Books Children Holiday Gift Guide

Calling All Globe-Toddlers! See the World with My Little Cities by Jennifer Adams


The holiday season is right around the corner (oh noes!) and that means trips to visit grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc. Teach your globe toddlers all about the world with these super adorbs (and travel friendly) titles:

  • My Little Cities: San Francisco. Not only will your traveler recognize some of the city’s’ best tourist spots; but the book rhymes!
  • My Little Cities: New York. You’ll see the Empire State, the NYPL lions, Times Square and other famous haunts.
  • My Little Cities: Paris. Across the pond you’ll visit Shakespeare and Co bookstore, The Louvre, the all important Eiffel Tower, and a really strange ossuary that even I didn’t know existed.
  • My Little Cities: London. Grab the train and head for Buckingham Palace or the famous spot where the Beatles walked, and don’t forget Big Ben.

The best bit about the books is that at the back there’s an appendix of sorts, with explanations of the sights depicted in the book. So it’s like a walking tourist map for the littles! How fun would it be to use these books to plan a vaca for you and your little traveler?



Ranger Rick’s Travels National Parks! by Stacy Tornio & Ken Keffer

I’m on vacation right now which is the perfect accompaniment for a book about National Parks.

Ranger Rick's Travels National Parks


While there’s no National Park in Aruba listed in the book, there are plenty of other beautiful parks to see across the US and the Caribbean.  I was amazed at how many beautiful parks there were! The book can be used so many different ways. I sat down and read it cover to cover which was great because of the great descriptions and the AMAZING photographs. You can read the book from A to Z and learn about every single fabulous park that exists.

Alternately, if you’re trying to plan a vacation around a National Park, you can use this book for that as well. Pick a state and the book will tell you what parks are there and what fabulous experiences they have to offer. The photos are amazing. Did I mention that? I love following Ranger Rick‘s (I used to read his magazines as a child) useful facts in each park. For example, The Capitol Reef National Park in Southern Utah is famous for “Red and rugged landscape that locals refer to as a ‘reef'”.  The incredible photos include pics of a cute little canyon treefrog, a side-blotched lizard and a golden eagle. It’s like you’re right there in Utah.

If you have a little one who can’t quite read yet, no matter! They can marvel at the beautiful photos! This book has something for everyone! The National Park Service turned 100 just a few days ago, can you believe it? 100 years of National Parks and I haven’t seen any of them (sadly there are none in PA where I live); but what are YOU waiting for! Go get a National park visit in your schedule and maybe have a slice of cake on me. I cannot resist birthday cake. But you knew that already didn’t you?

2015 Diversity Reading Challenge Books

Imogene in New Orleans by @YeahHunter


Imogene in New Orleans by @YeahHunter

Because words aren’t enough, here’s my video review:

Remember, while this isn’t necessarily for teens, there’s nothing raunchy that an older teen couldn’t enjoy. But mostly this is for grown folks. Totally fits the Diversity Reading Challenge.

Also? Stay tuned for an interview with the author!

Conferences Travel

Librarian in the Kitchen: Conference Preparations; Cooking for the Family

I love to travel! There’s nothing like learning new things and seeing new places.  As a blogger, I love  to attend several conferences and while it’s fun to travel, there is a certain amount of prep work that must be done to get out of the door. One of the things many of us do to prepare for conferences is prepare meals for the family we’re leaving behind.  In preparing for my trip to Sacramento to attend kidlitcon, I turned to my friend Heather, from Real, the Kitchen and Beyond, for food suggestions.

Chicken is very easy to prepare in numerous ways and my only requirement for Heather was that the meals couldn’t have dairy in them which meant no cheese. Boo.  Anyway, after reading Heather’s recipes here, I had my ideas!  We secured 5-8 pounds of chicken in bulk and I set to work cooking. If you’re like me and don’t have a crock pot big enough for all that cluck, you hafta get creative.

crockpot cooking

My family is the epitome of  picky eaters so we only buy chicken breasts. I like to divide up the chicken according to how many people I think might eat this particular thing i’m going to cook.

For the Crockpot, I placed 3 breasts and covered in water.  I added half a bag of Lipton Chicken Soup for flavoring. Once this had cooked, my Pumpkin shredded it and used it for chicken tacos.

Next I pulled out my dutch oven for the stove top.

stovetop cooking

Three or four chicken breasts should do the trick here. I was making chicken chili, so the more chicken the better.

I just use basic seasonings here; pepper, minced garlic (I prefer fresh but jar or dry will suffice in a pinch), and onion powder. Bring to a boil then cover and simmer for hours. Chicken should break apart with a fork.  Do not remove chicken from the pot; just break it apart right there with a giant fork or spoon or whatever you have.

Then add your fave beans. I just used whatever I had on hand: Canneloni beans, Light Red kidney beans, Black beans.  Any beans that you like will do. When I’m making beef chili i don’t drain the beans because I need the liquid but because I’m making chicken and there is plenty of liquid in the pot, I drain the beans. It’s your choice.

After adding the beans, I add

  • chili powder
  • paprika
  • cumin
  • sofrito
  • stewed tomatoes that have some sort of flavoring in them for a little kick like jalapeños or similar.

If your family is’t much on spices totally back off on the spicy flavors. Just for fun I added little alphabet pastas because that’s what I had in the pantry.

Cover and simmer for an hour or so, stirring frequently.  The longer it simmers, the softer your beans will be.  When chili is ready, I IMMEDIATELY freeze half of it so I can enjoy a meal quickly one day when I’m strapped for a meal.

Finally, the remaining chicken went in the oven.


I covered the chicken with water and sprinkled a little bit of minced garlic garlic for flavor. Bake at 250 for several hours until tender.  I made no plans for this chicken so that the family could do what they want with it. My husband likes to put chicken on top of his Lean Cuisines or on a store bought salad; my pumpkin likes to make bbq sandwiches,  so I like to leave them with options.

Because my family has weird eating preferences and also because my kids are 22 and 17, I generally tend to cook only on Sundays. The rest of the week they can heat up leftovers or fix their own meals since I am working.

Now that I know my family will have food in the house, I’m free to hit the skies for my own traveling adventures!

What do you fix for your family when you go away? Don’t forget to pop over to Heather’s site and show her some love!



Bookish Traveler Practices Her French in Aruba

When we were in Aruba, we tried to eat a a different location each night. To be sure, since we’ve been to Aruba 5 times, we have our favorite locations but even then, we still are game to try a new place. Enter Amuse Bistro! We’ve walked past this restaurant so many times and have never gone inside; not sure why?

Take a look:



Isn’t that yummy looking? It’s a teeny glass of cold tomato soup. The waitress called it an Amuse, compliments of the chef.

Look at our yummy food.

Amuse Bistro


That was husband’s salad. Cute, right?



Tasty fish. So pretty and colorful!




I’m not sure if any of the food is truly French but who cares? It was yummy and fresh!

Bon appetit!

Have you been to Aruba? What are you fave spots to eat?


Bookish Traveler Eats Her Weight in Seafood in Aruba

Yep that’s me! We recently traveled to Aruba (our FIFTH time!) and I ate my weight in yummy seafood!


Wanna see what I ate?

On the night we’re feeling particularly gluttonous, we waddle over to Texas de Brazil.  It’s at this location where swarthy looking men in guaches and boots offer you hunks of meat served on what look like swords.

Texas de Brazil.jpg

Half the time I don’t know what they’re offering me but who cares? When a man offers you meat on a stick you take it, right? Of course we don’t eat the whole day prior or after to make up for our gorging. It’s way fun.

Another yummy meal we enjoyed was at Yemanja which means sea goddess or something and is a sweet little outdoor restaurant tucked in the middle of downtown Oranjestad. The place is so secluded you forget you’re in the middle of the “city!”


Here’s the meal  le grand monsieur enjoyed. It was a yummy veggie burger with a sprouted bun, some crunchy things, a yummy salad, and a kebab of veggies. He swooned! Why men love food on sticks is beyond me.

Le petit madame ordered fish. I’m all about fish when I’m in Aruba, except when I’m gorging on meat on a stick served by men in guachos and boots.


Doesn’t that look FAB?? It was accompanied by lots of veggies and although Pammy Pam is not a friend to vegetables, I loved them they were SO delish!

Especially great about this place is that locals eat here, so you KNOW it’s good.

Wine and dessert made for a wonderful night!



Bookish Traveler Travels to Marriott’s Aruba Surf Club

You might have figured out by now that I love to travel.  Seeing the world is so much fun and it always provides plenty of time for reading. Whether riding on the train or sitting on a plane (hey that rhymed!) I’m never far away from at least one book when I travel.

Marriott Villa View

I just recently traveled to Aruba and stayed at the Marriott Surf Club.  I love Aruba and I love Marriott. We’ve been to Aruba five times and I’ve loved every single minute of it.

Why five times you ask?

Here is the view from the villa balcony.  I’m having my coffee and looking at this stunning view for breakfast. What more could a bookish traveler like me want? If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram you’ll know that I was reading a middle grade book called Remarkable which was about pirates. So, while looking at the pirate ship, I was reading about pirates. The irony was not lost on me.

But GAH! Look at that view!

When I wasn’t on the balcony enjoying the sunrise, I was at the Serenity Pool which is just for grown ups.  Why they let me in is a surprise, but since I can’t swim (shut up) I don’t go to the other pools so much. I have a scared that some little kid will knock me in and then I’ll be a drowned Pammy Pam. No fun for me.

Anyway, I’m down at the Serenity Pool, which should really be called the outdoor library, because SO many people were reading books.

Like Me.

Serenity Pool.jpg


I left my sun hat upstairs so I had to improvise.

After I spend several hours under an umbrella reading, it’s usually time for lunch.  This is the fun part. The mister and I go back to our room (or villa as Marriott calls them) and I prepare lunch in the kitchen!

photo courtesy Marriott

How cool is that? What you do is the day you arrive you go to the grocery store, which is geared toward Americans and you stock up on snacks and food. Then you cook your food in the fully equipped kitchen; how awesome is that? You know what’s even awesomer? The money that we saved fixing yummy sammies and salad, can be spent on a extra delicious Foodie dinner!

I’m not a foodie but I do like nice food. Wait, does that make me a foodie?

Anyway, mad props to the Marriott peeps because I love their consistency in quality: I try to stay in a Marriott whenever I travel. Plus, the Marriott Aruba social media team is on the ball and responsive! Check out Marriott’s website to see when you can get down to Aruba.

Stay tuned and in the coming days I’ll share more of my Aruba trip with you. Have you ever been? What do you love about it the best?

Books So This is Paris

So This is Paris: The Paris Lawyer

The Paris Lawyer I’ve featured before so we thought it would be fun to visit some of the locations mentioned in the book!

My Creuse by Sylvie Granotier

The Paris Lawyer is a psychological thriller set in Paris, yes, but also in Creuse, a rural region in the center of France. Here are some of my favorite spots there, and inspiration for the book.


In Creuse, there is not much in terms of public transportation, so you need a car. Wherever you drive, you’ll find beauty. There are small rivers, forests, grazing cows, sheep and lambs in the spring. The land slopes gently up and down. Stop, walk around and if you see a café, don’t miss a chance to stop. There are not many, which is strange for France, but that’s what it’s like here. Visit the churches also. They are all ancient—sixteenth century is banal.

route de Creuse

Creuse is not renowned for its cuisine. Still in Aubusson, I can recommend Le Lion d’or, which has great food and a pretty setting. Aubusson also has a fascinating tapestry museum.

Guéret has a municipal museum, with hidden treasures and the funniest assemblage of stuffed animals, snakes on the ceilings, sad lions and funny dogs, goats, wolves, chickens, birds, what have you.

There’s a book fair on a Friday in mid-August in Felletin. All year around every Friday morning, Felletin has a wonderful open-air market, with excellent produce, meat, cheeses and bread. It’s pretty and joyous.

Settings from The Paris Lawyer

And if you want to visit settings I used for my novel, take the road from Aubusson to Pontarion, turn left toward Chavanat, drive on towards Le Monteil Vicomte and you’ll find La Rigole du Diable—The Devil’s Wash, where the climax occurs. Catherine stays in a guesthouse in Aubusson. It exists and belongs to my friends Jean-Pierre and Nicole Dessemond.

There’s another one in a small village ten kilometers from there that is very pretty and comfortable two, owned by my friends Jean Claude and Anne Marie Arvez.

And, the prettiest village of them all, because no modern construction ever damaged its charm, is Chambon-sur-Voueize. It is worth the drive and has a lovely restaurant, l’Auberge de la Voueize.

Finally, a place to see very near my house is Moutier d’Ahun, a beautiful ancient church where in the seventeenth century, a passing woodcarver stopped and sculpted the most incredible pageant faces and fruits and devils. In that village, there is also a very unusual bridge over a lovely river.

And then there are the ruins in the woods…

Something both urgent and mysterious guides Catherine through this confusing labyrinth. She no longer feels worried or tired. She is going where she has to go. She stops in front of a bright yellow bush the color of the sun, shining with a luminous intensity reminiscent of springtime. She feasts her eyes on it before again sensing something that is simply out of synch. The burning bush marks the entrance to another world. Two steps are enough for her to discover the ruins of a mansion.

The details that remain indicate that this home once had nobility. The structure no longer has a roof, and the walls are crumbling, but there’s a small, elegant wrought iron balcony, a stone staircase with a subtle curve to it, and splendid window frames. These ruins are more romantic than worrisome.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA She decides that it is Sleeping Beauty’s castle and thinks about her mother, because, clearly, everything comes back to her mother.

(from The Paris Lawyer, chapter 17)

Sleeping Beauty’s house?

Yep, I’ll play along. Wasn’t that tour spectacular? Have you ever been to inner France?  I’ve never gone further South than Rouen and Caen, which were both lovely.



An Interview with The Girl who Came Home author Hazel Gaynor

The Girl Who Came Home

by Hazel Gaynor




“Maggie Murphy stood alone and unnoticed on the doorstep of the thatched stone cottage that three generations of her family had called home.”  We learn very early on that Maggie is sailing to America on RMS Titanic from Ireland.  Poor Maggie is forced to leave her homeland and her beloved Seamus on the ship destined to sink! But before we go any further, let’s chat with Hazel Gaynor, the author a bit and see what’s inside her brain.

UNCONVENTIONAL LIBRARIAN:  Like many women, I love all things Titanic related! I thought it would be fun to torture ask you questions and pick eat your brain. Thank you for subjecting yourself to us today. Let’s get started.  Do you drink coffee?

HAZEL GAYNOR: Yes! Too much!

UL:  Is there really such a thing as too much coffee? Do you like donuts or cookies? Do you dunk?

HG: I like both, although you have to be quick to get your hands on either in my house – my husband and two children all have a very sweet tooth. I have to admit that I have never dunked a donut – I must rectify this as soon as possible!

UL: OMG for sure! We can’t be besties if you’ve never dunked! Noshing while drinking coffee and reading are my most favorite activities.  Speaking of books,  how did your book get started?

HG: I was a teenager when the wreck of Titanic was discovered by Robert Ballard in 1985 and have been fascinated with the ship and the events of April, 1912, ever since. I have said many times in the years since then that I would write a novel about Titanic one day – it just took a little time! When I started my research for the novel, I came across the record of a survivor from a small parish in County Mayo, Ireland. From there, I discovered the history of a group of Irish emigrants – now known locally as the Addergoole Fourteen – who travelled together on Titanic. I knew immediately that I’d found the inspiration for my novel. I wanted to explore the experience of a third class passenger on Titanic, the aftermath of the disaster and how such an event can have far-reaching repercussions on a survivor’s life. Through my character, Maggie, I hope to allow readers to immerse themselves in an aspect of the Titanic disaster they might not have previously considered.


Fashionable dress c. 1912. courtesy Pinterest
Fashionable dress c. 1912. courtesy Pinterest

UL: What else have you written?

HG: Can we ignore my first attempt at writing a novel, which is now hidden under my bed? Good!  Apart from that, I wrote a successful parenting blog for several years before seriously starting to write novels. In addition to my debut, THE GIRL WHO CAME HOME, my second novel, DAUGHTERS OF THE FLOWERS, is scheduled for publication in early 2015. It is about two sets of sisters and is set around a charity for orphaned flower sellers in Victorian London. The story spans several decades across the late 1800s and early 1900s. I love the era and the atmosphere of street life in late Victorian London and it was a wonderfully haunting period to explore. I am very excited about the book’s publication early next year.

UL: I love the idea of your next book.  If you could have any superpower what would it be?

HG: I would love to have the power to tidy my desk in an instant. It is currently possessed by an evil being known as DISORGANISATION GIRL.

UL: Ooooooo Disorganization Girl, I know her!  She possesses my house too. She needs to go away! What makes you happy?

HG:  My children. Satisfied readers. And writing THE END.

UL: yes, Yes, and YES. Although sometimes it’s difficult to say goodbye to a good book. Wrapping up now, anything else you want to tell us?

HG: I could tell you about the time I was so immersed in my writing that I forget to collect my son from school, but let’s just keep quiet about that for now. (the apology ice cream more than made up for it, by the way!)

UL:  Oh no! Thank goodness for apology ice cream!

Did you know that Hazel has a Pinterest board? Yes, it’s full of FABULOUS images that are inspired by The Girl Who Came Home.  Here’s the link: Check it out, it’s really interesting to see real images from the Titanic.  It’s also very inspiring to see the faces of those who survived.

Because I hate spoilers, I’m not gonna tell ya what happens.  You’ll hafta get it for yourself.  Don’t be an eejit. Get the book. Read it. Love it.


A Well Tempered Heart by Jan-Phillip Sendker, a FLTW Book Club Pick

A Well Tempered Heart by Jan-Phillip Sendker


A Well Tempered Heart

I just finished reading A Well Tempered Heart by Jan-Philip Sendker which is February’s pick for From Left To Write virtual book club.  I think you’ll laugh at the irony of how I came to read this book: Last year Thein-Kim (of FLTW) and I met Jan-Philip Sendker at a party at BEA, Book Expo America.  Kim was familiar with the author because the club had read his other book, The Art of Hearing Heartbeats. I somehow had missed reading that book and since I’m always keen to connect with an author at a party, I tagged along with Kim to say our hellos. We made our niceties and as Kim and Jan-Phillip chatted I found his German accent and his personality appealing.  In a party of suits and ties, his suit was pretty appealing as well; he looked like a priest.

Anyway, as I listened to the two of them reminisce about The Art of Hearing Heartbeats, I felt like perhaps A Well Tempered Heart might make a nice addition to the books we read at the book club I host at work.  Kim and I chatted about the first book and I thought that perhaps I would need to read the first book before picking up the second.  I was disheartened because I know how busy my reading schedule gets and I doubt if I would have time to read a backlisted title. Onward and upward!

Imagine my surprise the next day as I’m roaming the conference floor at BEA and I come across Jan-Philip’s book signing booth!  The night before Jan-Philip and I had spent a few moments chatting about traveling or Germany or Austria or something which left me with a warm and fuzzy feeling, although it could have been the wine.  I stood in line to secure a signed copy of the book and what do you know, he remembered me and called me by my name! I was smitten all over again.

A Well Tempered Heart

Can you read his handwriting?

It says For Pam! I hope you will like it! yours jPS

Isn’t that great?  With those memories freshly unearthed I plowed into the book; fearful that, based on my chat with Kim, that I might not be able to follow the story because it’s the second in the series.

How pleasantly surprised I was.  Reading about Julia reminded me about my own wanderlust; always seeking that next adventure, that next place to discover a bit of myself in other foods (mostly) and cultures.  Kind of like Elizabeth Gilbert in Eat, Pray, Love without Javier Bardem and all her  whining.  The first item of business was to discover where Burma was (it’s in SE Asia near Thailand and now called Myanmar).  The second was to discover what a longyi was.  It’s an item of clothing , much like a sarong, that’s worn by both sexes, although for the life of me I cannot figure how they stay on!

But back to wanderlust. Perhaps it’s a romantic ideal but the thought of living longer than 6 weeks in another country is appealing.  Especially given that we are having a very snowy winter in the Northeast, my thoughts think of nothing but warm climates. I’ve heard it said that in order to truly appreciate something, you should live in another country for longer than a week to 10 days.  I’ve been fortunate enough to experience that: I lived in the Southern Czech Republic for approximately 6 weeks.  I traveled in and around Prague and some of the smaller provinces, learning Czech (difficult), accidentally learning German (easier than Czech), and immersing myself in their culture by devouring Czech writers:

  • Milan Kundera
  • Karel  Capek
  • Josef Skovercky
  • Jaroslav Hasek

Since I’d grown up as a musician I was already familiar with Czech composers Dvorak and Smetana but developed a deep love for Smetana’s symphonic poems Ma Vlast, which means my country.  When my brain needs quieting, these musical pieces sooth my nerves and settle my need to wander.

I don’t know if I’ll ever get to Burma. I hear it’s not too safe to visit and I’m sure they don’t carry Zyrtec there for my allergies but you never know. Thailand is nearby; and “we are responsible not only for what we do, but also for what we fail to do.”

So there’s that.

Have you ever lived in another country?


This post was inspired by the novel A Well-Tempered Heart by Jan-Philipp Sendker.  Feeling lost and burned out, Julia drops her well paying job at a NYC law firm. After hearing a stranger’s voice in her head, she travels to Burma to find the voice’s story and hopefully herself as well. Join From Left to Write on February 4 we discuss A Well-Tempered Heart.