Friday, November 30, 2012

November Reflections

In November, I was able to read 57 books! I was able to read three Philippa Gregory novels and three Wheel of Time books!

My favorite picture book: The Goldilocks Variations. Allan Ahlberg.
My favorite Christmas picture bookCowboy Christmas. Rob Sanders.
My favorite MG read with a dog on the coverAlmost Home. Joan Bauer.'
My favorite MG HistoricalThe Lions of Little Rock. Kristin Levine.
My favorite children's book with exploding cans of biscuits:  Junie B., First Grader: Turkeys We Have Loved and Eaten (And Other Thankful Stuff). Barbara Park.
My favorite YA romance with chocolate:  The Sweetest Spell. Suzanne Selfors. 
My favorite Philippa Gregory:  The Kingmaker's Daughter. Philippa Gregory.
My favorite short story: "The Angel of Union Station" by Steven Roberts
My favorite Austen adaptation Dear Mr. Darcy. Amanda Grange. 
My favorite from the Wheel of Time series:  The Shadow Rising. (Wheel of Time #4) Robert Jordan.
My favorite Christian nonfiction: Practical Religion. J.C. Ryle.

Board Books, Picture Books, Chapter Books:
  1. The Goldilocks Variations. Allan Ahlberg. Illustrated by Jessica Ahlberg. 2012. Candlewick. 40 pages.
  2. Cinderella: A Three-Dimensional Fairy Tale Theater. Jane Ray. 2012. Candlewick. 12 pages. 
  3. Who Pushed Humpty Dumpty? And Other Notorious Nursery Tale Mysteries. David Levinthal. Illustrations by John Nickle. 2012. Random House.  40 pages.  
  4. The Chicken Problem. Jennifer Oxley and Billy Aronson. 2012. Random House. 32 pages.
  5. Bedtime is Canceled. Cece Meng. Illustrated by Aurelie Neyret. 2012. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 32 pages.
  6. The Other Side of Town. Jon Agee. Scholastic. 2012. 32 pages. 
  7. Rabbityness. Jo Empson. 2012. Child's Play. 32 pages.
  8. The Red Boat. Hannah Cumming. 2012. Child's Play. 32 pages.
  9. Daddy Christmas & Hanukkah Mama. Selina Alko. 2012. Random House. 32 pages.
  10. Cowboy Christmas. Rob Sanders. Illustrated by John Manders. 2012. Random House. 32 pages.
  11. Christmas at the Toy Museum. David Lucas. 2012. Candlewick. 32 pages.
  12. The Christmas Quiet Book. Deborah Underwood. Illustrated by Renata Liwska. 2012. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 32 pages.
  13. LEGO City: Save This Christmas. Rebecca McCarthy. 2012. Scholastic. 24 pages.    
  14. My Christmas Treasury. Scholastic. 2012. 96 pages.
  15. Merry Christmas Maisy: a Maisy Lift-the-Flap Book. Lucy Cousins. 2012. Candlewick. 22 pages. 
  16. Peppa Pig and the Lost Christmas List. 2012. Candlewick Press. 32 pages.
  17. My Santa Claus. Lily Karr. Illustrated by Jay Johnson. 2012. Scholastic. 12 pages.
  18. Lalaloopsy: Christmas Magic. Lauren Cecil. 2012. Scholastic. 24 pages.     
  19. This Little Light of Mine. Shelagh McNicholas. 2013. Scholastic. 12 pages.
  20. Duck for a Day. Meg McKinlay. Illustrated by Leila Rudge. 2012. Candlewick. 96 pages.

Middle Grade and Young Adult Books:


  1. The Sweetest Spell. Suzanne Selfors. 2012. Walker & Company. 416 pages.
  2. Jump Into the Sky. Shelley Pearsall. 2012. Random House. 352 pages.
  3. The Second Life of Abigail Walker. Frances O'Roark Dowell. 2012. Simon & Schuster. 240 pages.
  4. No Crystal Stair: A Documentary Novel of the Life and Work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem Bookseller. Vaunda Micheaux Nelson. Illustrated by R. Gregory Christie. 2012. Lerner. 188 pages.  
  5. Caught. (Missing #5) Margaret Peterson Haddix. 2012. Simon & Schuster. 352 pages.
  6. Laugh with the Moon. Shana Burg. 2012. Random House. 256 pages.
  7. Junie B., First Grader: Turkeys We Have Loved and Eaten (And Other Thankful Stuff). Barbara Park. 2012. Random House. 144 pages.
  8. Dear America: Christmas After All. Kathryn Lasky. 2001/2012. Scholastic. 192 pages.
  9. Catching Fire. Suzanne Collins. 2009. Scholastic. 400 pages.
  10. Mockingjay. Suzanne Collins. 2010. Scholastic. 400 pages.   
  11. The Legend of the Wandering King. Laura Gallego Garcia. 2005. Scholastic. 224 pages.
  12. Every Day. David Levithan. 2012. Random House. 336 pages.
  13. The Lions of Little Rock. Kristin Levine. 2012. Penguin. 304 pages.
  14. Almost Home. Joan Bauer. 2012. Penguin. 240 pages.

Adult Books:
  1. The Shadow Rising. (Wheel of Time #4) Robert Jordan. 944 pages.
  2. The Fires of Heaven. (Wheel of Time #5) Robert Jordan. 1993. Tor. 992 pages.
  3. Lord of Chaos. (Wheel of Time #6) Robert Jordan. 1994. Tor. 720 pages.
  4. Christmas on Deery Street. Steven Roberts. 2006. 100 pages.
  5. While Shepherds Watched: Stories of Christmas Miracles and Mysteries by Steven Roberts. 2007. 165 pages.
  6. City. Clifford D. Simak. Old Earth Books. 264 pages.  
  7. The Star Trek Reader. Twenty-one Novelized Episodes Based on the Exciting Television Series Created by Gene Roddenberry. James Blish. 1968, 1969, 1972. Dutton. 372 pages.
  8. Dear Mr. Darcy. Amanda Grange. 2012. Berkley Trade. 400 pages.  
  9. The Red Queen. Philippa Gregory. 2010. Touchstone. 432 pages. 
  10.  The Lady of the Rivers. Philippa Gregory. 2011. Touchstone. 464 pages.
  11. The Kingmaker's Daughter. Philippa Gregory. 2012. 423 pages. 

Christian Fiction and Nonfiction: 
  1. Jesus, Author of Our Faith. A.W. Tozer. 1988. Christian Publications. 150 pages.
  2. Grace Transforming: Phil Ryken. 2012. Crossway. 120 pages.
  3. Twelve Unlikely Heroes: How God Commissioned Unexpected People in the Bible And What He Wants To Do With You. John MacArthur. 2012. Thomas Nelson. 240 pages.
  4. Practical Religion. J.C. Ryle. 1878. 336 pages.
  5. Keeping Holiday. Starr Meade. 2008. Illustrated by Justin Gerard. 192 pages.
  6. Christmas Roses. Amanda Cabot. 2012. Revell. 174 pages.
  7. The Christmas Pony. Melody Carlson. 2012. Revell. 170 pages.
  8. Designed for Devotion: a 365 Day Journey from Genesis to Revelation. Dianne Neal Matthews. 2012. Baker Books. 372 pages.
  9. Joy: A Godly Woman's Adornment. Lydia Brownback. 2010. Crossway Books. 104 pages.
  10. Trust. Lydia Brownback. 2008. Crossway Books. 124 pages.
  11. The Purpose of Man: Designed to Worship. A.W. Tozer. Compiled and Edited by James L. Snyder. 2009. Regal. 188 pages.
  12. The Good News From North Haven. Michael L. Lindvall. 1991. 176 pages.

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Thursday, November 29, 2012

Steven Robert's Short Stories

Christmas on Deery Street. Steven Roberts. 2006. 100 pages.

I enjoyed rereading Christmas on Deery Street & Other Seasonal Stories. It is a holiday short story collection featuring a handful of stories including, "Christmas on Deery Street," "Nanny's Locket," "Magic Socks," "The Angel of Union Station," "Our Star," and "You've Done Enough." I first read this collection in 2007. The story that has stayed with me for years is "The Angel of Union Station." I just LOVE, LOVE, LOVE that story! But it isn't the only 'good' story in the collection. I also enjoyed several other stories. The stories feature very real, very human characters. I'd definitely recommend this collection...even to readers who don't typically like short stories. If characters matter to you, then this one may be just right for you.

While Shepherds Watched: Stories of Christmas Miracles and Mysteries by Steven Roberts. 2007. 165 pages.

This one features the stories: "Gabriel's Trumpet," "Peace in the Valley," "Miracle in the Clearing," "The Madam and the Paperboy," "Transforming Christmas," and "Full Circle." "Gabriel's Trumpet" is the story that stayed with me the most. It just features some very memorable characters and scenes!!! I also found "The Madam and the Paperboy" and "Transforming Christmas" to be quite lovely. I love the emotional depth of these stories.

Read Christmas on Deery Street and/or While Shepherds Watched
  • If you enjoy short stories
  • If you don't usually read short stories, but, you've always wanted to like reading short stories
  • If you enjoy holiday-themed stories
  • If you like character-driven stories
  • If you like feel-good fiction 
© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Every Day

Every Day. David Levithan. 2012. Random House. 336 pages.

  Every Day is one of those books that I can (only) appreciate from a distance. I can see why it might make many people's best lists for the year. It's definitely unique and for the most part well written. The premise is strangely fascinating and potentially disturbing. "A," our narrator has spent each day of his/her life waking up in a different body. Sometimes male, sometimes female, etc. A's ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, weight, height, etc, being something newly discovered each morning. A almost always has something to say about the body, the life, the lifestyle, the choices that person is making or has made. It would be easy to say that A is all about tolerance, and that A's experiences make tolerance a must. A has "walked" in many shoes, after all, which gives A a feeling of being very wise, very above it all. But. I found A to be quite judgmental at times. I found A's assessments of individuals--or hosts--to be limited at best and unfair at worst. A doesn't choose to "access" host memories unless necessary, unless he chooses to make a connection of sorts. And A is all about judging things superficially and by appearances. A wakes up in a messy room, A concludes this, that and the other...for example. If a host likes this kind of music, then he/she must be this kind of person... A does this without thinking about it perhaps. He concludes--usually within a few minutes--a person's worth, if that person is "good" or "bad", nice or mean, popular or nerdy, or even happy or depressed. A dismisses some of the host bodies very quickly, making all sorts of judgments about them. A definitely has ideas of who is a loser and who isn't.

Most of the book is focused on A's quest to have a real relationship with an unforgettable girl despite A's physical limitations (not being in the same body day after day after day). And as an impossible relationship that is supposed to be true, true love, it works for some.

But I didn't exactly like the way A treated/judged some of the host-bodies.


Read Every Day
  • If you are a fan of David Levithan and/or John Green
  • If you are looking for a very unique book; A isn't your typical narrator!
  • If you enjoy young adult literature

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Revisiting Legend of the Wandering King

The Legend of the Wandering King. Laura Gallego Garcia. 2005. Scholastic. 224 pages.

When I first read this book in 2005, I thought it was one of the BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR. I just LOVED, LOVED, LOVED it absolutely. I thought it was a wonderfully, magically compelling read. I had no expectations for it, not my usual genre, an unfamiliar-to-me author, and I was just wowed. So I decided to reread it this week, and it was LOVELY. It was easy for me to see just why I loved it then and now. It is just an absorbing historical fantasy with an exotic atmospheric (almost fairy tale) feel to it. I enjoyed the setting, the characters, the storytelling. I loved the themes of this one: justice and mercy, redemption, destiny and free will. It's a novel that celebrates life, in a way, that even celebrates living rightly. I even see it as a coming-of-age or turning-around story.


My first review:

As a young man, Walid (Wah-leed) ibn Hujr dreamed of being a great man, a great ruler, and a great poet. He wanted to be loved, admired, appreciated, and respected. And since he was born a prince, son of King Hujr ruler of Kinda (in Arabia), he thought his dreams would be easily attained—especially since many thought he’d been touched by a djinn at birth. (Djinn being a genie). However, Walid failed to consider what fate had in mind.

A gifted and beloved prince, Walid was certain that he was the best poet in Kinda. Wanting to earn his father’s approval to go to Ukaz to enter a poetry contest, he organizes a smaller poetry contest for the kingdom of Kinda—arrogance and vanity assuring him that his winning is a matter of certainty.

However, when a peasant man—a carpet weaver—Hammad ibn al-Haddad, wins the contest three years in a row, the once magnanimous prince becomes embittered and resolves to make the peasant pay for his superiority. He forces the peasant to leave his home, his wife, and his three sons (a merchant, a shepherd, and his youngest son who has not chosen a career yet) to become the kingdom’s archivist and historian. He is told he must read and organize the kingdom’s archives (library). The task is monumental and overwhelming. He begs for mercy, but none is given. Walid does grant him this, however, if he can organize the archives and weave him a carpet, then he can be free to return to his home.

After four years, a thinner and wearier man presents himself to the King—Walid’s father having died in the subsequent years. Walid is surprised, yet wanting to remain a man of his word, he adds a stipulation to his earlier request: he must weave a carpet “that will contain the entire history of the human race” (62). Hammad is subsequently driven mad on his quest to create such a carpet, but in his madness finds unusual peace. Even Walid notices the change in him and becomes scared of him noting that there was something not quite human about him now. Once when Walid visited him in his workshop, Hammad tells him mysteriously, “Know that you are a mere mortal who has unleashed powers more terrible than a mighty storm, and that as a mortal, you cannot stop their wrath. Not anymore. It is far too late” (73).

After considering these seemingly prophetic words, Walid decides to release the man from his “curse” and allow him to go home. He opens the door to discover him dead, collapsed on the floor, and the completed carpet. One look at the carpet and Walid becomes convinced that the old man spoke the truth; in shame and fear, he locks the carpet into his secret room. But his life (and destiny) is forever changed. His kingdom begins to fall apart. His soldiers, his servants, his household begins to distrust him. Betrayal seems inevitable.

In the middle of the night, a former friend and advisor slip into the palace with two companions their goal to steal the king’s treasure. Instead of silver or gold, they find a carpet. The king is awakened by a nightmare about the carpet—and so being a paranoid man—he decides to make sure the carpet is still locked away. He discovers that his dream is all too true, just in time to receive a club on the head. As soon as he awakes, however, he dashes off to the stables for a horse so he can pursue the thieves; he’s still dressed in his nightgown!

Since his plan was foolhardy—to begin a dash across the desert without any provisions—it’s no surprise when he collapses in the sand certain that his death is hours away. He is saved by a stranger, an outlaw. But this close-call with death won’t be his last.

THE LEGEND OF THE WANDERING KING is an adventure quest with unexpected twists and turns. As Walid sets out on his journey to recover the carpet and restore past wrongs, what he discovers is that it is never too late to change one’s self. It is an adventurous quest to restore and redeem his own life.

Set in Arabia in 6th century C.E., THE LEGEND OF THE WANDERING KING is an exciting adventure story with probing questions. Is there such a thing as fate? Can a man ever truly make amends for his past mistakes? Is a man defined by his mistakes? Can a person really change his character?

First published in Spain in 2002, THE LEGEND OF THE WANDERING KING has been translated into English by Dan Bellm. It is rich in pre-Islamic Arabic culture. An author’s note explains the time and culture which is depicted in the book. (Yes, the book is based loosely on a pre-Islamic legendary poet, Imru’l Qays.) 




© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Monday, November 26, 2012

Revisiting Catching Fire and Mockingjay

I decided to reread The Hunger Games so I could watch the movie, after reading the first book in the series, I just had to finish the whole trilogy. It was my first time to reread any of the books in the series. Some things I remembered--the Quarter Quell twist--other things not as well (the fate of some of the characters). 

Catching Fire. Suzanne Collins. 2009. Scholastic. 400 pages.

I may love Catching Fire even more than The Hunger Games. Perhaps just because I already care about Katniss, Peeta, Gale, Haymitch, Cinna, etc. Or perhaps just because it introduces Finnick!!! This is a book that definitely surprised me the first time I read it, and it was great to finally get the chance to reread it after a few years. I think it was even more enjoyable. The Quarter Quell (75) Hunger Games definitely are intense, and very very very different from the Games from the first book. I also REALLY appreciated the brief glimpse of the other games, particularly the hunger games that Haymitch won. I wouldn't mind learning even more about him and about other victors and their games. 

Mockingjay. Suzanne Collins. 2010. Scholastic. 400 pages.   

Mockingjay is so different from The Hunger Games and Catching Fire. In a way, this is a book all about consequences and sacrifices. And as you might expect, rebellion, violence, and death. All three books are that life-or-death dramatic, this one is no exception. In some ways this one is even more intense because of who is involved and what is at stake. But. It is not a fun read. There's hardly a scene to be enjoyed--it's a matter of enduring so you can know what happens next...

I am glad I reread the series. I think watching the movie helped me get back to the books.

Read The Hunger Games trilogy:
  • If you like twist-and-turns in action-packed dystopias
  • If you enjoy dystopias with or without love triangles 
  • If you like intense action and don't mind violence
© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Sunday, November 25, 2012

Sunday Salon: Watching Holiday Inn (1942)

Holiday Inn is one of my favorite, favorite Christmas movies. There are so many magical things about it. While there are two or three scenes that I don't like, for the most part, it is a great film, a great romantic holiday film.  It stars Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, Marjorie Reynolds, and Virginia Dale. It has many song-and-dance numbers. Jim Hardy, Ted Hanover, and Lila Dixon are in show business. Jim is supposed to marry Lila and settle down. But, after his "last show" on Christmas/Christmas Eve, he learns that Lila is breaking off their engagement, she's "in love" with Ted and wants to stay in show business. Jim becomes a farmer for a year until he gets the brilliant idea to open Holiday Inn, a place open on holidays. Linda Mason--who can sing and dance--is his first discovery. Jim singing "White Christmas" to her, telling her it's the song he would have sung tonight if the inn had been open that night, is easily one of the most magical scenes. I just LOVE Bing Crosby singing White Christmas! But all does not go smoothly for Jim and Linda, for soon Ted Hanover comes around...his dance partner, Lila left him for another man. Now Linda is destined to be the love of his life...but not if Jim has anything to say about it. I love the songs, "I'll Capture Her Heart," "Easy to Dance With," "Happy Holidays," "White Christmas," "Be Careful It's My Heart," and "Easter Parade." Some of the other holiday-themed songs (Washington's birthday, Lincoln's birthday, 4th of July, etc.) didn't wow me, but, still the film is definitely worth watching! I just LOVE the ending. It is oh-so-magical!

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Saturday, November 24, 2012

Library Loot: Fourth Trip in November

New Loot:
  • Safekeeping by Karen Hesse
  • Breathe by Sarah Crossan
  • The Crown of Embers by Rae Carson
  • Ruins by Orson Scott Card
Leftover Loot:
  • Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm: A New English Version edited by Philip Pullman
  • Reached by Ally Condie
  • Pathfinder by Orson Scott Card 
  • A Crown of Swords by Robert Jordan
  • The Path of Daggers by Robert Jordan   
   Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire and Marg that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries.   
 
© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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2012 Christmas Picture Books

Daddy Christmas & Hanukkah Mama. Selina Alko. 2012. Random House. 32 pages.

I am a mix of two traditions. From Daddy Christmas and Hanukkah Mama. Our tree is crowned with one shiny star. And we light eight candles for Hanukkah. I help Mama hang stockings by the fireplace. Daddy makes latkes to leave on the mantel with milk. Grandma's recipe is Santa's favorite treat. We decorate our home for the holidays. Mama scatters golden gelt under the tree. Daddy hooks candy canes on menorah branches. 

Sadie, our heroine, just loves having two holidays to celebrate, and enjoys the rich traditions from both her mom's culture and her dad's culture. This book celebrates the family depicting a loving, sharing, caring family who embraces the best of both religions/holidays. 

Cowboy Christmas. Rob Sanders. Illustrated by John Manders. 2012. Random House. 32 pages.

"Three days till Christmas," said Dwight. "And we're stuck with cows," whined Darryl. "Santy Claus will never find us out here on the range," sniveled Dub. Cookie stirred the beans. "No presents," said Dwight. "No stockings," added Darryl. "No Santy," groaned Dub. "Time for supper, cowhands," Cookie called. The cowboys hunkered down 'round the campfire. Cookie doled out plates. "When I was knee-high to a grasshopper, my daddy chopped down an evergreen for our Christmas tree," said Dwight. "We decorated that tree with popcorn, and icicles as shiny as silver spurs." "You could decorate a tree," mumbled Cookie, spooning up beans and corn bread. "That's a fact!" shouted Dwight. "We'll help," said Darryl. "Santy loves Christmas trees!" whooped Dub.

I had extremely low expectations for Cowboy Christmas. I didn't think I would like it at all. But. It completely surprised me. I really liked it! I thought it was funny and very unique! As the three complaining cowboys Dub, Dwight, and Darryl whine about missing Christmas and long for Christmases of long ago--trees, cookies, and sleighs and reindeer costumes (of all things?!), Cookie manages to convince the cowboys to try to get into the Christmas spirit right where they are. I just LOVE the "Christmas cactus" with hay-cicles that is strung with cans of corn. And the cookies are a complete disaster. It's a funny book with playful, descriptive language. A good story.

Christmas at the Toy Museum. David Lucas. 2012. Candlewick. 32 pages.

It was Christmas Eve, and all the visitors to the Toy Museum were gone. The lights were out, the doors were locked, and all the toys hurried to the big Christmas tree. But there weren't any presents! None at all. Nothing for Christmas for any of them. But Bunting the old toy cat had an idea. He had to make a speech. "Friends! Toys! Dolls! Puppets!" he said. "It's Christmas Eve! Let us not be downhearted! Why don't we all give one another ourselves?" 

 I liked Christmas at the Toy Museum. It is a clever idea, in a way, having toys wrap each other up on Christmas Eve so they can unwrap each other on Christmas Day and thus give themselves to each other as presents. This one also features a magical tree-topper angel that oversees the festivities and helps things go smoothly for Bunting the cat hasn't thought of everything.

The Christmas Quiet Book. Deborah Underwood. Illustrated by Renata Liwska. 2012. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 32 pages.

Christmas is a quiet time: mysterious bundles quiet, searching for presents quiet, getting caught quiet, hoping for a snow day quiet, bundled up quiet, snow angel quiet, knocking with mittens quiet...

I enjoyed The Christmas Quiet Book. Then again, I would have also enjoyed a book titled The Christmas Loud Book. If you're a fan of Deborah Underwood's The Quiet Book or The Loud Book, there's a good chance you'll appreciate the newest book in the series. Some quiet images worked better for me than others, for example, "reading  by the fire quiet" and "listening for sleigh bells quet." But overall I did enjoy this one.

LEGO City: Save This Christmas. Rebecca McCarthy. 2012. Scholastic. 24 pages.

It was a starry night in LEGO city. A policeman watched over the town Christmas tree and the presents below it. Meanwhile three crooks planned to steal all the presents in the morning. But that night, it snowed. It snowed so much that the crooks couldn't leave their hideout in the morning. "One of you guys better help shovel us out!" Chester shouted. "Not me," said Lester. "I'm working on Plan B!" "Not me," said Jester. "I'm sipping hot cocoa!" 

Will Chester, Lester, and Jester even come close to successfully stealing the city's Christmas presents? It doesn't seem likely. Not with their luck and timing! For little ones who love LEGO, especially LEGO City sets, may enjoy this holiday adventure.

Also available: LEGO City: Sticker Storybook, Merry Christmas, LEGO City! from Scholastic. The story helps little ones know where to place the stickers.

My Christmas Treasury. Scholastic. 2012. 96 pages.

My Christmas Treasury contains three holiday stories: The Biggest Christmas Tree Ever by Steven Kroll, illustrated by Jeni Bassett; There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Bell! by Lucille Colandro, illustrated by Jared Lee; Christmas Morning by Cheryl Ryan, illustrated by Jenny Mattheson.

From The Biggest Christmas Tree Ever,
Once there were two mice who fell in love with the same Christmas tree, but you had to see it to believe it.

Clayton and Desmond are two young mice with the same ambitious goal: to find the BIGGEST Christmas tree Mouseville has ever seen. Thanksgiving day and the after-effects of Thanksgiving Day discourage them both for a day or two and frustrate their big plans, but, these two eventually stumble upon the biggest tree ever...

From There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Bell,
There was an old lady who swallowed a bell. How it jingled and jangled and tickled, as well! I don't know why she swallowed a bell. I wish she'd tell. There was an old lady who swallowed some bows. Soft as the snow, were those velvety bows. She swallowed the bows to tie up the bell that jingled and jangled and tickled, as well! 

If you enjoy "There Was An Old Lady" stories (there are so many!) then this holiday book may be just what you're looking for.

From Christmas Morning,
This is the house where the children slept.
This is the snow that fell on the house where the children slept.
This is the sleigh that flew through the snow that fell on the house where the children slept.
These are the reindeer who pulled the sleigh that flew through the snow that fell on the house where the children slept.

If you enjoy "This is the House" stories (like This is the House that Jack Built), then this book is quite a treat! It may just be my favorite from this Christmas treasury.


Merry Christmas Maisy: a Maisy Lift-the-Flap Book. Lucy Cousins. 2012. Candlewick. 22 pages.

Christmas is coming. The mailman brings Maisy lots of cards. Maisy goes shopping and buys presents for her friends. Maisy wraps the presents.

Merry Christmas Maisy is your typical Maisy book, your typical lift-the-flap Maisy book. (Not every Maisy book features flaps.) I wasn't wowed by this one. But if your little one loves Maisy, I could see the appeal.

Peppa Pig and the Lost Christmas List. 2012. Candlewick Press. 32 pages.

It's almost Christmas, and Peppa Pig and her little brother, George, are mailing their letters to Santa. Peppa's friends are there too!

If you (or your little one) loves the TV show, Peppa Pig, then this Christmas adventure may prove quite satisfying. It is based on the TV show, no author is listed for this book. In this playful book, Peppa "helps" Santa when he loses his Christmas list. He just can't remember who the presents in his bag belong to. Since Peppa had listened carefully to what each of her friends had asked Santa for, she is able to "save" Christmas for all her friends. I think if you already like Peppa, then you'll appreciate this one. If this is your first introduction to Peppa, then I'm not sure it will be enough to persuade.

My Santa Claus. Lily Karr. Illustrated by Jay Johnson. 2012. Scholastic. 12 pages.

Santa Claus comes once a year,
to bring everyone Christmas cheer.
In his sack he has many surprises,
presents and gifts in all shapes and sizes.

A simple board book for little ones. It rhymes. It stars Santa. 
Lalaloopsy: Christmas Magic. Lauren Cecil. 2012. Scholastic. 24 pages.

It was the holiday season in Lalaloopsy Land. Holly Sleighbells was so excited  she could hardly sit still. "I can't wait for Christmas this year!" said Holly. Then she made a list of everything she had to do before Christmas: make cookies, write cards, decorate tree, wrap presents, hang stocking, go caroling. 

I had low expectations for this one. But. It wasn't as horrible as I thought it would be. Holly is a bit impatient, a bit impulsive, and very independent. Holly is someone who wants to do EVERYTHING on her own. The result is one mess after another after another. Holly has some great friends who understand that friends help each other and love each other through all the messes and mistakes. One example of her mistakes is when she runs out of tape as she's wrapping Christmas presents, she's too impatient to go get more tape, she decides to use GLUE instead. The results are disastrous! Because there was an actual story, I enjoyed this one more than I thought I would. It does include stickers.

Also available this Christmas season is Where's Waldo? Santa Spectacular which features puzzles, searches and over 300 stickers.

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Friday, November 23, 2012

Almost Home (MG)

Almost Home. Joan Bauer. 2012. Penguin. 240 pages.

 Even though this one has a dog on the cover, I knew I had to read it because it is Joan Bauer. I trust Bauer. I do. I trust her books to be good...if not great. Almost Home did not disappoint. It was a compelling read, an emotional one. For the heroine, Sugar Mae Cole, goes through some tough things. She's such a wonderful, lovable heroine. I loved the fact that writing was one of the ways she coped, loved to see her writing and sharing poetry, loved the fact that she was able to stay connected with her sixth grade teacher, Mr. Bennett, during her struggles. Since her grandfather died (loved reading her memories of him), things have not been easy for Sugar and her mom, they've been struggling with their finances for most of the year, and finally the worst happens: they lose their home. Readers don't often get to see glimpses of homeless life, of life in and out of shelters, though sometimes readers get a glimpse of life for kids in foster homes, but we get to see a bit of both in this one. (For after one last big disappointment, Sugar does end up in foster care.)

I thought the writing was amazing. I just loved it. And I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED the characterization. This one is RICH in minor characters which is always a bonus. I would definitely recommend this one....even if you don't trust dog books.


Read Almost Home
  • If you enjoy children's books
  • If you enjoy coming of age stories
  • If you're looking for heroines who write creatively 
  • If you like dog books, if you don't like dog books
  • If you're looking for books about foster care 
  • If you're looking for books about friendship and making your own family

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Challenge Completed: Cruisin' Through the Cozies

Socrates' Book Reviews: Cruising Through the Cozies challenge. This will  be my second year participating. I had SO much fun last year.  I am signing up for level two--seven to twelve books. (That's the investigator level).

1. Death at Wentwater Court by Carola Dunn
2. The Tuesday Club Murders. Agatha Christie. 1932/2007. Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers. 256 pages.
3. Poirot Investigates. Agatha Christie. 1924/2011. HarperCollins. 256 pages.
4. Mrs. McGinty's Dead. Agatha Christie. 1952/2011. HarperCollins. 272 pages. 
5. The Man in the Brown Suit. Agatha Christie. 1924/2012. HarperCollins. 320 pages.
6. One, Two Buckle My Shoe. Agatha Christie. 1940/2011. HarperCollins. 240 pages. 
7. The Seven Dials Mystery. Agatha Christie. 1929/2012. HarperCollins. 304 pages.
8. The Secret Adversary. Agatha Christie. 1922/2012. HarperCollins. 352 pages.
9. The Mystery of the Blue Train. Agatha Christie. 1928/2011. HarperCollins. 320 pages.
10. The Secret of Chimneys. Agatha Christie. 1925/2012. HarperCollins. 336.
11. Champagne for One. Rex Stout. 1958/1995. Random House. 224 pages.
12. Too Many Women. Rex Stout. 1947/1985. Bantam Books. 176 pages.


© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Thursday, November 22, 2012

Challenge Completed: European Reading Challenge


I signed up for the five star (deluxe entourage) level of Rose City Reader's European Reading Challenge. I read twelve books.

1) His Name Was Raoul Wallenberg: Courage, Rescue, and Mystery During World War II. Louise Borden. (Sweden OR Hungary; NONFICTION)
2) My Family for the War. Anne C. Voorhoeve. (England OR Germany)
3) All Our Worldly Goods. Irene Nemirovsky. (France)
4) In the Garden of Beasts. Erik Larson. (Germany; NONFICTION)
5) Between Shades of Gray. Ruta Sepetys. (Lithuania)
6) Breaking Stalin's Nose. Eugene Yelchin. (Russia--Soviet Union)
7) Mascot: Unraveling the Mystery of My Jewish Father's Nazi Boyhood. Mark Kurzem. (Latvia/Belarus; NONFICTION)
8)  Smuggled by Christina Shea. (Romania/Hungary)
9) The Lost Wife by Alyson Richman (Czech Republic)
10) The Gathering Storm by Robin Bridges (Russia and Montenegro)
11) Gods and Warriors. Michelle Paver. (Greece)
12)  The Flight of Gemma Hardy. Margot Livesey. (Scotland/Iceland)

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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The Second Life of Abigail Walker (MG)

The Second Life of Abigail Walker. Frances O'Roark Dowell. 2012. Simon & Schuster. 240 pages.

I really liked Frances O'Roark Dowell's newest book, the Second Life of Abigail Walker. It didn't wow me as much as Kristin Levine's The Lions of Little Rock OR Rebecca Stead's Liar & Spy, but, it was a gentle, satisfying exploration of first friendship. The heroine, Abigail Walker, does not have many friends, and what "friends" she did have once her true best friend moved away the year before, she's since lost because she was brave enough to stand up for herself. (Her new "friends" liked to pick on her every day, boss her around, call her names, criticize her, etc.) When she didn't say, "yes, you're right, throwing up would be a great way for me to lose weight," well she became "dead" to them and they started making her life miserable. But this is a hopeful story in many, many ways, a quirky story too. (Every other chapter was narrated by a fox.) For Abigail does find her way, she does make new friends, she is able to bring hope and joy to others just by her being herself. The message was a good one. And I did like many things about this one. I liked the friendship theme. I didn't enjoy the focus on Abby's weight as much, though I suppose it felt authentic enough in showing her daily struggles. But it was sad too. The pressure others put on her in addition to the messages she told herself, it all felt sad to me. I could see *why* she was turning to food. It isn't a book with an easy answer at the end, which was good, I suppose.

Personally, I think I would have loved this one a little bit more without the fox fantasy-elements. But I think it is still a good read.


Read The Second Life of Abigail Walker
  • If you are a fan of Frances O'Roark Dowell
  • If you like MG fiction, coming of age stories
  • If you like stories about the healing powers of friendship

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

City

City. Clifford D. Simak. Old Earth Books. 264 pages. 

I didn't exactly love or hate Clifford D. Simak's City. This is a collection of eight stories (plus an epilogue); the stories are linked together as the accumulated mythology of dogs. Each story is introduced and "explained" from the scholarly dog perspective. Man never really existed, there's no proof man ever existed, there certainly isn't any reason to think that men ever had anything to do with dogs, or helped in the "creation" of dogs or robots, etc. But men continued to play a role--sometimes a large role, sometimes a small role, in the cozy campfire tales/stories of dogs. The early stories focus on man's diminishing role on Earth, and the abandoning of cities for the countryside. Men no longer feel the need to work together to form a society, each man or each family prefers to be on their own, to rely on themselves. Government becoming absurd after the concept of cities has fallen apart. Most of the stories do feature talking dogs and robots and a few "mutant" men and "wild" robots. (I'm not sure exactly what made the mutant men mutant and the wild robots wild except both seem to have more freedom and less inclination to follow strict rules and structures.) The stories are: City (1944), Huddling Place (1944), Census (1944), Desertion (1944), Paradise (1946), Hobbies (1946), Aesop (1947), The Simple Way (1951), Epilog (1973). The stories do span ten thousand years or so, plenty of time for people and animals and society to change again and again. Elements of City strongly reminded me of The Long Earth; for example, the concept of there being many, many, many earths that one could learn to travel between, each one being a variant of sorts of the original but also unique.

Short stories can be difficult for me, at times, because I generally prefer longer fiction where I get a better chance to know the characters and a better chance to connect with the story and plot. I often felt disconnected from these stories. I remained slightly interested, for the most part, never really wanted to stop reading the book.


Read City
  • If you want to read a science fiction classic
  • If you enjoy vintage science fiction
  • If you enjoy short stories 
  • If you like dogs OR robots

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Five 2012 Picture Books

The Chicken Problem. Jennifer Oxley and Billy Aronson. 2012. Random House. 32 pages.

This is Peg. She loves solving problems. She also loves pie. This is Cat. He loves helping Peg solve problems. He loves pie too. One day, Peg and Cat were on a farm, getting all ready to have a perfect picnic with a pig. The sun was shining. The chickens were cheeping. The pie was fresh and juicy and gooey. And everybody had a piece of pie that was just the right size for them. So they were ready to start their perfect picnic with a pig, right?

 I really enjoyed The Chicken Problem. I enjoyed Peg and Cat. Peg, at times, could be dramatic. Like when she gets so distraught because there's a tiny piece of pie with no one to eat it. NO BODY! But Cat is always there to help Peg think things out. And he's got a solution. Who better to eat a tiny piece of pie than one tiny chick?! Unfortunately, Cat didn't properly close the chicken coop, and now there are a HUNDRED CHICKS on the loose giving Peg plenty of reasons to panic. I loved the liveliness of the story.
There were one hundred chickens going crazy all over the place! Chickens leaping! Chickens skipping! Chickens hopping! Chickens doing somersaults! Chickens standing on their heads! Chickens standing on each other's heads! Chickens doing the chicken dance! Chickens bending over and wiggling their bottoms in the air! There were chickens chickens chickens chickens chickens everywhere!
I think the text offers readers plenty of opportunity to read (aloud) expressively, to really get into the story! How can Peg and her friends get all these chickens back in the coop? Will they ever get to eat their pie?

Bedtime is Canceled. Cece Meng. Illustrated by Aurelie Neyret. 2012. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 32 pages.

The note read, "Bedtime is canceled." Maggie thought of it. Her brother wrote it. Their parents read it. They didn't believe it. So into the trash it went...until the wind got a hold of it. Up it flew, out the window, loop-de-loop, across town...until finally it landed on the desk of a newspaper reporter, right on the pile of finished work. The newspaper printed it in big, bold black letters...

Once the local newspaper and news broadcast reports that BEDTIME IS CANCELED it isn't long before everyone starts believing it to be fact. Word continues to spread through e-mail. EVERYONE believes that bedtime is a thing of the past, now Maggie and her brother know better. But, why would they want to stop such wonderful news?! This is the best thing ever, right? Who wouldn't be thrilled not to have to go to bed? Well, the adults aren't happy... but why should upset adults bother them?

Bedtime is Canceled has a playful premise, but, it didn't quite work for me.

The Other Side of Town. Jon Agee. Scholastic. 2012. 32 pages.

I was having a lousy day--few fares, bad tips, a flat tire--when this guy in a funny hat waved me down. "Take me to Schmeeker Street," he said. "You mean Bleecker Street, downtown?" "No, Schmeeker Street, on the other side of town." He told me how to get there, past the bus depot and the city dump, till we came to a dead end. "Here we are," I said. "This must be the other side of town." "Not yet," he said, and he whipped out a remote control and pressed a button.

What a strange little picture book! Jon Agee's The Other Side of Town is a playful, imaginative story told from the perspective of a cab driver who has picked up a strange little man. The cab driver learns that "the other side of town" is quite different. It is like he's awakened in a strange, new world. Fortunately, the man left his remote control behind or he might never have got back to his own side of town...but just because he's gone home doesn't mean that he leaves the experience unchanged...

In some ways, this book reminded me of Jan Slepian's The Hungry Thing.

Rabbityness. Jo Empson. 2012. Child's Play. 32 pages.

Rabbit liked doing rabbity things. Rabbit liked hopping. Rabbit liked jumping. Rabbit liked twirling his whiskers. Rabbit liked washing his ears. Rabbit liked burrowing, and Rabbit liked sleeping. Rabbit also liked doing unrabbity things. He liked painting...and making music.This made Rabbit VERY happy! It made him SO happy, all the other rabbits caught his happiness. He filled the woods with color and music. 

 Rabbityness is not your typical picture book. It is about grief and loss. Readers aren't exactly told the specifics of why Rabbit has gone away or disappeared, but, we are told that his going away has left a "deep, dark hole" that left the rabbits deeply saddened. The collective loss to the woods is FELT. But underneath the layers of grief, buried deep within that loss is a legacy...a legacy left to each and every rabbit that ever knew and loved Rabbit. And that gift is art and music. And using this legacy, they can choose to color the woods with their own artistic endeavors.

The Red Boat. Hannah Cumming. 2012. Child's Play. 32 pages.

Perhaps you'll enjoy The Red Boat more than I did. The Red Boat is a picture book about a little girl, Posy, who has just  moved to a new house and neighborhood. She's ANXIOUS about everything, especially starting school. Her only comfort seems to be a dog named George. In Posy's yard is a red boat. At night, Posy and George sneak out of the house to get into this red boat. Once in this red boat, the boat travels here, there, everywhere. Posy gets extra-opportunities at night time to learn how to make friends with others (polar bears, aliens, etc.). She takes these new skills and starts applying them during the day. The book concludes with a big, big party with all her new friends. Some of these friends--the neighbors, her classmates--are from the real world, but the other friends are from her fanciful travelings in the red boat. If the ending had been different, if the red boat hadn't been taken so seriously--taken as fact--then I might not have disliked this one.


© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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The Lions of Little Rock (MG)

The Lions of Little Rock. Kristin Levine. 2012. Penguin. 304 pages.

I talk a lot. Just not out loud where anyone can hear. At least I used to be that way. I'm no chatterbox now, but if you stop me on the street and ask me directions to the zoo, I'll answer you. Probably. If you're nice, I might even tell you a couple of different ways to get there. 

I loved, loved, loved Kristin Levine's The Lions of Little Rock. Since I had also LOVED The Best Bad Luck I Ever Had, I knew to expect great things from her, and I was not disappointed. I'm not sure which of the two is my favorite, favorite. I loved both books so much. All I can say is that I definitely want to reread them both!

I LOVED both Marlee and Liz. Marlee is a heroine that I found so easy to love. She's so shy, so wonderfully smart but painfully shy. So shy that her family--who loves and supports her--challenges her (in a good way) to speak five or six words a day. In the beginning, she's so reliant on her older sister, but through the novel, she becomes more confident and brave. But above all, she becomes more thoughtful. She takes time to think and consider, for the most part, what is right, what is true, over and above what is easy and what is comfortable.

Liz is a new girl who becomes Marlee's very first true best friend, but their friendship will soon be tested in Little Rock, Arkansas in the school year of 1958/1959...

I do enjoy historical fiction. I found the setting of this one to be so very fascinating. It is set one year after the Little Rock Nine, and readers learn about the year that public high schools were officially closed in order to avoid integration. It is simply a fascinating, compelling novel. I just couldn't put it down.

I did love the characters, and not just the main character(s). Readers get a chance to get to know all the people in Marlee's life, her mother and father, her older sister and brother, a few teachers, even a Sunday School teacher, I believe, the family's new maid, her classmates, her friends, those that bully her, etc. So many glimpses of people that felt so genuine.

I also LOVED the writing. I just LOVED, LOVED, LOVED it from start to finish. So lovely, it just has a "just right" feel to it.


Read The Lions of Little Rock
  • If you love GREAT children's books, if you want to read one of the best books of the year
  • If you love coming of age stories 
  • If you like strong friendship stories
  • If you enjoy historical fiction, this one is set in Little Rock, Arkansas, late 1950s
  • If you like novels with complex characters
  • If you are looking for a heroine who LOVES math  
© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Monday, November 19, 2012

The Kingmaker's Daughter

The Kingmaker's Daughter. Philippa Gregory. 2012. 423 pages. 

I have enjoyed Philippa Gregory's Cousins' War series so far. The Kingmaker's Daughter would probably be my favorite--at least so far. It is the story of Anne Neville, the daughter of Warwick, the "kingmaker", and wife of Richard III. The book chronicles her from childhood until her death--beginning with the marriage of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville. Her father always had a plot or scheme, always had a plan and a backup plan. So in a way, the book is very political and gives a behind the scenes look at corruption, power, and manipulation. But it is also a personal story. Readers see Anne as a daughter, sister, wife, widow, and mother. In various roles, readers are able to perhaps catch a glimpse of what it might have been like to live during these turbulent times.

I loved the focus on relationships. I loved the complexity of those relationships. It must have been hard to live with the decisions and consequences of such an ambitious father, never knowing from one week to the next whose side you're supposed to be on and if your father is scheming to make YOU queen or if he's scheming to make your sister queen. Wanting to support him and be a good daughter, yet, at the same time never understanding him fully.

There are so many intense scenes in this one. One of the toughest scenes is when Anne is trying to help her sister during her labor at sea. WOW. And that's just one of the emotional scenes of the novel. It's a compelling novel, a sad novel since Anne's story is a tragic one, but it's a fascinating story too.

I would definitely recommend this one. I just LOVED it. The novel is not perfect, perhaps, I wish Richard had been portrayed a little differently. Though I was VERY RELIEVED that Richard's portrayal was so complex, seeking to see his strengths and weaknesses. He was not portrayed as a horrible, evil, despicable person. And he definitely wasn't portrayed as a saint.


Read The Kingmaker's Daughter
  • If you love historical fiction
  • If you love historical fiction set in the fifteenth century
  • If you want to read more about the War of Roses, or The Cousins' War
  • If you are a fan of Philippa Gregory

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Sunday Salon: Watching Music Man

Music Man is one of my favorite, favorite musicals. And easily the musical I could watch most often with never tiring of it. I love it from start to finish. It stars Robert Preston, Shirley Jones, Pert Kelton, Ron Howard, and Buddy Hackett. Robert Preston IS the music man. I am not sure anyone else could have done it right, so convincingly. "Professor Harold Hill" comes to River City, Iowa, to "sell" boys bands. While a few people remain skeptical of his "credentials" throughout, most take very little convincing. Even Miss Marian becomes convinced that he's brought only good things...in part because she witnesses how his arrival transforms her brother. And that transformation from miserable-and-lost little boy grieving his father to a life-loving happy kid IS magical to witness. That scene where he sings Wells Fargo Wagon is magical. He brings life, love, and music with him, true, his intentions are less than honorable, as the song "The Sadder But Wiser Girl" reveals. But surely the film reveals his transformation as well. There are so many songs in this one. But a few of the highlights include, "76 Trombones," "Ya Got Trouble," "Marian the Librarian," "Wells Fargo Wagon" "Till There Was You," "Good Night My Someone," and "Shipoopi." The feature, "Right Here in River City: The Making of Meredith Willson's The Music Man" is well worth watching!!! It was so fascinating to discover Shirley Jones' secret!

Do you have a favorite song or favorite scene from The Music Man?

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Saturday, November 17, 2012

Library Loot: Third Trip in November

New Loot:
  • Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm: A New English Version edited by Philip Pullman
  • Little Lord Fauntleroy by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  • Untold Tales by William J. Brooke
  • Reached by Ally Condie
  • Pahtfinder by Orson Scott Card

Leftover Loot:
  • A Crown of Swords by Robert Jordan
  • The Path of Daggers by Robert Jordan  
   Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire and Marg that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries.   

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Lord of Chaos

Lord of Chaos. (Wheel of Time #6) Robert Jordan. 1994. Tor. 720 pages.

I struggled my way through Lord of Chaos. I didn't find it as easy to love as some of the earlier books in Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series. Because I was so enthusiastic at the start of the series, it was disappointing to "just" like a book instead of love it.

Lord of Chaos does have almost all of the characters I've come to like, love, enjoy. (Of course, in this good vs. evil battle there are plenty of not-so-good characters.) Rand isn't having an easy time being the Dragon Reborn. Sure, some people love him or the idea of him. Some might arguably be a little too enthusiastic for the cause. But others hate him and will stop at nothing to bring him down. But rather it's love or hate, there are plenty who just don't know him at all. They see him as a symbol, an idea, not a human being. Being around Rand brings danger to his friends... But this is never just Rand's story. There are a dozen or so "main" stories in this series. And hundreds of characters--at least--to follow through the narration. Some characters seem to have chapters and chapters dedicated to them, and others just a couple. Unfortunately, the proportion this time around didn't match my interest level. That is also how I felt about much of Lord of the Rings. There were characters that I just LOVED, LOVED, LOVED so very much and whose stories I found so compelling and wonderful. And then there were other sections where I just kept reading so I could get to the good parts I knew were coming.

Read Lord of Chaos
  • If you're a fan of fantasy series, long fantasy series
  • If you enjoy epic battles between good and evil 

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Friday, November 16, 2012

No Crystal Stair

No Crystal Stair: A Documentary Novel of the Life and Work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem Bookseller. Vaunda Micheaux Nelson. Illustrated by R. Gregory Christie. 2012. Lerner. 188 pages. 

There were a few times when No Crystal Stair amazed me, and definitely there were times I found it interesting or fascinating. But. I didn't love this one enough to gush about it. It is a uniquely told story told in fragments, fragments which make for quick reading, for the most part. But also the fragments kept me separated, in a way, from the main character(s). It was a respectful distance. Readers meet an inspirational man with a big dream and determination to match it. A man convinced that books could make a difference, that is READING books could make a difference, that knowledge improves lives. The book chronicles his early life and comes to focus on his great success as a one-of-a-kind bookseller, owning a bookstore focusing exclusively on books written by African Americans or about African Americans. For those interested in race relations in the twentieth century--especially in the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s--this one could easily be considered a must read.  

Read No Crystal Stair
  • If you are looking for a fictional novel based on true people and events
  • If you are looking for an unusual, often brilliant, portrait of a man and the times in which he lived
  • If you are looking to learn more about the Harlem Renaissance OR the Civil Rights movement

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Thursday, November 15, 2012

Jump Into the Sky (MG)

Jump Into the Sky. Shelley Pearsall. 2012. Random House. 352 pages.

It's been years since I've read a Shelley Pearsall novel, but I remember really loving those that I've read in the past. I really liked Jump Into the Sky. I'm not sure that I absolutely loved it. But it was a really good read. I just LOVED the main character, Levi Battle. I really loved his narrative voice, and I enjoyed seeing the world through his eyes. I enjoyed many of the characters, I especially liked Cal, Peaches, and baby Victory. (I loved hearing their love story!) I was so happy that this couple was able to open their hearts and home to Levi when he really needed someone--anyone--to care. And I was pleased that Levi had the opportunity--at last--to get to know his father.

The book was set during the last months of World War II, and it was an interesting read. I enjoyed learning about this historical period. I didn't know about the balloon bombs OR the African American paratroopers. So that was good. This isn't exactly a fast-paced action novel, more of a slow character-focused coming of age story. I enjoy coming-of-age stories AND I enjoy historical fiction.

I enjoyed the characters, the writing, the details great and small. 


Read Jump Into the Sky
  • If you enjoy well-written, character-focused coming of age stories set during World War II
  • If you are looking for a multicultural World War II read that discusses prejudice in and out of the military
  • If you enjoy historical fiction with memorable narrators

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Caught (MG)

Caught. (Missing #5) Margaret Peterson Haddix. 2012. Simon & Schuster. 352 pages.

  I have enjoyed Margaret Peterson Haddix's time-travel series for middle grade. Some of the books I've liked better than others, but, for the most part, I've enjoyed each one. In this fifth adventure, Jonah and Katherine face their biggest challenge so far. The book begins with the freezing of time. Jonah and Katherine are in school when time freezes. They know that something must have happened, but when and where?! They seek out others who have traveled in time--the only people unaffected so it seems by frozen time--but before they get the chance to do anything, Jonah and Katherine find themselves falling through time and landing in 1903. They have a few clues, they know Albert Einstein and his wife are somehow connected to their being there. But for the most part, these two are clueless and choosing to be invisible for as long as possible...but Albert Einstein's wife is clever and knows something is up....

Caught is a fast-paced read. I don't enjoy this series because the characters are well-developed and fascinating. I enjoy this series because of the story, the action, the history. I enjoy learning about different periods of history. I enjoy the author's notes at the end of each book. I like learning what is truth and what is fiction. I enjoy the time travel aspect of the story and the mystery behind it.


Read Caught
  • If you've enjoyed the other titles in the Missing series by Margaret Peterson Haddix
  • If you enjoy middle grade science fiction with a time travel element
  • If you enjoy children's books with action and mystery

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Sweetest Spell (YA)

The Sweetest Spell. Suzanne Selfors. 2012. Walker & Company. 416 pages.

I was in the perfect mood for Suzanne Selfors' The Sweetest Spell. I loved the heroine, Emmeline Thistle. I enjoyed reading about her community, especially the husband market where the young women bid on the single men of the community. Since she was born with a deformed foot, and since the whole community distrusts her, she's not one of the young women joining in, at least not yet--she's just sixteen or seventeen. But the novel opens with a big disruption: soldiers arriving on that day to take away the men to fight the king's war. Days later, major flooding proves even more devastating to the community. Emmeline Thistle finds herself truly alone with nowhere to go, but as long as there are cows nearby, Emmeline will never be friendless.

I enjoyed this one so very much! I loved Emmeline. I loved Owen Oak, the love interest, who discovers her after the flood. I enjoyed so many characters--major and minor. And I really loved spending time in the world Selfor's created. I loved the storytelling, the adventure, the romance, the characters, the writing.


Read The Sweetest Spell
  • If you enjoy fantasy with a historical feel
  • If you enjoy fantasy with some romance
  • If you are looking for some charm in your fantasy (I found it very delightful!)
  • If you like reading about chocolate

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Monday, November 12, 2012

The Star Trek Reader

The Star Trek Reader. Twenty-one Novelized Episodes Based on the Exciting Television Series Created by Gene Roddenberry. James Blish. 1968, 1969, 1972. Dutton. 372 pages.

This is the first volume in the book series of adaptations by James Blish. It contains three books, "Star Trek 2," "Star Trek 3," and "Star Trek 8." It was a great introduction to Blish's work. It features stories like, "The Trouble with Tribbles," "The City on the Edge of Forever," "Friday's Child," "Tomorrow is Yesterday," etc.

What surprised me is that I found myself liking the short story adaptations even when I didn't particularly remember liking the episode it was based on. (Though Spock's Brain didn't exactly improve.)

For anyone who loves the characters, the stories, the friendships, the themes of Star Trek The Original Series, this is a MUST. I enjoyed it very much. There is definitely something comforting and satisfying about it. I definitely want to reread it!

Read The Star Trek Reader
  • If you enjoy vintage science fiction
  • If you enjoy Star Trek The Original Series
  • If you enjoy short stories

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Sunday, November 11, 2012

Three 2012 Picture Books


The Goldilocks Variations. Allan Ahlberg. Illustrated by Jessica Ahlberg. 2012. Candlewick. 40 pages.

For anyone who enjoys The Three Little Bears will enjoy this oh-so-creative book of variations by Allan Ahlberg. (This may just be my favorite Ahlberg title!) Some of the offerings include: "Goldilocks and the Three Bears," "Goldilocks and the 33 Bears," "Goldilocks and the Bliim," "Goldilocks and the Furniture," "Goldilocks The Play," "Goldilocks and...Everybody," and "Goldilocks...Alone?" The language is fun and playful and just right.

Goldilocks and the Three Bears begins,
"There was once a cheeky girl. Her name, or nickname rather, on account of her corn-colored hair, was Goldilocks. One morning, Goldilocks went for a walk in the woods, found a little cottage, climbed in through a window, and messed around for a bit. This cottage was the home of...The Three Bears." 
and it ends,
"Meanwhile, the great big father bear and the middle-size mother bear cuddled up their sad little small wee baby bear and gave him some of their porridge. And, later on, a boiled egg in his own little eggcup. Some bread and butter soldiers to dip in it. And a cup of tea. And later on still, a lovely little BUN. Bears love buns."
I really enjoyed the playfulness of Goldilocks and the 33 Bears. In part, it reads,
Well, Goldilocks sat on a great many chairs and broke most of them. She came upon a great many bowls of porridge and ate too many of them. She climbed the stairs, with her terribly bulgy tummy, flopped down onto the nearest bed--there were dozens of them--and fell asleep in it. Then...homeward came the bears! The great big father bear saw the open window. The middle-size mother bear saw the broken chairs. The tall and skinny teenage bears saw very little. They were still dawdling in the woods. The younger bears saw nothing at all. They were having a sleepover at their friend's house. The very baby bear also saw nothing. She was having a sleepover on her daddy's back. But the little small wee bears--there were two of them--saw EVERYTHING. 
That story also happily ends with buns because BEARS LOVE BUNS.

I thought Goldilocks the Play was BRILLIANT. I just LOVED it!!! The other variations were nice too. I would definitely recommend this one!!!

Read The Goldilocks Variations
  • If you enjoy playful, fun variations or "fractured" fairy tales
  • If you enjoy fairy tales
  • If you love detailed, creative books

Cinderella: A Three-Dimensional Fairy Tale Theater. Jane Ray. 2012. Candlewick. 12 pages. 

For those that love Cinderella, this may be a must. It may also be a must for those that love intricate, delicate, detailed pop-up illustrations. Some may be fascinated by the illustrations alone. And you could definitely spend time looking at them! The text of this one is revealed by opening the curtains on each side of the stage. This probably wouldn't be a great choice for young(er) children because the pop-ups are so delicate. But for older children who still enjoy Cinderella, it would be great.

Read Cinderella
  • If you love Cinderella, if you love reading different versions of the story
  • If you love pop-up books, if you love detailed three-dimensional art





Who Pushed Humpty Dumpty? And Other Notorious Nursery Tale Mysteries. David Levinthal. Illustrations by John Nickle. 2012. Random House.  40 pages.


A mystery-detective themed picture book that fractures fairy tales! Tales (cases) include: Goldilocks, Hansel and Gretel, Humpty Dumpty, Snow White, and Jack and the Beanstalk. The narrator (a frog) is a cop named Binky. These are his cases, all of them solved. The book was silly, and for those looking to introduce little ones to the genre of detective stories (finding clues, solving cases, questioning witnesses, etc.) it would be a good fit.

Read Who Pushed Humpty Dumpty?
  • If you enjoy fractured fairy tales
  • If you love mystery and detective stories
© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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