Saturday, November 29, 2014

Picture Book Christmas Countdown

There are a lot of great bloggers who have posted lists similar to this. I love the Christmas book countdown and I've been doing this with my kids for the last couple of years. Before December starts, I wrap up 24 Christmas books and let my kids open one each day, ending on Christmas Eve. I number ours so that we have certain books on certain days -- generally to correspond with another advent activity we're doing together.

If you're looking for ideas for Christmas-themed picture books, this will give you a good start. I've included some extras that we've read in years past but didn't make the list this year. Some of these are books we own and others are borrowed from the library. Just be careful if you do this with library books -- mark them well so you open them early enough and don't wrack up late fees! I also try to give us a good mix of styles, so some of these are funny and others are more serious, some are informative and some are downright ridiculous.

(I've marked our family favorites on the list with a **)

Books We Own

**Santa Claus by Rod Green
**How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss
Bear Stays Up for Christmas by Karma Wilson
**The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg
The Nightmare Before Christmas by Tim Burton
A Bad Kitty Christmas by Nick Bruel
**Santa's Favorite Story by Hisako Aoki
If You Take a Mouse to the Movies by Laura Numeroff
Santa is Coming to Utah by Steve Smallman
Olive, The Other Reindeer by Vivian Walsh
Snowmen at Night by Caralyn Beuhner
The Sweet Smell of Christmas by Patricia M. Scarry
Elf: A Short Story of a Tall Tale by David Berenbaum
Mickey's Christmas Carol
**The Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore
Olivia Helps with Christmas by Ian Falconer

Books We're Borrowing

The Night Before the Night Before Christmas by Natasha Wing
Auntie Claus by Elise Primavera
The Christmas Giant by Steve Light
My Penguin Osbert by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel
Santa Claus: The World's Number One Toy Expert by Marla Frazee
**Mooseltoe by Margie Palatini
A Merry Little Christmas by Mary Engelbreit
**Mr. Willowby's Christmas Tree by Robert E. Barry

More Ideas

The Great Reindeer Rebellion by Lisa Trumbauer
Dinosaur Christmas by Jerry Pallotta
Peter Claus and the Naughty List by Lawrence David
Great Joy by Kate DiCamillo
Snowmen at Christmas by Caralyn Buehner
Santa Claustrophobia by Mike Reiss
Sad Santa by Tad Carpenter
The Santa Trap by Jonathan Emmett

Do you have other Christmas picture book favorites? I'd love to hear what you're reading with your kids during December.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Sweetness of Life by Paulus Hochgatterer

I received a Review Copy of this ebook through Edelweiss. If you're interested in getting advanced copies of books, this is a good resource as some are available for immediate download.

I am really torn about this book. I sincerely wanted to like it, but I feel like it had too many little marks against it for me to give it a stellar review. Here are my thoughts:

The Sweetness of Life is the English translation of a German mystery/thriller, set to be released December 2. Perhaps due to the fact that it is translated, or maybe just coincidentally, the style is somewhat reminiscent of the novels of Steig Larsson or Jussi Adler-Olsen, but this novel is not executed nearly as well as those I have read by the aforementioned authors.

The story is a good one -- really a horrible one if you look at it from the perspective of the characters. A grandfather is found dead by his young granddaughter, who then stops talking. As the child psychologist and the local police work to discover the old man's murderer, the story becomes quite complex as more and more people become intertwined.

The thing I love most about this book is the shifting perspectives. Some chapters are written in third person and others are written in first person. In some chapters, it takes a while for the reader to understand which character is narrating. This shifting perspective really helps to develop the mystery. Some characters have obvious suspicions about the identity of the killer, while others stick more to the facts of the case. Other characters seem to be wholly disconnected from the heart of the story, but since they are there, the reader becomes suspicious of them as well. This is very well done.

So I don't hate the book. I feel it has many points in its favor. However...

I feel that there are too many minor characters introduced with too much detail, which leads nowhere. For example, the reader is told quite a bit of detail about Dr. Horn's coworkers. These people are minor characters, having little or nothing to do with the main plot, and I felt the details provided about them were unnecessary. Other characters who later become more central to the story are less developed. I would love to know more about Joseph Bauer, Bjorn Gasselik, and Joachim Fux.

My other gripe with this novel is its abrupt ending. The murderer is revealed on the final page of the book, seemingly out of nowhere. I think that if some of the characters I mentioned earlier were more developed, this revelation would make more sense. But perhaps that is the point. After all, this is a psychological thriller and much of the book is spent inside the minds of the various characters, many of whom have psychological disorders.

And that is why I feel so ambivalent about this book. Hochgatterer has published the second installment in the "Kovacs and Horn Investigation" series and I am interested to see if it is better. For now, I would probably only recommend The Sweetness of Life with strong reservations.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Stacking the Shelves

Here is what is new to my reading pile this week linked up on Tynga's Reviews:

Lillian on Life by Alison Jean Lester -- an advanced reading copy, set for release in January 2015. I got this novel from Edelweiss.

I can't remember if I've actually read this installment of Robertson's Crowther & Westerman series, so I decided to borrow it from the library and find out. So far, not ringing a bell.

Monday was my birthday and I received Jim Gaffigan's Food: A Love Story from my hubby. I anticipate that this will be a fun read.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Audiobook Review: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving

Just before Halloween, I finished off my last audiobook and wanted something festive to listen to while I worked. I quickly downloaded The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving (read by Anthony Heald). This is a classic that I had never read before, so my familiarity with the story comes from the cartoon adaptation and the Tim Burton film.

Since I assume that most everyone is familiar with the plot of this one, I won't bother with a summary. What I will say is that, having only seen film adaptations and not read the book, I was surprised at how faithful the cartoon version is to the original. The Tim Burton version took quite a few liberties, though.

The interesting thing about this book is that there is not much, if any, dialogue, so there was little need for characterization in the audio version. I felt that Heald did an excellent job of narrating the story. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to this, and as it is a short novel, the audio is less than 2 hours long.

This audiobook could be a great one to listen to with kids prior to Halloween -- especially if they're already familiar with the story.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

French Kids Eat Everything by Karen Le Billon

This read was inspired by my 6-year old son, Eddie. He is slightly picky. And when I say 'slightly,' I mean 'quite.' And when I say 'quite,' I mean 'ridiculously.' I happened upon this book while shelving at the library and decided it wouldn't hurt to read it. I'll take any help I can get at this point.

French Kids Eat Everything was an interesting read for me. Not only are my kids the same ages as the author's kids at the time that the book is set, but their eating preferences seem to mirror my kids' quite well. Le Billon's eldest daughter would eat mostly pasta with parmesan. My son will eat pasta, bread, and not much else. I always just assumed that he is picky and that it is a personality trait -- nature, not nurture. Then my daughter came along (much like Le Billon's second) and would eat pretty much everything... to a certain point. Now she is 3 and her eating is starting to be influenced by her brother. Clearly, this is not entirely nature at work here.

Since I found the correlations between Le Billon's children and my own to be strangely aligned, I was sucked into this book. Le Billon writes about moving her family to France for a year (which is not feasible for most of us, but since she could telecommute and her husband is French, it was for them). Once there, they work to get settled into French society, which includes eating "the French way." According to Le Billon, the French do not snack, they engrain good eating habits into their children from birth, and they value the time spent preparing and eating delicious and nutritious food.

Le Billon writes about her daughters' struggles to integrate themselves into French society, particularly the food culture. After wasting some energy trying to "protect" her older daughter -- protect her from being hungry all day at school since she wasn't allowed to snack and was required to eat the same lunch as everyone else -- she realized that she was trying to protect her daughter from the wrong things. So she and her husband decided to alter the way their family ate at home to better reflect what their children were being taught in school. This includes things like scheduled meals at specific times of the day, no snacking between meals, introducing new foods as often as possible, and taking the negativity out of eating.

I found many of Le Billon's "food rules" to be insightful and intriguing, even if they are things we've all heard before. I would like to try some of these things in my own home once my work schedule doesn't take me away during dinner time 4 nights each week. I love the idea that kids should eat what the adults eat, with no modifications or substitutions.

So, from my perspective as "frazzled parents to an extremely picky eater," I found this book inspiring and a little guilt-inducing. I realize that I'm to blame (at least partially) for my son's poor eating habits. But Le Billon doesn't just leave the reader with guilt, she empowers parents to make what positive changes they can.

I heartily recommend this book to anyone struggling with a picky eater, or anyone looking for ideas to take the negativity and conflict out of eating with children.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Stacking the Shelves

I'm hoping to make "Stacking the Shelves" a regular feature here on the blog. This was inspired by Tynga's Reviews, a blog that hosts a weekly link-up. If you're looking for new book ideas, check out their latest link-up to get ideas from a lot of different sources!

"Stacking the Shelves" is all about sharing what I've recently added to my reading pile, both paper books, ebooks, and audiobooks. Here is what is new for me this week:


I was recently awarded a galley of Alan Bradley's upcoming Flavia de Luce Mystery from Edelweiss. I love this series and I'm reading feverishly to catch up so that I can review the entire series before this latest installment is released in January. Look for that review in mid to late December!


I also recently received a galley of Her by Harriet Lane through Shelf Reliance. This book was first published earlier this year, and a new edition is being released early next year. I've started reading, but I'm not far enough into it to give any initial thoughts yet. Look for a review in a couple of weeks.


A library copy of Wallace Stegner's Crossing to Safety is now sitting on my shelf, waiting for me to get to it. I have never read any of Stegner's work, but feel like he is another author I need to experience for myself. Hopefully I can get to it before I have to return it! I'll also post a review of this when I've finished it.


Since I feel like I always need some non-fiction on my list, I recently borrowed 12 Years a Slave by Solomon Northup. This will be the next audiobook I delve into and I hope it's not too intense to listen to while I work.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Audiobook Review - The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Last month, I started working for my local library as a shelver. Since I work on my own and don't work with library patrons much, I get to listen to music or audiobooks while I work. This is an amazing perk and helps me multitask and "read" more books than I would otherwise be able to.

The first audiobook I listened to was F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. Despite the fact that it is a classic and there have been several film adaptations, I hadn't read or seen any of them and was quite unfamiliar with the story. I checked out the William Hope version from my library's online system and started listening.

Hope's voicing and characterization immediately engrossed me. Instead of feeling like someone was reading to me, I felt like someone was telling me this story about themselves. His voicing of the female characters did take a little getting used to (as would pretty much any man voicing a variety of female characters). I absolutely loved this version and would heartily recommend it.

But, I didn't finish the book quickly enough before the online system made me return the audiobook to the library. So I checked out a different version, this one voiced by Tim Robbins. This version was similarly done, with Robbins adding characterization to the narrative. I think if I had listened to this version from the beginning, it would have seemed like an excellent version. But coming from the William Hope version, I felt that Robbins' characterizations were off, his accents wrong, and the emotions not conveyed as well as they could have been. It was well done, but not as well done as the Hope version.

After finishing the book and exploring online to see what other versions there were, I came across a more recent version read by Jake Gyllenhaal. This new version was released around the same time that the newer film adaptation starring Leonardo DiCaprio was released. This audiobook got a lot of press and as I browsed the Google search results raving about Gyllenhaal's performance, I decided I needed to take a listen and judge for myself. So I listened to several different snippets and found myself disappointed. This is not to say that Gyllenhaal does a bad job narrating the story, but this version felt more like being read to instead of being spoken to. Gyllenhaal didn't even attempt to do the voices of the characters, which I suppose is better than doing it badly. But I feel that the characterization adds a lot to the listener's experience. I felt that the emotion in this version was seriously lacking.

Have you listened to audiobooks before? Do you have favorite narrators? I would love to hear your thoughts on the subject as I'm just getting into the audiobook scene. Please tell me your favorites (and least favorites) in the comments below!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Paris Winter by Imogen Robertson

When I prepared to start this blog, I researched how to get Advanced Reading Copies (ARCs) of books so that I could review them prior to their release. I have gotten several ARC ebooks, but this is the first printed book I have received. This book was originally published in the U.K. in 2013. This first U.S. edition is set for release on November 18.

Imogen Robertson is not a new author for me. I have read and thoroughly enjoyed her Crowther and Westerman series. That series is historical mystery/thriller, so that is what I expected with The Paris Winter. I was not disappointed.

The Paris Winter is a stand-alone novel, the story of young Maud Heighton. Miss Heighton is an English art student living in Paris in 1909. The story follows her developing friendship with another student, Tanya Koltsova, and model Yvette. Through the assistance of her friends, Maud begins working as a companion to a young Frenchwoman, Sylvie Morel. Slowly, Maud is lured into the sordid underbelly of Paris, becoming a victim of violence and deceit.

The characterization in this novel is superb. Maud is a sympathetic and naive character and through the first half of the novel, she is the focus of the narrative. Mid-novel, the perspective shifts slightly, and the reader is given more insight into the lives of the other characters -- Tanya, Yvette, and the Morels. As the young women work to solve the mystery surrounding what happened to Maud and why, an intricate web of lies and violence is revealed.

The plot lines are interesting and beautifully interconnected throughout the novel. The story reaches its climax during the massive flooding in Paris in January 1910, and as the water rises, so does the intensity.

This novel is artfully written and I heartily recommend it to all who enjoy historical fiction.

Monday, November 10, 2014

East of Eden by John Steinbeck

I had a notoriously bad public education -- at least in my opinion. Ever since I watched the film Of Mice and Men in sophomore English and read the final chapter of The Grapes of Wrath in that same class, I was convinced that I hated Steinbeck. I never attempted to read any Steinbeck since... until now. Inspired by my neighborhood book club, I delved into East of Eden, expecting to hate it. Here is what I really thought:

This novel follows the character of Adam Trask through his childhood and beyond, beginning in his childhood home in Connecticut, his time as a young man in the army, then his marriage and move to the Salinas Valley in California. The story also follows the Hamilton family, which is said to be based some of Steinbeck's relatives. Each character is artfully introduced and woven into the story.

At its root, this is an adaptation of the story of Adam and Eve -- two people, seemingly in their own Garden of Eden, until Eve makes a choice that changes everything. Adam and Cathy's twin sons, Aron and Caleb, even seem to embody the biblical Cain and Abel.

Beyond that, this story is about love and loss, good and evil, virtue and vice, and the redemption that can come through forgiveness. And I loved it.

That said, this novel has a lot of adult content, including sex and violence. So if you're squeamish about those things, this may not be for you. Otherwise, read it and enjoy it!

Friday, November 7, 2014

The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay

This read was inspired by The Modern Mrs. Darcy, a blog that you should definitely check out if you haven't already. Anne gives excellent book recommendations, including this one! 

(Do you see the ice cream or the faces? Dumb question, I know, but I was reading this book for days before my husband pointed out the faces and it freaked me out. I really didn't see them...)

The Sea of Tranquility was a very surprising and compelling read for me. I began reading this book with very little background knowledge apart from skimming the blurb on the book jacket. This book is Young Adult Fiction and is the story of two teenagers, Nastya and Josh, and it is told from both of their perspectives in turn. It is a story about love, loss, and second chances. But it doesn't really seem that way at first. Sorry if that's a spoiler.

The book starts out with Nastya as the new girl at high school. Not only is she new, but she dresses terribly and doesn't talk -- at all. If she has to communicate, she does it through writing, but rarely does so. Instead she just tries to avoid interacting with people. Then you meet Josh, a boy who is not new and everyone knows his tragic backstory. Because nobody knows how to relate to him, he is usually alone. But soon, Josh and Nastya are drawn together.
“I know at that moment what he's given me and it isn't a chair. It's an invitation, a welcome, the knowledge that I am accepted here. He hasn't given me a place to sit. He's given me a place to belong.”
I think this story is really about how we construct our own identity or how we let other people construct it for us. And in the end, I think all that really matters to these two characters is how true they are to themselves as they deal with the heartache and tragedy of the past.

This was an interesting and enlightening read. There is a fair amount of language and some adult situations, but overall I would recommend this book.

Linked at:

  The Steadfast Reader

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger

This read was inspired by the Salt Lake County Library, which is currently hosting a reading event called "One County, One Book." They selected Ordinary Grace as their first book, hoping to create a county-wide discussion. I thought this was an excellent idea, so I decided to participate. If you're in Salt Lake County and you're interested in learning more about this event, check out "One County, One Book" by clicking here.

Ordinary Grace is a novel about family, faith, and tragedy. The story is told by Frank Drum as an adult, looking back on the summer of 1961. That year, a series of tragedies struck the small town of New Bremen, where Frank lived with his family. Frank tells of his first experiences with death and the intense aftermath. This is truly a coming-of-age story, not only about Frank himself, but also about his siblings, Ariel and Jake. Through the novel, 13-year old Frank is immersed in an adult world that he doesn't fully understand, and is faced with choices and consequences that no child should ever have to face.

Reading this story from my perspective as a mother, it was a tear-jerker in parts. My absolute favorite scene in the book came when Frank's father, a Methodist minister, gives a sermon following his own family tragedy. It was very moving for Frank and that emotion is brought through quite well to the reader.
“The miracle is this: that you will rise in the morning and be able to see again the startling beauty of the day.” 
This was an excellent read and I heartily recommend it. There are adult themes, as well as some language, but don't let that dissuade you from experiencing this wonderful novel.

Linked at:

  The Steadfast Reader