Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A HOP and a Give-Away!

We have something really fun for you today. In celebration of the Friday movie release of HOP, we are giving away a prize pack of FIVE tie-in books from Little, Brown!

If you haven't seen the trailer for this film yet, it's the story of E.B., a teenaged bunny. His father is the Easter Bunny and is ready to retire. But E.B. wants to be a drummer in a rock band instead and so he runs away to Hollywood. He ends up staying with a man named Fred and is a less than stellar houseguest. Back at Easter headquarters, the chicks have decided to revolt and take charge of the holiday. Will E.B. accept his destiny before Easter is ruined? You can watch the trailer here.

These are the five books you could win for your family or to give away to other lucky kids:

Hoppy Bunnies is a great Easter basket board book choice for the youngest ones. It has three felt finger puppets attached that you can use while telling the short story of how the Easter Bunny delivers baskets to children. It's an Easter version of The Night Before Christmas poem! We would send this one to Z's almost one-year-old cousin.

Counting Chicks is another cute board book for toddlers who are learning to count. Featuring chicks Carlos and Phil, this one counts from one to ten through yummy-looking candy that needs to go into the Easter basket. This book would be perfect for Z's two-year-old cousin!

Meet the Easter Bunny is an early reader level book that takes young readers (and E.B.) on a tour through the Easter factory, deep under Easter Island. It's only loosely based on the film and is a cute and happy book. Chicks Versus Bunnies is more of a movie picture book, with a brief re-telling of the main movie story. It's more intense than the other book (with a bit of cartoon martial arts) but about at the same reading level. It has some punch-out Easter egg holders in the back. These books are just right for Z and his 1st grade cousin.

Hop: The Chapter Book is a 64 page book with twelve easy chapters and pictures from the movie. It would be perfect for 1st graders that are good readers and up or as a bedtime book. Z has decided to read one chapter a day.

What a great prize package! If you would like to win a set of these books, simply fill out the form below. This contest is for U.S. residents only. Entries will be accepted until end of day on Sunday when I will pick a winner.

HOPping off to the theater,
K and Z

Support our site and buy Hoppy BunniesCounting ChicksHop: Meet the Easter BunnyHop: Chicks Versus Bunnies and Hop: The Chapter Book on Amazon or find them at your local library. We received copies for review from a publicist and will be sharing them with cousins.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

"So this, said Kay to herself, is the sort of person you've become ..."

Next up in my attempt to remedy the fact that, until recently, I hadn't read any Sarah Waters books is The Night Watch. This is a somewhat hefty book (thought I wouldn't call it a chunkster at only 524 pages) but I rushed through it in just a couple of days, intrigued by the unique story structure and drawn in by the well-developed characters.

This is a book in three parts -- beginning in 1947, moving back in time to 1944 and then concluding in 1941. The main characters are Viv and Helen, who work at a post-war matchmaking agency, Duncan, who is Viv's younger brother, works at a night-light factory and has been to prison, and Kay, a lesbian who appears to be entirely alone and aimless. What could have been an overly tedious journey through the lives of these men and women has instead become a series of moments that create the people that you meet at the beginning of the story. Then things that you might have assumed are proved wrong and characters that you might have liked are proved to be weak, selfish or worse when you finally learn about their pasts.

I have heard both good and bad opinions of this book. I am definitely on the side that enjoyed the story and found it to be a very strong novel. I didn't find it to be boring or confusing and I appreciated the decision to tell it in such a unique timeline. It also turned out to be very interesting to read this book so soon after the Henrietta novels. Where those represented the war as experienced by English villagers and was bittersweet and funny, this was the gritty and gruesome story of those in London, living through the worst horrors of the war and trying to navigate life after it. I will admit that I am exhausted by WWII right now, though, and this is part of why I will be escaping into fantasy for a while.

Exploring the intersection,

Support our site and buy The Night Watch on Amazon or find it at your local library. We bought our own copy.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Challenge Post: Once Upon a Time V

I've never participated in Carl's Once Upon a Time challenge before but I just have the feeling that it's something I need to do this year -- to take a break from the books I have been choosing and escape for a while into fantasy. The challenge runs from now until June 20th.

I've chosen to pursue Quest the Third by reading five fantasy, folklore, fairy tale or mythology books and then finishing with a June reading of A Midsummer Night's Dream. These are the books I have pulled from my shelves.

I was already planning on re-reading Dogsbody for Tif's Tales to Tomes read-along (discussion will be on March 31 so there's still time for a quick read if you would like to join in!) so I've put that at the top of the stack. I also pulled the two other unread Diana Wynne Jones books I had on my shelves (The Tough Guide to Fantasyland and Unexpected Magic) because I'm not going to be able to resist them right now. I'm certain that there is no more fitting way to celebrate the life of a beloved author than to escape once again into the wonderful worlds she has created.

This is my chance to crack open Jasper Fforde's first YA novel, The Last Dragonslayer. I'm so curious about this one! I also have ARCs of Kat, Incorrigible and The Emerald Atlas (both children's novels that are out next month) so the timing couldn't be better to include these as well. And also in the YA set, I have had Michael Gruber's The Witch's Boy on my shelves for a while so I hope to get to it now.

Finally, I've included Walter Moers' A Wild Ride Through the Night, based on drawings from Gustave Doré, and Neil Gaiman's American Gods. These are heavier reads than the others but they definitely have their place in this challenge.

As you can see, I've chosen nine books from my shelves. I seem to have a problem with self-control when it comes to Carl's challenges! I will get through as many of these as I can, though, both to clear some books from my TBR and to spend this spring in as many exotic and fantastical places as possible. I also can't wait to finally read from my beautiful Shakespeare volume!

Signing up for a fantastic adventure,

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Rest In Peace, Diana Wynne Jones

Diana Wynne Jones passed away last night and the world of literature has lost someone truly irreplaceable. I think that Nymeth says it best with one line -- "Thank you so much for the stories."

At a loss for words,

Friday, March 25, 2011

Upcoming Release: The School of Night

Out next week is the latest novel from one of my favorite authors, Louis Bayard. The School of Night is a pair of stories, taking place in 2009 and in seventeenth century England. The modern story is that of Henry Cavendish, an ex-academic who becomes executor of the estate of a former college friend and book collector who has apparently just jumped from a bridge -- apparently because no body has been found. At the funeral, Henry is approached by Bernard Styles, an older British man (and also a collector) who says that the dead man, Alonzo Wax, stole a document from him. Styles pays Henry a large sum of money to retrieve the document, the second page of a letter that is signed by none other than Walter Ralegh (also spelled Raleigh). Of course, it isn't as simple as all that and things quickly get serious.

In the narrative from 1603, we meet Thomas Harriott, the recipient of the letter from Ralegh. Harriott is a scientist and scholar who has been labeled an atheist and has narrowly escaped punishment by Queen Elizabeth only through the protection of titled friends. What secrets did Harriott and his friends have and did they have anything to do with a hidden treasure?

There was a lot to like about this novel. It was exciting, with a lot of twists and turns, and the history really came alive through Bayard's prose. However, I think that the novel suffered a bit under my own anticipation based on Bayard's previous novels. He has written some amazing characters in the past and I just felt that the ones in this book weren't as strong. I never really connected with Henry or any of the other characters in the present. Harriott was the most developed character but unfortunately his share of the story was smaller. I would have loved a novel just about this scientist and his friends, Walter Ralegh and Christopher Marlowe. However, if I hadn't had the expectations that I did, I think I would have enjoyed this novel more. Despite everything, I got caught up in both of the stories and was mentally exhausted (in a good way) by the time the novel ended.

Returning to the light of day,

Support our site and buy The School of Night on Amazon or find it at your local library. We received an Advance Reader's Edition for review.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

More Than Books

We spend a lot of time highlighting all of the wonderful books that our favorite publishers put out but they also have many other products (like the amazing Penguin Postcards that I highlighted on Monday). I thought I would highlight just a few other items today that we have loved or desired.

Chronicle Books has a large collection of items from artist Taro Gomi (of Everyone Poops fame). One that Z got for Christmas is Taro Gomi's Play All Day. There are 128 pages on cardstock that are all punch-outs. There are finger puppets, games, animal playsets and more. The bright colors and simple drawings will appeal to kids of all ages. Younger children will need help because there are some narrower portions that need punching out but as long as they are a little careful, they will get hours of fun out of this one. This would even be a perfect book to surprise a child with on a road trip or plane trip.

Other things at Chronicle Books that have caught our eye are Curiosities: Vintage-Inspired Adornments for Gifts and Correspondence, The Sock Monkey & Friends Kit and the Pictoral Webster's Wall Cards.

Ammo Books has a fantastic memory game featuring the Russian circus and nature-themed art of Patrick Hruby. There are 36 pairs of 2"x2" cardboard squares that could be a simple game for a three year old (using just a few sets of cards) to fun for eight or nine year olds on a rainy afternoon. I love the opportunity to explore a new artist with Z and memory is always a fun game.

Other things we think others would enjoy from Ammo Books are Kid Made Modern by Todd Oldham and the Charley Harper Wooden Peg Puzzle.

And publishers aren't the only ones who provide great gift or personal splurge items. Many independent book stores have merchandise for sale that features their logo. One of my favorite current possessions is my Powell's pint glass. I don't drink beer but it's the perfect size for a nice big tea latte. I would love to collect the other three colors that they offer.

Powell's also has a Literature-themed Nalgene bottle, adorable bookish onesies for babies and, of course, t-shirts.

So, next time you need to give a gift but aren't sure what book to choose and don't want to give a giftcard, you can still support your favorite publisher or indie bookstore with a great gift!

Thinking giving and receiving are both good,
K and Z

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Discover Our Reading Roots

We are featured today on Carina's blog --Reading Through Life-- through a great little set of questions called Reading Roots. Head over to see what I remember about reading in my childhood and how I'm raising a reader of my own!


Monday, March 21, 2011

Winners and More

First, I have chosen the winners for LaRue Across America and they are


Congratulations! I hope that you enjoy the book! I've sent out emails so if you don't see one from me, drop me a line.

Now, I finally gave in and picked up the wonderful Postcards from Penguin set -- 100 postcards featuring vintage Penguin covers. I'm sure that what I want to do is display these somehow so my question for all of you is How would you choose to display these postcards? I would love to do a huge wall of frames but I think that's probably cost-prohibitive.
There is a wide range of colors and styles so I'm definitely willing to split them up into groups. I may have to just display a few at a time or frame a few and maybe make a collage with the rest? I don't know! Please share your ideas with me. I need help making the most of these amazing postcards.

Playing around,

Sunday, March 20, 2011

At Home with Henrietta

Henrietta Brown is the creation of Joyce Dennys. In 1939, Dennys began regular submissions of fictional letters to Sketch magazine in which she was Henrietta, a middle aged woman living on the Devon coast and writing (and sketching adorable little drawings) to Robert, a childhood friend away at war in France. These letters were very popular and she continued writing them until the war ended in 1945. The subtitle on these books is "News from the Home Front" and that pretty much says it all. Henrietta writes about gardening, cooking, clothing and so many other things from the point of view of a Doctor's Wife in a village setting. All of these aspects of life are affected by the war but Henrietta also knows (especially from the grumblings of the London evacuees) that they are also lucky to be where they are.

There is an amusing cast of characters in these letters, from the aging Lady B, who is always able to stay calm and look on the bright side, to the irritable Mrs. Savernack, who treats Henrietta like she's a bit simple and utterly hopeless. The group of people from the town have children fighting in this war and some have even lost children in the last war. They are trying to cope without friends, husbands and all of the niceties in life. Silk stockings must be worn with "ladders" (runs) because there are no replacements. Fuel shortages make people close up parts of their homes to economize. Walks on the shore are hampered by barbed wire and land mines. These letters reveal so many of the small details about life at home in England during the war that one might have heard of but never put together in such a complete picture.

The letters, finally published in book form in 1985, are divided into two volumes -- Henrietta's War: News from the Home Front 1939-1942 and Henrietta Sees it Through: More News from the Home Front 1942-1945. I suppose they were divided in order to avoid a 300+ page collection but I decided to sit down and read both books back to back and I didn't lose interest at all. In fact, I found it more satisfying to have VE Day to look forward to at the end, rather than stopping on a melancholy note in the middle of the war.

Also, I'm happy to finally get to one of these beautiful Bloomsbury books (my copy of Henrietta's War is actually an older Penguin edition). I have heard so many good things about the series and now I truly appreciate what they have brought back in print. This pair of novels present a unique portrait of a segment of the British population that is regularly forgotten behind the tragedy and magnitude of the Blitz. I can't recommend these books enough to anyone interested in a sweet but melancholy stay in Devon during WWII.

Taking nothing for granted,

Support our site and buy Henrietta's War: News from the Home Front 1939-1942 (Bloomsbury Group) and Henrietta Sees It Through: More News from the Home Front 1942-1945 (Bloomsbury Group) on Amazon or find them at your local library. We bought our own copy of the first and received a review copy of the second from LibraryThing.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

New Release: LaRue Across America and GIVEAWAY!

When I first read LaRue Across America: Postcards from the Vacation with Z, I wondered why author and illustrator Mark Teague wrote a book about a dog that can't seem to tell the truth and appears a bit delusional. And then we were lucky enough to see him speak the other night at our favorite indie book store and he explained where Ike is coming from and it all made sense.

Ike is a scamp, a terrier who has had many adventures, each one colored by his own view of things -- namely that he is a saint and the cats next door are holy terrors. This isn't exactly the truth but you wouldn't be able to convince Ike of it! His owner, Mrs. LaRue is wise to him but she also loves the pup. In their latest adventure, Ike and Mrs. LaRue are about to set out on a summer cruise when the neighbor lady faints in the heat and needs to spend some time in the hospital. Mrs. LaRue offers to mind her cats and decides to change their cruise to a road trip across the States. The story is told through Ike's postcards back to their owner, Mrs. Hibbins. As you can guess, two cats and a dog in a car is the perfect setting for hijinks. Add in a water park, the Empire State Building and the Grand Canyon and kids also get an introduction to some of the wonderful things that America has to offer.

We were very lucky to meet Mark Teague, hear him read from this fun book and get our own books signed (we also picked up Ike's first adventure, Dear Mrs. LaRue: Letters from Obedience School). Now we would like to give you the chance to go on your own trip with Ike. Two lucky readers will win a copy of LaRue Across America: Postcards from the Vacation from Scholastic. Fill out the form below to enter (U.S. readers only on this one, one entry per person). Two winners will be picked after end of day on Sunday. Good luck!

Packing our bags,
K and Z

Support our site and buy LaRue Across America: Postcards from the Vacation on Amazon or find it at your local library. We received a copy for review from a publicist.

Monday, March 14, 2011

New Paperback Release: 31 Bond Street

Recently out in paperback, 31 Bond Street is first time novelist Ellen Horan's imaginings of the story behind and around the real January 1857 murder of Bond Street dentist Dr. Harvey Burdell. Burdell's housekeeper, Emma Cunningham, was tried for the violent crime based mostly on the fact that she was left-handed and that she was secretly married to the victim.

I enjoy stories like these that expand on lesser-known historical events. You have to read them as fiction because it's hard to know without research what is fact and what is simply the author's creation. Nevertheless, in most cases, the research process seems to help the author build a more believable and tangible setting and this novel was no exception. Mid-nineteenth century New York is a popular time period right now and I thought that Horan did a good job with the setting, characters and language. I also felt that the plot elements that she added were in the realm of possibility.

My favorite character in the book was Henry Clinton, the lawyer who came forward to defend Emma Cunningham. He was a good man and a successful and thoughtful lawyer. I wouldn't mind if Horan's next book was about another of his cases. And yet, this book is also filled with a host of unsavory characters -- Burdell himself, Cunningham, Coroner Edward Connery and District Attorney (and later Boss Tweed associate) Abraham Oakey Hall, among others. The wide range of characters, politics and motives makes this an interesting read based on a case that was of great public interest in its day.

Weighing the evidence,

This novel is currently on a TLC Book Tour. You can see other reviews at the following sites:

Jenn's Bookshelves
The Lost Entwife

Other reviews will be listed at the tour page throughout this month.

Support our site and buy 31 Bond Street on Amazon or find it at your local library. We received a paperback copy for this book tour.