Friday, September 22, 2017

Orphan Island

Orphan Island. Laurel Snyder. 2017. 288 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Jinny heard the bell. She threw down her book, rose from the stale comfort of the old brown sofa, and scrambled for the door. When she burst from the cabin into the evening air, Jinny ran.

Premise/plot: The setting is an island that seems to in some way take care of the nine children who inhabit it. It's not your ordinary island.
Nine on an island, orphans all,
Any more, the sky might fall.
Every year a boat comes bearing a young child--perhaps four or five years of age. The eldest child of the island gets in the boat and departs. The next-to-oldest becomes the new elder and takes charge of the new child. In that one year, the elder will teach her care how to survive--thrive even--on the island. (Or his care.)

Jinny becomes the new elder soon after the novel opens. Her care is a young girl named Ess. Jinny struggles in her role as elder. She both loves and hates it. It is without a doubt the hardest thing she's ever done.

At the end of the year, Jinny knows she should get in the boat--like every other elder that has gone before her. But will she be able to face her fears, face the uncertainties?

Orphan Island, I believe, is supposed to be an allegory about the struggles of growing up, about the journey of leaving childhood behind. Jinny, our heroine, doesn't want to grow up. The idea of leaving the safety of the island behind her and journeying forth literally into the unknown terrifies her. 

My thoughts: Orphan Island left me speechless--for the most part. I have no answers because there are so many questions are still unanswered by the end of the novel. Mainly questions about how the children got on the island, how the island takes care of the children, why just nine children, who sends and directs the boat, where the elders go when they leave the island.

One fascinating aspect of Orphan Island is the unknown Abigail. The children have no idea who Abigail is/was. But her books are on the island. Her notes are in the books. Some of the children feel like they *know* Abigail through the clues she's left behind. I would LOVE to know more about Abigail and the first generation of children who lived on the island.

I would recommend this one. But if you hate untidy endings that leave you wanting more, then maybe it's best to know that ahead of time. There will be questions you *need* answered. They won't be answered in the book. Perhaps they'll never be answered by the author. Perhaps you'll have to choose your own ending.

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Thursday, September 21, 2017

The Wooden Prince

The Wooden Prince. John Claude Bemis. 2016. Disney-Hyperion. 312 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: By the time Pinocchio arrived in the village of San Baldovino, he was bursting with impatience to get free. Being locked in a trunk shouldn't have bothered him. He was an automa, after all.

Premise/plot: Think you know the story of Pinocchio? Think again! Bemis asks readers to join him on a fantastical journey. In the original story, Pinocchio is almost always unlikable; he is always rebellious and disobedient; he is more an object lesson than a 'real boy.' In this new novel--the first in a series--Pinocchio has a chance to be THE HERO.

My thoughts: Bemis has created a complex fantasy world. I wish I'd known about the glossary sooner. But reading the glossary after I finished the novel helped answer a few remaining questions I had. I really liked the world he created. Perhaps I wouldn't have loved this new fantasy world so much if I hadn't been drawn in by the characters as well. But what I loved most of all is his spin on the original, there are elements that do feel familiar. But everything has been spun about--and all for the better. There are still moral elements in this one. But instead of feeling like a lesson on how not to behave, a lesson about the consequences of disobedience, it has become more a series of lessons on how valuable life is and how essential friendship is. I loved seeing Pinocchio in a whole new light.
© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Wednesday, September 20, 2017

You Can Read

You Can Read. Helaine Becker. Illustrated by Mark Hoffmann. 2017. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: You can read in the classroom. You can read in the park. You can read on a mission under cover in the dark.

Premise/plot: You Can Read celebrates reading books anywhere and everywhere. It rhymes, and in a good way.

My thoughts: The text of the book is in all-caps. I found this very annoying to read. But even more annoying is the disturbing lack of periods. There is not a single period in the whole book. (I couldn't help adding periods into the text I quoted above. I just couldn't present it the way it is in the book.) (Two sentences end in exclamation points.) If this book were getting graded by a first grade teacher, it would lose a lot of points. (The students in the first grade class might love it because of the illustrated underwear.)

That being said, the text of the book itself isn't bad. The message is a good one. I LOVE books. (Everybody knows that I love books.) I wanted to love, love, love it. The illustrations were not my style at all.

Text: 4 out of 5
Illustrations: 1 out of 5
Total: 5 out of 10

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Verdict of Twelve

Verdict of Twelve. Raymond Postgate. 1940/2017. 208 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: The Clerk of Assize had to have some way of relieving the tedium of administering the same oath year after year.

Premise/plot: Verdict of Twelve is a classic mystery originally published in 1940 in Britain. This mystery has four parts. In the first part, readers meet the twelve jurors. Backstories--some quite detailed--are given for all members of the jury. In the second part, the crime is laid out for readers. This isn't the trial itself. This is a behind-the-scenes glimpse just for readers. In the third part, I believe, the trial occurs and the jury deliberates. The fourth and final part is an epilogue revealing if the jury got it right or wrong.

A young boy dies of poisoning. His aunt stands accused of the crime. Is there enough reasonable doubt to rule her not guilty? That is the question. The defense will argue that four people equally had motive, means, and opportunity. The aunt, the two servants, the boy himself. (The aunt and two servants would inherit a good bit of money if he died. All of the people in the house had access to ivy dust from the ivy plants. All had opportunity to mix ivy dust into the salad dressing.) The defense targets the boy himself--the victim. They argue the boy was trying to murder his aunt, but wasn't smart enough, clever enough to pull it off successfully.

My thoughts: This one was a fascinating yet troubling read. There are scenes from this mystery that may haunt me for years to come. I definitely liked it and would recommend it. While the focus is closely on the twelve jurors, it is a very different type of read than Twelve Angry Men by Reginald Rose.
© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Forget Me Not

Forget Me Not. Ellie Terry. 2017. 336 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: I open my dresser drawers, find them empty, empty, empty.

Premise/plot: Calliope June is the young heroine in Ellie Terry's Forget Me Not. This middle grade novel actually has two narrators. Calli's narrates in verse while Jinsong narrates in prose. Here's what you need to know about Calli: a) she HATES moving; b) she HATES having to introduce herself to her classmates; c) she struggles to make friends; d) she wishes her mom would grow up; e) she has Tourette syndrome. Here's what you need to know about Jinsong: a) he LOVES baseball b) he's popular; c) he like-likes Calli; d) he's afraid to be friends with her in public; e) he cares too much about what others think of him; f) he's self-aware enough to know he's being a big jerk and a coward.

My thoughts: I found this to be a quick, compelling read. I enjoyed the characterization. Readers really only get to know Jinsong and Calli, but, these two are well developed in my opinion. The relationship that tortured me the most was between Calli and her mom. I really wanted Calli's mom to grow up and get the help she needed. I hated that Calli's life was being turned upside down every few months because of her mom's love life. The ending leaves me worried. I think Calli has matured a great deal, but, her mom is still a big, big mess.

Does this one "need" to be a verse novel? I'm not sure it does. The verse isn't spectacular poetry. Calli could have told her story in prose just as well. I am glad Calli's story got told. I like her as a narrator. And being in verse does make it go quicker because there are fewer words.

Do we "need" Jinsong's narration? I'm not sure we do. But I am conflicted on this. His narrative does allow readers to see Calli from a different perspective, an outside perspective. We see most of the bullying from his perspective. He's a mostly silent bystander. He does some much-needed growing up in this one.

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Review Policy

I am interested in reviewing books and audio books. This blog focuses on books written for middle grade on up (essentially 10 to a 110). I review middle grade fiction and young adult fiction (aka tween and teen).

I also review adult books.

I read in a variety of genres including realistic fiction, historical fiction, mystery, romance, science fiction, fantasy, literary fiction, and chick lit. (I've read one western to date.)

I read a few poetry books, a few short story collections, a few graphic novels, a few nonfiction books.

I am especially fond of:

  • Regency romances (including Austen prequels/sequels)
  • Historical fiction set in the Tudor dynasty
  • Historical fiction and nonfiction set during World War II
  • Jewish fiction/nonfiction
  • dystopias
  • apocalyptic fiction
  • science fiction (especially if it involves time travel and alternate realities)
  • fantasy
  • multicultural books and international books

I am not a fan of:

  • sports books
  • horse books
  • dog books if the dog dies (same goes with most pets actually except maybe fish)
  • westerns (if it's a pioneer story with women and children, then maybe)
  • extremely violent books with blood, blood, and more blood

I am more interested in strong characters, well-written, fleshed-out, human characters. Plot is secondary to me in a way. I have to care about the characters in order to care about the plot. That being said, compelling storytelling is something that I love. I love to become absorbed in what I'm reading.

If you're interested in sending me a review copy of your book, I'm happy to hear from you. Email me at laney_po AT yahoo DOT com.

You should know several things before you contact me:

1) I do not guarantee a review of your book. I am just agreeing to consider it for review.
2) I give all books at least fifty pages.
3) I am not promising anyone (author or publisher) a positive review in exchange for a review copy. That's not how I work.
4) In all of my reviews I strive for honesty. My reviews are my opinions--so yes, they are subjective--you should know my blog will feature both negative and positive reviews.
5) I do not guarantee that I will get to your book immediately. I've got so many books I'm trying to read and review, I can't promise to get to any one book in a given time frame.
6) Emailing me every other week to see if I've read your book won't help me get to it any faster. Though if you want to email me to check and see if it arrived safely, then that's fine!

Authors, publishers. I am interested in interviewing authors and participating in blog tours. (All I ask is that I receive a review copy of the author's latest book beforehand so the interview will be productive. If the book is part of a series, I'd like to review the whole series.) Contact me if you're interested.

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