Saturday, February 28, 2009

Picture Book Contest

Amanda over at A Patchwork of Books is hosting a really awesome giveaway for Llama Llama Misses Mama (which will be reviewed here in a few weeks!) by Anna Dewdney and also Ladybug Girl and Bumblebee Boy by David Soman. You can have up to 8 entries! So go check it out here!

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Another Giveaway!

The Tome Traveller's Weblog is giving away five copies of the new Maisie Dobbs mystery, Among the Mad. Head over and leave a comment on this post right here to enter.

Picture Book Thursday - Winter Edition

Here in Atlanta, spring is in full force, but since the Weather Channel headline was about the biggest snow of the season for Holly, we're featuring books about winter! (Sorry about the snow, Holly...but it's probably a great day for curling up with a good book.)

The Mitten is a retelling of a Ukrainian folk tale by the incomparable Jan Brett. This is one of our favorite books for any season. Little Nicky asks his grandmother to knit him a pair of white mittens, though she warns he will lose them in the snow. He does indeed lose a mitten, which becomes shelter for a series of increasingly large forest creatures. The pictures are gorgeous, and each page has a little preview picture of what's coming next, making it a perfect book for reading to younger children and asking, "Who do you think will climb into the mitten next?" The story is simple and sweet, and Lilah sits still through the whole book. A magical winter tale.

Just a Snowy Day by Mercer Mayer is a pull-tab entry in the Little Critter series. It's less involved as a story than the other books, but it's a fun one, and the tabs are nice and sturdy, so I haven't had to re-glue something Lilah managed to rip off the book yet! Children can pull Little Critter down the hill on his sled, scratch and sniff his mug of cocoa, and tuck him into bed at the end of a long winter day. This one is a winner for younger children.

I've posted about Jane Chapman and Karma Wilson's Bear series before, but not about this entry. This is the first Bear book, in which Bear's friends slip into his lair while Bear hibernates. More and more animals join in, bringing food and making tea, until a huge party is going on while Bear snores on. The rhyme and rhythm are delightful to read aloud, and Lilah loves this book. It holds her attention through all the pages. It's a fun book for children and adults. A wonderful read-aloud about winter!

Yes, here in the Twin Cities, we are quite in the midst of a blizzard. UGH! Not fun (although, the kiddos think all the snow is cool). :-) Winter is quite the fitting topic for Picture Book Thursday today. And I'm not the least bit jealous of Allison's spring weather in Atlanta, no I'm not (okay, that was a total lie).

We checked this adorable picture book out of the library: A Really Good Snowman by Daniel Mahoney. Jack is excited for the big snowman-building contest! But his little sister tags along. Her help may not always be so helpful so Jack is quite excited when the rules for the contest say only three to a team. He plans to build his snowman with two friends. But he notices his sister struggling and decides he should help her. Turns out he enjoys himself! This is a fun little book showing a typical sibling relationship. May be good if an older sibling is complaining about a younger sibling. It can show how it is nice to help each other out, even though the younger sister annoys him. He still loves her and wants to help her out when she needs it. The illustrations are fun and the different types of snowmen are great (there's big ones, shorts ones, large ones, skinny ones, and even and Elvis one!).

The charming story of A Snowman Named Just Bob by Mark Kimball Moulton talks about friendship. One night it snows and Bob's voice speaks to a little kid asking him to gather up all the snow to create a new friend. Bob comes along and they have a good time, but he lets the child know that even though he will not always be there, that he can think of him and he'll be near. The last words of the book are: "We all joined in celebration, for his message was quite clear, that just like all good faithful friends....Bob is always near." A good lesson for children (maybe even friends moving away) to know they can have friends who are not always right there but you can still think of them and care for them. Very sweet book. Pretty much a retelling of Frosty the Snowman. :-) In looking this one up, I realized there are some sequels! A Snowgirl Named Just Sue and The Annual Snowman's Ball.

Hope you're staying warm and at home if you live somewhere where it's still winter. :-)

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Etta by Gerald Kolpan

I received Etta from Katie at Ballantine Books last fall. It sat on my shelf looking at me time and time again when I went to grab a new book to read. With its release date coming up soon, I decided I needed to get to it pronto! I wasn't putting it off for any particular reason. I actually thought I would like it when I started it, and that was definitely the case! I just needed to be in the right mood for it.

Etta is part western, historical fiction, romance, and adventure story. Etta Place really existed, but little is known about her. There are rumors that she was part of the Hole-in-the-Wall Gang and possibly the Sundance Kid's girlfriend. But that's about it. No one knows where she was born or where her grave is. Kolpan takes this little information and adds a large dose of creativity and imagination to create the story of her life. As Kolpan writes it, at the age of 18 Lorinda Reese Jameson found herself an orphan after her father killed himself. As a child, he taught her to ride a horse and shoot a gun. All he bequeathed her was large sums of debt and danger from The Hand (the Sicilian mob). Her lawyer secured her a new identity (based on the location of her family estate): Etta Place. She worked as a Harvey girl until an unfortunate incident where an awful man tried to take advantage of her. She killed him in self defense but was convicted of murder and nearly ended up with a rope around her neck. She was saved by a couple friends who turned out to be outlaws. This begins the journey of Etta Place.

It is difficult to summarize this book. So much takes place throughout the course of Etta's life. Through the book, we see the love story between Etta and Harry Longbaugh (otherwise known as the Sundance Kid). Kolpan paints a picture of the Hole-in-the-Wall Gang as passive thieves trying hard not to kill anyone needlessly (with the exception of one member Kid Curry who was very violent). The image created is one of a gang of Robin Hoods. They only steal from people who are well off and can afford to lose their material possessions and money. Etta never took anyone's wedding rings or heirloom jewelry. Kolpan also turns Harry into a Socialist spouting off about how the captialists were making all the money and not diseminating it back down to the less fortunate. In the end Etta and Harry move to South America and start a commune where they use all their money to help those less fortunate get back on their feet.

There's actually more to the story, but I'll leave some surprises for you. There was a lot of information packed into this book, but its short chapters and newspaper articles/tidbits thrown in helped move the book along quickly. I worked at the Autry National Center of the American West in Los Angeles for nearly three years. Part of their mission was to collect historical artifacts west of the Mississippi. I worked with countless objects from the Frontier including artifacts from William F. Cody otherwise known as Buffalo Bill. Kolpan's book spends a little time with Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show and I can't tell you how fun it was to see this world created after having worked with objects from it!

In general, even if you are not a fan of Westerns, this book may appeal to you. It is much more historical fiction than cowboys and indians. I think maybe the last third of the book gets a little long and could have been a bit shorter. But overall, I enjoyed this book. There is an author's note at the end stating that Kolpan made up quite a bit of the story or took what was known about each person's personality and emphasized it a bit. He's done a great job of "creating" this world and really bringing it to life.

Etta hits bookshelves March 24, 2009. Fans of early 20th century historical fiction should be sure to check it out!


Win a copy of The Crimes of Paris: A True Story of Murder, Theft, and Detective by Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler by clicking here and leaving a comment. This book sounds fascinating! It recounts the attempts of a turn-of-the-20th-century detective to use science to solve crimes (including the theft of the Mona Lisa).

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The History of Now by Daniel Klein

Daniel Klein's novel, The History of Now, is an ingenious philosophical examination of cause and effect and, at the same time, an engaging story of a small-town family. That Klein manages to execute both premises successfully is impressive indeed. The New England village of Grandville has been the home of generations of the deVries family; Wendell, who never wanted to leave the projection booth of the theater-turned-cinema, his daughter Franny, a doubt-ridden artist, and his granddaughter Lila, whose lack of ambition is truly impressive. Klein dips far into the family's past (as far back as the 1600s in The Netherlands) to examine the causes of the current situation and to ask the question, "What is now?" If events are shaped by causes and produce effects, which are in turn causes to other effects (and so on), then is 'now' the current moment or does it encompass all the causes that came before and the effects that will come after?

For those less interested in the philosophical bent, the small-town/family drama that unfolds has more than enough to hold the reader's attention. Wendell, whose disastrous marriage has left him alone (except for his dog, a charming character) and clinging to the movie house of his childhood, begins to open up and find love again. At the same time, his daughter, Franny, is headed toward a breakdown as she obsesses over the unjustness of the war in Iraq and struggles to bring meaning to a vapid community theater production. As if that weren't enough, his granddaughter, Lila, is smoking pot and seems to have lost direction. When Lila shows interest in her roots (by way of a revelation that Grandville was once home to a black family named deVries), Wendell is delighted to investigate. An unrelated (for the moment) storyline brings Hector, a young Colombian, closer to Grandville. Klein has woven these plots (and subplots involving other Grandville residents) into a graceful picture of a small town, the past that has shaped it, and the events that continue to unfold with glimpses into its future.

A couple of jarring notes: Hector's story pulled me out of Grandville. It's obvious that he will be important in shaping Grandville events, but since his perspective is left out once he reaches Grandville, I really felt the payoff for being pulled out of the story wasn't worth it. In addition, the war in Iraq was a bit intrusive. I think it's very difficult to work current events into a novel, and while some references (Franny's protest group) are central to the plot, the references became a bit too much. And since the war isn't even over, they are already outdated (with criticism of a former President). However, neither of these is enough to lower my rating by more than a half-star. This is an excellent read that combines philosophy with small-town quirks and the search for meaning.

Available in hardcover March 1. Pre-order it from Amazon here.
Published by The Permanent Press.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Disappearance Winner & Guest Post by Efrem Sigel

Congrats to BCteagirl whose name was picked out of a puffy pink purse by my three year old daughter! I will get the book in the mail to you the beginning of the week!

Thanks to everyone who entered and subscribed to our blog! And thank you for the book suggestions on stories with great character development. I have written them down so I can check them out in the future.


The author of The Disappearance, Efrem Sigel, was kind enough to join us for a guest post today!

How did I come to write The Disappearance? And why?

A fair question. After all, the disappearance of a beloved child is so horrible to contemplate, so fraught with emotion, that it must be a strange perversity that drives a writer to choose this as the subject of his book. 

And in a sense, this is true. I doubt that any writer can finish a work of fiction, without being obsessed by the subject. So how did I come by this particular obsession?

Every parent has moments when he or she fears for the safety of a child who is late coming home or who is not where he is supposed to be. In such moments you may name the worst of your fears—she is kidnapped, he’s been hit by a car, there was a fire at the stadium or gym or movie house—as a way of confronting those fears, all the while knowing how small is the possibility of such an awful occurrence.

Like any parents I’ve had these fears. The Disappearance is a way of exorcising them by confronting the absolutely worst thing that can happen: the child is missing, for days, then weeks, then months. And while the mystery of what happened to him deepens, another drama begins to unfold: the drama of the lives of the parents. How do they live with this uncertainty? Can they resume their daily activities? What happens to their jobs, their circle of friends, their relationship to one another? Can any marriage survive such a tragedy?

The idea for The Disappearance came to me on a perfect summer day not unlike the one described in the first pages of the book. Returning from an errand, I got out of the car in front of an old colonial house on a lawn bathed in golden sunlight. And then I thought: what if our child was not in the house? What if he were missing not for an hour or two but just…missing? The juxtaposition of this bucolic setting and the horrible event lodged in my mind and would not go away.

At the time I was writing a lot of short stories and ideas were coming to me all the time. Some I worked on till they were stories, others I abandoned. But I knew this idea, the idea for The Disappearance, could not be resolved in the 10 or 15 pages of a short story. It needed to be a book. And the subject of that book could not simply be what happened and why. It had to go to the very core of a parent’s fear, which is not just, what happened to my child but also, what will happen to me? Will I be able to love again? Because in the end, The Disappearance is a story not about tragedy but about love and redemption.

It took a long time for me to find the narrative line and to define the characters in The Disappearance but the basic premise, the setting, the agony of the parents and how they would cope were fixed for me in those few moments on an idyllic day in August.
--Efrem Sigel, February 12, 2009


Please visit Efrem Sigel's blog for more information, or click here to purchase.

Allison's review of The Disappearance is right here.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

I try not to read too many reviews of a book that I just know I'm going to read. I don't like going in with too many preconceived notions about a book. And when I first started seeing The Graveyard Book around I knew I wanted to read it. I haven't read any other Neil Gaiman books (although I do have Coraline on my TBR pile) so I wasn't sure what to expect. When this book won the Newberry Award and I saw it everywhere I quit reading reviews about it. :-)

It was Friday the 13th last week and I found myself looking through my shelves for a new book to read. I decided on The Graveyard Book just because Friday the 13th seemed like a good excuse to read a book centered around a cemetary.

I really REALLY wanted to like this book and started it very enthusiastically. But, after the first couple chapters I wasn't sure what I thought. I plowed ahead and am really glad I did. I ended up truly liking this book. It's the story of Nobody Owens who narrowly escapes danger as a baby to end up living in a graveyard his whole life. Ghosts and other supernatural/paranormal characters become his guardians and best friends. As he gets older, he longs to learn and be around people who are alive. After trying out a "normal" school, it is decided the graveyard is where he should be. The danger he experienced as a baby still surrounds him and the graveyard is the only place he is truly safe.

I was expecting a book that flowed well through the boy's life but found the story rather choppy. It took me until Chapter 4 to get into the flow of the book. Each chapter could be a short story within itself and the next chapter doesn't necessarily flow from one to the next. There are large time jumps between chapters. Once I got used to this, I really enjoyed the book. In reading the acknowledgments at the end of the book, Gaiman says he actually started writing the book at Chapter 4 and filled in the earlier chapters later. It's interesting that is the point at which the book really grabbed me.

This book has adventure, a tad bit of mystery, fun characters, and I see it as an allegory (hmm...did I use that word correctly?) for life or growing up. Even though all of this happening in a graveyard is very abnormal, the boy had people (his adoptive parents and guardian) to love him, teach him, and protect him. He learns life lessons that help him along his journey and he grows up and moves on outside of his "family" just as many of us do. I love the end of the story and the promise it holds for Nobody Owens after the dark childhood he had.

I recommend this book and say stick with it even if it doesn't quite grab you in the beginning.

Other reviews of this book:
Hidden Side of the Leaf (Dewey listed 11 other reviews too! And a book trailer!)
Thoughts of Joy
A Life in Books
Bloggin' About Books
Maw Books Blog

Available: Everyone is Beautiful by Katherine Center

Katherine Center's newest book Everyone is Beautiful hits bookshelves TODAY. I reviewed this book in November and really loved it so I thought I would re-post my review and encourage you to add it to your TBR pile! :-)

My review:
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.

Edited to add: Natasha at Maw Books Blog has a guest post from Katherine Center. Go check it out!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Mystery Monday Postscript

Allison lent me her series of Ophelia and Abby mysteries by Shirley Damsgaard. I read the first and second books in the series in the last couple weeks.

Witch Way to Murder:
Allison's review can be found here.
I really enjoyed this small town mystery. It didn't feel as fluffy as some other mystery series out there (ie: Killer Heels and Murderers Prefer Blondes). I really like all the characters found in this small Iowa town. I think part of the appeal for me was the link to Iowa (where I grew up). Iowa City is also mentioned as well as Minneapolis. I guess I felt a bit of a connection. I liked that the characters were all realistic and not too cheesy or over the top. I also liked that Ophelia wasn't sure whether she even wanted to embrace her psychic abilities. I jumped right into #2 after finishing this one. I couldn't wait to see how the story continued. This was very enjoyable escapist reading.

Charmed to Death:
Allison's review can be found here.
I really liked this entry in the series as much as the first. Some of the mystery from the first book (ie: her best friend's murder) is revealed in this installment and in fact becomes the central storyline. Ophelia does learn to accept her psychic gifts and works to make them stronger. I really like her relationship with her grandmother Abby as well. My only gripe is that I did guess the killer very early on. It seemed very obvious to me. Allison also guessed the killer. I hope the others aren't quite so easy to figure out.

Just wanted to throw my two cents out there as another opinion on these books. I started The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman on Friday the 13th. I thought that was rather fitting. :-) Hopefully, I'll get a review of it up soon.

Happy Monday to everyone and Happy President's Day (hopefully many of you enjoyed a work holiday today!).

Mystery Monday!

I reviewed previous books in the Haunted Bookshop mysteries and the Aurora Teagarden mysteries right here.

The Ghost and the Haunted Mansion by Alice Kimberley: This was a fun entry, the most recent in the Haunted Bookshop mysteries, which feature an unlikely pair of sleuths: mild-mannered bookseller Penelope McClure and the ghost of hardboiled private detective Jack Shepard (stranded since the 1950s in Pen's building). I noticed this one was a bit longer than previous books in the series, and there could have been a smidge more editing, but I thought the plot was good, the characters entertaining, and the intersection of Jack's old case with current events very well done. In this entry, an elderly customer dies in her home, possibly frightened to death, and leaves her gorgeous old home to mailman Seymour. The back of the book mentions a ghostbusting effort by a secondary character, but to my relief, that wasn't the focus of the book. When another character is introduced who can actually see Jack, I was surprised Pen wasn't more interested, and it drives me nuts that she keeps her link to jack (a Buffalo nickel) in her purse, where it could be lost, stolen, or spent, but this is one of my favorite cozy series nonetheless. The first in the series is The Ghost and Mrs. McClure.

The Aurora Teagarden mysteries by Charlaine Harris: I read #3-6 in this series, and was surprised to realize they are re-prints (the series was originally published in the 90s) and there are actually two more. The seventh is Last Scene Alive and the eighth is Poppy Done To Death, and both will be re-released this year. I had planned to pre-order both, but after finishing #6, I may not. This series is tough to pigeon-hole. Harris has always skirted the edge of cozy mysteries with this series, and in a genre that separates series into Culinary, Crafty, Paranormal, and other sub-subgenres, Aurora's stories defy description. When I read the first, Real Murders, I thought it was a "true crime enthusiast" series, but the true crime club disbands at the end. I had thought it might be a "librarian/bookseller" series, but Roe quits her job in the second book. Later on, she shows an interest in real estate, but that isn't the focus, either. The books have lots of Southern charm (I love when Roe discusses the "proper Southern" thing to do), but they're about a complex, interesting heroine, so I suppose they don't need a subcategory. Another interesting distinction is that Aurora's whole life isn't told in these books, which sometimes have years pass between them.

Three Bedrooms, One Corpse: While showing a house for her mother, Roe discovers the nude corpse of the town tramp. She also falls into love at first sight with the man looking at the house. The love-at-first-sight element was pretty out-there, but Harris actually handles it very well, and as usual, Roe investigates with no regard for her personal welfare.

The Julius House: Aurora's fiance gives her the perfect wedding gift: the Julius House, a lovely home with a strange history. Six years before, the Julius family disappeared without a trace. Aurora becomes a bit obsessed with solving the mystery, while sharing space with a mysterious couple hired by her husband, ostensibly to help her with renovations. A lesser author would have had Roe and her new employee becoming bosom buddies instantly, but Harris keeps them at a bit of a distance, citing their very different backgrounds. The whirlwind romance/marriage is a bit hard to take, but Harris more or less pulls it off. And the mystery of the Julius family is intriguing, if a bit convoluted.

Dead Over Heels: Roe's marriage is going well, she's back at the library, and her least favorite Lawrenceton law enforcement agent drops from a plane into her backyard. The solution to this mystery was a bit of a clunker, but Roe is always entertaining.

A Fool and his Honey: When her niece shows up out of the blue with a baby no one knew she was having, Aurora smells trouble. And when the niece disappears leaving behind a husband with a hatchet wound to the head and the baby tucked under the bed, she's sure of it. An ex-con friend of her niece tagging along, Aurora and her husband head to Ohio to figure out what's going on. It's all very interesting until what may be the most depressing ending to a cozy mystery EVER. Seriously, it's a big downer that left me unsure if I would read #7 and 8. Also--how many head injuries can Roe sustain before permanent brain damage ensues? I feel a little like I read every book in this series wondering at what point Roe will be conked on the head.

The Claire Malloy series by Joan Hess is one of my favorite all-time series. I love Claire, Farberville and its residents are a hoot, and the writing is funny and witty with interesting plotting. The first is Strangled Prose. Hess also writes the Maggody series.

The Goodbye Body (#15): In this installment, Claire needs a place to stay, and by coincidence (or is it?), her friend Dolly needs a housesitter. Claire and Caron move into the beautiful home, lounge by the pool, enjoy the gourmet kitchen, and find a dead body. Wait, what was that last part? The dead body disappears by the time the police arrive, only to turn up again. And disappear. Who is it? How did he die? And why is Dolly not where she says she'll be staying? This was a fun entry in the series, and finally advances Claire's relationship with Peter.

Damsels in Distress (#16): A Renaissance Fair is in town, and Claire has somehow managed to give permission for performances outside her store, snarling traffic and leaving litter everywhere. A Ren Fair participant confides that he believes his long-lost father to have moved to Farberville, making Claire wonder if Caron has a new half-brother. Meanwhile, a body turns up in a burned home, Claire is given a title and forced to prance around in period costume, Caron and Inez are barely clothed (but at least not dressed as fairies like their arch-nemesis Rhonda), and none of the Ren Fair court participants seem in touch with reality. Claire gets to the bottom of things, of course.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

A Valentine's Day Treat

Thank you to everyone who entered my Triple Shot Betty giveaway! I really enjoyed all the dating-related stories. The winner is AC, whose proposal story just struck the right note with me--sweet, but funny, just like the Triple Shot Bettys books.

"I don't know if this counts as a "dating" story, but here's the story of how my husband proposed:

It was our senior year in college and one evening he met me at the little house where I lived so we could walk downtown for pizza. We got to the corner, and he stopped, pulled me back and started talking about how amazing the sunset was over the campus. I was puzzled because he usually doesn't go on about stuff like that--it seemed kinda weird. What I didn't know was that he was stalling because he'd seen my sister and my friends sneaking away from decorating the place where he was going to propose--we'd walked too quickly and were earlier than he'd planned! Apparently if I'd turned my head even a fraction, I'd have seen them dashing away, arms full of stuff decorating stuff. Finally they must have left, and he abruptly stopped talking about the sunset, and led me to where he finally proposed: the courtyard of a small chapel, the same place my dad proposed to my mom almost 30 years earlier. It was decorated with twinkle lights and rose petals, and there was soft music playing. He got down on one knee, said some amazing things, and the rest is history ;)"

Thanks for sharing that, AC! I love the sunset discussion that stopped as abruptly as it began :) For a fun Valentine's Day treat, go into the comments and read all the stories. I'll leave you with my own proposal story: Matt and I had been to a soccer match at Soldier Field in Chicago and evening was approaching. It was October, so it was getting a bit chilly. We had planned to drive to Navy Pier for dinner after the game, but looked at a map and decided to walk (yes, you should MapQuest it to see how far it is, but parking at Navy Pier is awful). We walked and walked and walked and Navy Pier didn't seem to be getting any closer. By the time we got there, we were cold and hungry, but the Ferris wheel was about to close for the night, so we went on it before doing anything else. When we got to the very top of the Ferris wheel, Matt slipped off the seat onto one knee, and I really don't remember the rest of the evening, because I was floating along with a loony smile on my face, oblivious to the cold or the long trek back to the car. I asked later what he would have done if I had been whiny about the endless walk to Navy Pier, and he said he had a backup plan for the following weekend. But I must have sensed that something wonderful was about to happen, because I didn't even mind that long, cold walk.

Happy Valentine's Day to all who acknowledge it!

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Disappearance by Efrem Sigel--Review and GIVEAWAY!!

Allison wrote a wonderful review of The Disappearance a few weeks back so I'll leave it to her to actually describe the book. Please check out her review here. There is no way I could write about it any better.

I also received this book from LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program. Funny, that we both received the same book! I think had I read the book under different circumstances and had different expectations, I would have liked it almost as much as Allison did. I brought it with me on vacation and was trying to get through it so I could delve into Twilight. This is definitely not a book to be rushed. It's a complex character study of two parents in extremely unfortunate circumstances. It becomes evident throughout the book what the outcome will be in the disappearance of their son. The depth of all the characters in the book was very interesting.

My only issue is that I was looking for more of a thrilling mystery or something, especially because I was on vacation. I wasn't expecting to get so involved into the nuances of the characters' lives. And I kept trying to speed through the book and it just wasn't happening (I'm not saying this is a bad thing). I was also surprised at the simplicity of the answer to the question of what actually happened to Daniel. I thought it would have been something more involved or complex than what it was.

All of this is me being very nit-picky. I think if you're looking for a wonderful character study with rich text and wonderful descriptions this is definitely a book for you to check out. Just don't expect to speed through it. And I would suggest this one read in a chair on a cozy weekend afternoon snuggled under a blanket with a nice cup of tea. :-)

If you've read Allison's review (seriously, go read it!) and mine and this book speaks to you, GREAT! Because I'm giving my copy away!

Chances to enter:
1) Leave a comment saying you'd like to be entered along with your email address
2) For 2 extra entries: Tell me about another book you really enjoyed that had really great character development.
3) For 3 extra entries: Subscribe to our blog via Google Reader or become a Follower through blogger and make sure you let me know that you subscribed or that you are already a subscriber.

Enter quickly because this contest is only open for a week! Please enter by Friday, February 20th at 11:59pm. I'll announce the winner on Saturday, February 21st.

Twilight by Stephenie Meyer

The Twilight series has come up a few times at my book club gatherings. A couple had read them (Most notably one member's husband was hard up for reading material on a vacation. He devoured Twilight and then rushed out to buy the other three!) and the rest of us sort of felt like we'd read them if we had to for book club. :-) Well, Twilight was our choice for February. I have yet to have the meeting so I'm not sure what everyone else thought.

I cannot really tell you why I haven't read these books before. It appears the entire rest of the world has read and reviewed them. When Breaking Dawn was released it was all the rage for several weeks on the book blogs. I guess part of my aversion was that it was such a big deal. I guess I didn't want to feel like I should read something just because it was a sensation all over. Especially when the topic was vampires. I'm just not really into vampires. Never really got into Buffy or anything like that. So, of course it was my book club book, I just had to read it then, right? ;-) I took it on vacation with me and it really was the perfect beach read. And just to further illustrate my point about the extreme popularity of this series. As I was sitting by the pool in the second row of chairs. I looked to my right. Three chairs down a woman was also reading Twilight. I looked to my left and four chairs down a woman was reading Breaking Dawn. In front of me someone was reading New Moon. And I just sort of scanned the crowd at that point and there was someone else reading one of the books. I mean, seriously! That was on ONE day.

I have to be completely honest and say I took forever to jump on the Harry Potter bandwagon too because of its sensation-like popularity. It took me seeing a 70-year old man reading it on a plane and obviously enjoying it to convince me to start the series. And well that was fantastic! thoughts on the book. Hmmm...mixed feelings. I actually really liked quite a bit of the book. Maybe the first two-thirds. I enjoyed meeting the characters. I enjoyed the mystery of Edward and why he was the way he was. I enjoying learning about the "reality" of the vampires versus the mythology. It was fun to see how Meyer was so creative with stamping out the myths and stereotypes of vampires. But it started to go downhill for me when the other coven of vampires started hunting Bella down. And then her whining at the end about wanting Edward to turn her into a vampire really got on my nerves. I did read the excerpt of New Moon in the back and I can't decide if I want to continue the series or not. I'm a little curious to know what happens to the characters, but I'm not sure I can handle Bella for three more books. So I guess I'm on the fence with this one. I'll take a break. I have so many, many books I want to read that I think I may come back to the series after I have gotten through a few more on my TBR stack. But I guess I can understand the appeal of these a bit. This one just did not pull me in quite as much as I thought it might.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Library Loot

I've seen this around on a few other blogs and thought I would join in this week. Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by A Striped Armchair and Out of the Blue that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library.

As soon as The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman was announced as the Newberry winner, I hopped onto my library website to reserve it. Lucky for me I actually have two library systems at my finger tips. Hennepin County which includes Minneapolis and its surrounding suburbs listed 294 requests before mine! I headed over to the Carver County library website (we live within ten minutes of a Carver County library and my card works there too!) and checked and there were only TWO people ahead of me. So yesterday I skipped on over there and picked it up.

I had my three year old with who wanted to check out the children's area so of course I ended up browsing while she played around. I just love this little library! They always have good titles just sitting on the shelf! I came across Tale of Beetle the Bard by J. K. Rowling. I've never been particularly interested in acquiring this book, but I'm somewhat curious. And there it was on the shelf begging to go home with me. This has 310 requests at the other library.

Then I decided I should really check out their new aquisitions shelf and see if there is anything of interest. That's where I found Rapunzel's Revenge last time I was there. They had a juvenile fiction mystery there I'd never heard of: The Mystery of the Third Lucretia by Susan Runholt. It sounds like a tale of art theft and forgery with an adventure thrown in. Sounds pretty good to me! And maybe I can use it to knock off one book of my Art History Reading Challenge.

I came home very satisfied with my library finds and look forward to delving into them very soon!

Picture Book Thursday

Our theme this week is...Valentine's Day!

We love Little Critter, Mercer Mayer's vaguely porcupine-like little guy and his animal friends. The Valentine's Day installment is lots of fun--our favorite is Little Critter decorating the classroom, strewing hearts and streamers all over the place. At the end of the story, he gives a special valentine to his special valentine - Mom. It's a sweet story on extra-sturdy pages with flaps to lift. Lilah loves this one, and I enjoy them, too.

Maisy, a cute mouse drawn by Lucy Cousins, doesn't have the most exciting storylines, but Lilah really loves these because of the animal drawings, but also because of...stickers! There are stickers to place on each page to complete each scene, and the simple story is made extra fun with the interactivity.

Franklin was new to us, but we really like him. Paulette Bourgeois writes and Brenda Clark illustrates. Franklin loses all his valentines on the way to the party, and feels very bad when he opens all of his valentines, but his friends tell him it doesn't matter. It's sweet, and Lilah loves the animals!

The Biggest Valentine by Steven Kroll and Jeni Bassett is the story of two adorable mice who are best friends. They decide to team up and make a valentine together, but they fight over the best way to do it. They separate, but neither can make a valentine he's happy with, so they come back together to make the perfect, the BIGGEST valentine ever.


We are excited about Valentine's Day around here. My girls worked on their class valentines last night and are counting down to Saturday. Funny thing is that we don't really do much for Valentine's day and in fact, last year I completely forgot to give the girls' the books I got them until weeks later when I came across them. But they liked them anyway, even if Valentine's was over. They each got a Dora lift-a-flap book: Valentine's for Everyone and Dora's Valentine Adventure. Both contain flaps to open. Both are board books with sturdy pages. The heart-shaped one actually contains a bit more of a storyline and a few more flaps I think. Valentine's for Everyone is about Dora and Boots delivering a valentine to Dora's grandma. I would suggest Valentine's for Everyone for a younger child (age 2-3) interested in Dora, and Dora's Valentine Adventure for more preschool age (age 3-4). My girls enjoy both books.

We picked out Mouse's First Valentine by Lauren Thompson at the library a few weeks ago. Our library (do all libraries do this?) has a holiday section in the children's area so that all the picture and chapter books relating to a holiday are put in one place. It's great! I usually go the month before a holiday and raid the section. :-) We thought Mouse's First Valentine was particularly cute. Mouse follows his sister around the house one night watching her collect ribbon, lace, and paper. She works very hard to make a valentine for someone and Mouse wonders who it is for. This is a very sweet book with fun illustrations. It is also available in a board book. Thompson also has other books in the Mouse series (Mouse's First Day of School, Mouse's First Snow, Mouse's First Christmas, etc). AND I just learned by doing a search for her other books that she is the author of the Little Quack books too, which we love! I never put two and two together that they were one in the same.

Lilly's Chocolate Heart by Kevin Henkes is another Valentine (or actually, a year-round) favorite of ours. We are fans of many Henkes books and own the little box of treats set. Each small book in the set centers around a holiday treat. They are short and sweet and our kids love all of them. They are only a few pages long. In Lilly's Chocolate Heart, Lilly wants to save her chocolate heart and searches for the perfect place to keep it until she decides the best place for it is in her mouth! Henkes has written and illustrated many picture books and a few novels. He hails from Racine, Wisconsin which is where my husband grew up. We love to support local authors so I just had to throw this one into the pile today.

Monday, February 09, 2009

YA Weekend Catch-Up and GIVEAWAY!

I received Triple Shot Bettys in Love by Judy Gehrman in my big box of Penguin books, but after reading the first two pages, I realized this was not a stand-alone sequel, so I ordered the first in the series, Confessions of a Triple Shot Betty, so I could read it first. The premise sounded cute. Geena is excited that her favorite cousin, Hero, is coming to work in the coffee shop with her and her best friend, Amber, for the whole summer. She envisions a summer of girl-bonding that dissolves when Hero and Amber instantly hate each other. In the first couple of pages, I thought there was nothing that could make me want to finish the book. What happened? I learned the nickname of one of the main characters, a name chosen for its shock value and advertisement of sexual experience, and I thought, "I have a daughter. There's no way I can handle this." I am SO glad I pushed through and kept reading, because what followed was a cute, clever, laugh-out-loud story of three very different girls and their growing friendship. Gehrman uses stereotypes (the Skater, the Slut, the Trust-Fund Priss, the Jock), but defies them at the same time by making her characters more about other characteristics. The aforementioned Slut turns out to be far more complex than I had feared, and (I'm a mom now, so when I read YA, this is something I think about) the message ends up being more about embracing who you are than the Girls Gone Wild story I was worried about. I think it's actually a very positive message for teen girls. And when Hero's reputation is ruined, Geena and Amber (and a diverse group of guys) step up to make things right. The positive messages are completely integrated in a very funny, yet moving account of growing up in Amerca today, so it's not preachy in the least. Gehrman does a great job of rendering scenes that made me absolutely crack up (Geena looking for her nonexistent dog as a cover was hilarious), while making her main characters shine with realism. Lovely story, told in diary entries written by the delightful Geena.

The sequel, Triple Shot Bettys in Love, has Geena unwillingly flirting with a cute new teacher on MySpace under Amber's name. She thinks Amber's fixation on the teacher is unhealthy, but she knows Amber will have to find that out for herself. Meanwhile, Geena's boyfriend is spending time with a childhood friend who's moved back to Sonoma Valley, a gorgeous fashion plate. Geena has to learn how to be a girlfriend without losing her identity while trying to unite Amber with Jeremy, a far more suitable beau. I thought this one was cute, too, though it didn't sparkle quite as much as the first.

Do you want to win these two books? Confessions is a trade paperback, and In Love is a trade paperback-sized ARC, and they need a good home! To enter, leave your best dating story (funny, embarrassing, whatever) in a comment on this entry. But hurry! I'm closing this contest Thursday, February 12 at midnight Pacific Standard Time. I'll pick my favorite story and send the winner's books out by Valentine's Day!

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Roxie and the Hooligans by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

I picked this book on Bookmooch as a whim and I'm so pleased I did! One glance at Phyllis Naylor Reynolds list of books (the Shiloh books, the Witch books, the Alice books, the Bernie Magruder books) and you realize what a prolific children's author she is! I look forward to checking out some more of her books.

Roxie and the Hooligans starts off by introducing Roxie, a little girl who has the misfortune of having very large ears. Helvetia's Hooligan's pick on her daily because of her ears and small size. Roxie does her best to avoid the hooligans and revels in hearing her Uncle Dangerfoot's stories of travel and adventure. She has memorized Lord Thistlebottom's Book of Pitfalls and How to Survive Them and admires his great bravery in all kinds of dangerous situations. One day, Roxie finds herself hiding in a dumpster to get away from Helvetia and her hooligans when they all fall in with her. Then they are carted off on a tanker barge and left on an island. The kids find themselves hiding from dangerous theives on the island and Roxie saves the day by recalling all she learned from Lord Thistlebottom's book. Helvetia and her friends become impressed with Roxie's knowledge and bravery. When the kids are rescued, they all thank Roxie and no longer torment her.

This short book is a sweet endearing little read with adventure rolled in. It's fun to watch Roxie gain self confidence throughout the book. I only wish the book was a bit longer and I hope that Reynolds writes another Roxie story because I really loved this character and her adventure.

Other reviews of this book:
Four Story Mistake

Friday, February 06, 2009

Rapunzel's Revenge by Shannon and Dean Hale

This graphic novel by Shannon and Dean Hale was all over the book blogosphere last year. I made note of it but sort of forgot about it until I happened to go to the library and they had it sitting on display as a new acquisition. I couldn't resist checking it out after I thumbed through it. And it proved to be the perfect thing for me to read on the airplane.

In short, Rapunzel is locked away in a tree by her evil "Mother" (we find out later it is not her real mother) for four years. She eventually uses her hair to help escape and begins a rootin' tootin' adventure with Jack (from Jack and the Beanstalk) as her sidekick.

I thought the interpretation of the Rapunzel story was very creative and I loved that Jack was her sidekick. I wasn’t sure I was going to be into this book because of the Western take on it. I worked in a Western history museum for three years and kind of overdosed on all things western. But I should have known better. I really loved it! I certainly hope they stock this book in their gift shop. It would fit in so well! Rapunzel is shown as a very strong female character that can show Jack a thing or two. I highly recommend this one for reluctant readers, or a fun, quick, entertaining read for anyone!

Others who have reviewed this book:
Book Moot
Abby the Librarian
Maw Books Blog

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Hodge Podge

Hello from Hawaii! I'm currently in Honolulu to attend the NFL Pro Bowl with my husband. We had an 8 hour direct flight yesterday from Minneapolis. And I have to say, for me, the flight was a vacation in itself! I had 8 hours of uninterrupted reading time! I finished three books! Here they to follow soon.
And here is a photo of how I started my morning out today...could there be anything better than sitting on a hotel balcony with a view of the ocean with a vanilla latte and chocolate croissant, and a new book?!
In other randomness, I read at Ms. Yingling Reads this morning that Chris Grabenstein is coming out with the sequel to The Crossroads in August. I can't wait! I LOVED The Crossroads and can't wait to see what The Hanging Hill is like. Ms. Yingling also reviews The Joy of Spooking in the same post which both Allison and I really enjoyed.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Belated Contest Winner Announcement

Oops! I notified the winner, mailed out the books, and...completely forgot to tell you all about it! The winner of the Death by Bikini/Death by Latte contest was Kaye! Thank you to all who entered! We had a whopping 35 participants in this contest.

Stay tuned, because I will be giving away more YA books this month!

Mystery Monday!

Everyone has heard of Charlaine Harris these days, since her Sookie Stackhouse mysteries inspired an HBO series. I had read the first of her Lily Bard mysteries (Shakespeare's Landlord) and found it more dark and violent than my usual cozy mystery preferences, and the Sookie Stackhouse series didn't really appeal to me. But after Holly reviewed Real Murders, the first in Harris's Aurora Teagarden mysteries I was interested, so I started reading.

Real Murders by Charlaine Harris: The body count is absurdly high in the series debut, and I felt like I barely got to meet Aurora Teagarden in between dead bodies, but there was something appealing about the series anyway. Aurora ("Roe"), a librarian in Lawrenceton, a small town outside Atlanta, is a member of a club devoted to true crime. It's a bit morbid, as each member has his or her own "specialty": a Jack the Ripper enthusiast, a serial killer fan, etc. And really, Harris doesn't seem to think this is an odd hobby because she doesn't explain the fascination. At any rate, on the evening Roe is due to present an unsolved murder, a mysterious phone call from someone asking for that victim is the first odd occurrence, followed by Roe's discovery of the body of one of the club's less popular members--arranged like the victim in the old murder. A string of copycat murders follows. I rarely guess the murderers in mystery novels, but a couple of things made the right killer pop into my head, and as soon as I thought of it, I knew I was right. I had some complaints about this debut: the ridiculous body count (that didn't seem to kick the police into gear), the overly vague location, and the final confrontation scene, which I thought was unnecessarily harrowing for a cozy mystery, especially given the other person involved (sorry, trying not to give spoilers). However, Roe was self-deprecating and likable, her situation as her mother's employee was funny, and though romance is introduced, it's not central to the story. A note about the location: I like a strong sense of place, and I'm not sure why Harris went so vague on Lawrenceton (which is not a real place in Georgia). It's a small town that's been infiltrated by Atlanta commuters, which could be ANY town within an hour or more from the city, and Harris never gives anything concrete. As someone who lives here, it drove me nuts that she didn't even say whether it was a northwestern suburb, or off I-85, or whatever. I know that's probably just me, but I thought I'd mention it.

A Bone To Pick by Charlaine Harris: This is #2 in the Aurora Teagarden series, and I liked it quite a bit. However, I have the opposite complaint than I did with Real Murders--there was very little action/active mystery solving in this one. Aurora inherits a house (and a fortune) from a member of her now-defunct true crime club, and she finds a skull hidden in the house, along with a note from her benefactress saying "I didn't do it." You'd think she'd set out to find out who DID do it, but you'd be wrong. She's preoccupied with moving and meeting her new neighbors, and she really doesn't dwell on the skull aside from moving it to a safe place. There's no active investigation going on, though she gleans a few facts that her new neighbors toss her way, and she bumbles into the killer's identity in a quick wrap-up at the end. I still found it enjoyable. The premise (inherit not just a house, but a mystery!) was great, and Roe was likable and interesting. We learn a lot more about her than in the first book, and it was fun.

The Ghost and Mrs. McClure by Alice Kimberly: Alice Kimberly (pen name for husband and wife team Alice Alfonsi and Marc Cerasini) is also responsible for the coffee shop mysteries under the name Cleo Coyle, but I like this series better. Penelope McClure, a young widow, moves back to Rhode Island to bail out her aunt's failing bookstore. A private detective, Jack Shepard was murdered in the bookstore about fifty years before, and he begins to communicate with Pen after a mystery author (whose books are based on Jack's case files) drops dead during a reading in the store. He's basically a voice in her head, and he can come and go as he likes (though he can't leave the building). This makes for an ingenious pairing of classic detective noir, characterized by hardboiled lingo, and a contemporary cozy. There's just a hint of romance between Pen and Jack, which is no surprise given the title's obvious homage to The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (a film I watched with my mom many times), and Jack helps Pen solve the mystery using his invisibility to observe and his expertise to deduce. If the solution is a little pat, that was fine with me, because the Jack/Pen relationship sparkles, Quindicott, Rhode Island and its inhabitants are real and interesting, and the mystery is compelling enough. This is a really fun series.

The Ghost and the Dead Deb by Alice Kimberly: A tell-all memoir sets the stage for murder as Angel Stark visits Buy The Book for a reading to promote her account of a murder. The plot was pleasantly twisty, and the skewering of the rich and tacky was enjoyable. The continuing relationship between Pen and Jack is nice, and the other Quindicott folk help out in their quibbling, yet capable ways.

The Ghost and the Dead Man's Library by Alice Kimberly: An old flame of Aunt Sadie's offers the bookstore some rare old volumes, including a complete set of Poe's work said to contain a code that would lead to treasure. As the bodies pile up, the treasure theory seems more and more plausible. I can't get enough of this series, and I think this might be my favorite entry.

The Ghost and the Femme Fatale by Alice Kimberly: The Movie Town theater has finally opened, completely renovated, with a Film Noir festival that brings the likes of screen legend Hedda Geist to town, not to mention several prominent authors. A near-deadly accident, followed by a suspicious death, makes Pen wonder if the past has come back to haunt the film noir actress. Extremely well-done is the connection to Jack's old case. Another complex plot with rewarding character development.