spark that speaks to the children who were overlooked when I was a child." Dimitrea Tokunbo illustrated two children's books for Boyds Mills Press, Sidewalk Chalk: Poems of the City by Carole Boston Weatherford, and Has Anybody Lost a Glove? by G. Francis Johnson. Tokunbo has written one children's book for Cartwheel Books (a Scholastic imprint), Together, illustrated by Jennifer Gwynne Oliver, and has a new book coming out next year with Scholastic, The Sound of Kwanzaa, illustrated by Lisa Cohen. Dimitrea enjoys visiting schools and libraries to share her stories with children. She lives in New York City with her two daughters.

Please visit Katia's blog to read all about Amadi's story and reactions about the book from around the world. You can track her global virtual tour there.

Please check back as Allison will be posting about a giveaway of Amadi's Snowman! :-)

Other Contests in the Blogosphere

S. Krishna's Books is giving away a copy of House of Daughters by Sarah-Kate Lynch. The contest ends on Sunday, Nov. 23rd.

Lisa over at Book Ahoy! is giving away 5 copies of Katie Brown Celebrates. A party cookbook just in time for the holidays! Hurry, contest ends Saturday, Nov. 22.

Jenn's Bookshelf is hosting a contest to when Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips. This contest also ends Saturday, Nov. 22. Jenn is also hosting several other contests right now too. So go check out her blog!

Tina at Bookshipper is hosting a fantastic giveaway for CBS where you could win 8 books! Go check it out here! Contest ends November 25th.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Sort of a theme

I was excited about Wicked Weaves by Joyce and Jim Levene, the first Renaissance Faire mystery featuring Jessie, a graduate student who works at the year-round Renaissance village during the summers, learning a new craft and choosing a new lover each year. This summer, she's learning basket-making from Mary, a Gullah who was exiled by her people. Mary's cousin also works in the village, and when her estranged husband turns up at the Village, strangled with one of Mary's baskets (or is it?), the police suspect Mary. Mary keeps to herself, but Jessie decides she needs to meddle and clear Mary's name, even going so far as to lie to give Mary an alibi, with no real motivation for her actions. In addition, a tedious romantic storyline takes center stage, and it goes something like this: "Oh, I can't get involved with Chase! But he's so attractive! But he has no ambition! Oh, wait, he has a BMW and a law license! Oops, I slept with him! I can't get involved with him! Oops, I slept with him again!" And on a nitpicky note (because I'm nothing if not nitpicky), Jessie has a mooch of a twin brother and makes at least two comments about how the two of them could have come from one egg. Well, unless one of them was identified with the wrong gender, they didn't, since opposite-sex twins are always fraternal, which means separate eggs. This mystery had so much potential, too. The Renaissance Faire Village is hilarious. I loved the residents who had worked there long enough to lose their sense of reality, especially a man who changed his name to Robin Hood, hangs out in Sherwood Forest, and steals toaster ovens from the rich. That's classic stuff. And the queen who takes the whole thing a little too seriously, the rules about staying in character, and the vaguely sinister monks. But all that takes a backseat to the romance. Oh, and this is a murder mystery, so there is a murder, but I felt like the murderer was wearing a neon sign flashing "I did it!" The murder also involves outsiders, which took the focus off the more interesting Ren folk. I might check reviews for the next in the series to see if the romance is less of a focus, but I was disappointed in this one.

Hard Day's Knight by Katie MacAlister: Katie MacAlister is fun. I don't read much romance, but I had fond memories of The Corset Diaries and Blow Me Down, so I picked this one up as a companion to Wicked Weaves. Now, here is Ren Faire literature done right. To my surprise, the big focus was jousting, and this isn't a parody of Ren Faires. The heroine actually decides to learn jousting, so I learned a lot about it, too, and it was fascinating. Pepper's cousin C. J., a member of the Wench organization, takes unemployed, single pepper to an international jousting competition, primarily to meet attractive men in tights. She meets a couple of sexy knights, ends up deep in jousting competition intrigue, and keeps an eye on her aunt's cat (who steals practically every scene he's in). The mystery was well-done, the characters fresh and vivid, the wit plentiful, the jousting interesting, and the book was an overall good read--a romantic comedy with jousting.

Kilt Dead by Kaitlyn Dunnett: This is the first in a series featuring Liss Maccrimmon, a Scottish dancer grounded by a knee injury who returns to Moosetookalook, Maine to help her aunt in her Scottish Emporium while she regroups. She finds her former teacher, Mrs. Norris, dead under a bolt of fabric in the store, and decides to investigate when the state police decide Liss must be guilty. She has help from Dan, an old friend, and Sherri, a part-time employee at the Scottish Emporium who is conveniently moonlighting as a police dispatcher. The mystery in this one was very well-done, complex but not confusing, with an ending that made sense, but which I didn't see coming. Liss was likable and sympathetic, and her interactions with Dan and Sherri made for pleasant, believable relationships. The ne'er-do-well brother and accusatory state cop add characters-you-love-to-hate to the mix. The Scottish component and Liss's manning the booth at the Highland Games were a fun counterpoint to small-town western Maine. An excellent first mystery--I'll be picking up the second, Scone Cold Dead.

Everyone is Beautiful by Katherine Center

I received this novel in the mail from Random House/Ballantine Books. I read it in about 2 days. It is a short, concise, and touching look at parenting with young children and marriage. I really responded to the main character Elena. She moved from her hometown of Houston to Cambridge, Massachusetts so her husband could pursue his music career/education. She was stuck in a tiny apartment with three small boys and didn't know a soul. Eventually, she meets people including an old high school acquaintance and she settles into life. She wonders how she ever became the frumpy, toddler-toting housewife she was and sets out to improve herself by joining a gym and taking a photography class. Along the way, she wonders what happened to her marriage and where it is going. As the reader, we are treated to flashback glimpses of the start of their relationship in college.

I really enjoyed this novel. It is very light, but the characters, especially Elena and Nora (their older neighbor), are rich in personality. I was with Elena every step of the way understanding the horrors of motherhood (her child biting, pooping on a dinner host's carpet, children with no filters, etc.) and the good side of it. I also fully understood and sympathized with her need to be artistic and her love of photography. I love photography myself and the things she thought were right in line with my own thinking. This would make for an excellent vacation read or when you're in the mood to escape. It's extremely short at 233 pages and you can whip through it in no time. I was very satisfied at the end. Katherine Center has also written a book entitled The Bright Side of Disaster that I think I will pick up soon. Everyone is Beautiful comes to a bookshelf near you on February 17, 2009.

In the Woods by Tana French

I have seen this book EVERYWHERE in the last year. So I'll save you the long-winded synopsis. :-) Check out these reviews if you haven't had a chance to hear about this book yet: The Written Word, The Optimistic Bookfool, or here for an infinite list of blog links.

In the Woods was our book club pick for November. Hmm....I have mixed feelings about this. I think I give it a 4 out of 5 overall. But, as usual for me, books that have a lot of hype tend to come with a lot of expectations. And I usually don't like overhyped books just because they tend to be a bit of a let-down for me. Everyone says what a page turner this was. It wasn't super slow, but I found parts of it dragging a bit and it didn't help that I was busy while trying to read this and could only sneak in 5-10 minutes here and there. So the dragging might have been more my fault than French's. She had a lyrical quality to her writing which was nice at times, and other times I was thinking, "just get on with it already". I liked the relationship between Rob/Adam and Cassie. I was a little dismayed to see how it turned out, but I supposed what happened between them was realistic and inevitable. My biggest gripe with the book is that you are left hanging about a major section of the mystery. I wanted to know what happened in the worst way. And French just left us never knowing. I was highly annoyed by that.

Otherwise, a solid book and I look forward to reading The Likeness as everyone claims its even better. Well, okay, there I go with the expectations again.

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin

I first read the Westing Game in my sixth grade English class. I remember loving it. To me at the time, it didn't seem "classic" or boring. I loved mysteries so I just thought it was fun. It didn't seem like work to read it like some other things you have to read for school. I've been wanting to read it again and was excited to pick up a copy at our library book sale.

Hmmm....reading it as an adult, I didn't like it quite so much. I still enjoyed parts of it. But it jumped around a bit for me and seemed a little disjointed. I think this was purposeful on the author's part. Maybe she wanted the reader to feel as lost as the characters did, just grabbing at tidbits of information as they came to you to try and figure out the puzzle. I really did enjoy the last third of the book though. I liked the epilogue and was satisfied with how the characters ended up.

There are some books (like Catcher in the Rye) that I read when I was younger that I just LOVED. I'm a little leery about rereading some of those because I'm afraid as an adult I won't like them as much. I sort of like hanging on to the memory of how much I did enjoy them. So sometimes I'm torn about whether to reread childhood favorites.

Also reviewed here: Blogging for a Good Book, A Reader's Journal, and The Hidden Side of a Leaf.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Alchemyst by Michael Scott

Jen Robinson's review of this book made me want to pick it up. She also said if you liked The Eight, you probably would like this one. Well, not much else she would have to say to get me hooked. :-)

This young adult novel starts off in present day when twins Sophie and Josh (whose parents are off on an archaeological dig--they are staying with an aunt) happen upon a magical fight between book store owner Nick Fleming (aka Nicholas Flamel) and bad guy Dr. John Dee. Dee is trying to steal an antique book from Fleming. The twins intervene and end up getting themselves mixed up in an ageless battle full of mythological creatures, magical powers, auras, and a plethora of other supernatural things. Sophie and Josh find themselves visiting shadowrealms and learning about dangerous creatures. Flamel thinks the twins fulfill an ancient prophecy and he sets about awakening their unknown powers. Unfortunately, Sophie is given power, but the group is interrupted before Josh can attain his. This leads to a bit of sibling rivalry and we are left with the question of whether Josh will turn to the "dark side" or stick with his sister and their newfound guardians.

Overall, I enjoyed this book. It is filled with historical references and many of the characters including Nick Fleming/Flamel were real figures, all of which I truly enjoyed. Some parts of it were long and and a bit dull. Even though there was a small battle in this book, it seems to be building toward a greater battle in the future. I'm basing this next comment off the movies and not the books (*gasp* I've never read the Lord of the Rings trilogy); This sort of reminded me a tiny bit of Lord of the Rings. Granted, it is quite different in terms of the specifics of the stories and the characters. And maybe its just the good vs. evil thing and the idea of an epic battle that reminds me of Tolkien's series. I suppose there are many good vs. evil books out there. This was about a 3.75 out of 5 for me. But I will definitely be reading The Magician to find out how the story continues. The Sorceress, the third book in the series comes out May 29, 2009.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Picture Book Thursday

Today's theme is Princesses! A very girly topic, but Allison and I both have girls so its fitting. :-) We'll start with Princess Sparkle by Nicola Baxter. This is a large-size board book, but the text is more that of a picture book. Each page has glittery metallic embellishments to accompany the story of Princess Sparkle who loves anything glittery and shiny: jewels, sequins, sparkly clothes. Everything in her castle sparkled. She left the castle one day for the first time (ever?!) and realized the world around her was dull and boring. She began to "sparkle" the world by throwing sapphires in the river to make it shine, diamonds on snowy trees, etc. until she had given all her jewels away. She was sad when she realized she was no longer Princess Sparkle until she realized she had made the world around her beautiful and so everything sparkled around her. Very cute book! And a nice book about sharing and being selfless. There are other books in this series as well: The Rainbow Fairy, The Snowflake Princess, and The Mermaid and the Star. These books can often be found as bargain books at Barnes & Noble.

Fancy Nancy has become one of my 5 year old's favorite characters. Nancy loves anything and everything fancy. She uses big words and explains what they are fancy for (example: extraordinary is a fancy for great). She loves to dress up in "fancy" outfits and loves anything French because if it's French, of course, it's fancy. In this first installment by Jane O'Connor, Nancy finds her family boring and offers them free lessons on how to be fancy. They go out to dinner all dressed up and unfortunately Nancy slips and spills their dessert all over the floor. They go home to get cleaned up and have ice cream sundaes. She realizes maybe sometimes its nice to not be so fancy. :-) There are four or five more books in the series so far. A couple of them are easy reader books if you have a beginning reader interested in Nancy. One of my favorite things about this series is that Nancy says oh-la-la and now my daughter is saying that which is highly amusing coming out of a little kid's mouth. If you're looking for a nice Christmas gift for a little girl, this book could be accompanied by a variety of Fancy Nancy toys, dress up outfits and games which I've seen at Target.

I have to admit I was not particularly excited by this book at first. But its grown on me. :-) Pinkalicious by Victoria Kann is about a little girl who eats too many pink cupcakes and wakes up with her skin turned pink. She goes to the doctor and is told to eat green food (complementary color use here) to go back to her normal skin tone. She ignores the doctor and eats more cupcakes until she pretty much turns red! At this point, she eats the green vegetables and fruit to turn back to normal. The only major gripe I have with this book is that they say green food is yucky. We have worked really hard to get our girls to eat healthy food (and still working on it) and I'm not that excited by a book telling them that healthy food is yucky. So I tend to gloss over those words and just say she needs to eat healthy green foods to get better. There is a sequel to this book called Purplicious. But I'm really NOT excited about that book. The basic premise of the story is that the little girl's favorite color is pink until her friends tell her its not cool to like pink anymore. In the end she finds another girl who likes blue and somehow she ends up mixing the colors and purple becomes her favorite color. I just don't like teaching my young daughter to listen when someone tells her something she really likes is uncool. Ella was very concerned about why the little girl couldn't like pink anymore. And why her friend didn't like pink, which incidentally, is Ella's favorite color. :-)

I realize these books are not all about actual princesses. But the girls in them like to dress up like princesses and they are all VERY girly. The last book I just want to mention. I came across it in a search and while I haven't read it, it sounds interesting to me. Don't Kiss the Frog by Fiona Waters contains six "princess stories with attitude". Here is the blurb for this book from the B&N website:
There’s a new crop of princesses in town, and these girls don’t wait for a prince to come to the rescue. Whether it’s slaying dragons or having less grace and more good sense, the heroines in these six stories put unexpected spice into traditional fairy-tale conventions. With sassy artwork and typography to match, this book is THE read-aloud or read-alone for any girl who likes her “happily ever after” with a twist.

Doesn't that sound fun! I really want to check this book out! I'll have to keep my eyes out for it. If you have read it, I would love to hear what you thought!

Next week's installment will be a little different. We'll be focusing on one book because we've been asked to be a stop on a virtual tour for it! Next week we'll be featuring Amadi's Snowman by Katia Novet Saint-Lot.


Lilah loves this book, even if it's not one of my favorites. Each page features a different Disney Princess telling the story of the "jewels" on her page. The text is just okay, but what makes this a Lilah favorite are the inset plastic "gems" or gold foil to sparkle up the story.

Lilah has really enjoyed the Karen Katz lift-the-flap books, and this non-flap book has the same style illustrations. A little girl complains that her parents never call her by her "real name," instead showering her with nicknames. On the last page, she reveals her real name, Princess Baby, while wearing a cape, crown, and scepter. It's a cute little story and Lilah loves Katz's illustrations.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Child's Play

The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey by Trenton Lee Stewart: Mr. Benedict assembles the Mysterious Benedict Society to give them a treat: he's designed a worldwide scavenger hunt. Reynie (the leader), Sticky (the knowledgeable one), Kate (the brave, resourceful one), and Constance (the youngest and most stubborn) are delighted to see each other again, but when Mr. Benedict and his assistant, Number Two, are kidnapped, they follow his clues not for fun, but to save their friends. Full of puzzles, twists, and surprising developments, this book is as much of a page-turner as the first. It's a pleasure to follow the character development in addition to the wacky adventures. Overarching themes of good vs. evil and the dangers of pursuing revenge make this more than just a fun romp (although that it is, trust me). Read the first book...first.

My review of The Mysterious Benedict Society

The Wright 3 by Blue Balliett: The second book to feature Calder, Petra, and the University of Chicago Lab School, The Wright 3 focuses on Frank Lloyd Wright, with a bit of The Invisible Man and Fibonacci numbers thrown in. Calder's friend Tommy has moved back to Chicago, and he and Petra each resent the other's friendship with Calder. They snipe at each other through the book and sulk, in a manner believable for their age. Ms. Hussey is upset at plans to dismantle Frank Lloyd Wright's Robie House and put the pieces in museums. She enlists her students in demonstrating to prevent this, in a really moving component of the book. Meanwhile, the house is behaving in odd ways, bucking workers off its roof, rippling its art glass windows, and whispering to the children. Tommy is led to a mysterious carved fish on the property, which he is tempted to sell to secure a real home for his family. Tommy and Petra withhold information from each other in a fairly tiresome way, and bumbling criminals end up doing much of the mystery-solving, but the information about Frank Lloyd Wright and The Invisible Man is interesting, and the children have a bit more character development this time, even if it's confined to the jealousy/mistrust angle. I enjoyed this, but perhaps not quite as much as Chasing Vermeer. It's another fun read that makes art relevant to children's lives, and I can't think that's a bad thing.

The Calder Game by Blue Balliett: The third time is not the charm for this series, but there were still things to like. Petra, Tommy, and Calder are now in mean Ms. Button's class. They attend an exhibit of Alexander Calder's mobiles in Chicago just before Calder heads to England with his father for a week. The trio are intrigued by a challenge to make their own mobiles. Calder and his father stays in an inn just off a square that now contains a Calder sculpture donated by a mysterious benefactor. Both Calder and the sculpture go missing, and Calder's father calls Petra and Tommy, who fly in with Mrs. Sharpe to help find Calder (after getting magical overnight passports, no less). Right, because every worried dad wants a couple of twelve-year-olds to come find his son, and their parents certainly don't feel they're sending their children out of the country into possible danger. Anyway, skating past that for a moment, Petra and Tommy look for clues in the mazes that turn up. Will they find Calder and the sculpture? Well, someone will. This one just doesn't "hang" together very well, if you'll excuse the mobile reference. Maybe part of it is the mobile angle--they turn up in one illustration, but I didn't get a real sense of them. Another problem is separating the children after a pointless beginning about their new teacher. The story dragged, and I didn't feel the wonder of the "everything's connected" the way I did with Chasing Vermeer and even The Wright 3. The children felt shunted to the background--Calder's on his own for a chunk of the book, then missing for another chunk, so I missed the way their abilities complement each other. There was no real sense of urgency in Calder's disappearance, and the summing-up at the end went on and on (three or four chapters, I believe). I'm not sure what happened here, but while it was fun in places, overall, it just didn't work for me. The best part of this book is the examination of what art is and how it should be available for all to experience, not to mention participate in. That's a great message, and I wish it were cloaked in a more carefully wrought adventure.

My review of Chasing Vermeer

When Will There Be Good News?

The latest Kate Atkinson novel, When Will There Be Good News?, is her third featuring former soldier/cop/private investigator Jackson Brodie, but Atkinson's books are so far removed from the usual mystery novel as to be beyond that genre. So while there are mystery and suspense elements, what you have is a stellar literary novel examining coincidence, interconnectedness, and the anxieties and failings of fascinating characters. I'm glad I'm not a character in an Atkinson novel--she's brutal--but I love reading her characters, who are among the most complex, most human characters in contemporary literature. In the first twelve pages, she made me care so deeply about the little family she'd sketched that I was devastated when the inevitable tragedy occurs. The survivor, a six-year-old who grows up to be Dr. Joanna Hunter, now has a baby and a husband with some dubious associations. Her "mother's help," sixteen-year-old Reggie is an orphan plagued by a bad-seed brother. Meanwhile, DCI Louise Monroe brings Dr. Hunter the news that her family's murderer is about to go free at the same time she obsesses over another "lost woman" case. Jackson Brodie, newly (and hastily) wed, ends up on the wrong train in every possible sense. When Dr. Hunter goes missing, Reggie seeks help from Jackson and Louise. I couldn't put this book down as I waited to find out Dr. Hunter's fate. The mysteries wind through the novel, and the reader can begin to see connections but won't put together all the pieces. I had my suspicions on a few matters, and though in a sense I was right, I didn't anticipate Atkinson's execution. She's always surprising, even when you know surprises are coming. A week later, I'm still musing over the brilliant ending. And her writing is lyrical yet accurate, a pleasure to read, with biting humor to ease the suspense.

Hands down, the best book I've read this year. Of course, any year Kate Atkinson releases a novel, I expect it to be the best book of that year. The first in the Jackson Brodie series is Case Histories, followed by One Good Turn. Although When Will There Be Good News? works well as a stand-alone novel, you'll want to meet the characters in the first two books first.

Monday, November 10, 2008


Being on vacation for a week, I have a lot to catch up on. I have a couple reviews to post in the near future. But for the time being I wanted to tell you that Knit Too by Kate Jacobs is coming out soon. This is the sequel to The Friday Night Knitting Club. If you're interested in the sequel hop over to The Written Word where Stephanie has reviewed the book and is giving away five ARC copies of the book!

Thursday, November 06, 2008

So you want to learn about...colors!

Lilah loves books about shapes, colors, counting, and the alphabet. Colors are always a favorite. We have tons of books about colors. Here are four favorites:

Skippyjon Jones: Color Crazy by Judy Schachner: We haven't read the "big kid" Skippyjon Jones books, so parts of this board book (and its companions about counting, opposites, and shapes) were bewildering to me. Skippyjon is a Siamese cat who (I believe) thinks he's a chihuahua. Just go with it, it works! Lilah loves these books, which incorporate a bit of Spanish. Unfortunately, although the counting book includes a page with all the numbers in English and Spanish, the colors are not given in Spanish. But that's fine. The best part of this book is its use of imagination. Skippyjon is not confined by traditional notions of color. His grass is yellow, his sun in blue, and at the end, he colors himself (Lilah's favorite: "Big mess kitty!" she laughs).

Fairy Colors by Caroline Repchuck (we also have Fairy Numbers) isn't necessarily the best book for learning colors, as the pages are colorful and it's not necessarily obvious what the colors on each page refer to. However, it's sparkly and fun, and Lilah adores it. The fairies are dressing up for the fairy ball, each page showing a different color.

This is barely a "book," with only four thick foam pages, each with a different animal in TWO colors. The best part is that the animal pops out for a young child to play with. Lilah loves these (we also have Animals and Numbers). They can go in the bath, but we haven't ever done that, actually. The animals have holes, making them easy for little fingers to pull them out, but they're a bit harder to put back in.

This has been a really fun one for Lilah (we also have Opposites and Shapes), with tabs that are fairly easy for little hands to pull out. Each page shows a closeup detail of an animal with the color name, then the tab pulls up to reveal the animal. Lilah has gotten to where she anticipates the animal and knows the fish is blue, for example. These are great for little hands, and really enjoyable for toddlers who like some interactive fun in their reading.


I'm on vacation this week and unfortunately for my Google Reader away from a wireless connection (how my mom lives with dial-up, I'll never know. I guess ignorance is bliss, right?). But I did want to add my absolute favorite color picture book to Allison's list. We LOVE The Color Box by Dayle Ann Dodds. I picked this up at the library for Lily when we were trying to teach her colors. The monkey in the book goes on a colorful journey exploring each new shade. Each page has a specific color theme with objects that are typically that color. And each page has a cut-out that gives you a preview of the next page/color. And if I remember correctly, the monkey in the book "crawls" through each hole to experience to the new color. I just loved this book (maybe even more than my daughter) and highly recommend it!

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Death by Cashmere by Sally Goldenbaum

Death by Cashmere is the first in Sally Goldenbaum's Seaside Knitters series (she is also the author of the Queen Bees Quilt mystery series), and it's a lovely introduction to Sea Harbor, Massachusetts and the knitting group that meets in Izzy's shop. This charming story begins after Izzy has moved back to Sea Harbor, abandoning her law career to open a knitting shop. Her aunt Nell, Nell's elderly friend Birdie (a hoot!), and lobsterwoman Cass get together one evening a week to share food, gossip, and knitting time. When Angie, who lives above Izzy's shop, is found drowned, her beautiful red hair tangled in one of Cass's lobster pots, the police in Sea Harbor are quick to assume the culprit is a random act by an outsider. The knitting group senses something is wrong in their little town, and they want it fixed so they can feel safe again.

Sea Harbor is the kind of town I love to read about: truly close-knit and caring, families who have lived there for generations, and in one of my favorite locales, New England. It's a bonus that the picturesque seaside town gives Goldenbaum plenty of opportunities to demonstrate her gift for descriptive writing. Nell, Cass, Izzy, and Birdie are well-developed characters with interesting backstories eased into the narrative. Goldenbaum gives them plenty of scenes to interact in smaller groups, with secondary characters, and as a quartet, which made them feel like real people. They have distinct personalities and a rich group dynamic. When they talk about the murder and begin investigating, it's not the pushy, overt "I must solve this crime myself" investigation that I've come to expect from amateur sleuths. Their efforts are more organic, arising from their fear for their community, and the pieces of the puzzle are slow to drop in place to form a satisfying conclusion. Sea Harbor is more developed than I expect in a mystery, with great secondary and even tertiary characters who give the reader a real sense of the place. The mystery was engaging, but at times I would be immersed in Sea Harbor, then suddenly be reminded that I was reading a murder mystery. This made the book an even more complex, fun read for me, but readers who like the murder at the forefront and are not as interested in getting to know the town and characters may find the book slow-moving.

Goldenbaum seems unconcerned with the conventions of contemporary cozy mysteries, and I found that refreshing. She eschews the usual youngish, single point-of-view character who spends much of her time looking for a guy (though, don't get me wrong, I enjoy plenty of those) in favor of Nell, Izzy's aunt, who is happily married. There is a sweet bit of romance for Izzy, but it's in the background. The mystery is complex and satisfying, with numerous threads that come together nicely. There is no sense of imminent danger to the sleuths (I often find those scenes to be annoying in other mysteries), and no confront-the-killer ending. I found the writing and editing to be excellent, and I found very little to nitpick there. One annoyance is in the dialogue: the characters frequently refer to each other by name while they're speaking to each other, and no one talks that way. I found that I could skim past the references without my inner Grammar Nerd going nuts. There was a reference to a "unique, one-of-a-kind sweater" that made me grimace, but for the most part, the writing and editing were great (not always true of cozy mysteries). None of these little things diminished my pleasure in reading, though as someone who cooks, I'm still scratching my head over an herbed spinach frittata apparently made with cumin and coriander AND topped with parmesan AND sour cream. And I have a bone to pick with whoever approved the jacket copy, which makes it seem that Izzy is the point-of-view character, not even mentioning Nell's name! I spent the first few pages annoyed at the wandering POV, only to realize that the misleading jacket copy was the problem.

To sum up, Death by Cashmere is a thoroughly enjoyable start to a new mystery series, and I highly recommend it to knitters, mystery readers, readers of women's fiction, and anyone who enjoys a cozy visit to a small town.