Jillicious Reading: Beach Reads

Beaches, summer, romance ...  all things I love and all elements of a good beach read.  Here are a few I enjoyed this summer while sunning at the beach ....   :)  

Nantucket Blue
by Leila Howland

Summary:  Cricket is elated when her best friend Jules asks her to spend the summer on Nantucket with her family.  Cricket adores the Claytons and is thrilled about the possibilities of the months ahead ... particularly since her longtime crush Jay Logan will also be summering on the island. But an unexpected tragedy changes everyone's plans. Cricket is still determined to spend her summer on Nantucket; but when she gets there, nothing turns out like she planned.

Thoughts: I must start by saying that I love Nantucket.  The grey shingled houses, the bursting blue hydrangea, the idyllic main street, lobster rolls ... it's like a postcard come to life.  I wish I could afford to summer there myself!  So, I was already excited about this book just because of the setting. And, author Leila Howland does an incredible job recreating this magical place, taking the reader right to the
quaint streets and sandy shores of Nantucket.  

But, I was surprised by the story.  It's a summer romance, but has a lot more depth and plot development than I expected.  I fell in love with the interesting cast of characters including Cricket, her family, and the many people she meets on the island.  The novel explores the challenges of friendship, family relationships, loss, and self-discovery in addition to navigating first love. I really enjoyed this book and immediately treated myself to the juicy sequel, Nantucket Red!   

I recommend the book duo to anyone looking for good beach reads, hoping to be transported to a picturesque summer town, or seeking a compelling story about figuring out who you are and who you really belong with in the world.  

Broken Hearts, Fences, and Other Things to Mend
by Katie Finn

Summary: Gemma is looking forward to the summer ahead and having time to spend with her perfect boyfriend, Teddy.  But when Teddy shocks her with a sudden breakup, she is devastated. Instead of traveling across the world with him, she ends up in the Hamptons with her father. The Hamptons is an amazing destination, to be sure, but it's also the place where Gemma must face her past and a friend she betrayed years ago. She wants to make things right; but a case of mistaken identity, an unforgettable, cute boy on the train, and the effort of keeping up a charade creates one complicated summer.

Thoughts: As soon as I heard Katie Finn is another pen name for author Morgan Matson, I was totally in.  I loved Matson's Second Chance Summer and was eager to try another novel
Photo: Long Island CVB
by her.  I also liked that this story was set in the Hamptons; it sounded like the perfect book for my beach bag! 

After I started, though, I wasn't sure about the mistaken identity storyline.  I don't always like excessive hijinks.  ;)  But, I did like the characters and felt the story had heart and promise.  Gemma is a funny, engaging character.  Nothing goes her way, and although her case is extreme, I think we can all relate to those times when things seem to be falling apart around us.  

I am really glad I stuck with the novel.  It's humorous, takes an interesting turn, and leaves the reader eager for the next book in the series, Revenge, Ice Cream, and Other Things Best Served Cold (which comes out next spring).    
The author's Second Chance Summer is also a summer story, but it's a heavier drama dealing with intense loss and grief as well as finding love.  Although lighter, Broken Hearts, Fences, and Others Things to Mend does explore important themes of friendship, trust, betrayal, and family relationships.  I would recommend it to someone looking for a fun summer read, someone who can relate to having made mistakes and living with regrets, or someone looking for a book with humor and heart. 


Jillicious Desserts: Recent Adult Reads

It's summer!  Time to sleep in, sit in the sun, catch up on home projects, prepare for next year, and read, read, read!  The summer is also the time I allow myself to indulge in a few adult books.  Here some recent reads:

The Pink Suit
by Nicole Mary Kelby 

The Pink Suit  is based on the story behind the iconic pink suit Jacqueline Kennedy wore that fateful day in Dallas in 1963.  This unforgettable ensemble and many others from "The Wife's" wardrobe came from Chez Ninon, an exclusive New York  boutique which specialized in creating French-inspired designs for American royalty.  The book incorporates factual information into a fictionalized tale about all those involved in the creation of the suit - from the President who ordered the suit for the First Lady to Coco Chanel who designed it to the eclectic ladies who ran Chez Ninon to Kate, the talented seamstress who labored over every stitch and pleat to craft the perfect pieces.  
This is a fascinating tale of fashion, politics, New York City, and love.  It focuses mostly on the seamstress Kate, which I didn't expect, but really enjoyed.  The novel transports the reader into 1960s NYC as experienced by an Irish immigrant.  Kate lives in an Irish neighborhood and has captured the attention of Patrick the local butcher.  But, her world is quite different than his as she selects fabrics, perfects stitches, and imagines but never attends the events for which her designs are created.  The Pink Suit is a unique, captivating novel that takes readers behind-the-scenes of a fashion boutique and of an unforgettable moment of history.      

The One and Only
by Emily Giffin 

The One and Only is the story of Shea Rigsby, a 33-year-old avid football fan who has spent her whole life in the small town of Walker, Texas supporting and then working for her beloved college football team.  The novel opens at the funeral of the wife of the football team's beloved coach and mother of Shea's best friend Lucy.  In light of this tragedy, Shea begins to question the choices she has made and must face her deepest desires.  

I was drawn to this book because of the subject & setting - college football in a small Texas town. It isn't a top pick, but I did like the football and all of the Dallas references (the small town is outside of Dallas), including The Ticket (my favorite radio station), Highland Park HS (the high school in my school district), and Mi Cocina (my favorite Mexican restaurant).  :) 

Me Before You
by Jojo Moyes  

Louisa is from a working class family and has never thought much beyond her small British town.  She lives an ordinary life and enjoys her simple job in a local cafe.  But when her boss has to let go, her life is shaken up, and she is suddenly in desperate need of a job.  She finds work caring for Will Traynor, a highly successful man who lived his life on the edge until a paralyzing accident confined him to a wheelchair.  Will is bitter and depressed.  Louisa isn't sure she can make it a day in this new situation, but she needs the money and is out of options.  Slowly things start to thaw between her and Will, and he begins to show her a world beyond their town, a world she never expected. 

I adored this book. Louisa is funny, original and endearing.  She lives in the shadow of her sister and has settled into the life and family role that she believes she is fit to play.  But gradually, she starts to wonder and to dream.  

Me Before You is an excellent novel. It breaks your heart and also inspires you to live every moment to the fullest. Read it, and be sure to have a box of tissue nearby.       



May 2 was the longest day of my life.  I knew all of the candidates on the Caldecott ballot would be contacted at some point to learn if they had been elected (or not).  I kept the phone with me all day awaiting the call and praying for good news.  Friends were texting, some were also awaiting election results, others were just encouraging me as I waited.   

The call finally came that afternoon, and it was Dan Bostrom, the ALSC Marketing Manager.  He asked how my day was going and then said, "I have some news that's going to make it even better."  I almost jumped out of my skin. I had been elected!  I squealed and danced all through the library!  

Serving on the Caldecott Committee has been a dream of mine for many, many years ... ever since I started sharing picture books with students.  I love art and words and marvel at the way the two come together so exquisitely in this format.  The privilege of serving on this committee is an honor and a responsibility I will not take lightly.  It will be hard work, but I look forward to the reading, evaluation, discussions,  debates, and challenge of working with a group to select one medal winner.  

This weekend at the ALA Annual Conference I was able to attend a lovely Random House cocktail party celebrating illustrators Chris Appelhans, Marc Brown, Brian Floca, Mary GrandPre, and Kevin Hawkes.  Hearing these talented artists talk about their work filled my heart and reaffirmed my love for illustration and the power of the picture book.  (This basically happens every time I hear an author or illustrator speak or read a picture book!)  My heart swelled knowing that I will play a small part in making picture book history. 

Thank you to all the ALSC members who voted for me and gave me this special opportunity.  I can't wait to get started!


Jillicious Reading: Grandmaster

by David Klass

Summary: Freshman Daniel hasn't really found his place at school.  He doesn't seem to fit in anywhere and just tries to fly under the radar.  A mediocre player on the team's prestigious chess club, Daniel is surprised to be asked by the two senior co-captains to join them and their fathers at a weekend father-son tournament.  To his further amazement, Daniel then learns the truth. His father - a reserved, accountant - was actually a chess prodigy at the age of 16 and earned the ranking of Grandmaster.  When his father agrees to return to the game 30 years later and accompany Daniel to the tournament, the six man team is in for a weekend none of them expected.

Thoughts: Grandmaster is a fast-paced, compelling novel that keeps the reader engaged like a spy thriller or intense sports match.  I am not a chess player, and I was completely on the edge of my seat during the tournament scenes.  The book includes enough chess to satisfy those who do play, but not too much to overwhelm the novice or non-player.  What keeps the story captivating is the characters.  They are interesting, flawed and believable.  Main character Daniel is a likeable kid, and readers can relate to his desire to fit in at school.  His father is also an interesting character as he faces his past demons and reveals his former life to his son.  I really enjoyed the development of the relationship between these two as Daniel learns more about his father and starts to reorder his priorities.  I also liked the addition of Liu, a spunky girl who competes with her mother.  She brings out a different side of Daniel and adds some pluck and humor to the story.  If you see Grandmaster and expect it to be a boring book about chess, you would be grandly mistaken. 

Read Grandmaster if you  ...
  • like chess
  • don't like chess
  • enjoy sports fiction with front-row-feeling scenes that pull you into the action and keep you on the edge of your seat
  • look for young adult literature with interesting teen and adult characters 


Jillicious Healthy Bites: True Stories from the Holocaust

Stories from the Jewish Holocaust during WW II continue to captivate readers.  As difficult as it is to read about the depths of human evil reached during this time, it is also incredibly inspiring to read of those who held onto hope in horrific circumstances and ultimately survived to tell their story.  It is also so vitally important to read these narratives and remember how simply and subtly these dreadfully evil initiatives began.  

Below are three 2013 releases, two nonfiction and one fiction based on a true story, that tell the hopeful, heroic stories that came from this time of persecution: 

Odette's Secrets
by Maryann MacDonald

Odette's Secrets tells the story of a young Jewish girl living in Paris during the Nazi occupation.  Her father joins the French army, her mother joins the Resistance, and Odette is sent to the French countryside for safety.   

Throughout the frightening time, young Odette is both terrified and confused.  She fears the soldiers, worries about her father, and runs from those who bully her for her yellow star.  She also wonders about her Polish roots, her Jewish faith, and later the Christian values of the foster family that cares for her while she seeks refuge in the country.  She gets used to silently observing, keeping secrets, and hiding in plain sight.  

I never thought of what these young people must have endured as they tried to make sense of the terrifying world around them as well as their own identity.  And what extremes their parents went to for their protection!  This moving novel also shows what the survivors faced when they triumphed over their persecutors, but then tried to return to their homes and to their former lives.

Author Maryann MacDonald was deeply moved by Odette's story and asked her family permission to share her experience in a book for children.  She ultimately chose to tell the story as a first person novel-in-verse instead of a factual biography to allow a more intimate view into the young poet-to-be's thoughts and feelings.  The result is a accessible, personal narrative that immediately pulls the reader into Paris in 1942 and provides another perspective from this time.
Odette's Secrets is a selection on the 2014-2015 Texas Bluebonnet List.

The Boy on the Wooden Box 
by Leon Leyson

Leon Leyson was the youngest survivor on what became the world famous "Schindler's List." This memoir tells how Leyson's life went from a happy childhood to a terrible nightmare at the hand of the Nazis and their occupation of his Polish homeland.  Leon's family was forced to move to the Krakow ghetto, but through determination, luck, and ultimately the attention of the man named Oskar Schindler,  Leon, his parents and a few of his siblings' avoided placement in the horrific concentration camps. 

Constructed from Leyson's personal notes and speeches, The Boy on the Wooden Box tells of how he survived in Schindler's factory with almost nothing to eat but holding onto hope and believing in Oskar Schindler, who became his lifelong hero.  Leyson tale's is honest and reflective, but told without bitterness and hatred.  It is a powerful, moving memoir that celebrates the risks taken and the perseverance necessary to survive during this time of persecution.

 The Boy on the Wooden Box is a title on the 2014 Texas Lone Star Reading List.

The Nazi Hunters: How a Team of Spies and Survivors Captured the World's Most Notorious Nazi
by Neal Bascomb

After WWII ended, one of the highest ranking Nazi officers, Adolf Eichmann, vanished.  Believed to have eradicated over 700,000 Jews from Hungary and to have been responsible for millions of Jewish deaths, Eichmann was a prime war criminal to be brought to justice; but he had not been seen or heard of in years. Until a clue finally surfaces from a blind Argentinean man and his teenage daughter.  Then the manhunt begins. 

The Nazi Hunters tells the riveting true story of how the Eichmann case went from a desire to find the man to promising leads to dead ends to the forming of an elite team of Israeli spies to plan and execute an incredible capture.  This team - all of whom had been directly affected somehow by Eichmann's crimes - would have to secretly enter Argentina, capture Eichmann, and smuggle him out of the country and return him safely to Israel so he could be brought to justice on Israeli soil.   

Neal Bascomb has crafted a work of narrative nonfiction that expertly provides historical facts and reads like a spy novel.  I was on the edge of my seat reading this book!  It is truly fascinating.  The author does an outstanding job of introducing the young, powerful Eichmann, later showing what he has become during his years in hiding and his views of his actions, and finally showing what an impact the time with Eichmann has on his captors.  Bascomb also effectively weaves in the story of an Auschwitz survivor, Zeev Sapir. The reader meets him early in the book when he has an encounter with Eichmann; later Sapir has a chance to testify against Eichmann.  It's quite powerful to see one survivor get to face his tormenter and get to share his story with the world.  Photographs and documents are included throughout the book that add intrigue and authenticity to the captivating account. 

This is a must-read for anyone interested in WWII, Jewish and Holocaust history, narrative nonfiction, and/or page-turning tales of spying and intrigue.          

The Nazi Hunters is a title on the 2014 TAYSHAS Reading List


DMA Arts & Letters Live 2014

The Dallas Museum of Art offers a literary series called Arts & Letters Live (including the BooksmART programs "for the young and young at heart") that brings outstanding authors and illustrators to town every year.  I love this programming and have been volunteering for the events for several years.  

The day the season's lineup is announced is always exciting; I open the email and eagerly devour the list to see who's coming ... I know, total nerd.  Each season offers an outstanding offering of children's, young adult, and adult authors.  Just a few of the amazing writers I have had the opportunity to hear through this programming include: E.L. Konigsburg, Marcus Zusak, Kathryn Stockett, Daniel Handler, Maira Kalman, Sarah Dessen, Laurie Halse Anderson, Eoin Colfer, and Lois Lowry.  This year is no different, offering an excellent array of talent (including S.E. Hinton, author of The Outsiders who will be here on April 24!).  

I've attended two BooksmART programs this year and both were fabulous:

Oliver Jeffers

I have longtime been a fan of Jeffers' work.  It is whimsical and charming, and I love his distinctive handwriting (always a weakness with me).  Mr. Jeffers visited the museum on February 9, and the illustrator himself proved to be just as charming as his books and artwork. First off, he has an Irish accent so the room fell in love with him right off, but he also has a delightful sense of humor, a passion for what he does, and a lovely appreciation for his fans.  He did a stellar job of presenting to a crowd that ranged in age from 2 to 82 and kept all completely entertained.  And during the book signing, he drew something special in every book and had a word for every person who waited for a signature.

One thing I loved that he said is that everyone is an artist when they are young.  Some just stop.  When young artists came through the line, he would tell them, "Just keep going".  I like that. I wish I had kept going. 

Here is a video he showed at the beginning that shows his studio and gives a taste of his fun personality: 

Tim Federle

Tim Federle is new on the scene but he has definitely made a big splash.  He published his first book Better Nate Than Ever in 2013 to stellar reviews and much critical acclaim. This autobiographically inspired debut novel tells the story of Nate, a kid growing up with big dreams in a small town; he knows that life will get better if he can just get to New York City.

After reading several reviews and tweets about this novel, I read it last year and loved it.  It's heartfelt and hilarious.  Although I have never felt the draw of the stage, I could definitely relate to Nate's desire to find his place in the world... particularly in the midst of middle school!  And writers with comic talent always have me at hello.  ;)  So, I was thrilled when I saw Tim Federle's name on the season's schedule and was doubly thrilled when Carolyn Bess, Director of Programming and Arts & Letters Live, asked me to introduce him.  What an honor! 

Well, what a treat it was when Mr. Federle visited on March 2.  He was an absolute riot.  I
loved him from the minute I met him, as did the entire room.  We were rolling from the moment he began.  Unfortunately, Dallas experienced a crazy cold snap that day and icy roads kept many from attending.  But, the author took it all in stride and the small crowd that attended (what he described as, "almost enough for a party bus") enjoyed every moment!  It was a side-splitting afternoon celebrating writing, following dreams, and tap dancing that was more than worth bundling up and facing the elements.  

If Tim Federle is ever in your area, I advise you to be first in line to see this talented, hilarious guy!  Librarians, he will be at both TLA and ALA annual conferences this year.  :)

Side note: Tim Federle is the creative genius behind Tequila Mockingbird: Cocktails with a Literary Twist which I have previously mentioned is a favorite gift of mine.  He is now at work on Hickory Daiquiri Dock which will likely be my new go-to gift for new parents.  ;)  

If you live in the Dallas area, I highly recommend taking advantage of the Arts & Letters Live series.  Most of the programs are free, but you do have to reserve tickets ahead of time.  Click here for the season at a glance.  Hope to see you at an upcoming event!


ALA Midwinter 2014

2014 has been a whirlwind!  It's time to catch up on some posts.  Let's start with some recent literary events. 

I was not made for cold weather.
The ALA Midwinter Meeting was held in January in Philadelphia. It was bitterly cold as evidenced in the photo on the right.  Travel buddy Mary and I were walking down the street squealing as we were pelted with freezing snow; clearly, no one confused us for native Philadelphians. But, in spite of the bone-numbing temperatures, I had a wonderful weekend in Chilly Philly (my first visit to the city).  Here are some highlights: 

**Scholastic Author Reception 
Scholastic hosts these fun events where a group of their authors perform a readers' theater of excerpts from each other's upcoming releases.  The mix of books, genres, styles, and personalities is always a delight, and this gathering was no different.  The reception featured Julia Donaldson, Jon J. Muth, Natalie Lloyd, Cynthia Lord, Rodman Philbrick, Deborah Wiles, and Lucy Christopher

Natalie Lloyd is a debut author, and she completely charmed the room (again! ... she was
also featured at the Scholastic event at NCTE and won a legion of fans there as well).  Her debut novel A Snicker of Magic is an enchanting story celebrating words, family, and new beginnings.  I expect we will continue to see great things from this talented lady!

I also particularly loved Muth's unique Hi, Koo! full of endearing haiku poetry perfectly illustrated by his gentle artwork. Two more spotlighted books I am really excited about are Cynthia Lord's Half a Chance ( I loved her first novel Rules) and Deborah Wiles' Revolution, the second in her Sixties Trilogy.  I have been eagerly awaiting this follow-up to Countdown.  It will surely be another powerful story of this tumultuous, important time period told in Wiles' heartfelt style.  And, isn't the cover excellent?? 

**Random House Dinner 
Random House hosted a lovely dinner with authors E. Lockhart, Dana Reinhardt, and Jenny Hubbard. It was a delightful evening celebrating excellent writing for young adults. I had read the incredible We Were Liars and loved hearing the back story to this unforgettable novel as well as learning about the additional upcoming novels featured at the event.  

I have since read And We Stay, a melancholy story of a teen who experiences a great tragedy but finds healing through poetry and the spirit of Emily Dickinson.  It was written by the talented and very Southern Jenny Hubbard (Paper Covers Rock) and edited by the equally talented and absolutely fabulous Rebecca Short whom I had the pleasure of chatting with throughout the evening. After reading this moving story, I am now eager to visit the Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst, Massachussets (Emily Dickinson's home and an important setting in the novel) and I also plan to revisit Dickinson's poetry with fresh eyes. 

**Exhibition Opening at The Barnes Foundation 
Thanks to the ever-connected Mary, we were able to attend the opening of a special exhibition at The  Barnes Foundation. The Foundation holds an extensive collection of Post-Impressionist and early Modern art amassed by Dr. Albert C. Barnes. Dr. Barnes was committed to "the advancement of education and the appreciation of the fine arts" ... be still my heart!  I was completely awed by what had been Dr. Barnes' personal collection which includes hundreds of pieces by Renoir, Picasso, Rousseau, Matisse, and one of my very favorites, Cezanne. 

The exhibition opening that weekend was Magic Ladders created by artist Yinka Shonibare. Shonibare's work "cites the artistic and intellectual history of Europe. His sculptures - life-sized mannequins clothed in the Dutch wax fabrics associated with Africa - offer a dramatic, playful, irreverent examination of identity, history, and politics. [The] show focuses on education, enlightenment, and opportunity, ideals embraced by Dr. Barnes." (-taken from The Barnes Foundation website)

The exhibition was fascinating.  I loved the fabrics, the mix of patterns, the striking images.  The mannequins were bold and arresting and each portrayed a powerful message.  My favorites, of course, were the child-sized figures climbing ladders of books (volumes taken from Dr. Barnes' own library) representing the growth that is attainable through knowledge and education.   

The exhibition was sponsored by Anthropologie and select stores will have pieces inspired from the art.  I hope Dallas is one of these select stores!  

The visit to the Barnes Foundation was an unexpected addition to the trip, and such a treat.  I highly recommend a stop here if you are ever in the Philadelphia area.

** ALA Youth Media Award Announcements
The award announcements is always one of the highlights of Midwinter.  There is such excitement in the air as early risers line up to enter, last minute predictions are being made, the doors finally open, the crowd scrambles for seats, the selection committees enter the room, and the officers take the stage.  When the announcements begin, there are wild cheers as favorites win and gasps or even stunned silence when suprise titles are named; but it is always exciting and a wonderful celebration of the literary excellence created the previous year.  

I was so pleased with the outstanding selections and congratulate the authors and illustrators on their awards and the committees on their hard work. A few of my personal favorites that received acknowledgement this year were: 
  •  Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo (Newbery Winner)
  • One Came Home by Amy Timberlake (Newbery Honor)
  • Flora and the Flamingo by Molly Idle (Caldecott Honor)
  • Mr. Wuffles! by David Wiesner (Caldecott Honor)
  • P.S. Be Eleven by Rita Williams-Garcia (Coretta Scott King Author Award)
  • When the Beat Was Born: DJ Kook Herc and the Creation of Hip Hop illustrated by Theodore Taylor III (CSK/John Steptoe winner)
  • Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell (Printz Honor, Odyssey, Honor)
  • Better Nate Than Ever by Tim Federle (Odyssey Honor, Stonewall Honor)
  • Nino Wrestles the World by Yuyi Morales (Pura Belpre Illustrator Award)
  • The Lightning Dreamer: Cuba's Greatest Abolitionist by Margarita Engle (Pura Belpre Author Award)
  • The Nazi Hunters: How a Team of Spies and Survivors Captured the World's Most Notorious Nazi by Neal Bascomb (YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults)
There are always some books you would like to have seen come away with an award.  For me, I really would like for Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown to have received Caldecott acknowledgement.  I felt the color, contrasts, pacing, and humor in this book were all brilliant. I also would love to have seen Winger by Andrew Smith and All the Truth That's in Me by Julie Berry earn Printz recognition.  Both of these unforgettable teen voices and their powerful stories were unique contributions to young adult literature that I would like to have seen celebrated. 

But, so it goes. Comparing our favorites to the winners is all part of the fun!  I appreciate the work of the committees, trust the process, and look forward to next year's announcements.  I also hope to someday serve on one of the committees and get to be a part of, what I am sure, is an intense, arduous, but incredibly rewarding experience.  

**Friends, Food & Fun
Of course, the best part of these conferences is enjoying good food in fun cities with good friends! 

A late dinner with  Karen & Mary!


Jillicious Side Dish: Cookbooks

I love to look at cookbooks.  I don't really like to cook, but I do love to eat and enjoy pouring over the photographs and creative culinary ideas in cookbooks.  A friend with the same feelings once told me that we are "intellectual cooks." :)  I liked the euphemistic term and immediately claimed it.

Luckily my husband likes to do more than just look at recipes, and he is a tremendous cook.  He is also more adventurous than I am.  I basically have the taste buds of a 6-yr-old (my favorite foods are pizza and mac & cheese!), but he has broadened my horizons and my palate.  It is a treat to come home to his delicious dinners after a long day at the library.  And, I am more than happy to do all the clean up!

Here is one of our cookbook shelves with some of my favorites: 


I love Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa.  I also wouldn't mind living  in her beautiful house in the Hamptons!  Barefoot Contessa recipes are elegant but not too complicated.  Her turkey sausage lasagna is my favorite lasagna in the world.  Her ultimate brownies are purely sinful, and her coconut cupcakes are divine. 

Rebecca Rather used to own the Rather Sweet Bakery in Fredericksburg (one of my favorite Texas towns).  Her cookbooks are full of delicious savory dishes as well as delectable sweets.  Her tuxedo cake takes some time to make, but it's well-worth the effort; the cake is pure bliss.  I hope opening a new eatery in the Hill Country is in Ms. Rather's 2014 plans!

Ree Drummond, The Pioneer Woman, creates recipes that are homey, simple, and flavorful.  I like the way she shows things step-by-step in photos. This fall I picked up her new book The Pioneer Woman Cooks: A Year of Holidays.  My husband tried several of her recipes for Thanksgiving, and they were all delicious.  I particularly liked the cornbread sausage dressing.

Now, for some new cookbooks I'd like to add to our collection:

Melt: The Art of Macaroni and Cheese 
by Stephanie Stiavetti & Garrett McCord
I mentioned that mac & cheese is one of my favorites foods.  I probably shouldn't admit this, but I even love it out of the blue Kraft box!  So, this looks like a must for our shelf.  

The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook
by Deb Perelman
Deb Perelman is a food blogger at smittenkitchen.com.  She tackles a variety of food challenges in her tiny little NYC kitchen always looking for the best (and simplest) ways to create the best food.  She is a skilled photographer, and her posts are full of lovely, helpful photos. Many have been eagerly anticipating her first cookbook.

by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi 
I have heard and read a lot about this cookbook.  It would likely be stretch for my babyish taste buds, but I think my husband would love this one.  I'll bet he would introduce me to some excellent food I never would have tried on my own. 

Because of our love of food, this is the cookbook we'll be using for the next 21 days!  I hope I can lose some lbs and keep things in better moderation in 2014.

Any favorite cookbooks of your own?


Favs of 2013

SO many great books released in 2013.  Here are my favorites of the year:

Picture Books

The Day the Crayons Quit
by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Oliver Jeffers
Hilarious collection of letters from the crayons who have had enough!  Overworked, ignored, or misunderstood, they quit!  This clever story is perfectly drawn with Jeffers' charming artwork and lettering.  Innovative and witty, The Day the Crayons Quit is a must for every picture book shelf.   

Exclamation Mark
by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illustrated by Ted Lichtenheld
Exclamation Mark is different and is trying to find his place in the world.  Funny and perfectly PUN-ny, this little book has a simple but important message for readers of all ages. Particularly for those who appreciate humor, word play, and a brilliant blend of text and illustration.   

Mr. Tiger Goes Wild
written & illustrated by Peter Brown
Mr. Tiger doesn't really like his prim, proper world and goes a little ... wild.  He learns some things in the wilderness as do his prim friends while he is away.  Another riotous romp from Peter Brown, complete with his detailed, whimsical, perfectly hand-crafted illustrations. His use of line and color (ORANGE!) are pure genius. 

Paul Meets Bernadette
written & illustrated by Rosy Lamb 
Paul swims around and around in circles in his fish bowl ... until Bernadette arrives. Bernadette sees things differently and shows Paul a whole new way to view the world.  The artwork, created with broad strokes reminiscent of Monet or Matisse, adds to the charm and beauty of this gentle book celebrating the impact one individual can make on the world ... even one as small as a fish bowl. 

Flora and the Flamingo 
written & illustrated by Molly Idle
This wordless interactive book is a pure delight.  Plump little Flora, in a pink swimsuit and bathing cap, imitates the moves of her friend the flamingo.  Although not quite as graceful, her efforts result in pure fun.  Young readers will want to flip the pages again and again ... and likely mimic the dance!  Created by a former DreamWorks animator, this duo begs to star in an animated short, whether it's on the screen or in the reader's mind.   

Middle Grade

Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures 
by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by K.G. Campbell 
Another Flora! ... and equally as endearing.  Flora Belle Buckman, a self-described cynic, steps in to help a squirrel in a tangle with a vacuum cleaner.  The squirrel (AKA Ulysses) survives and emerges a superhero with special powers and a penchant for poetry.  DiCamillo has woven another quietly brilliant tale with her exquisite word choice, endearing characters, and trademark charm.

Counting by 7s
by Holly Goldberg Sloan 
Willow Chance is a 12-year-old genius.  She has an amazing knowledge of nature and medical conditions, but knows very little about getting along with others.  When tragedy hits, Willow must learn to exist in a new reality and makes an unexpected impact on those around her.  The writing is impeccable, and Willow a true gem.  This tragic, but ultimately hopeful tale is one-in-a-million.  

P.S. Be Eleven 
by Rita Williams-Garcia 
Delphine and her sisters are back!  Returning home from time spent with her estranged mother, Delphine must reconcile what she has experienced and her newly found independence with her grandmother's old ways, the changes happening in her family (her father is dating!), and the trials of 6th grade. Rita Williams-Garcia has created an excellent sequel to an excellent book.   I can't wait for #3! 

Star Wars: Jedi Academy 
by Jeffrey Brown 
This little book completely surprised and delighted me!  Roan dreamed of entering the Pilot Academy, like his father and older brother before him.  He doesn't get in, but instead is invited to the mysterious Jedi Academy.  Told through journal entries, clippings, report cards, doodles, and letters, Star Wars: Jedi Academy tells the ups and downs of Roan's first year at the Academy.  The book is clever and entertaining, but also surprisingly perceptive as it addresses topics such as bullying, making friends, not giving up, and handling new situations. It has huge reader appeal and makes you want to pull out your old collection of Star Wars action figures (yes, I've got 'em.. even the Land Rover!) and maybe even start your own journal.  Read it you must, love it you will. ;

Young Adult

One Came Home  
by Amy Timberlake 
It's 1871 in Wisconsin, and Georgie's sister has disappeared.  The town assumes the worst, but Georgie, armed with only her sharpshooting skills and pure determination, sets out insistent on finding her.  Part adventure, part mystery and wholly original, One Came Home is a True Grit for tweens & teens (and 40-somethings!), immediately transporting readers to a different time and into the heart of a plucky unforgettable heroine.  Funny, smart, and insightful. 

The Fire Horse Girl 
by Kay Honeyman 
Jade Moon is born under the worst sign of the Zodiac for Chinese girls ensuring that she is willful and stubborn, traits not desirable in young girls.  While her grandfather worries about marrying her off, she dreams of a different future.  Her chance comes when a distant adopted cousin arrives with an opportunity to go to America.  But, admittance to this new country is not easy for the Chinese in 1923 and detainment at Angel Island is almost unbearable.  Jade Moon's strength and will turn out to be just what she needs to survive. This well-researched novel gives readers an authentic view into Chinese immigration as well as a strong, feisty teen to root for as she navigates her new world.  

Going Vintage 
by Lindsey Leavitt 
I am a sucker for romance, quirky, loveable characters, and books that make me laugh... Lindsey Leavitt creates all three superbly!  When Mallory's boyfriend "cheats" on her with an online girlfriend, she swears off all technology.  Armed with a to-do list her grandmother made as a teen in 1962, Mallory decides to "go vintage," to return to a simpler time, and to try to accomplish her grandmother's goals.  The challenge proves to be a little more than she expected (How does she run for pep club secretary when her school doesn't even have a pep club??).  Through it all, Mallory makes many new discoveries about herself, her family, and those around her.  Reviewers have claimed Linsdsey Leavitt's books have "humor and heart." I wholeheartedly agree and can't wait for the next one!   

by Andrew Smith
Ryan Dean West is the youngest in his junior class at an elite boarding school on the West Coast. He is a frequent target for bullies, but his wits, determination, and prowess on the rugby field help him rise above.  This year he is set on making Annie, his best friend and love of his life, see him as more than a friend and a younger boy.  But the year brings more than anyone anticipated.  This honest look into the mind and heart of an insecure, hormonally-charged 14-year-old boy is a true achievement. It's wickedly funny, intelligent, surprising, and absolutely heartbreaking.  

And my two very favorites of the year ...  

All the Truth that's In Me
by Julie Berry 
Four years ago, Judith and her best friend disappeared.  Her friend's body was found in the river; Judith returns to town two years later, mutilated and unable to speak.  Viewed as cursed and ignored by the town and her family, Judith silently pours her heart out to Lucas, the boy she has loved since childhood.  With echoes of The Scarlet Letter and Speak, All the Truth That's in Me is an exquisite, completely captivating novel.  Readers are immediately pulled into Judith's silent world and compelled by the mystery surrounding her disappearance.  This quiet but determined girl grabs hold of your heart as she searches for answers, for hope, and for her lost voice.  References to Joan of Arc, emphasizing sacrifices for love, and the use of the Psalms as a mode of healing are brilliant.  This rich, beautifully executed story stays with the reader long after the final page is turned.

by Rainbow Rowell 
Cath and twin sister Wren have been inseparable for years.  They share a love for the fantasy series Simon Snow and the world of fanfiction surrounding the beloved stories.  But, as they prepare to go away to college, Wren seems to be pulling away from Simon and from Cath.  Wren has always been the more confident, extroverted sister and trying to navigate college without her is a big challenge for reserved, socially-awkward Cath.  But, the year is full of surprises, new friendships, trials and triumphs, and unexpected love. Is it possible for Cath to leave the boy wizard's magical world behind and fully embrace her own reality?  This novel is simply outstanding.  The characters are real, complicated, and funny; the dialogue quick and unforgettable (I have read the conversations over and over, treasuring the humor, originality, and emotion). This is a story that wedges into your heart and never leaves. It is pure magic.  

NOTE:  I LOVED Rowell's Eleanor & Park, also released this year; but I decided to select just one to spotlight in this list and Fangirl won out. The deciding factor? Levi ;) I am head-over-heels for this guy! 

These were the standouts for me from a year of many excellent reads. What were your 2013 favs?   


Jillicious Gift Ideas!

Need a few ideas for your last minute shopping?  Read on!

Everything I Need to Know I learned in a Little Golden Book   
by Diane Muldrow

I LOVED the Little Golden Books.  I read and treasured so many, favorites being The Poky Little Puppy and The Saggy Baggy Elephant.  This new book celebrating this special collection was created by Diane Muldrow.  Longtime editor of the beloved Little Golden Books, Muldrow realized that these books offer excellent advice for almost every real-life situation.  She combined these lessons and original illustrations into this special little guide to life manual.   Give Everything I Need to Know I Learned in a Little Golden Book  to those who grew up reading the Little Goldens, to  lovers of children's literature, or to anyone who needs to be reminded what is important in life.

Book Lust To Go
by Nancy Pearl

A friend gave this at a recent book exchange, and I thought it was such an excellent idea for a book!  Librarian/author Nancy Pearl has created a guide of recommended reading for travelers.  Book Lust To Go includes fiction and nonfiction books to read before traveling to a new locale.  From San Francisco to Sri Lanka, travelers will find recommendations for over 120 travel sites.  A must for the traveler (or armchair traveler!) on your list!

Tequila Mockingbird  
by Tim Federle

Having recently finished Federle's first middle grade novel, I came across this fabulous little book he also published this year.  The cocktail guide contains 65 recipes that pay homage to literary favorites including Brave New Swirled, Gin Eyre, Romeo and Julep, Huckleberry Sin, and Are You There God? It's Me, Margarita.  Tequila Mockingbird is a fun gift for the readers, book club members, or cocktail enthusiasts on your holiday gift list. 

Anna Karenina: A Fashion Primer
by Jennifer Adams 

This darling board book is perfect for every little (or not-so-little!) fashionista on your list.  A dear friend gave it to me, and I am head over heels.  Author Jennifer Adams has created several other board books for the young reader inspired by classics such as Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Jane Eyre, and Wuthering Heights. I think I've got a new collection to work on!

Poems to Learn by Heart
by Caroline Kennedy, illustrated by Jon Muth

This collection of poems has a verse for every occasion.  Some silly, some serious, some familiar, some new, but all worth reading, reciting, and remembering.  I love this illustrated collection; it reminds the reader of the beauty of verse and the power of learning something by heart. Give this to wordsmiths young and old. 

Snowflakes Fall
by Patricia Maclachlan, illustrated by Steven Kellogg

Patricia Maclachlan and Steven Kellogg collaborated to create this heartfelt tribute to the lives lost in the Sandy Hook, Connecticut tragedy.  In this special book former Sandy Hook resident Kellogg and the Newbery Medalist Maclachlan celebrate individual uniqueness, the gift of life, and the hope that is found in renewal.  Give this to one who has experienced loss this year or to anyone as a reminder to treasure each day. 


Battle Bunny
by Jon Scieszka and Mac Barnett, illustrated by Matthew Myers

Now to end on a light note ... and to bring things full circle.  Hilarious authors Scieszka and Barnett along with illustrator Myers have created a truly original picture book.  It begins as a gentle, Little-Golden-Book-like story about a bunny's surprise birthday party.  Then, Alex, who receives the book from his Gammy, takes a pencil to the sweet Birthday Bunny and turns it into Battle Bunny, a devil-may-care rabbit intent to take over the world.  It is a riot!  Give this to young readers with a sense of humor.  After reading, these young creators can go to the Birthday Bunny site to download a clean copy of Birthday Bunny and then recreate the story in their own way.   

Good luck finishing up the last minute shopping.  Best wishes for a happy, book-filled holiday!  :)


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