Wednesday, August 31, 2016

August Reflections

Stand-Out Books Read in August 2016
  1. Paper Wishes. Lois Sepahban. 2016. FSG. 192 pages. [Source: Library]
  2. The Night Gardener. Jonathan Auxier. 2014. Abrams. 350 pages. [Source: Bought] 
  3. Salt to the Sea. Ruta Sepetys. 2016. 391 pages. [Source: Library] 
  4. Unhooked. Lisa Maxwell. 2016. Simon & Schuster. 342 pages. [Source: Library]
  5. The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf. Ambelin Kwaymullina. 2014. Candlewick. 383 pages. [Source: Library]
  6. Treaties, Trenches, Mud, and Blood. (Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales #4) Nathan Hale. 2014. Abrams. 128 pages. [Source: Library]
5 Decades "Visited" in August 2016:
  • 1950s
  • 1960s
  • 1970s 
  • 1780s
  • 1910s
Picture books:
  1. The Day You Were Born. Evelyn Swetnam. Illustrated by Muriel Wood. 1971. 30 pages. [Source: Bought]
  2. My Cat Copies Me. Yoon-duck Kwon. 2007. Kane/Miller. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  3. God Loves Me. Mary Alice Jones. Illustrated by Elizabeth Webbe. 1961. 30 pages. [Source: Bought]
  4. God Is Good. Mary Alice Jones. Illustrated by Elizabeth Webbe. 1955. 30 pages. [Source: Bought]
  5. My Little Golden Book About God. Jane Werner Watson. Illustrated by Eloise Wilkin. 1956. 24 pages. [Source: Gift]
  6. The Wildest Race Ever. Meghan McCarthy. 2016. Simon & Schuster. 48 pages. [Source: Library]
  7. The Hole Story of the Doughnut. Pat Miller. Illustrated by Vincent X. Kirsch. 2016. HMH. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  8. Shrunken Treasures. Scott Nash. 2016. Candlewick. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Early readers and early chapter books:
  1. The Crate Train. Dorothy Z. Seymour. 1966. 25 pages. [Source: Bought]
  2. Ballerina Bess. Dorothy Jane Mills and Dorothy Z. Seymour. 1965. 25 pages. [Source: Bought] 
  3. The Thank You Book. Mo Willems. 2016. Disney-Hyperion. 64 pages. [Source: Library]
  4. Daisy the Kitten. (Dr. KittyCat #3) Jane Clarke. 2016. Scholastic. 96 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  5. Mango & Bambang: The Not a Pig. Polly Faber. Illustrated by Clara Vulliamy. 2016. Candlewick. 144 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  6. Brave Like My Brother. Marc Tyler Nobleman. 2016. Scholastic. 112 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  7. What Are The Summer Olympics?  Gail Herman. Illustrated by Stephen Marchesi. 2016. 112 pages. [Source: Library] 
  8. Amigo. Byrd Baylor. Illustrated by Garth Williams. 1963. 48 pages. [Source: Bought]

Contemporary (general, realistic) fiction, all ages:
  1. Weekends with Max and His Dad. Linda Urban. 2016. HMH. 160 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  2. Ms. Bixby's Last Day. John David Anderson. 2016. 320 pages. [Source: Library]
  3. 23 Minutes. Vivian Vande Velde. 2016. Boyds Mills Press. 176 pages. [Source: Library]
Speculative fiction (fantasy, science fiction, etc.) all ages:
  1. The Night Gardener. Jonathan Auxier. 2014. Abrams. 350 pages. [Source: Bought] 
  2. 23 Minutes. Vivian Vande Velde. 2016. Boyds Mills Press. 176 pages. [Source: Library] 
  3. Unhooked. Lisa Maxwell. 2016. Simon & Schuster. 342 pages. [Source: Library]
  4. The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf. Ambelin Kwaymullina. 2014. Candlewick. 383 pages. [Source: Library]
  5. The Disappearance of Ember Crow. Ambelin Kwaymullina. 2016. Candlewick. 432 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Historical fiction, all ages:
  1. Salt to the Sea. Ruta Sepetys. 2016. 391 pages. [Source: Library] 
  2. Paper Wishes. Lois Sepahban. 2016. FSG. 192 pages. [Source: Library]
  3. Treaties, Trenches, Mud, and Blood. (Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales #4) Nathan Hale. 2014. Abrams. 128 pages. [Source: Library]
  4. The Underground Abductor. (Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales #5) Nathan Hale. 2015. Abrams. 128 pages. [Source: Library]
  5. Alamo All-Stars (Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales #6) 2016. Abrams. 128 pages. [Source: Library]
Mysteries, all ages:
  1. The Circus Mystery (The Whodunit Detective Agency #3) Martin Widmark. Illustrated by Helena Willis. 2003/2015. 80 pages. [Source: Library]
  2. The Cafe Mystery (The Whodunit Detective Agency #4) Martin Widmark. Illustrated by Helena Willis. 2003/2015. 80 pages. [Source: Library]
Classics, all ages:
  1. Testament of Youth. Vera Brittain. 1933. 688 pages. [Source: Library]

Nonfiction, all ages:
  1. Let Your Voice Be Heard: The Life and Times of Pete Seeger. Anita Silvey. 2016. HMH. 112 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  2. The Monopolists. Mary Pilon. 2015. Bloomsbury. 320 pages. [Source: Library]
  3. Testament of Youth. Vera Brittain. 1933. 688 pages. [Source: Library] 
  4. LEGO Knights & Castles. 2016. Scholastic. 64 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  5. Lego Planets: A Lego Adventure in the Real World. 2016. Scholastic. 64 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  6. The Hole Story of the Doughnut. Pat Miller. Illustrated by Vincent X. Kirsch. 2016. HMH. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  7. The Wildest Race Ever. Meghan McCarthy. 2016. Simon & Schuster. 48 pages. [Source: Library]
  8. What Are The Summer Olympics?  Gail Herman. Illustrated by Stephen Marchesi. 2016. 112 pages. [Source: Library]
Christian fiction:
  1. Where Hope Prevails (Return to the Canadian West #3). Janette Oke and Laurel Oke Logan. 2016. Bethany House. 320 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  2. A Changed Agent. Tracey J. Lyons. 2016. 229 pages. [Source: Library] 
  3. To Follow Her Heart. Rebecca DeMarino. 2016. Revell. 352 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Christian nonfiction:  
  1. Stressed Out. Todd Friel. 2016. New Leaf Press. 205 pages. [Source: Borrowed]
  2. Being There. Dave Furman. 2016. Crossway. 176 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  3. "Free Grace" Theology. Wayne Grudem. 2016. Crossway. 160 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
  4. The Life We Never Expected. Andrew and Rachel Wilson. 2016. Crossway. 160 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  5. My Little Golden Book About God. Jane Werner Watson. Illustrated by Eloise Wilkin. 1956. 24 pages. [Source: Gift]
  6. God Is Good. Mary Alice Jones. Illustrated by Elizabeth Webbe. 1955. 30 pages. [Source: Bought]
  7. God Loves Me. Mary Alice Jones. Illustrated by Elizabeth Webbe. 1961. 30 pages. [Source: Bought] 
  8. Exalting Jesus in Ecclesiastes. Daniel L. Akin and Jonathan Akin. 2016. B&H. 288 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  9. Exalting Jesus in Leviticus. Allan Moseley. 2015. B&H. 288 pages. [Source: Bought] 
  10. When Trouble Comes. Philip Graham Ryken. 2016. Crossway. 176 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  11. Messiah: Fifty Expository Discourses Preached in the Years 1784 and 1785. John Newton. 432 pages. [Source: Bought]

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Amigo

Amigo. Byrd Baylor. Illustrated by Garth Williams. 1963. 48 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: His mother said, "Come Francisco, my son. Tell me why your eyes are sad, my little one."

Premise/plot: Amigo is written in verse. It is historical fiction--about a boy longing for a dog. His family can't afford an actual dog, but, his parents encourage him to tame something wild, something that can take care of itself, something like a prairie dog. So Francisco sets out to tame a prairie dog, and, he knows just what he'll call it: Amigo. That's half the story. Amigo is a prairie dog that is curious and longs for adventures. He's drawn to humans, and he longs to tame a boy. Amigo picks out just the boy to tame, and, surprise, surprise, it's Francisco. Readers in on both sides of the stories can predict where this one is heading. It's cute.

My thoughts: I'll be honest: I bought it for the art. The illustrations are by Garth Williams. I thought if the text was nice, it would be an extra bonus. But really, I was just happy to see more of Garth Williams' work. I did enjoy the text. Do I think it's the most wonderful, amazing story ever? Probably not. I would have enjoyed more prose and less verse. But it's not awful.



© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Day You Were Born

The Day You Were Born. Evelyn Swetnam. Illustrated by Muriel Wood. 1971. 30 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: Do you remember the day you were born? Do you remember how you felt? First, you were safe and small, growing in a special place inside your mother, and getting ready for the world. You could stand on your head in there and kick and turn and never be afraid. Sometimes you heard noises from the outside world--music, voices, a bang, or a bell. You wondered about them. But you had some more growing to do before you could find out for yourself. Soon you were ready to be born.

Premise/plot: The book chronicles a baby's first day. For the most part, I'd say it has a hospital setting. Baby is introduced to doctors, nurses, a mother, a father, etc. So many "firsts."
The nurse took you to your mother. Your mother reached out her arms and held you close. She was very happy. She undressed you, and looked at you, and played with your fingers and your toes. She hugged you and gave you a kiss. It was your first kiss. You liked it. You liked her, too.
My thoughts: I definitely had this one. I really like it. It reminds me of the beginning of Inside Out.

Text: 4 out of 5
Illustrations: 3 out of 5
Total: 7 out of 10


© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Monday, August 29, 2016

My Cat Copies Me

My Cat Copies Me. Yoon-duck Kwon. 2007. Kane/Miller. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: My cat copies me. We tunnel under newspapers, and crouch behind doors. If I hide under the desk, or in the closet, she hides with me.

Premise/plot: A young girl loves, loves, loves her cat. The book shows the two interacting with each other--copying each other. It's a sweet, must-have for cat-lovers.

My thoughts: I absolutely LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this one. It's one of my favorite picture books that I've discovered since I began blogging ten years ago. I love the writing. I love the illustrations. I love that the first half shows the cat copying the girl, and that the second half shows the girl copying the cat.

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


© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Ten Year Blogoversary

Becky's Book Reviews turns ten today! Can you believe it?! In some ways, 2006 feels like yesterday, and, in other ways it feels like it's ages ago.

I'd love to hear from you. Are you new to the site? How long have you been coming around? I'd also really, really, really love to hear if you've picked up a book to read because of one of my reviews. I'd always love to know your opinions on books!!!

Your guess is as good as mine in terms of HOW many books I've reviewed over the past ten years. But definitely in the thousands. I wonder how many of them were rereads? Probably a third of them!!! I can't help myself when it comes to rereading favorites!!!

First book reviewed on the blog: New Moon by Stephenie Meyer
Last book reviewed on the blog: The Crate Train by Dorothy Z. Seymour
The year I was out of control with posts: 2008! (1144 posts in a single year?!?!)
Favorite author ten years ago: Orson Scott Card
Favorite author now: Could never pick. Really. I've discovered at least fifty favorite authors since 2006. Georgette Heyer. Anthony Trollope. Wilkie Collins. Anne Perry. Connie Willis. Ray Bradbury. Rex Stout. Agatha Christie. Josephine Tey. Dorothy Sayers. E. Nesbit. I mean I could go on and on all day.
Best thing to come out of blogging: My dear, dear, dear, dear bestest friend who introduced herself to me as "Anonymous L."

Favorite author that I've connected with online? ROBIN BRANDE is all kinds of WONDERFUL!!!!! And I still can't believe that Candice F. Ransom knows who I am. The Sunfire Romances from the 80s were my LIFE. I really got quite bonded with Winchester, her cat.

One thing I didn't realize when I started blogging was how quickly books go out of print. Some of my 'favorite, favorite' books I read in my early years are no longer available, and, the library has discarded some as well. I do have a tendency to take books for granted and book availability for granted and I shouldn't! (Another thing I have a tendency to do is--in the quickness of my typing--misspell library as LIBARY. I have to fix this often!!!)

A handful of publishers have been really, really good to me through the years:

Scholastic
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Candlewick

Other publishers have been nice as well:

Penguin Random House (I get RANDOM surprises but don't have an email contact)
Harry N. Abrams (got reconnected this past year!!!!)
Simon & Schuster (sadly lost touch)
Bloomsbury USA

One publisher that I sadly lost touch with years ago was Kane/Miller. I miss my Travel the World Wednesday posts.


© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Sunday, August 28, 2016

The Crate Train

The Crate Train. Dorothy Z. Seymour. 1966. 25 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: Dot and Pat played train. They played in the basement. They had some old crates. They made the train out of crates.

Premise/plot: Dot, Pat, and Baby Sam play together in the basement. Are they playing well together? Well, that's debatable. Perhaps because they are in the basement instead of upstairs, they have the freedom to argue more with each other? Each kid wants to boss the others around and dictate HOW they play train. Except for Baby Sam, I think I would get tired of Pat and Dot pretty quickly in real life.

My thoughts: This is a very, very simple book. I think the activity itself would be great fun--playing train using empty crates. Do I think reading about it is as fun as doing it? Not really.

The Crate Train is one of the books in the Early-Start Preschool Reader series. I much prefer Ann Likes Red and Ballerina Bess.

Text: 3 out of 5
Illustrations: 3 out of 5
Total: 6 out of 10
© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Saturday, August 27, 2016

Sing Along Saturday (Cook Me Up Something)

Today's prompt: Song You Listen To While You Cook

This meme is hosted by Bookish Things & More.

I actually really LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the album Tuscany -- A Romantic Journey. I bought it for $1 at my local charity shop that benefits Habitat for Humanity.


And now just because I can, and because it's funny...Sing Verdi Very Loud (Live)



© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Ballerina Bess

Ballerina Bess. Dorothy Jane Mills and Dorothy Z. Seymour. 1965. 25 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: This is Bess. Bess wants to dance. Bess wants to be a ballerina.

Premise/plot: Young readers meet Bess who wants to be a ballerina. Ballerina Bess is from the Early-Start Preschool Reader series. It has a 25 word vocabulary.

My thoughts: I had this one and Ann Likes Red growing up. While I think I prefer Ann Likes Red a little better, this one is still a lot of fun if you like vintage children's books. (It was published in 1965.)

Simple can be a great thing when you are learning to read. Words need to be either sight words (common frequency like is, was, the, this, etc.), or easy to sound out. To read a whole book on your own can be a great confidence booster.

One thing that I just noticed now as an adult is that there are a few pages where LEGS are missing. On one page readers clearly see Bess dancing ON HER TOES. And on the very next page, Bess is missing BOTH LEGS as she's shopping at a store. The sales clerk has legs, but Bess and her mother DO NOT. And on the next page. Bess, her mom, and the sales clerk are all missing legs. But fortunately Bess' legs return for the next page when she's dancing once more.

Text: 4 out of 5
Illustrations: 3 out of 5
Total: 7 out of 10

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Friday, August 26, 2016

Testament of Youth

Testament of Youth. Vera Brittain. 1933. 688 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: When the Great War broke out, it came to me not as a superlative tragedy, but as an interruption of the most exasperating kind to my personal plans.

Premise/plot: In 1933, Vera Brittain published her autobiography, Testament of Youth, which covers the years 1900 to 1925. Much of the book focuses directly on the Great War (aka World War I) and its immediate aftermath. During the war, Vera Brittain left her university studies (Somerville College, Oxford) and became a nurse (V.A.D.). She worked as a nurse in England and abroad. (I believe she nursed in France and Malta.) Many of her friends actively served during the war. And those closest to her--including a brother and a fiance--were killed. She wrote honestly and openly about how brutal and devastating the war was, about how the war changed her and there was no going back after peace was declared.

When the book is not discussing the war, it often turns to education, politics, and social issues. Vera Brittain definitely was a feminist. She had VERY strong opinions on women's rights. But she didn't just speak out and speak up about women. She also was a voice for the poor and working class. She saw a lot of injustice and wanted to change the world.

Vera Brittain loved to be a lecturer or guest-lecturer. She had a LOT to say, and wanted to be HEARD wherever she went. This wasn't always the case. She was unhappy with certain groups--or clubs--that didn't value women's opinions and treat women as intellectual equals.

Also of interest perhaps, Brittain shares her experiences as a writer--her journey to publication and her thoughts on the literary world.

The very last chapter is a relief--after spending so many chapters distancing herself from humanity by focusing on POLITICS and WORLD AFFAIRS--focuses instead on her deep friendships and ultimate marriage. She struggled a lot with the idea of marriage. Can she marry and still be a feminist? Can she marry even though she has every intention of staying a career woman? Can she marry even though children are the very last thing (almost) on her mind? She spent so long speaking out against marriage and traditional roles for women, that she is almost ashamed and embarrassed that she fell in love.

My thoughts: It was REALLY long. Overall, I thought it was slightly uneven. It was at times quite fascinating and compelling, but, then at times it was also quite sluggish and boring. There would be pages that definitely kept me reading and kept me caring. I will say that the movie did a great job condensing the book and capturing the spirit of it. Not that the movie is 100% faithful to the book. (No movie is).

Quotes:
There is still, I think, not enough recognition by teachers of the fact that the desire to think--which is fundamentally a moral problem--must be induced before the power is developed. Most people, whether men or women, wish above all else to be comfortable, and thought is a pre-eminently uncomfortable process; it brings to the individual far more suffering than happiness in a semi-civilized world which still goes to war, still encourages the production of unwanted C3 children by exhausted mothers, and still compels married partners who hate one another to live together in the name of morality. (40)
I am inclined to believe that provincial dances are responsible for more misery than any other commonplace experience. (51)
Most of us have to be self-righteous before we can be righteous. (56)
How curious it seems that letters are so much less vulnerable than their writers! (124)
Even my work-driven uncle at the bank wrote a long letter, enclosing a fragment of philosophy which had recently come to England from the French trenches: "When you are a soldier you are one of two things, either at the front or behind the lines. If you are behind the lines you need not worry. If you are at the front you are one of two things. You are either in a danger zone or in a zone which is not dangerous. If you are in a zone which is not dangerous you need not worry. If you are in a danger zone, you are one of two things; either you are wounded or you are not. If you are not wounded you need not worry. If you are wounded you are one of two things, either seriously wounded or slightly wounded. If you are slightly wounded you need not worry. If you are seriously wounded one of two things is certain--either you get well or you die. If you get well you needn't worry. If you die you cannot worry, so there is no need to worry about anything at all." (306)
It seems to me that the War will make a big division of 'before' and 'after' in the history of the world. (317)


© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Thursday, August 25, 2016

Monopolists

The Monopolists. Mary Pilon. 2015. Bloomsbury. 320 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: One day during the depths of the Great Depression, an unemployed salesman named Charles Darrow retreated to his basement.

Premise/plot: Love Monopoly? Hate Monopoly? Mary Pilon's The Monopolists is a fascinating read to be sure. Who invented Monopoly? Who did NOT invent Monopoly? Why does it matter?

The Monopolist tells the story of the woman who invented the game, a game with two very different sets of rules. She didn't call her game 'monopoly' but 'The Landlord's Game.' The general game board concept and rules of play were hers. This was in 1904. In her community, it became quite popular, even an obsession of sorts. So much so that it spread across the nation as one person--or one couple--would teach another and another and another and another. People would create their own homemade game boards. The rules were taught but not written down. For decades, people were playing this game, loving this game. It wasn't a game you could buy at the store, though. 'The Landlord's Game' wasn't the only real-estate game that predates Parker Brothers' Monopoly. The game Finance also did. It also being offspring of Lizzie Magie's original game. Though I think perhaps by that time, it had just one set of rules. Charles Darrow, the man whose name would be associated with the game MONOPOLY, was taught the game by friends. He later claimed he invented the game. The couple who taught Darrow spent a lot of time in Atlantic City with the Quakers who LOVED the game and changed their own game boards to reflect their lives. These place names would stay with the game and be the names that we come to associate with Monopoly. The rules, the layout of the game board, the place names, all were essentially handed to Darrow ready-made.

Most of this book focuses on a lawsuit in the 1970s and early 1980s. Parker Brothers was trying to stop one man--Ralph Anspach--from selling his own game, a game called ANTI-MONOPOLY. Anspach was an economics professor, I believe. It would take a lot of time, effort, stamina, and courage to stay in the fight.

My thoughts: I really enjoyed this one. I enjoyed it even more than I thought I would. I don't love playing Monopoly, but, I found the game-playing culture of the twentieth century to be FASCINATING. There is something to be said for people spending time together around a table and actually talking and having fun doing the same thing. This was written in an engaging way. I'd definitely recommend it.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Alamo All Stars

Alamo All-Stars (Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales #6) 2016. Abrams. 128 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Three hundred families...land grand....Texas...almost home.

Premise/plot: Nathan Hale and his two pals (the hangman and the British Officer) are joined by Juan Seguin and his three executioners (firing squad, I believe?) to tell the story of the Alamo. It doesn't rush into the story of the Alamo though. Readers learn about Mexico declaring its independence from Spain, the setting up and deposing of several Mexican governments, the arrival, with permission, of American settlers (families) into Texas, the clashes and near-clashes of those settlers with the native tribes in Texas (all given names, I won't mention them all here) and with the Mexican government. Not all Mexican leaders welcomed the idea of settlers, some feared that the more settlers there were, the more likely they would rebel and claim Texas for their very own. Readers learn about Stephen F. Austin, Jim Bowie, Sam Houston, Davy Crockett, William Travis, etc. Some of the people we learn about center around the Alamo--lived, fought, and died at the Alamo--some not. The book explores why they were fighting, what they thought they were fighting for, and their strong personalities that certainly didn't always help in their decision making.

My thoughts: Though a Texan, Texas history has not been my strongest subject especially when I was in school! I found this book a lot more interesting than a textbook. It also helps knowing that I'll never be quizzed on the subject again. Quite the difference between reading for the story and reading to remember names, dates, and places.

There were a LOT of characters in this one. It was fun that our familiar gang was joined by four more. Juan Seguin and his executioners added something to the story. I liked how the hangman came to get along with them and wanted to have a sleepover.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Underground Abductor

The Underground Abductor. (Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales #5) Nathan Hale. 2015. Abrams. 128 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: It is time to hang this spy! Are you sure? Can't we get one more story out of him first?

Premise/plot: Nathan Hale sets out to prove that America isn't perfectly perfect, and, that America has in fact "taken part in some truly horrible, despicable, abominable, atrocious, downright evil acts." He speaks, of course, of slavery. And in this graphic novel, he tells the story of Harriet Tubman (aka Araminta Ross). It's an intense story without a doubt. He speaks of her growing up in slavery, the abuses she faced, the challenges she overcame, her marrying a free man, her decision to run away, her decision to run back into slavery. For it became her mission to travel back and forth between North and South saving slaves--escorting slaves to safety, to Canada, in fact. All via the "underground railroad" of abolitionists. Some of this information I was familiar with, but, some was new to me. For example, I was not aware of her head injury perhaps leading to her narcolepsy. I had no idea of her visions either!

My thoughts: I am so glad I discovered this series. I really have enjoyed reading these books practically back to back. I would definitely recommend all of the books in the series. I hope it is a very LONG series.


© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Monday, August 22, 2016

Treaties, Trenches, Mud, and Blood

Treaties, Trenches, Mud, and Blood. (Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales #4) Nathan Hale. 2014. Abrams. 128 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: This prologue is brought to you by E Pluribus Hangman.

Premise/plot: Nathan Hale shares with the British soldier (Provost) and hangman a story of when England and America will no longer be fighting each other but best friends and allies. This graphic novel is about World War I. It selectively, yet descriptively, tells of the war, year by year. It is action-packed, and yet one knows it's not exhaustive in its coverage.

Each country mentioned (both those fighting and those holding onto their neutral status) gets an animal assigned to it. So most of the illustrations are of animals at war with one another. Serbia is a Wolf. The Austro-Hungarian Empire is a Griffin. Russia is a Bear. Germany is an Eagle. France is a Gallic Rooster. Belgium is a Lion. England is a Bulldog (since Lion was already taken). America is a Bunny (since Eagle is already taken). Australia is a Kangaroo. Canada is a Beaver. New Zealand is a Kiwi. India is a Tiger. Ottoman Empire is an Otter. Japan is a Raccoon Dog. Those are the countries I can remember.

World War I is a complex subject, there is a lot to digest. There are hundreds--if not thousands--of books written by adults for adults seeking to explain the war and exhaustively cover every battle, every victory, every loss. So it is an ambitious project to condense the war into a middle grade graphic novel.
Nathan Hale: War is built and controlled by human hands--humans start it, humans stop it.
Hangman: Then WHY DIDN'T THEY STOP IT EARLIER--BEFORE IT KILLED EVERYBODY?! WHY DID THEY LET IT OUT IN THE FIRST PLACE!? THEY SHOULD LOCK IT UP AND NEVER EVER LET IT OUT!!!
Provost: Calm down, Hangman! There are times when war is a necessity. Tell him it is so, Captain Hale.
Nathan Hale: I'm not here to judge which wars were necessary and which wars weren't. I just tell the story. World War I is best summed up by those who experienced it.
All war is a symptom of man's failure as a thinking animal. ~ John Steinbeck
My thoughts: I really thought this book was well done. Yes, it's a bit text heavy. Yes, there is a LOT of information packed into it, perhaps too much information to actually absorb and digest. But it's well-crafted and well-organized. I'm impressed by how Nathan Hale (the author) was able to break down all the information and present it in such a concise way. War is never glorified, yes, the Provost and Hangman sometimes get carried away with BATTLES, but, by the end, Nathan Hale (the spy) has moved them both with his story.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Sunday, August 21, 2016

Salt to the Sea

Salt to the Sea. Ruta Sepetys. 2016. 391 pages. [Source: Library]

First Sentence: Guilt is a hunter.

Premise/plot: Salt to the Sea is a historical novel set during the last part of World War II alternately narrated by four teenagers: Joana, Emelia, Florian, and Alfred. Though the book may seem excessively mysterious and difficult to follow--at the beginning especially--I want to encourage readers to keep going, to keep reading. The BIG PICTURE story of this one is so worth it.

Joana's first sentence: Guilt is a hunter.
Florian's first sentence: Fate is a hunter.
Emilia's first sentence: Shame is a hunter.
Alfred's first sentence: Fear is a hunter.

So what might be nice to know: The end is fast coming. Danger is everywhere--depending on your nationality, your paperwork, your secrets. The 'liberation' coming from the Russian side is just as troubling and disturbing and good cause for fear as accidentally bumping into German Nazis. Three of our four narrators are slowly but surely making their ways to the Baltic Sea, to a port where they may luck into finding an escape aboard a ship. The fourth narrator is already there, a German already assigned to a ship. (That would be Alfred. He will actually be one of the people responsible for registering refugees to the ships and assigning who goes where, who gets on board and who is left behind.) All four seem destined to be aboard Wilhelm Gustloff.

My thoughts: If I had to pick just a handful of words to describe this one: compelling, mysterious, intense, bittersweet. It was a WONDERFUL read. One of those books that remind you WHY you like to read in the first place. I was swept into this story, and, though it took me days to make it through the first fifty or sixty pages, I soon found it impossible to put down. The key to this one, I think, is just going for it: reading it in big chunks. You'll probably still have a few questions here and there, but, just keep going. The more you read, the more will ultimately be revealed.


© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Library Loot: Third Week in August

New Loot:
  • A Changed Agent by Tracey J. Lyons
  • Flirtation Walk by Siri Mitchell
  • Hamilton  by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter
Leftover Loot:
  • Alcatraz versus the Knights of Crystallia by Brandon Sanderson
  • Alcatraz versus the Shattered Lens by Brandon Sanderson
  • How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell 
  • Fudge-a-mania by Judy Blume
  • Double Fudge by Judy Blume
  • Golf Without Tears by P.G. Wodehouse
  • My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, Jodi Meadows
  • Johnny Cash: The Life by Robert Hilburn
  • Man in White by Johnny Cash
  • Barbie and Ruth by Robin Gerber
  • I Saw the Light by Colin Escott with George Merritt and William MacEwen
  • The Grand Tour: The life and music of George Jones by Rich Kienzie 
  Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Linda from Silly Little Mischief 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.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Saturday, August 20, 2016

Ms. Bixby's Last Day

Ms. Bixby's Last Day. John David Anderson. 2016. 320 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Rebecca Roudabush has cooties.

Premise/plot: Topher, Steve, and Brand are close friends who come together to give Ms. Bixby, their beloved teacher, the last day of her dreams. This middle grade novel is narrated by all three boys in alternating chapters. (Brand may possibly be my favorite. It's hard to say). Several chapters into the book, Ms. Bixby makes an announcement to the class: she has cancer. She'll be leaving within a week or two. They'll have a substitute for the remaining weeks in the year. But she leaves even earlier than intended and is, in fact, hospitalized. Three students take it upon themselves to visit her and bring the 'last day' party to her. True, the class made get well cards. But somehow that doesn't seem like enough. It is Ms. Bixby, after all, only the best teacher in the whole world. The teacher who reads The Hobbit out loud and gives all the different characters voices. The teacher who seems to see and know everything...even to understand everything.

It won't be easy to pull off this last day. All three will have to skip school for starters and pull together all their resources. They want a cheesecake, a bottle of wine, and some McDonald's french fries. And they're relying on many buses to get them there and back again. In some ways they're clueless and foolish. In other ways, just sweet with good intentions.

My thoughts: I really liked this one. I would have loved, loved, loved it but I didn't love all the bathroom 'boy' humor. I do appreciate, in a way, that there are funny parts in this one. I think humor really helps sell kids on reading. So I'd rather the book be 'just right' for kids than 'just right' for me as an adult.

I really enjoyed the characterization. It wasn't rushed and it was complex. The ending was predictable, but just right in a bittersweet way.

My favorite quotes:
"We all have moments when we think nobody really sees us. When we feel like we have to act out or be somebody else just to get noticed. But somebody notices. Topher. Somebody sees. Somebody out there probably thinks you're the greatest thing in the whole world. Don't ever think you're not good enough." (232)

The truth is--the whole truth is--that it's not the last day that matters most. It's the ones in between, the ones you get the chance to look back on. They're the carnation days. They may not stand out the most at first, but they stay with you the longest. (293)

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Sing Along Saturday (Sports)

Today's prompt: Sports Themed Song

This meme is hosted by Bookish Things & More.

I'm going with Just Getting Started by Hawk Nelson.




© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Friday, August 19, 2016

23 Minutes

23 Minutes. Vivian Vande Velde. 2016. Boyds Mills Press. 176 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: The story starts with an act of stunning violence.

Premise/plot: Zoe, our heroine, has a superpower of sorts. She has the ability to curl herself up into a ball, say PLAYBACK, and have time reverse itself exactly twenty-three minutes. She can playback one twenty-three segment of time up to ten times...and then whatever the last time was...is forever frozen. So when Zoe witnesses a crime, a bank robbery, and ends up covered in blood, it seems like the natural right thing to do to try to make it better. True, the robber ended up being shot, but, so did Daniel, the super-nice guy who helped pick up all the papers from the folder when she dropped it.

Readers go with Zoe on the journey to try to make things better. But it won't be easy. For Zoe finds the odds are against happy endings in this instance in particular. Some tries result in "just" two to four people being shot. Others result in a LOT more shots being fired. Including shots into the street where a mom has her child in a stroller passing by...unaware of the lurking danger.

What Zoe needs is an ally, and, Daniel may just be her best chance....

My thoughts: This one is PREMISE-driven. One character is definitely explored and that is Zoe herself. One learns what is in the folder she carries, the secrets in the papers she's got with her. And what they reveal about her is interesting in a way. Though I'm not sure they provide a complete picture. Either readers believe Zoe is who she says she is, and she truly has this power. (Which readers don't really have reason to doubt the way the story is presented.) OR readers can choose to doubt Zoe and believe the papers, Zoe being a psychological mess. (I don't think there is enough ambiguity in the text to allow for this interpretation).

There is a lot of ACTION in this one. I found it nearly impossible to put this one down.

If the book has a weakness, it is Zoe's crush on Daniel. I don't think every reader will have trouble believing that a young girl (15) could notice the "cuteness" of a guy regardless of his age. But some will. I think there's a big difference between noticing how cute a guy is, and, seriously believing that a relationship is possible. Zoe doesn't really, truly think Daniel is boyfriend material. But she can't help finding him cute all the same. And for better or worse, readers have to hear Zoe talk about how cute Daniel is again and again. As I said before, this may prove annoying to some readers. But I don't think every reader will react the same way.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Thursday, August 18, 2016

Daisy the Kitten (Dr. KittyCat #3)

Daisy the Kitten. (Dr. KittyCat #3) Jane Clarke. 2016. Scholastic. 96 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Peanut the mouse wheeled a dentist's chair into the middle of Dr. KittyCat's clinic. "There's a lot to do in Shiny Smiles day," he squeaked, as he pulled a folding screen around the chair. "And don't forget it's the Thistletown Festival, too. Don't forget we're judging the Cupcake bake-off at three o'clock."

Premise/plot: I love the early chapter book series Dr. KittyCat. This is the third book in the series. In this one, Dr. KittyCat with some help from Peanut does two things: a) hold a Shiny Smiles dental clinic b) visits the Thistletown cupcake bake-off. The first chapter focuses on the dental check-ups. Some patients are anxious, others not so much. The remaining chapters focus on the cupcake contest. First, DAISY, one of the bakers, is in need of medical attention. Her paws and her tongue hurt and she has no idea why. Peanut and Dr. KittyCat piece together the clues and have a diagnosis. Then it's time for the two to taste all those cupcakes and declare a winner....

My thoughts: I LOVE Dr. KittyCat. I do. If I could box up these books and send them back in time to myself when I was six or seven I'd be ecstatically HAPPY. I could easily see myself as reading them a couple hundred times. I love them now, but, don't feel the need to reread them every day!

Like the other books in the series, it's CUTE and ADORABLE and FUN. It blends photographs and illustrations. The books provide some very basic medical information.


© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Paper Wishes

Paper Wishes. Lois Sepahban. 2016. FSG. 192 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Grandfather says that a man should walk barefoot on the bare earth every day.

Premise/plot: Paper Wishes is a middle grade historical novel set during World War II. Manami, our heroine, soon finds herself ripped away from the life she knows and loves--along with her family, her friends, her neighbors--because she's Japanese-American. Manami's family includes her grandfather, her father, her mother, an older brother (Ron) and an older sister (Keiko). Manami and her grandfather are especially, especially close to their dog Yujiin. So close that Manami tries to sneak the dog onto the bus or train that is taking them away. It does not work. And the dog is taken from her. This traumatic event leaves her without a voice. She does not speak for months--almost the entire book. But just because she isn't speaking doesn't mean she doesn't have a way of expressing herself and finding a voice. She DRAWS. She paints. And she gives some of her drawings to the wind as PAPER WISHES. What does she wish for most of all? HER dog, of course. So she sends along dozens of drawings of Yujiin hoping that somehow these wishes will come true...

My thoughts: I really found this to be an emotionally compelling read. I loved Manami and her family. In particular, I love her, Ron, and the grandfather. (I don't honestly feel I got to know-know her parents. Though I liked them well enough). I really liked getting to know her teacher as well.

Anyone who enjoys character-driven historical novels with a lot of heart will enjoy this one.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Thank You Book

The Thank You Book. Mo Willems. 2016. Disney-Hyperion. 64 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: I have a lot to be thankful for...I had better get thanking.

Premise/plot: Piggie is out to thank EVERYONE. But Gerald worries that Piggie will forget someone, someone important, someone REALLY, REALLY important. Readers see Piggie go about thanking various characters including the Pigeon, Brian Bat, the whale, some flies, etc. All the while Gerald gets more and more concerned. Piggie IS forgetting someone important. And Piggie is not taking hints!

My thoughts: I have mixed feelings about The Thank You Book. Part of me would like to put it in the freezer and pretend it simply doesn't exist. Why? It feels very much like THE LAST BOOK IN A SERIES. I do not want it to be the last book, the END. Cue the music. There could be a hundred titles in the series, and I'd still be looking for the release of 101! I haven't processed the loss yet...to there being no more books starring Gerald and Piggie.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Monday, August 15, 2016

Mango & Bambang The Not a Pig

Mango & Bambang: The Not a Pig. Polly Faber. Illustrated by Clara Vulliamy. 2016. Candlewick. 144 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Mango Allsorts was good at all sorts of things. That was not the same as being good, but she was that, too. Most of the time.

Premise/plot: Readers meet Mango and her new pet tapir, Bambang. In their first adventure together, "Mango and the Muddle," Mango discovers the not-a-pig tapir causing a lot of traffic problems. She recognizes him for what he is--a tapir and NOT A PIG. And she 'saves' the day, if you will, by removing him from the scene and taking him home with her. Since her father is both there and not-there, the two become quite close. There are four adventures in all. The other three being: "Bambang's Pool," "Bambang Puts On a Hat," and "The Song of the Tapir."

My thoughts: Loved this one. I did. It had a good chance of winning me at hello what with the purple stripes and the purple end pages. The illustrations by Clara Vulliamy were just adorable and perfectly complemented Polly Faber's text. I would definitely recommend this one.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Sunday, August 14, 2016

Weekends with Max and His Dad

Weekends with Max and His Dad. Linda Urban. 2016. HMH. 160 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: When Max's dad came to pick him up on Friday night he said, "Tomorrow, I will show you my new neighborhood."

Premise/plot: Max's parents are divorced and he spends the weekends with his Dad. This book chronicles three of those weekends with his Dad. We're not explicitly told if the three weekends are back to back. (I'd like to think they're not.)

The book is divided into three weekends. Each weekend reads like a little chapter book. (I believe each weekend is told in five chapters.) Weekend One is entitled "Spies." In this section, Max goes to his father's apartment for the very first time and sees his new room. Max's new craze is SPIES so when the two go out to explore the neighborhood the next day, they go as secret agent spies. Weekend Two is entitled "The Blues." In this section a couple of things happen: the two go furniture shopping because there's only one chair in the apartment...and Max empathizes with his Dad about missing open mike night. Max thinks his Dad is sad/disappointed/frustrated that he can't go to open mike night because he can't take Max with him. Max is super-sweet in this one and he invites the neighbors to their house for an open-mike night of their own. Weekend Three is entitled "Habitat." It may just be my favorite of the three. I really haven't decided yet. In this section, Max forgets part of what he needs to finish his homework project, invites his friend to sleepover at his dad's place, and generally comes to accept that "Yes, this is home, and this is where I belong too."

My thoughts: I really really liked this one. I'm not sure I LOVED it. But it was so good, so sweet. I loved meeting Max. He seems like such a great kid. I also enjoyed meeting the Dad. I liked that there wasn't really a focus on why the parents were newly divorced. No blame seemed to be passing back and forth. (But the Mom wasn't in this one at all, if I recollect.) The characterization felt authentic. Like these two were real and living in a real neighborhood. It was refreshing to have a middle grade book focusing on the the father-son relationship. I think many, many books are so focused on children that adults seem completely irrelevant to the plot.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Library Loot: Second Week in August

New Loot:
  • How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell 
  • Audrey (Cow) by Dan Bar-el
  • Rocket and Groot by Tom Angleberger
  • B is for Big Ben by Pamela Duncan Edwards
  • Mustache Baby Meets His Match by Bridget Heos
  • Alcatraz Smedry Versus the Evil Librarians by Brandon Sanderson
  • Alcatraz versus the Scrivener's Bones by Brandon Sanderson
  • Alcatraz versus the Knights of Crystallia by Brandon Sanderson
  • Alcatraz versus the Shattered Lens by Brandon Sanderson
Leftover Loot:
  • Fudge-a-mania by Judy Blume
  • Double Fudge by Judy Blume
  • Golf Without Tears by P.G. Wodehouse
  • My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, Jodi Meadows
  • Johnny Cash: The Life by Robert Hilburn
  • Man in White by Johnny Cash
  • Barbie and Ruth by Robin Gerber
  • I Saw the Light by Colin Escott with George Merritt and William MacEwen
  • The Complete and Unauthorized Guide to Vintage Barbie Dolls by Hillary Shilkitus James
  • The Grand Tour: The life and music of George Jones by Rich Kienzie
  Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Linda from Silly Little Mischief 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.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Saturday, August 13, 2016

Brave LIke My Brother

Brave Like My Brother. Marc Tyler Nobleman. 2016. Scholastic. 112 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Dear Joe, If there wasn't a war on, you'd kill me for this. I know I'm not supposed to touch your stuff without asking.

Premise/plot: Brave Like My Brother is an epistolary novel for young readers featuring an exchange of letters between Joe and Charlie. Joe is the older brother who's off to fight in World War II. Charlie is the younger brother who stays at home trying not to fight the bullies picking on him. Mainly readers here from Joe who is first stationed in England. The letters are somewhat realistic but not really considering that all letters had to pass through censors. A LOT of detailed information reaches Charlie that would never have really made it through. But a book is a book is a book.

My thoughts: This one is definitely an early chapter book of sorts. I'm thinking primarily for second to third graders--maybe fourth graders. It seems perhaps even for a younger audience than Number the Stars. I do like it. It's historical fiction with a strong family focus. The relationship between Joe and Charlie remains the central focus throughout. He wants to be there for his little brother without actually being there. He wants to be honest and encouraging. The fact that he resists being his little brother's hero and wants his little brother to see him and love him for who he is--makes him even more of a hero. Charlie does seem a bit wise for his years. That's not a bad thing really. He makes the observation that no one really wins a war because war means death---a lot of death for both sides. Who wins when so many lives are cut short? But the epilogue aside, this one gives young readers some basic facts about World War II in an age-appropriate way.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Sing Along Saturday (Rock the Song)

Today's prompt: Song that makes you rock and roll

This meme is hosted by Bookish Things & More.

This week I'm going to go with GOOD CHARLOTTE, a group I love and adore. I could be tempted to share two or three or four of my favorites. But I'll go with Girls & Boys.




And I couldn't resist....I tried....The Anthem.



© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Friday, August 12, 2016

LEGO Knights & Castles

LEGO Knights & Castles. 2016. Scholastic. 64 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Knights and Castles is one of the first books in a Lego-themed nonfiction series published by Scholastic. The series is being marketed as "a Lego adventure in the real world."

What I liked about this one:

I enjoyed the nonfiction narrative. Both the main, flowing narrative that is simple and quick paced. And the overflow of facts found in the text of the side bars, asides, captions, etc. There is plenty of information packed into this one. And it's all appropriate for the elementary audience.

I enjoyed the layout. I liked the use of photographs, illustrations, and bright, bold colors. The book is designed to be appealing to readers. I think it works. It certainly looks nothing like the nonfiction from thirty or forty years ago.

I enjoyed two out of the three Lego features. I enjoyed the "Build it!" and Build it Bigger!" feature. I enjoyed the "Play it!" feature.
p. 15 Build it! Build a tournament area for your jousting knights!
p. 16-7 Play it! Find out about the stories of King Arthur's knights. What amazing adventures will your knights have? Do your knights argue, or are they friends? Is there a wizard in your knight world? Who is your most evil knight?
p. 29 Build it! Build a hospital for the Order of St. John to work in.
While I enjoyed the build it and play it features in Lego Planets, I really LOVED these two features in this one. I also found the narrative to be more compelling. (But that could be my love of history talking!!!)

What I didn't quite enjoy:

The illustrated Lego minifigures. I think there comes a point in your life where you grow up and grow beyond the kind of dialogue that these minifigures engage in. The speech bubbles are heavy on bad jokes and jests. It's just squirmy to read the text as as an adult. Kids, the intended audience, might have a complete different reaction.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Thursday, August 11, 2016

LEGO Planets

Lego Planets: A Lego Adventure in the Real World. 2016. Scholastic. 64 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Planets is one of the first books in a Lego-themed nonfiction series published by Scholastic. The series is being marketed as "a Lego adventure in the real world."

What I liked about this one:

I enjoyed the nonfiction narrative text. The main narrative text keeps things moving. Just a few sentences per page. Each two-page spread features more text: side bars, charts, captions for photographs, etc.

I enjoyed the layout. Big, bright, bold, colorful photographs.

I enjoyed two out of the three Lego features. Some spreads include a "build it" feature. Other spreads include a "play it" feature.
p. 37 Build it! Your astronauts need a space base. Design a space station. Here are some of the important partss. Solar panels. Living quarters. Docking station. Viewing window. Laboratory. Radiator.
p. 19 Play it! Take your astronauts to the Moon and help them explore. What will they find?
p. 26 Play it! Take your rover and astronauts to Mars! It's a whole new world of adventure. What will they find on the Red Planet? Will they be safe?
What I didn't really like:

I mentioned liking two out of the three lego features of this one. The third feature, the one that predominates the book, is the dialogue between Lego minifigures. These conversations are found in speech bubbles and are heavy on bad jokes. They add no intelligence to the book, in other words.

They are illustrated minifigures, by the way.


© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Unhooked

Unhooked. Lisa Maxwell. 2016. Simon & Schuster. 342 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Once upon a time, there was a boy not so very far from being a man. He crossed a sea to venture to London, for he wanted to find his brother, who was the bravest of soldiers. He carried with him only a light pack, for he had every intention of returning...

The novel opens with a move. Gwen and her mom have moved...again. Readers are given the impression that this happens a lot. That her mom is very unstable, that the daughter takes care of the mom instead of the other way around. Along for the trip is Gwen's best friend, Olivia. The tone of the novel from the beginning is dark and mysterious. (Readers witness Gwen's mom FREAK out because of a drawing on a nursery wall. On an evening run, this paranoia seems to have spread to Gwen who FREAKS out when she sees her friend talking to a stranger.) Gwen's nerves continue to be frazzled that night. She can't sleep. Then her worst fears come true.
I will never forget how this moment feels. Like I am being pinned down by night itself. I thrash wildly, trying to get away, but the intruder holds me easily, and then, pressing his face into the curve of my neck, he inhales--a sharp intake of breath--like an animal scenting its prey. When he exhales, his host, fetid breath crawls against my skin. Instinctively I jerk back, but his body cages me in, and his scent overwhelms me--he smells like the damp underside of old leaves, early and a little sour from decay. Like hunger and wanting. But as close as he is to my face, I can't make him out. The room has grown so dark, there isn't enough light for me to see him. Without warning, something warm and wet traces the length of my exposed neck with excruciating thoroughness. He's liking me. Tasting me. Bile rises hot and acidic in my throat, and I understand that I am not going to make it out of this untouched. I don't know if I'm going to make it out at all. (34-5)
Gwen is kidnapped--abducted--from her new home and taken....where????? Well, first she wakes up on a ship. And then she spots an island in the distance...and told that it's NEVERLAND.

There is a Captain (named Rowan) at odds with someone calling himself PAN. But forget what you know about Peter Pan and Neverland.

Unhooked is a read that is best described as dark, intense, dangerous, very life-and-death. Nothing trivial or jolly about it.

Is there a love triangle? Perhaps for a chapter or two as Gwen tries to make up her mind who is telling the truth. But for 90% of the book there is not a love triangle to be found.

Is there romance? Yes. While I would not describe it as instant-love, I would say there's some instant-attraction going on. I think there is a decent amount of relationship development occurring throughout considering the circumstances.

What about the characters???? I love the depth of characterization in this one. The villain was fully realized, as was the hero and heroine.

I also really enjoyed the dialogue of this one. Very well done!

One more quote:
"But in the story--"
"Were I you," he says, turning back almost viciously, cutting off my words, "I'd not put my trust in stories. They tend to pass off lies as the truth and hide the truth in their lies." (75)
© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Tuesday, August 09, 2016

The Disappearance of Ember Crow

The Disappearance of Ember Crow. Ambelin Kwaymullina. 2016. Candlewick. 432 pages. [Source: Review copy]

The Disappearance of Ember Crow is the middle book in a trilogy by Ambelin Kwaymullina. The series is The Tribe. How to categorize it? Let's see, definitely post-apocalyptic with supernatural, mystical elements. So if you enjoy world-building, whether science-fiction or fantasy, this series may prove to your liking.

First things first. Can it stand alone? Do you need to have read The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf? It does not stand alone in my opinion. I read the first book and absolutely loved it. It was such a wonderful surprise of a book. So in my opinion, why not recommend starting with the first book when the first book is so GOOD?!?!

With a title like "The Disappearance of Ember Crow," anyone can deduce that Ashala's close friend, Ember, is going to disappear! Essentially, the book is about Ashala and Daniel...and a new character, Jules, setting out to find Ember and rescue her if she needs it.

A good deal of world-building occurs in this one. Enough is left a MYSTERY that readers aren't quite sure what will ultimately happen in the series. But readers can probably predict that Ashala and Daniel's quest to locate Ember will be successful and that these friends will meet again.

Did I enjoy this one as much as the first book? Honestly, probably not, but I am partly to blame for that. I read the first book in two days. Maybe three. I read this sequel in about four weeks. It just could NOT compete with my rereading of The Lord of the Rings. Daniel and Ashala just could not compete with Aragorn, Sam, and Gandalf.

Would I recommend this series? Yes. Just don't pick up this series at the exact same time as LOTR!!! It deserves your full attention.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Monday, August 08, 2016

The Hole Story of the Doughnut

The Hole Story of the Doughnut. Pat Miller. Illustrated by Vincent X. Kirsch. 2016. HMH. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Few remember the master mariner Hanson Crockett Gregory, though he was bold and brave and bright. But the pastry he invented more than 166 years ago is eaten daily by doughnut lovers everywhere. This is his story.

Premise/plot: Readers learn the true story behind the creation of the doughnut. Also how that story got embellished through the years into something more of a legend.

My thoughts: I liked it. I really did. I can't say that I loved, loved, LOVED it. But it was lively, engaging, entertaining, not particularly moralistic or educational. I don't remember picture book biographies being this entertaining when I was a child. So it's easy to recommend.

Text: 3.5 out of 5
Illustrations: 4.5 out of 5
Total: 8 out of 10

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Sunday, August 07, 2016

Shrunken Treasures

Shrunken Treasures. Scott Nash. 2016. Candlewick. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Love picture books? Love literature? Love the idea of loving literature? Shrunken Treasures might be just right for you. Here's why: Scott Nash has condensed nine literary works into verse 'for children.' (I'm not absolutely convinced that this one is truly for children, and that it will be appreciated by children.) Am I convinced that it can and will be appreciated by adults? It's much easier to say YES to that one.

So which books are condensed?
  • The Odyssey
  • Frankenstein
  • Moby-Dick
  • Jane Eyre
  • A Thousand and One Nights
  • Hamlet
  • Don Quixote
  • The Metamorphosis
  • Remembrance of Things Past
I believe two of these can be sung to nursery rhyme tunes. Not all were written with singing in mind. The shortest of the condensed works is Remembrance of Things Past.

How "useful" are these condensed stories? (I mean "useful" for students wanting to avoid reading the originals for their school assignments.) Not very! But I'm not complaining about that...at all. Hamlet, for example, is about a dog--a Great Dane--with a habit of digging holes. A Thousand and One Nights stars a tiger and a mouse. Don Quixote covers about one or possibly two chapters of a very, very long novel.

I enjoyed this one. I didn't love, love, love it. I think one thing that kept me from loving it was the fact that I didn't really "like" the illustrations.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Saturday, August 06, 2016

Singalong Saturdays (Corny Songs)

Today's prompt: A corny song.

This meme is hosted by Bookish Things & More.

So. I've been obsessively listening to Sonny James this past week. If you were like me, you might be Sonny Who?!?!?! I had never heard of Sonny James until I came across a quote of his in a Johnny Cash biography. I liked the quote so much that I wanted to find out more about the guy who said it.

Here is what I would call a NOVELTY song, but, this week's theme is corny and I'm going to go for it.

Hey Little Ducky




Now I'm also going to include one more song because I just can't help myself. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this song. Is it corny? Or is it just catchy? I don't know right now it's my again-again song.



© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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The Wildest Race Ever

The Wildest Race Ever. Meghan McCarthy. 2016. Simon & Schuster. 48 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: The first Olympic marathon held in America happened on August 30, 1904, in Saint Louis, Missouri.

Premise/plot: This nonfiction picture book tells the wild-but-true story of the first Olympic marathon. McCarthy introduces us to ten runners out of the thirty-two that started the race. This story has plenty of twists and turns. It's never dull!

My thoughts: I really enjoyed this one. It appears to be well-researched. A select bibliography is included. And a link is provided for a full bibliography. It is well-written in my opinion! The story is lively and fun. I really liked the end papers!

It is probably best suited for slightly older readers. (Elementary perhaps instead of preschool.) It might make for a slightly awkward group read-aloud because there are a lot of sidebars and such in addition to the main narrative.

Text: 5 out of 5
Illustrations: 3 out of 5
Total: 8 out of 10

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Friday, August 05, 2016

What Are The Summer Olympics

What Are The Summer Olympics?  Gail Herman. Illustrated by Stephen Marchesi. 2016. 112 pages. [Source: Library]

I enjoyed reading Gail Herman's What Are the Summer Olympics? This short little nonfiction book for young(er) readers (think elementary school) covers all the basics. It provides a nice, little overview of the Olympics. Readers don't learn all there is to know about any one sport--or event--but readers learn a little bit about many of the most popular events. The chapters are actually arranged decade by decade. Each chapter typically covers two or three sports.

For example, the ninth chapter focuses on the 1980s. That chapter covers the U.S.A's boycott of the 1980 games, introduces readers to Mary Lou Retton (gymnastics), Carl Lewis (track), and Greg Louganis (diving).

Because over a hundred years worth of sports history is covered in this little volume, there isn't a lot of depth and substance. The book is a little over a hundred pages in length. BUT the book has a lot of illustrations.

Is it as FUN as Horrible Histories' Flame?!?! Sadly, no. But the book and song go VERY well together. The book, of course, covers A LOT more than any song parody could ever do it.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Call the Midwife, series 4

Call the Midwife, series 4
1 Christmas special + 8 episodes

Trixie Franklin = Helen George
Barbara Gilbert = Charlotte Ritchie
Phyllis Crane = Linda Bassett
Patsy Mount = Emerald Fennell
Sister Mary Cynthia (Miller) = Bryony Hannah
Sister Monica Joan = Judy Parfitt
Sister Evangelina = Pam Ferris
Sister Winifred = Victoria Yeates
Shelagh Turner = Laura Main
Dr. Patrick Turner = Stephen McGann
Timothy Turner = Max Macmillan
Chummy (Camilla Fortescue-Cholmondeley-Browne) = Miranda Hart
Sister Julienne = Jenny Agutter
PC Peter Noakes = Ben Caplan
Fred Buckle = Cliff Parisi
Violet Gee = Annabelle Apsion
Tom Hereward = Jack Ashton
Delia Busby = Kate Lamb

Is this a transitional season? Yes and no. It doesn't really feel less than to me. It is dramatic, compelling, emotional, heartbreaking, wonderful.

Christmas Special -- Cynthia decides something life-changing, something that will keep her out of most of this season's episodes. She feels called to become a SISTER. Trixie and Patsy try to persuade her out of her decision, but they eventually stop trying to compete. Chummy and Patsy spend some time at a home for unmarried expectant mothers....

Episode one -- Nurse Gilbert joins Nonnatus House. And what an ENTRY she makes. Poor thing. With her clothes being scattered and the dogs running off with things. Trixie has highs and lows in this episode. At her happiest, she's just agreed to marry Tom. At her lowest, she's reliving some of the more difficult aspects of her childhood. This will be a roller coaster season for Trixie's emotions.
Chummy becomes head of the home for unmarried expectant mothers.

Episode two -- Nurse Crane joins Nonnatus House. (You'll recognize her from Lark Rise to Candleford perhaps). She clashes instantly with Sister Evangelina. She has a lot of great ideas. But she demands respect for sure!!! Barbara and Patsy work together in this episode. And it's memorable, I think--not their working together. But the mother and father and the delivery itself. Trixie becomes OBSESSED with her upcoming wedding. And Tom does not care even a little about planning the wedding.

Episode three -- This is a dramatic episode with several stories. A husband, soon to be father, is caught in a homosexual act--though it was a trap set by police--and the community comes together to shame the wife--who is just a few weeks away from delivery. Poverty is also at the forefront of this one--as is a spread of dysentery. This episode is all about standing up for what is right. Nurse Crane excels in this episode, as does Nurse Mount. (I'm not sure which episode it is when viewers learn her secret--that she's a lesbian and in love with a fellow nurse, Delia).

Episode four --  This episode is a ROUGH one. Trixie hits rock bottom, essentially, and comes to a BIG, BIG, BIG decision. Sister Winifred reaches out to prostitutes and wants to start a safe-sex education program of sorts. SISTER MONICA JOAN has a triumphant moment or two--as does Shelagh--when an emergency comes up.

Episode five -- Shelagh starts dressing as a nurse--she is a nurse though mainly acting as an administrative assistant--and becomes a true support to her husband when he has an emotional breakdown. The community comes together to show how much he is LOVED AND RESPECTED AND MISSED. Sister Mary Cynthia returns to Nonnatus House. Barbara starts proving herself in this episode.

Episode six -- Sister Mary Cynthia works closely with Irish Travellers (gypsies). And Nurse Crane works with a young diabetic who is pregnant. Her mother wants to force her daughter to have an abortion. The pregnancy would be very high risk. The young girl is in love and wants her baby. Her boyfriend ultimately has to decide what is the right thing to do--even if it's the hard thing to do.

Episode seven -- And Fred begins courting Violet!!!! Sister Evangelina feels horribly guilty when she makes a mistake concerning the identity of two babies. There is a fire in the maternity home. And she picks up two babies--newly born--and escapes the burning building. That's the good news. The bad news, she thinks she remembers which baby is which...but she doesn't. And that's where the guilt sets in.

Episode eight -- Trixie seeks help in this episode. Nurse Mount is (naturally) upset when her girlfriend is in a serious accident. She must receive permission from Delia's mother to visit her in the hospital. And also for permission to write. Her happily ever after seems even more unlikely now. Fred's other daughter visits and is HORRIBLE to Violet. Can Chummy--who makes an appearance at last--get these two back on track and heading to the altar?

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Thursday, August 04, 2016

The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf

The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf. Ambelin Kwaymullina. 2014. Candlewick. 383 pages. [Source: Library]

I loved The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf. I did. (I didn't expect to 'love' it. I didn't know a lot about it going into it, hadn't read a thousand gushing reviews or anything. I would rather be surprised by how good a book is than be disappointed in how bad it is. So my thinking: always try to keep expectations moderately low.)

What you should know: 1) It is YA speculative fiction. I'd say somewhere between dystopian and post-apocalyptic. Post-apocalyptic because it is set hundreds of years after 'the reckoning' that almost destroyed the planet and wiped out humanity. Dystopian because of the ordered--often cruel--society or government that has restructured the world. So if you like or love either genre, then you should pick this one up. 2) It is complex--purposefully, strategically structured to keep you always guessing and a bit unsure. Some people love this, I think; some people don't. I enjoyed it very much! 3) The premise is simple perhaps to make up for the complex storytelling and intense plot. The premise? Well, some people are born with special powers or abilities. These abilities manifest themselves over time, so, you essentially grow into your power/ability. Strength (intensity/power) and control (ability to direct, use at will) vary from person to person. These people are labeled 'illegal' and are targeted by the government. 4) The book is about the conflict between Illegals and the Powers That Be. Questioning Authority and Being True To Yourself are some of the themes explored. 5) I love the world-building. Not everything is explained upfront, and, I love that about it. I don't think everything should be revealed from page one. I like the mystery and suspense and the gradual unfolding of how things are as you orient yourself to Ashala's world. It almost is better because it is slow and gradual. 6) The characterization. Like the world-building, characters aren't nicely introduced in a telling, usual way.

Ashala Wolf is one of the leaders of the tribe, a group of Illegals living in the Firstwood, living on their own as far away from society as they can get. Firstwood is a unique, fantastical setting. I never quite pictured or imagined it fully, but, that didn't stop me from loving this one. It didn't feel "less real" because of that. It almost felt "more real." In the opening chapter, readers learn that she has been captured, perhaps even betrayed by the boy, the young man, that she can't help being drawn to. She's essentially a prisoner at a detention camp, and, because she's a leader, and a defiant leader at that, she most likely is facing torture.

Actually, The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf reminded me of first season Alias. There's intensity, action, and confusion all at the same time. I could just as easily compare it to LOST or Once Upon A Time. You may not know everything you want to know, but, you know just enough to know you want more, more, MORE.


© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Library Loot: First Week in August

New Loot:
  • Black Diamonds by Catherine Bailey
  • Barbie and Ruth by Robin Gerber
  • I Saw the Light by Colin Escott with George Merritt and William MacEwen
  • The Complete and Unauthorized Guide to Vintage Barbie Dolls by Hillary Shilkitus James
  • The Chicken Chronicles by Alice Walker
  • The Heart of Betrayal by Mary E. Pearson
  • The Grand Tour: The life and music of George Jones by Rich Kienzie
Leftover Loot:
  • Fudge-a-mania by Judy Blume
  • Double Fudge by Judy Blume
  • Golf Without Tears by P.G. Wodehouse
  • My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, Jodi Meadows
  • Waylon: One Awesome Thing by Sara Pennypacker
  • Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus by Barbara Park
  • Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain
  • Johnny Cash: The Life by Robert Hilburn
  • Man in White by Johnny Cash
  • Counting Thyme by Melanie Conklin
  •  All-Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook by Leslie Connor
  Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Linda from Silly Little Mischief 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

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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The Cafe Mystery

The Cafe Mystery (The Whodunit Detective Agency #4) Martin Widmark. Illustrated by Helena Willis. 2003/2015. 80 pages. [Source: Library]

First Sentence: "Mmm, pastries!" said Maya. "Cakes and muffins! Yum," added Jerry. "Can you believe everything that's been happening in there?" asked Maya, gesturing toward Cafe Marzipan, Pleasant Valley's best bakery.

Premise/plot: Jerry and Maya are kid detectives with a new toy: a digital camera. And that camera will come in handy for their next case. The bakery has suffered several robberies in the past year. No one has been able to figure out who the robber is. The robber just happens to hit every time there is a large amount of cash in the cash register. (An event that isn't all that common.) Can Jerry and Maya figure out which of the employees is working with the robber...and why?

My thoughts: I like this series. I do. I am enjoying spending time in Pleasant Valley. Jerry and Maya are very good at what they do.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Tuesday, August 02, 2016

The Circus Mystery

The Circus Mystery (The Whodunit Detective Agency #3) Martin Widmark. Illustrated by Helena Willis. 2003/2015. 80 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: It was summertime in the town of Pleasant Valley. The sun had been shining brightly all day, and a gentle breeze rustled through the leaves of the trees in town.

Premise/plot: Jerry and Maya are two kids with a detective agency. A circus is coming to town. This circus has a bad reputation, however. Whatever towns the circus visits, a series of robberies and thefts occur. They have every reason to believe that their town will be no different, that the thief will rob people in the crowd. The police chief and Jerry and Maya attend both performances of the circus in order to see if they can solve the case.

My thoughts: I like this series well enough. Early chapter books are key in reading development. And who doesn't like a good series? Kids need series books; they need the predictability and the formulaic structure. I would definitely recommend the series.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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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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