Category: book review

Here She Is: The Complicated Reign of the Beauty Pageant in America Book Review

An exploration of American feminist history told through the lens of the pageant world.

About Here She Is: The Complicated Reign of the Beauty Pageant in America

Many predicted that pageants would disappear by the 21st century, but they are thriving. Miss America will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2020. Why do they persist? In Here She Is, Hilary Levey Friedman reveals the surprising ways pageants have been an empowering feminist tradition. She traces the role of pageants in many of the feminist movement’s signature achievements, including bringing women into the public sphere, helping them to become leaders in business and politics, providing increased educational opportunities, and giving them a voice in the age of #MeToo.

Using her unique perspective as a NOW state president, daughter to Miss America 1970, sometimes pageant judge, and scholar, Friedman explores how pageants became so deeply embedded in American life from their origins as a P.T. Barnum spectacle at the birth of the suffrage movement, through Miss Universe’s bathing beauties to the talent- and achievement-based competitions of today. She looks at how pageantry has morphed into culture everywhere from The Bachelor and RuPaul’s Drag Race to cheer and specialized contests like those for children, Indigenous women, and contestants with disabilities. Friedman also acknowledges the damaging and unrealistic expectations pageants place on women in society and discusses the controversies, including Miss America’s ableist and racist history, Trump’s ownership of the Miss Universe Organization, and the death of child pageant-winner JonBenét Ramsey.

Presenting a more complex narrative than what’s been previously portrayed, Here She Is shows that as American women continue to evolve, so too will beauty pageants.

My Thoughts

I have to admit that I have never watched nor participated in a pageant. I don’t think I have ever seen them here in Ontario (or perhaps I have just never looked) nor have I watched the Miss America or Miss Universe on television. I am not sure why they have never appealed to me, but as I read through Here She Is, it dawned on me that perhaps I felt that they were the opposite of feminism (especially the bathing suit competitions) and that I was bias against pageants based on my own assumptions, but this book made me see pageants from a new perspective.

Hilary explores the history of pageants from their unique beginnings to their current model and how they have evolved. She has matched each phase of the pageants to each feminist movement and shown how each are related. We watch as woman are empowered to take a step out in public, to be proud of their bodies and to not feel the need to hide who they are, their bodies and their role in society (and how different this is in each time period). We are shown how pageants evolved and what was considered to be allowed (how much skin could be shown, weight/body size, marital status, etc..). We are exposed to the good and the bad in this book, Hilary touches on all topics and explains them thoroughly.

What I found really interesting was how the idea of pageants can be seen in many other aspects of daily life – our obsession with some reality shows like the Bachelor. I would never have made that connection before without reading this novel. I also loved how she highlighted a key point in this book – education. So many contestants use pageants to fund their education, receiving degrees in a variety of fields. These are well educated young women who are prepared to take on some of the toughest roles in our workforce.

Here She Is opened my eyes to some of my own unconscious bias against pageants and helped me to understand the important role that they have played in empowering women throughout history. It was a great, eye opening read that I truly appreciated.

You can purchase a copy of this book on Amazon.

Rating: 4/5

About the Author

Hilary Levey Friedman is a sociologist at Brown University, where she has taught a popular course titled “Beauty Pageants in American Society.” She is a leading researcher in pageantry, merging her mother’s past experiences as Miss America 1970 with her interests as a glitz- and glamour-loving sometime pageant judge, and a mentor to Miss America 2018. Friedman also serves as the president of the Rhode Island chapter of the National Organization for Women. Her first book, Playing to Win, focused on children’s competitive afterschool activities. Connect with her at and on Twitter (@hleveyfriedman).

Disclosure: I received a digital copy of this book, all opinions are my own.

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The Story Orchestra: Carnival of the Animals

Discover the world of Carnival of the Animals in this musical reimagining of this celebrated suite for children – push the button in each scene to hear the sounds of an orchestra playing from Camille Saint-Saëns’ score.

About The Story Orchestra: Carnival of the Animals

One day, two brothers discover a magical animal kingdom behind their bookcase. They are greeted by the royal lion with his shaggy mane; ask for directions from an old lonely tortoise; take a ride on some lumbering elephants; topple a skeleton of dinosaur bones; and swim among a school of shimmering fish. If only they could take them all home!

The book includes extracts from ‘The Swan’, ‘Aquarium’, ‘Fossils’, and ‘Finale’ (From Disney’s Fantasia) along with a new story to link the pieces together.

As you journey through the magical scenes, you will press the buttons to hear 10 excerpts from the suite’s music. At the back of the book, find a short biography of the composer, Camille Saint-Saëns, with details about his composition of Carnival of the Animals. You can replay the musical excerpts and read a discussion of the instruments, rhythms and musical techniques that make them so powerful. A glossary defines the musical terms.

The Story Orchestra series brings classical music to life for children through illustrated retellings of classic ballet and program music stories paired with 10-second sound clips of orchestras.

Our Thoughts

When you first glance at this book, you have a strong suspicion it is going to be a treasured keepsake, a special journey for you and your child. Carnival of the Animals does not disappoint.

It has been a long time since I have read a book with my child that has accompanying sounds and music. I forgot how important this sense is when it comes to bringing to life a story. Each sound clip that is associated with a two page spread is a perfect representation of the story – from the Swan (the two pianos sounding like the swans feet paddling along) to the Aviary (with the flute that brings to life a little bird). The back of the book explains each sound that we are hearing in each part of the story.

The story itself is an amazing journey that two brothers take – one that you can easily imagine a child coming up with. They explore the wonders of the animal kingdom – meeting lions, tortoises, elephants, coral reef inhabitants, birds and so much more. The illustrations are rich and colourful, complimenting the story perfectly.

This is a spectacular book that will easily become a family treasure. It is visually stunning (you can’t help but run your hands over the illustrations and cover), the sound clips are a great introduction to classical music and the story will entertain.

You can purchase a copy of this book on Amazon.

About the Author

Jessica Courtney Tickle​ is an illustrator who graduated from Kingston University in July 2014. Her absolute favorite thing to draw or paint is nature, finding a focus on foliage of any kind as well as children’s stories about adventure and exploration. She also has a penchant for drawing theater from music makers to dancers and even singing animals. Jessica is most influenced by vintage picture books, travel posters, and folk art as well as numerous painters and printmakers.

Katy Flint is an author, editor, and musician, based in London. She studied violin at the University of Southampton, before moving into children’s books. She is the author of the best-selling sound book The Story Orchestra: The Nutcracker, and has worked on many other non-fiction titles—from human bodies to dinosaurs. 

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book in order to facilitate this review. All opinions expressed are my own.

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Illumisaurus Book Review

Journey back in time to the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods with Illumisaurus, come face-to-face with prehistory’s most spectacular dinosaurs, plants and animals. Bring this lost world to life with your magic three-color viewing lens.

About Illumisaurus

Journey back in time to the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods with Illumisaurus, come face-to-face with the most spectacular dinosaurs, plants and animals. Bring this lost world to kaleidoscopic life with your magic three-color viewing lens.

With your lens in hand, discover amazing places and the creatures that roamed them.

  • Your green lens reveals a location, spanning 9 land masses across millions of years. Learn how these places transformed to become the habitats on Earth.
  • Your red lens brings to life the dinosaurs. Meet a T. Rex, run with packs of velociraptors and marvel at the gigantic brachiosaurus as you discover how these animals came to rule the Earth.
  • Your blue lens uncovers the wildlife that lived alongside and after the dinosaurs, including dragonflies, woolly mammoths and fungi taller than trees.
  • Fact pages fill in the details and guide you through a world bursting with life and color.

The latest in the bestselling Illumi series, Illumisaurus is a hidden-world adventure with a scientific angle, and the perfect gift for dinosaur enthusiasts. Innovative illustrations from award-winning design duo Carnovsky make this a book like no other, with hundreds of places, plants and creatures to discover on three layers of detailed artwork.
How many dinosaurs will you find on your prehistoric journey?

Our Thoughts

Wow – this was the first thought that went through my head when we opened this book (my son – this is so cool!). The book is dedicated to dinosaurs but told in such an unique manner – using three lens that explore and reveal dinosaurs, the place and the plant life all on the same page.

While the book is visually stunning, it is also full of amazing information about dinosaurs around the world during this time period. We explore Western Europe, Central Asia and Russia, East and Southeast Asia, Middle East and India, Africa, North America, Australia, Antarctica and South America. For each place, we learn about the history (climate, time period, fossils and so much more) while using the green lens to visually bring the place to life. We use the red lens to bring to life the dinosaurs of this region and the blue lens on that page to bring to life the plant life. We turn the page to learn about each of the species, meaning behind their name and how many million years ago it lived. They also include a dinosaur discovery guide (our kids found it amazing that there was a dinosaur discovery close to where we visited family in Zimbabwe!).

Illumisaurus is a stunning, well written book for children (and their parents) to explore and learn about these incredible creatures that roamed our Earth so many years ago. There is so much to learn and explore in this book, your child will spend hours on each page with each lens discovering new dinosaurs and plant life.

You can purchase a copy of this book on Amazon.

About the Author

Milan-based design duo Carnovsky was started by Silvia Quintanilla and Francesco Rugi in 2007. They have gained wide recognition for their RGB project, first displayed in 2010. Their work has been published in magazines around the world, such as VogueWiredFrameWallpaperElle Decor, and Whitewall. Their wallpaper ‘Jungla’ won the 2012 Wallpaper Magazine Design Award for Best Wallpaper.

Lucy Brownridge is an author and editor of children’s books based in London. She writes books for children about history of art, history, animals, and science. She has an MA in history of art from the Courtauld Institute of Art and a BA in history of art from the University of Bristol. 

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book in order to facilitate this review. All opinions expressed are my own.

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A Castaway in Cornwall Book Review

In A Castaway in Cornwall, Laura Callaway lives with her uncle and his disapproving wife in North Cornwall. There she feels like a castaway, always viewed as an outsider even as she yearns to belong.

About A Castaway in Cornwall

Set adrift on the tides of fate by the deaths of her parents and left wanting answers, Laura Callaway now lives with her uncle and his disapproving wife in North Cornwall. There she feels like a castaway, always viewed as an outsider even as she yearns to belong.

While wreckers search for valuables along the windswept Cornwall coast–known for its many shipwrecks but few survivors–Laura searches for clues to the lives lost so she can write letters to next of kin and return keepsakes to rightful owners. When a man is washed ashore after a wreck, Laura acts quickly to protect him from a local smuggler determined to destroy him.

As Laura and a neighbor care for the survivor, they discover he has curious wounds and, although he speaks in careful, educated English, his accent seems odd. Other clues wash ashore, and Laura soon realizes he is not who he seems to be. Despite the evidence against him, the mysterious man might provide her only chance to discover the truth about her parents’ fate. With danger pursuing them from every side, and an unexpected attraction growing between them, will Laura ever find the answers she seeks?

My Thoughts

A Castaway in Cornwall is a beautiful story from start to finish, a story of loss, heartbreak, hope, second chances and forgiveness.

I adored Laura’s character. She is a young woman who carries a lot on her shoulders but still shows others compassion and kindness. She lost her parents at a young age and holds regrets tied to the way they parted before their deaths. She was taken in by an Aunt, who also passed away but her Uncle kept her in his life. She is craving something – answers, family, belonging but feels stuck in a town where they don’t really accept her for she is, especially being an outsider. She spends her time gathering items that have come to shore after shipwrecks, attempting to reunite these items from dead sailors to their families. This is how she saves a young man that she soon finds herself connected to.

This young man has a strange accent, doesn’t quite appear to be telling the truth and seems to have his own painful past. But there is something about him that Laura trusts and slowly begins to fall for. They are both just like the castaways that Laura saves and you keep praying for them to find the peace and happiness that they deserve.

The plot is unique – I have never read a story quite like this before. Our characters are strong in their beliefs but they carry a lot of pain in their hearts from their past. They are searching to make their past right but they need each other in order to move forward. They are caught in a complicated time – where both France and England are at war, families and neighbours can turn on each other and where laws can be broken, while others turn a blind eye. I loved the suspense, urgency, the healing and the hope for the future (I would love to see a part two of their story!). I loved every moment of this book and could not put it down.

You can purchase a copy of this book on Amazon.

Rating: 5/5

About the Author

Julie Klassen loves all things Jane–Jane Eyre and Jane Austen. A graduate of the University of Illinois, Julie worked in publishing for 16 years and now writes full-time. Her novels have sold over a million copies and three of her books, The Silent GovernessThe Girl in the Gatehouse, and The Maid of Fairbourne Hall, have won the Christy Award for Historical Romance. The Secret of Pembrooke Park was honored with the Minnesota Book Award for genre fiction. Julie has also won the Midwest Book Award and Christian Retailing’s Best Award, and has been a finalist in the Romance Writers of America’s RITA Awards and ACFW’s Carol Awards. Julie and her husband have two sons and live in a suburb of St. Paul, Minnesota. 

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book in order to facilitate this review. All opinions expressed are my own.

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Copycat Science Book Review

Step in the shoes of the world’s greatest scientists in Copycat Science.

About Copycat Science

This unique book of simple and safe STEM-related experiments and activities is presented in fun comic strip style. Each experiment or activity follows a cartoon life history of a figure from science, math’s or engineering so that the reader can relate their experiment to science done by actual people.

This graphic, comic style book puts an emphasis on fun, and encourages readers to try it out at home, while the diverse range of scientists included will inspire all readers to become hands on.

Our Thoughts

I love the sciences and feel strongly that it is so important for children to be exposed to the topics at a young age. Science should be fun (because it is!) and age appropriate, find what engages your child and go with it.

Copycat Science is a fun, engaging book for youth that connects with them in a way they can appreciate – a comic/cartoon style. It is written in a fun and easy style that makes it easy for young readers to follow along with (and parents too!) but still provides key concepts and figures. Each two page spread features a scientist on the first page and an experiment on the second page. Visually the illustrations are excellent and typical of a comic strip.

Some of the scientists you may know, but others will be new to you – I never knew about Laura Bassi ‘the First Lady of Physics’ or Ibn Al-Haytham, the ‘Arabian Visionary’ (so not only were we learning about science but also about history). The experiments were easy to re-create and for the most part, you can complete them with items found around your home. I loved this aspect, because there is nothing worse than coming home with a book of experiments to have to go back out to get supplies.

Copycat Science is a fun, engaging new way to get your child interested in the sciences and getting hands on at home.

You can purchase a copy of this book on Amazon.

About the Author

Mike Barfield is a writer, poet, performer, songwriter, ukulele player, and cartoonist. He has written extensively for TV and radio – with credits as diverse as Spitting Image, The Dennis the Menace and Gnasher Show and five years on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. His cartoon feature Apparently has appeared in the pages of Private Eye for over 20 years, and his drawings have been on display in the Cartoon Museum, the V & A, the Museum of London, and Nigella Lawson’s downstairs loo.

His Destroy This Book series (published by Buster Books) has been sold around the world, starting with the Destroy This Book In The Name of Science! The Element in the Room (Lawrence King, 2018) which was shortlisted for the Blue Peter Book Awards 2019.

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book in order to facilitate this review. All opinions expressed are my own.

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