Sunday, June 30, 2019

June Reflections

June# of Books
Becky's Book Reviews20
Young Readers21
Operation Actually Read Bible10


# of Pages
Becky's Book Reviews5261
Young Readers863
Operation Actually Read Bible2441


# of Books# of Pages

Totals So Far

Books Read
Pages Read

New to me Highlights
Reread Highlights

© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Chunkster Challenge Check-In #2

How are you doing on the challenge?
What books have you read?
What book are you currently reading?
How many points have you earned?
Do you have any questions about the challenge?

I'm currently reading Cecilia by Fanny Burney.

Here's what I've read so far:

Grave MercyLaFevers, Robin560
The Book ThiefZusak, Markus560
IvanhoeScott, Walter544
EvelinaBurney, Fanny455
Ruled BrittaniaTurtledove, Harry576
ShirleyBronte, Charlotte624
Innocents AbroadTwain, Mark560
DuneHerbert, Frank687
Resistance WomenChiaverini, Jennifer608
Les MiserablesHugo, Victor1330

Page # Totals

Point Totals60

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Stars Upon Thars #26

5 Stars
The Bridge Home. Padma Venkatraman. 2019. 208 pages. [Source: Library]
The Pawed Piper. Michelle Robinson. Illustrated by Chinlun Lee. 2019. Candlewick Press. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Let's Play, Crabby! (Crabby #2) Jonathan Fenske. 2019. Scholastic. 48 pages. [Source: Review copy]

4 Stars
From an Idea to Disney: How Branding Made Disney a Household Name. Lowey Bundy Sichol. 2019. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 112 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Swim with Little Fish! Lucy Cousins. 2019. Candlewick Press. 8 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Pignic. Matt Phelan. 2018. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Friday, June 28, 2019

The Bridge Home

The Bridge Home. Padma Venkatraman. 2019. 208 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Talking to you was always easy, Rukku. But writing's hard. "Write her a letter," Celina Aunty said, laying a sheet of paper on the desk.

Premise/plot: The Bridge Home is a coming of age children's novel set in India. Viji, our heroine, is writing to her sister, Rukku, recounting the past few months. It's written in second person past tense. (That's a bit unusual, but oddly enough it works for the most part.) Their adventures begin when Viji and Rukku run away from home--their father is abusive, and their mother can't stop him. They have very little, but Viji is confident that she'll be able to find some kind of work in the big city. But will she? Can she find a way to support her little sister?

In the big city, the two are homeless. They become family with two boys--Arul and Muthi.  These four may be homeless and living day to day but they've found something special in each other.

My thoughts: The Bridge Home isn't for the faint of heart. It's a SAD, SAD, SAD book. And not because there's a dog on the cover. It addresses big issues--poverty, hunger, homelessness, etc. It is beautifully written.

I took the orange and turned it around, just as you had. It glowed like a small, pale sun. I felt its weight, its perfect ripeness--not too soft, not too firm. I breathed in its citrus scent. I started to peel it, noticing things I'd never noticed before: how the leathery peel isn't colored the same all the way through, how the papery sections inside feel like leafy veins, how the pulp is shaped like raindrops. When, at last, I placed a section in my mouth, I could hear it burst as my teeth met the flesh, squeezing the juice out onto my tongue, tart at first and then sweet. Everything else melted away except for the taste, the smell, the feel of the fruit on my tongue. I ate the fruit slowly. The way you liked to do things. Until then, I'd thought it was a sad thing that you were sometimes slower than the rest of us. But that day, I realized that slow can be better than fast. Like magic, you could stretch time out when we needed it, so that a moment felt endless. So the taste of half an orange could last and last. (45)

© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Thursday, June 27, 2019

From An Idea to Disney

From an Idea to Disney: How Branding Made Disney a Household Name. Lowey Bundy Sichol. 2019. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 112 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: When you think of Disney, you probably think of Mickey Mouse.

Premise/plot: From An Idea to Disney is one of the books in a new business series published by HMH. (Other titles include From an Idea to LEGO, From an Idea to Nike, From an Idea to Google). This 'biography' of Walt Disney is focused primarily on his career, his company. In fact, almost half of the book focuses on the Disney company/brand after the deaths of Walt and Roy Disney. It covers the highs and lows of Disney. It documents his persistence. Success did not come easy. There were many times when it might have made sense to quit and try something else. Disney kept trying and kept dreaming big.

My thoughts: I enjoyed this one. I didn't ever think of there being a lack of books about business and economics for this age group--elementary students--until I started reading this series. It is nice to see a different twist on the biographical genre. I found it informational. All the books in the series have black and white illustrations.

© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

World at War: The Victory Garden

The Victory Garden. Rhys Bowen. 2019. 368 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: My dear Clarissa, Thank you very much for your long letter.

Premise/plot: The Victory Garden is set in England during the last year of the first world war--1918. Emily Bryce, our heroine, has wanted to do something for the war effort; however, her parents would not allow it. After her twenty-first birthday, Emily volunteers for the Women's Land Army. She has a slight ulterior motive: her secret boyfriend--an Australian pilot--is recuperating near where she'll be training. Her parents disapprove of him as a companion let alone as a boyfriend!

A romantic weekend with her boyfriend, Robbie Kerr, leads to the unexpected--a marriage proposal and a baby out of wedlock. Will Emily be brave enough to let her parents know? Or will she try things her own way?

My thoughts: I liked this one. I didn't love, love, love it. Emily must be one of the most likeable human beings in the world because she was able to charm just about anybody she met. Well, perhaps with the exception of one or two people. This works out nicely since she's soon to be a single mother on her own.

I was interested in Emily's story--for the most part. But I didn't care for the subplot concerning the herb garden and the hidden journals. I think the part that irritated me the most was Emily's "saving" the "entire village" from the great influenza because of her herbal potions. I cringed when Emily was congratulating herself on doing that. It just didn't seem realistic.

Several potentially big plot twists were thrown in towards the last bit of the novel. It seemed odd to wait until the last twenty or so pages to try to add some drama and mystery. Like the book was trying to throw off the romance novel vibe at the last second. This one is clearly a romance--though perhaps not a straightforward one. 

© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Elvis is King!

Elvis is King! Jonah Winter. Illustrated by Red Nose Studios. 2019. 40 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence:
Elvis is born!
But alas, he is born
in a humble shack
on the wrong side of the railroad tracks,
the side where the poorest of the poor live,
down down down in the Deep South--Tupelo, Mississippi.
Premise/plot: This picture book biography of Elvis Presley is written in verse. Each poem highlights a moment in his life. I should mention that this book only covers his childhood and his early young adult years. It ends with the success of Heartbreak Hotel. This picture book biography does not mention his many number one songs, his time in the military, his movie career, etc. This one is just the early stuff.

Hardware Store Guitar
There it is, hanging from a strap
behind the counter.
With pennies she saved,
Mama buys her eleven-year-old birthday boy
the most important gift he will ever receive.
It will be the key to his salvation.
 My thoughts: I don't dislike Elvis. I don't. But I don't love, love, love his work either. Still I was happy to review a picture book biography about his life. I know many people still love and adore Elvis and would love to share that love with their little ones.

I do have a slight pet peeve. I'm guessing the author didn't mean anything disrespectful to those of faith by saying that a guitar is the "most important" gift he ever received and it was "the key to his salvation." But it rubbed me the wrong way all the same. Not in an offended way, but in an annoyed way. (If you can see the distinction.)

I do like the text more than the illustrations. I HATED the illustrations.

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

© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Monday, June 24, 2019

Celebrating Board Games

Celebrating Board Games. Nina Chertoff and Susan Kahn. 2006. 144 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Games are a part of almost everyone's childhood. And board games in particular have a special place in most people's hearts.

Premise/plot: All the board games included in this tiny book belong to one collector. There isn't much text to it. Readers can learn the name of a board game and the year it came out. Occasionally, the author(s) elaborate. "This game is about who can make the most money..." or "the artwork of this one is racially offensive..." or "this game is like parcheesi..." or "this game is based on a tv show...." For each game mentioned, we have a photograph of the box, the game board, and the player pieces.

My thoughts: When I learned that all the games photographed (and included) belong to one person's collection it made a bit more sense as to what was included and what was not. This is not a comprehensive, thorough book that COVERS every board game from every decade. I've heard my mom talk about games she used to play--dad has a few stories as well--and sadly these were not included. Some of my own favorites from childhood were not included either. That's the way of things. (Careers is/was my personal favorite. Chutes and Ladders, Hi-Ho Cherry-O, Scrabble--these are the games off the top of my head that were not included. I never thought about how many games don't have a game board--Yahtzee, Hungry Hungry Hippo, Battleship, Scattergories, Guess Who). 

The book wasn't particularly organized. It would have perhaps to have the book organized into sections: games about making money, games about war or strategy, games based on tv shows or movies, educational games, games of chance, etc. 

I think some of the games were chosen for their rarity and novelty...not because they were super popular, beloved, and representative of their times.

© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Saturday, June 22, 2019

June Share-a-Tea

Hilda Fearon La fiesta del te
What are you currently reading for the challenge?
Have you finished any books for this challenge this month?
Is there a book you're looking forward to starting next month?
Want to share any favorite quotes from a past or current read?
What teas have you enjoyed this month?

Currently Reading...

several Bibles
Cecilia by Fanny Burney

Recently finished...

67. Beverly, Right Here. Kate DiCamillo. 2019. Candlewick Press. 256 pages. [Source: Review copy]
68. Taking Back the Good Book: How America Forgot the Bible and Why It Matters To You. Woodrow Kroll. 2007. Crossway Books. 222 pages. [Source: Review copy]
69. The Lady of the Lakes: The True Love Story of Sir Walter Scott. Josi S. Kilpack. 2017. Shadow Mountain. [Source: Library]
70. Resistance Women. Jennifer Chiaverini. 2019. 608 pages. [Source: Library]

Looking forward...

Perhaps something Victorian...and also translated from the French?

Teas enjoyed....

  • Citrus Green
  • Perfect Peach
  • Peppermint
  • Camomile
  • White Tea
  • Candy Cane Lane
  • Constant Comment Black

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Stars Upon Thars #25

5 Stars
 From An Idea to LEGO: The Building Bricks Behind the World's Largest Toy Company. Lowey Bundy Sichol. 2019. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 128 pages. [Source: Review copy]

4 Stars
The Rest of the Story. Sarah Dessen. 2019. 440 pages. [Source: Library]
Resistance Women. Jennifer Chiaverini. 2019. 608 pages. [Source: Library]
Walt's Imagination: The Life of Walt Disney. Doreen Rappaport. Illustrated by John Pomeroy. 2018. 48 pages. [Source: Library]
The Berenstain Bears' New Baby. Stan & Jan Berenstain. 1974. 32 pages. [Source: Library
The Bears' Picnic. Stan and Jan Berenstain. 1966. 72 pages. [Source: Library]

© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Friday, June 21, 2019

The Rest of the Story

The Rest of the Story. Sarah Dessen. 2019. 440 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: The wedding was over. But the party had just begun.

Premise/plot: While her father and new step-mother are on their honeymoon in Greece, Emma Saylor Payne goes to visit her maternal grandmother (and extended family). She has no memories of her grandmother, Mimi, or her cousins. (Though she knows that she visited there when she was four.) It's a bit of an adjustment. It's a tourist-y town by a lake. Her grandmother owns and runs a motel. Her cousins--including a very pregnant one named Trinity--do a lot of the work. At first, Mimi thinks of SAYLOR as a guest. Saylor is not to do any work whatsoever. But lines between family and guest are blurred as she becomes more at home. She's hanging out with her cousins and their friends, including ROO, and working alongside them too.

Much of this one revolves around the question Who is she really??? Is she "Emma" or is she "Saylor"? Is she more like her father? Is she more like her mother?

My thoughts: Love YA romance? Love Sarah Dessen? There is much to love in her newest book. Dessen does an excellent job of developing heroes and heroines who fall in love. In the case of The Rest of the Story that would be Emma Saylor and Roo. I also enjoyed seeing relationships develop between Emma, Bailey, Trinity, and Gordon. (There's another cousin, Jack, who isn't all that developed. Not really). Not all the characters are fully developed. (Mimi and Nana come to mind. As well as Emma's dad and stepmom.) Quite a few are flat. (I'm thinking of Blake and Colin). The characters we spend the most time with are oh-so-human.

The Rest of the Story while it isn't an issue-driven novel does handle some big issues. Emma has to deal with the good, the bad, the ugly of her mother's past. Her mom was an addict. Her life was a big, big mess. Her mom hurt a lot of people--including herself. By letting herself really get to know her mom's side of the family, she's opening up the past and getting new and different glimpses of who her mom was and what she meant to other people. Does her mom's addiction mean that she's more likely to become an addict herself? Is she fated to make the same mistakes as her mom? Could she hurt others in the same way as her mom?

I enjoyed this one. It was nice to have a heroine who was anxious and had OCD. 

© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Thursday, June 20, 2019

The Last Voyage of Poe Blythe

The Last Voyage of Poe Blythe. Ally Condie. 2019. 328 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Call tells me he sees a star and that makes me laugh.

Premise/plot: The Last Voyage of Poe Blythe is a dystopian young adult novel. Poe loves Call. Call loves Poe. In a perfect, perfect world these two would find a way to run away together and get a chance at a happily ever after. But this isn't a perfect, perfect world--it's a dystopian novel. Call, Poe's true love, is killed in the prologue thus inspiring Poe's lust for revenge. This lust suits the Admiral just fine. In fact he considers Poe a great weapon against 'the enemy.' 

Gold. The Admiral wants/needs it--badly. There are ships that dredge the river in pursuit of gold. Call and Poe are on such a ship in the prologue. And Poe spends the rest of the novel as Captain of another mining ship. This ship has been armed with a weapon of her own design--one that will keep the river raiders from boarding, from slaughtering, from stealing. It was a raider who murdered Call. But is living for revenge really living? There are many secrets to be discovered--it would be a shock and disappointment if there weren't secrets galore.

My thoughts: Action-packed. The Last Voyage of Poe Blythe is packed cover to cover with action. But is it equally packed with heart and soul? Is there much substance or depth to the world Condie has created for teens? I would say no and no. Don't get me wrong. The action alone may keep you reading. (I read this one in two days.) There's nothing wrong with a book using action, violence, and suspense to keep you turning pages. A book can be a great escape.

This is definitely an action-driven novel. Dystopians can be premise-driven, action-driven, or character-driven. Perhaps the best of the best of the genre combine all three. I prefer premise-driven or character-driven dystopians. Novels that make me think or rethink the world. Novels that feature characters that I won't be forgetting any time soon. I definitely thought the character development suffered a bit in this one.

© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

World at War: Resistance Women

Resistance Women. Jennifer Chiaverini. 2019. 608 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence from the prologue: The heavy iron doors open and for a moment Mildred stands motionless and blinking in the sunlight, breathless from the sudden rush of cool, fresh air caressing her face and lifting her hair.

Premise/plot: Resistance Woman is a fictional novel inspired by actual people and events. Many of the characters--Arvid and Mildred Harnack, Martha Dodd, Adam and Greta Kuckhoff, for example--were real people living in Germany and later Nazi Germany who were active members of the Resistance. (Arvid has a famous cousin, Dietrich Bonhoeffer.) A few fictional characters people the novel as well including Sara Weitz and her family. (The author wanted one of the narrators to be Jewish.) The book does alternate narrators. Mildred. Greta. Sara. Sometimes Martha. (Martha does not arrive in Berlin, Germany, until later. She leaves Germany before the war starts.) This isn't a novel where the author has a lot of control about the fate of her characters. (Some might argue that an author rarely has control about the fate of their characters--that stories tell themselves and unfold in the writing process.)

My thoughts: This is a tragic novel about women who to some degree chose to stay and resist. (Sara didn't so much choose to stay.) The novel spans decades--1929-1946. It was a turbulent time--to say the least. Mildred was an American who fell head over heels in love with a German who was studying in the United States. Greta, one of her friends, was also a German studying in the United States. They would reconnect in Germany many years after first meeting. Greta had an opportunity to stay in England, but chose to return to Germany to fight against evil instead of fleeing from it. Mildred could have left her husband and returned to the States--she was an American citizen. But she didn't want to leave her husband behind. Her home is where he was. Together no matter what--that's what she wanted.

The novel is a compelling read but not always an easy one. There is nothing light and breezy about this one. Their lives were on the line. 

© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Noelle At Sea (Girls Survive)

Noelle at Sea: A Titanic Survival Story. Nikki Shannon Smith. Illustrated by Alessia Trunfio. 2019. 112 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Noelle squinted at the water.

Premise/plot: Noelle at Sea is one of the new titles in a new series, Girls Survive. Noelle is a young French girl traveling with her parents on the Titanic. (They are second class passengers. Her father is Haitian, and her mother is French.) While on board, Noelle becomes friendly with a third-class passenger, Pauline. The two become so close that Noelle gives Pauline a few dresses. When the ship hits the iceberg, Noelle becomes concerned about Pauline's safety. Will she risk her own life to find and save her friend?

My thoughts: I checked out four of the Girls Survive series from my local library. It was a tough decision on which one to read before bedtime. I didn't want to read the one about fire, that's for sure. So I settled with the one with potential drowning. I hope to read the remaining books soon.

I liked this one well enough. I don't seek out books set on the Titanic. It doesn't matter if I know the whole 'women and children first' scenario ahead of time. It doesn't. I was not ready to see the father die. And, of course, die he does. Noelle was brave and foolish. Foolish to keep turning down opportunities to get on the life boats. Foolish to run away from her parents. But all in all brave to go in search of her third-class new-best-friend. Noelle thought that she was Pauline's one and only chance to make it off the ship. She probably was. When I read about the Titanic, I tend to get angry at a lot of people's foolishness.

© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Monday, June 17, 2019

From An Idea to LEGO

From An Idea to LEGO: The Building Bricks Behind the World's Largest Toy Company. Lowey Bundy Sichol. 2019. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 128 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence from chapter one: Ole (pronounced OH-lay) Kirk Christiansen was born on April 7, 1891, in the small village of Filskov, Denmark.

Premise/plot: This nonfiction book provides young readers with a behind-the-scenes look at LEGO. The LEGO story begins as a very human story--the story of a carpenter and his sons. He didn't set out to make and sell toys--especially not plastic toys, after all he was a carpenter. As for one day being the world's largest toy company--I imagine he'd laugh and cry. The story is packed with details.

My thoughts: Nonfiction can be so fascinating. I really enjoyed this one and would recommend it to just about anyone and everyone. I was familiar with much of the story told within the book. Having watched the LEGO Story movie a couple dozen of times when it first came out. There were still plenty of things I learned from this book.

But this book goes beyond that simple story of how it came to be. It also includes plenty of informational text that focuses on business and economics.

© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Paris in July 2019

Paris in July
Hosted by Thyme for Tea, sign up here
July 2019
# of books: I'm hoping for three to four

What I watch:
1) Babette's Feast

What I read:

1) Dark Triumph (His Fair Assassin #2) Robin LaFevers. 2013. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 387 pages. [Source: Review copy] *set in 1489/1490? in Brittany
2) . Mistress of the Ritz. Melanie Benjamin. 2019. Random House. 384 pages. [Source: Review copy]
3) Marie, Dancing. Carolyn Meyer. 2005. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 272 pages. [Source: Bought]
4) Degas, Painter of Ballerinas. Susan Goldman Rubin. 2019. Harry N. Abrams. 64 pages. [Source: Review copy]
5) I Always Loved You. Robin Oliveira. 2014. 343 pages. [Source: Library]
6) Lovely War. Julie Berry. 2019. 480 pages. [Source: Library]
7) Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales #8 Lafayette! Nathan Hale. 2018. [October 16] Harry N. Abrams. 128 pages. [Source: Library]

© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Stars Upon Thars #24

5 Stars
Queen of the Sea. Dylan Meconis. 2019. Candlewick Press. 400 pages. [Source: Review copy]
In Farleigh Field. Rhys Bowen. 2017. Lake Union. 397 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Love and the Rocking Chair. Diane and Leo Dillon. 2019. [October 15] Scholastic. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]

4 Stars
Before They Were Authors: Famous Writers as Kids. Elizabeth Haidle. 2019. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 64 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Old Hat, New Hat. Stan and Jan Berenstain. 1970. 36 pages. [Source: Library]
Bach to the Rescue. Tom Angleberger. Illustrated by Elio. 2019. Harry N. Abrams. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]

© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Friday, June 14, 2019

For the Love of Mike

For the Love of Mike (Molly Murphy #3) Rhys Bowen. 2003. 336 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Actually I had been guessing at the time.

Premise/plot: Molly Murphy is determined to be a private investigator. In this third book in the series, she is working on two cases at the same time. One case has her going undercover at a garment factory. Another case has her looking for a missing person--a runaway daughter. Will she be able to solve both cases and collect her fees? Or will these cases prove too challenging and dangerous? Could Molly Murphy lose her life in the attempt to be a private investigator?

My thoughts: This is the third Molly Murphy mystery I've read.

I'll start with the good news. I like that the books build upon one another and that we're still catching glimpses of people we've met in books one and two. This seems like a good way to build a believable world--people it. Some are mere background players but others are becoming central to the plot.
Now for the bad news...

Are readers supposed to actually like Molly Murphy? Are we supposed to find Molly Murphy fierce, brave, empowered, independent, ahead-of-her-time? Because this reader is mostly finding Molly Murphy to be lacking any and all common sense. Are readers supposed to find her blunders and near-misses charming and adorable? This reader doesn't. It is not that I want Molly Murphy to actually suffer the consequences of her incompetence. I don't want her to be raped, molested, kidnapped, or killed. I don't. But at this point, she needs a team of men to follow her around to protect her from herself--her brave, daring, independent escapades and adventures. And surprisingly enough, that team of men actually exists. Men are fighting over her. They're also yelling at her, telling her not to be so stupid, but...they don't see her lack of sense as a bad thing...they actually want to be with her.

This touches on the second annoyance of the series...the "romance." In the first book, Molly fell for a police officer, Daniel Sullivan. He seemed to be equally smitten with her. It looked like it was going to be heading towards a happily ever after. But a few chapters into the second book--perhaps less--readers find out he's been engaged to another woman this whole time. Daniel seems to be hero who pops up dozens of times in each book to SAVE MOLLY FROM HERSELF. She then whines about how she hates to be "saved" by Daniel and how she wants to never, ever see him again. She also seems to be mourning the fact that he won't choose her. If Molly really and truly wants to never see Daniel again--perhaps she could work harder at NOT BEING ARRESTED or brought to the station for questioning. Perhaps if she avoided potentially dangerous situations altogether--going into gang hang-outs, for example, to ask her questions.

Right now there are TWO men "in love" with Molly. Because I actually like Jacob, I'm thinking he deserves better than Molly.

© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Queen of the Sea

Queen of the Sea. Dylan Meconis. 2019. Candlewick Press. 400 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: A queen does not abandon her people.

Premise/plot: Queen of the Sea is a graphic novel loosely inspired by the Tudors. Loosely. The author purposefully did not make it about Henry VIII, Bloody Mary, and Queen Elizabeth I. Though that would have been an intriguing subject for a graphic novel, that isn't this graphic novel.

Queen of the Sea has a young heroine, Margaret, who has lived on an island, Albion, off another island, also Albion. She doesn't know who her father and mother were, or if they are alive or dead. All she knows is life at the convent. But while you might think life at the convent would offer no variety, no excitement, no adventure...well, you'd be mostly right...but not completely. Plenty happens--for better or worse.

It is a lovely coming of age novel.

My thoughts: I loved it. That's the short version. Did I love it because it's a graphic novel? No. Yes. Maybe. I really, really, really loved the characters and the story. Part of that story is told in the illustrations. So while a novel on the same topic would most likely thrill me just as much, there's a little something special in the illustrations.

I loved the characterization. I loved spending time with Margaret, William, Eleanor, Francis, and some of the sisters. Margaret and Eleanor's relationship is complex--rightly so. This one just had depth and substance to it. 
I loved the story and found it compelling. I read this one in one sitting. It was rough there at the end--it's hard for me to sit still that long--but it was worth it. No bookmark needed. Ha!
I would definitely recommend this one. Perhaps not to those that love, love, love graphic novels. I think the appeal is the HISTORY and the WORLD-BUILDING. If you don't love history, if you don't find it fascinating, then I'm not sure that this graphic novel would sweep you up, up, and away. But if you do, this is a treat of a book. So give it a try even if graphic novels aren't quite your cup of tea.  

© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

World at War: In Farleigh Field

In Farleigh Field. Rhys Bowen. 2017. Lake Union. 397 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: It had been unusually hot all summer.

Premise/plot: In Farleigh Field is a stand-alone mystery/suspense novel set in England during the second world war. It has multiple narrators. It follows the lives of the aristocratic Sutton family and their neighbors. There are five daughters--no sons. Olivia (aka Livvy), Margaret (aka Margot), Pamela (aka Pamma), Diana (aka Dido), and Phoebe (aka Feebs).

Before the war, Pamela was head over heels in love with a neighbor, Jeremy Prescott, who joined the RAF. While she was making heart eyes at Jeremy, Ben Cresswell, the vicar's son, was making heart eyes at her. Almost three years later and little has changed. Well. Both Ben and Pamela are working for secret government agencies. (MI5 and Bletchley Park). But Ben still hasn't come any closer to getting the girl to notice him in that way. Pamela still daydreams that if Jeremy returns alive from the war that they may get married and live happily ever after one day.

At the Farleigh estate a dead man in uniform is found--his parachute did not open. Who was this man? Was he British? Was he German? Why parachute there? Was he on a mission to talk to someone who lived at Farleigh or nearby? What was his mission? what was his message? Does his death mean that the threat is over? Or does danger still lurk?

Phoebe and Alfie (a boy evacuated from London and living with the groundskeeper) team up on the sly to try to solve the mystery.

Ben has official orders to investigate--undercover of course. He's to go back home and see what he can uncover. Everyone should be willing to talk to the vicar's son, after all. And he may be better able to uncover the truth than a stranger would.

My thoughts: I found this an incredibly suspenseful read. Perhaps a bit predictable here and there but in a satisfying way. When it went the way I predicted, I wasn't disappointed but elated.

I typically don't like novels with alternating narrators, multiple narrators. But this one worked well for me. I loved the changing perspectives. It was nice not only to get the perspectives of Ben and Pamela but the others as well. In particular, I liked spending time with the other Sutton sisters--Dido, Phoebe, and Margot. With Margot, we got a behind-the-scenes glimpse of life in occupied Paris.

I read this one in one sitting. It was GOOD.

© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Love and the Rocking Chair

Love and the Rocking Chair. Diane and Leo Dillon. 2019. [October 15] Scholastic. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Many years ago, a young couple stood in a sea of chairs, searching for just the right one. "Look at that chair over there. It's perfect for the baby's room," the young woman said.

Premise/plot: Love and the Rocking Chair celebrates generations of a family and the legacy of a rocking chair passed on through the years. The book opens with a young couple expecting a baby and looking for just-the-right rocking chair. The chair is used when he is a baby and as he continues to grow. It is a chair he chooses to use in his own nursery when he's all grown up and expecting a child of his own...

My thoughts: Love and The Rocking Chair is a picture book for older readers. Dare I say it's a picture books written specificially with adults in mind?! It's a lovely book, don't get me wrong. But it's a book packed with sentiment and wisdom that only age can truly appreciate.

Love and the Rocking Chair is a bittersweet read. On the one hand, captured within this gem of a book are scenes of a family through the years. Babies being rocked. Toddlers being read to. Children imagining and playing. Children growing up, getting older, moving on, etc. On the other hand, it captures some heartbreaking moments as well. The husband/father getting old/sick, the wife/mother and the son standing together by a casket mourning. The wife/mother/grandmother wishing that her husband could be by her side to see his granddaughter. It's TOUGH, TOUGH I tell you on the heart strings.

It captures what life is--the way things are, the way things will always be in this world. LOVE is always present. Every single spread captures what it means to love and be loved. That's a difficult thing perhaps to capture in a meaningful way.

Text: 5 out of 5
Illustrations: 4 out of 5
Total: 9 out of 10

© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Monday, June 10, 2019

Before They Were Authors

Before They Were Authors: Famous Writers as Kids. Elizabeth Haidle. 2019. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 64 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: What makes a writer? Many of us wonder about the stories behind the stories of best selling authors...

Premise/plot: What do you call a nonfiction book that uses the graphic novel format?! This one is nonfiction. It includes brief biographies of ten--yes, ten--writers. (5 Men. 5 Women.) The writers included are Mark Twain, Maya Angelou, Dr. Seuss, Sandra Cisneros, Roald Dahl, J.K. Rowling, Gene Luen Yang, Beatrix Potter, C.S. Lewis, and Madeleine L'Engle. Some of these writers wrote for children--toddlers, preschoolers, grade school students; some of these writers wrote for young adults or even adults.

Each author biography is told over several pages. As I mentioned earlier, it uses the graphic novel/comic book format to tell the stories. Sprinkled throughout the biographies are quotes from the writers.

My thoughts: I love the idea of loving this one. I do. The truth is very few readers are going to agree on which ten authors "should" be included in the book. There are no right answers here. Some seem obvious to me--Dr. Seuss, for example or even J.K. Rowling. There is one "omission" that saddens me. I would have LOVED, LOVED, LOVED to see Beverly Cleary included here. Her story is surely just as interesting as Beatrix Potter's?! Another "omission" that comes to mind is L.M. Montgomery. Also Mo Willems. And Shannon Hale.

Are these ten authors personal favorites of mine? Not really. That's okay. The subtitle isn't Becky's Favorite Writers As Kids.

© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Saturday, June 08, 2019

Stars Upon Thars #23

5 Stars
 The Lady of the Lakes: The True Love Story of Sir Walter Scott. Josi S. Kilpack. 2017. Shadow Mountain. 336 pages. [Source: Library]

Beverly, Right Here. Kate DiCamillo. 2019. Candlewick Press. 256 pages. [Source: Review copy]
The Big Honey Hunt. Stan Berenstain and Jan Berenstain. 1962. 72 pages. [Source: Own]
Daddy-Sitting. Eve Coy. 2019. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]
The Rabbit, the Dark, and the Cookie Tin. Nicola O'Byrne. 2019. Candlewick Press. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Future Astronaut. Lori Alexander. Illustrated by Allison Black. 2019. Scholastic. 24 pages. [Source: Review copy]

4 Stars
Murphy's Law. Rhys Bowen. 2001. 240 pages. [Source: Library]

Beware of the Crocodile. Martin Jenkins. Illustrated by Satoshi Kitamura. 2019. Candlewick Press. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Friday, June 07, 2019

Death of Riley

Death of Riley. (Molly Murphy #2) Rhys Bowen. 2002. 336 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: "You want me to do what?" I demanded so loudly that a delicate young female walking ahead of us glanced back in horror and had to reach for her smelling salts. I burst out laughing.

Premise/plot: Molly Murphy, our heroine, is still determined to become a private investigator. True, she's never been trained or apprenticed. True, she lacks actual experience as a detective. True, she doesn't have money to start her own detective agency. But don't try to stop her from pursuing her dreams.

Miss Murphy DOES find a private investigator, a Mr. Riley. He agrees oh-so-reluctantly to hire her. Not because he believes she'll make a good actual assistant. But because his business is a complete and total disaster. She can help keep things clean and organized. She can make his job--his life--easier by doing so. If she happens to pick up a few little lessons on how things work here and there, that's okay by him.

But a few weeks later, Mr. Riley is found MURDERED. She's the one who finds his body in the office. Who could have killed him? Was he killed because of one of his open cases? Can Molly Murphy finish his few open cases? Can she more importantly still SOLVE THE MYSTERY OF WHO MURDERED HIM?!

She does find a new place to live in this one...and new characters are introduced...some old characters reappear.

My thoughts: This one was good but a bit silly. I mean I guess the first book had its silly moments too. But I was swept up so thoroughly in the first book that I never stopped to think about is this realistic? is this true to history? is this true to human nature? does this make sense?

I say that it's silly but that didn't mean I didn't enjoy it. I have every intention of going on with this series!

© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Thursday, June 06, 2019

The Lady of the Lakes

The Lady of the Lakes: The True Love Story of Sir Walter Scott. Josi S. Kilpack. 2017. Shadow Mountain. 336 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence from the prologue: I believe in God and Christ and long-suffering, but I do not feel that all three must be so densely mashed together as they are for a Calvinist Sunday sermon.

First sentence from chapter one: Walter did not try to hide the fact that he watched the door with focused attention. Mina--his muse and his future--would be entering at any moment, and he was determined to be the first set of eyes she saw.

Premise/plot: This historical romance novel stars SIR WALTER SCOTT. The prologue is set in 1791 when Sir Walter Scott first meets the lovely Mina. The first chapter is set four years later, 1795.

For Walter Scott, it was LOVE at first sight. He wooed the young Miss Stuart with words, words, and more words. Their meetings were infrequent--private meetings especially--but his letters to her, well, they were something special. Was it love at first sight for Mina? Decidedly not. She fell for his words and perhaps not his person. After all, he couldn't dance. And Mina, well, she loved to be the belle of the ball. She loved to dance every dance. But his words, well, they captivated least until they didn't.

Charlotte Carpenter is a French immigrant, an orphan, a spinster. She's "on the shelf" or "over the hill" at age twenty-five. She's under the care of a kind guardian--but kindness only goes so far when his wife is pressuring him to find her a match or else. Miss Carpenter rejects--perhaps rightfully so--the one match that is arranged for her. What she would like is to be an independent woman who has her own house/household, manages her own money/budget. She's not exactly penniless, but she's far from an heiress. No man is going to be hunting her down and marrying her for her fortune.

Charlotte and Walter Scott meet in 1797, one year after his heart has been crushed, obliterated by Mina. He is NOT looking for love. I repeat, he is NOT looking for love. Scott is convinced that LOVE has done him wrong. That he'll go down to the grave loving Mina and only Mina. That chapter in his life is over and done with. Woe to the friend, the companion, the brother that tries to "fix" or "mend" his heart. BEWARE. But Charlotte is unlike any woman he's ever met before. She's honest, genuine, forthright...true to herself. She isn't wearing a mask. Scott is CLUELESS, ABSOLUTELY CLUELESS, that he feels anything until the day she's set to leave town--her vacation being ended.

Scott follows her--of course, he does. But what he proposes's a bit unconventional.

Will Walter and Charlotte make a match of it and get married?

My thoughts: I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED, LOVED this one. I tolerated Mina, I suppose. But I never saw Mina through Walter's eyes--never saw her as being the dazzling, oh-so-perfect, only-one-in-the-world-worth-having woman. I loved Charlotte. From the moment Charlotte is introduced in this one--and it's several years before they meet--I loved her. I loved her character and her sense. I loved her spirit or attitude. The scenes with Walter and Charlotte were my absolute favorite. I adored the last half of this one. It was enjoyable and satisfying.

I would definitely recommend this one. It is a clean read being in the "proper romance" publishing line. Though there is quite a steamy hand-holding scene when he removes a glove while they're listening to a musical concert.

© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Wednesday, June 05, 2019

World at War: A Woman of No Importance

A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II. Sonia Purnell. 2019. 368 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: France was falling.

Premise/plot: A Woman of No Importance is a biography of Virginia Hall. She came from an upper class background. Though her parents may have had certain expectations for her--a good marriage, raising a family, etc. She had plans of her own. These plans would include getting entangled in politics and government. Her dream job would be to work for the State Department and serve overseas. Realizing this dream in reality was a seemingly impossible quest. She faced discrimination certainly. It didn't help her cause that others saw her as a "cripple" or "disabled." (A hunting accident had led to an amputation of a leg.) But capable she was. Capable she'd prove herself to be over and over and over and over again. If there was no place for her to serve America, perhaps she'd serve France or Britain. Ultimately this is what she did. She served for a time as an ambulance driver in France at the start of the war. After France fell, she went to Britain where she became involved with a spy unit, SOE, she'd go to France undercover as an innocent American journalist/socialite. She'd be a spy and resistance leader. The book focuses extensively on the war years. One gets a behind-the-scenes glimpse of what it was like to be a spy--the dangers, the risks, the sacrifices and hardships. Hall faced challenge after challenge with bravery and gumption.

My thoughts: This one was packed with details. It is a complex biography with dozens--if not hundreds--of names and code names. It provides details of spy rings and resistance operations. It is complicated to keep everything straight. Her story would make a lovely documentary or bio flick. Perhaps seeing it on the screen would help. There would certainly be enough suspense and drama to keep you watching.

It is an interesting and important read. Some of the challenges Hall faced were because of her sex and/or disability. There were men who did NOT want to take orders or be under the authority of a woman, even a strong, competent woman who had proved herself through experience. She was not in the military, she had no title/rank to give her the power to enforce her authority. There were spies that were reckless and careless with their business. Not knowing or caring that they were endangering everyone in the spy ring by their behavior.

This is the kind of book you would expect to be super-compelling and intense. I didn't find it so. I found it on the dry, almost boring side--very mechanical. 

© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Tuesday, June 04, 2019

Beverly, Right Here

Beverly, Right Here. Kate DiCamillo. 2019. Candlewick Press. 256 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Buddy died, and Beverly buried him, and then she set off toward Lake Clara.

Premise/plot: The heroine of Beverly, Right Here is Beverly Tapinski who was first introduced in Kate DiCamillo's Raymie Nightingale. (Readers should also make a point of reading Louisiana's Way Home. All three books are set in the late 1970s.)

After the death of her dog, Buddy, Beverly runs away from home. She thinks of herself as an independent loner: someone who doesn't need--or want--anyone. But is that really true? Though Beverly's family has been less than ideal (an absentee dad, an alcoholic mother, countless boyfriends of her mother that have come and gone) she may just piece together a perfect-for-her family.

Iola Jenkins is an old woman who has lost her driving privileges. But she is not done living life on her own terms even if her son thinks she should be. Beverly, though not technically old enough to drive, becomes Iola's driver and "niece." Beverly is hesitant about this new relationship. Why is Iola willing to open up her home to a perfect stranger? But Iola has a lot of lessons to pass along to Beverly. Lessons about trust, friendship, attitude. ALSO how to dance.

Doris and Charles. Beverly buses tables at a local fish restaurant. Doris is the sole cook and Charles the sole dish washer. These two become a little protective of Beverly. Freddie, the sole waitress, talks big, but wouldn't hesitate to cheat Beverly from her fair share of tips.

Elmer. He works at a convenience store. His nose is always in a book. But he's aware of everyone that comes into the shop and has their interests in mind. He must protect little ones from the hand-made comics of hell fire and brimstone that one of the local ladies draws because she is so concerned about being God's Messenger. He also gives the occasional dime so that children can ride the horse in front of the store. He's hesitant--especially at first--to let Beverly into his life. But soon Iola, Beverly, and Elmer are fast friends.

My thoughts: I really LOVED this one. It's a great read, just what you'd expect from a new book by Kate DiCamillo. I loved the relationships of this one. It was just a joy to spend time with Beverly and Iola and Beverly and Elmer. I honestly don't know which character I love more--Iola or Elmer. Both were just WONDERFUL. There is something oh-so-human about this one. Not all the characters are lovely and genuine.

It's a great coming-of-age novel. It has a lot of heart and soul in it.

Quotes (from an ARC):

  • “You don’t even know me,” said Beverly. “I do not,” said Iola. “I could be a criminal.” “Are you?” said Iola. Beverly shrugged. “My husband always did say that I was a fool for trusting people. He said, ‘Iola, you would trust the devil to sell you a pair of dancing shoes.’” 
  • “You can stay with me,” said Iola. She reached over and patted Beverly’s arm. “We will help each other out. We’ll trust each other.” 
  • Iola gave Beverly a nightgown to sleep in—one with pink flowers and lace at the collar. Beverly thought that she would rather die than put it on. And then she put it on. She was making all kinds of questionable decisions: working at a fish restaurant, eating tuna melts, wearing flowered nightgowns.
  • “I never said I would trust you,” said Beverly. “You didn’t say you wouldn’t,” said Iola. She smiled. And that was how they left things. 
  • She didn’t want to ride a horse to nowhere; she wasn’t going to let herself get fooled. 
  • “Just because you can’t stand to think about something don’t mean it ain’t happening, that it ain’t true. People wait on other people. People rely on other people.” 
  • “Imagine if you hadn’t found my trailer. Imagine if I didn’t need someone to drive the Pontiac. Then me and you wouldn’t’ve become friends, and you wouldn’t know how to dance. Oh, I’m glad I needed you. I’m glad you needed me.” “I didn’t really need you,” said Beverly. “Yes, you did, honey,” said Iola. “Yes, you did,” said Elmer from the back seat. “Okay,” said Beverly. “Whatever you people say.”

© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Monday, June 03, 2019

Murphy's Law

Murphy's Law. Rhys Bowen. 2001. 240 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: "That mouth of yours will be getting you into big trouble one day." My mother started saying that as soon as I could talk. It turns out she wasn't far wrong. By the time I was ten my refusal to hold my tongue had almost gotten us thrown out of our cottage. And a week before I turned twenty-three, I was on the run, wanted for murder.

Premise/plot: Molly Murphy has killed a man in self-defense, a man who was trying to rape her. Still, Molly knows that she has to flee Ireland--and fast, unless she wants to hang for her crime. Fortunately, she finds a sympathetic woman, Kathleen O'Connor, who happens to be in need of a favor. She is about to sail to America with her two children, Bridie and Seamus. But she has consumption and knows it--knows that she'll never be allowed into the country. The children must go to be with their father. Molly assumes--with full permission--Kathleen's identity on board the ship. But misfortune seems to be following Molly, for on Ellis Island a man is murdered. She'd be seen arguing with him on board the ship--slapping him even. Will she be the prime suspect?

My thoughts: I really enjoyed this one. It was a great reminder of why I love both historical fiction and mysteries. Molly was an enjoyable companion. I am excited that there are more mysteries in the series.

© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews