Kids Book Reviews ~ Library Haul #25

Welcome back to our Kid’s Library Haul series.  This is a weekly series where I give you 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 here, so books that I thought were terrible or just mediocre don’t make it into the list… unless I really want to rant about it for a while.  Let us know in the comments which books were winners in YOUR library haul!


#1. Library Lily by Gillian Shields

When Lily learns to read, her mother takes her to the library and shows her all the books there, and from that minute on Lily is unstoppable.  She reads all the time, everywhere, and she would rather read than do anything else.  When, one day, she is compelled to stop reading and play outside for a while, she makes a friend who shows her that as much fun as books are, there are just as many adventures to have in real life as there are in books.

This was a great story that both extolled the virtue of literacy and the value of experience-related knowledge as well. I thought it was incredibly sweet and reasonable too.

We really liked it: 4 out of 5 stars


#2. The Princess Who Had No Fortune by Ursula Jones, Illustrated by Sarah Gibb

Not all princesses have fortunes.  Some don’t even have cooks and gardeners. Some do not go to every dance.  Some don’t even have princes, and the princess with no fortune is quite okay with that.  One day though, a young man arrives, offering to help her in any way he can.  The question is, who is he?  Confusion abounds in this delightful twist on your average princess tale.

Besides being a thoroughly sweet story, the illustrations in this book are gorgeous and whimsical.  Sophiapea was pretty enthralled.

We loved it: 5 out of 5 stars


#3. Cars Galore by Peter Stein

Shapes, colors, and sizes abound in this rhyming parade of cars.  This is a board book, and definitely more for the youngest set, but it is a fun, quick read that your older child should manage sitting through without too much trouble.  Klaus is the perfect age for it (almost 2), and even though Sophia is much more into the bigger picture books, it was fast and entertaining enough to keep everybody happy.

We really liked it: 4 out of 5 stars

Book Review: A Curious Beginning by Deanna Raybourn

a_curious_beginningBook Review of: A Curious Beginning (Veronica Speedwell #1) by Deanna Raybourn

Genre: Mystery, Historical Fiction

Veronica Speedwell has just buried the last of her benefactress aunts, and is preparing to set off on a new scientific journey.  Though her occupation as a scientist and lepidopterist is extremely suspicious to the general population in 1897, Veronica doesn’t let that slow her down.  Her plans are slightly derailed, however, when just after the funeral she finds herself rescued from a home intruder by a complete stranger who insists she is in danger of being abducted.  Curious, Veronica agrees to go with her mysterious savior to London, where he leaves her with the gruff Mr. Stoker under orders.  After ordering Mr. Stoker to keep Veronica safe at all costs until he can come to collect her and further explain the situation, the mysterious savior leaves.  He is murdered before he can ever explain to Veronica why exactly she is in danger.  Veronica and Mr. Stoker set out on an investigation to find who murdered their mutual friend, and discover why Veronica’s life is in danger.


This was the first book I’ve read by Deanna Raybourn, I think, but it was such a fun introduction to her writing style.  This is the first book in a new mystery series, starring a very kick-ass female protagonist.  I think the style might be considered more steam punk than historical fiction, just because of it’s tendency towards the scientific, and extremely independent female characters, but either way it was a great little mystery.

Witty characters and banter, and a twisting, evolving plot really made this book memorable.  The combination of snappy dialogues and mystery encouraged me to look into some of Raybourn’s other writing, and I’ve currently read 4 other books by her, and enjoyed them all immensely.  I’ll probably feature a couple more on the blog in the coming weeks.

The slightly steam-punk version of historical fiction really reminds me of The Madman’s Daughter series by Megan Shepherd, but with a less serious vibe.  Seriously, it was SUCH a fun book to read.  If you like mysteries, and quirky kind-of-historical fiction, check out this series.  I’ll be waiting eagerly for the second book in the series…

I really liked it: 4 out of 5 stars

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: Ruby Red by Kerstin Gier

ruby_redReview of: Ruby Red by Kerstin Gier, translated by Anthea Bell

Genre: Time Travel, YA, Fantasy

Gwenyth Shepherd comes from a family with the gift of time travelers. According to everything she knows, though, the gene has missed her.  The time traveler is expected to be Gwen’s beautiful, educated (though very snotty) cousin Charlotte.  So when Gwen begins to experience the symptoms of time travel–nausea and dizziness–she expects she’s just coming down with the flu.  It’s as much to her surprise as every one else’s when she begins to time travel and it becomes evident that she, not Charlotte, is the newest time traveler of the family. Unfortunately, since nobody expected her to need the education of a time traveler, she is light years behind in the things she “should” know, and expected to work with Gideon, who has been studying time travel related subjects his whole life.  As disagreeable as he seems, they’re going to have to learn to work together and get along, if they are to have any hope of surviving in 18th century England, let alone piecing together the mystery of Gwen’s birth.

Ruby Red is a fast paced trip into a world of time travel and mysteries.  It was everything I expect from a YA time travel novel.  Interesting characters, humor, and a little romance–all tied up in a pretty package with mystery string.  Honestly, when I started it, I didn’t expect to like it so much.  I had downloaded it for a little light Christmas-break reading, nothing too serious.  And then I could not put it down.  The story just flowed right along for me, and I was swept right into it.  I whizzed through Ruby Red in less than a day… and promptly downloaded the other 2 books in the series and finished them just as fast.  I’m not kidding, you guys.  This trilogy had me hooked.

It was a little bit predictable as far as the romance goes, but come on, people.  It’s YA fiction.  You kind of HAVE to have the cheesy romance and a little teenage angst. It didn’t have the dreaded teenage love triangle, which makes it good in my book!  The characters were believable too.  Flawed enough, but still likable.  Except for Charlotte, which I think was kind of the point.  Charlotte is a horrible person and everybody should hate her.  She just made me want to slap her.  It was actually a little irritating to me that Gwen was always so pragmatic about her more irritating family members.  She just tolerated them and tried to avoid them when she could–they never really got a good comeuppance. Oh well.  Apparently I’m supposed to be learning patience right along with Gwen.

If you’re a fan of the fast-paced, lighter story lines of YA fiction, and if you like to delve into fantasy/time travel genres, definitely look into this series.  Hopefully you’ll be as riveted by it as I was!  Have you read Ruby Red?  What did you think?  Let me know in the comments!

I loved it: 5 out of 5 stars

Book Review: Silver In The Blood by Jessica Day George

silver in the bloodReview of: Silver In The Blood by Jessica Day George

Genre: Fantasy, YA, Historical Fiction

In 1890 Dacia and Lou are girls of high society and their biggest concerns are their European tour and the handsome young men they encounter.  On the occasion of their seventeenth birthdays, they are required to return to their ancestral home in Romania to meet the rest of the extended family.  It looked like it would be a rather boring parade of ancient grandmothers and aunts, so when they begin to notice odd people following them, and receive strange inquiries about whether they are Wings, Claws, or Smoke.  Once in Romania, they find that they are part of a family of Shapeshifters.  Even more incredibly–Dacia and Lou have a destiny to fulfill.  Whether that destiny will uphold their family tradition or upend it is up to them.

In the past, I have enjoyed Jessica Day George’s Princess series (Princess of the Midnight Ball, Princess of Glass, and Princess of the Silver Woods) so when I saw Silver In The Blood and recognized George’s name, I knew I had to read it.  Though it has a historical setting, it’s definitely more in the realm of fantasy than historical fiction.

Silver in the Blood started a little slow for my tastes, and had me wondering whether it was just going to be a novel about silly teenage girls flirting across Europe.  Still, there was enough of a plot for me to keep reading, and I’m really glad I did.  I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect out of the whole shapeshifting thing, but I definitely wasn’t expecting what did happen.  I don’t want to spoil anything for you guys, so I won’t say more than this, but rest assured it’s not your average YA vampire book.  The tempo of the book really picked up as I got into it, and by the end it was really difficult to put down.  The plot just kept unwinding and developing throughout the whole book, and it really made for an enjoyable quick read over the holidays.

Dacia is a fun character, but the way Lou comes into her own throughout the course of the book was one of the more notable character developments that I’ve read lately. It’s always good to read about a character that overcomes personal phobias and becomes much stronger than he or she ever imagined, and Lou was definitely one of those characters.  I think her personal development was one of the biggest aspects of the plot.

If you enjoy Jessica Day George’s Princess books, then you should definitely read this one.  Beyond that, if you like YA fantasy, this one is well worth the read.  It’s very original, fast-paced, and just a fun book to read when you have some free time and feel like something pretty light.

I really liked it: 4 out of 5 stars