Friday, July 29, 2011

A Walk in London

A Walk in London by Salvatore Rubbino
Candlewick Press, 2011

A mother and daughter spend the day exploring London - sights include Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, Covington Garden, St. Paul's Cathedral and many more. The mixed media illustrations, a little retro-ish, are wonderful and provide lots to look at, although the pages never feel cluttered.

The book can be read straight through, focusing on the larger text, or you can stop and read all the fascinating facts and bits of trivia included in the scenes as well. For example, when the duo admires Buckingham Palace, the reader learns that there are two flags that fly over the Palace - one for when the monarch is away and one for when the monarch is in London, that the Palace has its own post office, as well as the number of rooms in the entire building, and details about the Changing of the Guard.

When the mother and her daughter see the Thames, the reader gets a fold-out of the river that offers a complete view of the river and surrounding areas. At the end of the book, the royals' car (previously mentioned) is shown again, and kids can go back and see how many other illustrations show the car. Because, after one reading, you'll definitely want to go back and look at everything again.

London is one of my favorite cities, but even though I'm a little partial, this is a great introduction to a fabulous city, and even adults are sure to enjoy it.

Also look for Rubbino's A Walk in New York.

Reviewed from library copy

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Soldier's Wife

The Soldier's Wife
Margaret Leroy
Hyperion, 2011

I came across this book shortly after reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, which I loved. This is also set on Guernsey during World War II, and I was intrigued. I found myself reading at night, at lunch, and whenever I had ten minutes to spare, although ten minutes was never enough.

Vivienne de la Mare is living on Guernsey with her two daughters and her mother-in-law; her husband is off fighting in the war. As the island is invaded by German soldiers, she must decide whether to remain at home, or leave for London. After making all of the preparations to leave, Vivienne, while waiting on the dock and seeing how many people are leaving and how small the boat is, changes her mind. The family remains on the island, much to the consternation of the oldest daughter.

The island residents face occupation, the bombing of the harbor, rationing and curfews...and several try to do something to make a difference, to stand up to the Germans. When Vivienne begins an affair with one of the German soldiers next door, she not only hides the affair from her family and friends, but also hides a big secret from the soldier, one that could possibly cause harm to her family.

The writing is so descriptive - you can see the island and the gardens, and you know the characters. "Daffodil-yellow mornings" is the phrase that still stays in my mind weeks after reading it. When Vivienne eats a piece of chocolate after not having had it for so long, you feel how much she enjoys it. Because the writing was so engaging, and brought the story to life in other parts, I really noticed the affair for being less so - it didn't seem as developed, and as real, as the rest of the story. But, I think that's okay. I picked this up expecting the story of a community, and more specifically, of a family dealing with the war. That's what I go, and that's what I enjoyed.

The novel explores the impact of war on the home front, on the soldier's wife left behind, but it goes beyond that, to question playing it safe versus living, to explore the things people tell themselves to get through difficult situations, and to wonder what is more regrettable - things done, or the things left undone.

Reviewed from an ARC (Maybe received in a giveaway from the publisher? I can't remember.)

Monday, July 18, 2011


Entwined by Heather Dixon
Greenwillow/HarperCollins, 2011

Isn't this cover gorgeous? The story inside is just as wonderful. In re-telling The Twelve Dancing Princesses, Dixon brings to life a magical story, though at times dark and unsettling.

When her mother dies, after the birth of the newest daughter, and a long illness, Azalea, the eldest and heir to her father's throne, promises to watch out for her sisters. When the family goes into mourning, and the girls are no longer allowed to dance, Azalea and her sisters deeply feel the loss of their favorite activity. Here's where I confess I skimmed the dancing scenes and explanations of the steps - if you're a dance fan, you'll love this added info, and if not, it never feels distracting to the story.

When the girls find a secret passageway off their bedroom that leads to an enchanted pavilion presided over by the Keeper, it seems they have found the perfect way to continue their dancing. The Keeper, however, turns out to have a hidden, and dangerous, agenda as dark magic comes into play.

Besides the engaging storytelling, one of the things I really liked was the subtle humor, which I wasn't expecting. One example:
Azalea stacked the empty bowls together so hard they knocked together. She told herself she didn't have favorite sisters, but if she did, Delphinium would not be one of them. (p. 67)
And, in the following example which takes place after Azalea has fainted:
"What happened? said Clover, wetting a cloth in the basin, and dabbing Azalea's face.
"She had a sort of fit," said the King. "I think her underthings may be laced too tightly."
All the girls, including Azalea, blushed brilliantly.
"Sir," said Eve. "You're not supposed to know about the U word!"
"Am I not? Forgive me." (p. 292)
This was such a satisfying story - Azalea's efforts to thwart the Keeper and protect her sisters, the ending, the development of the relationships. Highly enjoyable.

Reviewed from library copy

Friday, July 15, 2011


by Lois Ehlert
Beach Lane Books, 2011

Lois Ehlert has some great books for storytime - I use Waiting for Wings with butterflies, Leaf Man in the fall, and Feathers for Lunch for either a cat or a bird theme. She never disappoints, but I think RRRALPH is my new favorite.

An unnamed and unseen narrator tells us on the first page that his dog can talk. His dog, seen on the opposite page, is adorably and cleverly made of black and white textured papers with a pull tab nose and zipper mouth.

When his family first brought the dog home, our narrator asked the dog what is name was, and the dog stood up and said, "RRRALPH RALPH." Go ahead - take a minute and practice saying that in your best dog voice. It sounds like a dog, doesn't it?

What follows is a series of questions (each with a sentence or two for an introduction) asked by our narrator and answered by Ralph. My favorite is when Ralph's person asks what is on the tree, but all are so funny. The book reads like a kid telling a series of jokes, and in fact, the authors' note at the end mentions that the book was inspired by jokes her brother told to his grandchildren.

My library just got this in, and I can't wait to try it out in storytime. It's sure to be a hit.

Reviewed from library copy

Thursday, July 7, 2011


I'm reading Entwined by Heather Dixon - a young adult re-telling/re-imagining of The Twelve Dancing Princesses. Loving it so far - I'm racing through it, which is good, because it's overdue at the library and I can't renew it.

I'm also reading State of Wonder by Ann Patchett (adult fiction), which is just insanely brilliant. Highly recommended.

And, while I rarely listen to audiobooks, I'm trying out Corduroy Mansions by Alexander McCall Smith, for something a little different.

What are you reading? Any good recommendations?

Sunday, July 3, 2011

June Recap

Goodbye June! You wore me out. Completely and utterly. I did, however, manage to read a quite a few books. Here are the highlights:

Chime by Franny Billingsley

The Liar Society by Lisa & Laura Roecker

Girl's Best Friend by Lisa Margolis

Sequins, Secrets, and Silver Linings by Sophia Bennett  - Let me point you to Trisha's review over at The YA YA YA S, which is what made me want to read the book, when she compared it to My Most Excellent Year, a most excellent book by Steve Kluger. Bennett's book turned out to be one of my favorites of this year; here's my favorite line, that I think just sums up what kind of lovely book this is - "Bad stuff happens, but every now and again miracles can happen, too...Life can be that kind." (p. 280) Can't wait for the next one!

The False Princess by Eilis O'Neal - magic, adventure, a conspiracy, a little romance...such a good book...Janssen's review at Everyday Reading is what made me want to read this, and I'm so glad I did.

The Last Little Blue Envelope by Maureen Johnson - I read 13 Little Blue Envelopes ages ago, but Johnson does a great job of reminding the reader about things from the previous book. Loved this one as much as the first.

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray - While I loved Bray's A Great and Terrible Beauty, I never finished Going Bovine, and I wasn't sure what to expect from this one, in which a plane full of teenage beauty pageant contestants crashes on an island. This is over-the-top, a satire that was so much fun. About thirty pages into it, I texted a friend telling her she had to read this.

We'll Always Have Summer by Jenny Han - Hmmm...The last book in Han's Summer trilogy, I included this because I'd waited so long for it, and was glad to see how story ended. While I'm happy with the brother Belly finally chose, this wasn't really the story I was wanting. There's a little epilogue at the end; that is the story I wanted.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Girl's Best Friend by Leslie Margolis

Girl's Best Friend by Leslie Margolis
Bloomsbury, 2010

Dogs are suddenly going missing in Maggie Brooklyn's Park Slope neighborhood, and she's on the case. As an after school dog walker (a secret job her parents don't know about), she's in the perfect position to figure out what's happening to these dogs, especially when her ex-best friend's dog also disappears. But what will happen when it starts to look like the boy she's crushing on might be involved?

I expected a good mystery; I got so much more and really ended up loving this book. Maggie is a fun and likable character, and while the mystery will keep readers guessing, this is also simply a great story about middle school. Margolis perfectly captures that changing time between being a little kid and a teenager. When Maggie and her twin brother celebrate their twelfth birthdays with a party, she says,
"Turning twelve means you're too old to have a party organized by your parents - with activities and games and goodie bags - and too young to know what you're supposed to be doing at a party when no one is organizing it for you. " (p. 68)
And my favorite example comes when Maggie is talking about not being ready to confide in a friend about her crush.
"I hadn't told Sonya yet, either, even though we've been good friends since the third grade and great friends since the beginning of sixth. I can't because of the unicorns. She's really into them and I have this theory: you can love unicorns or you can love boys, but you cannot love unicorns and boys." (p.79)
That, is perfection. And true. And it's one of the reasons I love this book. The voice is so spot-on, in the way distinguishes between the girls being good friends and then becoming great friends.

I also thoroughly enjoyed Maggie's take on Nancy Drew, whose books she never read, because everything just seemed to perfect.
"Nancy's whole world was one gigantic lovefest, but real life is messier. It's filled with clueless twin brothers and best friends who turn evil and mysterious dognappers and crushes who hardly know you exist and who won't even take out both earbuds to listen to what you have to say." (p. 123)
That's a perfect example of what you get with this book - a sometimes messy look at life and middle school with realistic characters and issues (even though not every seventh-grader is going to be out searching for dognappers.) And I love the line that follows, where Maggie puts her Nancy Drew issues aside because she's not "looking for a great read", she's "looking to solve a mystery."

Maggie has a great website, which has lots of fun features, including a cool map of her neighborhood with various places from the book highlighted.

Highly recommended; I can't wait for more books about Maggie Brooklyn!

Reviewed from purchased copy

Friday, July 1, 2011

For the 4th of July

How to Make a Cherry Pie and See the U.S.A.
by Marjorie Priceman
Alfred A. Knopf, 2008

In order to make a cherry pie, you'll need a bowl, a rolling pin, a measuring cup, a pastry slab, a set of spoons and some pot holders. You can get these things at the Cook Shop...unless it is closed, and then you can journey through the United States collecting all of these things. You can stop in Hawaii for sand, which is used to make the glass for your measuring cup. You can visit Texas to get a little oil, which is used to make the plastic for your measuring spoons.

I love that interesting facts about the states visited are interspersed throughout the story. For example, when you stop in Washington, the only state named for a president, to get wood for your rolling pin, you learn that George Washington was rumored to have a set of wooden teeth.
The story ends perfectly with an all-out festive red, white and blue parade.

The end pages show a map of the United States with the cherry pie journey marked on it. And, of course, a recipe for cherry pie is included!

As much as I enjoy this book, and think it's perfect for the 4th of July, I really, really like How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World, also by Priceman, in which the young baker travels around the world gathering ingredients for an apple pie. She starts in Italy where she gathers semolina wheat and then makes her way to France, Sri Lanka, England, Jamaica and finally Vermont.

Have a great holiday weekend!

Reviewed from library copy