Blush-worthy Romance Novels for Your Kindle

By Gena Kittner

I’d be embarrassed if anyone saw my Kindle library. The bodice-rippers combined with your basic chick lit far outweigh any classics or novels you’d find reviewed in the New York Times.

Embarrassed, but not alone.

According to the Romance Writers of America, readers spent $1.08 billion on romance novels in 2013, resulting in this genre making up 13 percent of adult fiction. Most purchased the novels in e-book formats.

See — I’m not the only one with a trashy Kindle.

Three years ago, at the height of the “50 Shades of Grey” phenomenon, I wrote about the trend in readers seeking romance novels considered “mommy porn” and the Harry Potter-esque wait-lists at local libraries for “50 Shades.”

So I’m putting my knowledge about romance novels to work (with a little help from some friends), and giving you a top 10 list of trashy reads, just in time for Valentine’s Day.

If you liked 50 Shades of Grey

Gena’s Top 3 Recommended Romance Novels

The Chocolate Thief (Amour et Chocolat, Book 1), by Laura Florand
Kindle price: $9.59
The gist: What’s more romantic than a young, high-strung chocolate mogul traveling to Paris to persuade a young, hot chocolatier to go into business? Not much. It’s a quick read accented with lots of French, lots of chocolate, and a fair amount of steamy scenes.

Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife: Pride and Prejudice Continues, by Linda Berdoll
Kindle price: $5.99
The gist: The (largely) happily ever after of “Lizzy” and Mr. Darcy is every Austen-ophile’s dream. The book is fairly well-written and peppered with bedroom scenes that will make you blush, but don’t overpower the story. Like “The Chocolate Thief,” it’s the first in a series, but I can only vouch for the first.

Outlander: A Novel (Outlander, book 1), by Diana Gabaldon
Kindle price: $1.99
The gist: It’s unfair to call this book trashy. “Outlander” actually is a well-written novel about a nurse who time-travels to 18th-century Scotland. It’s also a tomb, with the paperback coming in at more than 600 pages. But within those pages is romance with a capital R and all that that implies. It requires dedication, but doesn’t disappoint. So far I’ve read five books out of eight in the series, and I now know more about Scotland and pre-Civil War America than I ever imagined I would.

7 More Romance Novels Recommended by Friends*

*Who shall remain nameless to protect their standing as high-brow readers

Darkfever: Fever Series Book 1, by Karen Marie Moning
Kindle price: $5.99
The gist: A young woman heads to Ireland to solve the mystery of her sister’s death where she runs into mysterious and sinister forces. She meets a guy with much experience with the sinister forces, which often turn out to to be nymphomaniac fae. My friend calls this series “the trashiest thing I think I’ve read… but also really quite good.”

A Hidden Fire: Elemental Mysteries Book One, by Elizabeth Hunter
Kindle price: FREE!
The gist: An ancient and handsome vampire needs a super smart librarian with mysterious past to help him with his research, but danger lurks near. According to my friend, “This is a grown-up ‘Twilight,’ but smarter and sexier. Really well done.” I read the first in the series and totally agree.

The Other Boleyn Girl, by Philippa Gregory
Kindle price: $10.99
The gist: Set in the Tudor court of Henry VIII, it’s the story of Mary Boleyn and her sister Anne and their “relationship” with the handsome and charming Henry VIII. If Showtime’s The Tudors wasn’t hot enough for you, download this book immediately.

Black Lies, by Alessandra Torre
Kindle price: $3.99
The gist: A woman finds herself caught between two men — a tech billionaire who has proposed (and she has rejected) marriage three times and the gardener famous for banging housewives. My friend explains, “It skipped over some of the unnecessary details you can imagine for yourself, but it kept my attention and has a truly unexpected twist.”

Talk Me Down, by Victoria Dahl
Kindle price: $4.47
The gist: A bestselling erotic fiction author is forced to skip town and move back to tiny Tumble Creek, Colorado when her inspiration runs dry. There she meets former high school hot guy and chief of police Ben Lawson, and she’s back in business. My friend describes Dahl as her “favorite contemporary romance author” who writes “probably the most imaginative sex scenes without edging into ’50 Shades’ territory.”

The Raven Prince, by Elizabeth Hoyt
Kindle price: $3.99
The gist: A widowed young woman needs to find a job so she becomes secretary to The Earl of Swartingham. During her employment she (of course) falls in love with him. When she learns he plans to visit a brothel she decides to take it upon herself to take care of his… urges. My friend warns these books are “pretty explicit.”

Beguiling the Beauty (The Fitzhugh Trilogy Book 1), by Sherry Thomas
Kindle price: $7.59
The gist: When a duke meets a mysterious baroness on a transatlantic liner, he is fascinated and soon proposes marriage. But then she disappears. My friend explains the author writes traditional historical romance — the kind you used to need to hide before Kindles. But “her stories are typically above par and her female characters never merely debutants.”

In our opinion, all these romance novels are better bets than “50 Shades,” and who hasn’t read that? So dig in, it will be a little secret between you and your Kindle.

Gena is a Midwest transplant living in TucsoGena Kittnern, Arizona with her husband and 3-year-old daughter, Ellie. When not killing scorpions, Gena writes about food and family. Follow her on Twitter @genakittner, and check out her previous guest posts on Mommy Sanest.

Great Books for Toddlers about Love

By Denise Worthington

In honor of Valentine’s Day, this month’s toddler book picks are about love — some are just for fun and snuggling up; others are great learning tools for the little guys; all are great books for toddlers and even babies.

Share six great books for toddlers and babies about love with your little one on Valentine's Day or any day of the year.

6 Great Books for Toddlers and Babies About Love

I’m an unabashed fan of Jez Alborough. I love almost everything he has written and illustrated. Hug resonates with children of all ages. It conveys to young children that words contain the message – one word in a large font throughout the book – HUG. The illustrations are wonderful and heartfelt, and in my experience, children are easily engaged, pointing to the word and ‘reading.’ Be sure to check out all of Jez Alborough books.

Snuggle Puppy by Sandra Boynton is a fun rhyming book. It’s based on a song with the same title, which is available on Boynton’s CD set, Philadelphia Chickens. Sunggle Puppy’s parent sings a song telling the puppy how much he loves him. The illustrations are silly and fun — classic Boynton — and will engage any young child.

Karen Katz, an author illustrator, has found her niche with board books conveying the love of a parent for a child. Where Is Baby’s Valentine? is a lift the flap book — always fun for babies and toddlers – that shows the love between a young child and her mama.

Tucker’s Valentine, written and illustrated by Leslie McGuirk, continues the tale of Tucker the little white dog. In this story, Tucker’s owner tells him about Valentine’s Day and love. Tucker loves lots of things, including the couch, his toy, and laundry on the floor. The story evolves with cupid ‘stalking’ Tucker. It’s a great book for toddlers with colorful illustrations and, of course, the beloved Tucker.

Sally Huss is a prolific children’s author and illustrator, and Everything has a Heart is her newest “happy book” published last month. This is a rhyming book that shows your little one and you that hearts and love are found everywhere, including in lockets and artichokes! I thought the story had many teachable moments and think you and your child will love to snuggle up with this lovely little book for Valentine’s Day.

I’m a Clifford the Big Red Dog fan, and I have yet to meet a child who doesn’t love him. Norman Bridwell was a prolific author and illustrator who sadly passed away in December 2014. Clifford’s First Valentine’s Day, published in 2009, gives Clifford fans a picture of him when he was a puppy, smaller than Elizabeth, his owner. The book is a fun story with colorful, engaging pictures. The story is a bit longer than the other books I’ve recommended, but Clifford’s adventures are always exciting, and this story is a wonderful way to introduce your child to an iconic children’s book series.

Looking for more great books for toddlers? Check out Denise’s previous recommendations.

Denise Worthington is Lou’s Mom. She’s a retired reading teacher and children’s book author who spends her time serving on local boards, entertaining at the lake, and running for political office.

Coping with Your Kid’s Holiday Hangover

By Gena Kittner

I think my 3-year-old is suffering from a holiday hangover. After 10 awesomely jammed-packed days in Ohio over Christmas, our return to Arizona has resulted in a moody, tired kid who doesn’t want to eat. You know the feeling.

The holidays are over, but preschoolers and toddlers may be struggling to cope with the transition back to a normal routine. Learn how one mom is helping her young child cope with the holiday hangover.

The biggest problem, thus far, has been the disposal of our (once) live Christmas tree. We got our tree Thanksgiving weekend, and since then, Ellie has grown quite attached. As we packed away ornaments on New Year’s Eve, she asked, “But how are we going to fit the tree in that box?”

Bad news, kid: The tree is headed for our wood pile. But as an upside, I’m sure we’ll be vacuuming up needles for the next 12 months.

Then I came downstairs to find our now undecorated tree freshly adorned with Ellie’s hair ties.

Strike one.

I tried to get her excited about New Year’s, explaining how we were going to a party and she could wear a fancy dress. This somehow turned in to daddy’s birthday party (because I said it was at daddy’s friend’s house), which prompted her to spend 24 hours asking when we were going to have cake.

Strike two.

So I’ve decided to embrace Valentine’s Day a little early and decorate the inside of our front door — near where the tree stood — with hearts and the like.

Valentine craft for toddlers and preschoolers

We started by finally hanging up all the wonderful Christmas cards we received while were were gone. I covered clothespins with heart washi tape to make the display look more Valentine’s than Christmas and attached them to a red string of stars.

Next, I took a brown paper bag and drew block letters and hearts for Ellie to paint. After cutting those out Ellie taped them to the door, at her level, of course. This leaves plenty of room for us eventually to make and hang a wreath.


This seems to have helped her holiday withdraw for the moment, although she’s still asking randomly for presents, and then having a mini-meltdown when I tell her we don’t have any more and Christmas is over.

The holidays are so much fun to celebrate with children, but I’m finding it important to remember that all the excitement, travel and gifts takes its toll on kiddos as well as adults.

Let’s hope a week of our regular routine–combined with a few new crafts and distractions–is just what the doctor ordered.

Gena KittnerGena is a Midwest transplant living in Tucson, Arizona with her husband and 3-year-old daughter, Ellie. When not killing scorpions, Gena writes about food and family. Follow her on Twitter @genakittner, and check out her previous guest posts on Mommy Sanest.


The Best Holiday Books for Toddlers & Preschoolers

By Denise Worthington

When I began thinking about a list of holiday books for toddlers and preschoolers, visions of the books I have loved and read aloud to my kids and my classes danced through my reading teacher head. My all-time favorite holiday book is The Best Christmas Pageant Everby Barbara Robinson — who doesn’t love those unpredictable Herdman kids? But Cliff and Emme, the toddlers I hang out with, aren’t ready to sit still for a chapter book or for the humor of the Herdmans and their outrageous antics. So I tapped my grandma crowd for their suggestions and took a field trip to my favorite book store. Below are my choices for the best holiday books for toddlers and preschoolers.

The Best Holiday Books for Toddlers and Preschoolers | Stories about Christmas and Hanukkah | Books about winter and snow Christmas Books

The Twelve Days of Christmas by Laura LongThe Twelve Days of Christmas is a classic, and many authors have published versions of this English Christmas carol, originally written in 1780–ranging from one by noted children’s author Jan Brett to Elmo’s 12 Days of Christmas, the Sesame Street version. My favorite this year, published in October 2014, is by Laura Long. This is a lovely, traditional book with beautiful illustrations. The end of the book has the words and music; I’m humming the tune as I write! Little ones will enjoy the rhythm of the words, the repetitive phrases, and searching the pictures for the items in the story.

Counting books always top my list of must-reads for toddlers. Little Blue Truck’s Christmas, by Alice Schertle, illustrated by Jill McElmurry, is a brightly illustrated rhyming board book that lights up at the end. The book has engaging language, and the little truck has five trees that he delivers to his friends along the way.

Pete the Cat is a current favorite with young children. I was recently at a local library function, and one of the big attractions was a volunteer dressed as Pete. Every time a new Pete the Cat book is released the publishers put an animated video on YouTube. Pete the Cat Saves Christmas, by Eric Litwin, illustrated by James Dean (also the creator of Pete the Cat), is a fun take off of the traditional Night Before Christmas story.

Hanukkah Books

Many famous authors have published holiday stories, Tomie dePaolo among them. An award winning author, dePaola has written over 200 children’s books. My First Chanukah is a lovely, simple to understand board book about this holiday. The illustrations are colorful and will engage the youngest reader.

Another Hanukkah book I like is Happy Hanukkah, Curious George, by H.A. Rey and Margaret Rey. This is a tabbed board book in which George and friends gather to celebrate Hanukkah. The story is told in rhyming text and covers all aspects of the holiday. One of the things I love about the book is it talks about making a mitzvah (doing an act of kindness) in easy to understand language. It also has the song “Dreidle, Dreidle, Dreidle” at the end which is a lovely bonus.

Winter Books

For a wonderful wintertime story, The Snowy Day Board Book by Ezra Jack Keats is a favorite. This classic story is the timeless tale of a young boy’s adventure on a snowy day. Originally published in 1976, the story and illustrations endure the test of time. It is also a Caldecott Medal winner, an award given annually to the most distinguished artists in children’s literature.
Snow, by Uri Shulevitz, a Caldecott Honorable Mention book, is the story of a boy anticipating the first snow of the season. The simple text and beautiful illustrations are engaging, and it’s a story any child can understand. While the little boy is excited, the TV news says ‘no snow,’ but the boy is a believer.

Denise Worthington is Lou’s Mom. She’s a retired teacher and children’s book author who spends her time serving on local boards, entertaining at the lake, and running for political office.

Teaching Young Kids to be Thankful

By Gena Kittner

Getting a child to say “please” and “thank you” isn’t terribly hard. We demand it. Want some fruit snacks? Say “please.” The Target lady just gave you a sticker, what do you say?

But what I’ve been pondering, as the season of thankfulness is upon us, is how we teach our kids to mean it.

In other words, how do we teach young kids to be thankful?

How to teach toddlers, preschoolers, and young children thankfulness, kindness, and gratitude | Thanksgiving | Holiday Season

Clearly struggling myself, I’ve turned to some of my awesome mommy friends for advice and inspiration.

“Part of our bedtime routine is to talk about what we are thankful for that day,” said Kirsten, mom to 3-year-old Emma. I met Kirsten in my first mom’s group in Madison, Wisconsin. “[Emma] mostly uses the time as a way to talk about what she liked best during her day, but then we talk about how fortunate she is to be able to have what she has and hope that we can instill a sense of gratitude.”

I love this idea. I used to include in Ellie’s bedtime routine a time when we talked about all the cool things we did that day. Lately I’ve been bypassing this in an effort to expedite bedtime, but I think it’s time to slow things down and do a nightly thankfulness recap.

Rachael, a fellow mom I met during my daughter Ellie’s gymnastics class in Tuscon, has two daughters: 4-year-old Aliyah and 2-year-old Sydney. While it’s not thankfulness exactly, Rachael tries to reaffirm kindness whenever her daughters show it.

“When they do something nice for each other I really praise them,” Rachael said.

To me, kindness and thankfulness go hand-in-hand, and I think too often we focus on what our kids should be doing and don’t give them credit for the small acts of kindness they exhibit every day.

When discussing teaching young kids to be thankful, the conversation unfailingly turns to the dreaded thank-you notes. We all understand the importance of the traditional hand-written missives, but when parents are doing most of the writing, how much are our kids really learning?

My sister-in-law Anne has two boys, ages 5 and 8, who both have birthdays in October. This time of year she’s drowning in thank-you notes.

There’s talk among friends, Anne says, about the merits of a thank you form letter. It would go something like this:

Dear _______,

Thank you for coming to my party and for the awesome ________. It was kind of you to think of me.

Sincerely, _________

Some find this too informal or a thank-you note cop-out, but for a kid like Doug, who is 8 and actually can fill in the blanks, it might be more meaningful than having him simply sign his name to notes largely written by his parents, Anne said.

I fully endorse this idea. Bring on the thank-you form notes, you’ll never get an eye-roll from me.

One thing we do in our home is talk about who gave Ellie the toys she’s playing with or the cool shirt she’s wearing. We hope by reminding her who gave her these gifts, it will help her understand these are special things, and she has family and friends who love and care about her.

Sometimes she remembers, sometimes she doesn’t. Either way we’re having the conversation, and I think that’s often the best parents can do.

photo-3Gena is a Midwest transplant living in Tucson, Arizona with her husband and 3-year-old daughter, Ellie. When not killing scorpions, Gena writes about food and family. Follow her on Twitter @genakittner, and check out her previous guest posts on Mommy Sanest.