Blog Tour: Duck and Hippo: The Secret Valentine

Thank you to Blue Slip Media and Two Lions for the free copy of Duck and Hippo The Secret Valentine All opinions are my own!

You all know I love seasonal books, and Valentine’s Day can be a TOUGH one to find good new books for! I love to read holiday-specific books to my kids, but with two boys, they can be a tough crowd. However, they both sat down and listened to this one the whole way through, and we all loved it!

Duck and Hippo The Secret Valentine is about . . . well, Duck and Hippo, and their friends Pig, Elephant, and Turtle, and a secret Valentine who’s hopping around town delivering mystery cards! All the animals are excited to find out who their Valentine is (and they think they have an idea), but when they all meet at the same spot at the same time, there’s an even bigger surprise.

This book is so cute, and the illustrations are really fun. (I don’t know about yours, but my kids love to find all the little details and secrets that illustrators often add in!) This is a really solid addition for a Valentine’s Day book collection, and I’m so glad it’s in ours!


Your kids (or you-let’s be honest, this looks really fun) can learn how to draw Duck and Hippo on illustrator Andrew Joyner’s website! just click HERE to find all kinds of easy and fun drawing tutorials!

Our 2018 Christmas Basket!

(Partnered books are starred below! Thank you to Blue Slip Media and Kid Lit Exchange!)

Well, I finally had to upgrade our Christmas book basket! I loved the little red one (You can see it HERE!), but it just wasn’t able to hold them all. And I’ve added quite a few new ones this year!

We still love all of our old books, but I don’t think I’m wrong in saying there’s something fun and special about receiving new holiday books every year. These are a few of our new-to-us favorites this year!

*Mrs. Claus Takes the Reins
This book is SO CUTE! Santa wakes up with a cold (a man cold, if you will) on Christmas Eve and declares that Christmas must be cancelled. Mrs. Claus comes to rescue and says she will take Santa’s place, and of course comes up with a fantastic plan to deliver all the gifts. She has to overcome a few problems, but she does just as good (Dare I say better??) a job as Santa. The illustrations are so much fun, and the story is really cute. And who doesn’t like a good story where the woman saves the day AND gets credit for it??

How to Catch an Elf
Our elf on the shelf brought this book this year, and my kids love it! It’s about an elf who is trying to escape capture, since everyone tries to catch him instead of Santa! It’s told in verse, and a really fun book to read, especially if your kids love their elf.

The Christmas Giant
This is still my 9-year-old’s favorite book, and I love it too. It’s about a giant named Humphrey and an elf named Leetree who live in Christmastown. They are tasked with growing that year’s Christmas tree, but must come up with a creative solution when their perfect tree disappears. It is BEAUTIFULLY illustrated, and it’s a sweet Christmas story. I highly recommend this one if you don’t have it already.

*Tough Cookie: A Christmas Story
If your kids like funny books, this is THE Christmas book for them! It’s a take on the Gingerbread Man story, except this cookie is so tough that the fox has no interest in eating it! They spend the book trying to figure out why Cookie is so tough and unsweet. There are recipes for sugar cookies and dough-ornaments at the end too!

If You Ever Want to Bring a Pirate to Meet Santa, Don’t!
Another book in the Magnolia Says DON’T! series! We all love these books, and this is the newest one, perfect for a Christmas gift. In this one, Magnolia takes a gold-toothed pirate to meet Santa, and all kinds of mayhem ensues. It’s very funny and cute, and the illustrations, as usual, are wonderful! I pre-ordered this one, and I’m so glad we added it to our collection!

*First Snow
Y’all. This book is SO beautiful. I would buy it for all young ages, but I think it works especially well for the 5 and under crowd. Fewer words and more illustrations about the first snow of the season leaves lots of room for little imaginations to make up their own stories about snow and the kids in this book. The drawings are absolutely gorgeous. I know a couple of people who I’m buying copies for for Christmas!

*The Queen and the First Christmas Tree: Queen Charlotte’s Gift to England
I won’t lie. This is a children’s book, but as a royals fan, I love this book for myself! However, if you want to stick to gifting it to someone more age appropriate, I would say it’s perfect for kids who love to read the American Girl series. It’s about Princess Charlotte, who became queen when she married King George III of England, brought over her tradition from Germany of decorating a tree branch for Christmas. Over time, that turned into decorating an entire tree for the holidays, something England had never seen before. If you know a child (or an adult . . .) who loves historical fiction, the royals, or learning about women in history, make sure you get this book! It’s so good!

Construction Site on Christmas Night
My kids might be a little too old for this one, except I don’t think anyone is ever too old for wonderful picture books! We love Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site so much that I had to get this Christmas sequel. The trucks are all getting ready for Christmas, and there’s a special gift for each one. If your kids love the first book, you just have to get this one too! What a wonderful little series!


Seasonal Reading: Fall 2018!

Well, it’s officially Fall, even though it doesn’t really feel like it in Texas. Even though we’re still having 90-degree days, I’m still in the mood to do some seasonal reading, and I feel like there are more to choose from this year than ever! I’ve been very drawn to re-reads and classic mysteries lately, and you’ll see those reflected in my lists below. I’m including cozy mysteries, spooky stories, and comforting, curl up with a blanket Fall reads! Hopefully you can find a few to add to your own seasonal reading list. Let me know if there are some I need to add to mine!

*Books marked with an asterisk were sent to me by the publisher! All opinions are my own!

Classic Re-Reads

I have been in such a mood to re-read lately, something I don’t do nearly as often as I would like. New books and a staggering nightstand stack (not to mention several shelves of unread books and an overflowing book cart) are what generally keep me from picking up a book I’ve read before, but I’m determined to read these 3 by the end of November. They are 3 of my very favorite classic books, and they each have a dark, foreboding tone that is perfect for Fall!

Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier

Rebecca is one of my favorite books, but I haven’t read it in years! Rebecca is swept off her feet by a handsome widow and taken away to Manderley, his mansion. When she gets there, she has to fight the presence of his dead wife, as well as the housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers. This could also fit into the Spooky category, as it’s a classic gothic novel. If you haven’t read it, this is the year to do it! For a really spooky night, watch the Alfred Hitchcock movie version, followed by the classic film Gaslight. I promise you won’t be disappointed!

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

This is my favorite Agatha Christie mystery! I first read it in 8th grade, and was absolutely hooked. 10 strangers are invited to spend a night on a private by a mystery host. When the host is nowhere to be found, and the guests start turning up dead one by one, they have to figure out who among them is the murderer. It’s a great Christie book to start with if you haven’t read any, and not too long-perfect for a Fall evening! (If you’re like me and you can’t help but research background information of books, Google the history and controversy behind the title. This definitely isn’t the original title!)

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

I’m going to say something controversial and dividing. I haven’t watched The Handmaid’s Tale on Hulu yet. I KNOW. But I want to. I don’t love everything Margaret Atwood has written, but I do love this book. It’s dystopian literature about what would happen if men were in charge and women were used as wives and procreators only, and it is so, so good. If you haven’t read Atwood before, or didn’t love some of her newer novels, try this one. I think anyone can enjoy it, and it will give you a lot to think about, especially in regard to who should have control over an individual’s body.

The Giver by Lois Lowry

Can we agree that Lois Lowry is one of the original queens of YA? I grew up reading her books, and The Giver has long been a favorite. Yes, this is a middle grade/YA novel, but I think it can be enjoyed by any age. If you have older kids, this would also be a great fall buddy read with them. This is another dystopian novel about a boy who lives in a seemingly perfect world. When he is given a job as the Receiver (of memories), he learns that the world he lives in might not be so perfect after all. This is still one of the best dystopian novels I’ve ever read, and is still highly relevant today.

Classics Re-Visited

A trend I’ve noticed quite a bit lately are bookish re-makes of classic stories. When done well, I love classic stories that are re-written in either a modern way or twisted around to make a completely new story. These are a few that are on my TBR list, and one (Wicked) that I want to re-read before I see the musical for the umpteenth time!

A Study In Scarlet Women (The Lady Sherlock Series) by Sherry Thomas

A Study in Scarlet is considered the first Sherlock and Holmes novel, and Sherry Thomas has taken that series and twisted it around with a woman (Charlotte Holmes) as the main character. I AM HERE FOR THIS. Charlotte has never agreed with the London society norms of women remaining quiet and unobtrusive. When a string of unsolved murders hits the city, she sets out to find the killer, under the assumed name Sherlock Holmes, and prove that she doesn’t have to sit back and watch life pass her by. There are three books in this series so far, so if you’re looking for a good re-visited classic, this is the one to start with!

The Phantom’s Apprentice by Heather Webb

The Phantom of the Opera is one of my favorite novels, and if you’re looking for a real creepy book, read that one. The Phantom’s Apprentice takes that story, of Christine the opera star, her lover Raoul, and the Phantom/Angel of Music and gives it even more depth, delving further in the minds and psyches of the main characters. I am SO excited to read this because while I love the original book (and musical, of course), it would be nice to get to know the characters better and understand why they make the choices they do. Plus, Katie at basicbsguide recommended it to me (and sent me my copy), so I know it’ll be fantastic!

Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire

You’ve probably all at least heard of Wicked the musical, but I’m not sure how many people have actually read the book it’s based on. In case you’re not familiar, it’s the story of the Wicked Witch of the West/The Wizard of Oz as imagined by Gregory Maguire. And she’s not exactly the villain everyone knows her as! If you’ve never read any of Maguire’s books (they’re all twisted fairy tales) this is a good one to start with. Some of them can be a little strange, but Wicked is great. I love when villains get their own story! This is also my in real life book club’s pick this month, and I can’t wait to discuss it with them.

The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein by Kiersten White

This is a new YA novel, but it seems perfect for adults who like twisted classics. This is a re-telling of Frankenstein from the perspective of Elizabeth Lavenza, a ward of the Frankensteins. She is tasked with taking care of Victor Frankenstein. When he leaves for his studies, Elizabeth worries that she no longer has a future without him to take care. She goes on a search for him, and what she discovers is thrilling and horrifying. Reader confession: I have never read Frankenstein, but now I want to just so that I can read this and fully enjoy it! (Although I have seen Young Frankenstein. Does that count?) This book sounds amazing, and a wonderful twist on the traditional story.

Macbeth by Jo Nesbo

I probably don’t need to offer a lot of explanation for this one, except that I REALLY want to read it. It’s a re-telling of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, in modern times (the 1970s), set against a police crime backdrop. Macbeth is an Inspector, Hecate is a drug lord, and Lady is, yes, Macbeth’s one true love. Jo Nesbo is a genius when it comes to writing thrillers, and this seems like a perfect fit. Truly, Shakespeare’s plays are set up so wonderfully for re-tellings, and the dark background of this novel is especially fitting for Fall.

Spooky Stories

It’s finally October, my favorite time of year, and while I don’t generally read horror books (with the exception of Final Girls by Riley Sager), I do enjoy a good, spooky book when the weather starts cooling down and it gets darker earlier. These are a few that fit that category, and are more spooky than creepy.

*Force of Nature by Jane Harper

Force of Nature is a gently spooky novel by the author of The Dry, and I loved this one even more! A group of women head into a forest for a company retreat, and one of them doesn’t come back. You can check out my review of Force of Nature HERE! I absolutely love the idea of reading this book in the Fall. Any story involving a forest is usually spooky, there’s a mystery to solve, but it’s not going to scare you so much that you need to leave ALL the lights on.

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

A gothic tale about a reclusive author, her stories, and secrets for all the characters involved? Yes, please! I am here for a slightly spooky book that makes me want to keep reading one more chapter to see if I can find out something else about the characters. Madeleine at Top Shelf Text recommended this book, and I blindly trust her opinion on books like this! I plan to read this before the end of October for sure! Setterfield has a new book coming out in December called Once Upon a River, and I wish it was being released sooner. It also sounds SO perfect for a cold, Fall night.

Toil & Trouble: 15 Tales of Women & Witchcraft edited by Tess Sharpe & Jessica Spotswood

This is another YA book that I think will be perfect for adults looking for a spooky story they can read quickly. This is a book of 15 short stories about witchy women in the past, present, and future, so you can pick it up and get your spooky Fall reading in in short doses along with whatever other book (Books?) you’re reading. I picked this up at Barnes & Noble and almost sat down to read the entire thing right there.

Abigale Hall by Lauren A. Forry

If you want a truly creepy book that’s reminiscent of Rebecca (this would make a great companion read), Abigale Hall is a great choice. I read this last year and couldn’t put it down once I started. (You can read my review of it HERE!) It’s about two sisters, Eliza and Rebecca, who have lost their parents in WWII and are sent to live in a crumbling old mansion in Wales. The owner is never seen and Mrs. Pollard, the housekeeper, is more than a little odd. When Eliza discovers a book covered in blood, she decides to find out what’s going on in the house, and why none of the other girls who have worked there have survived. Y’all, if you only pick one spooky book to read this Fall, please make it this one! It is so good, and fantastic gothic fiction for people who don’t want the complete gore of a horror book.

Cozy Books

Let’s be honest. It’s still 90 degrees in Texas some days. I don’t care. It’s officially Fall, I have my glittery pumpkins out, and all I want to do is curl up with a soft blanket and pretend it’s 60 degrees outside. These are a few books I’m planning to do that with in the next couple of months!

*I’d Rather Be Reading: The Delights and Dilemmas of the Reading Life by Anne Bogel

If you haven’t heard of Anne Bogel yet (her blog is Modern Mrs. Darcy and her amazing podcast is I’d Rather Be Reading), then please let this book introduce you to her. She is a wonderful writer and book-recommender, and this book is full of short essays about the reading life. They’re quick to read and perfect for curling up under a comfy blanket and reading about the life of a fellow reader.

The Brutal Telling: A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel by Louise Penny

Guys. Have you been to Three Pines? If you haven’t, please, please, please make this the year you start the Inspector Gamache series. Louise Penny has created a mysterious, well-developed world in Three Pines, Canada, and each book gets better and better. You do need to read them in order, starting with Still Life (my review of that is HERE), but this is the book that I’m on. I am so happy to be back in Penny’s world of mystery, murder, and Gamache’s cleverness.

Four Seasons in Rome: On Twins, Insomnia, and the Biggest Funeral in the History of the World by Anthony Doerr

If you’re wishing you could be traveling this Fall instead of . . . not, this is a wonderful book to get away in. Anthony Doerr wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning All the Light We Cannot See, and this short book is the story of how he wrote it. When Doerr won the Rome Prize (basically a paid-for year in Rome to live and write), he moved his wife and newborn twins to Rome to write All the Light We Cannot See. This book tells the story of that year and what life was like in Rome. With twins. Doerr is a talented writer, but I really love behind the scenes stories, and this is a great one!

The Witch Elm by Tana French (out October 9, 2018)

I haven’t read Tana French before, but I’m going to start with this book. She does have a series, but The Witch Elm is a standalone, and it sounds PERFECT for Fall. Toby, recovering at his family home after a run-in with burglars, finds a skull in an elm tree trunk in the backyard. To find out who the skull belongs to may require Toby to acknowledge that his family’s past may not be what he thought it was. It sounds so, so good, and I know French is a skilled writer. (She is an Anne Bogel recommendation, and I trust her!) I’ll definitely be fitting this in soon.

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

And finally, I can’t have a Fall book list without Anne of Green Gables on it. I love this series so much, and it’s perfectly cozy for Fall. Yes, they are considered children’s books, but every time I read them I get even more out of them. If you haven’t read Anne, or haven’t read her in a long time, I highly recommend doing so this year! I’m going to be re-reading Anne of Avonlea soon if anyone would like to read along with me!


Review: Moloka’i


I’ve come to believe that how we choose to live with pain, or injustice, or death . . . is the true measure of the Divine within us.

Sometimes a book comes to you at just the right time, even if you don’t realize it’s the right book. Moloka’i by Alan Brennert was my in-real-life book club pick one month, and I’ll be honest. I wasn’t excited about it. I almost didn’t even read it, but I decided that I would at least start it, since we had a family trip to Hawaii planned as well, and this book takes place in the Hawaiian islands. Once I started, I couldn’t put it down. Like, walking around my house while reading, couldn’t put it down. I had no idea this was the historical fiction novel I needed in my life, and I am so, so glad I didn’t skip it!

Rachel Kalama has a wonderful life with her family on the island of Oahu. She is a typical 7-year-old girl, playing, going to school, and idolizing her dad. When a rosy spot appears on her skin and doesn’t go away, she is diagnosed with leprosy and her life, and childhood, change forever. She is sent to the island of Moloka’i, a designated leprosy colony, to live separately from the rest of Hawaiian society. She will either get better and be released . . . or not. She learns how to live a full life even when facing death (in her friends, family, herself) every day.

This is a fictional novel, but the setting is real. Moloka’i was home to a large leprosy colony from 1866-1969. Rachel’s experience in the novel is representative of many people who did go through being separated from their families and sent to this small island to live out the rest of their days after being diagnosed with leprosy. When I started reading Moloka’i, I knew nothing about this part of Hawaiian history, and I found it heart-breaking, intriguing, and something I still want to learn more about. I absolutely loved Rachel and her father, Henry. Really I loved all of the characters. They all felt very real and fully formed, and I was invested in the book as much for the plot as I was for the well-being of the characters. I was rooting for Rachel and the journey she was on throughout the whole book, and I felt like I got a very good sense of what it would have been like to live in Hawaii, and on Moloka’i, in that time period.

If you like historical fiction and want something a little different (I’ve read nothing about Hawaii’s history and now I want more), please pick up Moloka’i! I was hesitant at first because . . . well, a book about a leprosy colony just sounds sad. But this book, while it has its sad moments, is anything but. It has a lot of heart, and really focuses on how people can be faced with the worst situation and still come out of life with love, friends, and strong sense of self. Isn’t that all anyone wants in life? To love and be love, to be understood and to have an understanding of others. Moloka’i will give you all of that, with a little history lesson thrown in.



There’s a sequel!!! Daughter of Moloka’i will be out on February 19th, and you can bet I’ll be reading it!

(And yes, I did take this book all the way to Hawaii to photograph on the beaches of Oahu!)



What My Kids Are Reading: September 21, 2018

Ghosts   Henry and the Chalk Dragon   Hilo Book 4: Waking the Monsters

It’s been a very long time since I’ve posted about what my kids are reading, and that’s mainly because they’ve been reading longer chapter books. I don’t want to post the same books week after week! But they’ve now made it through enough that I can start recommending books that they’ve loved again! Instead of separating this post by age, I’m just going to get right into the books!


My 9-year-old read this one and loved it so much that he re-read it again and again and asked if I could buy him ALL of Raina Telgemeier’s books! Ghosts is a graphic novel about a girl named Catrina, who has just moved to Northern California, and her younger sister, Maya. Catrina isn’t thrilled about being in a new town, but the weather is supposed to be better for her sister’s health: Maya has cystic fibrosis. When a neighbor reveals that their town is haunted by ghosts, Maya wants to meet one, and Cat has to decide what she will put first: her sister or her fear of ghosts. This is a wonderful story, and I am so happy that a character with CF features prominently! CF is an often misunderstood disorder, and I love that this book has made it accessible for kids. I highly recommend this for strong elementary readers or middle schoolers.

Henry and the Chalk Dragon

We read this book together after Sarah from Read Aloud Revival recommended it on her podcast. What a creative, fun book! Henry Penwhistle draws pictures all the time, including on his bedroom door, which is a giant chalkboard. One day those chalk drawings all come to life and follow him to school, wreaking lots of havoc along the way. I love that this book is so imaginative and encourages kids to create all kinds of art, not just coloring inside the lines. It also gently addresses important issues around friendships, adults who won’t listen, and how to be yourself when people don’t always understand why. Plus, Henry’s town is named Squashbuckle. Please read it, if only for that!

Hilo Book 4: Waking the Monsters

An alien robot boy crashes to Earth and befriends two earthlings. That’s probably all you need to know that this series is a HUGE hit with kids, especially my boys. They both (7 and 9) love this graphic novel series about Hilo (the alien robot) and his friends, DJ and Gina. In between Hilo learning how things work on Earth, they battle monsters, aliens, and the occasional monster alien robot combo. This is a fantastic, funny series that I think would work well for a lot of ages, as well as for reluctant readers!