Wordless Wednesday: Won’t it ever be spring?

(Photo: Michael Howell)

(Photo: Michael Howell)

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Book Review: Anywhere but Paradise by Anne Bustard

last-list_blog-hop-300x300As I mentioned a week or two ago, in January, EgmontUSA announced that they were going out of business, and that this spring’s list would be their last. I signed up to participate in Cuddlebuggery’s Last List Blog Hop in hopes of offering at least one of the affected writers a little bit of free publicity. 

This review is part of that blog hop. Also, be sure to catch my interview with Anne Bustard on BostonWriters.

Page break clip artAnywhere but Paradise
By Anne Bustard
Egmont USA
Release date: March 31, 2015
Genre: Middle Grade (Ages 8-12)

Anywhere but Paradise is a beautifully written Middle Grade (MG) novel about Peggy Sue Bennett, a 12-year-girl who moves from Gladiola, Texas to Hawaii after her father gets a job in the sugar cane industry.

Aimed at readers ages 8-12, Anywhere but Paradise touches on several important, yet difficult issues, for YA readers: bullying, discrimination, loneliness, and coming to terms with major life changes over which you have absolutely no control.

ABP_jkt_finalSome of the writing may be too intense for younger or emotionally tender readers — I had a lump in my throat from almost the opening pages.  The scene where Peggy Sue has to leave her beloved cat, Howdy, in the quarantine center is heart-wrenching.  Throughout the novel, Bustard uses Howdy’s situation extremely effectively to mirror the struggles Peggy herself is going through.  The parallels are skillful, adding pressure to Peggy’s situation without being purely duplicative.

There is another tough section toward the end of the book, when a tsunami strikes Hawaii and Peggy Sue is separated from her parents. The days of uncertainty while Peggy Sue waits to hear whether her parents have survived are a bit harrowing.

Still, even in the darkest moments of the novel, I never lost hope for Peggy Sue. In fact, I found the ending both deeply satisfying and realistic. Things will never be perfect in Hawaii, but Peggy Sue manages to make a place for herself within this new and gloriously imperfect paradise.

Anywhere but Paradise is a marvelous book, and I look forward to reading more from Bustard in the future.

Disclosure: I received a free kindle copy of Anywhere but Paradise from EgmontUSA via NetGalley in exchange for a fair review.  You can preorder Anywhere but Paradise from Amazon here. The book will be available in stores March 31, 2015.

Cross-posted on BostonWriters.

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Oh, so very wintry

(Photo: Michael Howell)

(Photo: Michael Howell)

Mommyo, reading the weather report last weekend: “Subzero temperatures have arrived in Chicago and will stay all week.”

Daddyo, dourly: “Yep.”

The Seven-Year-Old, anxiously: “How subzero? I’m only rated to -3. Any more than that and I have to stay home, Mommyo.”

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What’s on The Seven-Year-Old’s mind this week?

Our semi-weekly survey of the tidbits that cross the The Seven-Year-Old’s desk.

In the news:

The monarch massacre: Nearly one billion butterflies have vanished
(The Washington Post)
Last week, The Seven-Year-Old asked me what we should plant in our container garden. Then she read this article. Nearly one billion monarch butterflies have been wiped out due to herbicides sprayed on milkweed plants. Monarchs rely on milkweed for their homes, nurseries, and food. Now her answer is easy. “We’re planting milkweed, Mommyo. A whole deck full of it.”

12.7 million metric tons of plastic pour into our oceans annually
(Ars Technica)

(Photo: NOAA)

(Photo: NOAA)

Not as pretty as a coral reef. Reduce, reuse, & recycle, people.

13 Effects of Fast Food on the Body 
Did you know eating fast food can actually make you feel depressed? Not just guilt, actual depression. I wasn’t surprised by the other effects — insulin resistance, dental distress (I chipped a tooth on a french fry once), weight gain, high cholesterol, headaches, shortness of breath, acne, and so on, but depression? I admit it, that one surprised me.

A sampling of this week’s books:


  • The Loathsome Dragon by Kim Kahng and David Wiesner: An adaptation of an old English fairy tale featuring a giant, bad-tempered dragon. (Oh and a princess, a prince, a wicked stepmother, and magical enchantments. But you knew all that once you heard it was a fairy tale, right?)
  • Scientific Progress Goes Boink! by Bill Watterson: A perennial favorite. The Seven-Year-Old is hard at work building another transmogrifier in the family cave. Her previous machines have all disappeared. Very odd scientific phenomenon.
  • Warriors: Into the Wild by Erin Hunter: I started reading this to The Seven-Year-Old back when she was merely The Five-Year-Old in an effort to get her enthused about taking karate. (I mean, really, cats with ninja-like fighting skills? How could that possibly fail?) She saw right through me, and began regularly asking her father to read her Hardy Boys to her at night instead. This week, I saw she’d picked the first book in the series back up again. No doubt because there is a picture of Canelo on the cover. Actually, now that I look at it, that cover is sort of a Howell Family Cat triptych. The grey tabby could be Cozy, the angry tortoiseshell is clearly Mulberry, and of course, Canelo, our current cat is lording over them all.

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Wordless Wednesday: Portrait of a Dragon

(Artwork: The Seven-Year-Old Howell)

(Artwork: The Seven-Year-Old Howell)

It is remarkable how well The Seven-Year-Old can draw now, when she puts her mind to it.

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A sad day for picnickers – Eco Lunch Gear closes up shop

Everything a girl needs for a successful picnic

Several years ago, I discovered Eco Lunch Gear, a fabric alternative to Ziplocs. I’ve been using them in combination with air-tight plastic snack containers ever since. Recently I received an email from Tina Beatty, the owner of Eco Lunch Gear, telling me that she is closing down Eco Lunch Gear and setting up a new shop on Etsy called The Bay Owl. I’ve loved using these wraps over the years (and have since reordered more at least twice), so thought I’d take the opportunity to give her a little free publicity.

Sadly, it looks like Tina isn’t making her bags anymore. (She’s taking time off to renovate a mid-Century Modern House.) However, her Etsy shop sells DIY kits (and some of her adorable organic fabrics) so that handy crafters can make their own. If you’re interested, check out The Bay Owl shop at:

The Bay Owl

Happy snacking crafting!

(My original review of the Eco Lunch Gear is below the fold, for those of you who are interested.)

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My shiny new Dutch Oven

I chose the 5-Quart Lodge cast iron Dutch oven, because we love our other Lodge cast iron pots. (Photo: Lodge)

I chose the 5-Quart Lodge cast iron Dutch oven, because we love our other Lodge cast iron pots. (Photo: Lodge)

I’ve been reading a lot of recipes lately, and have been frankly astounded by the number of non-stew recipes that call for a Dutch oven. Take this one for French Chicken in a Pot. Clearly not a stew. Also, yum!

So this week, I finally broke down and purchased my first cast iron Dutch oven, along with a copy of Elizabeth Yarnell’s Glorious One-Pot Meals, so that I could have some idea of what to do with it.

I was very excited the day my cookbook and pot arrived.

Mommyo, happily flipping through her new cookbook: “For our first Dutch oven recipe, would you like to have fish, chicken, or something else?”

Daddyo: “Chicken or something else.”

The Seven-Year-Old: “Something else. Something else gets two votes, Mommyo.”

We had the Mediterranean steak. (Yum! Also easy. The hardest part was lifting the full pot.)

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What’s on The Seven-Year-Old’s mind this week?

Our semi-weekly survey of the tidbits that cross the The Seven-Year-Old’s desk.

In the news:

What do animals see in the mirror?
(National Geographic)
Dolphins, apes, and elephants can all recognize themselves in the mirror. Put a flamingo in front of a mirror and he thinks he’s at a party. Dogs, not so much.

Elephant makes a stool–First known aha! moment for species
(National Geographic)
My Seven-Year-Old cheered this week when she learned that fellow seven-year-old Kandula the Elephant has figured out how to use a stool to reach fruit in high places.

Kandula's new trick (Photo courtesy Foerder/Reiss, CUNY)

Kandula’s new trick (Photo courtesy Foerder/Reiss, CUNY)

Meet a newly discovered aquatic species, the ruby seadragon
Loyal reader and official Caterpickles Norwood correspondent, Victoria Moreno-Jackson, aka the crafting genius behind Sumo Peanut, sent The Seven-Year-Old this news clipping about a newly discovered seadragon. The discovery increases the number of known seadragon species by 33%. There are now three, the leafy, the weedy, and the ruby. Guess which one has the best marketing team. Here’s a hint:

3D model of the ruby seadragon courtesy of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego.

3D model of the ruby seadragon courtesy of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego.

Why is sleet? How the atmosphere turns snow into an icy, frozen hell 
(The Vane)
You are always welcome to read the whole thing, but I confess to only skimming the article on my way to this key point:

“Sleet, also called ice pellets, is essentially a frozen raindrop. Sleet forms when a snowflake falls into a shallow layer of warm air a few thousand feet above the surface, allowing the snowflake to begin to melt. Due to the shallow nature of the layer (which is only one or two degrees above freezing), only the outer edges of the snowflake have a chance to melt before it re-enters the sub-freezing air near the ground.

Once the partially-melted snowflake enters the sub-freezing air, it begins to refreeze around the tiny ice crystal that remains in the heart of the snowflake. The droplet completely freezes by the time it reaches the ground, striking the surface as an ice pellet.”

A sampling of this week’s books:


  • Star Wars: The Essential Guide to Vehicles and Vessels by Bill Smith, Doug Chiang, & Troy Vigil:  The Seven-Year-Old would like me to point out that she’s not reading this one cover-to-cover, just the interesting bits.
  • A Small, Elderly Dragon by Beverly Keller: Almost a fairy tale, a charming story about a dragon who begins to think he is too old to go on a proper rampage.
  • Bartholomew and the Oobleck by Dr. Seuss: “The moral of this story, Mommyo, is don’t get mad or green goop will start falling from the sky.”
  • Boxes for Katje by Candace Fleming: Based on a true story. How a child’s thank you note in response to receiving a box of chocolate from America sparked a friendship that helped save a small Dutch town struggling in the aftermath of WWII.

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Egmont’s Last List

anywhere but paradiseVia Writing and Illustrating comes word that Egmont is closing its doors at the end of January, leaving their authors to fend for themselves.

I can only imagine the emotional turmoil these writers are going through right now.

I’m a sucker for fairy tale retellings and stories with mythological and/or literary hooks, so I’ve ordered Ilsa Bick’s White Space and The Dickens Mirror, Valiant by Sarah McGuire, as well as The Shadow Prince and The Eternity Key by Bree Despain. I’m certain these aren’t the only enticing books on the list. Browse through it and show these writers some love.

As Bree Despain remarked on the Writing and Illustrating blog, purchasing these books isn’t the only way to show an author love. Reviewing the books on Amazon and Goodreads or simply ordering copies of the book from your local library are all helpful activities too. If you have a blog, you can spread the word about the last list or sign up to participate in the Last List Blog Hop. (You’ll be asked to review a book on your blog.)

In that light — here’s the complete list from Egmont. Most, if not all, are young adult or children’s titles.

BickJanuary Releases

1/06 – Hissy Fitz by Patrick Jennings

1/27 – Tear You Apart by Sarah Cross

February Releases

2/10 – White Space (paperback) by Ilsa J. Bick

2/10 – The Jaguar Stones 4: The Lost City by J&P Voelkel

March ReleasesPatrickJennings

3/10 – The Dickens Mirror by Ilsa J. Bick

3/24 – Odd, Weird & Little (paperback) by Patrick Jennings

3/31 – Anywhere but Paradise by Anne Bustard

April Releasesvaliant

4/14 – The Shadow Prince (paperback) by Bree Despain

4/14 – Burn Out (paperback) by Kristi Helvig

4/14 – Seaborne: The Lost Prince by Matt Myklusch

4/21 – Good Crooks 3: Sniff a Skunk! by Mary Amato

4/28 – The Eternity Key by Bree Despain

4/28 – Strange Skies by Kristi Helvig

4/28 – Valiant by Sarah McGuire

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Cross-posted on BostonWriters. 

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Wordless Wednesday: I can haz tuna?

Canelo is the only cat I’ve ever had who will sit at the table with you, without actually sitting on the table by you. He prefers the chair, thank you.

(Photo: Shala Howell)

(Photo: Shala Howell)

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