Review: Balancing Act (Chloe by Design #2) by Margaret Gurevich (illustrated by Brooke Hagel)


In Balancing Act, we follow Chloe at her New York fashion house internship that she won in Book #1 (Making the Cut). She lives in a dorm where one of her roommates gives her a hard time about not earning her way into the industry. But Chloe is so good at creating unique fashion, that her samples get chosen to be made into designs for fashion week. Her mentors even give her a gift bag at the end of her internship — and it contains a surprise that Chloe had only dreamed of. 

I really liked the full color fashion sketches in the book. When Chloe described clothing she saw, the next page would have a drawing of that item. The book illustrated many kinds of clothing, and I especially liked seeing all the different ways a simple shirt could be designed. 

I liked that the author made a few mean characters in the middle of all the happy friends, families, interns and mentors. The story seemed more realistic that way. Even though there were always those mean people trying to discourage Chloe, she focused on a good support system of people who encouraged her to go for her dreams. 

Now that Chloe is done with her internship, I’m excited to read Book Three when she is back in her California hometown. 

-calliope’s 11-year-old daughter 

Buy BALANCING ACT

Review: Fablehaven Book of Imagination by Brandon Mull

15135731_1299809816725483_7146308628241356337_n This isn’t my usual review. In fact, this was probably my least stressful review ever. A book of activities. No thought required. Easy peasy. Well, some did require thought, but don’t tell my kids. They may yell at me that they’re “learning” something instead of it being all about playing. When I first saw this Book of Imagination, I knew this would be perfect excuse to have fun and learn at the same time.

My kids have wanted fantasy books, that aren’t fill with romance, so when I stumbled upon the Fablehaven series, I knew this would be a hit. So far, I’m right. My daughter is reading book one right now and she is liking it. That’s huge in my house. We struggle to find books that they like, so we don’t have to force them to read.
15284170_1299809813392150_7070046621314698336_n

If you have tweens, or young teens, and you’re looking for something to give them a little escape from the real world, I recommend this activity book. Even if they haven’t read the series, they can still do activities. So add this to their stockings and make them happy. There’s recipes and activities to cure boredom and make the holidays run smoother. In fact, I brought this book with us when we went out to eat and it made the time pass much faster and there was no fighting. We all worked on a page and it was fun. We did one of the “How many words can you find?” pages and the next thing we knew, our food was arriving. Working your brain makes time fly. 🙂

This is my favorite page, as I was scrolling through. That girl of mine is such a stinker. 🙂
15232255_1299833203389811_5627447532108001652_n

~Melpomene

Grab the Fablehaven Book of Imagination http://amzn.to/2g7rvr5

Check out Sadie Mull’s video on how to make the wizard’s slime from one of the recipes in the book: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ruaUdPKNmBY&t=6s

fablehaven-book-of-imagination-blog-tour-image

Review: A Blind Guide to Normal by Beth Vrabel


I loved loved loved A Blind Guide to Stinkville, and so there was no way I was going to miss out on the sequel, which proved to be very satisfying on many levels. (Both of these books are YA, by the way, for grades 5-7 I would guesstimate.)

First, I understand why many authors use alternating narrators, but frankly it just confuses me and makes the story choppy and less engaging. Beth Vrabel is so clever that she didn’t need to use alternating narrators, because she used Alice as the narrator for book one and Richie Ryder as the narrator for this book. Presto: The benefits of alternating narrators without the abrupt shifts every chapter! 

Second, and I’ve said this about Vrabel’s other books, I just love when the book reflects the personality of the narrator/protagonist. I was so annoyed with Richie Ryder and his jokes and stupid way he had with people. He really got under my skin! I didn’t want to keep reading at one point… and THEN I realized that it was Beth Vrabel’s awesome writing talent making me feel that way. It was like she was channeling Richie across dimensions. (Beth, do you tesser?!)

My most favorite facet of A Blind Guide to Normal wasn’t the fabulous karate competition or the yard horse or even Richie Ryder’s heartfelt friendships with quilting classmates and Alice and Jocelyn and Max. The best part of the book for me was the ending, where everyone figures out that fear is pretty much the ONLY thing that’s normal, and where Beth Vrabel again writes a book within a book. 

-calliope

Buy A BLIND GUIDE TO NORMAL

Review: Nine, Ten: A September 11 Story by Nora Raleigh Baskin

26875689

There’s no shortage of stories about the greatest terroristic attack to ever take place on American soil.  Fifteen years after the date, you can still find a few on some bestseller list somewhere.  But stories about this tragic event geared toward young readers and written in a sensitive, thoughtful manner?  Not so much.

The story begins a few days before the event that changed the world.  Four kids leading four very different lives in different parts of the country.  Each has their own struggles to deal with, but they have no idea how small those struggles will seem in a matter of days.

Sergio is a young boy in Brooklyn.  Raised by his grandmother, tormented by the infrequent  appearance of his absentee father, he’s confused about who he is and what path he’s supposed to take in life.  Will is dealing with a different kind of sorrow after the tragic death of his dad.  He just can’t seem to move on.  Aimee doesn’t know where she fits in after she and her family move across the country so that her busy mom can start a new job.  And then there’s Nadira.  As she gets older, she’s confused about her identity as a Muslim and is unsure how to handle the stares and comments she’s starting to get from both strangers and friends.

As September 11 draws closer, these four young people will find their lives crossing paths in a way that none of them could have imagined and in a way that nobody will ever be able to forget.

This is such a well-told, thoughtful story about a time in our history that changed the world as we know it. Many young people today have no understanding of the scope of the tragedy and how it altered everything.  The author does an outstanding job of telling the story through the eyes of four very different people but still drawing them together.  A must-read!

~Thalia

Buy It Now:  Nine, Ten: A September 11 Story

Review: Camp Dork by Beth Vrabel


Ever been to summer camp? How about summer camp caveman-style, while the campers next door get tech time, fancy snacks, and air conditioning? 

In this sequel to Pack of Dorks, Lucy’s time at camp nudges her on a journey of self-discovery. Lucy explores her feelings about her new best friend who transforms physically and socially, the flush of emotions when she thinks about boys – especially Sam, and her compulsion to arrange couples in neat and tidy relationships. All this while she struggles to get a decent supper and keep everyone from hating her! 

My favorite thing about this book is the dialogue. As I read, I could really hear the kids interacting… their different voices, noisy sound effects, and gurgles of bodily functions… just like kids I know. 

Lucy and her friends are real – kind of like a younger Breakfast Club, where stereotypes and prejudices only get you so far. Like the Brat Pack, Lucy and her Pack of Dorks find that facing the truth about yourself and others is the real prize. 

While my reading tastes skew older (like the 40-something mom I am), I enjoyed Lucy and her friends. Author Beth Vrabel offers insightful nuggets that can drive even grown-ups to make some changes in how they view and treat others. 
– calliope

Buy CAMP DORK

Review: Love, Lies & Spies by Cindy Anstey

01 love A sweet romance filled with intrigue and early 19th century charm.

I was completely taken in by the cover. It looked like something I would enjoy and I was right. So cute!!

SYNOPSIS
Juliana Telford is not your average nineteenth-century young lady. She’s much more interested in researching ladybugs than marriage, fashionable dresses, or dances. So when her father sends her to London for a season, she’s determined not to form any attachments. Instead, she plans to secretly publish their research.

Spencer Northam is not the average young gentleman of leisure he appears. He is actually a spy for the War Office, and is more focused on acing his first mission than meeting eligible ladies. Fortunately, Juliana feels the same, and they agree to pretend to fall for each other. Spencer can finally focus, until he is tasked with observing Juliana’s traveling companions . . . and Juliana herself.

From the very first chapter title and sentence, I was hooked. In fact, I read the first page to my kids, while they were eating lunch, and my daughter said she wants to read it. THAT right there is a good sign.

I was totally taken in by Juliana’s quirks. She seemed to get into trouble, without even trying. All she wants to do is stay out of the limelight and avoid any suitors, but the more she tries to be invisible the more she’s noticed, and sometimes not by the best people.

Spencer has a mission to do, and it doesn’t include falling in love. Actually, that’s the farthest thing from his mind. That is until he sets his eyes on a bewitching young lady with a talent for trouble.

There’s something to be said for the friends to lovers stories. Those are the some of the best. The heart wants what the heart wants and even if you, or anyone else, try and stop it, it always wins in the end.

“There are not enough superlatives in the English language to capture even a tenth of my emotions.”

~Melpomene

Release date: April 19th
Preorder Love, Lies and Spies

Review: A Thousand Nights by E.K.Johnston

01 thou A fantastical retelling, with a twist.

SYNOPSIS
Lo-Melkhiin killed three hundred girls before he came to her village, looking for a wife. When she sees the dust cloud on the horizon, she knows he has arrived. She knows he will want the loveliest girl: her sister. She vows she will not let her be next.

And so she is taken in her sister’s place, and she believes death will soon follow. Lo-Melkhiin’s court is a dangerous palace filled with pretty things: intricate statues with wretched eyes, exquisite threads to weave the most beautiful garments. She sees everything as if for the last time. But the first sun rises and sets, and she is not dead. Night after night, Lo-Melkhiin comes to her and listens to the stories she tells, and day after day she is awoken by the sunrise. Exploring the palace, she begins to unlock years of fear that have tormented and silenced a kingdom. Lo-Melkhiin was not always a cruel ruler. Something went wrong.

Far away, in their village, her sister is mourning. Through her pain, she calls upon the desert winds, conjuring a subtle unseen magic, and something besides death stirs the air.

Back at the palace, the words she speaks to Lo-Melkhiin every night are given a strange life of their own. Little things, at first: a dress from home, a vision of her sister. With each tale she spins, her power grows. Soon she dreams of bigger, more terrible magic: power enough to save a king, if she can put an end to the rule of a monster.

A Thousand Nights was a total shock to me. And by shock, I mean that I wasn’t even going to read it. Not that I didn’t want to, but that I was grabbing it for my daughter first. But since she was reading something already, I decided to read it before her. And let me tell you, this book was amazing. I was totally engrossed in this story. The scenery was so well developed, I felt like I could actually see everything. The stars, the colors, the clothes…It was so beautiful, even if it’s only in my imagination. E.K.Johnston has a way of telling this story and making you believe that you’re in the story.

Since I only have vague knowledge of the Thousand and One Nights tale, I was going into this sorta blind. But I think that made this story even more special to me. A clean slate, if you will. No preconceived ideas. And I think that actually helped me enjoy it more, honestly.

I think the best part of this story, for me, was that is wasn’t about love, in the sense of romantic love, but about familial love. My teens and their friends like stories about girls who can kick butt, but they’re not always fans of the romance aspect. They want adventure and intrigue. This book will make them SUPER happy. This girl loved her sister and wanted to save her from a certain death. And in volunteering, that way she did, she ended up changing the world around her and bringing an end to this horrible tradition, if you will.

I was lucky enough to take my daughter to meet the author last week. My girlie sat next to me and listened to her talk and make jokes the whole time. When we got into the car, she turned and told me that she needs to read this book ASAP. I call that success. Now, do I let her use my copy with all the post its, or buy her another one….

~Melpomene

Buy A Thousand Nights

At the signing we were told that, in December, she has another releasing another retelling called Spindle. Sleeping Beauty!! I can’t wait!!

Review: Star Wars Little Golden Books

image

So you may’ve heard about this movie that came out last Friday.  Not a big deal, really. Just a sequel to a little sci fi series…

Combine the epic saga that is Star Wars along with possibly the most nostalgic book medium of many of our childhoods and you get this.  The creators of Little Golden Books, those of The Poky  Little Puppy fame, have put together the perfect gift for Star Wars fans.

This little gem of a set condenses each of the six movies into one neat little golden-spined package.  Each story is accompanied by outstanding retro illustrations, and the scary scenes & violence have been nicely toned down as much as possible without losing the story.

These books will appeal to kids of all ages. Older readers will enjoy the memories from their childhood while at the same time adding another element to their no doubt very large Star Wars collection. And, as I’ve tested these on some very willing seven year olds, I can promise younger readers will devour them as just good books. Guaranteed to become favorites!

~Thalia

Buy It Now:STAR WARS LITTLE GOLDEN BOOKS

 

 

Review: Auntie Claus by Elise Primavera

Auntie_ClausIn the spirit of the holidays, one of my absolute favorite books to share with young children is the delightful story of Auntie Claus.  Yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like.  But the youngest readers won’t get it right away, keeping the magic going until almost the very end.

Little Sophie has always adored her glamorous but eccentric aunt. There’s just something not quite right about the woman known as Auntie Claus.  Most intriguing to young Sophie is her aunt’s annual “business trip” right around Christmas every year.  When Sophie’s curiosity gets the best of her, she finds herself in for the trip of her life.  Along the way, though, she discovers more than she bargained for.  Most importantly, she finds out what the true meaning of Christmas is.

Kids will enjoy the magic of the story, and the trip to the North Pole is nothing short of amazing.  Older readers will love the puns and references to Christmas sprinkled throughout the story.   Add this one to your shopping list!

~Thalia

Buy It Now:  Auntie Claus deluxe edition

Review: A Blind Guide to Stinkville by Beth Vrabel

  I’m not exactly a YA reader. I like realistic fiction with protagonists my own age – I can just relate better, you know? But A Blind Guide to Stinkville reeled me in. I was laughing in Chapter One. I was invested by Chapter Three. I was bawling my eyes out in Chapter Seventeen… but that’s for later in this review. 

Alice moves across the country and, like the rest of her family, is having a hard time adjusting. Besides the friend factor and the school factor, Alice has some physical challenges that were much easier to handle when everyone in her old town had known her since she was born. In Stinkville, Alice has to learn how to do things without the predictable help of those around her. 

I am SO IMPRESSED with Vrabel’s consistent pace and even-keeled writing. Alice could be barely holding it together, or the girl in the library could have just revealed something astonishing, or a new friend could be just as mean as the old friend just was… and Vrabel writes it all very matter-of-factly, like none of these things are the end of the world. No melodrama, here. No way. And that’s totally refreshing in a world of melodramatic teenagers and melodramatic teenage books. 

I know that when my children read Stinkville, they will accept the characters and their idiosyncrasies without batting an eyelash. They will understand that differences are No Big Deal. And maybe they’ll realize that all the things they’ve been practically fainting about in their real lives are also No Big Deal, because, hey, Alice got through much more challenging circumstances with far less indignity. 

I am also excited for my children to read Stinkville so they might be eager to be more independent, be inspired to find their way around their town (literally and figuratively), and be able to navigate new situations with grace and purpose. 

So, Chapter Seventeen. Well, I had just taken a break after reading the first sixteen chapters, and I was ready to settle in for two wonderful last chapters – my favorite chapters in any book. Beth Vrabel threw me for a loop and wrote something so funny and so heartbreaking that I choked out a laugh and then proceeded to cry my head off. I cried and laughed until I finished the book. I’m a mom, and I get emotional when I read about children struggling – or in this case, overcoming their struggles so well that my heart fills up. 

Everything in A Blind Guide to Stinkville seems so real that I want to say You Can’t Make Up This Stuff. But Vrabel did. She put her imagination together with her experiences to create something so wonderful that I need to read it again. 

Oh, and that Blind Guide that Alice wrote? Stories within a story are brilliant, Beth Vrabel. Add me to your fan club. 

-calliope

Buy A BLIND GUIDE TO STINKVILLE