Santa's Zany, Wacky, Just Not Right Night Before Christmas

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Maybe this book should be called When Santa Goes Wild. Okay, so maybe the word here shouldn't be "wild". Perhaps the word is rogue. Santa goes rogue in this book and what ensues is all kinds of hullabaloo that cannot be missed. What would you expect from a book called Santa's Zany, Wacky, Just Not Right Night Before Christmas?Santa_Zany_Cover

You're probably thinking "it's not even Thanksgiving, Sili!" but hear me out. I need to tell you about this book so that when you go out shopping after Thanksgiving, you will KNOW that this is a must read for young and old.

I adore being read to. It's one of life's simple pleasures and I welcome you to do it this holiday season.

There's a special place in my heart for the retelling of the Night Before Christmas. I read this book out loud (sans the girl because, I take my job VERY seriously, people!). Of course, once it passed my test then it went on to the Frog Princess who had all kinds of questions surrounding the mix up thanks to one small thing going wrong. How Murray Saves Christmas is still top of my list for the humorous retelling of the classic, but I will say that this adorableness of Santa and his laundry situation is too cute to pass up.

How cute? Well, Mrs. Claus is sick on Christmas Eve and someone ends up having to do his own laundry. Simple enough, right? No siree! Santa ends up putting paint in the washing machine thinking it was soap! Now, I do think this was Santa just trying to get out of doing laundry in the future but, that could just be me.

Santa delivers all of his presents in what is now a purple suit. All goes off without a hitch except...the purple suit did not go unnoticed and all of Christmas is just not what it should be. First of all, can I just tell you I was thinking about Prince and how he would rock the purple Santa suit? No, I can't stay on task because...#purple and #Prince. But, I digress!

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I will say that in the end (SPOILER), I had a slight issue with laundry duties going back to Mrs. Claus since Santa obviously needs to stay in his lane. But, I'm setting aside my feminist fierceness and giving this book 4.5 stars for Christmas cheer and holiday humor.

Buy it, read it to as many people as will listen and enjoy it. Then, let me know how you like it.

What's your favorite holiday book?

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Disclosure: I was provided with a copy of this book to facilitate this review. Links above are affiliate links. All thoughts,  opinions and daydreaming of Christmas are purely my own.

Exclusively Pumping Breast Milk: Well Worth the Work

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My exclusively pumping breast milk journey began like many mother’s journeys. My illusions of a natural child birth were demolished by a previous surgery that caused concern about whether my uterus would be able to labor effectively. Add a baby that was already over 8 lbs. and the c-section was quickly scheduled for a week before my due date. See, my boy has been displaying signs of a willful spirit since the womb and trying to get him to breastfeed would be no different. ExclusivelyPumping_BookReviewHe latched on for a short time then decided he would fight for his right to a bottle- the battle ensued. Every single time I put him to the breast he would fight, scream, cry, push away and completely break my heart. I became concerned that he was not eating and was easily convinced by one of my maternity nurses to give him a couple of ounces of formula to “open up his appetite”. I can now say the lactation consultants I worked with were not very good but, at the time, I blamed myself. Why couldn't I get this? The videos I watched made it seem as though it would happen naturally with no need for too much interference from anyone else. It did NOT happen this way for us.

The lactation consultant at the hospital stuck her head in the morning after he was born and said just put him to your breast then walked out. I didn't understand why my baby wouldn't latch and began mourning our breast feeding relationship. I felt destined to fail so I quickly adjusted and started my pumping journey. I've stumbled, fell on my face, swore I would quit, slept on it and got back up the next morning so many times that I've lost count.

In the beginning, the fact that there were friends and family around all the time made it almost impossible to pump. I didn't want to leave my baby. I hadn't gotten the hang of pumping enough to feel comfortable pumping in front of others. I began relying on formula heavily and only pumping a few times a day when I could get it in and almost lost my supply. After a few weeks the constant visits slowed down enough that I could establish a pumping schedule. I spent the rest of my maternity leave increasing my production and establishing a schedule that would enable me to feed my son breast milk only. It wasn't until I had already started working again that a good friend recommended the Exclusively Pumping Group on Facebook. OH HOW I WISH I KNEW ABOUT THIS GROUP FROM THE VERY BEGINNING. A lot of the hurdles I encountered in the beginning could've been avoided if I’d known some of the things shared in this forum. These ladies provide advice on natural milk supply enhancers, things to do to help with most of the pitfalls associated with pumping and most of all SUPPORT.

ExclusivelyPumpingSo when I was given the opportunity to review Stephanie Casemore’s Exclusively Pumping Breast Milk - A Guide to Providing Expressed Milk for Your Baby, I jumped at the chance. I find the information provided can make the difference between a good/fulfilling pumping experience and one that will end prematurely for lack of support.

Exclusively Pumping Breast Milk makes all of the crucial information I learned readily available. It’s joined my must-have list for expecting mothers even if they haven’t decided if they will breastfeed or pump. It is beautifully written and can be read cover to cover or used as a source of reference when one is not so sure what to do/try next.

The book takes you through the emotions of exclusively pumping-from making the decision to pump, choosing a pump, the beginning stages, the ups and downs, how to increase your supply, setting short term and long term goals, storage, feeding and it even provides information on weaning. My copy will not leave my pump bag because even after pumping for 8 months I still have questions every day. It’s a continuing labor of love. One I am committed to. Well worth the work.

For more information on this topic, visit Stephanie Casemore's website.

Disclosure: a copy of this book was provided in order to review it. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Keep No Secrets

I think the last book review I did was for Tell No Lies, wasn't it? I have been slow with the reviews because I didn't think you wanted to hear my take on The Multinational Corporate Experience. Am I right? Well, I am excited and ridiculously late to tell you about Julie's new book Keep No Secrets! It is the sequel to Tell No Lies. And what can I say? Julie has done it again.

I don't even know where to start! Well I guess I should tell you that I love legal thrillers. The last legal thrillers that I read were by Jillian Hoffman. Also an ex-attorney but not as beautiful, cool and awesome as Julie. Okay, that last part was stretching it because I totally don't know Jillian.

So yeah, Keep No Secrets. Um, I found myself thinking about Jenny, the chick that kicked off the drama in Tell No Lies. Wondering how she was doing, what she was up to, who she was taking advantage of and all that. This book answers my questions.

This time around, Jack is still trying to redeem himself after his little torrid affair with you-know-who. Things are crazy at home what with a teenage son who remembers what happened. He also struggles a bit in the public eye. He is afterall, the district attorney.

Things are going generally good except for the fact that Michael, his teenage son, is dating someone that is the spitting image of Jenny. Can you imagine you walk into your house one day and see the look-alike for the woman your husband had an affair with? But, that's another story for another day. Where was I?

Ah yes! Jack. Working. Getting back to his old standing, etc. etc. etc. One night he hears his son and his girlfriend, Celeste, getting handsy downstairs. He comes down and finds them on the couch and drunk. You know what they were doing! Long story short, he had to take Celeste home because Michael was too drunk to drive. Now, I could've told you that something was going to happen here and I kept yelling at my screen but did Jack listen?! NOOOO!

Then, the next day he's walking home from the library and who pulls him aside in a tunnel and gives him a kiss? JENNY! No lie. It's been like 4 years since she ran off after people wanted to question her about the murder of her former client who also happened to be the woman who had an affair with her dad and might've possibly gotten her family killed. There she is, standing there asking Jack to help her.

NO, JACK! Don't do it! These were my words as I was reading the book. Seriously, this was an emotional rollercoaster ride for me.  Jenny's all, I need your help and he's all not sure about whether or not she committed murder but still attracted to her. And here I am, wondering why men are so dumb! But, I digress.

As if Jenny's return wasn't enough, guess what happens next? He gets asked to come down to the station to answer some questions. Apparently Celeste has accused him of sexual assault! The son's girlfriend, y'all! Who else is stressed right now?

The rest of the book is filled with twists and turns. Sad moments when it comes to Jack's relationship with his wife. The implications of what happens to two people when the trust is broken. The slow heartbreak that takes place, the outside influences that we maybe see as supportive in those cases and how they can turn us against what we might be working towards.

Then Jenny: how Jack still has those feelings for her, the issues with Celeste, Jack's refusal to give up on his relationship with his son even when it seems he wants nothing to do with his father.

Thriller does not being to describe it. I mean it doesn't. I will stick by my original "rollercoaster ride of emotions" description.  Julie weaves a story that's full of emotions not far from our own which is why I think that we so readily identify with the characters. I say we because you will too once you pick this one up.

With the expertise of a storyteller years in the making, Julie gives us a story so well defined not just as a legal thriller but as a psychological one that it leaves us breathless. Wanting no more and not being able to get enough as we turn the pages and see Jack's life unravel from the tapestry that he has known, loved and fought for to a new one that holds the same threads as before but with a completely new image.

If you are not already running to get this book, I don't know what to tell ya. You can buy in paperback but just grab it for your Kindle and call it a day. Let me know what you think when you're done!

About my girl:

Julie Compton is the author of Tell No Lies, a legal thriller set in her original hometown of St. Louis; Rescuing Olivia, a romantic, contemporary thriller set in Florida; and Keep No Secrets. Her novels combine the suspense of thrillers with the drama of human relationships. An attorney by profession, she now writes full-time from her home near Orlando, Florida. Visit julie-compton.com to read the first chapters of her novels and for more info.

Oh and she's HAWT! Don't you think?

Mami Reads: One Thousand Gifts

If you went to BlogHer and passed the Zondervan booth without stopping and at least looking at this book, you my friend, missed out. I was immediately captured by the beautiful cover (sorry guys, the reality is that books are judged by covers but, that's another story for another day). Then, I was grabbed by the line “A dare to live fully right where you are.” I loved that.  One of the ladies at the booth told me it was a great read and so, off the shelf it came. I now wish I’d grabbed 5 copies to hand out to my friends.

Ann Voskamp writes about her life, about the emptiness that we can feel at times due to loss, about the hunger that most of us have experienced. It’s a topic that a lot of books touch on. About our walk with God, the good and the bad. The thanking and the questioning.

But, I've never read a book that reads like prose in this genre. Ann captures you with the way she weaves the words from her experiences into the fabric of your own life. I firmly believe that if we are tuned in to books, we pick them up at the right time and I have to say that for me, this was the case with One Thousand Gifts.

The book focuses on Ann and her experiences, her faith and how that has changed from a simple challenge. To write one thousand things that you are grateful for. One thousand things that you come across in every day life and are thanking your creator for.

We are all familiar with the gratitude journal but for me this idea is much simpler. I do this in my head a lot but never thought of the importance of putting it down on paper and having that be my concrete offering of words to God for all of the blessings and grace that I have received. Just a word. Ya’ll know I like to write and a lot of times the reason I don’t journal is because I don’t want to write it all out. There are days when we just don’t feel like it, right?

But man, I’d love to have a list to look back to, especially on those hard days. Ann speaks of eucharisteo which is found in the bible and in the original language translates to “giving thanks”. But the root of the word is charis which means grace. The word also holds the derivative chara which means joy. You have to pick up the book to see how she weaves it all together. How giving thanks brings joy. Even in hard times. She calls that hard eucharisteo. During times of sadness or tragedy.

Ann tells of how her perspective changed on life once she started noticing the little things, those little miracles that we sometimes brush away. As I said, I try to do this in my mind but find the idea of the written word so much better. Every night when I pray, I first give thanks. If the frog princess is in my bed when I crawl into it, I lay hands on her and give God my deepest, simplest thanks for the soul He entrusted me with.

But I also remember on that very hard day when I held Mami’s hand as she took her last breath. How at 11:11 she was gone and all that would come out of my mouth was eucharisteo. My prayer of thanksgiving. My prayer of joy which sounds completely out of context with the situation. I wasn’t joyful that she was gone but I was joyful that I knew where she was going. That God had her in His arms and that she was no longer suffering.

During those times, it is not easy but, those times allow us to grow and expand in our faith.

And so what Ann found as she was writing these things down is that she was really writing down were the gifts of life. That she was opening herself up to receiving that grace by seeing those gifts.

When you’re looking at everything as if it were a gift, something inside of you changes. Something inside of you expands and opens up and with each gift you are thankful and it makes you want more. Not materially but, spiritually.  All of this Ann tells us about in words as lyrical as a song. A song of thanksgiving.

If you want to know more and read more, feel free to enter my giveaway. The good people at Zondervan didn’t want you to feel left out just because I totally forgot to grab an extra copy and stuff it in to my bag for you (be sure to say thanks).

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Find out more about Ann and the book at OneThousandGifts.com. Or head on over to Amazon and pick it up. You'll thank me later.

Mami Reads: Aleph

Let me just say that I struggled with whether or not to review this book here.  Not because I didn't love it. But because the themes within it touch me personally and when that happens I usually can't find the words to really explain my experience.  So forgive me in advance if it does not make sense to you. I have a crush on Coelho.  I love the voice with which he writes which I believe is his own.  I enjoy his writing immensely and think he is an amazing writer.  If you haven't read him I suggest you do.  You can find several of his books in my bookstore (courtesy of Amazon).

Merriam Webster's defines aleph as: The first letter of the Hebrew alphabet.  Jorge Luis Borges defined it as a point in space that contains all other points.  And this is how Coelho defines it as well.

Where do I begin?  This story was obviously written from a very personal perspective. If you've read anything by Coelho then you know that delving into spirituality is his thing. It's how he interprets the world and how he relates to it. I don't think it's a secret that my favorite book to be stuck on a deserted island with (besides the bible) is The Alchemist, Paulo's most successful New York Times bestseller to date.  It is my favorite among the possibly thousands of books I have read because, depending on where you are at in your life, the book will speak a different language to you.  It is a simple story with profound, life-changing messages.  I encourage everyone to read it and I try to keep a handful of copies in my arsenal to hand out as I feel necessary.

But, back to Aleph.  The protagonist in the novel is named Paulo (no relation ;-) ).  He is experiencing a crisis in which he is feeling as if he isn't growing spiritually.  His mentor, the mysterious J., tells him he must go on a journey to find himself once more and so, he does.  At a book signing he finds himself saying yes to all of the offers to visit various countries finally booking a 15-day Transiberian train ride across 7 time zones and a myriad of physical encounters of a spiritual nature.

The book engages you immediately because you want to know 1. what is the aleph and 2. what is Paulo going to get out of this? When he encounters the hard-headed Hilal, a young woman who shows up at his hotel the day prior to him embarking on his journey, it gets interesting.  She tells him she is there to help him through is journey.  The others in his group think she is mad.

To me, Hilal represents that spirit within all of us. The one that urges us forward to meet our destiny and will not back down.  The one that does not doubt or let others opinions, fears or hesitations rule her. It is one of the many things that I love about the book.  The one thing I have learned from reading many, many books is the fact that your current mindset will pull what it needs out of whatever you are reading. I absorbed the spirituality and messages out of this book like a paper towel sucks up spilled milk on a counter.

Many won't get the surrealism that they will encounter in the book.  For me, it answered a lot of questions of personal experiences.  I won't share here as, I don't wish you to think I'm losing my mind. But, I can say that I feel I have had my own experience with an aleph.

This book is ultimately about life.  The way we encounter it. The way we choose to face it.  And the way that we are all connected regardless of your beliefs.  Or at least, that's what I think.

Have you read the book? If you haven't be sure to stop by my bookstore and click on the Books category to purchase your copy.  If you have read it, what did you think?

Links you might be interested in: Coelho speaking of Aleph on his blog Coelho's Twitter page (PS: once, he actually replied to one of my Twitter mentions and I almost DIED!) Coelho's FB page

Mami Reads: One Love

I was a book buyer in my last lifetime (or maybe it was 2 lifetimes ago, I can't keep track).  It's no surprise that I am a book hoarder.  Recently, I purged and gave the local library over 9 boxes of books (and counting).  You might think I'm a good person but really, it's just to offset the fact that I checked out the Sears Baby Book in 2010 and just returned it a few weeks back.  Don't judge me, I had a lot going on when it was time to return it and for a while it was "misplaced" in my home.  This is why it's best if I just own books outright. In either case, the one thing I loved about working at Scholastic Book Fairs was living the mission to turn kids into lifelong learners and also to ensure that every child had a book in hand.  Alan Boyko used to say that we had to infect people with the reading bug.  He is certainly good at it and I think I learned to be a good transmitter of this most fantastic epidemic!

I started reading to the frog princess probably in my 6th month of pregnancy.  We would read at night and she would summersault and work on her dance routine.  She started turning pages at 4 months and to her, there's no difference between a light up toy or a board book.  They are equally as fun.

This week found me visiting my Book Fair family and one of my former co-workers told me she had a book for me. Now, the great thing about going back is that it feels like Christmas every time.  Seeing people that are as passionate as you are about books has this effect on you.  And so, whenever the frog princess and I visit, inevitably, I walk out with a bag for her as one after another, favorite books are shared.  I love them more each time because now, they are sharing this with my girl.

One of the books handed to me this week was One Love by Cedella Marley.  It is being carried in the Book Fairs African American module in the Spring.  I LOVE THIS BOOK.  First of all, who doesn't love the Marley song?  Second, I love the idea of introducing children to music early on (have you seen my baby singing Three Little Birds yet?).

Third, while I love all kinds of books, I have a special place in my heart for books that include people and children that look like my frog princess.  This book is extra special because it includes all sorts of people.  There will come a time when my child won't need to worry about the color of her skin. When no one will think anything of it.  As children, she and her friends experience that now.  Perhaps noting their differences but thinking as much of it as they think of the different clothes they wear.  I wish they could remain this way.

The book centers around the song but the story that is illustrated is about a group of people that come together to transform their neighborhood.  It brought a smile to my face as I read it.  The illustrations were soft and inviting and even if you didn't have the words to read, the images could warm your heart up all by themselves.

If your child is having a book fair in the spring I hope you look for this and other great books.  If you don't have a child that's old enough to be in school, sneak into one! Most schools advertise their fairs for the neighborhood to join in.

If you cannot wait until then and want to purchase your copy of this book right now, stop by my Amazon store and click the children's books link.

Have you found an awesome book you can't wait to share with others?