Saturday, April 12, 2014

Book Review: The Girls of Atomic City by Denise Kiernan


One of the interesting stories of World War II is about the change in the role of women here in the U.S. We often hear about more women joining the workforce in the early 1940's to fill in for all of the men who were off fighting the war. We hear about "Rosie the Riveter" as a symbol of the women who took on new positions in factories. But we don't hear much about the thousands of women who actually helped bring about the end of the war.

The Girls of Atomic City by Denise Kiernan is the story of those women, particularly the women who left everything they knew to move to a town that didn't really exist to do a job they didn't really understand to somehow help their fathers, brothers and friends come home. Thousands of women (and men) were recruited to work in a newly developed area of the Tennessee mountains. No one knew anything beyond their own job, though. They were sworn to secrecy. People didn't ask "What do you do?" when they met someone new. That question was off-limits.

Kiernan tells of this unusual way of life through the eyes of several young women who worked at Oak Ridge: a nurse, a statistician, a pipe leak tester, a chemist, a janitor, a couple calutron cubicle operators and a couple secretaries. These women came to their new home and learned to live with the muddy ground, the primitive housing and the secrecy. Each did their job, but they didn't understand the big picture. The statistician understood how to calculate percentages, but didn't know what those percentages were for. The pipe leak checker didn't know what was flowing through the pipes. The cubicle operators monitored their gauges and adjusted controls, but didn't know what the readings meant.

I found this story fascinating. I didn't honestly know anything about Oak Ridge or about how the U.S. government managed to secretly develop the atomic bomb. I certainly didn't know about the role of women in its development. I enjoyed the social history aspect as well, hearing about the way these women, and all of the people who lived in Oak Ridge during the war, learned to live together and make a community out of nothing. I even enjoyed the chapters that got into the actual science related to fission and enrichment of the uranium.

I will say that the writing was a bit repetitive at times, and although there were several main characters featured throughout, I had a very hard time keeping track of them. They didn't interact with one another, so this made it a bit harder. Kiernan did a good job finding a variety of women in terms of jobs, backgrounds and experiences, so this helped give a wider view of life at Oak Ridge. But I didn't feel connected to any of the women specifically.

Overall, this is a great look at an amazing time in history.

My Rating: 4/5

Learn more on the author's website, Facebook or Twitter.

Hear author Denise Kiernan talk about The Girls of Atomic City:


This review was written based on a copy of The Girls of Atomic City that I received from Wunderkind PR in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Book Review: The Do's and Don'ts by Hayley Rose


Teaching kids about good manners is tough, especially young kids who have very little interest in learning what they should and should not do. But The Do's and Don'ts by Hayley Rose is an adorable book of lessons on how to practice good manners that will surely capture their attention.

The colorful, fun illustrations by Mark Sean Wilson make a dull topic much more engaging. And the choice of lessons is great, speaking from the perspective of a mother! The book covers everything from saying "Thank you" and "Excuse Me" to lessons on hygiene, sportsmanship and letting people get off the elevator before boarding. Rose even addresses some important safety lessons.

The Do's and Don'ts is a great book to share with young kids ~ and perhaps older kids as well since most could use a reminder of some of these rules!

Visit the author's website

View the trailer:



This review was written based on a copy of The Do's and Don'ts that I received from Pump Up Your Book in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Book Review: North of Boston by Elisabeth Elo


Pirio Kasparov offers to help her friend Ned with his new lobster boat. But the boat is rammed by a freighter and her friend is killed. Pirio, however, survives in the icy water of New England. At first, she figures it's an accident and the ship at fault will be charged. But that's not how it works out.

North of Boston by Elisabeth Elo is a suspenseful mystery, but it's so much more. The novel digs deeper into several different topics, including alcoholism, environmental issues, the perfume industry and even survival in extreme conditions. The characters and relationships are at the forefront of this story. Pirio spends much of her time consumed with helping her friend Thomasina, and her son, Noah. Noah is the son of Thomasina and Ned, and Pirio has a strong connection with him as his Godmother. I really enjoyed the relationship between the two and the struggles they both faced dealing with Thomasina's alcholism.

To add some complexity to the character, Pirio is involved in her family's perfume company and part of the story is related to her relationship with her father and his wife, and her memories of her mother who died when she was young. Elo gets into details about scents and the development of perfumes that was actually quite interesting and added a little diversity to the storyline.

The mystery itself was engaging, and there were a few characters that interacted with Pirio that were potential "bad guys". It was hard to figure out who was on her side and who wasn't until closer to the end of the book. This kept the pages turning and added some suspense. This is much more of a suspenseful mystery than a complex thriller. It's focused on the characters and the story, and I really enjoyed it from start to finish.

My Rating: 5/5

Connect with the author on her website, Twitter or Facebook.

This review is based on a copy of North of Boston that I received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Month in Review: March

Here's a recap of my reading and reviewing for March. This is pretty simple, but I figure if I keep my monthly recaps simple, I'll actually publish them!!

BOOKS READ IN MARCH: 4
REVIEWS WRITTEN IN MARCH: 5

  1. Divergent by Veronica Roth - reviewed
  2. Woods Runner by Gary Paulsen - reviewed
  3. Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai - reviewed
  4. I Am Strong! I Am Smart! by Fay A. Klingler - read and reviewed
  5. Zora and Me by Victoria Bond and T.R. Simon - read and reviewed
  6. Greetings from Nowhere by Barbara O'Connor - read
  7. The Hero's Guide to Being an Outlaw by Christopher Healy - read
YEAR-TO-DATE TOTALS:

Total Books Read: 15
Total Reviews: 13


Historical Fiction: 2
Middle-Grade Fiction: 10
Young Adult: 1
Contemporary Fiction: 1
Mystery/Thriller: 0
Nonfiction:0
Memoir: 1

For review: 4
For book club: 2
For me: 9

Monday, March 31, 2014

Week in Review

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Happy Monday! I hope you've had a great week. We are on spring break this week, so we spent most of the day exploring the city of Raleigh. We went to the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences today, and then walked around the NC State Capitol. Then we went to Krispy Kreme for an afternoon snack and to watch them make donuts. It was a great start to our break! Tomorrow, we're off to the zoo.

I'm continuing with the 40 Bags in 40 Days 2014 Decluttering Challenge. Last week, I mentioned that I'm going to host a giveaway of four advanced readers. I haven't managed to put up that post, as I was trying to get through Middle Grade March first. So, watch for that giveaway to start later this week!      

Blog Posts and Reviews 
I was hoping to finish all of my middle grade reviews last week, but I only managed to write two:

Reading

I finished reading The Hero's Guide to Being an Outlaw by Christopher Healy. It was slow-going at times, but I did end up enjoying it. It was a good ending to a great series. I'll try to write my review this week.

Now I'm switching back to an adult novel, after spending a month reading middle grade books! I'm currently reading North of Boston by Elisabeth Elo. It's good so far ~ definitely holding my interest.

What are you reading this week? It's Monday! is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, so hop over there if you'd like to see what others are reading too. You can also check out the younger version of It's Monday!

Friday, March 28, 2014

Book Review: Zora and Me by Victoria Bond and T.R. Simon






Zora Neale Hurston is an author who is best known for her novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God. Zora and Me is a middle grade novel by Victoria Bond and T.R. Simon that imagines Zora as a young girl who loves to tell stories. It all starts when Sonny Wrapped wrestles an alligator... and loses. Then Zora and her friends meet a man who turns up dead soon after. A mystery ensues, and Zora has a theory: a half gator, half man creature is to blame.

Zora and Me is a book that was part of my son's Battle of the Books. It's a historical novel that takes place in the 1960s. There are issues of racial segregation and discrimination, bringing some of the issues of that time to life for young readers. I will note that the n-word is used in this novel, in an appropriate context, but it was a bit jarring for me and led to some questioning in my mind as to whether to call it out and explain it to my 9 year old who read this book. I have not, but I'm still wondering if it might warrant a discussion.

Overall, I have to say I wasn't crazy about Zora and Me. I have never read anything by Hurston, so perhaps fans of hers would enjoy this more. I didn't think it held a lot of interest for younger readers. It didn't for my son. It doesn't get into a lot of the historical issues. It focuses more on the mystery of who the murderer is. And it just didn't pull me in. My son found the mystery a bit too scary. And I really don't think he got much out of it from a historical fiction perspective.

My Rating: 3/5

This review was written based on a copy of Zora and Me that I purchased

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Book Retreat: Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai


Hà is a 10 year old girl growing up in Saigon, Vietnam, during the 1970s. She has a loving family, a best friend and her own papaya tree. But then the Vietnam War gets too close to home, and Saigon falls. Hà and her family must flee on a ship that leads them to the United States.

Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai is a wonderful middle grade book that introduces the Vietnam War and the struggles of refugees through verse. Told from the viewpoint of a girl who has to leave her home and try to fit into a completely different culture, the novel should appeal to young readers. My 9 year old son, C, really enjoyed this book, which honestly was a surprise to both of us!

The fact that it is told in verse exposes young readers to a different type of literature, but it's the story of Hà that will resonate with readers. Here is a girl who is very bright and does well in school while living in Vietnam, but because of language barriers, she has a tough time in school in the United States. I expect that readers will be able to relate to some of her challenges and worries, and it will open their eyes to what refugees must go through when they leave their homes.

I highly recommend Inside Out & Back Again. This would be a great novel for older elementary or middle school students who are learning about the Vietnam War, refugees or historical fiction in general. It's also an engaging introduction to reading stories in verse.

My Rating: 5/5

Read an excerpt

This review was written based on a copy of Inside Out & Back Again that I purchased.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Week in Review

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Welcome back to another week in review. The big news this week is that my son's team WON their school's Battle of the Books on Friday!! I was so proud of all of them. You can check out my recap of the Battle here. It was an amazing experience. If you have a child who loves to read, I highly recommend they participate in it if their school offers it.

I'm still moving along with the 40 Bags in 40 Days 2014 Decluttering Challenge. My latest decision is that I'm going to host a giveaway of four advanced readers. I've been posting other books on Paperback Swap and sending others to Goodwill, but I can't do that with the ARCs so I'm going to have a giveaway. I'll put up that post later this week, so watch for it!      

Blog Posts and Reviews 
Once again, I only managed one review last week. It was of a Christian picture book called I Am Strong! I Am Smart by Fay Klingler. I also posted about Battle of the Books, as I mentioned above.

I was hoping to move back to more adult reviews in April, so I need to get all those middle grade reviews up this week. That's my project for the week! I have four reviews to write, so you can watch for those too!

Reading
I'm still reading The Hero's Guide to Being an Outlaw by Christopher Healy. It's honestly been a bit slow-going. I'm enjoying it but I'm not as engaged with it as I was with the first two books of the series, so I find myself putting it down a lot. I will finish it this week. I am determined!

What are you reading this week? It's Monday! is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, so hop over there if you'd like to see what others are reading too. You can also check out the younger version of It's Monday!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Battle of the Books

If you've been reading this blog for the last several months, you should know that my 9-year-old son, C, was participating in his school's Battle of the Books. It all started in October, when he was placed on a team of five 4th graders. They called themselves Team Bookmasters, and they were one of 16 teams in the school, all made up of 4th or 5th graders.

All of the participants were required to read a set of 8 books. There were an additional 10 books that the team had to read but they were able to divvy them up among the team members. This meant that each of the kids on C's team had to read at least 10 books. C made it through 10 (there they are in the picture!). Two of the kids on his team read all 18!

Starting in January, they met on a weekly basis to practice answering questions about the books. On Friday, they had the actual Battle of the Books. It was very exciting! Each team sat in a circle with a white board and marker. There were judges assigned to each team; I was one of them! They went through four rounds of 12 questions, each of which started with "In which book..." The teams had 30 seconds to discuss the answer and write down the correct title and author. They got 2 points for each correct title and 1 point for the correct author.

Once the four rounds were done, they tallied the scores and five teams moved on to the semifinals. Team Bookmasters was one of the five! We were all very excited! The semifinals was just one round of 12 questions, and Team Bookmasters moved on to the finals against just one other team!

This final round was another 12 questions, and Team Bookmasters only missed one, making them the 2014 Battle of the Books champions!! C and his team were so excited and so were my husband and I, who were so happy to be there to see the results! They even received trophies!

As a mom and a book blogger, I'm so proud of my son! I am so happy that he has found a love for books as I have. And I can't wait to see Team Bookmasters defend their title next year!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Book Review: I Am Strong! I Am Smart! by Fay A. Klingler


Lu has a wonderful relationship with her Grandma May, who lives with her family. They play card games each day and they enjoy their time together. Grandma May imparts much advice onto Lu, helping her through frustrations at home and tough situations at school. But then, Grandma May has a stroke.

I Am Strong! I Am Smart! by Fay A. Klingler is a sweet Christian story about a young girl and her grandmother. It is about a child learning that she is special and beautiful because she is created by God. It is about the power of words for both good and evil. And it is about a grandmother struggling to overcome the frustration of the aftermath of a stroke, with a little help from her granddaughter.

I don't generally read or review Christian books, but this was a nice story that I plan to pass along to my mother and my daughter to read together.

My rating: 4/5

Visit the author's website

View the trailer: