The Down and Dirty Guide to Camping with Kids: How to Plan Memorable Family Adventures and Connect Kids to Nature by Helen Olsson

Down and Dirty Guide

Much like the image-cluttered cover and the super-long title, this book is absolutely PACKED with information about camping with kids!  I used to go [tent] camping every summer before becoming a mom, but I have been an absolute wimp about trying it with kids.  My husband and I have been talking about finally going this summer — with our 8- and 3-year-old children — and then I saw this book on display.  I took it as a sign!  I will admit that I didn’t have the patience to read through everything, but I found the packing lists, “smart tip” boxes, and lists of potential activities to be priceless.  Granted, I haven’t put any of this into practice yet… But I can’t imagine that any failures I might experience would be the fault of this author!

Poison by Bridget Zinn


Although I don’t generally “do” the whole Twitter thing, I technically have an account through which I [supposedly] follow a few people.  One of those people is the amazing John Green and, because I actually read one of my Twitter digests last month, I read this Tweet [12/03/10 – Tweet is no longer available).   Though I hadn’t previously heard about this book, I trusted John Green to know what he was talking about and requested a copy from another library in my system.  I absolutely loved it, so I made sure to order a copy for my library AND bumped this book to the top of my “to review” list.  FYI, in case you were not aware, I am way better at reading books than following through with reviews, so my “to review” list contains no fewer than 5 books at any given time and often has books that I finished months ago!

You may be wondering, “What was so great about Poison?”  How about the fact that it had action, adventure, humor, magic, romance, AND strong female characters all rolled up into a unique fantasy story?  Kyra, a potions master, used to be best friends with the princess.  Until, that is, she tried to kill her.  Since no one seemed to understand that trying to kill the princess was a good thing, she had to run away to avoid being jailed/hanged for the attempted assassination.  And, while being the infamous “Princess Killer” made it rather difficult for Kyra to travel through the kingdom unnoticed, her bag of potions and the help of a cute little enchanted pig was enough to give her hope that she could find the princess and finish the job before it was too late…

The only thing I didn’t like about this story, to be honest, was learning that there won’t be a prequel or a sequel [since the author passed away before this book was even published].  I wish I could learn more about Kyra, but I guess it’s better to have loved and lost [a character] than never to have loved at all!

Beautiful Music for Ugly Children by Kirstin Cronn-Mills

Beautiful Music for Ugly Children

Liz was born female, but has always felt male.  Being Liz in public and being Gabe inside was very difficult, but Liz started to make the transition to Gabe in 12th grade.  Having an understanding best friend helped a lot, but having a family that still used female pronouns and refused to use the name “Gabe” was pretty hard.  When the next door neighbor, a fellow music nut named John, found Liz a radio show on a local community radio station, it presented an excellent opportunity for Gabe to come out…  But, it also meant that Liz would have to find a way to tell John about Gabe sooner rather than later.

Beautiful Music for Ugly Children was not just a radio show.  It was Gabe’s chance to introduce himself to the world and to work through his feelings with music.  Before long, Gabe had fans — the Ugly Children’s Brigade — who would perform random acts of crazy art in honor of his show.  It gave him quite a confidence boost to know that people liked the “real” him.  Unfortunately, a casual date with a member of the UCB threatened to ruin everything when the girl recognized Gabe as Liz and spread the word on the UCB fan page.  I won’t ruin the ending by telling you exactly how things played out, but I am sure you can guess [based on real life] that Gabe’s life got pretty tough after that.

I loved the realistic portrayal of Liz/Gabe’s struggle, the supportive best friend, and the fantastic “soundtrack” throughout.  As a former college radio DJ, I especially appreciated the authentic setting of the run-down community radio station and Gabe’s trials and tribulations while he got used to being on air.  I had more than a couple of “been there, done that” moments as I read this book!  😉

Princess Ben by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

Princess Ben

First of all, I just have to say that I read this book a few years ago and only now realized that I never reviewed it…  Shame on me!  Second, I feel compelled to tell you all how much I love the complete/crazy-long title of this book — Princess Ben: Being a Wholly Truthful Account of Her Various Discoveries and Misadventures, Recounted to the Best of Her Recollection, in Four Parts — which is a lot!  It has such a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?  Seriously, though, I think it helps to set the tone for the book.  Because this is not your typical princess story!

It is true that Princess Ben (short for Benevolence) has been hidden away in a tower by her overbearing aunt, Queen Sophia, since her parents and her uncle (the king) were assassinated.  Queen Sophia has plans to marry Ben off to the first mildly suitable man to present himself, but Ben is not the kind of princess who would be content to wait for a prince to come to her rescue.  Thanks to her inquisitive/mischievous nature, she manages to find an enchanted room in the tower and begins to teach herself some magic with the books therein.  Not only does this magic give her something to do with all of her “free” time, but it also buys her some freedom and increases the odds that she will be able to save both herself and the kingdom from Queen Sophia.

P.S.  If you like this story, I also recommend the sequel — Wisdom’s Kiss: A Thrilling and Romantic Adventure Incorporating Magic, Villainy, and a Cat.

Fever by Mary Beth Keane


“Typhoid” Mary is brought to life in this compelling work of historical fiction. Mary Mallon emigrates to New York from Ireland on the eve of the 20th century, where she works her way up from being a lowly laundress to a respected cook. A tough, independent woman, Mary is sought after by rich and powerful families in the city for her cooking skills. But, as she moves from family to family, a chilling pattern emerges. Although Mary enjoys robust good health, family members and their staffs seem unusually prone to the fevers and ill health associated with typhoid, and the weakest succumb to the disease.

One determined “medical engineer”  doggedly researches her movements and identifies her as an “asymptomatic carrier” of the deadly sickness, making her a hunted woman. Mary is arrested and moved to an isolated island where ill New Yorkers are quarantined. She is eventually released, but forbidden to work as a cook. Her stubborn refusal to believe the truth about herself leads her to seek jobs under assumed names, and to evade the regular testing she has been ordered to endure. The disease continues to spread wherever she goes.

As her story unfolds, early 20th-century Manhattan comes alive. Mary is a fiercely dramatic character who captures your imagination and sympathy, even as you wish for a happy ending that will never come true.

The Good Father by Diane Chamberlain

The Good Father

This is a powerful emotional portrayal of parenthood and the issues parents deal with. The story is told through the eyes of three main characters, Travis, Robin and Erin, who become linked together as the story unfolds. Travis Brown, a young single father trying to raise his daughter, Bella, becomes unemployed and homeless which leads him into a dangerous situation to provide for her. Robin is trying to focus on her new life after being sick for so long, but can’t forget the memory of the baby she once gave up. Erin is grieving for the daughter she lost, and shattered by grief, but finds a new way of coping with constant heartache. I have never read Diane Chamberlain before but I will definitely read more of her novels. I like how she writes with various character acting as narrators, which makes the story a quick and easy flowing read.


Have Mother, Will Travel by Claire and Mia Fontaine

Have Mother, Will Travel

I was intrigued by this book since I had read a previous book by this mother/ daughter team called Come Back.  A mother and daughter taking time together to travel is something I’ve done to a lesser extent with my own mother, and I’ve thought about doing it with my own daughter as well. Both Claire and Mia have a chance to explain in their own words their take on different aspects of their trip. It’s fascinating to hear from both of them what they are thinking about situations they’ve been in while traveling. As you can imagine, they learn about each other on a much deeper level, and that enhances their understanding of each other. This was especially  interesting to me because my own daughter and I are on a similar path to our new relationship since she’s been in college these past two years. I really enjoyed this book.

Secrets of an Organized Mom by Barbara Reich

Secrets of an Organized Mom

When I saw this book on display among the new books of the Parenting section, I swear I heard it call my name!  Though I have OCD and clutter has always been able to cause me undue anxiety, my house has never been completely organized.  Many of my friends seem to think that it is well organized, and maybe it is pretty good compared to some other houses, but I know there is still a lot of room for improvement.  Being a working mom, I rarely have enough time to do more than get by from one week to the next.  After all, keeping a house organized while staying on top of the billion or so other things a mom needs to do is not an easy feat!  I often say that I practice “subsistence living” — I am not falling behind, but I only seem to get the bare minimum accomplished.  I would love to feel like I am actually making headway on the clutter [i.e. getting rid of it] instead of barely getting by, though, so I figured I would read this book and give her methods a try.

The first chapter lays out Reich’s ground rules, and subsequent chapters help you tackle specific areas of the house.  I like that you can apply her four-step method and her “Ten Commandments of Organizing” to pretty much any room/organizational challenge.  And, while she does talk about children’s areas and children’s stuff, this book could work just as well for people without children if they simply skip the parts that don’t apply.  The practical advice paired with a “tough love” attitude made me give it a try… and seeing the end result in my 8-year-old son’s room sealed the deal!  He is happy that he has more room to play and that he can find all of his toys, and I’m thrilled that the “place for everything” structure empowers him to clean it all up when he’s done. Almost one week later, his room still looks like it belongs in Better Homes and Gardens.  🙂

I absolutely love this book!  So much, in fact, that I just ordered a copy of my own — to reference in the future and maybe even to lend to friends/family who want to check it out.

13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Thirteen Reasons Why

This was a book recommended to me by my sister, who happens to be a school guidance counselor. In my effort to keep my finger on the pulse of what kids these days are reading, I picked this up. To say it was a tough book to get through was an understatement. A girl who is essentially speaking from the grave wants to tell 13 people the reason why each was important in her ultimate decision to kill herself. This story highlights extremely well the issues that are of grave importance to teenagers these day. It also outlines how devastating it can be to teenagers when other teenagers ostracize them, talk about them behind their backs, and spread rumors (often untrue). While this was a hard book to read, I do believe it is an important one to read. As an adult and a parent, it really slams home what kids are dealing with these days, as well as letting us know that we need to be hyper aware of kids and their emotions, to hopefully end this cycle of bullying and peer pressure so present in our children’s lives.

The Dinner by Herman Koch

The Dinner

This novel revolves around two brothers and their wives having a five-course dinner in a very upscale Amsterdam restaurant in the Netherlands. They have come together for an uncomfortable conversation. One of the brothers, Serge, is a famous politician while the other brother, Paul, is a “retired” history teacher. The brothers don’t get along.  As the story unfolds, you learn that Paul, the narrator, actually loathes his older brother and can’t understand how his sister-in-law can tolerate him. Their 15-year old sons, however, do get along, and it is discovered that they have done something extremely awful, which is the reason for this uncomfortable dinner. The boys’ actions are so shocking that the whole nation is upset after seeing video footage of the incident on the nightly news. The boys’ identities are not generally known because their faces were never seen. However, the parents do know what their sons have done.  As the dinner progresses, it’s amazing and alarming to see how far these families will go to protect their children, even when they have committed a crime. This is a very quick read because, as the tension in the story builds between each course, you don’t want to stop reading until you see how these two very different families deal with their compulsion that their children can do no wrong.