Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan

Scholastic Press (February 24, 2015) 592 pages


Music, magic, and a real-life miracle meld in this genre-defying masterpiece from storytelling maestro Pam Muñoz Ryan.

Lost and alone a forbidden forest, Otto meets three mysterious sisters and suddenly finds himself entwined in a puzzling quest involving a prophecy, a promise, and a harmonica.

Decades later, Friedrich in Germany, Mike in Pennsylvania, and Ivy in California each, in turn, become interwoven when the very same harmonica lands in their lives. All the children face daunting challenges: rescuing a father, protecting a brother, holding a family together. And ultimately, pulled by the invisible thread of destiny, their suspenseful solo stories converge in an orchestral crescendo.

Richly imagined and masterfully crafted, ECHO pushes the boundaries of genre and form, and shows us what is possible in how we tell stories. The result is an impassioned, uplifting, and virtuosic tour de force that will resound in your heart long after the last note has been struck.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

My Thoughts:

This is a beautiful book, but I suspect it will be more of a hit with parents, as opposed to its target age group. It feels more like a "required reading" sort of book. I was under the impression that there would be more of a fantasy focus within the story, but the fantasy element ended up being *very* mild. There was a bit of fantasy at the beginning and a bit at the ending, but this was really more of a historical novel, with a strong focus on music. More specifically in the music realm was the focus on a particular harmonica that passes into the hands of different children.

Echo follows the lives of 7 people in various decades, along with their families. The story starts out with young Otto, as he meets 3 sisters, Eins, Zwei, and Drei, and learns their fairy tale story. This is the beginning of the harmonica's journey. Along the way, we meet Friedrich in 1933 Germany, as he struggles with the world Hitler is trying to create, Mike in 1935 Pennsylvania, as he fights to keep him and his brother, Frankie , together, and Ivy Maria in 1942 California, as she struggles with the effects of the war and the prejudices towards the Japanese and Mexican Americans.

Echo is broken up into parts. The beginning is where Otto and the sisters are introduced, but they don't get a large part of the book. Part one is given to Friedrich, part two is given to Mike, part three is given to Maria, and part four ties up all the loose strings in 1951 New York. Each child's story is not given an ending until part four. That means it's almost like starting a whole new book before getting to have an ending for the first one. I appreciate the way the book was done, and it IS beautifully done, but I can easily see this being a frustrating and difficult book for younger readers. At almost 600 pages, even if it does have large print, and lots of extra space on each page, it's a chunkster for its target age group.

There is a great deal of educational opportunity within this book, though, and I highly recommend it. It gives us a look at the prejudices towards various races and religions throughout time and in different parts of the world. It also gives us a little education in music, and the journey it has made. There are song lyrics, along with the accompanying music notes for various songs. It's a great way to create a greater appreciation for music, and teach the healing and encouragement it provides.

*I was provided an ARC, in exchange for my honest opinion.

Purchase Link:


Monday, February 23, 2015

Princess Academy: The Forgotten Sisters by Shannon Hale

Bloomsbury USA Childrens (February 24, 2015) 336 pages


After a year at the king's palace, Miri has learned all about being a proper princess. But the tables turn when the student must become the teacher!

Instead of returning to her beloved Mount Eskel, Miri is ordered to journey to a distant swamp and start a princess academy for three sisters, cousins of the royal family. Unfortunately, Astrid, Felissa, and Sus are more interested in hunting and fishing than becoming princesses.

As Miri spends more time with the sisters, she realizes the king and queen's interest in them hides a long-buried secret. She must rely on her own strength and intelligence to unravel the mystery, protect the girls, complete her assignment, and finally make her way home.

Fans of Shannon Hale won't want to miss this gorgeously woven return to this best-selling, Newbery Honor-winning series.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

My Thoughts:

I enjoyed The Princess Academy a few years back. I recently attempted The Stone Palace, but ended up setting it aside about a third of the way through due to lack of connection and interest. I went into this one a little guarded, but it has ended up being my favorite of the three books!

In this book, Miri meets lots of new people in a swamp village, making both friends and enemies. Even though she has been looking forward to going home to her family, she takes on the challenge of tutoring a set of sisters, far from her home, and far from Peder. Miri faces a great deal of challenges and battles during her journey.

Some of the connections made, especially when pulled from the other books, really pulled on my heartstrings. Since my husband was sitting beside me as I read, I tried hard to curb the tears, but it was hard! ;) This is a super sweet book, but it's also full of action and politics and war, and even heartache. Within its pages are so many wonderful lessons for little girls. The value of education and reading and learning are constantly brought to attention. Any book that makes me want to pick up a history book and LEARN after reading it is a treasure, in my opinion. This one does just that!

Since swamp life is through a good portion of the book, there were some pretty gross "gag-worthy" moments. At one point, one of the girls suck the roasted eyeballs out of an animal(fish or rat...I can't remember now). I had to put the book down to get the vision out of my mind before continuing.

Miri grows, both in age and maturity, throughout the 3 books, so the romantic aspect also grows a little more with each edition. Thoughts of marriage and love grow more abundant, but it still takes a backseat to the rest of the story.

I've now read several of Hale's books. Her fantasy books, like this one, have such a mild fantasy element to them, I almost hate to label them so. This series IS fantasy, though mild.

Overall, this is a wonderful little series, I can highly recommend it for young girls!

*I was provided an ARC, in exchange for my honest opinion.


Purchase Links:

Princess Academy

Princess Academy: Palace of Stone

Princess Academy: The Forgotten Sisters



Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

Ten Speed Press (October 14, 2014)


This #1 New York Times best-selling guide to decluttering your home from Japanese cleaning consultant Marie Kondo takes readers step-by-step through her revolutionary KonMari Method for simplifying, organizing, and storing.

Despite constant efforts to declutter your home, do papers still accumulate like snowdrifts and clothes pile up like a tangled mess of noodles?

Japanese cleaning consultant Marie Kondo takes tidying to a whole new level, promising that if you properly simplify and organize your home once, you’ll never have to do it again. Most methods advocate a room-by-room or little-by-little approach, which doom you to pick away at your piles of stuff forever. The KonMari Method, with its revolutionary category-by-category system, leads to lasting results. In fact, none of Kondo’s clients have lapsed (and she still has a three-month waiting list).

With detailed guidance for determining which items in your house “spark joy” (and which don’t), this international bestseller featuring Tokyo’s newest lifestyle phenomenon will help you clear your clutter and enjoy the unique magic of a tidy home—and the calm, motivated mindset it can inspire.


My Rating: 3/5 stars

My Thoughts:

My family has been on a journey of surrounding ourselves with only things that serve a purpose or bring us joy, and ditching the rest. I've read a lot of books on minimalism! I reach for them for extra inspiration and to remind myself why this journey is important to me. Thousands of items have left our home(much more to go, though!), and every time I see a space cleared, I feel lighter. (I won't leave the impression that we don't bring things back in, because we do. I get to review products, and we have fun with this. We just try to remove things as other items come into our home. Also, don't imagine my house neat and tidy yet, because it's not, though I have hopes for soon.) This book left me a little concerned, though. The author shares stories from her childhood and up, and I just felt like there was some severe OCD issues, which I've never felt about minimalism authors before. But, hey, the author has turned it into a very successful business and a bestseller, so what do I know?!

This book has some wonderful ideas on both minimalism and "cleaning" methods, like how to fold socks, not how to clean a toilet. I left the book with extra inspiration and some ideas I want to try. The author makes it clear that this is an all or nothing method, but I'm not going to think of it that way, or it would be a "nothing" for me. I think this book will be best for single folks. There's a couple of mentions of children, but really, there's not much advice specific to children. You won't find any advice on toys or schooling, or anything like that. (I just began reading Joshua Becker's Clutterfree with Kids, which I assume is more specific to the children realm of minimalism. I'll try to let y'all know my thoughts when I finish, but I'm liking it so far. ) The author recommends you do an "all at once" decluttering. That sounds wonderful, and I have no doubt that's the way to go, but I have 3 little ones that I take care of and teach, and there's not the time to devote to an "all at once" cleaning. There's just a definite vibe that this book is meant more for single folks.

This author goes into more detail than most minimalism authors about certain areas that are difficult for people to part with, like books. I've parted with hundreds of books, maybe even more than a thousand at this point in the journey, so I appreciated the extra lesson in clearing books I don't absolutely love. Even so, I can't imagine not having lots of books(that we love and read!) always surrounding us. If you ever visit my home, books will be the thing that would make one question my minimalism efforts. ;)

There's also sections that I skipped, like how to minimalize Buddhist charms and shrines and all. I'm a Christian, so of course, those parts didn't apply to me, or interest me. I thought some parts of the book were a little corny. She believes that we should treat our objects like people. When you get home, greet your house. When taking off your shoes, thank them for their service. When you empty out your purse(because it has worked hard and deserves the rest), thank it for the good job it did today. Any out of season clothes should be stored in drawers, and they should be opened occasionally, so your clothes can get a little air and breath. You should also rub your hands across them, so they know they're loved, and that they will be back in use soon. See? A bit corny. ((That said, since childhood, I've felt to need for stuffed animals to look comfortable(which just can't happen in the bottom of the toy box). I've always struggled with stuffed animals being a little bit real. Maybe that's a bit hypocritical of me! ;))) I DO think we need to appreciate our items more. I would like to get in the habit of thanking God for blessing me with shoes when I take them off, or for the coat that kept me warm. I don't think we appreciate what we have enough in our spoiled country! I DID benefit from this book, though, despite my concerns!

Again, there's some really good advice in here, and plenty of things I hadn't read about before, like storing everything vertical, even carrots in the fridge, and storing purses inside of another purse. Especially if you're single, this is a beneficial read, if you don't mind skipping over the different religious customs.

As a side note, so far, my all time favorite minimalism author is Lorilee Lippincott. I've read two of her books, Simple Living - 30 days to less stuff and more life and The Simple Living Handbook: Discover the Joy of a De-Cluttered Life. I love her non-judgmental attitude, which appears to be super hard in the world of minimalism. If you want a jumpstart on minimalism, I highly recommend her books!

Also, to show you that I DID gain encouragement from this book, I spent the next day decluttering. I filled 5 big bags with garbage, along with 4 small bags. I also filled several bags and boxes for donation. Not too bad, considering I was also taking care of 3 little ones, and there's already been many rounds of decluttering! ;)

*I was provided a review copy, in exchange for my honest opinion.


Purchase Link:

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing


Thaw by E. Kaiser Writes (Book Series Spotlight)


About the Author:

E. Kaiser Writes credits her nearly nomadic childhood for the vast reach of her fictional worlds; she has lived (and gotten to known the locals) in the Rocky Mtns, the Smoky Mtns, the plains, the deep forest, the searing Texas summer and frozen Minnesota north.

She wears many hats: writer and editor of ad copy, web copy, office correspondence & fiction; a cowgirl, animal trainer, seamstress, jeweler, artist and... authoress!

Connect with E. Kaiser:


Author Blog

Facebook Author Page





About the Books:

Thaw: Winter's Child
A barren king and queen pray for a child, and when in their loneliness, they make one out of snow, their prayers are answered in a special, and unusual way.

Sometimes, when we get what we wish for, we don't know what to do with it.

Combining elements from the Snow Maiden, Schneekind, Snegurochka tales with those of the Snow Queen; Winter's Child introduces a new series: THAW.

Excerpt From Winter's Child:

Then her hands danced outward, playing faster than an orchestra leader’s baton. A row of swans took position along the rail, snowy bodies, glistening wings. Her eyes glowed as she sent them off, and they fell into perfect formation, dipping and rising at her command.

This was fun.

No one could be lonesome while doing this.

She brought the swans back, and they lined up perfectly on the rail, their snowy faces expressionless, their glassy beaks soundless. […]

She flicked her fingers again and a sleigh appeared, formed of knitted snowflakes. She traced a finger to each swan and snowy filaments formed a harness on each fowl. The swans rearranged themselves to accommodate this new strategy, and then she lifted them off and into the air again.

They rose upward with the beat of icy wings, and the snowflake sleigh swooped up close on their tails. It sailed through the sky like a cloud, following exactly where the swans dipped and dived to.


Thaw: Winter Queen

A slightly pampered girl allows her avoidance behavior to isolate her from the world... and it's only when she takes the final step that she realizes the wall she's built in the name of safety is also the one that will hold her prisoner forever... unless she discovers how to destroy it.

The only one who can break a neurosis... is the one who has it.

Combining elements from the Snow Maiden, Schneekind, Snegurochka tales with those of the Snow Queen; Winter Queen continues a new series: THAW.


Thaw: Prince of Demargen

The whole world knows his guilt, and is absolutely correct about it, but how far can a man go to regain respect so swiftly lost?

Or is an honorable death the best a fallen star can hope for?

The only person who can help him... is the one he most deeply wronged.

Prince of Demargen is third in a new series: THAW.


Purchase Links:

Thaw: Winter's Child

Thaw: Winter Queen

Thaw: Prince of Demargen


Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Enter the Heart of Adventure Sweepstakes!

Enter the HEART OF ADVENTURE Sweepstakes from Author Dani Pettrey!

About the Giveaway:

In SABOTAGED, the fifth and final book of author Dani Pettrey’s award-winning Alaskan Courage series, Kirra Jacobs and Reef McKenna experience the high stakes of Iditarod search-and-rescue when Kirra’s uncle, a musher in the race, goes missing.

Kirra and Reef put aside their differences to search for him, but what they discover is harrowing: Frank’s daughter Meg has been kidnapped, and Frank must do the kidnapper’s bidding or Meg will die.

Soon Kirra, Reef, and the entire McKenna family are thrown into a race to stop a shadowy villain who is not only threatening a girl’s life, but appears willing to unleash one of the largest disasters Alaska has ever seen.

To celebrate their epic race, Dani and Bethany House Publishers are pleased to present the HEART OF ADVENTURE SWEEPSTAKES, and your chance to win one of three marvelous prizes, all closely connected to the story.


Giveaway Details:

This giveaway starts February 2, 2015 and ends February 22, 2015 @ 11:59 pm (PST).

Entry is open to US residents only, age 18 and over. Winners will be selected Monday, February 23, 2015, and announced at DaniPettrey.com.


About the Prizes:



During their cross-country hunt for answers, Kirra and Reef stop to rest at a gorgeous mountain lodge in Denali that holds special memories for Reef. This prize offers you a chance to build your own special memories, with a luxurious lodge getaway for two.

Our Grand Prize winner will receive: A $250 gift certificate to Hotels.com, good for reservations at lodges and hotels across the Continental US, Alaska, Hawaii, and numerous International locations



In the Alaskan Courage series, Kirra is the proud owner of Nanook Haven, a rescue shelter for sled dogs. In real life, animals need rescue as well, and this prize will allow you to give a special gift to support an organization like Kirra’s.

Our Second Prize winner will receive: A $150 donation in your name, to the animal rescue, shelter, or veterinarian of your choice



In SABOTAGED, Kirra and Reef take shelter in a snow cave while hiding from a man determined to put them on ice– permanently! Luckily, Kirra has a survival kit, to help them make it through the sub-zero temperatures.
If you prefer a little more romance and a little less suspense in your survival kit, this is the prize for you.

Our Third Prize winner will receive: A $100 value sweetheart survival pack. This gift basket includes double chocolate raspberry cake, smoked salmon, brie cheese and crackers, and a wide variety of gourmet snacks.


How to Enter:

Go to http://www.danipettrey.com/heart-of-adventure-sweepstakes/ and complete the entry box, anytime between February 2 – 22, 2015.


Good Luck! :D


Monday, February 16, 2015

Mothering from Scratch by Melinda Means and Kathy Helgemo(With Giveaway!!!)

Bethany House Publishers (January 20, 2015) 208 pages


Find Your Own Mothering Style

Trying to follow someone else's rules for mothering can take the joy out of being a parent. But Mothering From Scratch shows you how to develop your own style that helps you be the best mom for your kids.

Full of solid biblical truth, this book will help you
· explore your personality and examine your strengths and weaknesses in order to find what works for you
· tap into the resources surrounding you and get mentoring and support from other moms
· push past the fear of change or doing it wrong and allow room for grace in your mothering

Melinda Means and Kathy Helgemo provide a flexible, customizable approach to help you discover your optimal parenting style.

My Thoughts:

I skimmed this book. I didn't read it word for word, though I did gain lots of encouragement from it. I just want to make sure I state that right up front.

First, I'll mention the format of this book. It wasn't my favorite. I'll be the first to admit that the older I get, the more picky I become concerning font size and formats. It's a reason I try to convince myself that e-books are my friend more that paper copies these days, but I so love the feel and the smell of "real" books(most of them, anyway). It's a hard lesson to fully accept for myself. This particular book has small print, and it's just a bit chaotic, in general. There seems to be so much information, that my eyes are darting back and forth to take it all in. Plus, with this being co-authored, there is more than one person talking, so it goes back and forth in that sense, too.

Other than that, I found this to be an encouraging read. I like being encouraged as a mother. With so many judgments being doled out, from the parenting "expert" that doesn't have children yet(I'll admit I was one, once upon a time!), to the mom who thinks her parenting method is THE best, to the mom that has forgot just how hard it was to parent back in the day, parenting is tough. There's not the help and encouragement that it seems there once was any more.

This book gives examples and encouragement to rely on God, and not compete or try to measure up to what other moms are doing or what they think is best. God has given us all a set of commands within the Bible, and no matter what anybody says God "told" them, He doesn't make exceptions. If a "rule" applies to one person, it applies to the next one just as much. That said, God has given us all different talents. He never said that every mother had to be crafty. He's blessed some moms with the desire to be crafty, but others, like me, not so much. That doesn't make me any less of a mother. There's a little story about the "craft-less guilt" in this book, and I enjoyed it. Really, there's lots of encouraging stories about the authors and the parenting lessons they've learned.

From the encouragement and lessons I gained from this book(even if skimmed), I feel confidant recommending it to you, too.

*I was provided a review copy, in exchange for my honest opinion.


Purchase Link:

Mothering From Scratch: Finding the Best Parenting Style for You and Your Family



I'd like to give my copy to one of you, as long as you realize that I have children and a couple of pages are bent a bit. I might have dog eared one page, before I remembered I wanted to pass it on to someone else, too. :O (It's still a perfectly lovely copy, though!) ;)

If you'd like a bit of mommy encouragement, or know someone who could use it, just leave me a comment(with a way to contact you should you win).

Feel free to share this giveaway! Let me know you did, and I'll give you an extra entry.

-US only.
-Must be 13 or older
-Ends February 23rd, 2015

Good Luck!


Saturday, February 14, 2015

Aoleon The Martian Girl: Part 2 by Brent LeVasseur

Book Descripton:

Aoléon and Gilbert receive a special mission from PAX, a wanted criminal and leader of the Martian resistance movement to investigate the Luminon of Mars, who he suspects is planning an invasion of Earth to steal its milk cows. Gilbert has an encounter with the Luminess (the mate of the Luminon) and discovers something strange about her during a procession, and the duo are chased by the Royal Paladin Guard.

At Aoléon’s home, Gilbert meets Aoléon’s family, her sister Una, mother Phobos and father Deimos as well as her overzealous pet Zoot. He is also introduced to Bizwat, a covert operator and Procyon Commando, who uses his Saturn Pizza delivery job as a cover.

Gilbert then gets to visit the Martian Space Academy (Aoléon’s school) where he encounters Aoléon’s nemesis, Charm Lepton and her friend Quarkina, as well as receiving a history lesson on the Martian people by Plutarch Xenocrates. After class, Gilbert and Aoléon get to train in zero-G and Gilbert is treated to a Psi-ball match between Martian Space Academy and Martian Science Academy.

My Thoughts:

This is the part 2(of 5) in the Aoleon series. Within this story, we see a bit more of normal life for Aoleon, including home life and school. There's some action parts, and we learn a bit of the history of Mars.

This series is a bit more mature than I first thought. There's a reference to scantily clad girls in an underground club and a Viagraa'n that "gets easily excited". There's a bit more to it. I imagine most young readers wouldn't get it, but I imagine older children would find humor in it. Of course, I'm mentioning it for the parents out there that might want to know that kind of thing. Overall, it's clean, but a bit mature. There's also a great deal of technical talk that just blew right over my head.

Once again, my favorite part was the graphics. They're super bright and fun, and I was always excited to see another one showing up in the story. Most of them are full paged. They have a unique science-fiction-y feel to them. The story, in general, is very science-fiction-y. If you enjoy fun, alien adventures, with lots of bright and interesting graphics, give this series a try!

*I was provided an e-copy, in exchange for my honest opinion.



Purchase Link:

Aoleon The Martian Girl: Science Fiction Saga - Part 2 - The Luminess of Mars


Purchase The Martian Girl Song(Another World), featuring Elan Noelle:



About the Author:

Mr. LeVasseur enjoys crafting good stories based on lovable characters designed to translate well to multiple media formats such as books, games, movies, and toys. He lives in New York when he is not commuting between Southern California and Olympus Mons, Mars. His hobbies include writing, 3D animation, musical composition, and intergalactic space travel. He also enjoys various sports such as skiing, running, and exospheric skydiving.

Connect with Brent:




Aoléon: The Martian Girl


iRead Book Tours


Friday, February 13, 2015

Authentic Arts: Venice Travel Guide (Book Spotlight, Author Interview, AND GIVEAWAY!!!)


Description for Authentic Arts: Venice Travel Guide:

Every traveler to Venice wants to go home with a special souvenir--a carnival mask, a piece of Murano glass, a handcrafted piece of lace. But selecting which mask or which goblet to buy can be an intimidating experience. How do you know if you're buying something authentic, something made in Venice, something made in a traditional way? How do you gauge how much you should pay, and how do you know if you're being ripped off? How do you determine if you have fallen prey to one of the city's many tourist traps?

Laura Morelli, an art historian and trusted guide in the world of cultural travel and authentic shopping, leads you to the best of the city's most traditional arts: Murano glass, carnival masks, gondolas, lace, paper, and more. This indispensable guide includes practical tips for locating the most authentic goods in one of the busiest tourist destinations in the world. Packed with useful information on pricing, quality, and value, and with a comprehensive resource guide, Laura Morelli's Authentic Arts: Venice is the perfect guide for anyone wanting to bring home the unique traditions of Venice.

Artisans of Venice is the companion to Laura Morelli's Authentic Arts: Venice, A Travel Guide to Murano Glass, Carnival Masks, Gondolas, Lace, Paper, & More. Put both books together and you'll be the most knowledgeable traveler in Venice!


Description for Artisans of Venice: Companion to the Travel Guide

Going to Venice? Don't buy anything in Venice until you read this book!

Buyer Beware: Venice is full of tourist traps and mass-produced souvenirs passed off as authentic. Do you know how to tell the treasures from the trash?

In Venice, it's not easy to tell the treasures from the trash. This is true now more than ever before, as increasing numbers of carnival masks, glass, and other souvenirs flood into Venice, imported from overseas and passed off as authentic. There is no substitute for an educated buyer. Laura Morelli helps you locate the city's most authentic artisans--those practicing centuries-old trades of mask making, glass blowing, wood turning, silk spinning, and other traditions. Wouldn't you rather support authentic Venetian master artisans than importers looking to turn a quick profit without any connection to Venice at all?

Venice boasts some of the most accomplished master artisans in the world. Here's how you can find them.

Laura Morelli leads you beyond the souvenir shops for an immersive cultural experience that you won't find in any other guidebook. Artisans of Venice brings you inside the workshops of the most accomplished makers of Venetian fabrics, Murano glass and millefiori, carnival masks and masquerade costumes, gondolas, Burano lace, mirrors, marbleized paper, hand-carved frames, and other treasures. This book leads you to the multi-generational studios of some 75 authentic master artisans. If you're reading on your Kindle device, tablet, or smartphone, you can click directly on their street addresses for an interactive map, and link to their web sites and email addresses directly from the guide. A cross-referenced resource guide also offers listings by neighborhood.

Laura Morelli, an art historian and trusted guide in the world of cultural travel and authentic shopping, leads you to the best of Venice's most traditional arts. Laura Morelli's Authentic Arts series is the only travel guide series on the market that takes you beyond the museums and tourist traps to make you an educated buyer--maybe even a connoisseur--of Florentine leather, ceramics of the Amalfi Coast, Parisian hats, Venetian glass, the handmade quilts of Provence, and more treasures.

Bring Laura Morelli's guides to Venice with you, and you'll be sure to come home with the best of Venice in your suitcase.


About the Author:

Laura Morelli holds a Ph.D. in art history from Yale University, where she was a Bass Writing Fellow and Mellon Doctoral Fellow. She authored a column for National Geographic Traveler called “The Genuine Article” and contributes pieces about authentic travel to national magazines and newspapers. Laura has been featured on CNN Radio, Travel Today with Peter Greenberg, The Frommers Travel Show, and in USA TODAY, Departures, House & Garden Magazine, Traditional Home, the Denver Post, Miami Herald, The Chicago Tribune, and other media. Recently her art history lesson, “What’s the difference between art and craft?” was produced and distributed by TED-Ed.

Laura has taught college-level art history at Trinity College in Rome, as well as at Northeastern University, Merrimack College, St. Joseph College, and the College of Coastal Georgia. Laura has lived in five countries, including four years in Italy and four years in France.

Laura Morelli is the author of the guidebook series that includes Made in Italy, Made in France, and Made in the Southwest, all published by Rizzoli / Universe. The Gondola Maker, a historical coming-of-age story about the heir to a gondola boatyard in 16th-century Venice, is her first work of fiction.


Interview with Laura Morelli:

1. Where are you from? Tell us a little about your childhood!

I grew up on a farm in Georgia. It was a wonderful childhood, climbing trees, riding horses, playing in the barn with cows and chickens, fishing and turning over rocks. There were not many kids around so I learned to be independent. I was a bookworm. I read everything I could get my hands on; the used bookstore in town was one of my favorite spots. I still remember the smell of it! I dreamt of writing books one day.

2. What kind of education did you have?

For much of my life I’ve been a professional student, attending everything from community college, state university, liberal arts college, and finally the Ivy League. I earned a B.A. in Romance Languages & Literatures from the University of Georgia, a M.A. in Art History from Tufts University, and a Ph.D. in Art History from Yale University. I have been writing, researching, and teaching ever since.

3. Why did you start writing books?

I try to capture the excitement and passion I felt when I first discovered the history of art. Those of us in academia are trained to write in a specialized style that comes across as dry and dull, full of terminology that is inaccessible to all but those of us who spend many years studying the field. In the end, this kind of writing strips out the passion that is so inherent in the arts. But art history is the most fascinating subject in the world! I try to bring both the knowledge as well as the excitement of art history to my readers.

4. You are the mom of four children. How do you balance your time?

I write during school hours. My writing time is limited so I am super-productive when the quiet finally falls over my house. I believe it’s important to share culture and history with your kids. We are visiting several Native American reservations in the American Southwest this summer. I am excited to share that history with my kids and take a deep dive into our country’s past.

5. Have any authors influenced your work as a writer?

I enjoy reading other historical fiction authors, including Barbara Kingsolver, Abraham Verghese, Ken Follett, and Umberto Eco. I appreciate authors who are masters of sensory writing--the art of conveying sounds, sights, smells, tastes, and physical sensations through words. One of the best examples of sensory writing is Perfume by Patrick Suskind. It's one of my all-time favorite stories and I love the macabre element of the tale.


Connect with Laura:






Purchase Links:

Venice: A Travel Guide to Murano Glass, Carnival Masks, Gondolas, Lace, Paper, & More (Laura Morelli's Authentic Arts)

Artisans of Venice: Where to Buy Authentic Venetian Fabrics, Murano Glass & Millefiori, Carnival Masks, Gondolas, Lace, Mirrors, Masquerade Costumes, Paper ... Artisans (Laura Morelli's Authentic Arts)


Make sure you check out the other blogs participating in this tour. You can find the tour schedule HERE.



This giveaway includes a set of the featured books, along with two authentic Carnival masks (one male Bauta style and one female Colombina style)

The baùta or baùtta

The baùta is the quintessential Venetian mask, worn historically not only at Carnival time but any time a Venetian citizen wished to remain anonymous, such as when he may have been involved in important law-making or political processes in the city. The simplest of the traditional Venetian mask types, the baùta is a stark faceplate traditionally paired with a full-length black or red hooded cloak called a tabàro (or tabàrro), and a tricorn hat, as depicted in paintings and prints by the Venetian artist Pietro Longhi. Most baùte were made of waxed papier-mâché and covered most of the face. The most prominent feature is a distinctive aquiline nose and no mouth. The lower part of the mask protruded outward to allow the mask wearer to breathe, talk, and eat while remaining disguised.


In the Commedia dell’Arte, Colombina played the role of maidservant. The Colombina is a half-mask that covers the forehead down to the cheeks, but leaves the mouth revealed. Originally, it would have been held up to the face by a baton in the hand. The Colombina is often decorated with more feminine flourishes, from gilding to gems and feathers, but both men and women may wear it.

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Italy Book Tours


Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Question of Miracles by Elana K. Arnold/ Paper Things by Jennifer Richard Jacobson

HMH Books for Young Readers (February 3, 2015) 240 pages


Sixth-grader Iris Abernathy hates life in Corvallis, Oregon, where her family just moved. It’s always raining, and everything is so wet. Besides, nothing has felt right since Iris’s best friend, Sarah, died.
When Iris meets Boris, an awkward mouth-breather with a know-it-all personality, she’s not looking to make a new friend, but it beats eating lunch alone. Then she learns that Boris’s very existence is a medical mystery, maybe even a miracle, and Iris starts to wonder why some people get miracles and others don’t. And if one miracle is possible, can another one be too? Can she possibly communicate with Sarah again?
My Rating: 3.5/5 stars

My Thoughts:

Within this story, a young lady, named Iris, questions whether miracles happen or not, and why some people get them, but not others. Her best friend, Sara, has recently passed away. Iris is grieving and looking for answers.

This story is definitely told from a secular viewpoint, but God is mentioned different times, though mostly from a Catholic standpoint. Iris isn't "religious" at all, so she looks into different means of getting answers, from a physic to tape recorders to leaders in the Catholic realm. Iris and her family have moved at the beginning of the story, but Iris believes that Sara's ghost is living in her closet at some points in the story. (This story is NOT fantasy, by the way, and the "ghost" part is really only a tiny part of the story. ) As a Christian, my beliefs are very different from Iris and pretty much every one else within this story, but it was still interesting to see Iris's journey to her final decision. The questions and thoughts of an innocent young person run deep! Of course, I wouldn't recommend this book *for* answers, but for the journey a grieving girl takes.

So often in these kinds books, the support system for the child is pretty crappy. I *loved* that Iris gets a wonderful support system. Her parents are quirky, but so in love with each other, and their love for Iris is obvious, too. They even spread the love to Iris's hairless cat, Charles. Their whole family was precious and supportive and I loved them! Boris is also quirky, and sometimes annoying, but I enjoyed watching his and Iris's friendship grow. He even gets a lovely and sweet family!

This is a sweet book that deals with the tough topic of grieving over a lost friend and gaining new ones.

*I was provided an ARC, in exchange for my honest opinion.

Purchase Link:

The Question of Miracles


Candlewick (February 10, 2015) 384 pages


When Ari’s mother died four years ago, she had two final wishes: that Ari and her older brother, Gage, would stay together always, and that Ari would go to Carter, the middle school for gifted students. So when nineteen-year-old Gage decides he can no longer live with their bossy guardian, Janna, Ari knows she has to go with him. But it’s been two months, and Gage still hasn’t found them an apartment. He and Ari have been "couch surfing," staying with Gage’s friend in a tiny apartment, crashing with Gage’s girlfriend and two roommates, and if necessary, sneaking into a juvenile shelter to escape the cold Maine nights. But all of this jumping around makes it hard for Ari to keep up with her schoolwork, never mind her friendships, and getting into Carter starts to seem impossible. Will Ari be forced to break one of her promises to Mama? Told in an open, authentic voice, this nuanced story of hiding in plain sight may have readers thinking about homelessness in a whole new way.
My Rating: 4/5 stars

My Thoughts:

Despite being about homelessness, this story is surprisingly sweet and hopeful.

Ari and Gage have a home, with their guardian, Janna. (Their parents have passed away many years ago when the story starts.) Before dying, their mother made them promise they'd always stay together. Since Gage and Janna don't get along so great, Gage takes Ari, and hits the road. They no longer have a home, and Paper Things is their journey and their struggle to stay together and have a place to sleep.

Really, the story is about so much more than Ari and Gage being homeless. It's a story of making new friends, and trying to save old friendships, despite change and secrets. There are many relationships explored within this book, including with teachers. Sometimes people surprise us!

I like that despite the bad decisions that were made, apologies were made in return, and everyone owned up to their part in the mess. Gage DID make a ridiculous decision by leaving him and his sister without a home, but he also tried to look out for her and his love for her was obvious. This book gives us a good look at how hard it is for the homeless people to find a home and a job. Without an address, you can't get a job. Without a job, you can't get an address, and so on. But, as admitted in the story, Ari and Gage were lucky. They had friends and a support system(even if I didn't overly care for Gage's girlfriend). They found a place to sleep much easier than I imagine many homeless do. I imagine it's much harder, in general, for most homeless people out there. There was always a home for Gage and Ari to go back to, if they chose it. Most homeless don't have that option.

The "paper things" within this story really tugged on my heart. Sure, Ari was probably a little older than most girls that still play with paper dolls, but I still thought it was sweet and made me want to cut out "paper things" with my little ones. (Should I admit, after finishing the book, I flipped through a magazine to see how many "whole" people I could find? I found two "whole" dogs!) I didn't care for the times when Ari was called weird. She stayed strong, and let it slide, though, where I wouldn't have been so strong. I'm perfectly fine admitting to myself that I'm weird, but I couldn't handle someone else calling me such. That shows what a strong young lady Ari was. I thought she was smart and creative, and had many traits any little girl could look up to.

Overall, this is a sweet book, and I think it's a wonderful story for young ones to read. It opens one's eyes to the struggles that others might be going through, and will hopefully stop some of the judgments that are so freely doled out to those that are different, in one way or another.

*I was provided an ARC, in exchange for my honest opinion.

Purchase Link:

Paper Things


Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Beautiful New(ish) Covers that I'm in Love With!

Rissi @ Dreaming Under the Same Moon regularly does "Cover Candy" posts. I adore these and the title is perfectly appropriate, because I'm like a kid in a candy store scrolling through the lovely new covers. Also, Amber @ Seasons of Humility has a Pinterest board full of cover loveliness.

While there's plenty of covers that I think are beautiful or cute, occasionally I see one that makes me stop and stare, and even come back to look again, simply because it's so gorgeous. These are more recent covers that did just that for me.

Make sure you tell me which covers make you stop and stare, so I can go look at more! ;)


The Word Changers by Ashlee Willis

Seriously! Could it get any better than that?! As far as I can tell, this book got a cover makeover. I liked the older cover, too, but this one is breathtaking.

I can't wait to read the story, either. I grabbed it for my kindle last year(though my cover still shows the older cover), and it's on the top of my list for books to read this year. (which is another post for another day) :)


All The Turns of Light (Paths of Shadow Book 2) by Frank Tuttle

This one is just so fun and whimsical. I would put that on my wall!

When I first saw it, and that it was the 2nd book in a series, I went searching around, wondering how on earth I'd missed knowing about this series. Guess what? I'd already grabbed the first book, All the Paths of Shadow, for my kindle. (I'm guessing when it was a freebie.) I'm really looking forward to giving this series a try, though. If I like the first book, I'll promptly buy this one for my kindle! (Have any of you read All the Paths of Shadow? Is there any content/profanity that I should know about? I'm really, really hoping it's clean, but I don't want to waste my time if it's not.)


Dreamer's Pool: A Blackthorn & Grim Novel by Juliet Marillier

When I saw this cover, I showed Jonathan. "LOOK! at this COVER!" He really couldn't care less about books OR their covers, so he was less than impressed. It's still gorgeous, though, and I can only imagine that it's even prettier in person.

I borrowed it from the library for my kindle, but since it wasn't overly fitting with my reading mood at that moment, I sent it back, with intentions of trying again later. The beginning IS at a prison, but I was disappointed to see the amount of profanity(even if only one word repeatedly), considering what I thought was a squeaky clean author(though I've only read 2 books, so far).


Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White

Look at those birds, y'all! If there's birds on the cover, especially crows, you can pretty much guarantee that it's headed for my reading list. Even aside from the birds, I just think this cover is lovely.

I actually just finished this book recently, and my review post should go up sometime soon. After reading the book, I love the cover even more. There are several different parts of the story combined within that cover. I love it when it looks as if the cover artist has actually read the book, like it appears in this case.


Have you saw any beautiful covers lately? Or decided to read a book purely because of its cover?