VOTE NOW!! Mama Panda Bear Virtual Book Club – 2nd Meeting! Help pick the book!!!

Our last Mama Panda Bear Virtual Book Club pick was The Only Woman in the Room by Marie Benedict and, whole the meeting was sparsely attended, it was a lot of fun! I’d love to have more of you join us this time…so I need your help picking the book!
Since this blog focuses on Middle Grade, YA and Contemporary Fiction, like last time, I’m providing 2 choices from each category. We’ll meet July 15th at 8:00 pm EDT! Connectivity info will be made available closer to that date.

Please indicate which book YOU would like to see us read for our next meeting below.  Links to read more about or purchase any of the books are located below the poll!

Use these links to read more or get your own copy of any of these books!

The Tenth Muse: A Novel One Night in Georgia: A Novel The Girls of Firefly Cabin All of Us with Wings A Monster Like Me Waiting for Fitz

Voting will close at midnight on May 31, 2019!

Book Review: The Promise Between Us by Barbara Claypole White – 3.5 stars

As always, I’ll be completely straight with you and admit: I struggled with this book. I almost gave up on it twice early on: I found the plot a little too ‘convenient’ and formulaic. The voice that Claypole White gives to mental illness (particularly OCD) however, reeled me in and kept me reading. I had no regrets when I finished the book!

The Promise Between Us is told from 5 points of view:

Katie (mother of Maudie, suffers from OCD)

Callum (father of Maisie)

Jake (godparent to Maisie and Cal’s best friend)

Lilah (Cal’s wife and Maudie’s stepmother) and,

Maisie herself (dealing with burgeoning OCD.)

We learn early on that Katie’s OCD was triggered post-partum and she begins to suffer with intrusive thoughts about harming her daughter. These thoughts lead to a stand-off between her and Cal and, not understanding her disease, she ultimately decides to leave Maisie in order keep her safe.

Fast-forward nearly a decade and Maisie, a tween, is accidentally reintroduced to her mother (this was where I had to suspend disbelief and push on) who slowly begins to realize that Maisie has inherited and is dealing with OCD too. In her quest to save Maisie from the pain that she experiences, Katie finds herself involved in the life of her former husband, his wife and his best friend.

In bringing Katie and Maisie back together, Claypole White creates the opportunity for secrets from numerous other characters to surface and be revealed. Katie and Maisie are not the only ones troubled by their mental health concerns and it will take involvement from all parties (including Katie’s colleague, Ben and sister, Delaney) for all of those issues to come to light.

Claypole White (who, unsurprisingly has experienced OCD in her own husband and son) nails the voices in Katie’s and Maisie’s heads that try to keep them sick and afraid. It is the integrity with which she explores mental illness, trauma and blended families that kept me reading right up to the end.

The Promise Between Us is populated with some truly genuine and appealing characters. Although I felt strongly that Claypole White ‘missed’ on Maisie’s voice (too much disparity between her intelligence and her baby talk,) her portrayal of Ben (the strong, silent art studio/garage owner that Katie works with) and Lilah (Maisie’s well-intentioned but overlooked pregnant stepmom) were absolutely winning! You can’t help but want to meet Ben and admire and wish to emulate Lilah!

While I’m generally not much of one for backstory, acknowledgements, Book Club extras, etc, Claypole White’s accessories to her novel are outstanding. The acknowledgements and book club questions helped frame her intention for the book in a way that I found enlightening. She also created (as she does for all of her books, apparently) a musical playlist that you can access as accompaniment. I’d never seen that done before and found it absolutely brilliant!

Claypole White has something to say about mental health, trauma, healthcare in the US and the blended family. If you can get past the somewhat ‘hard to believe’ set up that she uses as her jumping off point, you’ll be better for having received her message and met her characters!

To get your own copy of The Promise Between Us by Barbara Claypole White (available, at the time of this writing, for free on Kindle Unlimited or for $5.99 on Kindle without,) please click the link below:

The Promise Between Us

Book Review: Ebb and Flow by Heather Smith – 4.5 stars

This book is beautiful, lyrical, sad and hopeful. It’s one that has stuck with me for many days after I finished reading it. Delivered in verse, (Thank you Kwame Alexander for teaching me to appreciate books in verse!) Ebb and Flow packs a punch without flowery or abundant language.

Smith’s book is the story of Jett…a tween whose father is in prison and who has been sent to live with his Grandma Jo after doing something troubling while in his mother’s care. Jett carries a lot of guilt and shame about what he did and really can’t bring himself to talk about it. He wonders if he is a bad person ‘like his father’ and spends much of his time beating up on himself and self-sabotaging by committing additional minor transgressions.

Jett’s Grandma Jo is an amazing character…the adult you always dreamed of having or being! Through her love and conversation, Jett is able to reveal his past, come to terms with it and begin to look forward to his future. Other characters in the story (who I won’t mention specifically to avoid spoilers) are also perfectly drawn. I wanted to pick up every single person included in this story to give them encouragement and hugs. It takes a strong author to make a reader feel personally responsible for her characters.

Smith also does an incredible job of making this story flow. It pulls you along with the narrative, a love for the characters and the spot-on verse she writes. You’ll find your heart breaking for Jett and find yourself absolutely rooting for him to see the truth about himself. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself with wet cheeks while reading this book…only you will know whether you are crying for the book’s sadness or hope or both! Read this book because you have faith in humanity…finish it with a better understanding of why!

To get your copy of Ebb and Flow by Heather Smith (Kindle version only $5.99 at the time of this writing,) please click the link below:

Ebb and Flow

Book Review: Bloom Where You’re Planted by Lasairiona McMaster – 3.5 stars

I’m sure some folks are wondering why I would even bother to read a book about being an expat! Are the Navins considering relocating somewhere else in the world for work? For fun? I’ll be honest…when I was asked to review this book, I skimmed the book blurb and said ‘yes!’ When I started reading the book and realized it was a ‘guide to being an expat,’ I wondered why I was reading it myself! I have to tell you though: this book is more than that…it’s a delightful memoir from a woman who you will want to be your friend!

McMaster is from Ireland and her book is peppered with lots of British phrases and words. However, she now considers Houston, TX her home and you can imagine the hilarious stories that go along with that transition. While, as I said, I’m not an expat and not looking to become one…McMaster’s personality and love for the topic shined through in this book, making it an enjoyable (and informational) read throughout.

The book is written in a very informal style…if author asides to the reader bother you, this book will be a hard pass for you! It’s the style, however, that I found most engaging. McMaster describes her life leading up to becoming an expat, explains her desire to live abroad and then catalogs her amazing and harrowing experiences as a expat both before and after becoming a mom.

If you have any inclination toward becoming an expat, it’s all here in this book: how to decide, what to take, who to talk to and how, what pitfalls to avoid! McMaster also pays specific homage to the myriad expat friends she has made throughout her journey. These stories of women truly being there for other women are a big part of what made this book so endearing regardless of the fact that I don’t relate to being an expat myself.

My brother-in-law and sister-in-law were expats for years and I found myself looking at their experiences in a different light because of this book: McMaster points out many of the biases that exist toward expats amongst non-expats and, I must admit, I was guilty of many of them!

I must disclose: I was reading an ARC of this book so I experienced some disorganization in the copy of the book I read. I found that a bit offputting (chapters weren’t clearly defined, topics bled from one chapter to the next) but hope that it is resolved in the final copy of the book!

Overall, I would HIGHLY recommend this book to anyone involved in the expat life in any way and definitely recommend for everyone else, as well. It’s funny, (read it if only for the multiple international dildo stories! 🙂 ) heartwarming and real. I saw my struggles as a woman and a mother in many of McMaster’s stories…and I loved her and her book for putting them out there in such a genuine way!

To get your copy of Bloom Where You’re Planted by Lasairiona McMaster, please click the link below:

Bloom Where You’re Planted: Life the Expat Way

My PANDA: A Year in Review

For those of you fighting PANDAS or just fighting to keep your child’s life normal in the face of PANDAS, I think it’s fair to admit that this may have been one of our worst years for symptoms since Spencer was diagnosed! Nevertheless, we had a lot of fun and I wanted to take this opportunity, as the school year comes to a close today, to highlight everything we DID manage to accomplish!

We started our school year, as we always do with a trip. For 5th grade, we went to Chicago again, but this time took Daddy along!

We looked out from the top of the Hancock Building!

We rode on double-decker open-topped busses and in Ubers.

We sailed on pirate ships!

School started in mid-August and he was ready! We took our annual Class of 2026 picture and the obligatory first day of school photo!

I cleaned the house once! 🙂

I hung out with Spencer’s buddies who helped me with my jewelry shows!

School photos were taken.

Daddy and I took Emerson to see Joe Rogan. Spence wasn’t quite old enough for that one yet!

Spencer ran for and was elected to student council!

I kept doing jewelry shows!

I got invited to Notre Dame for ND Loyal and had amazing seats in a box!

Spencer had the flu that weekend so he got some souvenirs!

We took family photos with the brothers for our Christmas cards.

Spence turned 11 and we rented a video game truck for him and his friends.

He saved up enough money to buy his own PC!

Halloween came and went.

We did some fundraising for the PTA and Spencer got to participate in limo lunch.

We went to BizTown with his class.

We honored Uncle Mike at the Veteran’s Day assembly.

I hung out with a tranny and loved it! 🙂

Spence humored me and got his picture taken with Santa.

Grandma broke her arm!

Spencer sang with the choir.

We built a lamp with Grandma Carol’s Christmas present and supported Christopher in his first Nutcracker performance!

We went to Grandma and Grandpa’s for Christmas and showed off our tiny hands and Bob Ross painting set!

We visited the Chinese Lantern Festival in Columbus.

Cotillion started. He hated it. But, we kept up with it.

Late January/early February is when the tics really started.

We went to Disney and took advantage of a special disability pass for his urinary frequency.

We hated having to come home!

I lost 22 pounds with the Faster Way to Fat Loss.

I started modeling for Gwynnie Bee!

Spence got glasses. The tics got ALOT worse though we don’t think it had anything to do with the glasses.

He graduated from Cotillion!

He entered a science project in the district Science Fair with his buddy!

I wore a tin foil hat on my head with my friend, Heather at the Worthington Chocolate Walk.

We went to the Price is Right Live Show for my birthday.

We met Jason Reynolds!

We went to Amish Country with Grandma and Grandpa!

Spence and I got to see Hamilton together!

Shenanigans continued at school but Spencer wasn’t there very often due to tics in February and March.

Destination Imagination competition took place in early March.

Christopher got his temps!

Daddy and I went on a couple of dates! They were long overdue!

We went to see Monster Jam at the Schottenstein.

We met Kwame Alexander and Margaret Peterson Haddix.

We celebrated Grandpa’s 3rd Liverversary!

5th grade fun continued…

Blood draws, blood draws, blood draws and homeschooling.

End of year orchestra concert.

Spencer ran for Student Council Treasurer. He got nominated from his class in the primaries but was beaten by another student in the actual election.

Final choir performance and Art Show.

Last field trip of the year to the Ohio Theater and Columbus Museum of Art.

As you can see…it was a rough year but we kept going! We didn’t let PANDAS stop us even though it nearly brought us to our knees a few times. As the school year ends today and Spencer becomes a rising 6th grader…I can only pray that next year is less eventful healthwise but equally exciting and rewarding in every other way!

Book Review: The Nerdy Parent’s Guide to Raising a Nerdy Child by Leo Murphy – 1.5 stars

Ugh…I was so disappointed in this book. I had really high hopes that this would be what it promised: ‘a parenting guide that will help you engage with your little ones with crafts, games and recipes based on their new nerdy interests!’ I’m a huge Star Wars, Harry Potter and Hunger Games fan so this book should have been right up my alley. Instead, it turned out to be an encyclopedia of nerdy characters and plot lines that any good ‘nerdy’ parent would already know!

The book covers the Star Wars, Harry Potter, Marvel, Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings and other franchises in great detail. It also covers some lesser known shows, movies and video games like Firefly, Sailor Moon and Minecraft. While Murphy purports to provide ideas about how to get your kids excited about these different fandoms, the recommended activities boil down to making cardboard tube light sabers (Sat Wars, of course) and wooden wands (Harry Potter.) Quite honestly, there wasn’t a single activity included in the book that my 11 year old son couldn’t have thought of himself.

While the anthologies of episodes, characters and locations for each fandom were pretty comprehensive and somewhat interesting…I struggle to understand their inclusion in this particular book. If you love a fandom enough to consider yourself a ‘nerdy parent’ about it, you likely don’t need a book to tell you the names of the characters and the episodes and give you a synopsis of the overall storyline.

The content of the book is also somewhat disjointed. Some parts read as overly technical (like a series of misplaced footnotes): ‘Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets—1998 (also a film released in 2002, rated PG)—In their second year at Hogwarts, Harry and his 2 friends must solve the fifty-year-old mystery of an evil force that is turning students at Hogwarts to stone.’ Other parts, however, are overly simplified. For example…an activity suggestion about creating your own Harry Potter Sorting Hat Ceremony contains only this information about Slytherin: ‘The serpent appears on its green and silver crest. Slytherin house values ambition, cunning, and resourcefulness.’

All in all, while I found the Nerdy Parent’s Guide to be a good idea in concept, I couldn’t figure out who the intended audience would be for the finished title. The information included seemed either incredibly light for those seeking ideas about how to indoctrinate their kiddos into their favorite fandom, or incredibly heavy for those who are already major fans!

To check out The Nerdy Parent’s Guide to Raising a Nerdy Child for yourself, click the link below:

The Nerdy Parent’s Guide to Raising a Nerdy Child: An Unofficial Parenting Guide

Guest Book Review: The Scent Keeper by Erica Bauermeister – 4 stars – Review by Sarah Williams – Available May 21st!

Have you ever been transported back to the memory of a time and place by a smell?  The Scent Keeper is a man with a seemingly magical machine that can preserve those smells on “scent papers” that he keeps in sealed glass jars.  This is one of the unusual truths Emmeline grows up with, living alone with her father on a tiny island off the coast of western Canada.  It’s a subsistence life filled with stories and fairy tales, and the scents of their life—spruce and pine, damp earth and applewood smoke, winter storms and the first day of spring.

As she grows older, Emmeline’s increasing independence eventually leads her to discover that at least some of her father’s stories have been lies.  Her adolescent plan to convince her father to leave the island results in a terrible event that changes everything and forces Emmeline to leave the island alone.

On the mainland, Emmeline realizes again and again how sheltered her life was– she’d never seen any person except her father, let alone taken a warm shower or ridden in a car.  She experiences and processes much of this newness through her acute sense of smell, which quickly becomes an obvious “difference” at school. Her only friend, Fisher, is a boy who is different in his own way and carries his own set of secrets. Emmeline finally leaves the comforts of her small town and adoptive parents to venture into the big city to find out the truth about her father, about the mother she never knew, about Fisher, and about who she is and what’s important to her.

I thought this was a quiet, but lovely, book. The characters are people who care about each other, but mostly keep their thoughts to themselves, leaving some mystery to each of them.  There are many detailed descriptions of scents, which seemed over-done at the start of the book, but it became clear that that’s just how Emmeline experiences her life.  She’s a “nose,” and the later parts of the book give an interesting view of how that talent is useful in retail and advertising, not just perfumery.  I kept coming back to this book, drawn to the mystery.  I  wondered what new aspect of Emmeline’s childhood would be revealed or explained, and hoped that she’d learn enough to be able to make peace with her past and figure out her present. 

Today’s review was written by Sarah Williams, a classmate of mine from The University of Notre Dame. Sarah is a high school math teacher living in Portland, Oregon. She’s mom to a middle-schooler and a toddler, and is finally carving out time for things that SHE likes to do–reading, hiking, and running half marathons.

To get your copy of the Scent Keeper by Erica Bauermeister, please click the link below:

The Scent Keeper: A Novel

Author Event: Louis Bayard (Courting Mr. Lincoln) at Giuseppe’s Ritrovo – Bexley, Ohio – Prosecco and Prose

I attended an author event at Giuseppe’s Ritrovo in Bexley, Ohio last night. It was sponsored by Gramercy Books and featured Louis Bayard, the author of Courting Mr. Lincoln (amongst many other titles!) The event was called Prosecco and Prose and was very cozy…about 70 people attended and we were treated to hors d’oeuvres and wine while Bayard spoke about his book. Each attendee was also gifted a copy of the book and the author made himself available after the presentation for signing.

Bayard’s presentation was engaging and funny. He’s a handsome gentleman ‘of a certain age’ (His words, not mine!) He was placed in an awkward position in the room (patrons were on every side of him, including behind him) and he joked about trying to find a way to speak to us without putting his rear end in anyone’s face. He subsequently read three passages from his book. The prose that he shared was fantastic and the voices that he assumed for President and Mrs. Lincoln gave the listener insight into what the book sounds like in Bayard’s head.

The readings that Bayard chose were from the points of view of the three main characters of the book: not-yet-President Lincoln, Mary Todd Lincoln and Joshua Speed (Lincoln’s friend and the potential 3rd leg in the love triangle that Bayard explores.) In his book, the author explores the rumors that have persisted about Mary Todd Lincoln (that she was severely depressed, crazy and unpleasant) as well as the popular characterizations of President Lincoln (that he was awkward, uncouth and unsuccessful with the ladies.)

Bayard also plumbs the topic of Lincoln’s relationship with Speed: the two men were extremely close friends and very intimate. Some have intimated that the relationship between Speed and Lincoln was more than platonic (Bayard referred to it as ‘lavender,’ which I thought was a terrific descriptor!)

Bayard admits that there are 9000 books about Lincoln and self-deprecatingly refers to his as the 9001st. Nonetheless, after hearing him discuss the approach he has taken to looking at Lincoln’s life, I believe the audience at Prose and Prosecco last night left with an excitement for reading more about Lincoln from an as-of-yet unexplored perspective! I’m looking forward to digging into Courting Mr. Lincoln and understanding how the tension between these three parties is ultimately resolved.

If you’d like a copy of Courting Mr. Lincoln, please click the link below:

Courting Mr. Lincoln: A Novel

Book Review: The Archive of Alternate Endings by Lindsey Drager – 5 stars!

This book!  I’m not even sure what to say!  I’m a pretty simple reader who loves books but doesn’t have a very ‘sophisticated palate’ when it comes to writing.  This book, however, is absolutely beautifully written and even a neophyte like me can tell!  The message in this book is powerful, the writing evocative and the structure intricate.  I definitely plan to read The Archive of Alternate Endings at least twice (and I’m not a re-reader) just because I know that there is more to get out of it that I wasn’t able to grasp the first time!

Drager chooses, for her structure, the years past and future on which Halley’s comet passes closest to Earth.  She imagines the past happenings during those years and fictionalizes historically-based stories from the lives of Johannes Gutenburg, Edmond Halley, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm and Ruth Coker Burke.  The book has two themes:  the story of Hansel and Gretel and homosexuality.  While those may not seem to be themes that naturally play well together, she weaves both of them into the book in such seamless and amazing ways that the potential dissonance between considering a fairy tale and pondering sexual orientation is completly eradicated.

It’s almost impossible for me to explain how beautiful this book is.  It’s one of those books that almost limits itself to the recommendation, ‘Really…just read it! Then you’ll understand what I mean!’  I learned a great deal from the content of this book…about Halley’s Comet, about fairy tales and about the AIDS epidemic. I also had an opportunity to feel deeply:  while the book jumps back and forth between characters, settings and time periods, every combination is more redolent with emotion than the next!

At only 168 pages, this book can be read quickly but I found myself returning over and over to particularly poignant passages.  Here’s an example:  ‘We are quick to say that folktales have a moral or a lesson or a creed.  But most of the stories that have survived the ages are told for one purpose only, and that purpose is to say this:  “Being human is difficult.  Here is some evidence.”‘

I would unequivocally recommend this book to anyone who appreciates being challenged to think or who greatly admires beautiful writing.  Even if you don’t consider yourself amongst those two groups, I would challenge you to give The Archive of Alternate Endings a try.  If you aren’t charmed, or moved or intellectually stimulated by what you read, I’ll eat my hat!  

To get your copy of The Archive of Alternate Endings, click the link below:

The Archive of Alternate Endings


Mama Panda Bear Virtual Book Club Tonight! 8 pm EDT – The Only Woman in the Room by Marie Benedict

Don’t forget…we’ll be discussing The Only Woman in the Room by Marie Benedict in the Mama Panda Bear Virtual Book Club tonight at 8pm EDT!

Here’s the login information:

Can’t wait to meet you this evening!