kids library haul

Best of the Kids Library Haul ~ March 15

I’m back with the best of the kids library haul for the week!  Well, trying to be back anyways… There are so many wonderful children’s books out there!  I’ve benefitted from the wealth of book recommendations on Instagram and Pinterest, so I want to keep on sharing!  You can see some of my previous library haul posts here and here.  I’ll warn you, at this point they’re all quite old.  I fell off the bandwagon of posting and reviewing when we started school last year.  Can’t imagine why… 😉

Best of the Kids Library Haul

#1. The Lemon Sisters by  Andrea Cheng

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This is an adorable story about sisters–old and young.  A lonely old lady watching three sisters play in the snow remembers the days playing with her sisters and making delicious lemon ice out of snow.  It’s her birthday and she suspects nobody has remembered her, but her day is going to be filled with surprises and new friendship.

This is just the sweetest story.  It made me tear up (although you should probably take that with a grain of salt, considering the pregnancy hormones I have going on here now).  My maiden name is Lemmon and I kind of REALLY want to buy this book for all my sisters.  Just because it’s a sweet story about sisters, called The Lemon Sisters. It is one of those books that is equally entertaining to adults and children, but for totally different reasons.  My kids loved it, and wanted to go scrape the last remnants of muddy snow off the ground to try to make lemon ice.  I told them they needed to wait for fresh snow.


#2. Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code by Laurie Wallmark

This is a kid-friendly account of Grace Hopper’s life as one of the first famous female computer scientists.  She was born in 1906 and became one of the first programmers of the Harvard Mark 1 computer, and she developed one of the first compiling programs that allowed computers to be programmed using English words rather than just binary.

That achievement alone changed the face of programming, and she just kept working at it.  She was part of the Army Reserve from the 1940s until 1965 when she was forced to retire, but they called her back in 1967 and she continued to work until she was 80 years old.

New motto for kids: find a job that will intrigue you even if you work at it until you’re 80 years old.  What an amazing lifetime though–developing computers from the time when they were literally as big as entire rooms, and watching the technology improve within a specific field for decades.  It’s an incredible thing.

I love that there are so many wonderful picture book biographies for kids these days, and this is one of the great ones!


#3. I Am Amelia Earhart by Brad Meltzer


Yes, we’re really on a kick with the biographies.  There are just so many! This one is particularly fun if you read/enjoyed Calvin and Hobbes.  The illustrations remind me SO much of the Calvin and Hobbes Comic Strip.  I can’t help but love it.  And the kids really loved it too.

I am Amelia Earhart shares a lot of the “fun” details of her life, without going into her disappearance or death.  I’m not one to want to varnish the truth for my kids, but when it’s a fun children’s story that teaches a little history and reads like a comic book, it would just be weird to end it on the ‘she disappeared and nobody ever heard from her again’ note.




#4. A Bad Case of the Stripes by David Shannon


A Bad Case of the Stripes is an entertaining story about the danger of worrying what other people think of you.  Camilla Cream loves lima beans but she’s afraid of what the kids at school will think of her if she eats them.  When she doesn’t eat them, her whole world turns upside down and she develops a very unique skin condition: the Stripes!

Our librarian recommended it after she noticed we were checking out Pinkalicious (for the 400 billionth time) and she was right!  It was an instant hit in our house!

I’ll admit, part of my like for it is related to it not being Pinkalicious.  Another cute story, don’t misunderstand me, but somewhat less enamoring when you’re reading it for the umpteenth time.



#5. M is for Melody: A Musical Alphabet by Kathy-jo Wargin


This is a particularly pleasant jaunt through musical terms and the alphabet.  Each letter/term is accompanied by a rhyming verse and a more in depth educational paragraph.

We had a lot of fun going through and checking our musical knowledge, and it did double duty as an alphabet study for Klaus.  Klaus was disappointed that he didn’t see a didgeridoo parked in there with the wind instruments, which was an entertaining rabbit trail, but overall this one was a favorite!


So, those are our favorites out of the library haul this week.  What were your favorites of the week?

What I’m Reading Now: September 2017

Reading Now

When the days turn cooler I have the insatiable urge to hunker down and read. Not that that particular desire ever truly abandons me, but there’s something especially cozy about reading in cool weather. We’ve had an unusually cool and rainy September so far, so you’ll understand the state of my reading now stack. It’s a doozy. You’ve been warned.

This month I’ve been reading the Maggie Hope Series by Susan Elia Macneal as my lighter read.
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I’ve already read “His Majesty’s Hope” and “The Prime Minister’s Secret Agent”, and am now reading “Mrs. Roosevelt’s Confidante”.
This is such a great series. World War II, espionage, and a spunky heroine. So far there are plenty of satisfying twists, and nothing is too predictable. I am loving it. The first book is called “Mr. Churchill’s Secretary”, and I highly recommend reading them in order. Maggie has quite a lot of personal and professional development throughout the series, and personal friendships develop throughout the books. They are lighter reading, but not what I would consider fluff. Each book is meticulously researched, and adds at least 5 books to my to-read stack.

I’m currently working through the Sonnets of Shakespeare–a little slowly, but I do love them. This particular collection is available for free as a kindle ebook. Just click on the picture and you’ll go straight to Amazon!

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These are my serious reads for the month. They are all fantastic for very different reasons. The Dictator’s Handbook sheds so much light on the dictators and rulers of our 21st century world. It is terrifying, enlightening, and riveting. In August I finished up Garry Kasparov’s “Winter is Coming” which gave me a decent introduction to Putin and Russia, but this is the perfect follow-up.

Brave New World is another kind of “follow-up” book for me. I read Neil Postman’s “Amusing Ourselves to Death” (fantastic, by the way) in August, and he mentioned Brave New World multiple times. Postman juxtaposed it with Orwell’s 1984, saying that he thought we were much more likely to attain the Dystopian society of Brave New World than 1984. Naturally, I immediately checked it out. I’m not sure I would have enjoyed it as much as I am, had I not had Postman’s conclusions fresh in my mind. So far, I am enjoying it and intrigued.

The Story of Western Science by Susan Wise Bauer is one of my favorite nonfiction books I’ve read this year. It’s not specialized by any means, but it gives one a wide, general background with which to begin the study of scientific discoveries throughout history. It is fascinating, and another book that is contributing greatly to the expansion of my to-read pile. Each chapter is quite short, but gives a good overview of specific scientists, and leaves you with suggestions for further reading.

So, those are the things I’ve read and am reading now.
I expect to finish off the Maggie Hope series and will be scouting for my next big light read. As far as more serious things, I’m planning to start tackling the “Well Educated Mind” Reading Lists. Bauer recommends starting with the Fiction List, but I’ve read many of the books on it, so I’m considering starting with Autobiography or History. What would you do?

What are you reading now? Let me know in the comments or leave a link to your blogpost! I love seeing other reading lists!


KBR: Books that Drive Kids Crazy

Kids Book Review: Books that Drive Kids Crazy by Beck and Matt Stanton

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Today, I just have to give a shoutout to this series by Beck and Matt Stanton. It’s called Books that Drive Kids Crazy, and boy do they. I know I mentioned one of them in a recent book post (here) but they really deserve their own blogpost. Any book that makes the entire family dissolve into a pile of giggles is a keeper, you guys. There are two books in the series, called “This Is A Ball”, and “Who took the B from My _ook?”. AND there’s another coming out next year! We’ve just read them from the library so far. However, these will make their way under our Christmas tree for sure this year. For a few of the reasons why these books need to go into your Amazon cart pronto, keep reading 🙂

1. They’re educational. Seriously. Here’s why.

These books are fantastic introductions to logic and scientific reasoning. They encourages kids (and adults) to think systematically and identify problems. You can get the gist of this just by looking at the covers. If your kids are anything like mine, the instant you read the title “This is a ball”, and point to the very orange square on the cover, they will erupt in laughter and protests.
Through this, they begin to discern that a couple of similar elements does not a true correlation make. It’s really a beautiful thing, and very elegantly done.

2. Books that Drive Kids Crazy create a healthy opportunity for your kids to disagree with you and actually be right.

Let’s just admit it–kid’s aren’t always right. In fact, they are very frequently wrong and we must teach them the proper ways to interact with the world. But when they have an opportunity to be right–even if it’s in the context of a silly book–and when they can prove their case, it’s a beautiful thing.

3. They make everybody laugh!

The kids laughed. I laughed. When my Superman came home from work, they begged him to read it, and we ALL laughed. Books have the power to unite, and when half the books your kids “love” make you cringe after reading them once, it’s such a joy to find a book that everybody loves. Books That Drive Kids Crazy are uniquely entertaining with an inquisitive twist.

Anyways, I truly hope you can find your way to a copy of these somewhere. Let me know if you love them as much as we did!

Our rating: 5 out of 5 stars

**This post contains affiliate links. Thank you!**

Favorite Summer Kids Reads

Today I’m going to share some of our favorite summer reads for kids that we have devoured this year. Summer isn’t really over yet, but school has started. So, I’m just going to go ahead with this list. If you see any you want to be on your child’s summer reads… well, it IS still summer, after all 😉

All Our Summer Reads

We have read 290 kids books since May. It kind of shocked me, and made me glad that I started keeping a booklist for the kids. It also doesn’t account for the many books that we read, and reread, and reread. For this list, I picked books that a) I clearly remember because b) they were enjoyed by all of us. So, without further ado, here we go!

Disclosure: All links to Amazon are my affiliate links. All that means is that I may earn money for any traffic to Amazon through my site–it in no way affects the price you pay. Each book cover image will take you straight to it’s page on Amazon. It’s handy 🙂 Thanks for your support!

Nonfiction Summer Reads

Here are three of our non fiction favorite summer reads.
#4. This is a Ball by Beck and Matt Stanton
This one should possibly be in the fiction list, but it seemed like such a great experiment with logic that it won a place in the nonfiction list. This book is so much fun to read with kids, and it is all about getting kids to pick out the differences and find faulty logic in statements. E.g. “It has four feet and a tail; it is a dog.”

#3. It’s Disgusting and We Ate It! by James Solheim
summer-read-kidsThis is a really fun one that is great for history, geography, and challenging your picky eaters. Somehow broccoli doesn’t sound so bad after reading about the many ways that people eat insects around the world.

#2. If… A Mind Bending New Way of Looking at Big Numbers and Ideas by David J. Smith
Breaking up challenging numbers that are just to big to grasp entirely, this book relates those big numbers to large numbers of smaller, more relevant things. It is really interesting, and puts some perspective to some of the vast numbers we see within the universe.

#1. Rivers of Sunlight: How the Sun Moves Water Around the Earth
This book demystifies the water cycle. With beautiful illustrations and language even small children can understand, it’s a great first look at weather cycles.

Fictional Summer Reads

This was definitely the summer of a few different series for us. We have absolutely LOVED the Frances series and the Five Little Monkeys by Eileen Christelow, but since I’ve already mentioned those in a few other posts (here, for example) we’ll just move on today.

#5. One Small Blue Bead by Byrd Baylor
The language in this book is just beautiful. It’s reminiscent of the epic poem in style, and a wonderful book to read aloud.

#4. One Morning in Maine by Robert McCloskey
McCloskey’s classic books are a joy to read, and also to look at. The illustrations are completely charming, especially if you’re mildly obsessed with vintage-looking books and things.

#3. Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney
I’ve heard this book recommended so often, it probably is a surprise to no-one, but it is just as lovely as everybody says. I love the message too: Find a way, in your life, to make earth a more beautiful place.

#2. The Nuts: Bedtime at the Nut House by Eric Litwin
The Nuts books are a riot to read through, for kids and adults alike. Very funny to kids, but with that element of truth that tends to crack adults (okay, me…) up.

#1. Three Scoops and a Fig by Sara Laux Akin
This was a delightful story about a little Italian girl who wants to find a role in the family restaurant. It is a sweet story, all around! The little girl was names Sofia, so my Sophia, of course, was especially drawn to this story.

Those were our favorite summer reads for kids this year. What were yours?

Let us know! We love to talk books and get new recommendations!

5 Books That Influence My Homeschool

Homeschool Books to Develop your Homeschool Vision

If you are considering homeschooling, or wondering how it can possibly work, these are some of the homeschool books I have found most helpful. I’m not a veteran homeschooler by any means. (Unless you count being homeschooled myself from k-12 as something…)  But the one thing I am certain about and SO glad I started doing early is reading about different homeschool methods long before my kids were school age.

I loved being homeschooled growing up.  It was such an exciting, empowering, delightful way to learn that I have been excited about the prospect of giving my own children that experience for years.  Like, since I graduated high school myself.  So, since I became mother, I’ve tried to see these pre-schooling years as a preparation time for me.  This is the time that I have to educate myself about learning styles, teaching styles, programs, and methods.  I try to always be reading one “homeschool book” aka a book that is about some aspect of education.  They aren’t all great, but there are a few that have really stuck with me and become the foundation stones of my goals for our homeschool.

If you’re considering homeschooling, especially if your kids are little, I strongly encourage you to read about it!  Even if you were homeschooled yourself!  There are so many more wonderful resources available to homeschoolers now.  Even if the homeschool method you wish to use hasn’t changed, the resources available definitely have.

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#1. Discover Your Child’s Learning Style: Children Learn in Unique Ways–Here’s the Key to Every Child’s Learning Success by Mariaemma Willis and Victoria Kindle Hodson

This book is a great guide to recognizing different learning styles.  It made it very easy to identify my own learning style, and introduced me to other learning styles.  My kids will probably have some variance in their learning styles–almost everybody does. This book began the education that need to know how to meet their specific needs as a teacher.  This book is not just geared towards homeschoolers.  In fact, many of the examples given were of ways that parents helped their public-schooled children break past learning obstacles.

This book is just the beginning, of course, but it is is a great place to start!  You’ll learn all about auditory, visual, and kinesthetic learners, as well as how those learning types fit in with personality types.  Additionally, Discover Your Child’s Learning Style goes into the ways you can help your child become a more effective learner by working with them in ways that embrace their learning styles and help them cope with different learning styles.
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#2. The Well Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer

This was one of the first books I read on homeschooling.  I fell in love with the classical homeschooling method and the uniquely connected way it presents the world to our children.  The idea of teaching all subjects so that they become an integrated knowledge base, not just memorized, random facts was (is) golden to me.  The Well-Trained Mind guides you through the entire schooling process, 1st through 12th grade, by dividing the years into the different orders of the trivium (elementary, logic, and rhetoric).

I’ve heard classical education criticized for being too rigorous and not really age appropriate, but I disagree because of the ways it divides learning stages.  I love that it revisits big subjects at different stages of education development.  The goal is not just a passing score, but true understanding and retention of subject matter.  Bauer goes into all of this at much greater length and with much greater eloquence than I can here.  It comes complete with book lists and ideas for curriculum. More than just a one-time read, it is a resource I intend to keep going back to throughout our years of home education.  Also, even if the classical method isn’t for you, those booklists are gold, let me tell ya! 😉

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#3. The Original Homeschooling Series by Charlotte M. Mason (Home Education and School Education)

Charlotte Mason’s approach to education is all about meeting the individuality of each child and creating a nurturing environment so that a great deal is learned simply by doing.  There is a heavy emphasis on learning through nature, and spending lots of time outside.  I’m still working my way through the last of the six books and will probably reread them over the years, but in each book I’ve read so far I’ve gleaned wonderful insights into philosophies and methods of education. I highly recommend starting with “Home Education” and “School Education”.

I don’t see Charlotte Mason’s method as directly opposing the Classical Method by any means–I fully intend to piece together our homeschool with what I see as the best of Classical and the best of Charlotte Mason–but some do.  In any case, if you’re considering homeschooling, you should be familiar with the Charlotte Mason Method.  And again, even if you decide it’s not your cup of tea, there is a lot of wisdom in what Mason has to say about children’s development.

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#4. A Thomas Jefferson Education: Home Companion by Oliver Demille and Rachel Demille

The method presented in A Thomas Jefferson Education is really very classical, but focuses more on why this particular type of education is necessary as we raise the next generation of leaders.  The Demilles and Jeppson present a variety of essays that tackle various dilemmas of our education system–it’s beginning, growth, and demise–and how it has affected our society today.  They also delve into the differences between our statesmen and leaders today, and those who founded this country.  This book is not focused so much on curriculum, but expands on the beliefs we have that make us truly believe in the value of a classical education.

Booklist lovers, do not fear–there is also a booklist in this book.  It’s more geared towards high school, or, let’s face it, adulthood.  My education was incredibly literature rich, and I’ve read quite a few of the books on this list, but not nearly enough.  Tackling it is one of my next big reading goals.  If you’re more curious about the ‘why’ of a classical education, rather than the ‘how’, this would be a good book to start with.  For starters, it’s a much slimmer read, and probably not as intimidating as The Bauer’s tome.


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#5. Home Learning Year by Year by Rebecca Rupp

I read this homeschool book to get a better big-picture look at the types of things my kids should be learning at different ages.  Home Learning Year by Year goes into standards and requirements for each grade level, along with some curriculum suggestions.  I took specific notes on the early years, but it is a book that I expect to revisit as a reference point.  If you are thinking about putting together your own curriculum rather than doing a grade-level kit this book will get you started.  We may end up doing a kit at some point but for the most part, I fall into the ‘Customize EVERYTHING’ camp right now.  Probably due to my inexperience, but I’m going with it! 😉


What Are Your Favorite Homeschool Books?

Anyways, those are my top five homeschool books for anybody who is considering homeschool.  Don’t worry about planning too early–just use your planning time wisely and educate yourself.  There are so many more books about homeschooling, learning styles, and mixing methods that I want to read.  I’m sure y’all have not heard the last from me on this subject 😉

What are your favorite homeschool books?  Any that should go into my Read-Next pile?  Let me know in the comments below!

Kids Book Reviews ~ Library Haul #24


Yay!  We’re finally back from our no-library induced library haul hiatus!  Our local library just reopened at their new location–conveniently located within walking distance of my house (!!!) and I am extra excited to discover all the new little goodies in store for us there.  But, that’s a post for another day.  Without further ado, welcome back to our Kid’s Library Haul series.  This is a usually-weekly series where I give you quick and snappy reviews of our favorites from our weekly library haul. We read a LOT of children’s books from the library and I like to keep things positive too, so books that I thought were terrible don’t usually make it into the list… unless I just really want to rant about it for a while. That has happened too! Let us know in the comments which books were winners in YOUR library haul!


#1. The Sugar Child by Monique De Varennes

Matine is a magical child, created by her brilliant baker father out of marzipan and his desire for a child.  The problem with being made out of marzipan, of course, is that it is very fragile.  She must avoid heat and rain and tears… anything that might make her marzipan melt and run away.  When she finds that her friend is sick, only love can save him, and Matine from the bitter effects of her own tears.

This is a beautifully written story.  It’s very classical in tone.  Also a little classically morbid.  I mean, a child who melts if she cries?  That’s a little depressing, not going to lie.  But it’s beautiful writing, and the story ends well, so I’m going to call this one a win for children’s literary fiction, and just rank it along the classic fairytales that are pretty morbid in their original, un-Disney-ified states.

We really liked it: 4 out of 5 stars


#2. D is for Dancing Dragon: A China Alphabet

Another one for the seemingly endless list of alphabet books.  Someday when I have time I’m going to make up a list of ALL the alphabet books for your preschool entertainment.  That day is not today.  ‘D is for Dancing Dragon’ had the additional bonus of including quite a significant amount of information regarding different aspects of Chinese culture.  Honestly, it was too much for us to read in one session, but we charged on through the alphabet, stopping here or there to read more about whatever caught the fancy of my Sophiapea.

We really liked it: 4 out of 5 stars


#3. Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909 by Michelle Markel

This was one of two real gems this Library Haul.   Brave Girl is the true story of Clara Lemlich, an immigrant to New York, who fought to improve the working conditions of factory workers in the earliest part of the 20th century.  The garment making industry was marked in its early days for using young girls and women at impossibly low wages, high standards, and back breaking conditions.  Clara Lemlich helped establish the first labor unions.  Nowadays labor unions do more harm than good, but in the early 1900s, they had a role to play in creating safe work environments, and they definitely succeeded.

I loved that this book took an aspect of history and introduced it as a story that young children can enjoy and learn from.  If you know me or have been reading this blog long, you’ll know that I adore history.  The only thing I love more than a good history book, is a great history book that might inspire some kid somewhere to love history and learn from it too.

Bonus: This is a great girl-power book.  I was going to put a quote in here, but not sure whether that violates any copyright laws, so I’ll abstain until I’m more sure on the subject.  Just take my word for it 😉  Get this book and read it to your children for an inspirational, educational foray into history.

We loved it: 5 out of 5 stars


#4. Night Flight: Amelia Earhart Crosses the Atlantic by Robert Burleigh

Another great win for historical, educational books that fit with the younger crowd.  Night Flight tells the story of Amelia Earhart’s historic crossing of the Atlantic.  Also, again with the girl-power theme.

Basically, I love this book for all of the same reasons I loved Brave Girl, probably more.  Amelia Earhart is just a much more inspirational character to me than Clara Lemlich, but they both accomplished impressive things in their fields.

Airplanes are still an object of immense fascination to my little Peas, so they really enjoyed this one too.

We loved it: 5 out of 5 stars


#5. Arctic Animals by Tad Carpenter

Arctic Animals is a board book, so definitely more for the youngest crowd, but both of mine loved it.  Primarily because each page is a ‘lift-the-flap’.  Kids love lifting flaps in books.

I liked it because it had some variety beyond the animals one finds in most animal-related books for the youngest set.  Walrus, seal, reindeer, and owls all get a great little introduction in this quick, baby-friendly read.

We really liked it: 4 out of 5 stars

The Edge of Nowhere Blog Tour: Book Review

edge_of_nowhereToday I’m participating in Cathie Armstrong’s blog tour for her new book, The Edge of Nowhere, just released on the 19th of this month! You can stop by her website and check out the other blog tour stops here.  Without further ado, let’s get to it!  Book review…

Victoria Hastings Harrison Greene has lived a very long life, ais about to die. Her family has grown to despise her, and she can’t blame them, but she wants one last chance to help them understand how she became the seemingly bitter, harsh old woman they know.  Before she dies, she will leave them her story–the story of a woman who will do anything, at any cost, for the family she holds dear.  Oklahoma in the 1930’s is a cruel, dusty place, and the fight for survival will take more from Victoria than she ever dreamed possible.

Poor Victoria.  That’s really the refrain that went through my mind throughout the book.  I couldn’t help getting pulled into her story and sympathizing with her–first a grieving little girl, then a woman in love, and then a grieving woman… Usually you expect a character’s life to improve over the course of the book, but Victoria’s seemed to be a steady downhill spiral to the end, where it leveled off and became manageable.  Not going to lie, it’s depressing.  But I think it is true to life, in that it examines the incredible hardships we can and will endure for the sake of our children.  Everybody hopes and prays they don’t end up going through a life like Victoria’s, but I think we all secretly hope that if by some horrible twist of fate it DID happen to us, we would keep it together and just plow through.

The Edge of Nowhere is historical fiction, but not lovey-dovey historical fiction or a feel-good-ending. It has more of a ring of true life to it– like The Boy in the Striped Pajamas or The Nightingale.  It was well-written and had good flow to it–I was drawn into the story really quickly and just had to keep reading.

If realism is your thing, and melancholy stories make you happy (That sounds very ironic), then you should make sure you get a copy of The Edge of Nowhere and read it asap.  Even if happy-ending books are more your style (not going to lie, they are mine…) this is still a good book to read.  It should make you feel very grateful for your life, if you’ve been blessed enough to have fewer trials than poor Victoria Hastings Harrison Green.

Overall, I really liked it: 4 out of 5 stars

Book Review: The Splendour Falls by Susanna Kearsley

splendour_fallsReview of: The Splendour Falls by Susanna Kearsley

Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery

When Emily goes on vacation to the Chateau Chinon, she expects the rich atmosphere, steeped in the intertwined histories of France and England.  Her cousin Harry has been researching a long-lost treasure, supposed to have been left by Queen Isabelle when she left the Chateau as it was under siege.  When Harry fails to meet her for their mini treasure-hunt, she assumes that he has been distracted by some new scheme and sets out to enjoy her vacation on her own.  The group of tourists at the hotel have their own secrets, and Emily is led into another mystery–this one from the Second World War–about a young woman named Isabelle.  As Emily becomes increasingly embroiled in the mysteries and their relationship to the other tourists she’s staying with, she begins to wonder whether Harry’s absence is just a delay or something more sinister.  When murder strikes, Emily knows it’s only a matter of time before her own life is on the line.

I am definitely a big fan of Kearsley’s writing.  I’ve read most of her books (that I know of) and have generally enjoyed them.  Though The Splendour Falls was good enough, however, it really didn’t seem like her best work.  It just lacked the magnetism I’ve felt in her writing before.  Where I have often found myself riveted by the historical aspects/storylines in her books, and how they end up playing into the plot, The Splendour Falls was just mediocre.  The plot wasn’t pointed enough for me.  It felt fragmented–several different unrelated stories within a story–and there wasn’t a unifying conclusion.  All the different story-lines concluded, but not together.  It felt like the book went on too long and then resolved a bit randomly.

Emily was on vacation, but she didn’t feel like she had any real purpose beyond that.  She wasn’t particularly bringing anything to the historical aspect of the mystery–it seemed like everything she knew about history was a result of her good-naturedly tolerating her cousin’s passion for it.  As far as main characters go, especially in Kearsley’s novels, Emily was one of my least favorite to date.

Upon further research, I realized that The Splendour Falls was one of Kearsley’s first published novels.  That both explains the incongruity of the writing style, and honestly makes me admire Kearsley as a writer a bit more.  She has definitely developed her voice and strengthened her writing skills overall in the past decade or so.

Overall, this was a win for Kearsley in my book, just because it illustrates how much her writing has improved.  As far as the book itself goes though, I was not overwhelmed.  It was okay.  If you like historical fiction, you can give it a go, but I think it’s best purpose is as an illustration for how much Kearsley’s writing style has improved.

It’s okay: 3 out of 5 stars

Book Review: The Munich Girl by Phyllis E. Ring

munich_girlReview of: The Munich Girl by Phyllis Edgerly Ring

Genre: Historical Fiction

Book Description (Cover Blurb): Anna Dahlberg grew up eating dinner under her father’s war-trophy portrait of Eva Braun.  Fifty years after the war, she discovers what he never did–that her mother and Hitler’s mistress were friends.  The secret surfaces with a mysterious monogrammed handkerchief, and a man, Hannes Ritter, whose Third Reich family history is entwined with Anna’s.  Plunged into the world of the Munich girl who became her mother’s confidante–and a tyrant’s lover–Anna retraces the friendship forged by two lonely women in Nazi Germany, even though the men they loved had opposing ambitions.  Anna’s journey will uncover long-buried secrets and unknown reaches of her heart to reveal the enduring power of love in the legacies that outlast war. 

The Munich Girl was an unexpected blend of mystery and the more personal jaunt literary stories tend to take.  There were so many things I liked about this book, I’m a little bit at a loss for where to begin… I guess, to start off right at the beginning, there’s the fact that it’s a clever blend of historical fiction and modern-day sleuthing/research.  If you’ve read many of my reviews, you’ll know that I have a very tender place in my heart for that story-telling blend of past and present.  The Munich Girl definitely fulfilled that niche.  Anna’s steady discovery of Eva Braun and her mother’s secret past kept the focus of the book cleverly balanced between past and present.  One remarkable thing about this book was that even though it (obviously) had a significant focus on the historical side of the story, I never felt like the story lost it’s connection with Anna.  Anna was such a strong main character throughout, that she drove the book, rather than just being the key to a story about the past.  Now, I’m not one to mind particularly if the historical aspects of the story are more alluring–I’m enough of a history geek that I relish that a bit too–but it is never a bad thing to have such a strong main character.

Talking about characters brings me to the second aspect of The Munich Girl that I really loved–the character development.  Anna was on such a deep personal journey throughout the book.  I couldn’t help rooting for her as she slowly takes control of her life.  Beyond Anna, though, and amongst all the characters, the recurring theme was friendship.  Long-enduring friendship that never faded even when life circumstances changed.

As to the more literary aspects of the book, I have no complaints there either.  It read very easily and believably, without confusion even when it switched between viewpoints for the different sections of the book.  The only part I’m still not particularly certain of is how Peggy came to have such detailed chapters about certain aspects of Eva’s life.  I get that they were friends and they met occasionally to chat, but nothing ever gave me a really clear picture of when Eva would have so openly discussed certain events in her life.  I more got the feeling that they talked a lot in generalities about the aspects of their lives that were so similar.  That’s not really even a complaint, just a lingering sense that it wasn’t completely divulged.

Overall, I loved this book.  I used every free moment I had to read it, once I started, and finished it in about a day (a day filled with chasing and cleaning up after small children at that).  If you like historical fiction at all, or if you’ve enjoyed literary mysteries you should absolutely give this one a read.

Loved it: 5 out of 5 stars

Book Review: The Quantum Door by Jonathan Ballagh

quantum_doorReview of: The Quantum Door by Jonathan Ballagh

Genre: YA, Sci-fi

Brady and Felix have lived outside of a forbidden forest for as long as they can remember, but when a mysterious new neighbor moves in and fences spring up around the forest overnight, their curiosity knows no bounds.  When the strange lights start appearing in the forest too, they feel it is their duty to investigate.  There is no turning back–especially when they find themselves called upon to help save the life of their mysterious new neighbor. Entering the forest plunges them into a world of technology and revelations that challenge everything they thought they knew.

Brady and Felix were young for a YA book, but believable as main characters. There was enough of that sibling rivalry and angst to keep the story moving in the beginning, but you really get a good sense of the depth of a sibling relationship once the main action in the story took over.  There was plenty of interest aspects as far as the sci-fi goes, but I think the relationships were really one of the strongest aspects of the book.  It’s unusual and pretty refreshing to read a book where there are sibling protagonists who work together as equals throughout the story.  Siblings aren’t especially uncommon in YA fiction, but it is uncommon for them to share the responsibility as main characters and work together throughout the story.  I think it’s great to find books that can inspire kids to imagine adventures with their own siblings rather than always treading the path to adventure alone.  It’s the sort of relationship all parents want for their kids.

I know that’s not particularly something that will appeal to kids looking to read this book, but there is plenty of action, technology, and other-worldly sci-fi stuff to sell this book to the younger set.  It’s one that I’m going to recommend to my little brother Sam.  He’s only 9 but a pretty advanced reader and this will be just up his alley.

For my part, I’m not sure whether I would classify this as a YA fiction or more of a middle-grade fiction, but I’m going with YA.  The main characters were younger than I would expect from a YA novel, but it had the reading level and plot intricacy that indicated the next reading level to me. Makes for a perfect book for that advanced younger reader in your life.  There’s still a lot of Christmas break left… just saying!  It’s the most wonderful time of the year for reading 😉

Overall, I really liked it: 4 out of 5 stars.