Books I’ve Read – March

It is already April so that means it is time for my monthly roundup of books I have read.  In January, I started sharing books I’ve read for two reasons.  First, I would like a place to keep a list of all the books I have read and just haven’t found a good place for it yet.  Second, I love hearing what other people are reading and I like to add to my list of books to read.

When you finish reading the list, leave me a comment with your favorite reads this month and get additional book recs from my January and February list.

This month was full of solo travel and I had a lot of downtime to read.  Here is what I’ve read in March:

Nearly Departed in Deadwood by Ann Charles – I downloaded the first and second book in this trilogy for free.  The main character is a woman, Violet, trying her hand as a Realtor and manages to get herself wrapped up into a murder mystery. Even though there is murder and mayhem, there is a lot of comedy as well.  I found myself laughing out loud several times as I read Violet’s thoughts.

Finger Lickin Fifteen by Janet Evanovich – I have read all of the numbered books by Janet Evanovich and this one was by far the funniest to me.

Cinder: Book One in the Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer – Star Trek meets Cinderella is the only way that I can describe this book.  It was totally not what I was expecting and it took me a few chapters to get in to it. I am now patiently waiting for Book Two to be released.

Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver – This is the second book in the Delirium trilogy. It seamlessly picked up where the first book ended. Like Cinder, I finished this book and was disappointed the next one wasn’t sitting on my bedside table. If you like Young Adult literature, you will enjoy this easy read.  I also want to mention another book by Lauren Oliver that I read last year, Before I Fall.  In Before I Fall, a girl gets to relive her last day several times. It is a tear jerker, but I think that it has a poignant message for teenagers.

What is on your reading list right now?

Books I’ve Read – February

At the end of January (well, just a few weeks ago, really), I announced that I was going to start posting a list of books that I read for each month.  I am doing this for two reasons.  First, I would like a place to keep a list of all the books I have read and just haven’t found a good place for it yet.  Second, I love hearing what other people are reading and I like to add to my list of books to read.

Here is what I’ve read in February:

The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson – I read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo about a year ago.  I will admit that it took me a long time to get through but I liked it.  Immediately after I finished it, I picked up The Girl Who Played with Fire and got through the first few chapters before putting it down for something else.  Fast forward to the release of the first movie.  After watching the movie with two friends who read the trilogy, I promised myself that I would read them.  I am glad I did.  Though it took me awhile to get in to it, I really enjoyed The Girl Who Played with Fire and I am looking forward to the next movie.

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest by Stieg Larsson – This is actually my favorite out of all three of the books.  I like the way everything you have learned about in the past two books comes together seamlessly.  Be aware that all three books contain a lot of violence that is hard to stomach.

31 Days to Building a Better Blog by Darren Rowse – If you are just getting a blog started, this book is an excellent resource.  If you have been blogging for years, some of the information will be repetitive but all of the information is useful.  It was a good reminder for me to work on things that I have been slacking on lately.

Westward Expansion: An Interactive History Adventure by Allison Lassieur – Do you remember those choose your adventure books? The ones where you follow the directions at the botton of the page to determine what happens to your character?  This book is reminiscent of that and is part of the You Choose series that concentrates on historical events.  In Westward Expansion, you get to choose to be a Lakota warrior trying to preserve your way of life, a Civil War veteran looking for work, or a traveler on the Oregon Trail.  My son and I read this together and have since added a Choose Your Own Adventure Ninja book to our reading pile.  See my full review of this book at A Traveler’s Library later this week, on Friday.

The Lorax by Dr. Seuss – My daughter and I read a book out loud together just about every day.  I don’t share all of those here because the list would be long.  Although, some months, we read the same book over and over and over!  However, with the movie coming out I thought that I would mention we have read this book several times this month.  I love reading The Lorax with my kids but I was disappointed that the movie didn’t have as much Dr. Seuss speak as other movies based on Dr. Seuss books.  If you haven’t read it, this is one time where I recommend seeing the movie before you read the book.  The movie was enjoyable and my kids liked it but the book is better!

Already a week into March and I have finished a YA book that I have been waiting to be released.  I am currently reading The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht.  I still need to read The Clockwork Prince (which I am waiting to borrow from a friend) and I am also planning on reading Quitter by Jon Acuff.  I will share what I actually get through next month!

What do you have on your reading list for the month of March?

Holiday Gift Idea: Series of Books for Middle School and High School Students

Over the past few posts, I have been sharing some of my favorite books (that come in a series).  These are books that were in constant rotation in my classes.  When I volunteer in the elementary school library, these are the books that get checked out before we have even put them back on the shelves.  Last week, I shared favorite books for PreK children, toddlers, and babies and favorite books for elementary school students.  Today, I share favorite books for middle school and high school students.  I am not going to lie…I have read each and every book on this list and enjoyed pretty much all of them!  I recommend that you read along (or read the book before) with your children.  Only you as the parent can decide what is and isn’t appropriate for your children.

Middle School

Brian’s Saga Series by Gary Paulsen is about a 13 year old’s survival after his plane crashed.  The first book in the series, Hachet, is a Newbery Honor book.  Other books in the series: The River; Brian’s Winter; Brian’s Return and Brian’s Hunt.

Inheritance Cycle Series by Christopher Paolini begins with the book Eragon.  Eragon is a fifteen year old who finds out that he is to be a Dragon Rider.  Eragon was recently made into a movie as many of the books on the high school and middle school list.  Other books in the series: Eragon, Eldest, Brisingr, and Inheritance.

Maximum Ride Series by James Patterson is about a fourteen year old named Maximum Ride.  She and her friends have wings and can fly.  In the first book, one of the members is kidnapped and the other fight to save her.  Other books in the series: There are currently seven books in the series.

Alex Rider Series by Anthony Horowitz is about fourteen year old Alex Rider who is coerced into taking over his uncle’s dangerous work for the Britain’s intelligence agency, M16.  The series begins with Stormbreaker which is a favorite of my former middle school students.  Other books in the series:  Stormbreaker; Point Blank; Skeleton Key; Eagle Strike; Scorpia; Ark Angel; Snakehead; Crocodile Tears and Scorpia Rising.

High School

The River of Time Series by Lisa Tawn Bergren is historical fiction about a teenager who gets sent back in time to sixteenth century Italy.  She manages to not only survive but also thrive.  I picked up this book when it was offered as a free Kindle download for a few days.  As soon as I finished, I immediately purchased the next three in the series.  It is a good, clean read.  Other books in the series: Waterfall; Cascade and Torrent.

The Mortal Instruments Series by Cassandra Clare will be a favorite if your child liked the adventure and excitement of The Hunger Games and the magic of Harry Potter.  In the first book, City of Bones, fifteen year old Clary gets wrapped up in the world of the Shadowhunters, warriors dedicated to ridding the world of demons.  Other books in the series: City of Ashes; City of Glass; City of Fallen Angels.  Cassandra Clare has also written another series called Infernal Devices.  Those books currently include Clockwork Angel and Clockwork Prince.

The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins is hot right now with the first movie to be released in 2012.  Personally, I can’t wait for the movie and I hope they are able to do the book justice.  Sixteen-year-old Katniss lives in the poorest district of a post-apocalyptic world.  Each year, two children are chosen from each district to perform in an annual event called the Hunger Games where only one person survives.  Other books in the series: The Hunger Games; Catching Fire and Mockingjay.

Though the Lord of the Rings Trilogy was published over fifty years ago, it still remains a fan favorite.  The trilogy is about Frodo and his quest.  The adventure begins with The Fellowship of the Ring but I recommend that you introduce The Hobbit as well.  Other books in the series: The Two Towers and The Return of the King.

When the Harry Potter series first became popular, I was teaching middle school.  My middle schoolers couldn’t get enough of the wizarding series.  Those middle school children are now in their mid-20s, Harry Potter remains a popular series and is still widely read.  Other books in the series: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone; Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban; Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire; Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix; Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince; and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

I would be remiss if I didn’t add the Twilight series to this list because it is still very popular.  With the recent movie release of the first part of the fourth book, its popularity is still a constant with the tween/teen population.  Join a teenage girl as she meets up with a group of vampires and a group of werewolves.  Other Books in the series: New Moon; Eclipse and Breaking Dawn.

Share your favorites in the comments!

Holiday Gift Idea: Series of Books for Elementary School Students


*Stay tuned!  We will continue this series with middle school and high school book choices soon!

Books make fantastic gifts for travelers. Even if your child hates reading, they could probably be grudgingly convinced to listen to you read a story!  Yesterday, I posted about favorite books for PreK children, toddlers, and babies.  Today I am sharing favorite series of books for elementary school-aged children.  I volunteer in my son’s library every week and these are the books that we cannot shelve fast enough.  Kids come into the library and grab these books off the cart before they even make it to the bookshelves!

I have not read all the books I have listed, though I am working my way through the pile.  I recommend that you read along (or read the book before) with your children.  Only you as the parent can decide what is and isn’t appropriate for your children.


Junie B Jones by Barbara Park – Junie B. is a spunky little girl who finds herself in many predicaments.  The series begins with Junie in Kindergarten.  In book 18, she becomes a first grader and continues with her hijinks.  The first book in the series is Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus.  The third book is called Junie B. Jones and Her Big Fat Mouth.  When my son began reading the books, I read a few of them and made sure that he knew that language like that was not acceptable in our house and just because Junie uses it doesn’t mean he can!  It doesn’t seem to be an issue.  Other books:  There are over 30 Junie B. Jones books so there should be plenty to keep your little reader reading!

Magic Tree House by Mary Pope Osbourne – In the Magic Tree House books, a brother and sister pair named Jack and Annie discover a magic tree house full of books that takes them on journeys all over the world.  Together, they have adventures and solve mysteries.  Other books: There are 46 books in the series with number 47 to be released at the end of the month and number 48 to be released in July of 2012.  There is also a nonfiction series of books called the Magic Tree House Fact Trackers that cover topics discussed in the fiction books like twisters, dolphins, mummies, pilgrims, polar bears and more.

39 Clues is a series written by a number of popular authors, many whose names you will recognize like Rick Riordan (author of Percy Jackson and the Olympians series), Linda Sue Park (author of A Single Shard), Margaret Peterson Haddix (author of the Among the Hidden series which I recommend for middle school students) and more.  In the first book, Amy and Dan’s grandmother dies and they discover that they are part of the most powerful family in history. The source is hidden in 39 clues around the world,, which they set out to find.  We literally cannot keep these books on the shelves.  The students are waiting for them before I have even checked them back in.  I had a few minutes of down time and read the first few chapters of Book One.  It was definitely captivating and I plan on reading through the series with my son.  These books are commonly checked out by 4th and 5th graders.  Other Books:  There are eleven books in the series.

Nate the Great by Marjorie Sharmat is another current favorite of my second grader.  Nate is child detective who solves all sorts of mysteries (I am finding a recurring theme of solving mysteries while having adventures!).  Other books: There are twenty six books in the Nate the Great series that have been published over the past thirty years.  There is another series of books about Nate the Great’s cousin, Olivia Sharp.

The Amber Brown collection by Paula Danziger (Parents: You might remember reading her book The Cat that Ate My Gymsuit when you were younger!) is realistic fiction about a little girl named Amber and her friends and family.  Our favorite book from the series is Amber Brown is Not a Crayon which is the first in the collection.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney might sound familiar because of the recently released movie based on the book.  With the November 2011 release of the sixth book, the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series is in constant rotation.  The book is based on a middle school student so I recommend it for older elementary or middle school students.  Other Books:  There are six books in the series.

Carole Marsh’s Real Kids, Real Places mystery series books are not only fun to read but are also educational.  The books take place in real places and there is a mystery to be solved in each one. There are forty eight mysteries that are set in places like Mount Rushmore, Hollywood, DisneyWorld, the Twin Cities, Yellowstone, Hawaii, Mount Vernon and more.  Other Books: Carole Marsh has written lots of books but another travel series that caught my eye is Around the World in Eighty Mysteries where there are mysteries to be solved at Big Ben, Dracula’s Castle, Mt. Fugi, the Great Barrier Reef and more.

Share your favorites in the comments!

Holiday Gift Idea: Book Series for Babies, Toddlers, and Pre-K Children

*Stay tuned! Tomorrow, I will share favorite series of books for elementary, middle school and high school students!

When all else fails and I can’t come up with a gift idea, I head to my favorite bookstore and buy a book or a gift certificate for the recipient.  Even though we allow handheld video games and electronics during our travels, I still limit the time that each child gets to spend playing them.  Books are always first on the list of things to pack.

Buying books before a road trip or vacation are some of my favorite memories from my childhood.  Before every trip, we would head to the bookstore and be allowed to pick out a certain number of books to take with us.  When we got home, my mother would confiscate the books and hide them.  I can still see that fresh new pile of books stacked high in my mother’s closet, taunting me to take one and steal off to my room where I could start reading.  But, oh no, we couldn’t touch those books until it was time to pack up our backpacks for our trip.

As a teacher, I tried to read anything and everything that came across my desk.  It helped me keep up with what the kids were reading and it kept me semi-cool in their eyes when I could discuss Twilight, Crank, or Harry Potter with them.  Now, I volunteer in my son’s library and I have been trying to keep up with the books that are currently popular.  Here are a few series of books, both recent and old favorites, I have seen in constant rotation at the library.  If you buy the first in the series, I highly recommend being ready to stop by a bookstore to buy the next few!

I have not read all the books I have listed, though I am working my way through the pile.  I recommend that you read along (or read the book before) with your children.  Only you as the parent can decide what is and isn’t appropriate for your children.


Brightly colored board books are what will fit the bill for your baby or toddler.  Though some of these are more author collections rather than a series, the books will still be appreciated.

Any book illustrated by Eric Carle – We particularly loved the books written by Bill Martin Junior like Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See and Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You See.

Susan Boyton wrote our all time favorite nighttime book, The Going to Bed Book.  We also loved Moo, Baa, La La La!  My five year old still asks me to read that book sometimes!

Ten Little Ladybugs by Melanie Gerth – Children love to run their hands over this book where they get to count the ten little ladybugs as they disappear.  This book came with us everywhere for several months!  Other Books: Ten Rubber Duckies and Goodnight Sweet Butterflies by Dawn Bentley


Pete the Cat – If you asked me to recite Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes right now, I could sing the entire book.  Both of my kids adore Pete the Cat and his adventures.  Other books: Pete the Cat: Rocking in My School Shoes; Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons (out in 2012)

If you Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Numeroff is a catchy book about that silly mouse that keeps wanting more and more!  Other books: If You Take a Mouse to the Movies; If You Take a Mouse to School; If You Give a Pig a Party; If You Give a Pig a Pancake; If You Give a Cat a Cupcake

Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister Herbert is one of my favorite children’s books of all time.  I love the beautiful illustrations and the moral of the story.  Other books: Rainbow Fish and the Whale; Rainbow Fish Finds His Way; Play with Rainbow Fish

Pinkalicious by Victoria Kann is one of my daughter’s current favorite books. She LOVES pink…pink walls, pink bedspread, pink, pink, pink, The book is full of pink, pink, pink so it is perfect! Other books: Silverlicious; Goldilicious; Purplicious; there are also a number of I Can Read books

Fancy Nancy by Jane O’Connor is frilly and fabulous.  We don’t have many of the Fancy Nancy books, but we do have all the holiday ones.  I always purchase holiday books for the kids and somehow my daughter’s books have all been Fancy Nancy books! Other Books: Fancy Nancy: Splendiferous Christmas; Fancy Nancy and the Posh Puppy; Fancy Nancy: Aspiring Artist

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom…will there be enough room?  This catchy book teaches letter order and the other book in the series teaches numbers.  This is a favorite of my son still even if he won’t admit it.  Other Books: Chicka Chicka 1, 2, 3

Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems is the only book on this list that I haven’t read but my kids think they are hilarious!  They have read them at school and have told me all about them.  I have them on my list of gifts that I still have to pick up! Other books: Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late; The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog; The Pigeon Wants a Puppy

I got a little carried away in my excitement to share favorite books with you that I ran out of room in the post.  Tomorrow, I will share favorite series of books for elementary, middle school and high school students (unless I get carried away again and have to extend the post into a three part series)!

Share your favorites in the comments!

Learn, Laugh, Cook – A Cookbook


Wait?  What?  Isn’t this a travel blog?  Why are you reviewing a cookbook you might ask?

This cookbook is the product of months of hard work by my good friend Mandy.  You might remember Mandy from her guest post a little while ago where she talked about her love of Visitor Centers.  She also wrote a guest post for my Pensacola with Kids blog where she shared her experience on the Pensacola Trolley Tours

Mandy’s cookbook is a fabulous collection of recipes, poems, and stories.  The reason I am sharing this cookbook with you today is because when I get home from a trip I love to try to recreate meals that we had while traveling.  Sometimes we even take cooking classes on our travels.  Our first cooking class was in New Orleans, Louisiana.

We LOVE New Orleans.  We honeymooned in New Orleans, we take a trip there every year or so as a couple, and we love to travel there with our kids.  I love the food in New Orleans…beignets, crawfish etouffee, and gumbo.  Gumbo is one of those things that I have not attempted at home yet.  It just seems too difficult.  As a matter of fact, we haven’t tried to replicate any NOLA foods at home. 

Enter Mandy’s recently released cookbook.  She has a gumbo recipe. 


And it is easy!!  Well, according to her it is.  I haven’t tried to make it yet but it is on our meal plan for next week.  Mandy shared her recipe for her “Big Easy” Chicken and Sausage Gumbo on her blog, Learn, Laugh, Cook, and has given me permission to share it here. 

You can purchase Mandy’s cookbook, Learn, Laugh, Cook, for $15.95.  I have made several of the recipes in the cookbook as well as have tasted many more and they are tasty.  You can read more by Mandy on her blog where she posts different recipes she has tried, links to ideas and recipes, as well as funny poems!  You can also connect with her on Facebook.   Make sure you stop by her blog soon because she told me she will be posting a New Orleans style Shrimp and Grits recipe within the next two weeks.

If you try this gumbo recipe, be sure to let Mandy know!

Mandy’s “Big Easy” Chicken and Sausage Gumbo

5 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, chopped into small pieces
1 pound (14 oz or two links) of precooked turkey sausage, chopped into small pieces
1 large onion, chopped
2 stalks of celery, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 cup of Instant Roux
3 cups of cool water
3 cups of chicken broth
1 can (10 oz) of tomato soup
1 can (10 oz) of diced tomatoes and green chilies (such as Rotel)
1/2 tbsp crushed bay leaves
1/2 tbsp thyme
1/2 tbsp oregano
1/2 tbsp garlic powder
1/2 tbsp onion powder
1 tsp Cajun seasoning (salt mixture)

(Cook’s Note: For this recipe, you will need a large stove pot and a slow cooker.)

Generously grease a large pot with cooking spray.  Throw in your chopped onion, celery, bell pepper and garlic.  Sautee on medium high for about seven minutes or until veggies are soft and lightly browned.  Add in two cups of cool water and 1 cup of the instant roux mix.  Stir swiftly with a wooden spoon or whisk making sure all of the “roux” is dissolved and no longer lumpy.  Continue cooking on medium high for about fifteen minutes until the roux thickens, darkens and blends with the veggies.  Don’t be afraid if it looks really dark, like this:

It looks like a scary dark color here but it will lighten up in color once you add the tomatoes, broth and other seasonings.  Don’t worry!  Continue stirring it on occasion throughout that fifteen minutes, adding water if you need to so it doesn’t stick to the pot.

While your roux is cooking and you’re not stirring, chop up your chicken and sausage into small pieces.  Then place them into the bottom of a slow cooker.  Sprinkle your Cajun seasoning over the chicken and sausage pieces.  Once your roux has simmered for its course, add it to the slow cooker, on top of the meat. 

Pour in your chicken broth and additional 1 cup of water.  Add the tomato soup, diced tomatoes with chilies, bay leaves, thyme, oregano, garlic and onion powders.  Mix well.  Cover and cook on low for 6 to 8 hours or on high for 4 hours.  (Yesterday I cooked mine on high for two hours and low for two hours and it came out great!)

Check the consistency in case you need to thicken or liquify it more.  Taste it to see if has enough seasoning or spices for your family.  My husband called this recipe “very flavorful and full of spices without being too spicey.”  I call that a perfect blend!  🙂

Serve hot over cooked rice in bowls.  Freeze any leftovers in heavy plastic containers for up to four months.  For best results, reheat on stove in a large pot, adding water if needed. 

(Cook’s Note: A gumbo is a great mix of whatever you want to throw in it.  You start with that “roux” and then start placing different things in it.  I didn’t have any seafood in my freezer so I went with chicken and sausage.  Try mixing it up and blending different flavors in your gumbo.  Let me know how it turns out! )

Be sure to visit Wanderfood Wednesday over at Wanderlust and Lipstick!

**Disclosure:  Mandy is one of my good friends.  As she was writing the book, I cheered her on whenever I could.  I tasted many recipes throughout the writing of the book.  I am purchasing several copies with my own money to give as Christmas gifts.**

Wanderlust and Lipstick: Traveling with Kids

For Travel Blogger Tuesday this week I am going to tell you about a great traveling with children resource!  


I was so excited when I was asked if I was interested in reviewing the new Wanderlust and Lipstck book, Traveling with Kids.  I had heard the buzz about the book and knew it was written by Leslie Forsberg and Michelle Duffy.  I love reading Michelle Duffy’s blog, Wandermom, and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the review copy. 

This book covers just about anything and everything having to do with traveling with kids.  It covers things like why you should travel with children, where you might go, health and safety, and so much more.  The book covers practical things that everyone traveling with kids should know and think about.  Whether you are wary about traveling with your children or your kids have had passports since the day after they were born, I am sure that there is something in this book for you!

I enjoyed reading the personal accounts and tips from people who had been there done that.  They shared little anecdotes about their successes and failures while traveling with children. 

The bottom line: This book is extremely useful and is a resource that I would likely go back to when planning a trip.

Disclaimer: I received this review copy complimentary with no expectation.  As a matter of fact, they probably thought I had forgotten about it since I received the book awhile ago!  My reviews are based solely on my opinion with no outside influence.