Monday, June 26, 2017

Book Review and Author Interview: Stars Over Clear Lake By Loretta Ellsworth

A Novel

By: Loretta Ellsworth

Published: May 2, 2017

Publisher: St. Martin's Press

Fiction/Historical Fiction

Most of the WWII stories I read are set in Europe with a few set in the US, but usually on the coast. What grabbed my attention about this particular WWII novel was that it was set in Iowa. Yes, my home state and far away from those fighting for our country.

In Ellsworth's first adult fiction novel, she uses the magical and popular setting of the Surf Ballroom, the last venue of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and "The Big Bopper" before their plane crashed. Her setting is during the prime WWII years when many families in Iowa were sending their sons off to fight and many never seeing them again.

Lorraine is a teenager who watches her brother go off to war. Pete was her mom's favorite and life at home wasn't the same once he left. Instead, Lorraine spent her time on the farm with her father and the POWs that were from the camp in nearby Algona. They came to help on the farm since her brother was off to war. As you can imagine, her mom, as well as many others in the community, did not appreciate having "the enemy" on their land and in their communities.  As Lorraine grows up, she struggles with following her heart or following what people expect her to do. She has an amazing voice and spends many nights dancing and wishing about singing at the Surf.  One night, her dream comes true and she sings for Jimmy Dorsey at the Surf Ballroom. What happens later that evening will change everyone's lives forever.

Ellsworth jumps between 2007 and the 1940's in telling Lorraine's story both as a teenager and now as an elderly woman. She also has a strained relationship with her daughter, much like her relationship with her own mother. When the secret she has kept her whole life starts to eat away at her, she begins to relive that fateful night and wonders if her daughter will ever be able to understand.

As an Iowan, I am ashamed to admit that I have never been to the Surf Ballroom or heard about the POW camps before this book. Ellsworth shares much detail and history to inform the reader and bring the ballroom to life on the pages. The emotions and passions of the characters seeped off the pages with honesty. The experiences of life during the 1940's take you back to a simpler, but unsure time in our history and the present day story reminds us of our own regrets of the past.  

Fans of historical fiction will appreciate the attention to detail and little-known parts of Iowa's history. Besides the family featured in this story, the Surf Ballroom stands alone bringing its own bit of magic to the story. It makes you want to visit and see what stories come to life while you are there. Writing this story was a tribute to Ellsworth's own parents' love story and one she can certainly be proud of.

Loretta Ellsworth
My Interview with Loretta Ellsworth 

Loretta Ellsworth grew up in Mason City and attended many events at the famous Surf Ballroom while growing up. Since her parents met there, it always held a bit of magic and romance for her. As she began dreaming about being a writer, she knew she would always want to write a story that was set at the Surf Ballroom. When she remembered her father pointing out the POW Camp Museum in Algona, it gave her the idea to merge the two stories into a book. That dream has come true and her first adult novel, STARS OVER CLEAR LAKE, is available now.

Ellsworth has enjoyed writing since childhood but didn’t know anyone who was an actual writer so she didn’t believe it was something she could actually do for a career. She has always loved to read, stating, “We had a wonderful library in Mason City and I went there all the time. We even had a bookmobile in the summer, which was a bus full of books that would go from neighborhood to neighborhood. You climbed in and got books and two weeks later, it would come back.” After attending UNI, majoring in Spanish and Business and then getting her teaching degree later at ISU, she focused on teaching Spanish at the middle school and high school levels. It wasn’t until she was older that she decided writing could be a career option for her. While living in the Minneapolis area, she took some writing classes at the Loft Literary Center and had some magazine articles published. That gave her the motivation she needed to keep writing. She began writing books and taking more classes all while still teaching Spanish. After her first two Young Adult books were published she began writing full-time and even got her MSA in writing for children from Hamline University.

Ellsworth is the author of four young adult books each with a different theme. “My first book is set during the 1870’s in SE Minnesota about a shrouding woman. My second book is about a girl who loves the book TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD and travels to meet Harper Lee. The third and fourth books are more contemporary fiction for teens and about a teen who has a heart transplant and a person who has a perfect memory.” Even though her young adult books are about diverse topics, historical fiction is her favorite.

While researching for her newest book, she realized that there were two Surf Ballrooms, the first having burned down, without the community ever finding out the cause. That gave her another idea to add that piece of history into her story. “I decided to create my own cause of the fire and bring some mystery to the story”, stated Ellsworth. Recently, Ellsworth went to the Surf Ballroom, she met a man that she had previously interviewed over the phone for her book. His father had been a POW and had immigrated to Mason City. “It was pretty neat to meet him in person,” she said.

Ellsworth remembers going to the Surf Ballroom in the 1970’s and thinking that it was pretty run down. They even talked about tearing it down at one point because it was old and dilapidated. After a family decided to buy the Surf Ballroom and renovate it to look the same as it did in the 1940’s, it really brought the business back. “After Don McLean’s song ‘American Pie’ came out it brought some notoriety back to the Surf Ballroom and then their annual Winter Dance Party also kept fans coming back.” Ellsworth stated, “There used to be 2,600 ballrooms in the United States and now there are less than 100 left. The Surf Ballroom still has concerts and events almost every week including a Big Band Series on Sundays in the summer.”

Ellsworth also believes that many people didn’t know that Iowa and every other state except Vermont and Nevada were homes for POW camps during WWII. “Not many people were aware of them. They put them in small communities near the railroad so they wouldn’t attract as much attention and there was nowhere for them to go if they escaped,” explains Ellsworth. Even though life was difficult in the camps, many Iowans were eager to show that Americans weren’t as bad as the Germans made them out to be. “Many of these families had their sons fighting and dying overseas and it affected how some of them felt towards the POWs in their communities,” stated Ellsworth.

Ellsworth hopes that readers enjoy her historical love story. It has a lot of themes relating to our current immigration issues. Its main character starts the story as a teenager and grows up throughout the story. She could see older teens as well as adults appreciating the struggles and regrets faced by the characters. She even includes a bit of magic into the story because, she states, “The Surf is a magical place and for me, it was easy to incorporate a bit of the ability to speak to someone from their past, and have it be believable at the Surf.”

Writing and reading are daily activities for Ellsworth as well as being active in her local writing community and Friends of the Library organization. Her children and grandchildren live on opposite sides of the country, but she looks forward to visits with them throughout the year. She loves reading historical fiction and is currently working on a new adult historical fiction novel set during the 1940’s in the Midwest. She is also in the revision stages of a new young adult novel.

To hear more about Loretta Ellsworth and her book, STARS OVER CLEAR LAKE, be sure to check out her website, HERE

To purchase a copy of STARS OVER CLEAR LAKE, click the photo below:

Thanks to the publisher for sending a copy of the book for the purpose of this review. This review is my honest opinion. If you choose to purchase the book through the above link, I may receive a small commission without you having to pay a cent more for your purchase. Thanks for supporting 

Friday, June 23, 2017

Children's Book Review: Three Career Books from National Geographic Kids


By: Lisa M. Gerry

Published: March 14, 2017

Publisher: National Geographic Kids


Do you want to let you kids know that they are more jobs than just the ones we hear about every day? Instead of just telling them about being a nurse, teacher, farmer, banker, construction worker, police officer, pastor, or gardener...there is so much more that they can do. From the wacky job of a Professional Pusher (seriously!) to an Adventure Guide, Recipe Tester, Publicist, or Crossword Puzzle Writer, you child can find something to dream about and achieve.

I even have a teenager who has no idea what he wants to do and this book gave him some ideas. Each job title offers a brief description of what the job entails. Like the Professional Pusher is someone in Japan who works for the transit system and "pushes" people onto the crowded trains during rush hour to make sure limbs and clothing aren't stuck in the doors. For real! There are photos to go along with every job too. Did you know you can be a professional Mermaid? I actually know someone whose niece is one! There is a page devoted to being a mermaid that puts on shows. There is a page devoted to being an Orchestra Musician (hint, hint to my kids!) and if you don't mind standing in line you could be a Professional Line Waiter!

This small book is a fun way to start a conversation with your kids about the various opportunities that await them in their future. The world is theirs to grasp and they can be whatever they want to be!

Explore, Discover, and Create Your Own Adventures with Real National Geographic Explorers

By: Nancy Honovich

Published: March 14, 2017

Publisher: National Geographic Kids


Is your child adventurist and not afraid of anything? Then they may want to check out all the different ways they can become an Ultimate Explorer. By traveling through land, sea, and sky your kids can follow National Geographic Explorers on their travels. Various explorers are interviewed throughout the sections and share some of their backgrounds and unusual experiences. Gorgeous photography throughout the book get kids interested in the places visited by the explorers. 

The book also offers activities for kids to do such as building a worm castle, creating an ancestry journal, cracking the code, starting a rock collection, as well as other experiments.  

I think the "Meet and Explorer" sections were the most interesting and am fascinated by the various jobs out there that bring us new information about our world all the time. 

This is a really great book for the curious and adventurous child...and adult!

Discovering Dinosaurs with Dr. Scott

By: Scott D Sampson, Ph.D.

Published: April 4, 2017

Publisher: National Geographic Kids


Any dinosaur-loving child will be enthralled with this book. This book caters to the elementary-aged kids who really love dinosaurs but offers them a background about studying dinosaurs. 

The book begins with explaining paleontology and fossils and then focuses a bit on various dinosaurs. It ends with explaining how kids can become a paleontologist some day by focusing on science in school, being in nature, and working on your exploring skills. It's a short and brief overview to get your youngest kids excited about how to study dinosaurs. There are great photos that show paleontologists at work and how they piece together the fossils they find and what they do with them.

All three of these books offer an excellent overview of careers your kids can think about. You never know what will spark their interest and these books may just offer that one thing they can get excited about. No matter what, these books offer lots of opportunity for learning, especially during the summer break! These are fun books with lots of facts and your kids won't even realize they are learning while reading! 

To purchase a copy of any of these books, click the photo below:

I will be linking up this review on Booking Mama's regular Saturday feature, Kid Konnection. This is a place for bloggers to share posts related to children's and YA books. You will find spotlights, reviews, and sometimes even giveaways by clicking HERE, every Saturday.

Thanks to the publisher for sending copies of these books for the purpose of this review. This review is my honest opinion. If you choose to purchase the books through the above links, I may receive a small commission without you having to pay a cent more for your purchase. Thanks for supporting 

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Book Review: Fitter Faster by Robert J. Davis

The Smart Way to Get in Shape in Just Minutes A Day

By: Robert J. Davis with Brad Kolowich, Jr

Published: May 11, 2017

Publisher: AMACOM


Davis, an award-winning health journalist, and Kolowich, a Certified Personal Trainer whose clients include well-known actors and athletes, have joined together to create this no-nonsense approach to exercise. They take the excuses out of working out and debunk some common exercise myths to get readers motivated to get in shape in just fifteen minutes a day.

The four sections of the book deal with motivation, knowledge, eating, and the actual workouts. The book never talks "over my head" and offers a simple approach to making the time for fitness in our already overly scheduled days. Who doesn't have fifteen minutes a day to devote to themselves?

One tip that stood out to me while reading included the motivation behind "loss-aversion". As much as we love receiving a reward, we hate losing that reward even more. A study showed participants kept their goal more if they were rewarded at the beginning of the month and would lose parts of that reward for not following through. Rather than waiting til the end of the month to receive your reward, give it to yourself to start with and if you don't meet your goals, the dress, the money, the vacation or whatever your reward is, is returned or canceled.

Throughout the book, there are personal stories of client's fitness journeys. Readers will be able to find someone that they can identify with from either gender and many age groups. I found Leigh's story of being exhausted from work and finding yoga helped her cope with daily challenges in her job as well as offering calm and strength to her body. The flexibility tests in the book were eye-opening to me and just reaffirmed my need to incorporate yoga into my daily routine.

The brief section on supplements and food offer just the highlights and some solid advice on what to avoid, what to watch out for in the ingredient list, and what you may want to add to your daily diet. Even though "The Eight Eating Rules" weren't anything new, they are still a good reminder for what to focus on when you are starting a new health and fitness plan.

Finally, the book ends with the actual workouts. Each workout has a photo and description of how it should be done. The workouts include beginner levels and advanced levels with a 7-day workout plan. I appreciated that all of the workouts use your own body weight, dumbbells, or furniture, all things I can do in my own home.

I felt like this who book was easy to understand and could realistically be incorporated into a daily routine. The workouts don't take a lot of time or space and could be done either in the morning or after work. Whether you are looking to live longer, improve your heart health, cut your cancer risk, become more flexible, or boost your brain power or mood, this book offers an ideal approach to fitting in quality workouts in a short amount of time.

Robert J. Davis - source
Robert J. Davis, Ph.D. is an award-winning health journalist whose work has appeared on CNN, PBS, WebMD, and in The Wall Street Journal. The president of Everwell, he hosts its popular myth-busting “Healthy Skeptic” videos. A graduate of Princeton University, he holds a master’s degree in public health from Emory and a Ph.D. in health policy from Brandeis University, where he was a Pew Foundation Fellow.

To purchase a copy of FITTER FASTER, click the photo below:

Thanks to the publisher for sending a copy of this book for the purpose of this review. This review is my honest opinion. If you choose to purchase the book through the above links, I may receive a small commission without you having to pay a cent more for your purchase. Thanks for supporting 

Friday, June 16, 2017

Children's Book Review and Author Guest Post: If You Were Me and Lived in Germany by Carole P. Roman

A Child's Introduction to Culture Around the World

By: Carole P. Roman

Published: February 2, 2017

Publisher: Createspace Independent Publishing Platform


I'm thrilled to participate in this Virtual Author Tour for Carole Roman. Her books are remarkably well done and I've even learned a lot from reading them. Please be sure to check out Roman's guest post in her own words at the end of the review.

Roman's series IN YOU WERE ME AND LIVED IN....has introduced children to numerous countries all around the world. In each book, children are the featured characters in a life lived in that particular country. This allows children to read and identify with those children written about in the book.

In the Germany book, you'll learn important history including the Berlin Wall and that Munich is really pronounced (Mun-chen). Even I didn't know that! You learn about the food, the activities, and the celebrations that make Germany's culture so unique. Each German word is given a pronunciation and a glossary at the back helps explain its definition if it isn't given in the paragraph. Sometimes, it's fun to have your child guess what the word means!

This cultural series for children is one of my favorites and every time I read them, I learn something too. These are excellent choices for social studies classrooms, homeschool families, and libraries. Share the world with your child through this excellent book series, IF YOU WERE ME AND LIVED IN.

Carole P. Roman has written so many children's books with all types of topics in both fiction and non-fiction. I wonder where she comes up with all these ideas and the amount of hours she much spends researching each book. Roman's brain must ALWAYS be working. Here she shares a bit of her thoughts.

Carole P. Roman Author Guest Post 

“Addicted to Information”

By Carole P. Roman

Some people are addicted to buying shoes. They have Imelda Marcos closets filled with all types of footwear, boots, heels, flats, whatever is trending. Me, I collect information. Whatever I am, I am busy observing.

I am in a restaurant, eating bread, wondering who had the great idea of using a bulb to flavor it. How much courage went into slicing a noxious root and throwing it into a stew?

Why do so many people say Mama or Dada as their first words? If you travel West to East, Dada turns into Baba. How can I use this information somewhere?

Why do the greatest cities in the world form on waterways? What does your currency tell me about your country? Do you eat a heavy meal at lunch and a light meal in the evening and why? What do we have in common and how are we different?

Look at that sky and the constellations, what can I share about them that will make some child drift off to sleep? How can I inspire a little girl to be anything she wants to be?

Life throws a cornucopia of information at me daily. I am ready and waiting, with the biggest catcher's mitt I can have. Just wait until you see what I throw back at the world.

Carole P. Roman is the award-winning author of the Captain No Beard series. Both Captain No Beard-An Imaginary Tale of a Pirate's Life and Captain No Beard and the Aurora Borealis have received the Kirkus Star of Exceptional Merit. The first book in the series was named to Kirkus Reviews Best 2012. Captain No Beard and the Aurora Borealis has been named to Kirkus Reviews Best of 2015. Each book in the series has won numerous awards including the NABE Pinnacle Award, IAN Award, Moonbeam Award 2014, National Indie Excellence Award Finalist, Shelf Media Outstanding Series Award, ForeWord Review Five Star and Finalist in the Book of the Year, and Reader's Views Children's Book of the Year 2013.

Carole P. Roman is also the author of the award-winning non-fiction culture series, "If You Were Me and Lived in..." that explores customs and cultures around the world. She has co-authored a self-help book, Navigating Indieworld A Beginners Guide to Self-Publishing and Marketing. She lives on Long Island with her husband and near her children and grandchildren. Carole invites readers to connect with her via her website

To see all my other posts on Roman's books, click HERE.

To purchase a copy of IF YOU WERE ME AND LIVED IN...GERMANY, click the photo below:

I will be linking up this review on Booking Mama's regular Saturday feature, Kid Konnection. This is a place for bloggers to share posts related to children's and YA books. You will find spotlights, reviews, and sometimes even giveaways by clicking HERE, every Saturday.

Thanks to the publisher for sending a copy of this book for the purpose of this review. This review is my honest opinion. If you choose to purchase the book through the above links, I may receive a small commission without you having to pay a cent more for your purchase. Thanks for supporting 

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Product Review: Cave Tools Grill Tongs

Cave Tools is the go-to source for all your grilling needs. I've also tried their Rib and Roast Grill Rack and Kabob Set that you can see HERE. We grill once or twice a week and even more during the summer months. So, finding high-quality and user-friendly grill tools makes grilling easier.

A couple weekends ago we tried these Grill Tongs from Cave Tools. Our first impression when I took them out of the box and showed them to my husband was that they were large and heavy. Right away, I was unsure if I was going to like them or not because of the size and weight of the tongs.

The above photo is a good picture of the size of the tongs compared to my hand and the grill ( a Weber Charcoal Grill). The Grill Tongs are really uncomfortably large for my hands and even my husband's hands. The Grill Tongs are heavy and a bit awkward to use as well. The length of the Grill Tongs does keep you farther away from the heat source though.

They work well with the end up or down and you can easily grab the meat. But again, it's awkward because the tongs are heavy. They also come with a metal wrap that locks the tongs together. This is also hard to put on and off of the tongs and it doesn't attach so you could easily lose the metal clasp, but you could also store the tongs without it too.

Yes, these are high-quality Grill Tongs and yes, they do a good job. They are easy to clean up and are dishwasher safe. But, for us, a regular pair of tongs are much easier to use and store.  Even though we have been impressed with other Cave Tool products in the past, these Grill Tongs were not a hit with my husband or me. Be sure to visit CAVE TOOLS website to see all the great grilling products they offer.

You can get 15% off your purchase of the Cave Tools Grill Tongs by entering the code at checkout through this link below: TONGS15

You can also find them on Amazon by clicking the photo below:

This post contains affiliate links, If you choose to purchase through those links, I may receive a small commission without you having to pay a cent more for your purchase. This review is my honest opinion. Thanks for supporting .

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Product Review: Stainless Steel Water Bottle

I don't go anywhere without a bottle of water. I always have one in the house and if I leave, it's as important for me to grab as my purse, phone, and book are. I try to stay hydrated throughout the day and the best way to do that is to keep water close by. Sometimes, I don't mind if the water has gotten to room temperature, but especially during the hot summer months here in Iowa, I want my water cold, ice cold.

The INSPIRED HOME LIVING STAINLESS STEEL WATER BOTTLE is perfect for on-the-go water needs. I added ice to my water bottle during my latest shopping/errand running day. It was a sunny 80-degree day and I kept the water bottle in my car all day while I was in and out of stores. There was still ice in my bottle 7 hours later after shopping, but all the water was gone because I had drunk it all.

This Water Bottle holds 24 ounces of water. You don't want to fill it too full as the water will spill over once you put the lid on. This water bottle could also be used as a thermos to refill your coffee cup throughout the day. It is great at keeping your beverage cold or hot because of the stainless steel inside and out.

It doesn't have a "tinny" taste and even though it is heavier than other plastic water bottles, the benefit of keeping your water ice cold outweigh that.

The only downside for me was the drink opening. The diameter of the opening is 1 1/2 inches. It is a bit bigger than I typically like and frankly, I prefer using a straw. But, for the last two weeks, I have used this water bottle exclusively, to see if I could get used to drinking out of the opening and I did. I got used to it and didn't mind it as much as I thought. If you were really bothered by the opening, you could use this as a thermos to keep your beverage hot or cold and then pour into a different cup.

The cup fits in my van's cup holder, but not tightly. Since it doesn't taper down at the bottom, it sat up towards the top of my cup holder. But as you can see, in the top photo, it still fit ok. Overall, this water bottle is a hit for me. Since it has a tight seal, you could throw it in your beach bag for extra water throughout the day and not worry a bit about it spilling. Plus it will stay cold!

You can get your own Stainless Steel Water Bottle at 15% off by entering this code: SWB15OFF

If you'd like to purchase the INSPIRED HOME LIVING STAINLESS STEEL WATER BOTTLE, click the photo below:

This post contains affiliate links, If you choose to purchase through those links, I may receive a small commission without you having to pay a cent more for your purchase. This review is my honest opinion. Thanks for supporting .

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

No Posts - I'm on Vacation

Statue of Liberty
photo credit: bmward_2000 Liberty via photopin (license)

The kids and I left early yesterday morning for our band/choir trip to DC/NYC. We are super excited to arrive in Washington DC today and spend the next 8 days exploring two of our greatest cities in America. We have lots of amazing sites to see and the students get to perform at Lincoln Memorial, at a church in China Town and various other spontaneous performances.

Korean War Memorial
photo credit: U.S. Army Korea (Historical Image Archive) Korean War Memorial, Washington D.C., USA, February 2009 via photopin (license)

I am most excited about touring the war memorials in DC, especially the Korean War Memorial. I've been to DC, but I was a young child and didn't appreciate all the amazing memorials then as I do now.

We will be seeing "Wicked" and "The Lion King" on Broadway and I am pumped about both of these shows even though I've seen "Wicked" already. I am also really excited about Ellis Island. I've been to NYC as a child and as an adult, but haven't made it out to the island.

The best part will be experiencing it all with our kids and some of my favorite mom friends!

There will be no more posts this week, but I'll be back later next week with some awesome reviews to share! I'll have tons of bus-riding time to read!!