Saturday, July 31, 2021

July Reflections

In July I reviewed 48 books. Nineteen were review copies. Twenty-four were library books. Five were books I bought myself. This month I read some books that I absolutely LOVE, LOVE, LOVE...and a few that I really did not enjoy at all. 

I decided that July would be random. I read ten out of eleven books. I just couldn't finish that eleventh book in time. I am about a third of the way through? Maybe a little more. It's a mystery that should be a quick read, but isn't actually as quick as I wanted it to be.

August will probably be intentional. I may be sharing a list of books I intend to read in August! It was great fun to have a list to work from.

Books Reviewed at Becky's Book Reviews

56. The Fires of Heaven. (The Wheel of Time #5) Robert Jordan. 1993. 704 pages. [Source: Bought]
57. In the Hall with the Knife (Clue Mystery #1) Diana Peterfreund. 2019. [October] 298 pages. [Source: Review copy]
58. The Captain's Daughter: Essential Stories. Alexander Pushkin. TRANSLATED BY ANTHONY BRIGGS. (New translation copyrighted 2021). 224 pages. [Source: Review copy]
59. Mr. Malcolm's List. Suzanne Allain. 2009/2020. 254 pages. [Source: Review copy]
60. The Knife of Never Letting Go. (Chaos Walking #1) Patrick Ness. 512 pages. [Source: Bought]
61. The Bone Maker. Sarah Beth Durst. 2021. [March] 496 pages. [Source: Review copy]
62. New Spring. (Wheel of Time Prequel) Robert Jordan. 2004. 334 pages. [Source: Bought]
63. Miss Lattimore's Letter. Suzanne Allain. 2021. [August] 256 pages. [Source: Review copy]
64. Red Wolf. Rachel Vincent. 2021. [July] 368 pages. [Source: Review copy]
65. Measuring Up. Lily LaMotte. Illustrated by Ann Xu. 2020. [October 27] 208 pages. [Source: Library]
66. The Lion of Mars. Jennifer L. Holm. 2021. 259 pages. [Source: Library]
67. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. Suzanne Collins. 2020. [May] 439 pages. [Source: Library]
68. The Dire Days of Willowweep Manor. Shaenon K. Garrity. Illustrated by Christopher J. Baldwin. 2021. [July] 224 pages. [Source: Library]
69. In the Red. Christopher Swiedler. 2020. [March] 288 pages. [Source: Library]
70. Wendy, Darling. A.C. Wise. 2021. [June] 352 pages. [Source: Review copy]
71. Luck of the Titanic. Stacey Lee. 2021. [May] 368 pages. [Source: Library]
72. The Orpheus Plot. Christopher Swiedler. 2021. 400 pages. [Source: Library]
73. Boy from Buchenwald. Robbie Waisman with Susan McClelland. 2021. [May] 288 pages. [Source: Review copy]
74. Your Heart My Sky. Margarita Engle. 2021. [March] 224 pages. [Source: Library]
75. Amber and Clay. Laura Amy Schlitz. 2021. [May] 544 pages. [Source: Review copy]
76. We're Not From Here. Geoff Rodkey. 2019. 256 pages. [Source: Library]
77. Jo & Laurie. Margaret Stohl and Melissa de la Cruz. 2020. [June] 384 pages. [Source: Library]
78. The Forgotten Orphan. Glynis Peters. 2021. [May] 400 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Books Reviewed at Young Readers

73. The Monster Missions. Laura Martin. 2021 [June] 320 pages. [Source: Review copy]
74. The Sausage Situation (Jack Russell Dog Detective #6) Darrel and Sally Odgers. 2007. 80 pages. [Source: Review copy]
75. Ways to Make Sunshine (Ryan Hart #1) Renee Watson. Illustrated by Nina Mata. 2020. [April] 177 pages. [Source: Bought]
76. The Buried Biscuits (Jack Russell Dog Detective #7). Darrel and Sally Odgers. 2008. 80 pages. [Source: Review copy]
77. The Kitnapped Creature (Jack Russell Dog Detective #8) Darrel and Sally Odgers. 2008. 80 pages. [Source: Review copy]
78. The Blue Stealer (Jack Russell Dog Detective #9) Darrel and Sally Odgers. 2009. 80 pages. [Source: Review copy]
79. Inspector Jacques. (Jack Russell Dog Detective #10) Darrel and Sally Odgers. 2010. 80 pages. [Source: Review copy]
80. Anne's Tragical Tea Party. Kallie George. Illustrated by Abigail Halpin. 2022. [February] 72 pages. [Source: Review copy]
81. Hard-Boiled Bugs for Breakfast and Other Tasty Poems. Jack Prelutsky. Illustrated by Ruth Chan. 2021. [January] 144 pages. [Source: Library]
82. Cat Kid Comic Club. (Cat Kid Comic Club #1) Dav Pilkey. 2020. [December] 176 pages. [Source: Library]
83. History Smashers Titanic (History Smashers #4) Kate Messner. Illustrated by Dylan Meconis. 2021. [April] 224 pages. [Source: Library]
84. Sydney and Taylor Explore the Whole Wide World. (Sydney and Taylor #1) Jacqueline Davies. Illustrated by Deborah Hocking. 2021. [February] 80 pages. [Source: Library]
85. No Buddy Like a Book. Allan Wolf. Illustrated by Brianne Farley. 2021. [February] 32 pages. [Source: Library]
86.  I Survived The Sinking of the Titanic, 1912. Lauren Tarshis. Illustrated by Scott Dawson. 2010. 112 pages. [Source: Library]
87. Fred's Big Feelings: The Life and Legacy of Mister Rogers. Laura Renauld. Illustrated by Brigette Barrager. 2020. [January] 40 pages. [Source: Library]
88. Before They Were Artists: Famous Illustrators As Kids. Elizabeth Haidle. 2021. [April] 64 pages. [Source: Library]
89. Delicious! Poems Celebrating Street Food Around the World. Julie Larios. Illustrated by Julie Paschikis. 2021. 32 pages. [Source: Library]
90. Fox and Rabbit (Fox & Rabbit #1) Beth Ferry. Illustrated by Gergely Dudas. 2020. [April] 96 pages. [Source: Library]
91. The One Thing You'd Save. Linda Sue Park. 2021. [March] 72 pages. [Source: Library]
92. Wuthering Heights. Stephanie Baudet. 2021. [July] 96 pages. [Source: Review copy]
93. The Kids of Cattywampus Street. Lisa Jahn-Clough. Illustrated by Natalie Andrewson. 2021. [July] 128 pages. [Source: Library]
94. Pirate Stew. Neil Gaiman. Chris Riddell. 2020 [December] 48 pages. [Source: Library]

Books Reviewed at Operation Actually Read Bible

37. The Wish Book Christmas. Lynn Austin. 2021. [September] 304 pages. [Source: Review copy]
38. 10 Questions Every Teen Should Ask (And Answer) About Christianity. Rebecca McLaughlin. 2021. [March] 208 pages. [Source: Review copy]
39. The Lady in Residence. Allison Pittman. 2021. 239 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Bibles Reviewed at Operation Actually Read Bible

none this month

Monthly Totals

number of books48
number of pages11144

Yearly Totals

2021 Totals


© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Friday, July 30, 2021

78. The Forgotten Orphan

The Forgotten Orphan. Glynis Peters. 2021. [May] 400 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Maisie Reynolds peered through the grubby window of Holly Bush Orphanage.

Premise/plot: The Forgotten Orphan is historical fiction set in England during the Second World War. The book stars a young woman, Maisie Reynolds. She's lived at Holly Bush Orphanage since she was around four. She had a twin brother, Jack, but he was adopted out while she was not. Her years at the orphanage were hard--verbally abused perhaps a little physical as well when it comes to discipline. But now that she's coming of age, she may have more opportunities...

The first few chapters of the book is where most of the action occurs--for better or worse. The head matron dies. The next-in-line dies a few weeks later. Maisie--as the oldest--becomes stand-in matron of the orphanage. The orphanage receives words that it's being shut down. Holly Bush will now house nurses and soldiers. She can stay on as housekeeper/nurse-in-training. Oh. And she meets a Canadian soldier, Harry Cameron (aka Cam). Plenty is packed in the first handful of chapters.

The rest of the book--which is probably like seventy to eighty percent--is Maisie WAITING, WAITING, WAITING, WAITING, STILL WAITING for the war to be over.

My thoughts: I found The Forgotten Orphan to be a tedious read. Its 400 pages felt like 1000. I felt that having the book start in 1940 and having it drag out through the duration of the entire war might not have been the best choice. For covering so much time, so very little happens.

The book is neither plot driven, premise driven....or character driven. I think for me where it fell flat was in the characterization department. Maisie herself stars front and center. And perhaps if a reader makes a connection 100% with her, then the book might be worth the journey. But if you don't happen to make a full connection and care deeply about Maisie, there's little for you here. 

I was disappointed with Maisie's relationships with other characters. I don't think the other characters were developed enough. Cam, her love interest, is the one we get the most scenes with. And I felt it was definitely a case of insta love. Which could legitimately happen--especially in war time. They met two or three times, agree to write letters, and then are in a committed, steady relationship long distance of course. We do get their correspondence. Perhaps for those that do see Cam and Maisie as this super couple may find these letters wonderful and romantic and swoon-worthy.

Maisie's relationships with others remained superficial in my opinion. Perhaps due to lack of scenes where stuff happens or deep, meaningful conversations happen?

Simon. I am confused why Simon is even in this story???? Why introduce him in the first place??? What does he add to the story??? I mean technically he is someone who provides a lead about her twin brother. But if that was all he was going to add to the story, why turn him into a #1 a**. I mean seriously this guy is MESSED UP. Multiple times he tries to sexually assault her. He beats up Cam. Does prison time--on unrelated charges. Just a complete wreck. And Maisie is torn up about whether or not to cut him out of her life because he was at Holly Bush with her at one point??? Like the guy just tried to assault you, why is it a question on IF you cut ties with him????

Jack. I felt this was manipulation. Her brother reappears (with super incredible cheesy dialogue) only to be KILLED in the war with a melodramatic death scene where she READS HER newest POEM to him as he's breathing out his last moments. POOR THING. YOUR POETRY IS NOT WHAT HE NEEDED TO HEAR.

The dialogue in places was just painful. Not all the time. Not always. There were a few times it just felt very scripted, very amateurish, very expected, uninspiring.

But by far the most painful aspect of this one was Maisie thinking she was a poet. She writes poetry throughout these years that readers have to sludge through.

The World War II setting could not save this one--in my opinion. I wanted ALL of my time back.

© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

77. Jo and Laurie

Jo & Laurie. Margaret Stohl and Melissa de la Cruz. 2020. [June] 384 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: "Little Women? That's the title?" The author looked concerned. Above her light brown eyes and beneath her threadbare linen cap, the chestnut curls that framed her face were shaking. Miss Josephine March was all of seventeen years old, and though her girlish curves were slight, her spirit was immense. There was nothing little about her, or her characters. Or so she had thought.

Premise/plot: Jo March has quite a task ahead of her! Her publisher is demanding that she write a sequel to her hit smash LITTLE WOMEN. The problem? Jo doesn't know HOW to end their stories. The idea of marrying off her sisters one by one and giving them happily ever afters feels weird--awkward. 

Amy and Meg still don't know quite what to make of their fictional selves. Meg is especially embarrassed that she's been paired off with Mr. John Brooke!!! They've hardly had any conversations together--never once shared any intimacy hinting at possible romance. And, Amy, well she doesn't like the way she comes across in the book. The two have ideas--a few--about what their fictional counterparts MIGHT want for the future. But it's so silly and ridiculous. For example, Amy tells Jo wouldn't it be a lark if she were to marry Laurie in the sequel!!! The only living Beth is the fictional one. Jo misses the real Beth so much, it almost feels too painful to write a different future for Beth.

 Laurie does his best to distract his close friend as she struggles with draft after draft after draft. He even takes her and Meg on a holiday to NEW YORK CITY. He's gone all out--even getting tickets to see Charles Dickens perform! But he's got something bigger planned for their trip...

My thoughts: Jo and Laurie (the book) reminded me of Anne of the Island with just a teeny tiny sprinkling of Dawson's Creek. In other words, it felt like COMING HOME.

I'm sure you've got questions. This book does not alter Louisa May Alcott's Little Women--not really. The final manuscript version that Jo March (the book character from Jo and Laurie) turns into her publisher is the one and only Little Women. (Yes, it was published in two parts. Little Women. Good Wives.) Their fictional counterparts remain absolutely the same--Jo marries her professor; Beth dies; Meg marries John and has twins; Amy marries Laurie.

The novel plays around with the concept that Josephine March is the author of LITTLE WOMEN and it is an semi-autobiographical novel. In this alternate reality, she didn't change names. Meg is Meg. Beth is Beth. Amy is Amy. Laurie is Laurie. She added characters--like Aunt March--imagined scenes and situations. She also changed reality to suit: like Beth recovering from scarlet fever. Their fictional counterparts only partially resemble the real ones.

JO feels certain (well, mainly) that the FICTIONAL Jo would never marry Laurie. But would the real-life Jo ever do so???

Because the book doesn't really alter the REAL Little Women, I don't feel like I'm betraying Louisa May Alcott's characters by thoroughly enjoying this one. I don't have to choose between Jo and her professor and Jo and Laurie. (I've always been team professor, by the way. Just like I was Team Pacey and NOT in any way Team Dawson for Dawson's Creek.)


"It's not charming. I'm not charming." After making a living writing her customary blood-and-thunder tales--or so she thought of them--this business of feminine tradition and treacle was all very unfamiliar. To be fair, with the exception of her sisters, Jo knew and liked hardly any girls at all.

"Good Wives. That's what the title is meant to be, of the second part. Roberts Brothers wants us all married off, Niles says. What madness! If I can't imagine it, I can't very well write it, and I can't sell a book I can't write."

This was why she wrote the first book, wasn't it? To be free? Freedom, after all, was the whole point, was it not? Byronic or otherwise. Freedom to create, to do as she pleased. Freedom from poverty and servitude. Freedom from war debts, from worry about who would pay the coal man and the butcher. Freedom from having to be the kind of girl who grew up to only write grocery lists. Freedom to go and write whatever she liked...

Jo wrote not just because she wanted to, which she did, and not just because she needed to earn a wage, which she did, but because she must.

"Since you have been so bold as to have married me off to a man who doesn't even know my name, you need a suitor as well."
"She has a point," Amy said. "Turnabout is fair play and all that."
Meg considered their middle sister. "Perhaps a professor."
"To ensure that I die of boredom?" Jo rolled her eyes.
"Fine. Professor Bore."
Amy folded up her sketch-pad. "Bore isn't a name. Bayer? Baer?"
"Bhaer. There you go. He's from Europe. Positively continental. You'll love him," said Meg, pointing to a head of German lettuce.

Amy stuck out her chin. "I want Laurie."
"You can't have Laurie," Meg said. "It doesn't work in the narrative. You and Laurie don't even like each other all that much. Actually, I take it back about the German professor. Obviously, Jo has to marry herself off to Laurie."
"Obviously?!" Jo sat up, spluttering indignantly. "I do not!"

Deciding to slander the character of your family in the pages of your as-yet-unwritten novel was one thing. Actually doing it, as it turned out, was quite another.

Laurie could not say when it had happened or why. There were no moments to pinpoint, no lines to quote. The truth of the thing had inched up around him a season at a time, finally bursting into blossom with the apple orchards adjoining their two houses. Laurie had grown up learning how to love her. It was the only lesson he was ever any good at, because Jo herself had taught him, even if she hadn't known she was doing it.

"Don't die, Amy," Jo begged, openly sobbing now. "Please don't die. I'll be so much better to you. I'll even let you choose your own fate in my book, if you like. Whatever you want. You can have Laurie, even, if you really want him."

© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Thursday, July 29, 2021

76. We're Not From Here

We're Not From Here. Geoff Rodkey. 2019. 256 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: The first time I heard anything about the Planet Choom, we'd been on Mars for almost a year.

Premise/plot: Humanity's only chance for survival depends on one family (and only one family) making a good impression. 

Twenty years before their ship's arrival to the planet (Choom), they'd been invited by the three (or is it four?) races cohabiting the planet. (One original species--several refugee races.) But the political landscape has changed, and, well, now "everyone agrees" that the humans are no longer welcome. After much begging, pleading, coaxing, smooth talking, negotiating--they (the Zhuri) decide one family may come down to the surface. "Everyone agrees" it's probably hopeless, but, for Lan, his older sister, and his two parents, well, they have hope--what is the alternative????

The parents play negligible roles in this middle grade science fiction novel. So essentially the human race depends on a music-loving teen girl (Ila) and a comedy loving narrator, Lan. (It is written in first person.) 

As these two begin school, everyone watches and waits...

My thoughts: It was an interesting read I suppose. The world building was nice. I thought the idea of EMOTIONS AND FEELINGS being expressed (only) as smells was unique. As was the hive mentality (though that isn't unique to this science fiction story. Aliens do tend to have hive mentality in science fiction novels.) A doughnut smell means LAUGHTER. I think a gasoline smell means fear? or is it anger? Anyway--not good!

Where this book loses me--as an adult reader--is the slapstick comedy of it. Humanity is saved thanks to VIDEOS of people falling down, getting hit in their private parts, barfing, etc. Music does play into the saving of humanity as well--which was nice.

I think it has a certain appeal for its intended audience--kids (upper elementary, middle school).

© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

75. Amber and Clay

Amber and Clay. Laura Amy Schlitz. 2021. [May] 544 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Hermes here. The Greek god -- No. Don't put down the book -- I'm talking to you. If the lines look like poetry, relax. This book is shorter than it looks.

Premise/plot: Amber & Clay is historical fiction written in prose AND verse (also exhibits with illustrations). It is set in Ancient Greece (4th century? 5th century? B.C.)

What is it about? Well, perhaps Hermes does a good job of summarizing:

I bring you a story that tells
of the quick and the dead:
the tale of a girl as precious as amber,
the tale of a boy as common as clay.
The meaning, the moral,
is up to you. We gods swap stories,
but you are the ones
who divine what they mean.

He goes on to say,

You poor mortals, you want to know why.
We gods don't suffer, so we don't care why.
Where was I? This story: two children. A boy, Rhaskos,
and a girl, Melisto,
plus a bully, a wise man, and a bear. Wait!

 My thoughts: Despite me being at a lack of words when it comes to summary--read the jacket copy if you really want to know what to expect--I really thought it was a fantastic read. It requires some patience. I won't lie. If you want to read something that requires absolutely no thought, no effort, no engagement, then you might abandon this one rather quickly.

I loved the writing. I thought it was lovely--beautiful. I found myself highlighting line after line after line. Just beautiful "literary" writing that elevates a text. 

I loved the history. She blends some real historical people into her narrative--along with some mythology--but plenty of her own fictional making. Sokrates was a great addition to this novel!

I loved the exhibits. At first I wasn't feeling the exhibits. I thought they were odd, peculiar, strange, throwing me out of the story. By the halfway mark, I was starting to change my mind. I was beginning to see that they were quite significant to the story. By the end, it was magical.

I don't love ghost stories--not really--but this one worked for me.


I've tried to write my story,
but writing's slow,
and Sokrates said
written words can't be trusted. When you read,
you can't ask questions. You have to ask questions.
Those are the most important things:
to remember;
to ask questions.
My memories are like my drawings.
Some are no good. I mean --
when I used to draw in the dirt,
the line was fat and blurred,
and you couldn't tell what the picture was.
Now I draw on clay with a knife,
and my lines are sharp. Clear. Detailed>
Some of my memories are like that.
The early ones are blurred.

Look at him! Silver-crowned in the moonlight,
hoisting himself over the windowsill! He risks his skin
to visit a forbidden room
and worship a painted wonder. How he desires it!
Not the horse only, but beauty:
that is the thing he seeks.
I will give him
the best consolation a mortal can know:
not love, which is fickle
as faithless Aphrodite,
nor power, which makes a man
first drunk,
then thirsty.
I will give him the power to create.
I will make him like myself:
a maker of beautiful things.

--Oh those scholars!
what little ducks they are!
Dabbling into history:
dippers and diggers.
They pore over bits of broken clay
and wonder what went on.

One thing I'm ready to fight for --
that we shall be better, braver, and more active men
if we try to find out what we don't know.

Can there be friendship if only one person loves?
When we say, He's my friend, do we mean
I like him or he likes me?
Or are friends like shoes?
Do there have to be two of them?

© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

74. Your Heart My Sky

Your Heart My Sky. Margarita Engle. 2021. [March] 224 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Imagine a year when food suddenly vanishes.

Premise/plot: Your Heart My Sky is a verse novel set in Cuba in 1991. (I will leave it up to you, dear readers, if that classifies it as historical fiction or not.) There are three narrators--Liana, the heroine, Amado, the hero, and Paz, the dog. Cuba is experiencing "el periodo especial en tiempos de paz." Though not in a time of war, food is hard--near impossible--to come by. The rations--what one is legally allowed to buy--are pitiful. No wonder people are desperate to leave the island and risk everything for a chance for a better tomorrow.

Your Heart My Sky is in many ways a bleak novel. Yet in this time of great bleakness--a land void of hope and promise--two young teens fighting to survive fall in love--with a dog, with each other. This is a matchmaking dog if you will...

My thoughts: If you are only looking for romance, then this may not be your easiest source. It doesn't shy away from the hard, uncomfortable places. Here we have a tyrannical government and a suffering people. The poems highlight the day to day suffering of a people. The hard--no, impossible--choices that every person must make. To stay or to go. Their lives are at risk either way. Staying to starve (possibly to be imprisoned, Amado's brother is in prison). Leaving brings its own risks and dangers--there is the possibility of getting caught which would be bad, bad, super-bad. There are many risks on the actual journey--by raft--you never know if you'll make it to America or not. There are no easy answers....

Yet this one also highlights the joys of life--the love and friendship of having a dog AND first love.

The writing, as always, is lovely.


Maybe companionship
is the only answer
to all prayers.


© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Monday, July 26, 2021

73. Boy from Buchenwald

Boy from Buchenwald. Robbie Waisman with Susan McClelland. 2021. [May] 288 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: I remember where I come from.

Premise/plot: Boy from Buchenwald is a memoir of Holocaust survivor Robbie Waisman (Romek Wajsman). It isn't your typical straight forward, strictly chronological memoir. The memoir open with Romek (and other boys from Buchenwald including Elie Wiesel) arriving in France after liberation. Much of the focus is on what happens next, what happens after liberation, how does one move forward with one's life. Physically there is much to recover from--but emotionally and psychologically, there isn't really a time table for that. 

Plenty of this book focuses on the time he spent waiting, waiting, waiting, still waiting to find out any definitive news of what happened to each and every family member. Is he the only one from his family to survive? Or are there a few others--siblings perhaps--that are just in other displaced person camps?

The book contains flashes of his life before liberation. These are italicized mainly. And I think the structure of the book recreates his healing process. He had to come to terms with his whole story and that involved remembering. But remembering wasn't easy--it was overwhelming. The way forward involved coming to terms with all his past--the good, the terrifying, and each and every emotion in between.

My thoughts: At times I felt a little disconnected with this one but perhaps that is because the author himself was struggling to connect his past to his present to his future. I appreciate that this one focuses mainly--though not exclusively--on what happens after liberation. There are plenty of memoirs that focus on what happened during the war years, they leave readers with a happily ever after when the camps are liberated by the Allies. This one chooses a different path--the one less taken perhaps.

How does one move forward? How does one come to terms with what happened all the while moving forward? How does one go about grieving (and healing) when the wounds are that DEEP and the pain and sorrow so strong? How do you learn to trust again? (Or do you?) And what about the feelings of guilt and fear and anger, etc. How can you avoid giving into despair?

As I mentioned this one focuses on the first year or two--perhaps three???--after liberation as he is growing up and learning to live one day at a time.

© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

72. The Orpheus Plot

The Orpheus Plot. Christopher Swiedler. 2021. 400 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: If you get caught, I'm going to pretend I don't know who you are.

Premise/plot: Lucas Adebayo dreams of joining the Navy, but as a "belter kid"--someone who grew up on a mining ship--it seems unlikely, until it isn't. Given the opportunity to join the Orpheus as a cadet, he is thrilled at the opportunity. Even if his older sister (adopted), Tali, is strongly against it warning him that the Navy life isn't all that wonderful and that it will be all work with little reward.

And it does have its challenges. Sure he gets along (mostly) with his bunk mates, Elena and Rahul. But the other cadets don't exactly welcome him in. And the teachers don't know quite what to make of him. In some ways he's far advanced--than even fourth year students--but in others he's way behind from where he needs to be. Still, they see some potential.

But it won't be easy divorcing his old life from his new--and the Belters don't necessarily have high opinions of the Navy (calling them Muskrats) and vice versa. His new career--especially once he becomes a commander or a pilot (etc.) will have him at odds.

There is plenty of tension between the two...and as the jacket copy implies...when rebellion comes it may be up to Lucas to save the day (and save lives).

My thoughts: I liked this one. I loved, loved, loved Swiedler's In the Red. I didn't love this one. It was solidly good. I didn't dislike it. But I wasn't wowed like I was with In the Red. 

I have no idea how this is 400 pages. I read an e-book of it, and so I never held the book in my hands. But it went by way too fast to be 400 pages.

I would recommend this one to young readers (upper elementary to middle school) who love science fiction.


© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Sunday, July 25, 2021

71. Luck of the Titanic

Luck of the Titanic. Stacey Lee. 2021. [May] 368 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: When my twin, Jamie, left, he vowed it wouldn't be forever.

Premise/plot: Valora Luck, our heroine, is looking to reunite with her brother, Jamie, and she's looking to do so aboard the ship Titanic. Jamie left home and the (acrobat) act several years before. She dreams of reuniting the act and becoming a circus performer in America. (They perform as VALOR AND  VIRTUE. 

What she doesn't quite realize--at first--is that a) America has a Chinese Exclusion Act and b) Jamie didn't love, love, love performing as much as she did and his dreams do not include show business. Being denied entry onto the Titanic (though she has tickets--one for herself and one for her employer, Mrs. Sloane), she decides her only chance of finding her brother is to be a stowaway. She makes it on board okay--though a few "catch" her soon after and suspect she may be a stowaway. But will she make it to America?

Life on board is full of thrills and dangers--and that's before the ship hits an iceberg.

My thoughts: What you see is what you get. The Luck of the Titanic is a young adult historical novel. (It is not a romance.) The perspective is unique. Valora is biracial. Her father was Chinese; her mother was English. She splits her time masquerading as her employer, Mrs. Sloane, and mingling with the upper classes. And the rest of her time is spent below decks with the third class passengers--her brother and his friends (all Chinese). She sees how both sides live on board. Much of her time is spent trying to convince her brother to give up his dreams to share her own.

The setting is the Titanic. EXPECT A VERY DRAMATIC ENDING. 

The characterization is great. We get to know so many--ten? twelve?--characters. I really felt caught up in this world, this setting. I was very invested in their lives and stories. The closer we got to the ice berg, the more nervous I became (with VERY GOOD REASON TO BE NERVOUS.)

Those who are HAUNTED by the movie (1997) and vowed to never, ever, ever watch it again may want to skip this one. Not because the book is derivative of the movie. The story is unique. This isn't a cheesy romance out to manipulate you to shedding three months worth of tears.

I mentioned this isn't a romance (not really). The relationships are about FAMILY and FOUND FAMILIES. The family you choose for yourself. Though not connected by blood, these ties are strong and significant.

It was a compelling read, but trust me HEARTBREAKING. 

The author note shares, "Of the seven hundred survivors of the Titanic disaster, six--of an original eight--were Chinese men, probably seamen of some sort. But little is known about them. Unlike the rest of the survivors, their stories were not reported. While every other survivor was welcomed into America and given succor, these six were shipped off within twenty-four hours of arrival. The rare mentions of the Chinese passengers vilified them as cowards who took seats from women and children or dressed as women in order to sneak aboard the lifeboats, all of which were unfounded rumors."

© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

70. Wendy, Darling

Wendy, Darling. A.C. Wise. 2021. [June] 352 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: There is a boy outside her daughter's window.

Premise/plot: Wendy, Darling is (adult) historical fantasy--essentially a sequel to Peter Pan. The premise itself is simple: how would Wendy's adventures in Neverland impact her--and her family--the rest of her life?! 

The what-ifs in this book are fantastic (in my opinion). What if Wendy couldn't forget Neverland. What if her brothers John and Michael grew out of their belief--yes, this happened to us; yes, Peter Pan is real; yes, we visited another realm--but Wendy didn't. What if she spent years--decades--being gaslighted by her family and all those around her. You are delusional. You are making this up. You are crazy. Why are you acting like this? Why can't you get a grip on reality? Why can't you just grow up and be normal. And by normal getting married is definitely part of the whole package.

Another what if explored is what if the Darling parents were on board the Titanic and not among the survivors? What if Wendy had to be the boys' mother in this world as well and not just for pretend? Setting the sequel firmly in the time period of the early twentieth century, that leads to of course the Great War, the first World War. Suddenly this fantasy novel that you've been familiar with for decades comes to life and it's like turning a kaleidoscope. 

The book has two--possibly three--time lines going at once. The "present" day where Wendy discovers that Jane has been kidnapped by Peter Pan (who insists on calling Jane "Wendy.") What won't Wendy do to get her daughter back?! Don't anger a mama bear!!! And the "past" where Wendy is being committed to an insane asylum by her brothers. Her time in the asylum is explored as is her friendship with a fellow inmate, an American (or Canadian?) Indian named Mary. The possible third time line (and it's really just a short hop away from the "past" story line) is when Wendy is released specifically because she's agreed to marry a fellow of her brother's choosing named Ned.

Half the time is spent in England in the "real world" and half the time is spent in Neverland. The transitions can be a wee bit awkward at times. You can go from one story to another and not even realize where the change happens.

My thoughts: If you are looking for a dark (darker) adaptation of Peter Pan, then this may satisfy. I wouldn't say it is the absolute darkest adaptation I've ever been exposed to. Though that being said, this one is plenty DARK. (We may be talking the difference between black-black and navy-blue.)

I found the premise to be excellent. By excellent I mean engaging and thought-provoking. Even if I didn't love, love, love the author's answer to a question, I found the question interesting and engaging. I hope that makes sense!

There is essentially one--possibly two--character(s) explored with great depth and substance: Wendy primarily and perhaps her daughter Jane. The other characters, in my opinion, aren't handled with the same depth and care. It may not bother some readers that Wendy is 1000% developed and the other characters not so much. I would have liked a little more spread around. But that could just be me.

It definitely provides social commentary in terms of women's choices or lack thereof. Her freedom depends on the discretion of her brother who doesn't really know her or care to understand her. Her freedom ultimately depends on her saying yes to marrying a stranger--the son of her brother's business partner. There's a reason why this business partner is so desperate to marry his son off that he'll agree to his marrying a resident of an insane asylum. And again I think social commentary is provided here as well. Neither Ned nor Wendy are free to live life on their own terms--to love the person of their own choosing. So to make it in this world, this society, they have to give in--in some ways--so they can blend and pretend. But that doesn't mean there isn't genuine friendship between the two.

I wish that Michael had entered into the story more. I would have loved to see his character arc shown instead of just told. We know that he survived the war--but it is haunting him and he is in many, many ways broken. 

I think one of the themes is THE TRUTH. And how important it is to be able to live your truth, speak your truth, share your truth. But truth--at least in 1931, the present day of the story--comes with risks and consequences. Speaking of Neverland ultimately led to Wendy's being committed. Jane, once she returns, will have to face that same decision. 


Darling, darling, darling. She knows the word for fondness, knows Ned means nothing by it, but she can't help loathing it. The word has become a weapon, not in Ned's mouth, not on purpose, but over the years it's been a word to soothe, to dismiss, to hush. Her own name taken from her and turned against her--a gag, a chain.

© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Saturday, July 24, 2021

69. In the Red

In the Red. Christopher Swiedler. 2020. [March] 288 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: By Friday afternoon, after a week of careful thought, Michael Prasad had come up with just one theory for how he might make it to Monday morning without getting grounded for the rest of his life.

Premise/plot: In the Red is a middle grade science fiction novel set on Mars. Michael, the hero, has been forbidden to try (again) for his basic certification--being certified to go out on the surface of Mars in an environmental suit. Most pass by the age of ten--he's twelve. But he's experienced panic attacks in the past on test day--that were not pretty. Michael feels certain he's a big disappointment to his dad. If he can just get over his panic attacks then he could visit his father at work on the station. So many things he could do...if only his body didn't betray him.

Lilith, Michael's best, best, best friend, is so supportive of him. For better or worse--after another failed attempt--she suggests the two of them SNEAK out and go to the surface. What could go wrong????

If nothing went wrong, In the Red would be a short story that few would find super-compelling. Instead it is action packed and filled with danger. Action packed yet still character driven. Despite the jacket copy telling readers a LOT of what to expect, I recommend reading it knowing as little as possible.

My thoughts: I loved, loved, loved, LOVED, LOVED this one. If you like survivor stories, science fiction, coming of age, characters with depth that are relatable, adventure, action...this one has it all. It's so well paced too. I loved the narrator, Michael. I loved his relationships with his best friend, Lilith, and with his brother. (Though we see very little of Peter.)  

It is premise-driven, action-driven, and character-driven. It's hard to be all three--to excel at all three. It is easy to *try* not so easy to succeed. This is an excellent book.


"Well, whatever you do, don't give up, okay?" Peter said. "Don't let anyone convince you that you're some kind of freak."
"I am a freak," Michael mumbled.
"No," Peter said firmly. "You're not. I don't care how many panic attacks you have."
"Mom and Dad don't see it that way."
"Mom and Dad just want to protect you, because that's their job," Peter said. "But part of growing up is deciding when you don't need protection anymore."

© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Friday, July 23, 2021

68. The Dire Days of Willowweep

The Dire Days of Willowweep Manor. Shaenon K. Garrity. Illustrated by Christopher J. Baldwin. 2021. [July] 224 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: A dark and stormy night! Through windswept torrents I come...seeking my inmost heart's desire. My thirst is unslaked by the disconsolate storm; my need burns through the autumnal chill. Pleeeease can you reconsider my grade?

Premise/plot: Haley, our heroine, is more than a little obsessed with gothic novels. Her teacher--for better or worse--has told her enough is enough is enough. No more book reports on gothic novels. On Haley's walk home from school--in the rain--she crosses a bridge and sees a man (a stranger, of course) drowning. Despite his protests that he doesn't need help, she jumps in to save him. She soon finds herself in over her she doesn't almost drown...but she does find herself in another universe.

Taken to Willowweep Manor, she finds herself LIVING in a world strongly/heavily influenced by gothic romances. She's keeping company with three brothers--Laurence, Cuthbert, and Montague. There's a housekeeper and a ghost in residence. She soon learns that she's in a pocket universe (pocket world???) and that there are leaks from other realities--cracks in the multiverse. An evil is invading Willowweep, and she may be called upon to help...

My thoughts: I really LOVED this graphic novel. For the record graphic novels are not in my top three--or even five--genres that I love and adore. I don't read many per year. But this one, this one is special. It was begging to be read. It is both a PARODY of gothic novels (which I have definitely read my fair share of over the years) and a fun venture into science fiction (with alternate universes!). 

There's a pamphlet guide to running this universe--not very helpful--that features an illustration vibing Miss Minutes in her cheerfulness and quirkiness.

The dialogue between the characters I found amusing and fun. Very light. Not taking itself too seriously. Not trying to be historical. It almost reminds me of Nathan Hale's touch of humor in his graphic novels. 

Haley: I've read about this. You wouldn't be one of those foreboding housekeepers who rules the manor with an iron fist and secretly fondles the mistress's lingerie, would you?
Wilhelmina: The mistress is no longer with us.
Haley: You didn't answer my question.

Montague: What do people in your universe do when reality starts springing leaks?
Haley: I'm not sure. Look at cat pictures until we feel better?

Laurence: We really have a ghost, eh?
Haley: Sort of. What I don't understand is why only I can see her.
Cuthbert: Oh, that's simple! You're a guest at the old manor. They always see ghosts. Especially if they're maidens.

Montague: Are you holding on all right?
Haley: Actually, yeah. This must be one of my maiden powers. I'm not sure what else I can do. Pine? Get the vapors? Tutor unsettling children?
Montague: I'm a choleric antihero, my chief power is having bad ideas.

 I enjoyed reading this one. Read it cover to cover in one sitting. When it was over, I was tempted to reread it--or at least parts of it.

© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

67. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. Suzanne Collins. 2020. [May] 439 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Coriolanus released the fistful of cabbage into the pot of boiling water and swore that one day it would never pass his lips again.

Premise/plot: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is a prequel (of sorts) to Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games. The protagonist (he is not a hero) is a young (very young) Coriolanus Snow. He comes from a previously wealthy (high class) family that has fallen (hard and fast) on hard times. His only hope of a better life--a more prosperous future--is a scholarship to university. And that may be completely out of his control. Twenty-four students will become mentors to the twenty-four tributes coming to the Capital for this year's Hunger Games. (It's the TENTH hunger games.) The victor's mentor will receive a scholarship. The Hunger Games are still relatively new. Those viewing (and participating) still remember the hard, bitter, horrifying, traumatic times of actual war. Capital's economy certainly hasn't recovered from the actual war. (There is nothing lavish and luxurious as readers (and viewers) may remember from the original trilogy of books.) The Hunger Games are still in their infancy, still being shaped and formed by master minds. (People like Dr. Gaul...and her students...)

Coriolanus's tribute is from district twelve. Her name is Lucy Gray Baird. She's a singer with charisma, a bit of star quality. She has a little something special that makes her stand out from others. He sees this as her greatest strength. Perhaps the two of them can manipulate things along--here and there--and with a little luck she may win it all. Hooray for his bright future....

But things don't always go according to plan...even when they seem to... It seems there's always someone watching just a smidge cleverer.

Readers also meet his classmates. In particular Sejanus Plinth who is essentially "new money." His family has the funds but they are new to Capital. Sejanus still thinks of himself as belonging to District 2 and being one of the people. Which makes things super tricky when he has to participate (as a mentor) in the Hunger Games. He feels one with the tributes--whether they see him as one of them or not. He cannot accept that these tributes are animals, monsters, incapable of thought and feeling. There is no "us" and "them."

Throughout the book, Coriolanus struggles with his ambitions and his conscience. You might think of the old imagery of an angel on one side and a devil on the other. 

My thoughts: I don't feel like my time has been completely wasted. It hasn't. I just wish the book had been shorter. I really don't understand *why* the part after the conclusion of the Hunger Games had to go on so long. The first half of the novel was compelling enough. It was interesting to see the great contrast between these primitive earlier Hunger Games and the later Games which are depicted in the trilogy. Worlds of difference between Capital then and now, between the Games then and now. I liked how Coriolanus and Sejanus both--in their own ways--disapproved of how the tributes were being treated. There are moments when Snow comes across as well--human.


I almost wish that Lucy Gray had lost in the games OR been murdered by the powers that be soon after. I really HATED how that story resolved. I think Snow could still have turned all dark side and evil as a result of someone else killing Lucy (the supposed love of his life). Their scenes together reminded me of the DARK and DEPRESSING scenes of Oliver Twist. (The murder of Nancy).


© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Thursday, July 22, 2021

66. The Lion of Mars

The Lion of Mars. Jennifer L. Holm. 2021. 259 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: The trip to Mars was the hardest thing they'd ever experienced. That's what the grown-ups said. The small, cramped ship. The constant fear of something going wrong. The knowledge that they could never return to Earth. But honestly, it sounded like a cakewalk compared to sharing a bedroom with Albie.

Premise/plot: Bell is the youngest child (11) living on the American settlement on Mars--the year 2091. The others are Albie (17), Flossy (16), Vera (15), and Trey (14). Life is good so long as it stays boring. B-O-R-I-N-G. Because when life is NOT boring, that means there's TROUBLE and DANGER. It means possible injuries, illness, or even death. Sadly, for Bell, life doesn't stay boring. Perhaps it starts with a few broken rules, perhaps the excitement was inevitable.

The rules are simple: do not go outside without a buddy; use the alarm bell in an emergency; keep a glow stick in your pocket; rovers are off-limits for children; do not go beyond the flag; no contact with foreign countries, ever.

Some rules are made to be broken. Lives may depend on rules being broken...

My thoughts: I never really thought of Jennifer L. Holm as a science fiction writer. But The Lion Of Mars works really well. I loved the world-building. I loved the storytelling and narrative. I loved the character development. I loved the pacing of it. It is at its heart a coming of age novel, it just happens to be set on Mars.


"Summer squash," he said.
"Socksy!" I said.
Phinneus chuckled. "I don't think I'll ever get tired of hearing you say that."
"Socksy" was my very own slang for "great." When I was little, I hated wearing socks. To encourage me, the grown-ups would give me a piece of candy every time I put on a sock. After a while, I would put on a sock, walk up to them, and announce, "Socksy!" just to get candy. In my head, "socksy" meant "great!" because candy was great. It just sort of stuck. (26)

I spent hours poring over the animal book. I loved learning about Earth animals. They were awesomely strange. Like giraffes. Why didn't they tip over with those long necks? Or snakes. How did they move, since they didn't have legs? And penguins. Did they really live on floating pieces of ice? But the lions were my favorite. How could I not love the big cats? They were social and lived in a group called a pride. They helped each other and raised their cubs communally. They sounded just like us. All our grown-ups had raised us together. One sentence stood out to me: Lions who are rejected by their pride do not survive long. (52)

"Bell," Sai said, "Trey told me what happened on the train. It was very, very brave of you to walk through the tunnel by yourself to get help." But he was wrong. I hadn't been brave. "I almost gave up. I was scared the whole time," I confessed. His eyes met mine and he nodded. "That's what bravery feels like," he said. (141)

"How could a rock that size make such a big crater?" I asked. Sai looked down at me. "Something doesn't need to be big to have an impact," he said, and smiled. "Kind of like you." (169)

© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

65. Measuring Up

Measuring Up. Lily LaMotte. Illustrated by Ann Xu. 2020. [October 27] 208 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: My life in Taiwan is sweet.

Premise/plot: Cici, our heroine, is reluctant to move to Seattle with her family. She loves how things are in Taiwan. And she'll have to leave her grandmother behind. As she adjusts to life in a new country--new city, new school--she finds her own way to belong. But, of course, her missing her grandmother continues despite the making of new friends. Then Cici has an idea, what if she can win enough money in a cooking contest to buy her grandmother a plane ticket to come visit! (Her grandmother's birthday is coming up!)

But does Cici have what it takes to win BIG?

My thoughts: I definitely loved this graphic novel. I loved Cici's special relationship with her grandmother. I loved how the two bonded over cooking. I loved how they were able to stay in touch. I love how thoughtful, sweet, and sensitive Cici is. Readers see Cici at home, at school, at the library, and yes, at the cooking contest! I loved how the cooking contest is presented throughout the book.

One of my favorite things was how Cici was inspired by Julia Child. Watching her shows and reading her book(s), she walks away with the notion of conviction of courage. "I'm going to try and flip this over, which is a daring thing to do. When you flip anything, you really must have the courage of your convction...the only way to learn how to flip things is to just flip them" (122/123).

This coming of age novel was lovely. Loved the celebration of family, friendship, and new beginnings. Definitely recommended.


© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

64. Red Wolf

Red Wolf. Rachel Vincent. 2021. [July] 368 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: The dark wood moaned—a deep, eerie sound that was more than just the groan of shifting tree limbs. I turned, and my empty basket swung in the crook of my right elbow as I stared into the wooded expanse that enclosed most of Oakvale.

Premise/plot: Red Wolf by Rachel Vincent is a retelling of the classic folk tale Little Red Riding Hood. Mostly. Adele, the heroine, does have a grandmother living deep, deep, deep in the woods. And the woods can be deadly, so Adele does have to be careful when she's taking her supplies. But this is a YA retelling. Adele is no girl, but a young woman--sixteen. And would it even be a YA book without a love triangle???

Readers can expect horror, romance, drama, and secrets. Of course, a few of those secrets are spilled right in the jacket copy. For better or worse, the book's description tells you right out that Adele is a werewolf and that she comes from a family of werewolves... If I'd been writing that description, I would have chosen to do it differently. That could just be me. I like to know as little as possible--most of the time--about a book. Especially in this genre/sub-genre.

My thoughts: I found Red Wolf a compelling, atmospheric read. If Readers In Peril was still a thing--is it still a thing???--I would definitely recommend reading this one for the reading challenge. It offers a few spooks and a good amount of blood. This genre/sub-genre is not a favorite of mine. I didn't go out seeking a book starring werewolves--or shapeshifters. But I am drawn to fairy tale (and folk tale) retellings. I like seeing how other authors treat old tales. (The show Once Upon A Time is/was one of my favorites.) 

I do think it will appeal to several different audiences. I think adults who are looking for paranormal thrillers may roll their eyes a bit at the love triangle aspect of it. I know love triangles can really upset some readers who are tired to death of it. But the romance elements were never front and center for me. And that may help some readers out. 

What was front and center for me was the whole nurture versus nature aspect of it. Adele is caught up in something she doesn't really understand and she's in over her head. Of course, nature versus nurture has been done a million times before as well.

I liked the openness of the ending. I think it could easily be a stand alone book, and stay a stand alone book. I don't need a tidier ending than what we get here. But I could see how there's just enough room left open so that a series could happen. But again I don't think readers would have to go on to any future books. 

I did find myself yelling at Adele a couple times throughout the book. There were times I saw danger that she was blind to. There were times I found her frustrating. But overall, I was drawn into her world. 


The dark wood takes a little more of you every day that you’re out there, until things that seemed unthinkable a week ago suddenly seem acceptable.

© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Monday, July 19, 2021

Checking in on some of my challenges

Back to the Classics Challenge 2021

Host: Books and Chocolate (sign up here)

January - December 2021

Goal: Read 9 to 12 books in specific categories and link up on her blog

1. A 19th century classic: any book first published from 1800 to 1899

2. A 20th century classic: any book first published from 1900 to 1971. All books must have been published at least 50 years ago; the only exceptions are books which were written by 1971 and posthumously published.

5. A classic by BIPOC author; that is, a non-white author.

7. New-to-you classic by a favorite author -- a new book by an author whose works you have already read. 

8. A classic about an animal, or with an animal in the title. The animal can be real or metaphorical. (i.e., To Kill a Mockingbird).
 Victorian Reading Challenge
Host: Becky's Book Reviews (sign up here)
Duration: January 2021 - December 2021
Goal: Read between 4 to 6 Books (4 minimum)

June/July The theme is NONFICTION. Read nonfiction books (autobiographies, biographies, etc.) published during the Victorian era OR nonfiction books about the Victorian era or specific Victorians.



July/August The theme is NAMES AS TITLES. Read any book where a proper name (a person, a place, etc) is the title of the book. 




August/September The theme is BACK TO SCHOOL. Read (or reread) any book that you were assigned to read in school or university. OR Read any book where a character's education is emphasized (Great Expectations, Nicholas Nickleby, Jane Eyre, etc.) OR Read any book that you think SHOULD be required reading for high school or university. OR Read a Victorian children's classic. 



September/October The theme is CRIME OR TRUE CRIME. Thrillers. Mysteries. Suspense. Horror. GOTHIC. This would be a great place to fit in general nonfiction about the Victorian era. Some great true crime books have been published. 




October/November The theme is HOME AND FAMILY. Read any book with a focus on family life and relationships between family members. (The relationships do not have to be healthy.) 




November/December The theme is COMFORT READS. Reread a book (of any length) that just makes you HAPPY. 




© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews