Book Review: Girls Think of Everything by Catherine Thimmesh

Girls Think of Everything cover imageFlat-bottomed paper bags at the grocery store are the norm, now, but did you know that not so long ago people brought groceries home in a wooden crate? And that the person who invented the bags we see stacked beside registers today was a woman named Margaret E. Knight?

You’re probably aware of the problem plastic waste creates by piling up in landfills and choking waterways. But did you know that a teen from Egypt has created a way to turn used plastic into fuel? Azza Abdelhamid Faiad’s goal is to figure out a way to use her invention commercially and help countries develop sustainable waste management systems.

These are just two of the women and girls profiled in Girls Think of Everything: Stories of Ingenious Inventions by Women, written by Catherine Thimmesh. Other featured inventors created windshield wipers in cars, the super-strong fiber Kevlar, a baby seat sensor that can help save lives, an anti-bullying app, and more.

Often, these women and girls were told no one could do what they imagined doing. But they persevered anyway, even when their experiments and trials took months or years to develop into what they imagined.  The stories are likely to inspire girls to look at the world around them in a new light, as a place with problems they can solve if they put their minds to it. A section at the back of the book even has advice on how to file a patent on an invention.

Also of interest is the list on the inside front and back covers of major inventions by women through time, starting with the pre-1800s and progressing by eras until the present. It’s noteworthy that the list from 2010 to the present is the longest by far, with over 40 women listed. Only 15 women are featured in the book, but curious girls can easily look up details of any of the others listed.

I recommend Girls Think of Everything for readers aged 9 and up. It would make a great mother-daughter book club selection, with moms and daughters talking about inventions they can imagine that would make the world a better place.

The publisher provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: My Real Name is Hanna by Tara Lynn Masih

My Real Name Is Hanna cover imageHanna Slivka lives with her parents and her younger sister and brother in Ukraine when World War II breaks out. They first endure hardships under the Russians who take over, but when the Nazis come Jews start to disappear. As stories about mass killings in nearby towns circulate, Hanna’s family knows they must go into hiding. With the help of friends, the family finds shelter in places they hope no one will look.

My Real Name Is Hanna by Tara Lynn Masih is a haunting tale of resilience in the face of unimagined hardship, familial love and tenacity, and triumph of the human spirit. Gifted with Mark Twain’s Joan of Arc, Hanna finds comfort reading about the girl who endured hardship but persevered in her beliefs to the end. She also marks the book to keep track of her days hidden away, a connection to the outside world that reminds her of better days in the past and lets her hope for their return.

Hanna’s story illustrates the plight of Jewish people who stayed hidden during the war, as they relied on the silence of others who also sometimes helped provide them with food and other necessities. They could never be sure who to trust, and leaving their hidden stronghold for supplies was always a risk. The story was inspired by a real family who stayed hidden in an underground cave for more than 500 days.

I highly recommend My Real Name is Hanna for readers aged 10 and up.

The publisher provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: Sold on a Monday by Kristina McMorris

Sold on a Monday cover imageWhen Ellis Reed snaps a photo of two children sitting next to a sign that says they are for sale, he only knows that the scene tugs at his heart and he wants to capture the moment. When Lillian Palmer discovers the photo and brings it to her boss, the editor at the Examiner in Philadelphia, she only knows that the human story behind it is sure to resonate with readers suffering during the Great Depression. But neither anticipates the chain of events that profoundly effects two children and their own lives in ways they can’t imagine.

Sold on a Monday by Kristina McMorris looks at how desperate people can make choices with dire consequences. In a time when many people are out of work, Ellis wants to secure his job as a reporter, and he’s willing to embark on what he sees as a harmless deception to do so. Lillian is hiding a secret of her own, a son born out of wedlock during a time when much of society shuns unwed mothers. She yearns for a life of stability that will provide a secure future. When the two decide to work together to correct a mistake they created, they begin to see how they can achieve their dreams with honesty and integrity.

It’s a great message in a historical setting that is sure to provoke thought and discussion among book club members as well as those reading on their own.

The publisher provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

DVD Giveaway: Masterpiece’s The Miniaturist

The Miniaturist DVD coverI have been eagerly awaiting The Miniaturist, a three-part series on Masterpiece that airs beginning September 23, 2018. I’m excited to have a copy of the DVD to give away to one winner in the U.S. If you’d like a chance to win, just leave a comment about why you like historical fiction or Masterpiece adaptations in general. Be sure to comment by midnight (PDT), September 24 for a chance to win. Please note: The giveaway is closed. Congratulations to Denise on winning.

Here’s more info about the miniseries, the book it’s based on, and a trailer.

Golden Age Amsterdam comes alive in all its opulence and repressed sensuality in an
adaptation of Jessie Burton’s bestselling novel The Miniaturist, starring Anya Taylor-
Joy (Split, The Witch), Romola Garai (Churchill’s Secret, The Hour) and Alex Hassell
(Genius: Picasso, Suburbicon). Gorgeously filmed on location in The Netherlands
and the U.K., the three-part drama airs Sundays, September 23 – 30 at 9pm ET on
MASTERPIECE on PBS.

Set in 1686, when the Dutch Republic was one of the world’s richest and religiously
zealous nations, The Miniaturist captures the paradox of extreme wealth combined with
puritanical abhorrence of the pleasure that riches make possible.

Petronella Oortman (Taylor-Joy), called Nella, is the unwitting victim of this clash of
values. A naïve eighteen-year-old from a bankrupt aristocratic family in the provinces,
she is wooed by Johannes Brandt (Hassell), a handsome and prosperous merchant
looking for a wife. The two wed, but he dispenses with nuptial intimacies to depart
immediately on a business trip, arranging for her to join him at his mansion in
Amsterdam a few weeks later.

When Nella arrives, Johannes is still away, leaving her in the care of his grim and
overbearing sister, Marin (Garai), and the household’s two controlling servants: the
housekeeper Cornelia (Squires) and Otto (Essiedu), a former slave who was freed
by Johannes. So begins Nella’s virtual imprisonment in the residence where she had
expected to be in charge.

After Johannes returns, he remains emotionally cool to Nella, giving evasive reasons.
Nonetheless, he shows his affection by presenting her with a singular wedding gift: an
exquisitely crafted cutaway model of the very house where she is now living, and he
instructs her to furnish it as she likes by calling on the services of one of the local
makers of miniature objects—a miniaturist. With nothing else to do, Nella embraces
this odd amusement.

The miniaturist that Nella selects (Berrington) communicates only by letter and with the first order includes items that Nella didn’t request: a tiny cradle, a replica of Johannes’ dog and a miniature upholstered chair exactly like the one where Nella is sitting as she unwraps the package. Without direction, the miniaturist keeps sending new creations, including dolls replicating Johannes, Marin, Cornelia, Otto, and others, with details that hint at closely held secrets.

Amsterdam is a city full of secrets, which Nella proceeds to unlock thanks to clues from her unseen artisan. In a community where authorities regard sugar as sinful, gingerbread men as idolatrous, and certain sexual behaviors as grounds for execution, secrecy can be a life-or-death matter.

Published to wide acclaim in 2014, The Miniaturist is Jessie Burton’s debut novel, inspired by her visits to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, where an elaborate 17th-century dollhouse is on display. One can’t help but admire the artistry of this antique cabinet—and wonder at the hidden obsessions, incidents, and secrets
that spawned its creation.

Click here to watch the trailer.

Book Review: The Forest Queen by Betsy Cornwell

The Forest Queen cover imageSilvie has always lived a life of privilege as the daughter of Loughsley. But when her cruel brother becomes sheriff of the land and takes over from their aging father, she knows she must take refuge in the forest. Accompanied by her long-time friend, Bird, and a distraught woman named Little Jane, she establishes a haven that attracts others fleeing oppression. Soon she is seen as a revolutionary, robbing from the rich to give to the poor.

The Forest Queen by Betsy Cornwell is a compelling retelling of the tale of Robin Hood and his band of merry men, with women serving as the main characters. The change in perspective is interesting, with the women concerned with issues like sexual assault and childbearing as well as surviving in the forest during winter.  As with any good retelling, The Forest Queen creates characters that add depth to the story, while changing the details enough so the new tale feels fresh, like a good story in its own right.

I found The Forest Queen to be imaginative and fun, and I recommend it for readers aged 13 and up.

The publisher provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: Ivy + Bean: One Big Happy Family by Annie Barrows + Sophie Blackall

Ivy Bean One Big Happy Family cover imageWhen Vanessa calls Ivy spoiled because she’s an only child, Ivy comes up with the solution to change that: get a baby sister. But things don’t go well when she and Bean encourage her mom to have another baby. Ivy comes up with increasingly wild ways to get a sibling, which is how she ends up in a park pretending that the neighbor’s daughter is a gift from heaven.

Ivy + Bean: One Big Happy Family is a funny look at siblings: wanting them, not wanting them, having them, and borrowing them. Parents and children are sure to get a kick out of the ways Ivy and Bean interact with each other and their friends and the laugh-out-loud ways they decided to solve their problems. It’s a great addition to the Ivy + Bean series.

The publisher provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: Everywhere You Want to Be by Christina June

Everywhere You Want to Be cover imageAfter a difficult senior year recovering from an injury, Tilly has the chance to do what she loves during a summer in New York City: contemporary dance. She hasn’t told her mom, but if all goes well she’ll end up with an offer to work for a dance company and skip going to college. But first she must make it through weeks that test her confidence and endurance, patch things up with an old flame, and avoid being sabotaged by another girl in the group.

Everywhere You Want to Be by Christina June is about facing your fears and learning from your mistakes to  become a better person while pursuing your passion. Tilly gets great advice from her stepsister and her grandma, and she connects instantly with her roommate, but ultimately she has to decide how to navigate the pitfalls that arise as well as the opportunities. Her challenges should be great points of discussion for mother-daughter book clubs or anyone grappling with similar issues in their own lives.

I recommend Everywhere You Want to Be for readers aged 14 and up.

The publisher provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Movie Review: Book Club

Book club: the moive imageWhat happens when four members of a long-running book club decide to read Fifty Shades of Grey? When the book club members are Diane Keaton, Candice Bergen, Mary Steenburgen and Jane Fonda, a lot of chuckles and quite a few laugh-out-loud one-liners.

In the movie Book Club, each of the women is successful in their lives but all have different circumstances. One is a divorcée whose husband is about to marry a younger woman, one has vowed never to commit to any one person, one finds the spark has gone out of her sex life with her husband, and one is a widow whose daughters think she needs to settle down to a quiet life. They all long for something more.

When I watched the show with members of my book club we were most taken with Candice Bergen’s portrayal of Sharon, a federal judge who goes on Bumble to find men to date. Her misadventures with setting up a profile and finding someone to connect to were funny and cringe-worthy. We envied Diane Keaton as Diane, who finds romance in the desert with an airline pilot. We sympathized with Carol, played by Mary Steenburgen, who loves her husband, but after many years of marriage doesn’t know how to connect with him. Her mistakes were well-meaning and tenderhearted. Jane Fonda’s character of Vivian was the least relatable, but we still enjoyed watching her interact with Don Johnson.

It was fun to see matches with other male characters, Craig T. Nelson, Andy Garcia, Richard Dreyfuss and Ed Begley, Jr., some of whom we hadn’t seen onscreen in a while.

Book Club is fun to watch and I expect viewers can enjoy it whether or not they are in a book club, but among book club members it’s likely to evoke memories of their own meetings over the years and inspire talk about memorable books and activities they have shared.

I received a copy of the DVD in exchange for my honest review.

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