Saturday, January 31, 2009


Teddy Rose over at So Many Precious Books, So Little Time is giving away five copies of Robert Hellenga's book The Italian Lover. She has lots of chances to win so go check it out!

I'm really hoping I win this one! Hellenga is a professor at the college I went to! He published Sixteen Pleasures while I was there. It's been fun to see his popularity grow.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Savvy by Ingrid Law

Savvy, by Ingrid Law, was one of the books I received in my big box of Penguin books from Presenting Lenore and it is a winner. Ingrid Law spins a delightful yarn that manages at once to be contemporary and timeless. Her aw-shucks wordplay gives the story the feel of a tall tale, but the characters are easy for contemporary readers to relate to. In Mississippi (Mibs for short) Beaumont's family, the children receive a "savvy" on their thirteenth birthday. Her brother Fish created such a powerful hurricane with his savvy that the family had to move inland while he learned to control ("scumble") it. So it's easy to understand why the Beaumonts are homeschooled once they reach thirteen, but while this is accepted by the characters, it seems a bit lonely. When Mibs's father is hospitalized shortly before her thirteenth birthday, she fervently prays for a savvy that can save him. When a long-dormant pet turtle wakes up that morning, Mibs decides that her savvy must be waking things up and she must get to her father immediately. She hides out in the bus driven by a Bible salesman, but she's not alone. Her brothers and the preacher's kids are along for the ride. Law spins out a lovely journey with this odd crew, and along the way, Mibs learns about her savvy, which turns out to be just what is needed. This is a charming coming-of-age story, a tall tale, and a journey, packaged in irresistible language, and it's hard to put down. Mibs is a delight and her earnest desire to save her father understandably blinds her to the truth and sends her on a reckless (but memorable) journey. I predict that Savvy will become a classic.

Note: Savvy is a 2009 Newbery Honor Book! I will have to check out Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book, which won the Newbery Award this year. For the full list of Newbery Award Winners and Newbery Honor books, click here.

The Double Bind by Chris Bohjalian

The Double Bind was our January book club pick. I actually suggested this one to the group after reading reviews about it. To me it sounded like a multi-layered interesting book and it is tied to the classic The Great Gatsby.

The novel opens with nineteen year old Laurel going on a bike ride in rural Vermont. Two men come upon her and assault her. She does everything possible to fend off the men and is saved from death by three other men biking along who scare the assailants away. From this opening we meet up with Laurel several years later working in a homeless shelter as a social worker. She becomes enamored with the photographs of a schizophrenic client, Bobbie Crocker who passes away. The photographs span decades and include famous faces such as Dick Van Dyke, past presidents, jazz musicians and Jay Gatsby. There are also a few photos of the client as a boy. Laurel is given the job of organizing an exhibit of these photographs as a way to bring the homeless shelter into the public eye. Laurel becomes obsessed with Crocker's photos and finding out who he was. She's convinced that Crocker was indeed Robert Buchannon, son of Tom and Daisy Buchannon, characters in The Great Gatsby. All of this begins a frenetic spiral into a world filled only with linking Crocker to the world of Gatsby. Laurel's boss, boyfriend and friends all become worried about her as she becomes more obsessed with the photographs.

As you read, you can tell the book is building up to quite an ending, you're just not quite sure what it is. Then all of sudden it twists and hits you. I won't reveal anymore because I don't want to ruin it for anymore. I liked this book quite a bit and enjoyed how it related to The Great Gatsby. In fact, I believe I will reread Gatsby in the near future. I haven't read it since I was a junior in high school. I really like the modern take on an old classic. And although I somewhat saw the twist at the end coming it wasn't entirely predictable to me and I was satisfied with it. The end also made me go back and reread short sections of the book to see if I saw it in a new light. I would recommend this one to anyone looking for a book with a little more depth.

Unfortunately, I cannot report how the rest of the book club felt about the book because our meeting was canceled. But we plan to discuss it next month when we meet to discuss Stephanie Meyer's Twilight. Yes, I have resisted the Twilight bandwagon for this long. I knew the only way I would read it was through book club. It is not because I think its going to be bad. I just am not that excited about vampires in general as a subject. And I'm a little worried I will be annoyed by Bella's whininess from other reviews I have read. But I plan to delve into the book on a very long plane ride. We'll see what I think of it. I may have to rush out and read the rest of them. I'll be sure to report back on that one!

Other reviews of The Double Bind:
A Life in Books
The Hidden Side of a Leaf
Girls Just Reading (This is the review that made me add this to my TBR list)

One False Note by Gordon Korman

Allison wrote a great review of the second book in the 39 Clues series. I won't go into the synopsis but will say, I enjoyed the second installment. I agree with Allison's assessment that this series is a bit like a boy band. :-) It seems like a bit of a fad in a way. I'm not sure of the lasting power of these books. However, they are entertaining for now and I'm sure kids are loving reading them. I enjoyed the story leading the children to Venice (one of my all-time favorite cities) in this book. I'm a little puzzled with the series though. So far, the children have discovered only one or two clues per book. At some point the pace must pick up because there are only 10 books slated for the series.

Each book in this series is written by a different author. I am curious to see how the voice or story changes from author to author or if it stays fairly consistent. So far I didn't see a huge difference in the style of writing between Rick Riordan and Gordon Korman. I believe the third book The Sword Thief by Peter Larangis comes out March 3rd. Larangis is an unfamiliar author to me. A quick search on Amazon shows he writes two main series: Spy X and Watchers, both received very good reviews and sound interesting to me. I may have to look more into him. Now see, 39 Clues is working its marketing magic. I'm being exposed to an author I've never heard of and thinking about checking out his books. I have a feeling I'm a publisher's dream. :-) I would be very interested to hear others' comments if they have read any of Peter Larangis' books.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Picture Book Thursday

I talked Holly into doing an animal edition of Picture Book Thursday since Lilah has so many great penguin books!

The Penguin Who Wanted to Sparkle by Sophie Groves and Kath Smith: This is a sweet, simple tale about Pip, a baby penguin who wants to sparkle. She plays with her friends and discovers that the sunshine makes the snow sparkle. The pages have sparkly bits on them that Lilah loves. The illustrations are lovely, and the story is cute. We picked this up as a bargain book, and I'm glad we did!

Where Is Home, Little Pip? by Karma Wilson and Jane Chapman: The team that brought us to wonderful series of books that starts with Bear Snores On tackles penguins. As expected, the illustrations are gorgeous, and the story, of a lost little penguin looking for home, has a happy ending.

Little Penguin's Tale by Audrey Wood: This has Wood's trademark whimsical illustrations, and a really, really funny story. Grand Nanny Penguin decides to tell the youngsters a cautionary tale about a penguin who didn't listen to his Grand Nanny's stories. He goes off and has wonderful adventures, but Grand Nanny gets a bit carried away and says he's eaten by a whale. When the youngsters are horrified, she backtracks, retelling the end. Lilah gets all worked up at the whale part: "Mama! Whale eat Ping in his mouth!" but when I assure her that the whale didn't eat the penguin, she seems fine with it.

Your Personal Penguin is a board book/free song download from Sandra Boynton. Davy Jones of the Monkees sings the sweet song, which is illustrated in the board book as the story of a penguin who just wants to be the hippo's friend. We used to play this song or sing it aloud when Lilah was upset as a baby, and it magically calmed her every time. She still loves it! The song is also on Blue Moo, the fourth musical by Boynton, but the board book is worth having for younger kids.


Well, Allison tried to talk me into an animal post...but I couldn't settle on one animal. We have a lot of bear books and cat books. But that wasn't exciting me today. So I just started to pick out books that we liked that were animal-related. Turns out I do have a theme! They all started with "L", well, sort of. You'll see below. :-)

Okay, so Ladybugs are not really animals but they are still fun. Two of our ladybug favorites are The Very Lazy Ladybug by Isobel Finn and Jack Tickle (is Tickle a real last name??) and The Ladybug Girl by David Soman. The Very Lazy Ladybug is a pop-up book where a ladybug cannot fly because all she did was sleep all day and night. She tries riding on different animals (kangroo, tiger, crocodile, etc) to travel on her way until an elephant sneezes shooting her in the air and she finally learns to fly. The pop-ups are quite fun as are the illustrations. Hard not to like this book.

Okay okay, The Ladybug Girl doesn't really have an animal in it (well, the little girl has a dog that follows her around). But it follows my theme of "L" things and is a really cute book so I'm throwing it in. We don't own this one, but discovered it while browsing at the book store. Lulu's older brother doesn't want her to play with him because she's too little so she becomes Ladybug Girl and finds her own fun right in her own backyard. Great book showing how entertaining it can be to use your imagination and make your own fun. The sequel entitled Ladybug Girl and Bumblebee Boy comes out March 5th!

We like books with our names in it around here. My daughter Lily received Lily + the Imaginary Zoo by Seneca Clark and Sandy Giardi as a gift. I mostly put it on her wishlist because it had her name in it. I was so pleased when we received it. The story follows Lily and her mom around Boston. They visit the Boston Public Library, where the lion out front comes to life and reads a book with Lily. A tortoise and hare statue in Copley Square race with her. She feeds the "ducks" in the Public Garden and plays with a donkey statue near old city hall. Lily literally turns famous statues/animals into her own personal zoo! The illustrations are almost collage-looking and simplistic enough to look similar to children's drawings. There is a Boston map in the back of the book and a little blurb about each of the sculptures Lily visits. This would be a fantastic book for kids visiting Boston or perhaps homeschoolers learning about Boston or the East Coast.

The last book is actually part of a series by the San Diego Zoo. Baby Lion #12 in the San Diego Zoo Animal Library. These are little board books with photos of the featured animal provided by the Zoo. Each contains facts about the animal's family, food, and habitat. If your little one has a favorite animal I'm sure you can find it in this series. The publisher also contributes 7% of the proceeds from the books to support global conservation programs. I just discovered there is a SeaWorld Library as well with aquatic animals. And yes, Allison, they have Baby Penguin! :-)

Sunday, January 25, 2009

YA Weekend, Part Two

I'm not deliberately creating a theme of reading books in pairs, with one I love followed by one I'm less enthusiastic about, but it happened again after the National Book Award post. Artichoke's Heart was a beautiful, rich coming-of-age story about an engaging, wry heroine, while Beautiful Americans was more like a soap opera. A superficial soap opera. I received both of these in my delightful box of books from Penguin I won at Presenting Lenore.

Artichoke's Heart by Suzanne Supplee
Rosemary Goode (nicknamed "Artichoke" by the popular Bluebirds the day she wears an unfortunately green, puffy jacket) received an unwanted treadmill for Christmas, attends a "Fat Girl" conference paid for by her size 0 Aunt Mary, and is enrolled in a weight-loss counseling program by her mother. By the time Rosemary has finished "getting back" at her mom and Aunt Mary with cheese curls and Hershey bars, she's gained another 13 pounds. She's now over 200 pounds and has a single pair of pants that fit--sweats. All her mother's and Aunt Mary's efforts are wasted until Rosemary decides herself to lose the weight. And it's not an easy journey. Her mother is diagnosed with cancer while Rosemary is denied her usual coping mechanism--food. Kyle, her dream guy, shows interest in her, but she can't understand why. Meanwhile, she develops an unlikely (to Rosemary) friendship with the lovely, popular Kay-Kay (who eventually proves too nice to stay popular), which challenges her previous assumptions that popular, thin people are happy with no insecurities of their own.

Supplee absolutely nails the "fat girl" relationship to food, insecurities, feelings of "I don't deserve this" and hopelessness that make losing weight so hard. Her Aunt Mary, exasperated, asks how hard it can be to just not eat something? This illustrates the complete inability of the naturally thin to understand the difficulties of losing weight. Rosemary is funny, wry, and insightful, and Supplee makes her a complex heroine relatable to anyone, fat or thin. Rosemary's gradual gain of self-esteem and her friendships with Kyle and Kay-Kay are lovely and believable. She's a girl so likable that I couldn't help but cheer her on. This story was so much more rich and developed than it would have been in less capable hands: Rosemary finds insight into even negative, interfering Aunt Mary's insecurities, and her mother's battle with cancer (and the way she protects her daughter) add another dimension. A lovely, rich, realistic coming-of-age story that should be required reading for junior high and high school students.

Beautiful Americans by Lucy Silag
This took forever for me to get through, and I was delighted when I reached the last page. The premise was promising: four teenagers head to Paris for a year abroad, each bringing his or her own baggage. The structure made it tedious and superficial. Four first-person points of view are used: Alex, a truly hideous name-dropping, fashion-obsessed, know-it-all rich girl; Zack, a closeted gay boy suffocated by his born-again family and closed-minded Southern hometown; PJ, who is escaping family crises that are alluded to in annoying dribs and drabs; and Olivia, who is perfectly nice, loyal to her long-distance boyfriend and autistic younger brother, seeking a dance scholarship. Unfortunately, in a 300-page book, that's 75 pages per voice, so it's more like a single episode of a soap opera than a complete novel. The timeline is a bit jumpy, too, sometimes slipping back between voices, sometimes skipping ahead a bit, so that every chapter I had to regroup to figure out "who, where, and when" again. I cringed at every Alex chapter, since she was so thoroughly unlikable that I was glad when her mother cut off her Amex account. PJ was fine, but the family drama she left behind is never really completely established, and her drama with her host family was overblown. Zack and Olivia were both sympathetic characters, but with only 75 pages each, their changes seem abrupt and I didn't have the chance to get to know them that well. Paris is the backdrop, but with so many points of view to manage, the city takes a backseat. The book ends on a huge cliffhanger that in a more adept effort would have had me pre-ordering the sequel, but I can't be bothered to read any more in this series.

YA Weekend

I don't know, I've had some good alliteration going with Mystery Monday, so I thought I'd try YA Weekend since I have several to post.

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart
I'd come across this book in a few different places, and I'm so glad I picked it up in the last post-Christmas gift-card-fueled trip to Borders. This is an unusual coming-of-age tale, a chronicle written after the events that unfold in the narrative, giving witty, insightful foreshadowing that made the events themselves even more delicious to read about. Frankie Landau-Banks, privileged sophomore at a posh boarding school, has always tried to be sweet and accommodating, but something snaps when her boyfriend, coveted senior Matthew, blows her off one too many times to hang out with "the guys." Frankie wonders if Matthew actually respects her, or if he most values her adorable sweetness. After some basic surveillance, she discovers that he's a member of the Order of the Basset Hound, the very exclusive, all-male secret society to which her own father belonged. After giving Matthew several openings to tell her about the Society, she decides on a different tack: infiltration. The "disreputable history" that follows this decision is brilliant, funny and subversive, as Frankie turns the lax Society into a real secret society, performing pranks she learns from the disreputable histories of the Bassets and other secret societies, infusing the beer-drinking, cigarette-smoking group with a mission of social commentary and changing outdated traditions.

Lockhart's snappy writing and Frankie's appealing earnestness make this book a delight to read. I couldn't wait to find out what happened, but I also didn't want it to end. Frankie is a complex heroine searching for her place in the world. By the end of the events chronicled here, she is well on her way to finding out the kind of person she'd like to be. She's gained perspective on tradition, vandalism, exclusivity, and social norms, and she makes us think about them, too. What traditions are worth keeping? What social rules should be respected and which should be challenged? Frankie's search for answers is satisfying and wickedly funny.

What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell
I had a hard time getting into this book. It does have an appealing, noir-ish feel, but the heavy foreshadowing (along with overdone 1940s slang) felt clunky to me, and by the time the events foreshadowed were clear, it felt anti-climactic. The first several chapters were filled with foreshadowing and mood, but little else. I didn't really get to know the heroine (if that's the right word), Evie, so she wasn't enough to pull me through the obvious, though mildly interesting, intrigue. Evie's stepfather comes home from WWII and promptly begins a successful business venture. After a few calls from an "army buddy," he drags the family to Florida, where they meet up with a nice couple, the Graysons (the woman takes Evie shopping; the man may have a business proposition for Evie's stepfather) and Peter, the very "army buddy" they left New York to avoid. Evie (who is 15, mind you) promptly develops a crush on 23-year-old Peter, who reveals the truth behind her stepfather's activities in the war. Eventually, Peter and Evie's parents go off on a boat trip together, just before a hurricane strikes, and the obvious happens, giving Evie a big decision to make. The subplots with the Graysons and Wally seemed more convenient than anything else, and I wasn't thrilled with the ending. I'm giving this three stars for the well-established period mood and discussion possibilities.

Note: The Disreputable History... had a National Book Award Finalist sticker on it, so I looked up what the winner could possibly have been. I was shocked to find that What I Saw... had won. To me, there is no contest between these two coming-of-age stories, so I'm mystified by the outcome of the awards.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Savvy Giveaway

I just came across this blog: Book Dads: Fathers That Read! How cool is that?! I think its great that dads are blogging about reading.

And not only that, but they are hosting a giveaway for the book Savvy by Ingrid Law. Hop on over to enter the contest and check out their blog.

This book sounds really good. It is short listed for a Cybil award and is getting Newberry buzz. Check out Maw Books excellent review here.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Disappearance by Efrem Sigel

I was delighted to receive this novel through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer program. From the first paragraph of lush, gorgeous prose, in which Sigel describes Joshua running toward the light in The Hollow, I knew this would be a heartbreaking, yet uplifting book. The title is a bit misleading, as the mystery behind the disappearance of 14-year-old Dan Sandler plays second fiddle to its aftermath in the lives of his parents, Joshua and Nathalie. I knew what the resolution to the disappearance would be, but that’s not the point, and the flawless pacing made The Disappearance extremely difficult to put down. The suspense is relentless, fueled by dips into the past that begin to shed frustrating shafts of light on a mystery that at first is in absolute darkness. No one saw anything the day that Dan disappeared. There is no physical evidence of any kind. Over weeks and months, as hope fades and Nathalie and Joshua fall apart both separately and as a family, pinpoints of light reveal murky connections and slim clues. I’m normally resigned to reading in fits and starts, but I desperately wanted to shut myself in my room and read this book in one go. I stayed up far too late to find out if Joshua and Nathalie would find closure, or at the very least, a way to move on.

The Sandlers are newcomers to their summer home of The Hollow, a hamlet outside the little town of Smithfield, Massachusetts. When they return to their real lives in New York after the disappearance, Joshua throws himself into work while maintaining a grueling schedule of investigation in The Hollow: calling the police chief twice a day, spending his weekends interrogating neighbors. Nathalie’s cello sits untouched as she plunges into depression. Their opposing responses to uncertainty and grief push them further and further apart. The struggle of parents following a child’s death or disappearance is a story that’s been told a thousand times, but Sigel’s portrayal is fresh and realistic, and Nathalie and Josh are shown so clearly that their agony is almost unbearable. It is a credit to Sigel that I, too, held out hope for a happy ending to Dan’s disappearance.

The small town is drawn beautifully. The police chief, Sammons, is not the usual bumbling hick portrayed in small-town law enforcement. He is thorough and determined, and most importantly, he cares deeply and never gives up on finding answers for the Sandlers. Information about the townspeople is dribbled out in a realistic, non-intrusive fashion. Coupled with Sigel’s gift for description, this makes for a richly nuanced image of The Hollow and its inhabitants.

In The Disappearance, Efrem Sigel has crafted a haunting, beautiful novel of tragedy’s aftermath, with deeply human characters and a satisfying resolution. Pick it up on February 1 or pre-order it here.

A Publisher's Weekly interview with Efrem Sigel here.

Don't Forget To Enter!

The contest for Death by Bikini and Death by Latte by Linda Gerber has gotten buried in posts, so I wanted to remind you that you have ONE WEEK left to enter to win this pair of fun YA mysteries. Click here for the contest post!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Mystery Monday!

I'm on a roll with Mystery Monday posts!

I picked up Raiders of the Lost Corset, the fourth Crime of Fashion mystery by Ellen Byerrum, purely for the title, and in total violation of my "read the series in order" rule. The series hadn't really appealed to me, since fashion talk makes my eyes glaze over, but this title made it worth trying. The series focuses on Lacey Smithsonian, fashion reporter for a low-rent newspaper in Washington, D.C. In this installment, Lacey's friend, corsetiere Magda Rousseau, is murdered. In her dying breath, she asks Lacey to look for the treasure she'd sought her whole life--a corset taken from the body of a Romanov princess. Lacey follows some strange clues to try to find the treasure while not getting killed herself. A mysterious bad guy named Kepelov (probably ex-KGB) and a British guy (Nigel) follow Lacey around as she seeks the corset in Paris, then New Orleans. A few personal issues cluttered up the story. Byerrum seems to be juggling two sidekicks, so Lacey goes with lawyer/conspiracy theorist Brooke and her weird boyfriend to Paris, then Brooke disappears and punk hairstylist Stella accompanies Lacey to New Orleans. That was weird to me, and made for a disjointed narrative. Why not stick with one? Or have both come along? I assume if I read the first three books in the series, maybe that will make more sense. The other issue was Lacey's boyfriend, Vic, who I believe is a Colorado cop? I don't know. Anyway, they were broken up, but he shows up in Paris, punches Nigel (whom he knew in prep school, apparently), and he and Lacey are back together. They were a nauseating pair, really, and a whole subplot involving an invitation for Lacey to meet Vic's family at Thanksgiving (and bringing dessert!) goes nowhere, as the book ends before Thanksgiving. So that was a pointless subplot, really. Despite this excess baggage weighing down the narrative, I actually enjoyed the scavenger hunt sort of plot, and the travel to Paris and New Orleans. Lacey's fashion columns were cute and funny. But the ending had a plot "twist" that I had been waiting for the entire book. It was pretty obvious, and I wasn't thrilled with the resolution. A cute mystery with funny parts. I might give the first three books a try sometime.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Big Box of Books Giveaway!

Presenting Lenore is hosting a contest for another box of 8+ YA books from Penguin! Allison was fortunate enough to be the big winner when Lenore hosted a similar contest in November! I doubt the same blog would be lucky enough to win it twice, but here's to trying! :-) Go check it out!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Just for fun!

What Kind of Reader Are You?
Your Result: Dedicated Reader

You are always trying to find the time to get back to your book. You are convinced that the world would be a much better place if only everyone read more.

Book Snob
Literate Good Citizen
Obsessive-Compulsive Bookworm
Fad Reader
What Kind of Reader Are You?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz

Friday, January 16, 2009

Tournament of Books 2009

The list is up! Follow the Tournament here.

The Morning News 2009 Tournament of Books Contenders

The White Tiger, Aravind Adiga
2666, Roberto Bolano
A Partisan’s Daughter, Louis de Bernieres
The Northern Clemency, Philip Hensher
The Lazarus Project, Aleksandar Hemon
My Revolutions, Hari Kunzru
Unaccustomed Earth, Jhumpa Lahiri
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, E. Lockhart
Shadow Country, Peter Matthiessen
The Dart League King, Keith Lee Morris
A Mercy, Toni Morrison
Steer Towards Rock, Fae Myenne Ng
Netherland, Joseph O’Neill
City of Refuge, Tom Piazza
Home, Marilynne Robinson
Harry, Revised, Mark Sarvas

I have read NOT A SINGLE one of these! I've had The White Tiger, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, and Harry, Revised on my radar. Of course, I still haven't read most of last year's ToB books, either. I may try to read at least a couple before March!

Putting the "Me" in "Memoir"

If it weren't a book club pick, I would have skipped Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. I'm not a big memoir fan (although Julie Andrews's memoir has been on my TBR list, but then, she's had a long, interesting life already--Gilbert is in her thirties). Other people's spiritual journeys CAN be interesting to read, but I didn't have high hopes for this one. And last, I view the "Oprah" sticker as more a warning label than a marketing tool (I have every respect for Oprah, but I've discovered we have vastly different tastes in literature.) I found it predictably self-centered (but that's memoir, isn't it?) and overly long, but there were enjoyable parts.

The premise wasn't promising to me: A thirtysomething goes through a messy divorce and crushing depression and decides to spend a celibate year "finding herself" in Italy (by eating pasta), India (at an Ashram), and Indonesia (by living with a medicine man). I actually really liked Elizabeth Gilbert, who is funny and wry and describes depression in a very believable, sympathetic way. Then I discovered that she didn't just head off on a spiritual journey and come home desperate to share it in a book. She pitched her travel plan to a publisher, who gave her a book advance to underwrite her trip! Most "real" people don't have their spiritual journey sponsored by a major publisher, and running away from her problems to find spiritual enlightenment on other continents isn't really a model that normal people can follow. So this knowledge really tainted the book for me. On top of that, she decides to organize it into 3 sections of equal length, for a total of 108 chapters (there's a reason, but it's really not that interesting). This makes for weird pacing. The India part felt interminable, in part because she gives up her idea of traveling around, so it's 36 chapters JUST at the Ashram. And she adds kind of unrelated stories to her Indonesia "search for balance."

I really liked bits of this book. Her Italy travels were interesting when she wasn't whining about her rebound lover ("I love David! But David always pulls away when I get clingy! But the sex was great! But I wasn't fulfilled!" and blah blah blah) or lusting after hot young Italian guys. Things really slowed down in India because really, life at an Ashram isn't that exciting. And frankly, she could have done this at an Ashram in New York, for all she experiences in India. Her buddy there is an annoying Texan who calls her "Groceries." And Gilbert herself complains about spiritual memoirs being boring in their descriptions of spiritual awakenings. I have to agree after reading her going on and on about hers. In Indonesia, things picked back up, and I realized I was enjoying her writing again. It took me a minute to figure out why. In India, Gilbert decides to take a vow of silence, which she quickly rescinds. But she muses that maybe she should talk about herself less. It's when she tells the stories about interesting people in Indonesia that I enjoyed it the most. Obviously, she didn't actually internalize her resolution, given how excessively long the book is and how filled with "Me, me, me!" And I soured on the Indonesia part when she goes on and on about a land deal she royally messed up, then capitulates to a determined Brazilian guy's constant suggestions of having sex. (By the way, I did NOT need to know about her fantasies about certain ex-presidents. Ew.) This is where it just got nauseating, reading about him telling her over and over that she's beautiful, but that's not the worst part. The worst part is that she had committed to celibacy while she "found herself," and she couldn't even stick to that for a year. And after she goes on and on in the Italy part about how she loses herself when she's in a relationship, I was so disappointed that she seemed to forget about that entirely.

Is it a good sign that I got so mad at this book? I don't really think so. There will be a lot to talk about at book club, I suppose, but ultimately, this was an unpleasant read. And not in the "I'm being challenged" or "It's emotionally difficult to read" way. The underlying premise and structure did not work for me, and the whole book felt pointless after I read the ending. I know that a lot of people love this book, but it's not one I'd recommend.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Timothy and the Dragon's Gate by Adrienne Kress

If you've read Alex and the Ironic Gentleman, you will want to pick this sequel up immediately. If I had to pick one word to describe Adrienne Kress's novels, it would be quirky. Or maybe whimsical. She's an excellent writer with a fantastic imagination, and her books are genre-crossing fun. In a way, Timothy and the Dragon's Gate was easier to read because I knew to expect the unexpected. Timothy, at age eleven, has been kicked out of every school in town, basically for being too smart for his own good. His dad takes him to work one day, and Timothy lands a surprising internship with the CEO. But the real surprises are yet to come because the mail clerk is a dragon trapped in human form. He needs Timothy's help to reach China, where he can be freed by passing through the dragon's gate before the New Year celebrations are over. Ninjas, killer monks, and mysterious black taxicabs make this a difficult task. Fortunately, Timothy's mother lives on the coast and Timothy's father is called out of town, so they're not around to inhibit his adventures. And what adventures! A fish herder (yes, you read that correctly), a hijacked plane, a pirate ship...these are just the beginning. When Timothy reaches China, the journey is far from over. Timothy, who has always blamed his mother, his father, his teachers, anyone but himself, will have to own up to his mistakes and follow through with something, but the moral lesson doesn't bash the reader over the head.

A fantastic adventure, very hard to put down, and a worthy follow-up to Alex and the Ironic Gentleman.

Picture Book Thursday

We're back! We took a few weeks off and decided maybe we would run this feature maybe every other week or so. :-) We're going to review "just for fun" books today.

My three-year old really loves Laura Numeroff's If You Give A.... Series. For Christmas she received If You Give a Cat a Cupcake paired with a cupcake themed nightgown (how cute!!!). This one has actually become my favorite in the series. Maybe it is just because I'm a cat person. ;-) But the kitty in the book is so animated and cute and I love the scenarios he gets the little girl into. They go to the beach, the gym, a boat, a merry-go-round, the science museum and back home again. I think we've also read Give a Mouse a Cookie and Give a Pig a Pancake. While we really enjoyed those, this one is my favorite just because it gets out of the house and goes to all those different places. My kids really enjoy any of these books and I look forward to future installments in this series.
This next book, Glitter Critters by Dave Carter is just a really cool book. It's a pop-up book with some real animals (snake, parrot, fish) and some imaginary animals like the Liger (a combination of a tiger and a lion), a Glitterfly, and Snaggle Tooth Lou. Each page contains a cute little rhyme and the animal jumps off the page, sometimes 6-8 inches off the page! The pop-ups are fantastic! The bright colors are great and "glitter" is fun. There is not a lot of depth to this book, but it is a real treat to look at.

The last book for me today is a favorite for my girls and for me! Llama Llama Mad at Mama by Anna Dewdney. I keep thinking I reviewed this one already, but I searched the blog and didn't see it. So if I did review it before, you get treated to it again. Tells you how much I recommend it, right? :-) This is the sequel to Llama Llama Red Pajama (which we haven't had the opportunity to read yet). In this book, Llama Llama and his mama go shopping at the shop-o-rama. He is very bored with shopping and decides to have a tantrum in the store. His mother makes him help clean and tells him the shopping will go much faster if he goes shopping with Mama. It is a very sweet book filled with emotions and great rhyming pages. I highly recommend it. And I just discovered there is a new one coming out, March 19, 2009! Llama Llama Misses Mama about Llama Llama's first day of preschool. I can', I mean, we can't wait for it! And this just reminded me to request the first book from the I go!


"Just for fun" usually means "lift the flap" at our house! Lilah loves the oversized lift-the-flap books, so I'll share a couple of her favorites.

I've mentioned Lisa McCue's adorable animal illustrations before. They're really sweet, and the whole family loves them. Fuzzytail Friends Lift-and-Look Animal Book teaches children about mother and baby animals on the farm, counting in the garden, animal habitats (although I'm not sure that "snake hidey-hole" is the technical term...), and nocturnal/diurnal animals. There are lots of flaps to lift, and Lilah loves finding the animals.

No Elmo fan's library is complete without this Elmo's Favorite Places: A Lift and Learn Flap Book. We have several Sesame Street lift-the-flaps, and this is probably the favorite. The colors are bright, it's new enough to have Zoe and Abby, and each page has something new to learn: matching, colors, shapes, and a really cool double-page spread with one flap for every letter of the alphabet. The flaps are sturdier than in our other oversized Sesame Street lift-the-flap books (Lift and Peek Around the Corner, Elmo's Big Lift and Look Book), although we like those, too! A smaller Sesame Street lift-the-flap book is worth mentioning: Where Is Elmo's Blanket, which has a story told using the flaps.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Knit Two by Kate Jacobs

I won an ARC copy of Knit Two by Kate Jacobs from Amanda's giveaway over at A Patchwork of Books. I was so excited to win! I think I entered every contest I could find to win a copy of this book! I really loved the first book The Friday Night Knitting Club (well, except for the ending of course) so I was looking forward to revisiting the characters and finding out how they were five years later. I delved in and while it wasn't a waste of time to read it. It was a bit disappointing after the first book.

We visit Walker and Daughter yarn shop five years later where Peri is managing the shop and her pocket book business is taking off, Anita and Marty are making a life for themselves and getting married, Dakota is in her first year of college and not sure she wants her future to be the yarn shop, Darwin is pregnant with twins, Catherine has reinvented herself as an antiques dealer, Lucie is dealing with her successful career, raising her 5 year old daughter, and dealing with an aging mother. (That is quite possibly the longest sentence every written.)

I have to say, this book is a little disjointed, doesn't flow as well as the first and well, to be honest, did little to really hold my attention. However, I'm saying all that comparing it to the first book. If I look at it a little more objectively, it is a nice book about female friendship and supporting each other. And it is not a total waste of time to read it. It is very cozy and an easy read. I just think maybe it would have been a bit better if the story ran a bit deeper or was a little more coherent. The first book had the common thread of Georgia through the whole thing. This one was obviously lacking that, but maybe that's just an illustration of what it is to lose an integral part of a group. Everything is not as cohesive as it once was. But I think that might be a bit of me giving this book the benefit of the doubt. If you're a huge fan of The Friday Night Knitting Club, read the book, if not, skip it.

Other reviews and author conversations:
A Circle of Books
Word to Mouth
The Lumpy Sweater
A Patchwork of Books

Monday, January 12, 2009

Mystery Monday!

Just in the nick of time, I've finished a mystery to post on Mystery Monday!

High Marks for Murder by Rebecca Kent: I read the WWII mysteries by this author (writing as Kate Kingsbury - she also writes romance novels under Doreen Roberts) and enjoyed them. I have her Pennyfoot Hotel mysteries in my TBR pile, but I thought I'd read this one first since it's the first in her new series. Meredith Llewellyn is the headmistress of Bellehaven House, a former manor house that serves as a finishing school for young ladies. It's 1905 in the English Cotswalds, and many of the teachers and students are suffragettes or at least opposed to conventional ideas about a woman's place. This sounded really promising to me, but as a start of a mystery series, it didn't live up to expectations. First, we don't get to know Meredith, Felicity, or Essie (her teacher friends) terribly well. Some hints about Essie's intriguing past are dropped in near the end with no further discussion, but that's about it. The maids have a bit more life, but they're not in it much. Second, the chauvinist policeman drops in to proclaim teacher Kathleen's death the work of a vagrant, then he disappears entirely, leaving the women to sort out who actually killed Kathleen. It was a bit too pat and convenient for me. Third, the supernatural element just didn't work for me. Kathleen's ghost appears to Meredith several times, but since all she does is gesture vaguely, it's pretty annoying. Much is made of Meredith's ability to read lips, so I assumed this would come into play with her communication attempts with Kathleen, which would have at least been interesting. The ghost dropping in to wave her arms was possibly the least exciting ghost story element I've read. Finally, I felt like there were way too many suspects, and I guessed who had killed her early on. The ending gives the set-up for the next book (Finished Off, out in April), promising more of the same. For a two-hundred page book, I feel there was too much going on. The Edwardian finishing school atmosphere felt glossed over, the characters didn't have time to come alive, and the supernatural element was underused. I'm not sure I'll pick up Finished Off. Maybe to see if the potential of the setting is realized and if we learn any more about the characters.

Plum Spooky by Janet Evanovich: I wasn't going to review this one, but since I have another mystery for this Monday, I thought I'd write something up. The Stephanie Plum series has been going on for quite a while, and the short review is: if you're a longtime Plum fan who hasn't been turned off by recent entries in the series, this is a fun jaunt. This is the fourth "between the numbers" book (the regular entries in the series have a sequential number in the title), but the first that is full-length and plot-advancing. The first three were holiday-themed and stand-alone (Visions of Sugar Plums, Plum Lovin', and Plum Lucky). If I remember correctly, at least after Visions of Sugar Plums, the reader wasn't positive if Diesel (the supernatural guy who turns up in all of these) existed or if he was in Stephanie's dream. This book is much longer and has more Morelli and Ranger than the previous novellas, so Diesel is planted firmly in the Plum world. I'm not sure how I feel about that, to be honest. I think it would have been fun if the between-the-numbers jaunts were stand-alone and possibly dreams of Stephanie's. Have the most recent books been as good as the early Plums? No. Are they still fun? To me, they are. If you can relax into the book and enjoy it for what it is, you'll probably like this one. If you're going to be constantly comparing the quality to early entries in the series, skip it. There was more skip-tracing in this one than in Fearless Fourteen. There was a lot more slapstick, as in recent entries, but I found myself cracking up, even at Carl the Monkey (and as the wife of a primatologist, I am rarely amused by pet monkeys--MONKEYS ARE NOT PETS, PEOPLE!). Lula's hanging plotline from Fourteen is resolved, but I'm ambivalent about that. I like Lula. She's a tough gal who's been through a lot, doesn't take crap from anyone, and lives out loud. Her obsession about getting married in Fourteen came out of nowhere, and it made me annoyed that Evanovich was making Lula out to be desperate and pathetic. So the resolution is a good thing, but that it comes from Lula consulting a psychic, I'm not 100% satisfied with it. And Joe, who in the past has been hostile toward Stephanie's relationship with Ranger, is inexplicably okay with her sharing a bed with Diesel. As for the actual plot of the book (wow, I'm just getting to that, huh?), Diesel shows up looking for his cousin, the very dangerous Wulf, who is involved with a skip of Stephanie's. The search takes Diesel, Stephanie, and Lula to the Jersey Pine Barrens, home of any number of supernatural individuals). The Pine Barrens were spooky, the plot thin and implausible but sufficient for the purpose (moving Stephanie & Co. from one outrageous situation to another). Wow, for a book I wasn't going to review, I sure went on and on, didn't I? To sum up, if you like Stephanie Plum and you're not going to be angry that this isn't as good as, say, High Five, then pick it up, but not for full price (no exaggeration--list price is $28.95!). I'm happy with it as a $16 taste of Plum while waiting for Fifteen to come out.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Fun contest! Exciting prizes!

I was lucky enough to win a big box of books from Presenting Lenore, courtesy of Penguin, and my NINE YA books showed up as a late Christmas present. So much fun! I've just started reading them, and I have a review and giveaway for the first (with a bonus!).

Death by Bikini by Linda Gerber: This is the first Aphra Connelly mystery. I picked it up when I received Death by Latte (the second) from Penguin. The third, Death by Denim, comes out in May. I've always loved mysteries, but I was racking my brain to remember YA mysteries I read back in the Dark Ages when I was a teen. I can remember graduating to the edgier Nancy Drew Case Files, but I was drawing a blank on anything else. I'm not sure they even HAD YA mystery back then, because junior high is about when I started reading my mom's Dick Francis and Sue Grafton books. Those were great, but I would have enjoyed a series like this, mysteries featuring a teenaged sleuth. Aphra is a strong, smart character who makes typical mistakes for a teenager. She's different from your usual teenaged protagonist in that she's not all about boys and the mall. In fact, since she lives at the island resort run by her father, there are neither boys nor malls to be had. So when dreamy Seth and his family visit the resort, Aphra is delighted. But why is her father so intent that she stay away from Seth? And who is the mysterious guy who checks in after Seth's family? After a rock star guest's girlfriend turns up on the beach, strangled with her own bikini, Aphra doesn't know who to trust. The action was fast-paced, with lots of suspense and scary moments (although sometimes a bit on the implausible side), and Aphra is funny and smart. A side plot about her mother (who left when Aphra was 12) adds some emotional depth. A fun mystery just for teens.

Death by Latte by Linda Gerber: Aphra goes to Seattle in search of her mother and finds herself embroiled in another mystery when she witnesses the poisoning of her mother's associate. Seth turns up to demand Aphra return the ring he'd given her, she has a hunky new neighbor, and her mother doesn't seem that happy to see her. Aphra needs to untangle these strange events and get out of Seattle alive. A good follow-up to Death by Bikini. After I finished Bikini, I wondered if the island resort was going to be another Cabot Cove, so I was glad Gerber moved Aphra out of there to give a new dimension to the series. Who to trust is a continuing problem for Aphra, but not in a predictable way. Aphra's relationship with her mother is complex and evolving. If the action isn't always remotely plausible, it's okay because the characters make up for it!

Want to win this pair of books? Leave a comment here telling why you'd like to win them. Three bonus entries for linking to this contest on your blog. The contest ends Wednesday, January 28 at noon EST. Good luck!

Thursday, January 08, 2009

The Art History Reading Challenge

I think I said in my year in review post that I don't join challenges because I don't want to commit to reading certain books; I like to go with the flow. Well, I did find one challenge that I think I can actually commit to and finish by the end of the year: The Art History Reading Challenge.

All you have to do is read six books within the year, fiction or nonfiction in any genre from historical fiction to graphic novels. And I already have five books here at home that would fit the bill. It's been way too long since I've engaged the art historian side of me. So this year I'll knock some books off my TBR stack and maybe, possibly finish a challenge!

Here's my list:
From my current TBR pile
1. Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliet (YA Fiction)
2. The Lost Painting by Jonathan Harr (Nonfiction)
3. The Art Thief by (Fiction)
4. The Shadow Catcher by Wiggins (Historical Fiction)
5. Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier (Historical Fiction)
Borrowed from the library
6. The Forger's Spell: A True Story of Vermeer, Nazis, and the Greatest Art Hoax of the Twentieth Century by Edward Dolnick (Nonfiction)

Others that I might swap for or just add to the list:
--The Gardner Heist: The True Story of the World's Largest Unsolved Art Theft by Ulrich Boser (Nonfiction)
--Glacial Period by Nicolas De Crecy (Graphic Novel)
--Museum Vaults: Excerpts from the Journal of an Expert by Marc-Antoine Mathieu (Graphic Novel)

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

Holly's excellent review right here!

Jamie Ford's debut novel, a story of first love against the backdrop of Japanese evacuation in post-Pearl Harbor Seattle, is sweet, sentimental, and redemptive. I found myself unable to put the book down, and I admit to sniffling a few times. I absolutely recommend this book, and I thoroughly enjoyed it, but I couldn't shake the feeling of regret that it wasn't...more. Like having a fantastic big tub of movie popcorn, the kind with extra butter, when you were hoping for a five-course meal by candlelight. Okay, that's a stupid metaphor, but I can't help wishing this were Ford's say, third or fourth novel, instead of his first. Because it's an excellent read that doesn't quite reach its story's (or storyteller's) potential.

The story goes back and forth between 1942, the year sixth-grade Henry Lee befriends Keiko Okabe, the only other Asian at the all-white prep school, and 1986, the year an old hotel in Japantown is re-opened, revealing the treasures hidden there by Japanese families who were "evacuated." In the 1942 timeline, Henry and Keiko are scholarship students who work in the cafeteria, serving lunch to the white kids who torment them. It's only a matter of time before Keiko's family is sent to a work camp, and Henry's controlling, traditional father sends him to school wearing an "I Am Chinese" button to distinguish himself to the whites who think all Asians look the same. In the 1986 timeline, Henry's wife has died after a long illness and Henry struggles to relate to his son, Marty, without his wife as a buffer. Meanwhile, Henry sees a press conference in which the new owner of the Panama Hotel twirls a parasol she found in the basement--a parasol Henry is sure belonged to Keiko. Everything you think will happen from this summary is how the story turns out--there are no surprises in store. And that's where my disappointment lies. I loved the sweet story of Henry and Keiko, Henry's conflict between his heart and his loyalty to his parents, the delightful interjection of the Seattle jazz scene into the mix, fantastic secondary characters in Sheldon and Mrs. Beatty, and Henry's future daughter-in-law. But I expected something unexpected that never appeared, something in addition to the mechanically unfolding plot as the two timelines converged. Some passages of the 1986 story felt perfunctory to me, and middle-aged Henry wasn't as compelling as the page-turning 1942 storyline.

Again, I recommend this book. My disappointment makes the difference between a four-star book and a five-star book. And this is a solid four-star book.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Blog Award!

I've been meaning to post about this for awhile! Deanna H. over at Once Upon a Time gave our blog a Butterfly Award! Very exciting as I don't think we've won any awards before!

Although, it's hard to pick just a few, Allison and I picked these blogs to pass the award on to:
Presenting Lenore
Bookish Ruth
A Patchwork of Books
Girl Detective

1. Put the logo on your blog.
2. Add a link to the person who awarded you.
3. Award up to ten other blogs.
4. Add links to those blogs on yours.
5. Leave a message for your awardees on their blogs.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Mystery Monday!

Oops, I'm a bit late for Mystery Monday, but I have two reviews to post.

The Witch's Grave by Shirley Damsgaard: This is the sixth entry in the Abby & Ophelia mysteries. I'd had it pre-ordered months ago, and I was not disappointed. Ophelia is a complex, interesting heroine, and her acceptance of her psychic ability hasn't taken he edge. This entry caught my full attention immediately. Ophelia meets Stephen Larsen, a crime writer, and literally the man of her dreams. When he is shot almost immediately and Ophelia herself is nearly killed, she becomes embroiled in an investigation with the help of Darci and Abby. (Note: I always picture Abby as Tyne Daly...anyone else?) Every book has shown Ophelia dealing with some component of her powers, and this one explores reincarnation through Ophelia's dreams in which she's a Parisian model during World War II. All these threads come together nicely, as usual, and Ophelia's growth is gratifying. I love that in six books, Damsgaard hasn't stuck Ophelia with a steady relationship. She's still working on finding herself, and while she dates, she's not engaged by book 3, as she would be in many series. Another stellar entry in a great series.

My reviews of #3-5, with links to my reviews of the first two

Whiskey Sour by J.A. Konrath: I picked this, the first Jacqueline "Jack" Daniels mystery, after seeing Dirty Martini (#4, I think) in the bookstore. I wanted to try the series from the start. I usually go more cozy on my mystery reading, but the fluorescent cover and cocktail title grabbed me. Jack (and Konrath mercifully avoids too-cute constant references to her name) is a forty-something Lieutenant in Violent Crimes for the Chicago PD. She's funny, flawed, and smart, and she's been around the block personally and professionally. She catches a brutal serial killer case at about the same time as her boyfriend moves out, tired of her long hours. It takes a long time to get to know Jack, even though the book is written mostly in the first person. I checked the author bio, and sure enough, Konrath is a man. I think that accounts for the distance between the reader and Jack, but we gradually learn more about her, and she's a great character. What I didn't like: chapters interspersed with Jack's narrative from the serial killer's point of view. I had two issues with this that really interfered with my enjoyment of the book. First, he's a total stereotype. If you've seen Silence of the Lambs or read any book with a serial killer, there is nothing new to be learned here. The FBI agents Jack is forced to work with are cookie cutter characters, I think deliberately, but the Gingerbread Man is, too, so his parts of the book are boring when they're not disgusting and disturbing. The second problem is the graphic, horrifying, stomach-turning fantasies, memories, and crime scenes that I skimmed past whenever possible. From the excerpt at the back of the book for Bloody Martini, it looks like "Killer Cam" is a part of that book, too, which makes me think twice about picking it up. But I really, really liked Jack, and I sort of want to see what she's up to.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

2008 Reading

I read a lot this year. A lot. 217 books. But I read a lot of middle grade and YA books, not to mention the cozy mysteries. The breakdown:

132 tagged as Mystery
42 tagged as Juvenile

Here are some standouts for 2008:

When Will There Be Good News by Kate Atkinson
Then We Came To The End by Joshua Ferris
The Empress of Weehawken by Irene Dische (an Early Reviewer book from LibraryThing)
Finding Nouf by Zoe Ferraris
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer
The Master Bedroom by Tessa Hadley (an Early Reviewer book from LibraryThing)
The Matchmaker of Perigord by Julia Stuart

Juvenile Fantasy:
The Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan
The Fablehaven series by Brandon Mull
The Sisters Grimm series by Michael Buckley
The Ulysses Moore series
Fiendish Deeds by P.J. Bracegirdle (won in a contest from Presenting Lenore

Other Juvenile:
Masterpiece by Elise Broach
The Mysterious Benedict Society books by Trenton Lee Stewart
The Penderwicks books by Jeanne Birdsall

Cozy Mystery (new to me in 2008):
Death of a Cozy Writer by G.M. Mailliet
The Abby & Ophelia mysteries by Shirley Damsgaard
Death by Cashmere by Sally Goldenbaum (a review copy from the author)
Kate London series by Susan Goodwill
Kilt Dead by Kaitlyn Dunnett

Cozy Mystery (not new to me in 2008):
Joan Hess's Claire Malloy series
Goodbye, Ms. Chips by Dorothy Cannell
Joanne Fluke's Hannah Swenson series
Jill Churchill's Jane Jeffry series

Not Really Cozy Mystery:
What Looks Like Crazy by Charlotte Hughes
The Bobbie Faye books by Toni McGee Causey
The Spellman Files and Curse of the Spellmans by Lisa Lutz

Jane Austen knock-offs
Captain Wentworth's Diary and Edmund Bertram's Diary by Amanda Grange

I counted up about 10 books I'd classify as Literature. I'd like to read at least one "serious" book a month for 2009, and really, I should be able to do more than that, but with a toddler, I *need* my escapist kids' books and mysteries!

Squeezing in a bit more Christmas cheer

Next up I'll finally do the year in review, but I read three more books in 2008 before closing the Christmas season.

Blue Christmas by Mary Kay Andrews: Fun, fun, fun. Lots of Christmas cheer. Weezie Foley and (Savannah Blues and Savannah Breeze) is competing for the best window display against the trendy, stylish shop around the corner (and its pissy owners). Meanwhile, mysterious break-ins and her boyfriend's withdrawn behavior are making it tough to keep her Christmas spirit. Weezie is resigned to a rather blue Christmas when inspiration strikes--not only for the window display, but for a great gift for Daniel, a memorable (though not in the way she hopes) Christmas dinner, and a solution to the mystery at hand. This is a short, fast read with some laugh-out-loud moments along with tender Christmas cheer. It's a sweet, hilarious book with fun subplots and engaging characters.

The Shepherd, The Angel, and Walter the Christmas Miracle Dog by Dave Barry: If you like Dave Barry, you'll love this story. Likewise, if you are a fan of A Christmas Story or The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, this one's for you. Equal parts nostalgia, outrageously funny moments, and heartwarming Christmas spirit, this book is set in 1960 and told by middle school student and pageant shepherd Doug. Doug has a crush on Mary, who is playing alongside a depressingly cute Joseph. Meanwhile, the family dog is not doing well. What happens next results in the most memorable Christmas pageant the Episcopal church has ever seen.

The Stupidest Angel: A Heartwarming Tale of Christmas Terror by Christopher Moore: Christopher Moore brings back characters from past books in this outrageous Pine Cove Christmas story. The angel Raziel (from The Gospel According to Biff) has come to Earth to grant a child's Christmas wish. Seven-year-old Josh Barker is worried because he's pretty sure he saw Santa killed by a woman wielding a shovel. These two events converge in a parody of B movie horror that somehow manages to have abundant Christmas spirit. Moore fans will love returning to Pine Cove and visiting Raziel and Tucker Case (the pilot from Island of the Sequined Love Nun), but those offended by junior high boy humor or senseless violence might want to skip this one. A great balance of parody and heartwarming character development.