Review / On the Horizon

on-the-horizonBook: On the Horizon (2020)
Author: Lois Lowry
Genre: MG, Non-Fiction/WWII
Rating: 5 stars

Basic plot: A memoir of sorts, this book focuses on two major events during World War II: The bombings of Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima. Lois Lowry takes her experiences as a young child living in Hawaii, and later Japan, and mingles them with the stories of people who lived (and died) during these pivotal events.


1) As a history buff, I love anything with a connection to history. Most books that focus on World War II tend to discuss the European theatre. This book focuses on the Pacific theatre.

2) The poetry (sometimes blank verse, sometimes rhyme) give this book the quality of introspection. I do think the style ramps up the emotion of the devastation that these two dates in history bring. I’m not always a fan of books written in verse, but this one works very nicely in this format.

3) I like that the book dives into the lives of the ordinary people who died during these events. It makes it that much more personal. That these people were real. The dates (December 7, 1941, and August 6, 1945) aren’t just some historical dates in some dry textbook.

4) I loved the emphasis on healing from the hurts and atrocities of war and hatred. I loved the part about the misunderstanding she has in Japan about the woman who reaches out to touch her hair. What did the woman really say? Did she mean hate or was it really pretty? I love Lowry’s conclusion.

5) The Author’s Note at the end pulls everything together… The two kids—one American and one Japanese—who grow up and connect many years later. And they know their connection is real because of the green bicycle.


1) I have nothing to put here. This book was beautiful.


My rating is 5 Stars (out of 5) – I loved this short, poignant look at these two major events during World War II. This book was, in many ways, haunting. But I also love how it focuses on healing from big hurts on both sides of the War. I would recommend to anybody interested in World War II. Note: This is definitely not just for kids. I also think this would make for great classroom discussion.


Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Note: I’m posting this for Greg Pattridge’s Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday

Review: Island War

island-warBook: Island War (2018)
Author: Patricia Reilly Giff
Genre: MG, Historical (WWII)
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic plot:  Izzy and Matt arrive on an Alaskan island around the same time–Izzy with her mother, and Matt with his father. When the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor, it isn’t long before Japanese soldiers land and the islanders are evacuated to camps in Japan. However, Izzy and Matt find themselves left behind. Now they have to survive on their own, making sure nobody knows they’re even on the island.


1) I loved this from a historical perspective. I didn’t know the U.S. was “invaded”. So, this part of history really grabbed me.

2) The beginning of the novel (when Izzy and Matt both get used to life on the island) was very pleasant and interesting to read. I particularly liked Maria, the island girl that befriends Izzy. (She also has a super cool name. Just saying.)

3) Then half-way through the book, the plot takes a turn… to more of an Island of the Blue Dolphins vibe. Once the kids are on their own it becomes a survival story. Not only do they have to find food, but they also have to hide from the enemy. (And I love that one particular soldier may not be such a bad guy after all.)

4) The story is told through alternating chapters and POVs of Matt and Izzy. I loved their rivalry and how Giff portrays their mutual dislike of one another. It makes it even better when they have to put their differences behind them in order to survive. I liked how both characters have arcs.

5) I really like the muted colour on the cover of this book. I think it works very nicely for the story inside.


1) Some of the backstories were a little confusing to me. Especially with what happened to Izzy’s dad. I think he’s dead (but I’m not sure… Did I somehow miss that part?)


My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – This book is for anybody who is interested in a lesser-known story about World War II. And also for people who enjoy a good survival story.


Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Note: I’m posting this for Greg Pattridge’s Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday

Review: Genevieve’s War

genevieves-warBook: Genevieve’s War (2017)
Author: Patricia Reilly Giff
Genre: MG, Historical (WWII)
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic plot: Genevieve and her brother have been visiting their grandmother in France in the summer of 1939. While her brother leaves, she chooses not to go back to the States… What she doesn’t know is that the war is going to be a long one. Including battles with her own grandmother, Meme. Little by little, Genevieve gets drawn in to helping with the French Resistance. She also soon finds an ally in Meme against the Nazi invaders. But Genevieve is not always sure who to trust.


1) The spunky Genevieve is a fun protagonist. I particularly liked her relationship with her grandmother, Meme. Or should I said non-relationship. Those two are at odds for most of the book.

2) I liked the intrigue. Since the story is about the French Resistance, there is plenty of intrigue. With who Genevieve should trust or not trust… including her best friend Katrin. And hiding her other friend. And then there is the mystery of the sweater!

3) When I was reading, I wanted to know the dates of when things were happening. At first, I thought this might be something to put in my “What’s Not Cool”, but after finishing the book, I’ve changed my mind. I think it’s stronger not to know the dates because (at least for me) the dates would tell me how soon D-Day was coming. The datelessness forced me to live the events of the story not knowing how much longer the people would have to hold out.

4) Events near the end made me cry. Anytime that a book makes me care about the characters… Hey, that’s a win!

5) I loved how everything came together at the end of the story. I like that not all was wrapped up. There were some bittersweet things that happened. And I liked the realism of that.

6) I thought the cover worked with the story.


1) The book had a slow start for me. Events that I wasn’t sure were all that important seem to drag things a bit.

2) I’m not sure I completely bought Genevieve’s reasons for staying back in France. It seemed a little far-fetched to me, especially in light of her relationship with her grandmother at that time. I wish Patricia Reilly Giff had come up with a different reason.


My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – Overall, I really enjoyed this story. I would definitely recommend to anybody who wants to read more about World War II and the French Resistance.


Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Note: I’m posting this for Greg Pattridge’s Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday

The Day I Forgot My Camera

Actually, this post should be called The Day I Forgot My Camera Card.

Because that’s what really happened. I brought the camera. I forgot there wasn’t a memory card in the slot.

It was a complicated day. We were going to visit the HMCS Haida, a retired battleship that served during WWII and the Korean War. The ship is docked in Hamilton, Ontario and is now open for tourists. Before we left, I grabbed my camera bag. Usually I have a memory card inside my camera, AND a couple backups in my bag.

But on arriving at the battleship, I suddenly realized that my big, fancy camera was… useless!

(And no, I do NOT have a smart phone.)

I experienced a moment of panic.

Could I really enjoy this visit withOUT a camera in my hand?

Well, it turns out that I didn’t have to. You see, the nieces and nephews were with me. I soon realized that my 10-year-old niece had brought her little digital camera. There was nothing fancy about this little camera. It’s probably older than she is. And (lucky for aunty), she let me borrow it while she and her cousins explored the ship with abandon.

(Note: It’s been awhile since I used one of these cameras. It took me a few photos before I knew I wanted to disable the flash.)

Here are three things I learned:

1) While the “fancy” DSLR camera gives me more control over my pictures (like depth of field, etc.) the little digital camera gave me… pictures.

2) And the photos were pretty decent. They’re not as big as I’m used to. But they weren’t bad.

3) Creativity is in the composition. Inspiration should never be dependent on a fancy camera.

P.S. So, what if I hadn’t had the “backup” camera? I think it’s okay to just enjoy the journey. You don’t HAVE to document everything. While I prefer to have my camera with me, I also know that my concentration does go to my picture-taking. Which means that I just don’t sit back and admire the view.

ARC Review: Skyward

skywardSkyward // by Sally Deng
Release Date: September 4, 2018
Genre: MG Picture Book, Non-Fiction (WWII)
Basic Plot: This is the story of three Allied pilots during World War II… who all happen to be women. Hazel is from the U.S., Marlene is from England, Lilya is from the Soviet Union.


1) I loved the illustrations! Nicely done.

2) This is a history book that tells you the little things about history. (Like the fact that the women were given uniforms that were too big for them. Makes sense since the uniforms would have been originally made for men.) They had to use their sewing skills to make the uniforms wearable!

3) None of these women are famous. And while I like reading about famous people who did great things, I also love reading about the regular people who did their part to win the war. (According to the author’s note, Hazel from the U.S. seems to have been a real person. Not sure about the other two. But I’m sure she did her research to get their experiences.)

4) I did like that we get three different experiences with these three different women, each from a different part of the world.


1) At times I was a little confused about which woman was from where. Especially at the beginning of the story. It starts with Hazel and then moves on to Marlene and for some reason, I thought they were the same girl. I wish there had been tags or something to remind us that Hazel was from the U.S., Marlene was from England, etc.

2) Hazel is of Chinese heritage, however, this wasn’t very clear in the book. It’s only hinted at when she and her friend (who happens to be black) are thinking of  joining the WASPs (Women Airforce Service Pilots). One of them says: “A Chinese American and an African American want to join? They will think us crazy and laugh in our faces.” I’m pretty sure the term African American would not have been used in 1942-3. Little things like that do bother me, especially since it’s in dialogue of people from the era. If it had been the narrator, I’d be okay with it.


My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – I enjoyed this look into the history of women pilots in World War II. I’m pretty much a sucker for anything to do with WWII, so this was right up my alley. It’s a picture book, but it’s definitely meant for older kids (as there’s a lot of text).

Review: Code Name Verity

code-name-verityBook: Code Name Verity
Author: Elizabeth Wein
Genre: YA, Historical Fiction, WWII
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic Plot: The story of two friends, Maddie and “Verity”, who find themselves behind the lines in Occupied France. Maddie goes into hiding, but Verity is being interrogated by the Nazis. As a spy, she is forced to spill secrets in order to survive another day.


1) I loved the friendship between the two girls. And the hard choices that have to be made pose a real dilemma for them. (No spoilers here!)

2) We get both versions of what happens to each girl. First, it’s Verity’s turn. Then Maddie’s. I love how when you come to Maddie’s account that, all of a sudden, things from Verity’s account (supposedly throw-away details) start to make more sense.

3) There’s a lot of spy code going on in this book. That’s all I’m going to say about that.

4) I love the Peter Pan references, especially with “Mrs. Darling” (aka Verity’s mum in Scotland). It works very nicely with all the RAF flying done by her children.

5) There are some surprises with the characters, which I don’t want to give away, especially two secondary characters: Georgia Penn and Anna Engel.

6) SS-Hauptsturmfuhrer von Linden was a complex character. At times, I hated him. At other times, I found him almost sympathetic. He’s not your typical Nazi caricature. Although, he’s definitely a Nazi. And the Bad Guy.

7) I love how the title of the book fits in with the story. The themes of truth (verity) and lies. And that grey part in-between.


1) During Maddie’s account, I sometimes found I mixed up some of the characters. Especially with the family in France where she is staying as a “cousin”. I still don’t fully know who’s who.

2) This book was slow at times. This is not a huge criticism, though.


My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – I really liked this peek into Occupied France. It wasn’t a page-turner, so don’t expect that. But it makes you realize what a tough time these spies had when they were caught.


Have you read this book? What did you think of it? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Quick Pick Reviews #2

I’m on a bit of a non-fiction kick at present. Below are three non-fiction books (for adults) that I finished recently.

Note: Quick Pick books are always recommendations. (If I don’t recommend the book, it’s not a Quick Pick!)

51VgMgGUWCL._SY346_Book: When Books Went to War
Author: Molly Guptill Manning

My Thoughts: If you are a book lover, than you’re in luck. If you are also a lover of history (particularly of the World War II variety), then this is the book for you! This book tells the story behind how the U.S. used books to help bolster the troops during the Second World War. I really enjoyed this book. I also love A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and finding out that that book was one of the most sought-after books by the soldiers… well, Bonus! My heart is happy when I hear how books play an important part in people’s lives. 🙂

51XOMTe3NCL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Book: Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void
Author: Mary Roach

My Thoughts: This is a book full of fun-filled facts about all things space. I particularly liked the historic parts that dealt with the Space Race, from the Russian cosmonauts to the Mercury and Apollo astronauts. But the modern stuff is also good. Like the origami-folding tests given to Japanese astronaut hopefuls! Origami? Really?! (How interesting!) Roach also asks questions that most people would be too afraid to ask (like detailing the challenges of using the bathroom in space). I particularly like the story she tells of her own experience to try to “pass the test” to become an astronaut. She’s told she’s going to get a phone call from Europe. The call comes in at something like 3:00 in the morning and she’s quite grumpy at being woken up from a sound sleep. But it’s only later that she realizes that that was part of the test. Oops. Obviously she’s not cut out to be an astronaut!

51+aO13QmWL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_Book: Dead Presidents: An American Adventure into the Strange Deaths and Surprising Afterlives of Our Nation’s Leaders
Author: Brady Carlson

My Thoughts: Carlson takes us on a journey through history with a focus on the various the Presidents of the United States… but it’s all about their deaths. And considering the topic, oddly enough, his voice is quite chipper! In other words, this isn’t a morose read. It’s interesting. One of the more fascinating stories for me was of President Garfield’s death. After he was shot, the doctors couldn’t find the bullet! But they kept poking their unsanitized fingers around his wound; in fact, making him a whole lot worse. Actually, according to the book his death was not due so much to the assassin’s bullet, but due to the care given to him by his medical team! (Poor Garfield. He wasn’t even in office that long. He probably never knew that one of his greatest legacies was to have a cat named after him!)

Review: Theatre Shoes

coverBook: Theatre Shoes
Author: Noel Streatfeild
Rating: 3.5 Stars

Basic plot: Sorrel, Mark, and Holly Forbes must go live with their grandmother when their father is found to be missing in action during World War II. They discover that their grandmother is not only a famous actor, but that she expects them to be actors as well. The children are sent to a performing arts academy where they have to navigate their acting lessons and auditions. On top of that, they also discover that they are living with a grandmother who is not as rich as she thinks she is.


1) This is a companion book to Ballet Shoes. While Pauline, Petrova, and Posy don’t actually make an appearance in the book (aside from letters), their presence is felt throughout. And it’s nice to find out what happened to the three after Ballet Shoes ends.

2) I love the story of Holly and the borrowed (or is it stolen?) attaché case. The children don’t have the money for attaché cases and feel embarrassed because this marks them as different from the other students. The way Madame deals with the whole situation is beautiful. It’s fair to the children and it’s a fair way to deal with Holly’s misdemeanor.

3) Alice is a delightful character who uses Cockney rhyming slang throughout the book (referring to money as “bees and honey” or feet as “plates of meat”). She helps the children deal with their aloof grandmother. I found it especially amusing that she always refers to the grandmother using the Royal-We!

4) Other characters I really like… Uncle Cohen is great, along with his wife Aunt Lindsay. And of course, Madame.

5) The family dynamic between the three children (Sorrel, Mark, and Holly) is nice. They stand up for each other, but the story is realistic enough to show their little tiffs and petty arguing moments.


1) The story of Miranda acting high and mighty, and then losing her role to Sorrel (the understudy) is almost exactly the same as that of Pauline and Winifred in Ballet Shoes. Now, to be fair, Streatfeild does make note of this “history-repeating-itself” in the book itself. (And this is or can be a big problem in theatre in general, so this isn’t a major criticism.)

2) The ending felt a tiny bit rushed to me.


My rating is 3.5 Stars (out of 5) – This book is a re-read for me, and it’s been many years since I first read it. I love, love, love Ballet Shoes by the same author. While this isn’t quite Ballet Shoes, it is definitely worth the read.

Review: The Tin Snail

tin-snailBook: The Tin Snail
Author: Cameron McAllister
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic plot: It’s 1938. A French boy wants to save his father’s job and to do that, he needs to help his father design a “people’s car”. But just when they’re on to something, the Nazis invade France. Now it’s time to hide their work before it falls into the wrong hands.


1) I really liked the main characters. No, wait. I really liked ALL the whole cast of characters in the book. They were quirky without being too quirky. Angelo with all his gumption and inspiration. Camille. Bertrand. The mayor who is the enemy, turned ally.

2) I loved the historical setting. France. World War Two. This is really a book about the French Resistance… in a really weird way. And it’s a book about a very unique type of automobile. (I’ve seen those old Citroen cars in Europe. And, yes, I thought they were ugly. But ugly, in a cute way.)

3) Bertrand’s philosophy: “Some things aren’t meant to be… The rest aren’t meant to be, yet.” In fact, Bertrand’s optimism and enthusiasm is particularly appealing… especially how he deals with Angelo and the father and the pitfalls surrounding the creation of a brand-new car.

4) I loved the three acts: the Inspiration, the building of the car, and finally the attempts to thwart the Nazis from stealing the hard work. The final act has enough intrigue and chases to grab anybody’s attention.


1) I wish they would have put more illustrations about the various prototypes. There’s an illustrator, and each prototype is described in the book. But oddly enough, there really are no illustrations to help the reader “see” the car as it is developed.


My rating is 4! Stars (out of 5) – Yes, I really liked this book. It has a historical bent, but I didn’t really see the whole French Resistance thing coming, at least not right away. This book is fresh and fun with a great cast of characters… And that makes for an enjoyable read.