Thursday, September 30, 2021

September Reflections

In September I read 53 books! Thirty-seven were library books. One was a book I bought--the Bible. Fifteen were review copies.  All were new-to-me. I hope to get some rereads in for October!


Books Reviewed at Becky's Book Reviews

104. Drama. Raina Telgemeier. 2012. 238 pages. [Source: Library]
105. The Light of Luna Park. Addison Armstrong. 2021 [August] 336 pages. [Source: Library]
106. Hollow Chest. Brita Sandstrom. 2021. 352 pages. [Source: Library]
107. Dear Miss Kopp (Kopp Sisters #6). Amy Stewart. 2021 [January] 320 pages. [Source: Review copy]
108. The Boy Who Failed Show and Tell. Jordan Sonnenblick. 2021. [February] 224 pages. [Source: Library]
109. Before the Coffee Gets Cold. Toshikazu Kawaguchi. Translated into English by Geoffrey Trousselot. 2019. 213 pages. [Source: Review copy]
110. This is Not the Jess Show. Anna Carey. 2021. [February] 304 pages. [Source: Library]
111. Katie the Catsitter #1 Colleen A.F. Venable. Illustrated by Stephanie Yue. 2021. [January] 229 pages. [Source: Library]
112. The Shape of Thunder. Jasmine Warga. 2021. [May] 288 pages. [Source: Library]
113. Last Witnesses (Adapted for Young Adults) Svetlana Alexievich. 2021. 288 pages. [Source: Library]
114. When Zachary Beaver Came to Town. Kimberly Willis Holt. 1999/2003. 256 pages. [Source: Library]
115. Dear Mrs. Bird. (Emmy Lake Chronicles #1) A.J. Pearce. 2018. 281 pages. [Source: Library]
116. The Ambassador of Nowhere Texas. Kimberly Willis Holt. 2021. 320 pages. [Source: Library]
117. Miss Kopp Investigates. (Kopp Sisters #7) Amy Stewart. 2021. [September] 304 pages. [Source: Review copy]
118. Eyes of the Forest. April Henry. 2021. [April] 272 pages. [Source: Review copy]
119. Pride and Premeditation. (Jane Austen Murder Mystery #1) Tirzah Price. 2021. [April] 368 pages. [Source: Review copy]
120. The Case of the Missing Marquess. (Enola Holmes #1) Nancy Springer. 2006. 216 pages. [Source: Library]
121. The Case of the Left-Handed Lady (Enola Holmes #2) Nancy Springer. 2007. 234 pages. [Source: Library]
122. The Case of the Bizarre Bouquet. Enola Holmes #3. Nancy Springer. 2008. 170 pages. [Source: Library]
123. Ground Zero. Alan Gratz. 2021. [February] 336 pages. [Source: Library]
124. Walls. L.M. Elliott. 2021. [July] 352 pages. [Source: Library]
125. Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna. Alda P. Dobbs. 2021. [September] 288 pages. [Source: Library]

Books Reviewed at Young Readers

132. The Magical Bookshop. Katja Frixe. 2021. [May] 176 pages. [Source: Library]
133. Lin-Manuel Miranda: Raising Theater to New Heights. Kurtis Scaletta. 2021. [January] 192 pages. [Source: Library]
134. Ivy Lost and Found (Book Buddies #1) Cynthia Lord. Illustrated by Stephanie Graegin. 2021. [September] 80 pages. [Source: Review copy]
135. See the Dog: Three Stories About a Cat. David LaRochelle. Illustrated by Mike Wohnoutka. 2021. [September] 64 pages. [Source: Review copy]
136. The Becket List: A Blackberry Farm Story. Adele Griffin. 2019. 208 pages. [Source: Library]
137. Halfway to Harmony. Barbara O'Connor. 2021. 240 pages. [Source: Library]
138. Say It Out Loud. Allison Varnes. 2021. [August] 256 pages. [Source: Library]
139. Negative Cat. Sophie Blackall. 2021. [August] 32 pages. [Source: Library]
140. The Longest Storm. Dan Yaccarino. 2021. 40 pages. [Source: Library]
141. Good Dog: Home Is Where The Heart Is (Good Dog #1) Cam Higgins. Illustrated by Ariel Landy. 2020. [December] 128 pages. [Source: Library]
142. Happily for Now. Kelly Jones. Illustrated by Kelly Murphy. 2021. [May] 288 pages. [Source: Library]
143. Raised in a Barn. (Good Dog #2) Cam Higgins. Illustrated by Ariel Landy. 2020. [December] 128 pages. [Source: Library]
144. The Gilded Girl. Alyssa Colman. 2021. 352 pages. [Source: Library]
145. Narwhal Unicorn of the Sea (Narwhal and Jelly #1) Ben Clanton. 2016. 64 pages. [Source: Library]
146. The Singer and the Scientist. Lisa Rose. Illustrated by Isabel Munoz. 2021. [April] 32 pages. [Source: Library]
147. What Do You See? Sarah N. Harvey. Illustrated by Jane Heinrichs. 2021. [September] 22 pages. [Source: Library]
148. Jazz for Lunch! Jarrett Dapier. Illustrated by Eugenia Mello. 2021. [September] 48 pages. [Source: Library]
149. I Survived the Galveston Hurricane, 1900. (I Survived #21) Lauren Tarshis. 2021. [September] 144 pages. [Source: Library]
150. Someone Is Missing (Dear Beast #3) Dori Hillestad Butler. Illustrated by Kevan Atteberry. 2021. [September] 80 pages. [Source: Library]
151. A Walk in the Words. Hudson Talbott. 2021. 32 pages. [Source: Library]
152. Monet's Cat. Lily Murray. Illustrated by Becky Cameron. 2020. [May] 32 pages. [Source: Library]

Books Reviewed at Operation Actually Read Bible

54. Enjoying the Bible. Matthew Mullins. 2021. 224 pages. [Source: Review copy]
55. Holier Than Thou: How God's Holiness Helps Us Trust Him. Jackie Hill Perry. 2021. 192 pages. [Source: Review copy]
56. The Moonlight School. Suzanne Woods Fisher. 2021. [February] 320 pages. [Source: Review copy]
57. Rediscovering Holiness by J.I. Packer. 2021. 384 pages. [Source: Review copy]
58. When Twilight Breaks. Sarah Sundin. 2021. [February] 365 pages. [Source: Review copy]
59. The Whole Story for the Whole Family. Michael Kelley. 2021. 448 pages. [Source: Review copy]
60. The Librarian's Journey: Four Historical Romances. Patty Smith Hall, Cynthia Hickey, Marilyn Turk, Kathleen Y'Barbo. 2021. [October] 352 pages. [Source: Review copy]
61. The Weight of Memory by Shawn Smucker. [July] 304 pages. [Source: Review copy]
62. The Heritage of Anglican Theology by J.I. Packer. 2021. 384 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Bibles Reviewed at Operation Actually Read Bible

7. Annotated King James Bible 1611 (In Early Modern English) Historical Series. 4512 pages. [Source: Bought]

Monthly Totals

number of books53
number of pages16312

Yearly Totals

2021 Totals

© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Monday, September 27, 2021

125. Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna

Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna. Alda P. Dobbs. 2021. [September] 288 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: The smoking star lit the night sky as women wept, holding their babies close. Men kept quiet while the old and the weak prayed for mercy. It was on that night that all of us huddled under the giant crucifix, the night when everyone—everyone but me—awaited the end of the world. Everything was a sign to us mestizos, from eclipses to new moons to burned tamales in a pot. I learned early on that all signs were bad. When sparks flew out of a fire, it meant an unwelcome visitor would show up. A sneeze meant someone was talking bad about you. If a metate—a grinding stone—broke, it meant death to its owner or a family member. But the biggest sign of all was citlalin popoca, the smoking star. Papá’s big boss at the mine called it a comet.

Premise/plot: Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna is set in Mexico in 1913. Petra Luna, our heroine, has made a promise to her father to keep the family together and safe. But some promises are hard to keep--no matter how big the heart. With the Revolution in progress, there is so much uncertainty from day to day to day. The family--Petra, her grandmother, her younger sister, her baby brother--is forced to flee their village with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Everything is gone; there is no assurance for tomorrow. Still, Petra dreams big dreams. She dreams of learning to read and write...of a better future. Most of all she dreams of the day when her father will find them again.

My thoughts: Absolutely beautiful and compelling. The writing is gorgeous. Truly a poetic work of art. I absolutely loved every bittersweet moment of this one. There's depth and substance. The characters are oh-so-human.


Promise. The word churned inside my head day and night. Six months ago, I had made the biggest promise ever when Papá was given the choice to join the Federales or be placed in front of a firing squad. On that day I had run across town looking for Papá, and when I found him, I knew he had chosen not to join. Papá stood against a wall blindfolded, his hands tied behind his back. He faced a line of soldiers with rifles aimed at him. All I heard next were my bare feet running across the line of fire toward Papá and my screams, begging to be shot along with him. I held on to Papá as two soldiers came to pull me away. I kicked with all my strength, and over my screams I heard Papá shouting for them to let me go, but the soldiers didn’t stop until Papá said he’d join their war. Before Papá was dragged away, I promised to take care of Amelia, Luisito, and our grandmother, Abuelita. He then swore to return.

The Federales were the army of the government, of our current president, Victoriano Huerta, whom Papá had called a tyrant. This was the second time they’d charged into our village. The first time, they’d shot men as old as sixty and boys as young as eight for not joining them. They’d dragged Papá away and had also shot one woman who’d protested against her sons’ forced conscription. They were monsters

I rushed into the burning hut, dropped to my hands and knees, and crawled across the long room. The smoke burned my eyes, and the flood of tears blinded me, but I pressed on. I felt my way around the floor, across the broken crates and pots, until my hand found it—my black rock. It was the only thing I had left from Papá.

I don’t want to grow any thorns,” said Amelia. “Thorns are ugly.”
“M’ija”—Abuelita wiped the corners of her mouth with her fingers—“your first breath was in the desert. The cord that connected you to your mamá was buried under a mesquite tree so that you’d always be part of this land. You already have thorns, and thorns are beautiful—they make you strong.” Abuelita spat out the chewed mesquite seeds. “Always be grateful for what you have. The day you take things for granted, your heart will swell with poison.”
Amelia looked down at her elbow and rubbed it. “You’re right, Abuelita. The other day I felt something prickly here, and I think—”
“Abuelita meant thorns in your heart, Amelia,” I said.
Abuelita nodded. “En tu corazón y en tu espírito.” She patted her chest, pointing to her heart and spirit inside her.

Are you scared, Petra?” Amelia whispered.
“Scared of what?”
“Of the Federales or of never seeing Papá again.”
“We’ll see Papá again,” I said. “And right now, I’m much too tired to worry about the Federales.”
“How about un apapácho?” said Amelia. “Are you too tired for that?”
Unlike me at her age, Amelia never asked for a story or a song before going to sleep. Instead, she’d ask for an apapácho. If I had to guess, I’d say apapácho was Amelia’s favorite word. It meant cuddling or embracing someone with your soul.
“Come here,” I said and stretched my arms around her. I squeezed her tight and used one hand to pat her back. And like Mamá, I ended the apapácho with a head rub and a kiss on the forehead.

I lay restless for most of the night. My feet, my back, and everything in between throbbed. I wanted to stretch out the pain, but my muscles cramped with every attempt. My mind stirred too. I thought about my promise to Papá and how it’d been a constant struggle to keep in Esperanzas. I was now in the middle of the desert with a little girl and a baby in tow and an old woman with rickety knees. How would I ever fulfill it? And my dreams of learning to read and write—those drew further away each day. By now they were as distant and unreachable as the stars above.

You’ve come to the right place,” said the priest. “You’ll be safe here.”
Abuelita kissed the priest’s hand. “Dios lo bendiga, Padre. God bless you.”
Suddenly, the sweet smell of pan pobre, poor bread, hit my nose. The scent awakened my stomach and tugged strongly at my heart. I looked around, sniffing the air, wondering where the smell came from. It was a scent that had always brought feelings of comfort and safety. I didn’t believe in signs, but if I did, I’d bet we were safe here.

I lay down and pulled out my black rock from the hem of my skirt. I brought it close to me. It was a piece of coal Papá had given me for my birthday two years ago. It was more than a black rock, though. It was a baby diamond.
“That’s how diamonds are born,” Papá had often explained. “When a piece of coal gets squeezed very hard for a very long time, it becomes a diamond.”

My name is Adeline. What’s yours?”
“Petra,” I said.
“My mamá says Spanish names always mean something. What does yours mean?”
“It means rock,” I said.
“Like the one you’re holding?”
I looked down at my black rock and put it back in its safe place.
“My name doesn’t mean anything,” said Adeline. “But my last name, Wilson, is the same as the American president’s. His name is Woodrow Wilson, but my papá says we’re not related.”
“Why didn’t you leave with your papá?”
“My papá worked at a silver mine,” said Adeline. “He was an engineer there, and when the bad guys came to his work, he had to leave fast before anyone saw him. Later, a man came to our house and gave us a letter from Papá telling us to leave and meet him in Texas. We took a coach and got here two days ago.”
“Do you have brothers and sisters?” I asked.
“No.” Adeline frowned. “It’s just me.”
Adeline continued to talk, and she talked a lot, but she also listened to everything I said. She shared her dreams of being an animal doctor, and I told her mine of learning to read and write. She told me stories she’d read about an orphan girl who lived with two evil sisters and another about a princess who’d been poisoned with an apple

Adeline handed me the slate before covering our legs with the ivory blanket. “My mamá told me that when good, hardworking people have dreams, it’s always nice to help make them come true.”
The slate had letters written on it already.
“What does this say?” I asked.
“That’s your name.”
I took a second look at the slate. The white, chalky letters looked strong and beautiful.

First, we’re going to learn to write your name,” said Adeline. “This is how you hold the chalk. Here, you try it.”
Adeline wrapped my finger around the white, blocky stick. My hand trembled as Adeline guided me to outline P-E-T-R-A across the slate. I sounded out each letter along with her as I traced it over and over. I struggled to hold the chalk straight at first, but by my fiftieth time, I was able to write my name all on my own, without tracing it.
“So?” Adeline asked as I erased my name. “What happens now?” Her tone was sad.
“I write my name all over again and keep practicing,” I said, steadying the chalk over the slate, pretending to have misunderstood Adeline. I was sure she meant what would happen after the church, but I didn’t want to think about it. Not right now. I wanted to keep chatting, to keep learning. I wanted to, for a moment, forget all my pain and anguish. My day with Adeline had been like a sweet siesta, and I refused to be awoken.
“No, I mean where will you go from here

After Adeline notated the champurrado recipe, she threw her arms around me. “Gracias, Petra.”
I didn’t tell Adeline, but recipes were also family secrets for us, and if Abuelita knew I’d just given two away, she’d probably have a patatús. I understood all about not sharing recipes, but after a long day with Adeline, she felt like a sister to me.
Suddenly, a tall, blond woman with striking blue eyes approached us.
“Petra,” said Adeline, standing up, “this is my mamá.”
I shot up and stood straight.
Adeline’s mamá smiled and brushed my hair back with her long, slender fingers. She said something in English, and I quickly turned to Adeline to learn what she’d said.

Abuelita pushed air through her nose. “Barefoot dreams,” she muttered and turned to her side, facing away from us.
“I’ll ask Adeline tomorrow,” I said to Amelia. “I’m sure she’ll say yes.”

I turned back to Abuelita. She had always scorned my talk of letters, teachers, or learning to read. Her words had never bothered me, but now that Mamá and Papá were gone, they stung.
“Why did you say ‘barefoot dreams’?” I asked.
Abuelita remained silent and still.
Amelia and I exchanged glances before she gently patted Abuelita’s back. “Abuelita, Petra wants to—”
Abuelita gave an exasperated sigh and turned to us.
“Wanting to learn to read is a big dream, and big dreams are dangerous,” said Abuelita. “You’ll do better when you accept things as they are, when you accept your lot in life.”
I closed my eyes for a moment. Those words—lot in life—always turned my insides; they made me feel sick.
“Petra, I know you mean well,” said Abuelita. Her tone had softened. “But dreams like yours are barefoot dreams. They’re like us barefoot peasants and indios—they’re not meant to go far. Be content with what you have.”
I thought back to my village, to Esperanzas. No one there knew how to read or write except for the well-to-do. That bothered me, but what angered me the most were people like Abuelita who simply accepted it.

Why hadn’t I been smarter? Why hadn’t I asked Adeline to teach me to write something more useful like train or station?
A heavy, invisible force pressed down on my shoulders. The force pushed through me, reaching my soul and sapping away my last shred of strength. I fell on my haunches and hung my head. I wanted to cry but had no tears. I wanted to scream but had no strength. Instead, I cracked open my mouth, and a small squeak escaped my lips. I’d been defeated. I would never fulfill my promise to Papá or shine like the diamond I longed to be. I’d remain a lump of coal for the rest of my life.

So, what now?” she asked. “Where do you go from here?”
“We’re going north, to el otro lado,” I said. “The other side.”
Marietta looked shocked. “The United States? Why?”
“It’s too dangerous here,” I said. “I was told we’d be safe across el Río Bravo.”
Marietta turned her gaze to the fire. She pressed her lips together and gave a subtle nod.
“Besides,” I said, “I want to learn to read and write, and there aren’t any schools here.”
“You know who Pancho Villa is?” asked Marietta.
I nodded. Papá had told me about him. Pancho Villa led the rebels in northern Mexico. Many folk songs called corridos were sung about him, his bravery, and his love for the poor. Even children’s riddles mentioned him. He was loved by many, feared by many, and was known to have a weak spot for children, especially poor ones.

Villa’s opening schools everywhere,” said Marietta. “He wants all kids to learn to read and write. Maybe you can go to one of his schools.”
I glanced over at Luisito, who slept on Abuelita’s lap, and then at Amelia, who yawned but still clapped. She swayed her bandaged feet from side to side. My family looked so peaceful and content, but how long would it last?
“How did you become a soldier?” I asked Marietta.
“It’s a long story,” she said.
I shrugged my shoulders, smiling.
“Where to start?” said Marietta. Her eyes locked on the campfire in front of us.
“It’d always been my papá and me,” she said. “My mother died giving birth, and I had no siblings. Since my papá never remarried, he focused solely on me and taught me everything he knew.” Marietta lifted her chin and her face lit up as she continued. “Papá was great. He was the best vaquero, cowboy, in the region. Everyone always brought horses for him to tame, and he trained them so well, you barely had to touch the reins to let the horse know what to do.”
Marietta sighed, and the glow in her eyes faded. “Almost three years ago, two Federales stopped at our home. I was preparing dinner when I heard a scuffle outside.

Marietta nodded. “After winning five battles as a captain, I unpinned my braids and let them loose. No one could believe it. But since I’d proven myself many times, they let me be. I went from Mario back to Marietta and still kept everyone’s respect.”
I was speechless. I wanted to be like Marietta. I wanted to learn things, to teach things. I wanted people’s respect.
“Why do you fight?” I asked. “To avenge your father’s death?”
“I did at first. I was outraged, but as time passed, I remembered talks I had with my father about the injustices in our lives. We both wanted a better Mexico. A Mexico that belonged to everyone, not just the rich, and especially not the foreigners.”
Marietta picked up a handful of desert dust and held it in a clenched fist in front of her. She released a thin, almost invisible trickle of sand through the bottom of her fist.

You probably won’t believe this,” said Marietta. “But a hundred years from now, Mexico will be unrecognizable. It’ll be such a rich, beautiful country that the gringos up north will be the ones crossing the river into Mexico for a better life.”
Marietta chuckled at her own words, and I smiled, hoping there was some truth to them. She remained quiet, staring at the campfire, then at me. “Petra, what do you want in life? Deep down inside your heart, what is it you want most?”
I looked up at the sky and thought about my answer. “I want peace,” I said. “I want peace for me and my family, and I want my papá back in our lives. I also want land, not much, just a small piece to live on. I want to go to school and for my sister and brother to go to school too.

Join us,” said Marietta.
“Join who, the rebels?”
Marietta nodded, “Yes. This army needs good, smart fighters like—”
“But I want peace,” I said, raising my voice. I quickly lowered my eyes, realizing I’d been disrespectful.
“I know.” Marietta nodded repeatedly. “Every soul in this camp wants peace. We’re all tired of fighting, but in order to achieve peace and attain the land and freedom we want, we need to fight.”

Someway, somehow, I hoped Papá could find us. I knew I would never see Esperanzas again, at least not the town I’d known since birth. Despite these harsh truths, I was hopeful to one day see Mexico flourish into a country full of peace and prosperity for the people who’d fought and given up so much for her. For now, I was eager to explore this new land, eager to meet its people and welcome new opportunities. Every struggle and challenge I’d grapple with and every failure and victory that lay ahead would dig deep into me and help chisel out my true character.
And I knew then, with all my heart, that one day I would burst with light and shine like the baby diamond I have always longed to be.

Author’s Note
The Inspiration for Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna

I am blessed to have grown up listening to stories of my ancestors, especially stories of my grandmother, Güela Pepa, and my great-grandmother, Güelita Juanita. Both women grew up surrounded by harsh poverty and prejudice, but always faced adversity with bold spirits and resilience.
My great-grandmother, Juanita Martínez, inspired the core of Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna. She, along with her family, escaped her burning village in 1913 during the Mexican Revolution. Unlike Petra, my great-grandmother was nine years old when she, her father, two younger siblings, and two cousins crossed the scorching desert by foot and reached the border town of Piedras Negras, Coahuila. At the border, their entry into the United States was denied along with hundreds of other refugees

I found an article that described my great-grandmother’s story. The event occurred in the early afternoon of October 6, 1913, and it wasn’t hundreds of people who’d tried to flee across like she’d stated, it was thousands. Over six thousand, to be exact. Everything else—the desperation, the pleading, and the rage of the Federales—was exactly as she’d recounted it.
Working on this book has fulfilled me in many ways, and despite my grandmother and great-grandmother no longer living, I feel closer to them than ever. Thanks to them and my mother, I learned stories that I would have never learned from books or school. Unfortunately, many stories like my great-grandmother’s or like Petra’s remain in the shadows. How do we fix this? I believe we fix it with curiosity. We need to be curious. We need to look to our ancestors and ask questions. We need to listen to their stories, write them down, on paper or on our hearts, and pass them on. By doing this, we bring stories of bravery, of humanity, and of great compassion to the light and, in turn, we learn more about ourselves and keep the bold spirits of our ancestors alive.


© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

124. Walls

Walls. L.M. Elliott. 2021. [July] 352 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Standing in the doorway, Drew hesitated, his freckles burning crimson like a thousand flares of anxiety.

Premise/plot: Drew, our protagonist, is an army brat. His father has been stationed in West Berlin; the year is 1960. Drew and his siblings--Joyce (older sister) and Linda (little sister) have some trouble adjusting to life in Germany. Their mother is German and has family living in East Berlin. She would love nothing more than for her children to become good, good friends with their cousins. Matthias is their closest cousin in age. But the cousins seem to be worlds apart...

Each chapter is preceded by a graphic portion. Black and white photographs with some explanatory captions. Each chapter represents one month. The novel opens in August 1960 and closes in August 1961. What can happen in one year??? A lot!

My thoughts: Each chapter is almost a vignette--a moment in time captured. The chapters rarely cover more than a few hours of time. So readers get a few snippets here and there. We do not get a continual, immersive experience in Drew's life. We get moments. I personally--and again this is all subjective--had a hard time connecting with the story. I felt almost a disconnect from the characters. I was interested in the story, the time period, the setting. But I didn't feel I really truly got to know any of the characters in a deep and meaningful way. This might be a timing issue on my part--perhaps I wasn't in the right mood to experience this one?

This historical fiction novel for middle grade (???) is about the building of the Berlin Wall.


© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

123. Ground Zero

Ground Zero. Alan Gratz. 2021. [February] 336 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Brandon Chavez was in trouble.*

Premise/plot: Ground Zero has two protagonists and two time periods. Brandon Chavez, one of our protagonists, is nine years old. He's accompanying his dad to work; his dad works at Windows on the World, a restaurant located on the 107th floor in the North Tower of the World Trade Center. The day is September 11, 2001. Reshmina, our other protagonist, is living in Afghanistan with her family in the present day.** Her twin brother, Pasoon, is wanting to join the Taliban. She is angst-y. She doesn't want him involved in the all. She doesn't seem to think the Taliban or the Americans are the "good guys." There are no "good guys." When the fighting hits really close to him--literally--and brings her into contact with an injured American soldier (named Taz), Reshmina has some tough decisions to make. What she decides may decide the fate of her village and her family.

My thoughts: I spent most of the book wanting to curl up into a ball and moan. Reading it felt like I was continually getting punched in the gut again and again and again. With an occasional stab in the heart. If you are not mentally and emotionally bruised after reading this....tell me how you did that...I'm curious.

Both stories are incredibly intense. There's a definite sense of urgency both within and without (if that makes sense.) There is an urgency in the fictional story. In particular with Brandon's story. Readers most likely will know that it is literally a race against the clock once the first plane hits. Brandon, of course, like all the other characters doesn't realize this. His initial urgency is to get back to his dad--even if his dad is a dozen floors above him when the plane hits. There is urgency in the present day story as well as a battle unfolds and civilians are caught up in it. But there is also an urgency that the reader experiences. At least this reader experienced. Almost the equivalent of ripping a band-aid off. I couldn't allow a slower pace--I just couldn't handle it. The only hope for surviving the utter and complete heartbreak was to keep a steady pace. Page after page, keep turning, keep looking ahead. I couldn't imagine just reading this one chapter a day for weeks. (I read this in two days).

Both stories have substance and depth. Both unfold at a compelling pace. There is some emotional reward for investing in both stories. But for sensitive readers this might be too much to handle.

*The text literally says Brandon Chavez wn trouble. I did my best guess as a reader and interpreted that to mean Brandon Chavez was IN trouble. I suppose it could be "won" "win." But neither made sense in context.

**Before the withdrawal of American troops in Afghanistan. So before the summer of 2021.

© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Sunday, September 26, 2021

122. The Case of the Bizarre Bouquet

The Case of the Bizarre Bouquet. Enola Holmes #3. Nancy Springer. 2008. 170 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: It is difficult to choose a new name for oneself.

Premise/plot: Enola Holmes is the younger sister of Mycroft and Sherlock Holmes. Since the disappearance of her mother, Enola Holmes has faced her choice, mostly. Her brothers haven't a clue where she's staying and how she's getting by. And that's just how she likes it.

In this third installment of the series, Enola Holmes (posing as Viola Everseau) seeks to find the whereabouts of the MISSING Dr. John Watson. He has vanished and even Sherlock Holmes hasn't been able to track him down.

Can Enola Holmes succeed where her brother has failed?

My thoughts: I wanted to like this one more than I actually liked it. I always find myself liking the build up of the mystery but then being a little let down in how the mystery is ultimately solved and resolved. Such was the case in this one. It seems that Enola Holmes just happens to always be in the right place at the right time to observe just the thing needed to put the pieces together. Yes, she's observant and she does put the pieces together. But it doesn't seem intentional on her part. (In my opinion.)

I like the series okay.


© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

121. The Case of the Left-Handed Lady

The Case of the Left-Handed Lady (Enola Holmes #2) Nancy Springer. 2007. 234 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: With a shock of astonishment I read the card brought in to me on a silver tray by the page-boy. Dr. John Watson, M.D.

Premise/plot: Enola Holmes is back for her second adventure in The Case of the Left-Handed Lady. The book opens with Dr. John Watson going to visit a Dr. Ragostin. Enola is posing as his assistant, Ivy Meshle. (She later poses as Mrs. Ragostin.) She learns from Watson that her brothers are still puzzled by her disappearance. They haven't a clue to her whereabouts...yet. She has certainly settled into London since first arriving. She's gotten used to taking up missing person cases...with some success. In this one, she is looking for Lady Cecily Alistair....

Meanwhile, the hunt is ever on for her mother. Enola has little reason to believe her mother will ever return to her as a loving, caring mother...but can they find a way to stay in touch even a little bit???

My thoughts: I liked it okay. I am beginning to realize that these mysteries are super-shallow, a bit frothy. There just isn't a lot of substance, depth, or weight to these stories. On one hand, they are a breeze to get through. On the other hand, there's just not much there. I did think this one had a bit more to it than the first book. So maybe each book improves the story???


© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Saturday, September 25, 2021

120. The Case of the Missing Marquess

The Case of the Missing Marquess. (Enola Holmes #1) Nancy Springer. 2006. 216 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: I would very much like to know why my mother named me, "Enola," which, backwards spells alone.

Premise/plot: Enola Holmes, our heroine, has literally just turned fourteen on the day her mother, Lady Eudoria Vernet Holmes, disappears. She contacts her two older brothers soon after. Chances are, dear reader, you may have heard of them: Mycroft and Sherlock Holmes. The two leave London to visit their younger (and now abandoned) sister. And soon these two are planning out her future...without consulting young Enola. When the decision is made that Enola needs to go to a boarding school, well, she takes matters into her own hand. Knowing that her brother, Sherlock, is a world-famous detective, she thinks her best bet is to the unexpected...always. He would probably expect her to disguise herself as a young boy, for example, so she knows that is out of the question!

Enola knows her final destination will be London....but her exact journey, well, that's a mystery even to her. Along the way, she gets distracted by another missing person. (Her mother being the first missing person. Viscount Tewksbury Basilwether being the second missing person.)

My thoughts: I enjoyed this historical mystery. It is very light on the mystery and history. It is set in mid-to-late 1888. (July to November). I would classify it as a cozy mystery for middle grade.

I didn't love it. I liked it. I picked up the book because I had (relatively) recently watched the Enola Holmes movie. The movie definitely adds a good bit of substance to the book. (A good thing in my opinion. The book doesn't really have much depth or substance.) I think it's main job is to orient readers with the new series and the characters.


© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Friday, September 24, 2021

119. Pride and Premeditation

Pride and Premeditation. (Jane Austen Murder Mystery #1) Tirzah Price. 2021. [April] 368 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: It is a truth universally acknowledged that a brilliant idea, conceived and executed by a clever young woman, must be claimed by a man. Elizabeth Bennet stood in the offices of the optimistically named law firm of Longbourn & Sons and fixed her father's junior partner, Mr. Collins, with her fiercest glare.

Premise/plot: Tirzah Price's spin on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice is a delight from start to finish. It is set in the Regency--like the original--but it intentionally plays around with history. Taking something that would be absolutely impossible--a young woman working in a law firm and pursuing a career in law--and makes it instead something rare, unique, out of the ordinary....but not impossible. 

Elizabeth Bennet, our heroine, has ambitions to follow in her father's footsteps. This has her investigating a potential case for Longbourn & Sons. Mr. Bingley has been arrested and charged with murdering his brother-in-law, Mr. Hurst. Elizabeth would like to use this case to prove her abilities. She is determined to investigate the case, follow the clues, and find the real murderer. This has her at odds with Mr. Darcy a lawyer (solicitor) at Pemberley and Associates. If the real murderer is to be found--and Mr. Bingley's innocence proven--it might just take both of them working together despite their personal feelings.

My thoughts: I love, love, love, love, love this adaptation. It is so delightful. It has all the characters from the original novel. (Well, most of them. I can think of a few that are missing.) Some of the original dialogue--all the best bits--reworked to fit this new situation. And it works surprisingly well. Mrs. Bennet is still very active in trying to get her daughters married off. She is still a nervous woman. Mr. Bennet is still favoring Elizabeth. Elizabeth is still super close with Jane who is a calming influence on her.

I would absolutely LOVE to see a film version of Pride and Premeditation. There's even a scene that could easily accommodate a wet shirt scene with Mr. Darcy.


© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

118. Eyes of the Forest

Eyes of the Forest. April Henry. 2021. [April] 272 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: The gun looked real. No orange tip, no obvious seams where molded plastic pieces had been glued together.

Premise/plot: BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU ASK FOR. Bestselling author, R.M. Haldon has writer's block. He has a long, long list of excuses for why he hasn't written the last book in the Swords and Shadows series titled, Eyes of the Forest. One quip being is that he's so blocked that he won't be able to write it unless he's kidnapped and held at gunpoint. One fan takes this literally as an invitation...

Bridget, our heroine, is Haldon's biggest fan--well, one of them. She's been working with him on an official capacity helping him with research. A LOT of details go into world-building, character development, and plotting--Bridget pulls it all together.

Bridget, of course, is not Haldon's only fan. She's one of many... but she may be his only chance at getting rescued...

My thoughts: I'm not happy with how the jacket copy reads. And I'm not satisfied with my summary attempt either. Really I feel this is one of those books where it's best if you know as little as possible. It offers a little of everything for readers--a glimpse at the fandom of fantasy, a mystery, a thriller, a tiny bit of romance. (Bridget is introducing a classmate to Haldon's series by reading them aloud to him at lunch. The two have grown close. Bridget knows she likes-like him, but does he like-like her? Readers are never really sure that he's equally interested in her in that way.) 

There are multiple narrators. It can be a bit dark, bleak, and creepy.

Eyes of the Forest is best at being a fast-paced thriller. I was so swept up into the suspense/thriller aspects of it that I didn't really slow down enough to notice any flaws and weaknesses. 

© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

117. Miss Kopp Investigates

Miss Kopp Investigates. (Kopp Sisters #7) Amy Stewart. 2021. [September] 304 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: That Fleurette emerged from her first assignment unscathed, her dignity intact, her virtue unassailed, and her pride in place was, she felt, a triumph, and a sign of further good fortune to come. Having carried out the job in secrecy, with her sisters knowing nothing of her whereabouts, her success tasted all the sweeter.

Premise/plot: Miss Kopp Investigates is the seventh book in Amy Stewart's historical mystery series. Constance, Norma, and Fleurette star in the series. This seventh book opens in the winter of 1919. The war is over. But life is far from settled. Francis, their brother, has died. The women feel responsible for helping his widow, Bessie, and their children: Lorraine, Frankie, and one on the way. Though all three sisters had plans, dreams, hopes of their own, they are dutiful and compassionate--mostly.

Financial problems abound in this one!!! As the problems worsen--or come to light--tensions within the family increase as well. Fleurette especially is feeling stressed. She's a grown woman who is tired of being bossed around by her two older (much, much older) sisters. She doesn't want to be told how she can and cannot earn money to support the family.

While previous books have focused more on the others--this one focuses primarily on Fleurette. And it is HER investigation. There is a mystery or two to be solved in this one....

My thoughts: I really LOVED this one. I've enjoyed the series throughout. I have. But something about Fleurette being the protagonist in this worked really well for me. I loved learning how the fictional Kopp sisters are finally aligning with the real-life Kopp sisters of Stewart's research. The fact that the REAL Kopp sisters did start their own detective was just a gleeful moment. Now there is still plenty that is fictional in this one...but still.

© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

116. The Ambassador of Nowhere Texas

The Ambassador of Nowhere Texas. Kimberly Willis Holt. 2021. 320 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: My grandmother told me she once watched an abandoned house fold inside itself. The roof had caved in, leaving a hollow shell. “A house needs people, Rylee,” she claimed, “or it will die.” Every time I passed Miss Myrtie Mae’s home, I watched for signs of the roof giving way or the walls collapsing. But even though ivory paint flakes covered the ground like snow and the roof had shed a few shingles, the old house looked as if it were holding its breath, waiting for someone to claim it.

Premise/plot: The Ambassador of Nowhere Texas is set thirty years after the events of When Zachary Beaver Came To Town. It opens in late summer of 2001. Rylee Wilson, Toby's daughter, is the main character. Her best friend, Twig, may or may not be still her best friend. The two just don't seem to be on the same track anymore. No matter how much Rylee still wants things to be the same. A new family will soon be heading to Nowhere...and life for Rylee may never be the same...

When Zachary Beaver Came To Town opens with Miss Myrtie Mae taking pictures, pictures, and more pictures. The Ambassador of Nowhere Texas opens with her estate being settled. (She's recently died.) Who inherits her house--and will they stay and settle down in Antler, Texas??? or will they sell the house??? who will buy it if they do???--makes up a bit of the story. But mainly the focus is on FRIENDSHIP.

My thoughts: I am super thankful that this book exists. The publication of this sequel/companion book motivated me to read When Zachary Beaver Came To Town. I wasn't expecting to love it as much as I did. But I did LOVE it. Primarily because it was so character-driven and the world-building was great. It gave a real sense of time and place. I fell in love with a whole town. Though you may hear that this one can be read as a standalone, I disagree. I mean technically, yes, it could be I suppose. But you'd be missing out on so many squeal-worthy moments of pure glee. (Like when you find out WHO Toby married!!!) Because what we get are snippets here and there that update you on EVERYONE.

The books I love the most seem to be the ones I struggle with the most in the writing of the review. (Even that sentence was a bit awkward). I want to gush enough that you want to read the book--or both books--but I don't want to spoil either book!


“Looking forward to seventh grade?” “Well, I wish Twig was going to be there.” “Rylee, Twig may not be here every day of your life. People come and go even when we don’t want them to.” I wondered who he was talking about, because he’d seen his best friend practically every day of his life. “Seventh grade is going to be great,” he said. “Because you are.” I only wished everyone saw me the same way my dad did.
Saying “sorry” was easy for me even if something wasn’t my fault. If someone dropped a pencil or spilled juice, I apologized as if I’d done it myself. Twig would catch me every time, and ask, “Why are you sorry?” One day she said, “Don’t say sorry, say squim.” Twig rarely, if ever, used squim, but it was the first of three words she’d invented.
That’s what we’d been since September—tumbleweeds—Joe, Twig, and me. Thinking we were so strong and independent, but we’d learned that we were fragile, too. Maybe we weren’t made of sticks and debris, powered by the wind, but like tumbleweeds, we couldn’t make it alone. We needed each other. Twig was moving at a leisurely pace. She hadn’t even made it halfway down the street. Joe looked over at me, and it was as if we could read each other’s thoughts. He hurried toward his porch and went after his bike while I hopped on mine. We pedaled fast, trying to catch up. Twig didn’t seem to know we were behind her, until I yelled, “Wait up!” She slowed to a stop and glanced over her shoulder. The forced smile from a moment before was missing. In its place was the big one I knew by heart.

© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

115. Dear Mrs. Bird

Dear Mrs. Bird. (Emmy Lake Chronicles #1) A.J. Pearce. 2018. 281 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: When I first saw the advertisement in the newspaper I thought I might actually burst.

Premise/plot: This one is set in London in 1941. Emmy Lake, our heroine, has big dreams. She'd love nothing more than to be a journalist, a war correspondent to be precise. A misunderstanding at a job interview leads to somewhat comic results. She's hired as a typist at a journal, sure, but it's the Woman's Friend magazine. And she'll be working for Mrs. Henrietta Bird, the advice columnist. She'll be reading all the letters that come in and throwing out all the INAPPROPRIATE ones. You see, Mrs. Bird has a long list of subjects that are TABOO. Emmy doesn't find the letters inappropriate or scandalous. She finds them honest and refreshing. Real women--of all ages--in real situations feeling perplexed and troubled. But how can she help when she's under direct orders to throw them straight into the trash?!

Well, Emmy CAN'T throw some of the letters away. She cares too much. And Mrs. Bird, well, Mrs. Bird (in Emmy's opinion) doesn't care at all. Is it worth risking her job to help these women?

When she's not working for Mrs. Bird, she's a volunteer telephone operator for the Auxiliary Fire Service. The novel shows her at work in both places....and also follows her personal life.

My thoughts: I really enjoyed this one. It was so good. Especially if historical fiction set in London during World War II is one of your favorite sub-genres. (It's one of mine.) I loved meeting Emmy and her roommate, Bunty. I loved being immersed in this world. There's a hint of romance--but only the lightest trace. I would say that FRIENDSHIPS and the WAR matter more than romance.


© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Monday, September 13, 2021

114. When Zachary Beaver Came To Town

When Zachary Beaver Came to Town. Kimberly Willis Holt. 1999/2003. 256 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Nothing ever happens in Antler, Texas. Nothing much at all. Until this afternoon, when an old blue Thunderbird pulls a trailer decorated with Christmas lights into the Dairy Maid parking lot. The red words painted on the trailer cause quite a buzz around town, and before an hour is up, half of Antler is standing in line with two dollars clutched in hand to see the fattest boy in the world.Since it’s too late in the summer for firecrackers and too early for the Ladybug Waltz, Cal and I join Miss Myrtie Mae and the First Baptist Quilting Bee at the back of the line. Miss Myrtie Mae wears a wide-brimmed straw hat. She claims that she’s never exposed her skin to sun. Even so, wrinkles fold into her face like an unironed shirt. She takes her job as town historian and librarian seriously, and as usual, her camera hangs around her neck.

Premise/plot: In the summer of 1971, Zachary Beaver came to town; he came to Antler, Texas, a super small town. For better or worse, he came as a sideshow act--an act labeling him the fattest BOY in the world. Toby Wilson, Cal McKnight, and Tara Stalling are just a few among the many that have gathered together and payed a few bucks to see this 'fattest boy in the world' with their very own eyes. Days later it appears that Zachary has been abandoned there in town in his trailer...and thus begins an unforgettable summer.

My thoughts: I really loved When Zachary Beaver Came to Town. The characterization was amazing. We get to know what feels like the whole town. The characters have depth and substance. I cared about them all. It's not unusual to care about the main characters--but to care about all the characters, to feel that they are all "real" "breathing" "living" human beings...that is much rarer. The book is sad without drowning in sadness. I guess what I'm trying to say (and probably failing) is that the weight of the sadness is balanced with light, hope, and even humor. It is a book that celebrates FRIENDSHIP. And specifically how friends forgive each other and support each other. 

I also loved the writing.


Scarlett Stalling walks toward the line, holding her bratty sister Tara’s hand. Scarlett looks cool wearing a bikini top underneath an open white blouse and hip huggers that hit right below her belly button. With her golden tan and long, silky blond hair, she could do a commercial for Coppertone.
Scarlett doesn’t go to the back of the line. She walks over to me. To me. Smiling, flashing that Ultra Brite sex appeal smile and the tiny gap between her two front teeth. Cal grins, giving her the tooth, but I lower my eyelids half-mast and jerk my head back a little as if to say, “Hey.”
Then she speaks. “Hey, Toby, would ya’ll do me a favor?”

Sheriff Levi Fetterman drives by, making his afternoon rounds. He slows down and looks our way. His riding dog, Duke, sits in the passenger seat. Duke is Sheriff Levi’s favorite adoptee. Anytime someone in Antler finds a stray cat or dog, they call the sheriff to pick up the animal and take it to the pound. Sheriff Levi can’t bear to dump a dog, and because of that he has a couple dozen living on his one-acre place a mile out of town. However, cats are a different story. They go straight to the pound.
It seems weird, standing here, staring at someone because they look different. Wylie Womack is the strangest-looking person in Antler, but I’m so used to seeing his crooked body riding around town in his beat-up golf cart that I don’t think about him looking weird.
Dad might as well be from Pluto as from Dallas. People in Antler see it as the same thing. The funny thing is, now it seems like Dad belongs here more than Mom. I don’t think she ever counted on him settling in Antler when he passed through years ago, looking for a place to raise worms.

Mom is known as the singing waitress. She makes up songs for the customers, and if they’re a pain, she makes up songs about them. Her voice is high and strong with just the right twang. She may sing songs about honky-tonk angels while serving Bowl-a-Rama specials, but in her mind she’s probably on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry.
In the cafe, next to the picture of the Lord’s Supper, Ferris hung a huge banner above the soda fountain counter—Good Luck, Opalina!
Ferris comes out from behind the counter, limping to the door and turning the Open sign around to face the front. The talk around town is his limp was a self-inflicted wound so he didn’t have to serve in the Korean War. Ferris claims it was a pure coincidence that he was cleaning his gun the day before he was to report for active duty.
Before that happened, Ferris wanted to be a preacher. He even went a semester to a Bible college in Oklahoma. Now he never goes to church, but Mom says he knows the Bible from Genesis to Revelation.
Ferris’s chalkboard hangs near the kitchen window behind the counter. Today’s Special: Honey Fried Chicken, Corn Fritters, and Mustard Greens. Beneath the menu is the daily Bible verse. “It is an honor for a man to cease from strife: but every fool will be meddling.” Proverbs 20:3. Mom says some people wear their religion on their sleeves. Ferris posts his on the chalkboard.
Southern gospel music plays from the jukebox, but the sound of bowling balls hitting pins in the next room can still be heard. From the kitchen window, Ima Jean stares at us through her steamed-up cat-eyed glasses. With the back of her hand, she wipes them in a circular motion.
Ferris does a double take when he sees Dad. “How ya doing, Otto? Haven’t seen you in a long time.”
Dad nods toward Ferris. “Doing fine. Yourself?”
Ferris strokes his beard stubble. “Couldn’t be better. Sure do miss your woman, though.”
Dad glances at the Good Luck, Opalina! sign hanging over the counter.  

While we wait, Malcolm’s little brother, Mason, and four other chubby third graders show up with sticks in their hands. Unlike Malcolm, Mason is tough and the leader of his bully pack. Each kid takes a side of the trailer and starts hitting it with sticks. Over their pounding, Mason yells, “Hey, fat boy! Show your face!”
Something boils inside me. I remember when kids like them beat up on me just because they could. I wouldn’t snitch, and since Dad was against it, I wouldn’t fight back either. But today is different. Today we’re soldiers, fighting for Zachary.

© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

113. Last Witnesses

Last Witnesses (Adapted for Young Adults) Svetlana Alexievich. 2021. 288 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Last Witnesses is a collection of true stories told firsthand by people who grew up in the Soviet Union (present-day Russia and Eastern Europe) and lived through World War II as children. Their accounts of survival range from gruesome and tragic to extraordinarily lucky to—in some cases—even hopeful. All the stories are alarming, as they took place against a backdrop of fearsome war and violence. It is crucial to understand both the geography and the history of the Soviet Union to fully feel the impact of each shocking testimony. On June 22, 1941, the German army invaded the Soviet Union. A titanic battle unfolded. It would last for four years, setting in opposition two countries with a long history of rivalry and antagonism. The battle also brought two ruthless dictators head to head: Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin.

This is how the book opens:



In the course of the Great Patriotic War (1941–1945) millions of Soviet children died: Russians, Belorussians, Ukrainians, Jews, Tatars, Latvians, Gypsies, Kazakhs, Uzbeks, Armenians, Tadjiks…
People’s Friendship magazine, 1985, No. 5


Fyodor Dostoevsky once posed a question: can we justify our world, our happiness, and even eternal harmony, if in its name, to strengthen its foundation, at least one little tear of an innocent child will be spilled? And he himself answered: this tear will not justify any progress, any revolution. Any war. It will always outweigh them.
Just one little tear…

Premise/plot: Essentially it is a collection of short vignettes by survivors sharing their memories. Most--if not all--were young children (a few younger, some older). These memories are unique yet seen together as a whole paint a horrific picture of the war.  Most entries are short--a few are longer. I believe the last entry is the longest. 

My thoughts: This was a powerful read. It certainly isn't for everyone. It is a heavy, heavy book in terms of emotional weight and burden. Yet their voices mattered then and now. Their stories need to be heard; heard and not forgotten.

This book has been adapted for young readers. But I think 'young' is a matter of perspective. Young adult would be a good fit even if most of the stories are about younger children. As I mentioned, it's a heavy book.


The war ended…I waited for a day, for two days. No one came to get me. Mama didn’t come for me, and papa, I knew, was in the army. I waited for two weeks like that, and couldn’t wait any longer. I got under a seat on a train and rode…Where? I didn’t know. I thought (this was still my child’s mind) that all trains went to Minsk. And in Minsk mama was waiting! Then papa would come…A hero! With orders, with medals.
They had perished somewhere under the bombs. The neighbors told me later—they had both gone looking for me. They had rushed to the train station.
I’m already fifty-one years old. I have children of my own. But I still want my mama.

Zina Kosiak


© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

112. The Shape of Thunder

The Shape of Thunder. Jasmine Warga. 2021. [May] 288 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: I like learning things. Especially about math and science, because they help explain why the world is the way it is. A famous mathematician once said, “Mathematics is the music of reason.” I’ve always believed that. The best thing about math is that it makes sense. The actual best thing about math is that everything adds up, all neat and in order.

Premise/plot: Cora and Quinn were best, best friends. But they haven't spoken to each other in months--almost a year. Quinn is at a loss for words knowing that there simply aren't any that would suffice. And Cora? Well, Cora doesn't want to hear anything Quinn has to say. How could she? Something is keeping these two apart--and time alone will tell if these two can find a way back in each other's lives.

Quinn becomes fixated with the idea of time travel. If she could just go back in time and STOP the events of that one fateful day then maybe life would be "fixed" again and everyone could move forward. But if she's going to invent a way to time travel, well, she'll need help. And who better than Cora? She's smart and motivated. Cora may want to time travel just as much as she does.

But how do two girls forever-united, forever-separated invent a way to go back in time????

My thoughts: The Shape of Thunder traces the after-effects of a school shooting. Quinn's brother, Parker, was the shooter. Cora's sister, Mabel, one of his victims. Both are gone now. Yet Cora and Quinn still live next door to each other...forever reminded of how things used to be and how things can never be again.

It is told in alternating chapters. I will say that I thought Cora's family was way more developed than Quinn's family. The characterization is excellent but a bit uneven. I really loved, loved, loved Cora's family--her father and grandmother. Quinn's family isn't that developed--bare bones and more stereotypical than not. I felt that Quinn was very isolated--and not by choice. In a way, this makes Quinn more sympathetic than she might otherwise be. It is easy to pity her because things have been wrong for years in that household.

It is an emotional read, certainly not for everyone. But definitely one that is well written.


“The shape of thunder,” I repeat. I reach for my notebook, and I scribble the quote. I put asterisks around it, which is what I do whenever I’m taking notes in class and my teacher emphasizes a fact so much that it’s obvious it will be on the next quiz.
There’s a faint ringing in my ears. Thunder. Perhaps this is the thing I’ve been missing.
The shape of thunder. What a strange phrase. It doesn’t quite make sense....
It’s more than contradictory; it’s impossible. A thing that doesn’t actually exist, but possibly could. An impossible thing that could actually be possible.
Like finding a wormhole. Like time travel.
Dad points at my notebook. “You like that, huh?”
My heart is racing, but I’m trying to act cool. “It’s a neat quote.”
Dad gives me a knowing look. “I think so, too.”
I clutch my notebook and the book of poems to my chest. “Dad?”
He startles from whatever thought he was having. “Hm?”
“Thank you for the book,” I say. “And for the . . . story.”
Dad grins wide enough that I can see his front two teeth that are crooked. Mabel used to love to tease him about them, but I’ve always liked the way they are. It’s like I wouldn’t have even known they weren’t straight if it hadn’t been pointed out.
And that’s how I feel about Mom leaving. I want to tell Dad that, but I don’t know how without sounding really strange.

© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

111. Katie the Catsitter

Katie the Catsitter #1 Colleen A.F. Venable. Illustrated by Stephanie Yue. 2021. [January] 229 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Come on. Come on. Perfect.

Premise/plot: Katie, our heroine, is desperate to save enough money so she can afford to go to the same camp as one of her best, best friends. But money is hard to come by--no matter how willing, no matter how desperate. But after several failed attempts (turns out that she kills houseplants!) at earning money, she's offered a job by her upstairs neighbor, Ms. Madeline Lang. The job???? Catsitting. How many cats can one lady in New York City (living in an apartment building) have???? Turns out quite a lot! Katie finds herself taking care of "just" 217 cats!!!

The job pays well--very well! But it isn't without its moments. Turns out these cats are, well, special. As is Ms. Lang herself. This graphic novel for middle graders is set in a world (in New York City to be precise) where superheroes and villains are just as real as you and me. And there's always spottings of both heroes and villains...both on the news...and in person.

Could Ms. Lang have a couple of secrets she's keeping from Katie...and the world?

My thoughts: I liked this one. I did. I really liked it. I LOVED the 217 cats. The world building is fun. This appears to be the first in a series. I like that even though so many things are fantastical about it--superheroes, villains, sidekicks, etc--it is grounded in the real world. Turns out that you can have trouble with friendships no matter what. And Katie is struggling with maintaining her old friendships. It seems her friends may be moving on and moving up...

This was my favorite part of the book:

If you ever wonder how much I value your friendship, please measure it in cats. 217 cats. That's how much I care about you. Can't wait to tell you more about this job, but GOOD NEWS!!!! At this rat I should have the money by nocturnal week!!! You know, if I don't get murdered by lasers or evil cats first.


© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Thursday, September 09, 2021

110. This Is Not the Jess Show

This is Not the Jess Show. Anna Carey. 2021. [February] 304 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Three things happened the week I found out. Titanic won a bunch of Oscars, and my sister and I stayed up late to watch because we'd never miss a chance to see Leo in a tux. Meanwhile every news anchor was talking about the president, and everywhere I went people repeated that phrase, how he "didn't have sexual relations with that woman." I probably should have cared (president, impeachment, important stuff) but another, more pressing matter, had consumed me: I'd fallen in love with my best friend. Tyler.

Premise/plot: What if your whole life was a lie?!?!?! Jessica Flynn begins to question--to doubt--EVERYTHING as her life begins to unwind slowly but surely. It starts small--hearing voices yelling, chanting. Catching a glimpse of something that seems off/odd. But it isn't until HER dog is seemingly replaced with a look alike that she is like SOMETHING is wrong and NO ONE will tell me the truth. Just enough is "off" with her reality to make her start questioning everything. And once the questions start, there's no going back...

My thoughts: Part of me wishes that This is Not the Jess Show had been set in JUNE 1998--or should that be "June 1998"--so that Jess could go see THE TRUMAN SHOW with her friends. Though probably the powers that be--Life-Like Productions? Like-Life Productions?--would have banned that film from their universe. Still it would have been great.

The Truman Show is one of my favorite, favorite, favorite movies. I don't think it gets enough love. Perhaps the intended audience of this YA novel--tweens and teens--haven't seen it or heard of The Truman Show. For better or worse? On the one hand, This Is Not The Jess Show is a total and complete copycat of The Truman Show. On the other hand, it is a total and complete copycat of The Truman Show. Except instead of the "star" of the show being an adult--she's a teen girl--a minor.

Still, I loved so many things about it. It reminded me of The Truman Show, The Twilight Zone, and Margaret Peterson Haddix's awesome book, Running Out of Time. I did enjoy all the 90s references.

One of her conversations with Ty.

I wanted to go back into the bathroom and reapply my lip gloss and pinch color into my cheeks.
“Who knew Jen Klein was obsessed with Chumbawamba?” His finger rested on some CD spines in the middle of the stack. “I didn’t even realize they had other bad songs.”
“I actually wouldn’t mind that stupid song if it wasn’t so lazy,” I said, stepping toward him. “Have you ever listened to the lyrics? It’s the same two verses over and over again. He says the same line three dozen times.”
“But also, what is the guy in the song even doing?” Ty was still smiling as he said it. “He drinks four drinks in a row, all different. Like, I’m no bartender dude, but I’m pretty sure mixing a whiskey drink and a vodka drink and a lager drink, then chasing it down with hard cider, is not going to be good.”
Did I love him? Was it possible to love someone you’d never even kissed?
“You hiding out in there?” Ty asked, glancing over my shoulder into the bathroom. He had on this green flannel that he was obsessed with and a vintage Tears for Fears tee shirt underneath, the fabric faded from so many wears.
“Maybe. Don’t tell anyone.”
“You kept my secret about that weird cat statue.”
“The statue! I forgot about that.” I laughed.
“That’s how good you are at keeping secrets.”
When I was younger, my mom bought this abstract cat statue and displayed it on a pedestal in our den. Ty and I were rolling around inside a refrigerator box, pretending it was a carnival ride, when we slammed right into it, knocking it to the floor. I put the head back on with Crazy Glue. You could only tell it was broken if you held it an inch from your face.
“What is that?” he asked, peering at the pink stuff in my cup.
“Some weird lemonade  drink. Wanna try?”
“With that rave review?”

One of her conversations with "Patrick" (aka Kipps)

I guess it’s kind of obvious we’re not in the ’90s, huh?”
“Who else was going to say it? You think we’re going to run into some therapist who’s going to sit me down and, like, gently break the news to me?” I asked.
Kipps pressed his lips into a straight line.
“So, Bill Clinton? He’s not the president?”
“No, he’s dead,” Kipps said.
“Alanis Morissette? Puff Daddy?”
Kipps cringed. “I don’t know? I think they might be alive still? People don’t really listen to Alanis Morissette anymore, no offense. Not when Izzy Pike is making music.”
“That means…” I tried to do the math in my head. “Ew. How old is Scott Wolf? Like…70?”
I couldn’t shake the visual. Scott Wolf, my Scott Wolf. Old. Wrinkled. GRAY.
“Who is Scott Wolf?” Kipps said.
“Bailey from Party of Five?”
It was useless. I kept imagining him with saggy jowls and stooped shoulders. Scott Wolf with a grandpa pancake butt and white hair. “Gross. That is truly repulsive.”

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