Thursday, March 26, 2009

Picture Book Thursday: Ladybug Girl and Bumblebee Boy

Today we're featuring Ladybug Girl and Bumblebee Boy by David Soman and Jacky Davis. This is the sequel to Ladybug Girl (I reposted my earlier review at the bottom of this post). In this installment, Lulu aka Ladybug Girl goes to the park with her mother and dog, Bingo. There she finds her friend Sam playing in the sand and asks if he wants to play. They start with the question, "What should we play?" with each giving suggestions the other isn't very excited about. Growing more and more frustrated with each other, Lulu finally asks him if he wants to play Ladybug Girl. Intrigued, he asks more about it and when he hears that Ladybug Girl can fly and has superpowers, he's hooked. Sam becomes Bumblebee boy (because of this yellow and black striped shirt) and they are off on many bug adventures saving the playground from scary squirrels, tire swing robots and snake-slides. A couple other girls see how much fun they are having and soon Dragonfly Girl and Butterfly Girl join in the fun and the Bug Squad is formed.

I actually like this book better than the original (although, the first one is great too) mostly because its timing is perfect for our family. It shows kids compromising and working out how to play with each other. My five year old is at the age where I'm trying to teach her about compromise when it comes to playing with others. We've had a few playdates that didn't go very well because the kids couldn't agree on what to play. I love that this book shows the children continuing to work it out even though they are getting frustrated and that they finally figure out something they both want to do that really fun. Also great that the mothers never got involved. The kids worked it out on their own. This book definitely has a great lesson in it for the 4-6 age group!

About the Authors: David Soman and Jacky Davis are the husband-and-wife creative team behind the New York Times bestselling book Ladybug Girl. Ladybug Girl was inspired by their daughter. At the playground, they saw how important issues of friendship and compromise were to her. From these observations Ladybug Girl and Bumblebee Boy was born. The couple lives with their family in Rosendale, New York. Ms. Davis currently does freelance graphic design and is involved in local environmental groups. Mr. Soman has been an instructor at the School of Visual Arts in New York City for 15 years, and at the Mill Street Loft, a non-profit arts education center in the Hudson Valley, for the past five. It looks like a third Ladybug Girl book is in the works for Summer 2010!

My previous condensed review of Ladybug Girl:
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.

Ladybug Girl and Bumblebee Boy was released March 5th so you can now find both books at your local bookstore! A great book for spring!


Click here to enter a contest at Unmainstream Mom Reads for a copy of The Crimes of Paris, which sounds like a fantastic read. She also has several other giveaways, so check them out!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Mystery Monday!

The Last Refuge introduces Chris Knopf's sleuth, Sam Acquillo, a former engineer (and former boxer) who has left his marriage and his job to drink himself to death at his parents' cottage in The Hamptons, not the cheeriest premise of mysteries I've encountered. But even in the depths of his depression, Acquillo has a sharp wit that makes the reader hope that solving the mystery will force him out of his self-imposed exile back into the land of the living. He finds the body of his elderly neighbor, Regina Broadhurst, in her house, and his engineer's mind registers that something is not quite right about the police assumption of accidental death. No one else is eager to launch an investigation, but Acquillo, who has nothing but time on his hands, starts poking around, drawing someone's attention--someone with the money to hire a goon to intimidate him. Acquillo also begins something of a flirtation with a married woman who works at his bank, renews an old friendship with a rich lawyer, and begins an odd friendship with a police officer who is unconvinced by Sam's suspicions but unable to dismiss them. The plot is tight, the dialogue snappy, and best of all, the venue of The Hamptons is sharply drawn, giving a realistic picture of the tensions between the rich summer people and the locals who both loathe and depend on them. Lucky for me (and you), there are three more Sam Acquillo mysteries: Two Time, Head Wounds, and the forthcoming Hard Stop. I'd recommend this series to anyone looking for a compulsively readable character study, complex mystery, and believable portrayal of The Hamptons.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Darling Jim by Christian Moerk

Like his con artist storyteller, Jim Quick, Christian Moerk weaves a Gothic tale of suspense that draws its audience in, compelling us to find out how it all ends. The structure is intricate, but adds to the mood. The book opens with mail carrier Desmond finding the body of an old woman on his route. When the police investigate, they find not only the body of Moira, but the bodies of two young women who were apparently her prisoners. Further investigation reveals that the girls were Moira's nieces, and that a third prisoner was present at some time, but escaped. The structure immediately pulls in the reader, who knows that something horrible and dramatic must have happened, but like the police, the reader is utterly baffled. When a postal service employee, Niall, happens upon a package with the return address of one of the dead girls and impulsively takes it home with him. It turns out to be the diary of Fiona Walsh, one of the dead girls in the house. She tells the story of Jim, a storyteller who has captivated all the women in town with his fairy tale and dangerous good looks, and who arrives in town just about when mysterious deaths begin to occur. When Fiona's diary comes to an abrupt end, Niall (and the reader) is obsessed with the story and heads to the town where Fiona says the events began to see if he can pick up the thread of how the girls met their fate. He happens upon the diary of Roisin, Fiona's sister, which fills in many of the question marks. The Gothic suspense is thick and irresistible, the story tight, and the fiddly novel structure, which would have seemed amateurish and clunky in another type of book, is perfectly suited to creating the dark, foreboding mood in Darling Jim. The level of detail in the diaries is absurd, of course--no one writes detailed dialogue or remembers every event like that, but that's part of the point, and it sweeps the reader into the story.

Darling Jim is an excellent, spooky read for those who like their plot labyrinthine and their suspense relentless. Pre-order it at or pick it up on March 31!

Mystery Monday!

One of the highlights of my 2008 reading was Death of a Cozy Writer by G. M. Malliet, the first mystery to feature DCI St. Just of Cambridgeshire. I was so completely hooked by the first novel that I pre-ordered the second, Death of a Lit Chick, as soon as listed it. I wondered a bit whether the follow-up would be as satisfying, mainly because Malliet created such deliciously wicked characters in Sir Adrian's family, and of course, the only recurring character is DCI St. Just. I needn't have worried, because Death of a Lit Chick features an equally engaging cast of characters. DCI St. Just travels to Dalmorton Castle in Scotland for a mystery writer's conference (he has been asked to attend as a speaker) and finds himself confronted with a gaggle of mystery writers, all with clashing personalities and huge egos, along with a publisher, agents, and a journalist. When ditzy superstar "chick lit" writer Kimberlee Kalder turns up dead, there is no shortage of suspects. St. Just is asked to assist the local constabulary with their investigations, which culminate in a hilariously over-the-top drawing room scene worthy of Agatha Christie. A cast of suspects including mystery writers is a challenge, as they all make things up for a living and seem unable to turn off the prevarication under interrogation. As St. Just unravels the web of secrets and lies, the deliciously complex plot comes to a logical yet surprising conclusion. Malliet manages to embrace the classic cozy mystery while satirizing its conventions with her sharp wit, and as we learn more about DCI St. Just, he becomes even more endearing. I'll be pre-ordering the next in the series as well.

Death and the Lit Chick on amazon

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Picture Book Thursday--Llama Llama WINNER!

Thank you to everyone who entered our contest for Llama Llama Misses Mama!! I went through all the entries and entered the total in And it turns out that MJ is the winner of a new copy of the Llama Llama book! Congratulations!!

If you didn't win, no worries, please make time to visit your local bookstore to pick up your very own copy! It's available starting TODAY!!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Sworn to Silence by Linda Castillo

Linda Castillo's novel is a hard-boiled detective book through and through. Kate Burkholder is a small-town police chief in a part of Ohio where there is a large Amish population. In fact, Kate grew up Amish. She decided not to continue that way of life when she turned 18. She was put under the bann and has had little contact with her family or Amish acquaintences since. She moved to Columbus and eventually found her way to the police academy. After several years, she ends up taking the police chief position in her home town. In the course of just a few days, three dead bodies have surfaced all indicating a serial murderer is on the loose. And it may just be a serial killer who preyed on the town 16 years ago. Secrets from Kate's past threaten to come to the surface as she fights to keep her job and figure out who the killer is.

I received this book from the LibraryThing Early Reviewer program. After completing it in nearly one day, I can see why I was matched to it. Not only have I read two mystery/fiction books with Amish culture at its core (Plain Truth/Jodi Picoult and Bubbles in Troube/Sarah Strohmeyer), but I have several detective novels in my library. This book was very reminiscent of Chelsea Cain's Heart Sick and Sweetheart books. So funny, I thought that to myself and when I was finished reading I took a look at the back cover of the book and their was a quote from Chelsea Cain about this book! :-)

I liked Castillo's descriptive writing, although there are some graphic scenes and the victims are all women who are very violently killed. If you do not like to read this sort of thing, then this may not be the book for you. The violence is not too overwhelming as the core of the book is about Kate. Her depiction is very interesting. Her struggle with coming to terms with her Amish background, her current English way of life and what happened to her as a teenager all make her a well-rounded intense character. She is also thrown into the investigation with John Tomasetti who is battling his own demons and the two make a good team. A little romance is thrown in there too. This appears to be the first in a planned series with Kate as the main character. I will definitely pick up any future books in this series.

If you like Chelsea Cain or hardcore detective novels, I highly recommend this one. It will be released June 23, 2009.

Split Estate by Charlotte Bacon

Split Estate is a quietly powerful novel that examines the grief of the King family some time after Laura King jumped from their tenth-story New York City apartment, leaving no explanation. Arthur and his two teenaged children, Cam and Celia, are individually and collectively damaged by the suicide, and in desperation, Arthur drags Cam and Celia to live temporarily with his mother, Lucy, in his hometown of Callendar, Wyoming. Laura's memory isn't banished by a mere change of scene, however, and as the Kings struggle to relate to each other and adjust to life in Wyoming, each has grief and anger to contend with. The novel's title refers to the mining in Wyoming; as the ranching way of life has become harder and harder to sustain, families have begun to sell off the rights to mine their land, resulting in a split estate. Likewise, Laura still possesses the underlying foundation of the King family, and the question is whether they can either reclaim what they've lost or move on to lives without it.

Bacon's spare, precise prose illuminated with poetic turns of phrase ably compares the brutal reality of Wyoming with that of grief. As the Kings settle into their lives, there is hope that the change of scene might save what is left of the family. Chapters alternate between Arthur, Celia, Lucy, and Cam, but because the grief is collective as well as individual, this doesn't result in a lack of continuity; rather, the story is more nuanced and developed for the varied points of view. Each person has his secrets that are slowly revealed to the reader, and the ending is both shocking and inevitable. This is a beautiful, heartbreaking novel of despair, family, and Western life.

Now available in paperback. Click here for the page.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Spring Cleaning

In honor of the season, I requested review copies of Mrs. Meyer's Clean Home by Thelma Meyer and Throw Out Fifty Things by Gail Blanke, and Hachette Book Group was kind enough to indulge me. If you need inspiration for spring cleaning (and keeping it clean year-round), these are absolutely the books for you! I finished them on Thursday night and commenced the cleaning/purging Friday morning. In what is probably a record for me, I have not yet lost the motivation Blanke and Meyer lent me, and I seem to be infecting those around me with the need to spring clean.

Mrs. Meyer's Clean Home: No Nonsense Advice That Will Inspire You To Clean Like The Dickens by Thelma Meyer: This book is going to be a new automatic housewarming gift from me. Mrs. Meyer packs every page with valuable information, motivation, funny anecdotes, and handy tips. Somehow, even in the litany of cleaning tasks she teaches the reader to tackle, she doesn't make it seem like a daunting task to have a clean, pleasant home that makes you and your family feel happy. It helps that she's practical to the utmost. She raised nine children, and her standard of clean was not "immaculate," but rather, "livable." If you tend to get bogged down in trying to make everything perfectly clean, Mrs. Meyer will not only help you focus on organizing your attempts at cleaning and on doing something instead of nothing, she gives you the tools you need to do so. The book is organized by room (or area) of the house/yard, and includes a sample schedule of daily, weekly, monthly, and seasonal cleaning tasks. Attempting to follow this schedule is strangely freeing. Even if we miss a day's tasks, there's a make-up/rest day built in, and Mrs. Meyer is encouraging and inspiring. There is no sense that a level of perfection can be reached while people are actually living in and enjoying the home, but she makes the reader feel inspired to at least try. And those attempts make visible improvements. An "emergency" guide for making the house seem clean when company is on the way is as indispensable as the rest of the book. Mrs. Meyer is also frugal and environmentally conscious, so her cleaning methods are focused on that angle, which I thought was fantastic. Even better, these inexpensive, non-hazardous methods actually work, often better than the purchased harsh chemicals. I highly recommend this book to anyone who doesn't have a staff to keep the house clean and organized.

Throw Out Fifty Things: Clear The Clutter, Find Your Life by Gail Blanke: If you chuck useless items into a corner of the closet to deal with later, agonize over whether to donate that dress you bought five years ago with the intention of losing ten pounds, or feel overwhelmed by the clutter in your home, Gail Blanke will teach you the questions to ask yourself that will empower you to just let it go. You could certainly start decluttering after reading the first four words of the title, but many of us need a little more encouragement than that, not to mention a place to start. In a book helpfully organized by room/area, Blanke excels at repeating advice and guidelines in slightly varied ways that will reach different people. For me, the clear, bulleted lists at the end of each section were the most appealing, but others may prefer Blanke's motivational discussion and inspirational anecdotes. An invaluable resource guide at the end of the book lists donation/recycling/disposal ideas for many different items, from bicycles to computers, to old paint, to allow the reader to actually follow through on throwing out those fifty things. Why fifty? At that point, you'll begin to see a real difference and have the motivation to continue (and to prevent more useless items from even entering your home). More than half the book is "Clearing the Mental Clutter," a more self-help type of writing that will appeal to anyone looking to bring focus and purpose to more than just physical surroundings. I highly recommend this book to anyone looking to declutter who isn't sure where to start.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

AWESOME giveaway!!

Marta over at Marta's Meanderings is celebrating her 100th post with a HUGE(!!!) giveaway. You can check it out HERE. She's got a Women's History package from Hachette as well at the Spring Cleaning package. And 5 lucky winners will get BOTH packages!! Can you believe that?! So hop on over and congratulate her and sign up for the giveaway.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Picture Book Thursday: Llama Llama Misses Mama (and Giveaway!!)

A little bit ago, I reviewed Anna Dewdney's book Llama Llama Mad at Mama. While looking up the other Llama Llama books, I realized a new book was coming out in March: Llama Llama Misses Mama. I requested a review copy and Samantha from the Penguin Group was nice enough to send me one (Thanks Samantha)!

When we first met Llama Llama, he wore red pajamas and was a little scared of the dark. He called for his mama and continued to get louder and louder until she came running in the room and said, "Enough of this llama drama." In the second book, Llama Llama gets bored while shopping and further llama drama occurs. Now, in the third book, Llama Llama is off to his first day of preschool.

Llama Llama's day starts off with waking up and getting dressed. Then they are off to school. Mama drops him off and says good-bye. He cannot find anything he wants to do, the kids are loud, and he realizes at lunch time that he really misses his Mama. The teacher takes him aside and assures him that Mama will be back to pick him up when school is through. With this news, he perks right up and starts to have a good time. And when Mama arrives at the end of the day, he realizes he loves his Mama AND school!

This is a delightful addition to Dewdney's Llama Llama series. I just love the rhymes in these books. I also really enjoy the range of emotions Llama Llama feels throughout each story. My girls (especially my three year old) love these books too. I believe they like the illustrations as well as the cadence of the text. And each story is definitely something they can relate to. The books are great for showing a child's point of view in situations where grownups may not think about how children feel. Like how the dark can make you a little scared, and the more you think about it, the scarier it gets; or how boring it can be to shop with Mommy; or how anxious you can get to be taken to a new environment and just left there without anything familiar.

Llama Llama Misses Mama has a great subject and would be perfect to read to children just starting preschool, daycare, or another new situation where they may not know anyone. Lily was very anxious this last fall about going to preschool and this would have been the perfect book to read to her. If you're a fan of the previous books, this one does not disappoint. And you can get your own copy when it is released next Thursday, March 19th!

About the Author
Anna Dewdney ( lives just over a covered bridge in southern Vermont. Her two teenage daughters attend boarding school, so she hopes that they miss her; she misses them! To distract herself, she's been slowly renovating a very old house and goes running with her dogs, Radish and Roscoe.

Here's the GIVEAWAY:
Penguin has offered to give one lucky person a new copy of this book!! If you think your child will love Llama Llama enter this contest! Open until 11:59pm Wednesday, March 18th. I will announce the winner on the 19th, the day the book is available for purchase.

To enter:
1. Leave a comment with your email address saying you'd like to be entered
2. For two extra entries, answer this question: what animal character (from a book) is your child's favorite (or even your favorite)?
3. Subscribe to this blog via Google Reader, or follow us in Blogger and receive 3 extra entries (or let me know you already subscribe).
4. Post about this contest on your blog for one additional entry.

That's a total of 7 possible entries! So go now. Comment away! Pass the word on! Good luck!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Weebeasts Winner

Marie, Marie, come out wherever you are? :-)

We'd love for you to claim your Weebeasts gift pack. Please email us with your mailing address by 11:59pm Wednesday March 11th or unfortunately, we'll have to pick another winner.

Thanks!!! :-)

Edited to add: Yay! We found her! That was fast.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Library Loot

And as if I don't already have enough books lying around here to occupy me for a couple YEARS, I was at the Chanhassen Library again yesterday and couldn't help grabbing these off the shelf!

Gilda Joyce: The Ladies of the Lake by Jennifer Allison
It's funny, I remember reading a review of Gilda Joyce: Psychic Investigator on one of the many book blogs I read. So this title popped out at me on the shelf. I thought maybe it was Jen Robinson's blog. Then I searched my Google Reader after I got home and realized it was right here! Allison posted about a week or so ago. LOL! They didn't have the first one at the library but I decided I'd start with this one anyway to follow up on Allison's review.

Ulysses Moore: Door to Time from Scholastic
Allison reviewed this awhile back and I have the second one from a library book sale.

The Underneath by Kathi Appelet
I've heard alot about this one. It called out to me from the shelf.

The Magic Half by Annie Barrows
Again, one that etched in my mind after reading blog reviews of it.

Witch's Sister by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
I really enjoyed Roxie and the Hooligans and thought I would try out some of Naylor's other books. She has so many to pick from. I decided to start with her Witch series.

I have no idea if I'll actually get around to reading all of these or if some of them will go back to the library unread after a bit. But it'll be fun to look through them.

Vanishing Acts by Jodi Picoult

With all the posting going on about Jodi Picoult's new book Handle with Care, I felt in the mood to read another of her books last week. I have amassed quite a collection of her books from friends and giveaways. I think I have 11 of them and I have only purchased one which was a bargain book. I decided to read Vanishing Acts this time.

I found it to be just as likable as the other books I've read by her. It obviously follows her same formula: controversial situation, multiple character viewpoints, a legal issue and courtroom drama.

In Vanishing Acts, Delia Hopkins is 32 years old, has a 5 year old daughter with her fiance, Eric (who she's known for 28 years, they grew up best friends). She has another great best friend in Fitz who also grew up with her and Eric. Delia's father, Andrew is an upstanding citizen and great father. He always gave Delia everything she ever needed, love, and attention. Until one day, the authorities show up at the front door to arrest him for kidnapping, HER kidnapping! It turns out this is the truth, Andrew Hopkins did kidnap his daughter from her mother and we find out why in the rest of the book.

There are some really interesting ideas and juxtapositions in this book. Eric is a recovering alcoholic who takes on the case when Delia begs him to help defend her father. It turns out that Delia's mother was an alcoholic as well and that is one of the reasons Delia's father takes her. Also, Delia's occupation is search and rescue with her trained dog. Ironic, since she had no idea she was lost herself.

While this book is not quite as engrossing as some of Picoult's other books, I still enjoyed reading it. There is a section about the Hopi and a character named Ruthann that seemed really thrown in there. I know Picoult likes to do a lot of research for her books and I felt like this addition was just her obligatory "I must show you I have researched Arizona and its native cultures and throw that in this book." Obviously, the addition to the story is a little deeper than that, but it didn't quite fit for me. I liked the character of Ruthann, but it seemed to not really be a great part of the story for me.

I'm number 37 on the request list for Handle With Care so I'm looking forward to getting that one soon!

My other Picoult reviews:
My Sister's Keeper
Plain Truth
Salem Falls
The Pact
Change of Heart

Mailbox Monday

Marcia from The Printed Page hosts Mailbox Mondays. I thought I would participate this week because I got a boatload of books in the mail in the last week or so.

Mooched from Bookmooch:
*Poppy Done to Death (#8 in the Aurora Teagarden Mystery Series) by Charlaine Harris
*How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell
*Flush by Carl Hiaasen
*Much Ado About Anne (sequel to The Mother/Daughter Book Club) by Heather Vogel Frederick--I haven't read the first one, but would really like to.
*The Doll People by Ann M. Martin

Won in a contest:
*Lethal Legacy (Advanced Reader Edition) by Linda Fairstein from Melissa's Winner's Choice Giveaway

Advanced Reader Editions received (Thanks to Katie at Ballantine Books!):
*The Late Lamented Molly Marx by Sally Koslow
*Beach Trip by Cathy Holton
*The Last Bridge by Teri Coyne

I'm particularly excited about the Advanced Readers from Ballantine and Lethal Legacy. I hope to get to those very soon. The others are just books I've been wanting to add to my library and they popped up on Bookmooch so I grabbed them. :-)

Hope you all have a great week!

Child's Play

39 Clues Book 3: The Sword Thief by Peter Lerangis:

The third book in The 39 Clues multimedia series was a little heavy on annoying bad-guy point-of-view (and there are several annoying bad guys), but I was swept up in the action nonetheless. This entry takes Amy and Dan to Japan, where we are treated to some interesting history of the Yakuza and a dollop of alchemy. Perhaps what this series does best is incorporate some learning that might spur reluctant readers to seek out other books on topics they like. Amy and Dan are still struggling with the "Trust No One" rule about the Cahill family, but they are forced into some unlikely alliances. I don't want to give any key plot development away, but I thought one character's point of view should have been excluded--when we learn this person't thoughts, it solves the mystery of which side the person is on. This one was about the same length as Book 2, and my guess is this is the standard, and Book 1 was only longer to set the stage. For an adult, this makes for barely an hour of reading, but it was a fun, action-packed hour. I like Amy and Dan, and their adventures are interesting.

My review of Book 1, Maze of Bones
My review of Book 2, One False Note

Percy Jackson: The Demigod Files by Rick Riordan: This is a pre-Book 5 release, and a cynic would say its only purpose is to generate cash for Disney/Hyperion from readers desperately waiting for Book 5 (May! Yay!). I probably wouldn't have paid $12.95 for it, but had a good price with the member discount and I needed something else to get to free shipping. I'm glad I did! The three short stories are the meat of the book, and they're excellent adventures. I wouldn't read them if you haven't read the four books in the series, as some information from the books is revealed. The rest is mildly entertaining filler--a map of Camp Half-Blood, a crossword puzzle, a guide to the Greek gods, and a diagram of Annabelle's trunk, but the stories are worth it. "The Stolen Chariot" was released online for free quite some time ago, but now I can get rid of my printout that's sitting on the shelf next to the series books, and the other two stories were new to me. In short, not an essential read, but the stories make it very tempting for a Percy Jackson fan.

Mystery Monday!

Cream Puff Murder by Joanne Fluke: This is the latest (11th) Hannah Swensen mystery set in Lake Eden, Minnesota, and it was a fun, breezy addition to the series. Hannah has to lose weight to fit into a dress her mother bought for her, her cat, Moishe, is acting very strangely, and her sometimes-boyfriend Mike is a suspect in the murder of obnoxious Ronnie, a fitness instructor who's slept with half of Lake Eden. Hannah finds Ronnie in the Jacuzzi at her gym, an upended platter of Hannah's Cream Puffs nearby. With Mike unable to investigate (he's been taken off the case, along with the other cops who had had a "personal relationship" with Ronnie), she juggles the instructions of four different friends, deals with the rumors about Mike and Ronnie, and subsists on salads with low-fat dressing. The love triangle is my least favorite part of this series, but it's not horrible. I just find it unrealistic that Mike and Norman would be friends with each other and neither would get tired of waiting for Hannah to make a decision. Some progress was made in this installment, and I look forward to next year's entry! Meanwhile, I will be trying out Hannah's Cream Puff recipe.

The first in this charming culinary mystery series is Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder, and I recommend starting there.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Book Giveaway Carnival Winners--Firefly Lane

And I took on the responsibility of picking the winners for Firefly Lane. WOW! What a response we had for that one! I also used to pick and the number generator picked #63 and #101. So, YZgirl4 and Nicole, come on down! You are the winners of your very own copy of Firefly Lane! Hope you enjoy it!

And thank you so much for everyone who entered and checked out our blog. Hope you visit us again!

Book Giveaway Carnival Winner - Weebeasts!

Thank you to all who entered our Weebeasts package giveaway! There were so many entries (64) that I couldn't use my standby method of having Lilah pull your names out of a bowl. Instead, selected Eidolons and Marie! Congratulations! Let us know how you enjoy the books.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Mystery of the Third Lucretia by Susan Runholt

Oh dear, I’m sorry to say, but I hope you make it to the bottom of this post. I’m about to go on and on!

I picked this book up because it was sitting on the “New Arrivals” shelf in the children’s area of the Chanhassen library. How could I pass it up? It was a mystery, it was about art theft and the art involved was from the Baroque period (17th century). AND, I was familiar with the art topic of Lucretia! Seriously, I couldn’t get more excited. Plus, I could use this as my first book for the Art History Reading Challenge.

I’ll try not to go all art historian on you (I do have to go on a little bit though) and actually talk about the book in a minute. My focus for my art history major in college was Baroque art and I spent half my time studying the female artist Artemisia Gentileschi. I remembered one of the papers I wrote on her included her Lucretia so I just had to go Google the painting and look at it again before writing this. And because I’m a big dork and kept all my art history info from college, I even FOUND my paper and reread that part. You know what really TRULY amazes me? How easy do kids have it these days with the internet? I mean, yes, the internet existed when I was in school. But, not like today. I had to scour academic search engines to find information in journal articles and books on the topics I studied. There was no wikipedia. And there certainly was not an entire website devoted to Artemisia! I am feeling old and amazed by the information so readily available at our fingertips. Not to mention, how easy it would have been to study for an art history test if I could just bring up the images on my computer to look at! Instead of going to look at slides in the basement of the art building. Okay, I really will get to a BOOK review here. I just had to share why this book was calling to me to read it.

Susan Runholt’s book is a young adult mystery starring fourteen year old Kari and her best friend Lucas. The girls stumble across an art mystery when they encounter the same man in a gallery in the Minneapolis Institute of Art and The National Gallery in Britain. He appears to be copying famous Rembrandt paintings and the girls are intrigued to find out why. They start to spy on him and come up with clever ways of staying covert. After a third painting of Rembrandt’s Lucretia is “found” and donated to the Rijksmuseum, Kari’s mother realizes the girls really were on to something and attempts to help catch the forger. Danger, kidnapping and more ensue.

The book is written in first person from Kari’s point of view so we are treated to the inner workings a fourteen-year-old’s head. While many children’s and young adult books do not have the parents present, Runholt has very cleverly involved Kari’s mother to a point, but also provides good excuses for the mother to be busy in order for the girls to explore on their own. I think both mother and daughter are portrayed well here. From a younger person’s point of view, the mom seems rather cool and from a mother’s perspective the mom does react somewhat realistically to the situation at hand.

My only gripe would be that sometimes I felt like the writer let a little of her own voice into the story instead of sticking with Kari’s voice. Some of Kari’s thoughts and conclusions seemed a little mature for a fourteen-year old. And then again, other times, the voice seemed younger than fourteen to me. Actually, Kari’s voice seemed to mature over the course of the book. And maybe that’s what the author was going for since clearly being involved in a mystery, kidnapping and highly public art theft can mature a person.

Overall, this was a very fun adventure. I loved the art history references. I love the focus of the Lucretia story. Runholt has found a fantastic topic to write about for young women. Her message in the book is empowering and wonderful from the lessons both Kari and Lucas learn, to the portrayal of Lucas’ powerful grandmother ,and the evolution of Lucas’ mother from dizty socialite to devoted philanthropist. I so look forward to my daughters reading this book in the future. And I think this book would be a perfect addition to a mother/daughter book club list. It would be great to hear the reaction of both mothers and daughters to this book and their discussion of the mother/daughter relationships. This is a very PG-rated book. Where there might be swearing the girls use the word “Meep”. Even though its rated as young adult, other than the dangerous situations the girls get into, this book would be fine for younger than that. I’d say 10 and up.

Susan Runholt is a first-time author and the runner-up of the 2005 Debut Dagger Award by the Crime Writer’s Association of Great Britain. This was instrumental in getting this book published. Runholt also lives a stone’s throw away from me in St. Paul. She leaves the book opened for more mysteries from Kari and Lucas. In visiting the author’s website, I see her next book Rescuing Seneca Crane will be published this August! And she has already been asked to write a third book in the series.

I also came across the author's feelings about choosing her topic for the book and I just have to share them. “Mostly, THE MYSTERY OF THE THIRD LUCRETIA is meant to be just a fun book for kids--an exciting mystery that young readers can enjoy. But one of the things I was trying to do with the book was to write about ordinary kids who feel at home in museums and who respond very naturally and directly to art, the way my daughter did when she was their age. I really wanted to break down the barrier that somehow divides too many people, especially people in this country, from the beauty and power of art.” Go Susan!!

Monday, March 02, 2009

Book Giveaway Carnival - Weebeasts

The Weebeasts are a species of naked, pot-bellied, yellow creatures discovered by Micah Linton, who has taken it upon himself to document their history. In Weebeastology: Volume I (a three-volume set, plus poster), their history is documented...with no words at all! It is up to the reader to supply the story from the vivid, distinctive illustrations. In Weebeasts: Plight, a children's picture book, Linton tells the story of the Weebeasts' search for a new home after their bad behavior has them exiled.

Weebeastology is great set for reluctant readers, challenged readers, or children who just like to make up stories. I loved this idea--get children interested in reading by engaging them first in telling stories. The pictures-only format is also a fun way to explore story arcs and structure in a clear, enjoyable way. Weebeasts: Plight had the same vivid illustrations, but with a simple story and a nice lesson (be a good neighbor). Some opposites are thrown in to show the ups and downs of the journey.

We have TWO sets of Weebeasts prizes to win for Book Giveaway Carnival! Each winner will receive the three-volume Weebeastology set, Weebeasts: Plight, AND a plushy Weebeast. To enter, simply leave a comment on the post between now and 6:00 pm Eastern time on Friday, March 6!

Book Giveaway Carnival - Firefly Lane

Book Giveaway Carnival Week is here! Tracy at Bookroom Reviews is hosting a fun event all week. Head over to find some great giveaways from many book bloggers.

Here's our first giveaway for the week: Holly and I each have a copy of Firefly Lane to give away! To enter, just leave a comment on this post before this Friday, March 6 at 6:00 p.m. Eastern time. That's it!

Don't forget to read Holly's review of Firefly Lane here!

Mystery Monday!

Nutcase by Charlotte Hughes: Just as our thoughts turn to warm summer days (with the snow falling outside, unfortunately), comes a breezy beach read, the sequel to What Looks Like Crazy, which introduced psychologist Kate Holly, lovable, neurotic, and a magnet for trouble. The sequel is no less fun than the first entry in the series, which I would characterize as part cozy mystery, part madcap romance, and all fun. In the second book, Kate is attempting a reconciliation with her firefighter ex-husband Jay, who has his hands full with a serial arsonist and a busty new firefighter at the station. Meanwhile, Kate is being evicted from her office, possibly the only affordable rental space in a neighborhood that doesn't have bars on every window, and she's trying to help a high-profile new patient regain control of her life. While the arson subplot has "Backdraft" written all over it, and a gang subplot is less than compelling, Kate is as fun as ever. Her relationships are more complex than the usual romance novel--she is believably conflicted about Jay: whether to believe that he's faithful or not, how to cope with the danger he's in every day at work, and there's not an annoying love triangle involving Kate's ex-boyfriend, who is still a friend and colleague. Her sidekick, Mona, has her own endearing problems, and the support of Kate's fellow tenants is really sweet. This is a fun entry in a diverting series, and I look forward to reading Hanging by a Thread, the third in the series, next year.

My review of What Looks Like Crazy is right here.

Mummy Dearest by Joan Hess: I've said it many times before, but I'll say it again: I love the Claire Malloy series! This one, set in Egypt on Claire's honeymoon, is a fun homage to the Amelia Peabody novels of Elizabeth Peters. The honeymoon is actually a cover for some "agency" work by Peter, so Claire brings Caron and Inez along for company. Hmmm...Egypt alone, or Egypt with two squabbling teenagers? Tough call. Caron is sullen, Inez spouts facts like a guidebook, and the girls swear they're being followed by a strange man. Claire is left alone more often than she'd like, and the other guests at the hotel (and the staff) are sure Peter is off having an affair. At least Claire gets to visit an archeological site and solve a kidnapping and some murders! Mummy Dearest is #17 in the series, so if you haven't yet spent time with Claire, start with #1, Strangled Prose.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

YA Weekend

I'm cheating a bit for my alliteration: I, Lorelei and Gilda Joyce are really more middle-grade fiction than YA.

I, Lorelei by Yeardley Smith: Eleven-year-old Lorelei decides to keep a journal, to assist her future biographers, and she decides to address it to her recently deceased cat, Mud. What follows documents a year of ups and downs as Lorelei's parents begin the process of divorcing. In addition, Lorelei is involved in the school play, confronting a bully, befriending a friendless girl, and fighting with her best friend. And maybe even finding a first boyfriend. The journal is sweet and touching, and often hilarious, and I thought Lorelei's voice was authentic enough to carry off the journal format. If not all the loose ends are wrapped up at the end, well, that's how life is. And this difficult year in Lorelei's life is very well told indeed.

Scat by Carl Hiaasen: The brilliance of Carl Hiaasen is that he manages to take his all-over-the-place, barely contained, hilarious trademark style and adapt it into equally crazy and fun novels for young people. It's like he's had the adult content surgically removed without touching the great characters, wit, and humor he's known for. I loved Hoot and Flush, so it's no surprise I found Scat to be a delight. In this stand-alone novel, Nick's teacher, Mrs. Starch, disappears into the woods when a fire cuts short a field trip...and she doesn't come back out. Nick convinces his friend Marta to look into her disappearance. Throw in panther sightings, a scary classmate (who bites a pencil Mrs. Starch wags in his face, chews it up, and calmly swallows), an odd kidnapping, and a crooked oilman, and you have quite an enjoyable afternoon. The environmental message is very well incorporated into the storyline, so the book isn't preachy in the least, but suggests that a respect for nature is a good thing. Nick and Marta have a sweet friendship, and "Smoke," the scary classmate, is complex and surprising. Another winner from Hiaasen.

Gilda Joyce, Psychic Investigator by Jennifer Allison: Gilda, a whimsical thirteen-year-old, has decided on a career as a Psychic Investigator. That she's had no psychic experiences to date is not about to stop her, and she is motivated partly by a longing to contact her dead father. Hoping something more interesting than her usual summer at home with her mom and older brother, she manages to invite herself to visit a distant relative in San Francisco. Uncle Lester has a creepy house (complete with a tower from which his sister jumped to her death) and a sullen daughter Gilda's age. Gilda investigates what she is certain was foul play in the death of Aunt Meredith both using traditional methods apparently gleaned from reading Harriet the Spy (hilarious disguises abound) and through "psychic" methods like her Ouija board and automatic writing using her father's trusty old typewriter. Gilda is smart and funny and her struggles with her father's death, her mother's dating, and her best friend's absence (she's off to camp) ring true. Her growing friendship with cousin Juliet (who deals with some serious issues) is lovely, and her investigations hilarious. I will be reading the next adventures of Gilda in Ladies of the Lake and Ghost Sonata.