Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Review: Before Ever After by Samantha Sotto

It's funny how you hear about books and authors. I can't recall how I ran into Samantha Sotto on the blog circuit-- we must have been involved in some blogfest together. She had lived in the Netherlands like me, and so I enjoyed seeing what she had to say.

I liked her blog, followed it, and we commented back and forth on each other's blogs. At the time, I remember her book was available for pre-order. Then it published, and it was neat to watch all of that unfold. She was jetting around, visiting book clubs and going on signings, having interviews and magazine shoots.

I ordered her book  Before Ever After without even knowing what it was about. It came and like SO many books, it found a place on my waiting shelf. Based on the title alone I thought it was a fairy tale-themed book.

Check out this gorgeous cover.

This November I pledged to read some of the books on my shelf that were written by "blog friends", and Samantha's was the first I grabbed.

People. I'm telling you. You should treat yourself to this book. If you forced me to sum it up in one word it would be magical... no exhilarating... no, I change my mind, it's surprising... no, delectable.

Okay, I can't sum it up in one word.

Here's a little blurb based on the cover copy (these are not spoilers, I PROMISE)

Shelley's husband Max dies tragically, leaving her widowed at a young age. Three years later a young man appears on her doorstep who looks nearly identical to her lost husband. He claims to be Max's grandson, and takes her on a journey to the Philippines to attempt to track down his grandfather and her husband, who Shelley knows to be dead.

And it is SO much more than that.  Samantha's book is beautifully written, with a plot that carries you through time and around the world. I love to try to crack the plots of books before I finish them, but this book really was an enigma wrapped up in a mystery, surrounded by a puzzle. The clues were all there, but it wasn't possible to bring them together until the very end. And when it all came together, it was logical (in its own way), satisfying, and just worked perfectly.

I can't say more without spoiling it. I can say that I HIGHLY recommend this book.

It will have you itching to visit Europe (but only on a tour with Max), ready to fall in love, and dying for baked eggs.


Thursday, November 17, 2011

Book Club Slacker

Have you seen the movie Kicking and Screaming?

Not the one with Will Ferrell. (Nothing against WF, I love him, I'm just talking about the other one).

This is the one by Noah Baumbach, who wrote The Squid and The Whale and many other awesome movies.

Well, if you haven't seen it, there's this one moment where Chet (played by Eric Stoltz), the local over-educated barkeep and Otis (Carlos Jacott), the hilarious but infantile member of the group of friends decide to start a book club. Anyway, it becomes clear pretty quickly at the first meeting that Otis is pretending to have read the book.

Such. A great. Scene.

Anyway-- my point-- and I am getting to it, is that I'm kinda feeling like I'm that member of the Book Club.

The first month, the book was checked out of the library and I didn't get it in time. This month, I was planning to post a little late and then #snowmageddon hit.

I know. These excuses sound lame even to me.

It's like that I time I had to call the representative of TIAA-Cref and tell her I couldn't make our appointment to discuss my retirement account because my cat had an eye infection and the veterinarian said I had to bring him in IMMEDIATELY.

And even though that was TRUE, I still sound like one of my students.

I am trying, though, and I'm hoping that I will not get kicked out of the book club.

I caught up, and read both Ransom Rigg's Ms. Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children and Laini Taylor's Daughter of Smoke and Bone.

Here are the briefest of reviews: I enjoyed Ms. Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. The photos made the book oh-so-compelling. I enjoyed the imagination of the story and the cool world-building. I adored the characters. I want to see more books with integrated images/old photos.

All that being said, Daughter of Smoke and Bone blew me away. It transported me into another world. I didn't see a single twist or turn coming, and yet every plot point was perfectly believable. Most of all, I LOVED Taylor's precision of words. She has a special gift for language. At moments reading the book I almost kind of drooled over her words (and I realize this sentence does nothing to display a special talent I may or may not have with words. Sorry. I'm still a little awed). They were magical.

Many times lately I've read a book that is a part of a series, and while I've enjoyed the experience, I've thought: I'm not necessarily going to rush out to buy when the next one comes out. Maybe I'm being stingy with my reading time. Maybe I'm feeling the fatigue of so many three-book deals. That was not the case with this book. I will keep reading Laini Taylor.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Middle Grade Book Club

As you may recall, I'm hosting a middle-grade book club with my son's elementary school. My sons are in the Pre-K and 1st grade, but the book club is for 4th and 5th graders.

Our first book is Rick Roirdan's The 39 Clues.

Many of you made great suggestions for our pick. I worked with the school's administration to whittle that list down. Some of the suggested books were already taken by the other book clubs running at school, or by teachers as their read-aloud books.

We settled on The 39 Clues because we liked that it was a series that the kids could continue in the future.

I have to say, it is SO MUCH FUN. The kids are great: bright, funny, and sweet. It's really casual. We read aloud during our meetings and have a snack, and then we decide as a group how much we'll read for the next week (and invariably almost half the kids do not read that far and we pick it back up where we were reading it aloud from the week before).

I've also been reading it with my first grader and we're really enjoying it. I think what I like the most is seeing what cracks him up in the book. It's hilarious.

Also, I love the concept of these interwoven stories by a host of writers. All the puzzles and clues are also fun, smart, and mind-bending in the best way.

Have you read this series?

What did you think about it?

Friday, November 11, 2011

What I'm reading in November

(photo credit)

I can't believe I'm finally at the stage where I kind-of know people who write books!

I don't "know-know" these authors, but maybe I "blog-know" them.

As my husband says, they are my "pretend friends".

I have several books by blogging friend authors, or friends of blogging friend authors on my shelf, and for whatever reasons haven't had the chance to read them yet.

November will be a month for catching up!  I'll be reading and posting reviews of these books by new authors, so you can get the chance to know them, too.

What are YOU reading in November?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Chronicle's Happy Haul-idays

I SO loved doing this event last year.

This year, the lovely folks at Chronicle have upped the prizes.

The basic prize is the same, you can win up to $500 of books for you, a friend who comments on your blog, AND THIS YEAR, also for your favorite charity. 

How cool is that?

I emailed Chronicle and they say that I can pick my neighborhood public school as the recipient of the gift. That would be the The Macdonough School.

Last year, I loved browsing their site so much that I bought nearly ALL my holiday gifts from Chronicle (oh, what a clever promotion you have thought up, you brilliant folk!)

This year, it was fun to revisit and to narrow down $500 worth of goods.

And, I will proudly admit that the MoMA Modern Family Play House is for ME, not some child in my life.


How I Stole Johnny Depp's Alien Girlfriend
Spinning Out
The Space Between Trees
The Orphan of Awkward Falls


MoMA My Museum
MoMA Modern Play Family
MoMA Modern Play House
Seeing Stars: An Introduction to the Night Sky
Mobile Art: Papers, Instructions, and Patterns for Twenty Stunning Mobiles
Curiosities: Vintage-Inspired Adornments for Gifts and Correspondence


More Mobile: Portable Architecture for Today Princeton Architectural Press
The Nature of Place: A Search for Authenticity
Sustainable Design: A Critical Guide for Architects and Interior, Lighting, and Environmental Designers Princeton Architectural Press

Journals and Notecards

Typewriter Eco-Journal
Clear Skies Eco-Journal
Succulents Eco-Journal
Forests Eco-Keepsake Notecards
From My Garden Eco-Keepsake Notecards
Petit Collage Eco-Keepsake Notecards


How to cook like a Top Chef
The New Whole Grains Cookbook: Terrific Recipes Using Farro, Quinoa, Brown Rice, Barley, and Many Other Delicious and Nutritious Grains


Design for Victory: World War II Poster on the American Home Front
Audrey Hepburn


The Meaning of Trees: Botany History Healing Love
A Force for Nature: The Story of NRDC and the Fight to Save Our Planet


Visit Chronicle's SITE.

Create your own HAUL-IDAYS post, comment on others, and JOIN THE AWESOMENESS.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

October's I Dig Reading Challenge

Just a quick update for the I Dig Reading Challenge in October.

Check out Joanne Fritz' update-- she reads a ton of books and has donated to some amazing causes.

I read eleven books in October, here they are in no particular order:

Elliott and the Goblin War by Jennifer Neilsen, a fun middle-grade romp. 

The Calder Game by Blue Balliett: LOVE her puzzle-filled middle grade books. Definitely check her out. 

Erebus: An edge-of-your-seat thriller BETA by Holly Dodson

The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier. Dudes. Why didn't you tell me this book would rip my heart out and stomp all over it?

All of a Kind Family by Sydney Taylor a lovely old-school book about a family living in NYC in the early 1900s. 

Silent Spring by Rachel Carson.  This was a re-read. I love what she did with this book (succeeding in getting DDT banned in the US) , and I love her writing. She writes about a serious topic (the impact of pesticides in America), and does it so, so beautifully:

"There was once a town in the heart of America where all life seemed to live in harmony with its surroundings. The town lay in the midst of a checkerboard of prosperous farms, with fields of grain and hillsides of orchards where, in spring, white clouds of bloom drifted above the green fields... Then a strange blight crept over the area and everything began to change." 

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor. If it weren't for the book club I may have missed this one. To make up for missing the Book Club (again), I will write a whole post for this book. INCREDIBLE. That's all I can say here.

The Missing Person’s League by Frank Bonham. This was the book from my teen years that I recently found again. Every bit as amazing as I remembered.  Isn't it wonderful when a book is like an old friend?

Hate List by Jennifer Brown. A book that is about so much more than what the cover indicates. A deeply moving and gripping story, told with a lot of compassion. 

The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things by Carolyn Mackler. Also about a lot more than you'd think (I love when a book surprises me!)

Ms Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs. This author has the best name ever. (He could be a spy with that name.) What a delightfully creepy book. Those found photos really elevated the story, and I have a feeling we'll be seeing a lot more books that integrate images with text but not quite to the level of the graphic novel. 

And once again I'm donating to Gilead Community Services for their annual fundraiser. Unfortunately it was postponed due to #snowmageddon, but I'm looking forward to it being rescheduled soon. 

Monday, November 7, 2011

Halloween in #snowmageddon

Here's a pic of my little Jedi knights and their "light savers".

I'm happy to report Halloween was rescheduled for last night. It was more like two weak Halloweens instead of one mega-event, but the boys had a great time. (Just between you and me and their dentist, I'm glad they didn't get tons of candy).

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Why you don't want to be on my team during the apocalypse

I think of myself as being pretty tough.

I have no problem picking up nonvenomous snakes and bugs. I've even held a 'gator (with its mouth tied closed, I'm not insane).

I've camped, hiked, etc.

I've stayed in grubby hotels in developing countries.

I've been to a dry toilet CONFERENCE for goodness sakes!

I've lived in multiple homes my husband has been in the process of remodeling. I've lived without hot showers, bathrooms, or a kitchen for several days during these kinds of remodel jobs.

But I will tell you now, I'm a wus.

Six days without heat, hot showers, and the ability to keep food cold, and then heat it up... and I know myself better.

Perhaps because #snowmageddon was a surprise? Maybe because when you do a remodeling job you plan it for nicer weather?

I don't know... but while my characters are tough, and regularly kick butt in apocalypse-style scenarios, I know now that I cannot hang.

I want my house to be warm and I want to eat hot food.

The only kind of cool thing about #snowmageddon was that school was cancelled (for both myself and the kids). After a day or two of totally FREAKING OUT about work obligations, I was able to relax and we had a lot of fun together.

Besides reading, playing outside, and gathering food from the wild (I made that last one up), we had a blast creating linoleum prints.

I will post some soon.

It was already that time of the year when the school calendar gets a little nutty, so you may not hear from me much in the coming weeks -- I will schedule some posts, but may not be visiting many blogs.

I will return though, I promise!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


Just an update lovely blogging friends.

We are still in the midst of #snowmageddon

No heat, no cooking gas, no electricity... and *gasp* no interwebs.

Not to mention: they cancelled Halloween! The gall!

The kids are home from school and full of questions about when we can make pancakes, or why we can't watch a movie. (I guess I haven't made the whole "electricity" thing clear to them).

Thank goodness for generous friends with power, showers, and internets.

Here's a brief photo essay.

Here's breakfast

Here's the Volvo (thank you Swedish engineers, it's fine)

 Here's the back yard.

And to be honest, it wasn't that bad for us. Many many towns are still at 100% without power.

I have SO many posts I'm just itching to write, like reviews of two months worth of the Fall Book Club picks, the exciting books I'm reading in November, what I read in October including the I Dig Reading Challenge, and an update on my middle grade book club which is SO AWESOME.

They say we'll have power by Sunday...

Hope to be visiting your blogs again soon.