Thursday, October 31, 2013

Alt-NaNoWriMo: An alternative to writing a novel this month

So...instead of writing a novel for National Novel Writing Month this year (which I totally DID do one year, and ALMOST did another year...swear I did) I've decided to write book reviews instead. But don't you already write book reviews? Yes, but I'm going to write MORE of them. A LOT more.

Introducing...

100 Book Reviews in November


I won't be writing a novel OR growing a moustache, but I WILL be catching up on all those reviews I've been meaning to write for far too long and hopefully knock a few more books off my To Be Read list. Will that add up to 100? I'm not sure, but we'll find out!

First up:

The Sleepy Hollow Family Almanac. I hated it and didn't finish it, but I did write a review for it. Look for that tomorrow.

What about you? Do you have any writing goals for November, novel or otherwise?

30 Days of Potter Answer 4: The Tailor of Gloucester

Which Beatrix Potter character exclaims, "Alack! I am undone!"
A. Johnny Town-Mouse
B. The Tailor of Gloucester
C. Ribby
D. Miss Moppet

The correct answer is B. The Tailor of Gloucester. Published in 1903, The Tailor of Gloucester is Beatrix Potter's take on the old idea of a craftsman having his work finished for him in the night by tiny magical hands, in this case a few clever mice. The tailor spends most of the book in despair, thinking he was run out of supplies and will be unable to make a living. This causes him to utter my daughter's favourite line from any book, Beatrix Potter or otherwise: "Alack! I am undone, for I have no more twist!"
"There were roses and pansies upon the facings of the coat; and the waistcoat was worked with poppies and corn-flowers."
From The Tailor of Gloucester (1903)

Did you post the correct answer? If so, you could win a signed copy of Marta McDowell's book Beatrix Potter's Gardening Life from Cozy Little Book Journal!

Keep checking every day until November 25 for a new Beatrix Potter trivia question and more chances to win!

30 Days of Potter Question 5: Can you name the character?

In The Tale of Timmy Tiptoes, who keeps Timmy Tiptoes company when he falls into a hole in a tree?
A. Goody Tiptoes
B. Silvertail Squirrel
C. Squirrel Nutkin
D. Chippy Hackee

Answer correctly and you could win a signed copy of Marta McDowell's book Beatrix Potter's Gardening Life from Cozy Little Book Journal!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Another year, another crop of Christmas books

My daughter starts her Christmas countdown in August, so it's not surprising that by October she was able to wear me down enough to request all the Christmas-themed books available on NetGalley. Here's a selection of what we've been reading at our house:

The Visit:
The Origin of “The Night Before Christmas”
Author: Mark Kimball Moulton
Illustrator: Susan Winget
Publisher: Schiffer
Publication Date: October 28, 2013
View on Amazon


Everyone knows The Night Before Christmas. For many of us, reciting it is an essential part of our Christmas tradition. Clement C. Moore famously wrote the poem for his children and greatly influenced our image of Santa Claus. In this book, Mark Kimball Moulton re-imagines the "origins" of Clement C. Moore's classic Christmas poem, originally called "A Visit from St. Nicholas," with an illustrated poem of his own. He describes Moore travelling through the snow on a winter day ("the moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow" and all that) and encountering Jan-Peter, a kindly man with a white beard and long red coat who gives treats (you guessed it: sugarplums) to the village children. Moulton claims that his account is accurate as it was told to him by Florence Dinghy Sharp, whose grandfather's grandfather was Clement Clarke Moore.

Moulton claims that this origin story was passed down from generation to generation and then told to him in an interview. Even if that is so, I'm quite certain it was not passed down in verse. And I can't help but feel that more of it is pure fantasy rather than family history. The "man in the red cloak" for instance, is not only narratively convenient but highly dubious. There is no red cloak in The Night Before Christmas. In Moore's poem, Saint Nick is "dressed all in fur from his head to his foot." The idea of a red suit came later, though not simply as an invention of the Coca-Cola company, as commonly believed. But I digress.

Accurate or not, the idea behind the book is a nice one. And the illustrations could not be more beautiful. Honestly, they're so lovely I could imagine many of them hanging on the wall as a print or gracing a Christmas card. But the rhyme is clunky and trite and far too long.
It was late in December,and I, but a child,when our dear Mother bent downand hugged us and smiled.

"Come--let's pack our valises,"she said to us all,"for a visit with Granddad,"she said, I recall.
Too much of that will make your teeth rot, it's so syrupy. For that reason, I doubt The Visit is destined to be the kind of Christmas classic its author so admires.


Who is Santa?
And how did he get to the North Pole?
Author: Stephen W. Bigalow
Editors: Melissa Hammack and Sandy Bigalow
Illustrator: Bill Megenhardt
Publisher: Profit Publishing Co.
Publication Date: September 1, 2013
View on Amazon


This is another Christmas "origin story," this time the epic imaginings of Stephen W. Bigalow. To say this book is not what I was expecting would be an understatement. I had high hopes that this book would include at least SOME historical facts about how our modern image of Santa has been shaped, or how Santa's stories came to include things like flying reindeer or living at the North Pole. Instead it's just a complicated (and unbelievably looooong) book about Santa and Mrs. Claus directing elf crews and fighting "grumpies."

I can't imagine who the target audience for this book is. Any child old enough to sit through this wordy chapter book would either be too old to want to hear it or too savvy to enjoy it. I just can't...it's...no. Just no.


Santa's Cookie Elf
Author: Richard Thomas Parrette, Jr.
Illustrator: Muideen Ogunmola
High Hopes Publishing
Publication Date: August 21, 2013
(Originally published August 20, 2012)
View on Amazon


This is one of those "how hard could it be?" books. As in, it appears to have been created by someone who was a big fan of such children's classics as "The Night Before Christmas" and thought, "How hard could it be to write my own children's Christmas classic?" The answer is "harder than this." Santa's Cookie Elf is all rhyme and no substance. It's the uncharming story of an elf that follows Santa around eating all the leftover cookies. The illustrations are equally charmless. It's not that they're poorly drawn, just that they lack heart. The publisher's website (speaking of...no one likes the term "vanity publisher" but High Hopes Publishing does seem to have a pricing structure for authors, so draw your own conclusions) says that the illustrator works in the graphics department at Reebok. I'm not sure what to make of that, but this book--illustrations, text and story--are all a complete miss.


The Legend of Ranger
The Reindeer Who Couldn't Fly
Author: Alan Salisbury
Illustrator: Roberta Baird
Publisher: Jabberwocky Books
Publication Date: November 5, 2013
View on Amazon


This is another Christmas chapter book, which normally I question because children old enough for chapter books may be too old for Santa stories, but this one was all right. It's not terribly long (under 50 pages) and the chapters are short and engaging enough to hold the interest of a younger child. The illustrations didn't work on my desktop, but they did on my Kobo, so I'm assuming the ebook works properly. Maybe. I can't guarantee it. Overall it's a solid B-, but considering the Christmas selection I seem to have made for myself from NetGalley this year, it's not a bad effort.


Two-Book Set:
My Letters from Santa Through the Years
(Child's Book from Heartfelt Letters from Santa)             
Heartfelt Letters from Santa To You
(Parent's Guide from Heartfelt Letters from Santa)
Author: Veronica Steck
Publisher: St. Nick's Publishing
Publication Date: October 13, 2013
Source: NetGalley
View on Amazon

(I already reviewed this book here.)

I'm sure Veronica Steck is a perfectly lovely person. In fact I'm sure her house is very neat and always smells like cookies. And I bet Christmas at the Stecks' house is AMAZING. Christmas carols and cookies and little personalized gift boxes that would make Martha Stewart herself develop a case of Pinterest-envy.

Which is exactly why she must be stopped.

Who is Veronica Steck, you may be asking yourself, and why has she upset me so? Well I'll tell you, she's the author of a new Christmas book set called Heartfelt Letters from Santa to You and My Letters from Santa Through the Years. The two-book set is a how-to guide for parents to emulate Veronica's Christmas tradition of writing personalized letters at Christmas to each of her children from Santa. Then she keeps them in a beautiful keepsake book so the kids can have them forever.

Ahem. Let me respond in the form of a gif:


I know, I know, you're probably thinking, "But wait! That's a lovely idea! I should do that! We all should!" If you are thinking that then you're already part of the problem. Stop raising the bar for Christmas, people! The bar is already too high--WAY too high. I can barely remember to help my kid write a letter TO Santa, let alone sit down and write one BACK to her. I'd do it once and then I'd forget and then my daughter would spend the whole year wondering why Santa isn't talking to her anymore. It's madness!

Of course, if you are one of those parents who is so organized that you can start new Christmas traditions all over the place, like "write letters from Santa" and "don't leave baskets of clean laundry next to the Christmas tree when you're taking pictures" (don't judge me--at least it's not dirty laundry) then have at it.

Just, whatever you do, don't let your child compare notes with my child (also, nobody tell my kid about Pinterest--she'll want me to start making things in mason jars for her next).

And finally...

This lot.

The Baby Santa Series
Author: M. Maitland DeLand
Publisher: Greenleaf

Baby Santa
pub. Sept 1, 2013
Baby Santa and the
Lost Letters

pub. Oct 1, 2011
Baby Santa and the
Missing Reindeer

pub. Sept 3, 2013
Baby Santa's Worldwide
Christmas Adventure

pub. Sept 1, 2010






I don't have much to say about these books because, honestly, I couldn't even get the files to open. Most of the pages were either closeups of one corner of the illustrations, or the text was in a strange part of the page, or the page wouldn't turn. It didn't work on any of my programs or my e-reader, and when I tried to contact the publisher I didn't hear back. So I have nothing else to say about them except maybe don't bother to request them on NetGalley.

So that's my Christmas roundup so far. It's a pretty miserable selection, all told. Maybe it's time to get back to the classics. I'm sure I have about half a dozen different copies of The Night Before Christmas around here somewhere...

The Litter of the Law: A Mrs. Murphy Mystery, by Rita Mae Brown (and Sneaky Pie Brown)

The Litter of the Law: 
A Mrs. Murphy Mystery
Series: Mrs. Murphy
Author: Rita Mae Brown (and Sneaky Pie Brown)
Publisher: Bantam
Publication Date: October 22, 2013
Source: Edelweiss
View on Amazon


Before Cozy Little Book Journal was a book blog, it was an actual journal that I kept beside my bed and used to record my thoughts on books I had read. One of the reasons I did that was for books like this. I read a lot of cozy mysteries and sometimes when I discover a series I like, I want to make sure I can find that author again. Other times I want to warn myself that this series is not for me. The reason I need to take notes is because, with cozy mysteries, they can all start to look the same after a while.

Take, for example, the cat cozy. There are a million of them. I remember reading something by Marian Babson on my lunch break once and my boss said, "Oh is she the woman who writes all those cat mysteries?" and I said, "No, you're thinking of that other one." In other words, there are a LOT of "that woman who writes the cat mysteries." It's hard to remember which ones I like and which ones I don't.

In the case of Rita Mae Brown, I should have remembered to pass. It's not that she's a bad writer, it's just that this isn't my kind of cozy. While I don't mind a main character who is a cat lover, I'm not fond of the "character other than humans who speaks" angle. There are rare exceptions, but generally if it has talking cats, talking ghosts, talking imaginary friends, talking dogs or talking magical clocks and they help solve the murders, I'd rather not read it. In the case of The Litter of the Law, there are so many talking animal characters that they have their own dramatis personae. It's too much for me, though I obviously can't speak for anyone else.

Halloween: Magic, Mystery and the Macabre, by Paula Guran (ed.)

Halloween: Magic, Mystery, and the Macabre
Edited by Paula Guran
Published by Prime Books
Publication Date: October 1, 2013
Source: NetGalley
View on Amazon

If only I'd had more time this Halloween, I would have lingered over these stories more! Unfortunately this has been a very busy month (couple of months actually) for me and it seems like I never have enough time to read, which is bad considering my hobby is writing book reviews. It's not that I'm not reading; it's just that I'm fitting it in when I can, speed-reading or sneaking in a chapter in between other chores. What I really miss is having the time to sit down and read--undisturbed--for hours on end.

And that's what this book would have been good for. Curling up on the cold nights leading to Halloween and getting lost in spooky stories. They reminded me a lot of the sort of horror fiction I read as a child, à la Stephen King. There are tales of haunted movie theatres, bodies that don't stay buried, and good old-fashioned ghosts and ghouls. Luckily, most of the stories were short enough that I could fit them in to my reading schedule without any trouble. But if you have the time, I'd recommend lingering over them, preferably at night with the lights low and the house creaking.

Countdown to Launch: The "ground crew" that made Chris Hadfield's book a reality in nearly record time

from news.yahoo.com
In his new book, An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth: What Going to Space Taught Me About Ingenuity, Determination, and Being Prepared For Anything, Chris Hadfield writes about all of the people it takes to send a person to space, the hundreds of dedicated professionals who spend thousands of hours preparing for each mission. It got me thinking about the people behind the scenes in another of Chris Hadfield's missions: publishing a book.

I always knew that writing a book--especially a good book--was hard work, and I knew that the work of publishers and editors was an important part of that process. But I don't think I fully appreciated just how much work is done behind the scenes until I became a book blogger. I review a lot of books and, as such, I am in contact with a lot of publishers, not to mention publicists, marketing agents, illustrators, book sellers, etc. The larger the publishing house, the more people involved in producing the book (usually) and those many hands can go a long way toward making a book a success. There's editing, layout design, graphics, cover design, printing, binding, distribution, galley production, online marketing, book tour scheduling, multimedia promotion, press kit creation...I'm certain I'm forgetting about 500 other things.

The point is all of that takes time. I'm often reviewing books that have been written a year ago and won't be released for another year and a half. It's a long process. It's not just a matter of an author writing their memoirs and sending it off to the printers to be sold in stores the next month.

But in the case of Chris Hadfield, that's almost what did happen. Random House Canada released a statement in July 2013 announcing that Hadfield had signed a book deal. At that point he hadn't even finished writing the book yet, and possibly hadn't even started. His memoir talks extensively about things that happened as late as July (his retirement, the Calgary Stampede, etc.). Yet the book was slated to be released in October of the same year, less than four months later.

In that short time, the book cover was designed and approved, the tour dates were booked, promotional videos were made. The book was written, edited, re-written (I'm assuming, based on the quality of the writing, that nobody skipped out on the editing stage, even if there was a rush), then printed, shipped and distributed. Digital galleys were even made available to reviewers. In four months. To say this is astounding would be an understatement. (It should be noted that Hadfield's son Evan, who worked so hard to bring his father's photos and videos from space to the world, stepped up to help with this process. Of course he did.)


What it does mean is that there was a huge group of people who worked overtime to make this book a success and to get it done quickly. My experience as a book blogger has left me with the impression that many book publishing people are already passionate, hard-working to the point of being tireless, and usually underpaid. So that means that a huge group of already extremely busy people probably gave up a lot of weekends and cancelled their summer vacations just to make sure Chris Hadfield's book was as good as it possibly could be. Sure, they wanted it to be done in time for Christmas. But they also wanted it to be great. And it is.

Then again, Colonel Hadfield has a way of bringing out the best in people and inspiring passionate people to work even harder. And he also has the humility and generosity to acknowledge the large team behind individual success. So in that spirit, here's to the team that launched an astronaut into bookstores everywhere!


An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth was published on October 29, 2013, and is available in bookstores everywhere, as well as on Amazon.com and Amazon.ca.

30 Days of Potter Answer 3: It's Cowslip!


By what name is this flowering plant--which appears in The Tale of Mrs. Tittlemouse, The Tale of Mr. Tod and Cecily Parsley's Nursery Rhymes--most commonly known?

"Cecily Parsley lived in a pen,
And brewed good ale for gentlemen"
From Cecily Parsley's Nursery Rhymes (1922)


The answer is C. Cowslip. Properly known as Primula veris, this perennial plant typically grows near cow dung, which may explain its common name of cowslip.
Other folk names include cuy lippe, herb peter, paigle, peggle, key flower, key of heaven, fairy cups, petty mulleins, crewel, buckles, palsywort, plumrocks, tittypines.


"I smell a smell of honey; is it the cowslips outside, in the hedge? I am sure I can see the marks of little dirty feet."From The Tale of Mrs. Tittlemouse (1910)
Did you post the correct answer? If so, you could win a signed copy of Marta McDowell's book Beatrix Potter's Gardening Life from Cozy Little Book Journal!

Keep checking every day until November 25 for a new Beatrix Potter trivia question and more chances to win!

30 Days of Potter Question 4: Who Said It?

Which Beatrix Potter character exclaims, "Alack! I am undone!"
A. Johnny Town-Mouse
B. The Tailor of Gloucester
C. Ribby
D. Miss Moppet

Answer correctly and you could win a signed copy of Marta McDowell's book Beatrix Potter's Gardening Life from Cozy Little Book Journal!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

New book awesomely shows you how to make a Lego Sputnik, unawesomely does NOT show you how to make a Lego ISS: A Review of Lego Space: Building the Future, by Peter Reid and Tim Goddard

Lego Space
Building the Future
Authors: Peter Reid and Tim Goddard
Publisher: No Starch Press
Publication Date: November 4, 2013
View on Amazon

Publisher's website
Source: NetGalley

Lego Space: Building the Future starts out so well. It's a book of pictures and stories about space exploration, Lego-style, complete with instructions about how to make your own space ships. It talks about the lunar landing and probes. It even shows you how to make your own Lego Sputnik, which is awesome.


But then it takes a turn into fantasy land. Instead of continuing on with the real space program, it goes straight into imaginary "mid 21st century Federation ships." While I can see the appeal of this, it feels like the authors missed a golden opportunity to capitalize on the world's renewed interest in space exploration by making a Lego Soyuz or a Lego International Space Station. That would have been amazing!



Can't you just picture a mustachioed Lego Chris Hadfield? Or a bald Lego Luca Parmitano? Or a Lego Karen Nyberg with detachable toy space dinosaur? Oh I want all of those!

If you'll excuse me I'm going to go make my own Lego Canadarm2.

The gift that's also an ongoing chore: Review of Veronica Steck's 2-book set "Heartfelt Letters From Santa"

My Letters from Santa Through the Years
(Child's Book from Heartfelt Letters from Santa)
                           +
Heartfelt Letters from Santa To You
(Parent's Guide from Heartfelt Letters from Santa)

Author: Veronica Steck
Publisher: St. Nick's Publishing
Publication Date: October 13, 2013
Source: NetGalley

This book does not seem to be available on Amazon but you can visit the book's website for more information.


I'm sure Veronica Steck is a perfectly lovely person. In fact I'm sure her house is very neat and always smells like cookies. And I bet Christmas at the Stecks' house is AMAZING. Christmas carols and cookies and little personalized gift boxes that would make Martha Stewart herself develop a case of Pinterest-envy.

Which is exactly why she must be stopped.

Who is Veronica Steck, you may be asking yourself, and why has she upset me so? Well I'll tell you, she's the author of a new Christmas book set called Heartfelt Letters from Santa to You and My Letters from Santa Through the Years. The two-book set is a how-to guide for parents to emulate Veronica's Christmas tradition of writing personalized letters at Christmas to each of her children from Santa. Then she keeps them in a beautiful keepsake book so the kids can have them forever.

Ahem. Let me respond in the form of a gif:


I know, I know, you're probably thinking, "But wait! That's a lovely idea! I should do that! We all should!" If you are thinking that then you're already part of the problem. Stop raising the bar for Christmas, people! The bar is already too high--WAY too high. I can barely remember to help my kid write a letter TO Santa, let alone sit down and write one BACK to her. I'd do it once and then I'd forget and then my daughter would spend the whole year wondering why Santa isn't talking to her anymore. It's madness!

Of course, if you are one of those parents who is so organized that you can start new Christmas traditions all over the place, like "write letters from Santa" and "don't leave baskets of clean laundry next to the Christmas tree when you're taking pictures" (don't judge me--at least it's not dirty laundry) then have at it.

Just, whatever you do, don't let your child compare notes with my child (also, nobody tell my kid about Pinterest--she'll want me to start making things in mason jars for her next).

30 Days of Potter Answer 2: Ginger and Pickles

Whose store is this?
A. Ribby and Duchess
B. Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle
C. Ginger and Pickles
D. The Tailor of Gloucester


The correct answer is C. Ginger and Pickles. The Tale of Ginger and Pickles, first published in 1909, is about a cat and a dog who run a store frequented by many of Beatrix Potter's beloved characters. Unfortunately, they extend credit to so many of them that they run the risk of going bankrupt themselves!

Did you post the correct answer? If so, you could win a signed copy of Marta McDowell's book Beatrix Potter's Gardening Life from Cozy Little Book Journal!

Keep checking every day until November 25 for a new Beatrix Potter trivia question and more chances to win!

30 Days of Potter Question 3: Name that plant


By what name is this flowering plant--which appears in The Tale of Mrs. Tittlemouse, The Tale of Mr. Tod and Cecily Parsley's Nursery Rhyme--most commonly known?
A. Daffodil
B. Water mint
C. Cowslip
D. Foxglove

Answer correctly and you could win a signed copy of Marta McDowell's book Beatrix Potter's Gardening Life from Cozy Little Book Journal!

Monday, October 28, 2013

It's official: Canada has a new dad and he's amazing! A review of An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth: What Going to Space Taught Me About Ingenuity, Determination, and Being Prepared for Anything, by Col. Chris Hadfield

An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth:
What Going to Space Taught Me About Ingenuity, Determination, and Being Prepared for Anything
Author: Col. Chris Hadfield
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Publication Date: October 29, 2013




View on Amazon.ca
View on Amazon.com



Source: NetGalley




Chris Hadfield knew he wanted to be an astronaut when he was nine years old. In fact, he remembers the exact moment he knew. It was late in the evening on July 20, 1969. That's when his entire family, spending the summer in Stag Island, Ontario, "traipsed across the clearing" to their neighbour's cottage so they could crowd themselves in front of the television and watch the moon landing. "Somehow," he writes, "we felt as if we were up there with Neil Armstrong, changing the world."

Hadfield writes about this early experience--and many, many of the other experiences that have led him to become the world's most recognized astronaut since Armstrong himself--in his new book, An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth.

To say I was excited about this book would be an understatement. When I received an advance digital copy, my first thought was, "Eeeee!!" Have you ever had a book that you were so excited about that it immediately cleared out your entire "to be read" shelf the very moment it became available? As in, those dozens (or hundreds) of other books you've been meaning to read are suddenly unimportant because THIS book is finally in your hands? That's how I felt about An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth. Even though I've had it on pre-order since the first day I heard of its existence, I was lucky enough to get an advanced digital copy from Little, Brown and Company through NetGalley, which meant I was able to read it two weeks early! Now considering I've had books on my reading list that have been on there for MONTHS, it may seem unfair that I immediately forgot about all of them and bumped this one to the top of the list. But fairness schmairness, I wanted to read this right away!

I would have read this book a lot faster if I hadn't kept stopping every few pages to run out to tell Mike and Magda (my partner and our daughter) what I'd just read. Magda didn't mind. She asked me to read aloud to her from the book every chance I got. At four, I'd venture to say she knows more about space than most Canadians ten times her age, and we have Colonel Chris Hadfield to thank for that.

His videos from space captured her imagination and mine. Thanks to him, Magda has spent the better part of the year learning everything she can about space exploration and astronauts, and has even composed several songs dedicated to female astronauts she admires ("Julie Payette Rocket" and "You are the Moon, I am the Sun [for Suni Williams]"). I feel like he's introduced us to space exploration in a way no one had before, and that he's introduced us to astronauts as real people. Of course, the internet has helped immensely with that, as has Hadfield's social media genius of a son, Evan. But thanks to them, our whole family knows names like Tom Marshburn, Roman Romanenko, Karen Nyberg, Kevin Ford and Luca Parmitano. Thanks to him, both my daughter and I have new heroes from all over the world.

Magda posing as Karen Nyberg, the astronaut who famously made a toy dinosaur for her son while aboard the International Space Station in 2013

And that's a gift that Chris Hadfield has given to so many of us; he's renewed our sense of wonder. He's inspired us to look at space again in a way most of us hadn't in a long time. He's inspired us to be passionately curious and unabashedly compassionate. He's shown us--through his eyes--what exactly it looks like to all be connected in this world (and off it). He's reminded us what it looks like to be passionate, competent and sincere, without irony or cynicism.

An Astronaut's Guide to Life really is a guide to life. Actually, it makes a pretty good guide to parenting too. Colonel Hadfield offers an insider's look into the life of an astronaut and the steps it takes to become one. It's deeply satisfying for those curious about the past, present and future of the space program, but it's also full of truly excellent advice for those with ambition in any field.

(The video below is Chris Hadfield talking about his top three tips for success in any field.)


For instance, even though Hadfield knew at the age of nine that he wanted to go to space someday, there was not any way for him to do that, at least not in Canada in 1969. We didn't have a space program. But he figured that just one day earlier, seeing a person walk on the moon would have seemed impossible yet that had happened, so you never know what the future might bring. He knew that whatever happened he wanted to be ready for it, so he started preparing himself that day to become the sort of person who would be ready to go to space one day. He worked hard in school, kept his body healthy, and made choices that would best prepare him achieve his goals. He started transforming himself into the person he wanted to be with every choice he made.

And perhaps more important than all of those steps toward space--the healthy diet, the good grades, the time spent as an Air Cadet and then a pilot, the advanced degree in engineering--was the fact that Chris Hadfield made those choices knowing he may never be an astronaut. He made sure to do things with his life that would be satisfying on their own, regardless of whether or not they lead to being an astronaut.

He writes: "I never thought, 'If I don't make it as an astronaut, I'm a failure.' The script would have changed a lot if, instead, I'd moved up in the military or become a university professor or a commercial test pilot, but the result wouldn't have been a horror movie."

I love that. I love the attitude that you don't have to "wait for your life to begin," as so many of us do (I know I have). You can start becoming the person you want to be right away, with the choices you make and the steps you take. And, most importantly, do the things that will make you happy along the way, whether or not you reach your end goal. And in fact the "end goal" may change many times but at least you'll be doing things you love.

Of course when I say it, it sounds like a second-rate inspirational poster, the kind with saccharine poems written over photos of mountain vistas. Yet when Colonel Hadfield says it, it doesn't. It's probably because his "advice" is only a small part of the book, and is really only given in terms of his own life story ("this is what worked for me").

Chris Hadfield, Roman Romanenko and Tom Marshburn just after they returned to earth. Chris writes that he and Tom looked (and felt) weak and woozy, while Roman looked like he could go out and play a round of golf. So true. Of course, Chris was trying to keep it together because he had just learned that the Toronto Maple Leafs had lost.
(via o.canada.com)

Most of the book is filled with fascinating stories about the life of an astronaut, including many that I had never heard before. He relates stories of things that have gone wrong in space, most of which are corrected and managed by the quick thinking of astronauts, cosmonauts and mission control. He talks about the sadness he and his wife felt upon hearing that his good friend Rick Husband had been killed aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia. He explains the detailed "death plans" that all astronauts make before they go into space, deciding in detail exactly what would happen if they were killed in space (right down to who exactly would tell their family and who would accompany their spouse to the funeral). It's an inside look into an experience only around 500 people in history have ever had: preparing for and achieving space travel.

I could say so much more about this book but I'm afraid it would just turn into me giving another page-by-page account of everything in it, much like I did with Magda and Mike all week. What I can say is that I was even more inspired by the book than I already was by Colonel Hadfield himself, which is pretty darn inspired.

Here are some things my four-year-old had to say about it:

Magda's Take:
"At first I thought that I wanted to be an astronaut. But then as I learned a little more about it, I realized that sometimes people feel a little bit sick in space. I don't like feeling sick so now I'm not so sure I want to be an astronaut, now that I'm older. So I guess I would say that between the ages of two and three, I really wanted to be an astronaut. But between the ages of four and five, I learned more about it and realized I'll probably be something else. Now I think I'll be a lot of things, so many things that I might now have time to be an astronaut.

"But I loved the book and I loved hearing my mom read it to me. I hope she reads it to me again and this time I hope she reads all of it to me. I should find out if it's a library book because I'm going to want to read it again and again. Maybe I can ask for it for Christmas and then it'll be mine, and when I grow up I can read it to my children."

Commander Hadfield on Magda's space poster

An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth is scheduled to be published October 29, 2013, and Chris Hadfield will be doing a book tour to promote it. That means he might be appearing at a book store near you! I know, I know, I'm so excited I can barely even talk about it because I don't want to jinx it. But if, like me, you're in the Halifax, Nova Scotia, area, you can see Chris at Chapters in Bayer's Lake on November 29, 2013. Eeeeeee!!

30 Days of Potter Answer 1: The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies

What book by Beatrix Potter begins with the lines: It is said that the effect of eating too much lettuce is "soporific." I have never felt sleepy after eating lettuces; but then am not a rabbit.?
A. The Tale of Peter Rabbit
B. The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies
C. The Tale of Benjamin Bunny
D. The Story of a Fierce Bad Rabbit



The correct answer is B. The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies. First published in 1909, it's the story of six unlucky bunnies who are caught in the gardener's sack after stealing lettuces. If only they'd managed to stay awake long enough to escape!

Did you post the correct answer? If so, you could win a signed copy of Marta McDowell's book Beatrix Potter's Gardening Life from Cozy Little Book Journal!

Keep checking every day until November 25 for a new Beatrix Potter trivia question and more chances to win!

30 Days of Potter Question 2: Who is This?

Whose store is this?
A. Ribby and Duchess
B. Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle
C. Ginger and Pickles
D. The Tailor of Gloucester

Answer correctly and you could win a signed copy of Marta McDowell's book Beatrix Potter's Gardening Life from Cozy Little Book Journal!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

30 Days of Potter Question 1: Can you name the book?

What book by Beatrix Potter begins with the lines: It is said that the effect of eating too much lettuce is "soporific." I have never felt sleepy after eating lettuces; but then I am not a rabbit.?
A. The Tale of Peter Rabbit
B. The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies
C. The Tale of Benjamin Bunny
D. The Story of a Fierce Bad Rabbit

Answer correctly and you could win a signed copy of Marta McDowell's book Beatrix Potter's Gardening Life from Cozy Little Book Journal!

Friday, October 25, 2013

It's 30 days of Potter...Beatrix Potter, that is. Test your trivia knowledge for a chance to win!

ENTER TO WIN A COPY OF BEATRIX POTTER'S GARDENING LIFE, BY MARTA MCDOWELL! 


How well do you know your Beatrix Potter characters? Does your memory go beyond just Peter Rabbit and the Flopsy Bunnies? How about plants and gardening tips? Do you know your perennials from your annuals? Test your knowledge of both with Cozy Little Book Journal's November contest: a daily Beatrix Potter trivia challenge!

To celebrate the recent 111th birthday of Peter Rabbit (The Tale of Peter Rabbit was first published on October 2, 1902) and the upcoming release of the book, Beatrix Potter's Gardening Life: The Plants and Places That Inspired the Classic Children's Tales, by Marta McDowell (Timber Press, November 5, 2013), I'm hosting a contest and book giveaway!

From October 27, 2013 until November 25, 2013, I will be posting a new photo daily with a trivia question. It will either be a character from one of Beatrix Potter's stories, a picture of a plant mentioned in one of her books that you must correctly identify, or a question about Beatrix Potter's life. Post the correct answer on CLBJ's blog, Facebook, or Twitter pages and automatically be entered to win this month's prize: ONE SIGNED COPY of Marta McDowell's book, Beatrix Potter's Gardening Life! (You can read my review of the book here.)


Plus, the best part is that the author has agreed to send the book to the winner directly, so you'll actually be getting your own personally inscribed copy! AND IT'S AN INTERNATIONAL CONTEST! YAY! 

The more correct answers you give, the better your chance of winning, so keep checking every day!


Here's how to enter:


1. Visit Cozy Little Book Journal and look for the daily trivia question
Visit me on my blog, my Facebook page or my Twitter page and look for the new trivia question. There will be a new one every day and it will be labelled "Beatrix Potter Question of the Day" or something similar.

2. Post the answer in the comments section
If you know the answer to the question (or even if you don't but you'd like to guess), post it in the comments section of the blog post, comment on the Facebook picture, or reply to the Tweet. I'll be checking all three places so if you get the right answer, I'll find you! Of course, if you'd like to answer in all three places, feel free!

3. Enter every day for more chances to win! 
Correct answers from each day's trivia question will be entered in the draw for the grand prize at the end of the month, a signed copy of Beatrix Potter's Gardening Life, by Marta McDowell. I'll be posting the correct answer to the each day's question on the following day, so only correct answers posted within the first 24 hours will count toward the draw. Still, there's a good chance that you can just look at the answers other people have posted and you'll be able to figure out the right answer. Or you can look them up. This is the internet after all. No points will be deducted for checking Wikipedia, I promise.

5. One winner will be announced at the end of the 30-day contest
At the end of the contest (after November 25th) I'll go back over all the entries and randomly pick one. If it's you, I'll contact you via email, Twitter or Facebook (so make sure your contact information shows up when you post a comment, particularly if you're commenting on my blog...anonymous comments don't give me a way to reach you if you win). Once I contact you, I'll ask you to email me your contact information (name, mailing address, name you'd like inscribed on the book) and I'll pass it along to Marta McDowell. Then she'll send you the book in the mail.

And don't forget, Marta has already agreed to make this contest INTERNATIONAL so tell all your friends to enter, whether they live in Canada, the United States, England, Australia, Yemen, wherever!

I'd like to thank Marta McDowell for sponsoring this exciting contest and for coming up with the idea of "gardening and Beatrix Potter trivia" as a theme. You can find out more about her (and gardening!) by visiting her website, martamcdowell.com.


And look for Beatrix Potter's Gardening Life:The Plants and Places That Inspired the Classic Children's Tales, available in hardcover on November 5th! 

Amazon product page

Publisher's website
Author's website
My review

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Thursday, October 24, 2013

Yes, Let's, by Galen Goodwin Longstreth (illustrated by Maris Wicks)

Yes, Let's
Author: Galen Goodwin Longstreth
Illustrator: Maris Wicks
Publisher: Tanglewood Press
Publication Date: April 9, 2013
Source: NetGalley

If ever there were an aptly named book, it's this. This fun children's book about a family of five (plus a dog) who make a plan for their day that includes a road trip, a hike in the woods, a picnic by the beach and milkshakes on the way home makes me want to do ALL OF THOSE THINGS RIGHT NOW. Yes, Let's indeed! Of course the downside is that my daughter Magda completely agreed with me and also wants to do all of those things right now, so now I guess I'm going to have to actually plan a day trip to the woods now. Well, as long as there's milkshakes...


Finally! A real review for this fantastic book! REVIEW: What's New at the Zoo? by Betty Comden and Adolph Green (introduction by Phyllis Newman) (illustrated by Travis Foster)

What's New at the Zoo?
Authors: Betty Comden and Adolph Green
(based on song lyrics)
Introduction by: Phyllis Newman
Illustrator: Travis Foster
Publisher: Blue Apple Books
Publication Date: September 13, 2011
View on Amazon


Source: I received a review copy (hardcover) from illustrator Travis Foster. Thank-you so much!

Nearly a year ago, I received a digital review copy of this book from Blue Apple Books through the Edelweiss Above the Treeline program. Unfortunately, the file didn't work properly and when I tried to contact the publisher I did not get a reply. Alas, I couldn't review it, though I did talk about my wish that I COULD review it in blog post here. Luckily, Travis Foster read it and so graciously offered to send me a copy so I could review it for real. So nice!

My Take:
Even if the digital file had worked, I don't think it would have done the book justice. The hardcover edition has large lift out flaps with illustrations that are both bold and subtle at the same time. It's really best experienced as a print book. Actually one of my favourite things about the book is how the illustrations are done in layers, with shiny line drawings in the background to compliment the full-colour illustrations in the front. It adds to the feeling of the zoo animals being frantically crowded, without making the pictures appear messy or overwhelming. But that detail would have been lost in a digital edition, I think.

Magda's Take:
My daughter Magda enjoyed the illustrations and the words from the song lyrics (more on that later) but overall she found it a "sad book about a sad subject." I asked her why she thought it was so sad and she said, "Because the animals are being so mean to each other, stepping on each other's necks and tails, but it's because they're so crowded. If the zoo wasn't crowded the animals wouldn't be so unhappy. Did they not have bigger zoos for them? It's so sad!"

A Little Background:
Although the book made Magda a little sad, I think she got the point of the story. The song, "What's New at the Zoo?" is from the musical Do-Re-Mi (which you may remember as the original source of the song, "Make Someone Happy"). According to the afterword by Phyllis Newman (wife of late composer Adolph Green), the cramped conditions of the Central Park Zoo was the real inspiration for the song, and she was delighted when--decades later--the zoo was transformed into a more spacious and comfortable environment for the animal residents. It was changed in response to criticisms of the living conditions of zoo animals and changing attitudes toward zoos in general. While this specific song may not have been the catalyst for such shifts, it's nice to know that some of these changes have been made. And it's also nice to see a children's book that, while still fun and silly, encourages children to think critically about the way we treat animals in our care (an element that is often missing from the thousands and thousands of farm and zoo themed children's books).


Saturday, October 19, 2013

The White Dress in Color: Wedding Inspirations for the Modern Bride, by Beth Lindsay Chapman, Candice Dowling Coppola and Carla Ten Eyck

The White Dress in Color:
Wedding Inspirations for the Modern Bride
Authors: Beth Lindsay Chapman, Candice Dowling Coppola and Carla Ten Eyck
Publisher: Schiffer
Publication Date: October 28, 2013
Source: NetGalley

I have a confession to make: I hate weddings. It's true, I do. I don't have any lingering childhood dreams about my ideal wedding day. The thought of planning such a thing practically makes me break out in hives. I've been to many weddings and I'm always thrilled to be a part of my friends' big days, but I don't actually enjoy weddings themselves. I love being a mother too, but that doesn't mean I enjoyed giving birth.

So why am I reviewing a book about wedding dresses? Why did I even pick it up? Well one thing I do love is pretty dresses. That and gorgeous photography. I'm a sucker for high-res artsy photos of ladies in fancy dresses with complicated hair. Pinterest is a g.d. nightmare for me. I could waste hours staring at pictures of elaborate braids and bejewelled gowns before I emerge in a stupor to wonder where the day went.

This book definitely satisfied that second urge. It's filled with gorgeous--gorgeous--photos of women in fancy gowns with complicated hair. My favourite! It did stress me out a little because it's very "wedding-y" but I'm assuming that if you're interested in this book the "weddingy-ness" of it won't bother you.

One thing that did surprise me, though, was the fact that every single dress shown was a very traditional white dress. Every single one. With a title like "The White Dress in Color" I was honestly expecting that some of these dresses would be colourful twists on traditional dresses, or that there would at least be some unusual, modern variations. Not so. Every single wedding dress (and a few of the bridesmaids dresses) is a traditional white floor-length (or nearly floor-length) gown. Weird.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have some complicated braids to drool at on Pinterest.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Santa's Cookie Elf, by Richard Thomas Parrette, Jr. (illustrated by Muideen Ogunmola)


View on Amazon


Source: NetGalley




Santa's Cookie Elf
Author: Richard Thomas Parrette, Jr.
Illustrator: Muideen Ogunmola
High Hopes Publishing
Publication Date: August 21, 2013
(Originally published August 20, 2012)

This is one of those "how hard could it be?" books. As in, it appears to have been created by someone who was a big fan of such children's classics as "The Night Before Christmas" and thought, "How hard could it be to write my own children's Christmas classic?" The answer is "harder than this." Santa's Cookie Elf is all rhyme and no substance. It's the uncharming story of an elf that follows Santa around eating all the leftover cookies. The illustrations are equally charmless. It's not that they're poorly drawn, just that they lack heart. The publisher's website (speaking of...no one likes the term "vanity publisher" but High Hopes Publishing does seem to have a pricing structure for authors, so draw your own conclusions) says that the illustrator works in the graphics department at Reebok. I'm not sure what to make of that, but this book--illustrations, text and story--are all a complete miss.