Thursday, June 30, 2022

June Reflections

In June, I challenged myself to read 30 books. I actually read.... 41 books!!!!

Books read for Becky's Book Reviews

67. The Peach Rebellion. Wendelin Van Draanen. 2022. 416 pages. [Source: Library]
68. The Bachelor and the Bride. (The Dread Penny Society #4) Sarah M. Eden. 2022. [September] 368 pages. [Source: Review copy]
69. Summer of the Gypsy Moths. Sara Pennypacker. 2012. 275 pages. [Source: Library]
70. Lines of Courage. Jennifer A. Nielsen. 2022. 400 pages. [Source: Library]
71. A Gambling Man. (Archer #2) David Baldacci. 2021. 432 pages. [Source: Library]
72. And We Rise. Erica Martin. 2022. 160 pages. [Source: Library]
73. Two Truths and a Lie. April Henry. 2022. [May] 275 pages. [Source: Review copy]
74. With and Without You. Emily Wibberley and Austin Siegemund-Broka. 2022. 384 pages. [Source: Library]
75. The Siren of Sussex. (Belles of London #1) Mimi Matthews. 2022. [January] 400 pages. [Source: Review copy]
76. See You Yesterday. Rachel Lynn Solomon. 2022. 432 pages. [Source: Library]
77. Garvey's Choice. Nikki Grimes. 2016. 120 pages. [Source: Library]
78. Garvey in the Dark. Nikki Grimes. 2022. [October] 176 pages. [Source: Review copy]
79. Smaller Sister. Maggie Edkins Willis. 2022. 320 pages. [Source: Library]
80. It's the End of the World in My Bathing Suit. Justin A. Reynolds. 2022. 304 pages. [Source: Library]

Books read for Young Readers

62. Endlessly Ever After: Pick Your Path to Countless Fairy Tale Endings. Laurel Snyder. Illustrated by Dan Santat. 2022. 92 pages. [Source: Library]
63. The Pigeon Will Ride the Roller Coaster. Mo Willems. 2022. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]
64. Board book: Yellow Like a Submarine, Purple Like the Rain: A Rocking Book of Colors. Duopress Labs. Art by John Coulter. 2022. April. 20 pages. [Source: Library]
65. Before Music: Where Instruments Come From. Annette Bay Pimentel. Illustrated by Madison Safer. 2022. [June] 88 pages. [Source: Review copy]
66. If You Go Down to the Woods Today. Rachel Piercey. Illustrated by Freya Hartas. 2021. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]
67. Wednesday and Woof: Catastrophe (Wednesday and Woof #1) Sherri Winston. Illustrated by Gladys Jose. 2022. 96 pages. [Source: Library]
68. New Pup on the Block (Wednesday and Woof #2) Sherri Winston. Illustrated by Gladys Jose. 2022. 96 pages. [Source: Library]
69. The First Cat in Space Ate Pizza. Mac Barnett. Illustrated by Shawn Harris. 2022. 320 pages. [Source: Library]
70. Tiny Tales: A Feast for Friends. Steph Waldo. 2022. 32 pages. [Source: Library]
71. Flipping Forward Twisting Backward. Alma Fullerton. 2022. [July] 144 pages. [Source: Review copy]
72. A Cat About Town. Lea Decan. 2022. 44 pages. [Source: Review copy]
73. The Sweetest Scoop: Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream Revolution. Lisa Robinson. Illustrated by Stacy Innerst. 2022. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]
74. Who Was Johnny Cash? Jim Gigliotti. Illustrated by Gregory Copeland. 2022. [June] 112 pages. [Source: Library]
75. Inspector Flytrap (Inspector Flytrap #1) Tom Angleberger. Illustrated by Cece Bell. 2016. 112 pages. [Source: Library]
76. Recipe for Disaster (Didi Dodo, Future Spy #1) Tom Angleberger. Illustrated by Jared Chapman. 2019. 128 pages. [Source: Library]
77. Leave It to Plum! Matt Phelan. 2022. 128 pages. [Source: Library]
78. Oh, Sal. Kevin Henkes. 2022. [September] 144 pages. [Source: Review copy] 

Books read for Operation Actually Read Bible

21. He Is Not Ashamed. Erik Raymond. 2022. 160 pages. [Source: Review copy]
22. Where the Road Bends. Rachel Fordham. 2022. 336 pages. [Source: Review copy]
23. A Time to Bloom (Leah's Garden #2) Lauraine Snelling. 2022. 352 pages. [Source: Review copy]
24. Laura's Shadow (Doors to the Past) Allison Pittman. 2022. [August] 256 pages. [Source: Review copy]
25. Long Way Home. Lynn Austin. 2022. [June] 391 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Bibles read for Operation Actually Read Bible

7. The Great Bible 1539. Myles Coverdale. 2017. 4355 pages. [Source: Bought]
8. NKJV Single-Column Reference Bible, Premium Goatskin Leather, Premier Collection. 2018. 2144 pages. [Source: Bought]
9. Holman Rainbow Study Bible KJV Edition (New, Improved User-Friendly Design) 2013. B&H Publishing Group. 1632 pages. [Source: Review copy]
10. New English Bible. God. 1972. Cambridge University. 1407 pages. [Source: Bought]
11. Holy Bible: (English) Revised Version 1885. God. 1963 pages. [Source: Bought]


June Totals

June reads
# of books41
# of pages19122

2022 yearly totals

2022 Totals
# of books194
# of pages65357

© 2022 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Monday, June 27, 2022

80. It's the End of the World And I'm In My Bathing Suit

It's the End of the World in My Bathing Suit. Justin A. Reynolds. 2022. 304 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: On the third day of summer vacation, I devised THEE perfect three month plan.*

Premise/plot: Eddie Gordon Holloway is having the worst day depends on your perspective, I suppose. Eddie gets grounded from participating in Beach Bash with his family. Forced to stay home and do laundry because literally EVERY item of clothing he owns (minus one bathing suit) is dirty, he's angry and anxious. (Because the laundry room is in the basement). But when the power goes out, his anxiety, well, shifts and accelerates. He finds other neighborhood kids missing out on Beach Bash (Xavier, Sonia, Trey, and Sage) and they hang out together. All are hoping the power can come on soon so they can resume life as usual...some are VERY anxious to return to their video games. 

My thoughts: NOTHING HAPPENS. 300 pages of nothing happening. I was so annoyed. Don't tease THE END OF THE WORLD if the climax of the novel is either a) when the lights initially go out and he might have stumbled while in the basement or b) when the kids decided to eat sugary snacks. It is just all kinds of wrong to promise an actual END OF THE WORLD mystery but spend 45% of the book on a kid complaining about having to do laundry. The book ends before it even begins with literally no satisfaction and only slightly humorous moments strung together. 

It isn't that I hated these characters. I just wanted the story to actually move forward and for the characters to actually do something. Not "something" in the sense of moving to another room and eating candy. But, you know, beginning to figure out WHAT was going on and why their families never came back from Beach Bash. Perhaps the author couldn't decide WHAT the calamity would be and he's postponing that until book two??? Will there be a book two???? 

*I personally think it should be THE instead of THEE but I am copying it straight from the book.


© 2022 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

79. Smaller Sister

Smaller Sister. Maggie Edkins Willis. 2022. 320 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Olivia, darling, meet your new baby sister. This is Lucy. 

Premise/plot: Smaller Sister is a new graphic novel by Maggie Edkins Willis. Lucy and Olivia (aka Livy) are close in age and sometimes close in spirit. (They even have their own secret code for writing notes back and forth). Smaller Sister is both a coming of age (graphic) novel and a "problem" novel. Though perhaps the phrase "problem novel" is out of fashion??? Olivia, the older sister, has a problem, a big problem. She develops an eating disorder that shakes up the whole family. It isn't just Olivia's problem, it is everyone's. Lucy doesn't know how to process this--to put it mildly. Her *old* familiar Livy seems to have vanished literally and figuratively. Her sister is changing in dozens of ways including physically. But it is the emotional lost-ness that haunts Lucy. 

So the book is about the sibling relationship. The book spans perhaps three years give or take. We see glimpses of several grades at two different schools. (Plus one flashback scene at a previous school, I believe). But the book is also about friendship in general. In particular, how TOXIC friendships can be. One can desire a best friend or a good friend so much that one is able to overlook a dozen red flags as to why the relationship may be unhealthy or toxic. Such is the case with these siblings. In particular, Lucy, since we see this through her point of view. There is no quick or easy shortcuts on making and keeping best-best-best friends that will stick with you through thick and thin for better or worse. Lucy's realizations are slow but sure in coming. (Probably VERY realistic. One pep talk probably not going to solve a girl's problems in middle school.)

Plenty of scenes depicting life at home, at school, at the mall, and at camp.

My thoughts: This book tackles a real problem realistically. Eating disorders. Body image issues. Low self-esteem. How so called friends--close "best" friends at that--can pick, pick, pick, pick, pick, pick on you, namely your physical appearance. If a person only can feel good about themselves by putting you down and keeping you down, they aren't really a friend worth keeping. Friendships in middle school especially can lead to DRAMA, drama, and more drama. 

But what I loved especially about it was the focus on the relationship between two sisters. We see them at their best, their worst. Highs, lows, twists, turns. The relationship has its tense moments. Words are said that can't be unsaid, but that can be forgiven. The relationship between sisters can be ever-changing, but a solid foundation can be relied upon on the darkest of days. I love all the little, tiny details depicting this relationship. The development of both sisters is so well done. I liked both sisters very much.

Lucy is heading into fifth grade when the graphic novel begins, and by the end of the novel she's in seventh grade, I believe, or heading into seventh grade. Her sister is a grade above her--so sixth grade through eighth grade. 

The subject of eating disorders may be triggering for some readers. But I also want to point out that in one panel, Lucy discovers her sister's diary and she reads that her sister has thought about swallowing poison because she doesn't want to live. This could certainly be triggering for some readers. The book warns of one but not the other? 


© 2022 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

78. Garvey in the Dark

Garvey in the Dark. Nikki Grimes. 2022. [October] 176 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Different. The same... That's my answer if you ask how I am after the Invisible Beast broke into our house, and our world.

Premise/plot: Garvey (from Garvey's Choice) returns for a second book in Garvey in the Dark. Garvey's life has been looking up, up, and up. Things are good, really good. He's playing music; he's singing; he's got good, solid friends; he's beginning to have a strong, solid relationship with his father; he's comfortable in his own skin. But life is about to be turned upside down because of COVID-19. The book is set in the spring and summer of 2020. The poems process his experiences and emotions. 

My thoughts: I wonder if this was a book that *needed* to be written. In other words, did Nikki Grimes need to write this book in order to help process the messy-messy-mess that was 2020? Between COVID-19 and the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent protests, 2020 was just...there aren't even words. There are ten billion memes but no words. Garvey, our protagonist, seems an authentic narrator who is trying day by day to survive 2020 and make sense of it all. He's got questions, doubts, worries, concerns. The poems are very straight-forward and honest. Like when his dad has COVID and he's standing outside his dad's bedroom door just listening to make sure he's still breathing. The pain is almost touchable, if that makes any sense at all. 

It was not an easy read. I'm being fair, I think. I don't mean the poetry isn't wonderful. I don't. I mean reading these poems takes you right back in time and it's like you're living through 2020 a second time. Which has its pros and cons. On the one hand, I do think it's a time capsule of sorts. I also imagine that writing the poetry had its healing moments. A way to put into words your thoughts, emotions, etc. Also I think it could be a reminder that you can share your emotions and talk through your stuff. There's no reason that you *have* to keep it bottled up inside, hiding your pain and worries. Another point is that this will be an authentic way to share what it was like to future generations. On the other hand, it's like living through 2020 a second time. It took me RIGHT BACK.


© 2022 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Thursday, June 23, 2022

77. Garvey's Choice

Garvey's Choice. Nikki Grimes. 2016. 120 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: When I was seven/ and crazy for Mr. Spock,/ a Star Trek lunch box/ was all I craved. Instead, Dad/ bought one blaring the logo/ of some football team/ I'd never heard of./ I shoved that thing in/ the coal black of my closet,/ then celebrated with cake.

Premise/plot: Garvey's Choice is a verse novel. (The verse is written in tanka.) Garvey is an overweight teen who'd much rather sing or read than play sports. There exists between father and son a gap that nothing seems to fill. At least at first. Garvey tries--unsuccessfully--to fill this gap with food. Garvey's dad may talk about sports--a lot--but I don't get the impression that he's actually cruel to his son. The two just aren't speaking the same love languages. 

In the novel, Garvey makes several choices. Will he choose to try out for chorus and risk rejection or humiliation? He ultimately decides that he has nothing to lose and everything to gain. After all, he's already being teased by his classmates; he's already hating lunch time. What he finds out is that he's really talented at singing; and his singing not only makes him happy in the process, but makes others happy too. That and he makes a second friend. Another choice he makes regards his weight. Will he try to lose weight? Should he try to lose weight? How should he go about it? What can he change in his life to be healthier and happier?

This aspect of the verse novel was a bit iffier for me. I hated to see him get in the cycle of dieting in unhealthy ways, ways that are doomed to fail. I was yelling DON'T DO IT. JUST DON'T. 

My thoughts: I think the verses are authentic in that many, many, many, many people turn to food as a way to deal with emotions they don't know how to handle any other way. It's not the best way perhaps, but it is the easy way. I liked how singing took the place of food in some ways as a way to cope with the ups and downs of life.

One of the songs mentioned throughout the book is "Dance with My Father." I encourage you to give it a listen if you pick this one up.

One of my favorite poems: "Summer Lost and Found"

Stories are breadcrumbs.
Just follow the trail of books
and you will find me
lost among the galaxies
of scorched stars and ships to Mars. (4)
And here's another: "Alien"
Over breakfast, Dad
eyes me like an alien
never seen before.
Sometimes, I could swear that he's
hoping to make first contact. (17)

 My new thoughts: I first read this one in February 2017. I reread it in June 2022 because a sequel is coming!!! I am so excited to get another book starring Garvey!!! The poems still resonate. SO much can be communicated in just a few lines.


© 2022 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

76. See You Yesterday

See You Yesterday. Rachel Lynn Solomon. 2022. 432 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: "This has to be a mistake." I pull the extra-long twin sheets up over my ears and mash my face into the pillow. It's too early for voices. Much too early for an accusation.

Premise/plot: How would you like to live your first day of college over again? How would you like to be stuck in a time loop of living your first day of college over and over and over and over and over again. Barrett Bloom, our heroine, finds herself doing just that. And she's not alone. Miles Kasher-Okamoto, a fellow student, is also trapped in this time loop only he's been trapped for months. The first day brings its hardships--for both of them. Barrett, a would be journalist major, finds herself goofing up an interview to work for the school paper. Again and again and again. And that's just the start of it. Turns out, some timelines she actually accidentally sets fire to a fraternity! Not to mention how her day begins: she learns that her frenemy from high school has been assigned to be her roommate! Yikes! Miles, well, Miles receives a phone call from his brother, Max, to come pick him up from rehab. (We do know more about Barrett's challenges because this is her pov.)

Though some loops find them doing their own thing, most loops these two are together either brainstorming for a way out or living like there is no tomorrow. Will these two ever find a way to stop looping through time? 

My thoughts: I love, love, love the premise of this one. Stargate SG-1's Window of Opportunity is one of my most favorite episodes of all time. And I'm sure there's other time loop fiction--in books and on the screen--that I could mention. It's a sub-sub-sub-sub-genre perhaps. But it's good fun. (At least if you're not the one caught up in it.) See You Yesterday has a very rom-com feel. I do like them as individuals and as a couple. It isn't rushed. Though the calendar may always, always, always say September 21, these two have had a LOT of time to get to know each other. It is also a very human relationship. They are able to be vulnerable with each other and come to trust one another. This isn't built in a day--well, technically maybe, but still. The development is there which is nice. This isn't truly insta-love. 

I also like that it isn't just a romance novel. For sure, the romance story plays a big role in it. But it is also about all sorts or relationships. (Including her relationship with her frenemy--a close friend turned enemy.) It is also about self-care in a way. Barrett has to learn to make peace with her past and move forward in a healthy way. She has to work through her complicated/complex feelings. (And so does Miles about his own issues.)


© 2022 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Saturday, June 18, 2022

75. The Siren of Sussex

The Siren of Sussex. (Belles of London #1) Mimi Matthews. 2022. [January] 400 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Evelyn Maltravers entered the dimly lit shop in Conduit Street. 

Premise/plot: Evelyn Maltravers has come to London for her one and only season. Her older sister had a season that ended in scandal. Until her own season began, Evelyn never really understood how that could happen--how one could find oneself falling truly, madly, deeply for someone that you are "not supposed to" live your happily ever after with. In her sister's case, it was a man too high above her station. In her own case, well, let's not jump ahead just yet...

Evelyn is depending on a HABIT (a riding habit) to help distinguish her this season. She feels she is at her absolute best while riding her horse. Ahmad Malik, a tailor, is THE ONE (in her opinion) to make that habit. He seems to have a perfect understanding of fashion (and function). In their first few meetings, she is overwhelmed with a warm and fuzzy feeling. If she was Disney's Cinderella, she'd be HUMMING. He seems to be dazzled with her as well, though, he seems to see her as his perfect muse. He hatches a plan for her season as well. He'll design EVERYTHING and she'll show it off wherever she goes. (She doesn't so much want to be noticed for her own sake, her own plans. She only wants to be noticed by HIM. Though the more people notice her and talk about her clothes, the more business he'll get for the shop).

But happily ever after won't be easy and straight forward. Technically, she's looking for a (relatively) wealthy gentleman. Technically, he's not looking to marry any woman. He does not own his own shop; his income is uncertain at best. It depends on IF his customers ever pay him. Some do. Some don't. And there's not much he can do to make them pay. (Remember, the bill comes later.) And then there's his race...he's half Indian. He doesn't feel comfortable in white circles or Indian circles. He doesn't "fit" in either. And no matter what he says--his race, his socioeconomic class--she sees her ultimate dream man.  

My thoughts: I read the second book in this series not so long ago. Evelyn is one of a group of friends who love, love, love, love riding horses. All are enjoying--or not enjoying--their London season. All are hoping to find their one true love. I have a feeling that the friends will make appearances in all the books. Friendship is important in this one. It isn't just a romance.

The romance is told from two points of view--his and hers, Evelyn's and Ahmad's. The romance is strong in this one. I think this may be my first interracial Victorian romance. I thought it was tastefully and realistically done. There were a few scenes that I thought might be a little too modern-sounding. Like Evelyn explaining to her friends that it was her responsibility not only to become (more) educated but to educate herself about Indian history and culture. She was hesitant to talk to him and ask him questions because it wasn't his job to "teach her." 

My least favorite aspect of this one was the focus on spiritualism. Evelyn herself isn't a spiritualist. BUT her uncle (who is her guardian and who is paying for her season) is a spiritualist. Her official sponsor (a woman friend of her uncle's) IS also a spiritualist. So almost all of her invitations are from the spiritualist crowd and involve spiritualist activities (crystal balls, seances, mediums, astrologists, etc.) I just didn't care for any of these scenes at all. Spiritualism may have been super popular at this time in history. The idea of communing with the dead, having FAMILIAR SPIRIT GUIDES, etc, may be right on track with what was trending at this time. But it didn't sit right with me. Again, I'm not saying that YOU will have an issue with it. Just sharing how I feel.

 I would not say it is necessarily squeaky clean--far from it. On the one hand, the intimacies are not told graphically. There is some restraint shown. On the other hand, there's no denying the physical intimacies that are occurring even if the book is mostly fade to black. So it depends on what bothers you--if anything--about adult "smutty" books.  

I liked this one but not as much as I did the second book which I crazy loved.

© 2022 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Friday, June 17, 2022

74. With and Without You

With and Without You. Emily Wibberley and Austin Siegemund-Broka. 2022. 384 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: "I want to break up."

Premise/plot: Siena, our heroine, wants to break up with Patrick, our hero. BUT on the day she's planned to break it off with him, he tells her that his family is moving to Austin, Texas. Seeing a way out of a hard/clean break, she tells him she'd like to try to do long distance. (He did ask her if she wanted to try long distance or just break up with him.) Thus begins the will they, won't they dance that is the novel With and Without You. The novel spans a full year--give or take a week. Begins the summer before senior year, ends the summer after senior year. The author uses text messages to fast-forward the time apart--for better or worse. The time together includes Thanksgiving, New Years, spring break. These chapters are fleshed out and packed with scenes. Will they stay together? Will they break up?

My thoughts: I would be a LOT more invested in this story if we weren't thrown into it this late in the game. Starting a novel with a couple on the verge of breaking up doesn't really make me *care* about if they stay together or break up. And sad to say I continued to not care if they stayed together or broke up from first page to last. Not really having "seen" them together as a couple that was happy and in love, I'm indifferent to their choices. Maybe Siena can live without Patrick just fine. Maybe she'll fall in love with someone else. Maybe there's been a guy who's been hoping for a chance to make his move. Or not. I really don't care. Patrick doesn't seem as fleshed out as Siena. (After all, we're living in Siena's headspace, not his.) And while their scenes together are good, for the most part, again it's not like we're swooning with the glorious-ness of this couple. Usually when a novel starts off with a near-break up, readers know that the real love interest is probably going to be introduced in the next chapter or so. There will be a love triangle--usually with a strong contender and a weak contender. That isn't the direction this one chooses to go--not really. But it's not because this one goes in a different direction, more like it's directionless. By the time the novel ended, I didn't care if she stayed with Patrick, broke up with Patrick, got a new boyfriend, or stayed single. If this was a second book in the series, and I'd spent a book falling in love with them as individuals and as a couple, I'd have been swept up into this drama. But as it is, I just wasn't.


© 2022 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Thursday, June 16, 2022

73. Two Truths and a Lie

Two Truths and a Lie. April Henry. 2022. [May] 275 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: "Shotgun!" I shout as Mrs. McElroy pulls up to the curb. 

Premise/plot: A high school theatre troupe never makes it to their competition. Blizzard conditions strand the team at a worn-down, out-of-the-way motel. They're not the only ones finding refuge in this motel. Another theatre troupe from another high school on their way to the same competition also finds themselves stranded. Add in a couple of adults passing by, and you've got your cast of characters. (Not counting the staff of the motel.)

Nell, our narrator, is disappointed and distracted. Distracted by the super-cute guy named Knox from the other group. Disappointed that the storm will keep them all from competing. And for the seniors in the group, this was their one and only chance to compete. The teens (not the adults) decide to hang out in the common room of the motel and play a game--you guessed it, Two Truths and a Lie. They'll each write down two truths and a lie, shuffle the papers, read each others aloud, and then guess WHO wrote what, and which is the lie. But when it is Nell's turn to read aloud, well, things get dark and creepy real fast. Her piece of paper reads, 1) I like to watch people die, 2) I love mushrooms, 3) I've lost count of how many people I've killed. Soon this guessing game becomes the stuff of a horror film...well, mostly. (see spoiler below).

Two Truths and a Lie is definitely a mystery, no doubt about that. Nell and her classmates have to follow clues, use common sense, and try their hardest to stay alive. With the blizzard keeping them snowbound in this unfamiliar motel, AND the storm knocking out all power, AND so many strangers about, it isn't easy to hold it all together and make the best decisions. 

My thoughts: There were things I liked about this one. I liked the pacing. I read it in two sittings. If I was younger and could still get away with it, then I'd have pushed to finish it in one sitting. If you'd asked me throughout my reading, I'd have said it was GOOD and COMPELLING. There was enough tension where I was super-tempted to cheat and read the ending. Yet, I didn't let myself cheat. 

Another thing I liked was the number of characters and how we get to know them. I thought that was handled well for the most part. Few enough that I could keep track of everyone, but plenty so that I kept myself guessing as to WHO might be the murderer. 

But there were also a couple of things I didn't like about this one. The premise definitely pushes a certain idea of what kind of book this is -- thriller and horror -- and OH MY THERE WILL BE A BODY COUNT. The book hints that there might even be ghosts haunting the motel...














I'm not sure the book delivers exactly what the premise promises. I feel a little tricked. When the body count starts...and the fight for survival turns out it is all a PRANK. There are no dead bodies. The other theatre troupe just wanted to PRANK and see if the other team would be wowed by their acting. Isn't that fabulous?! (not) But then the fake dead bodies disappear.... and, well, the teens have to question if there was some truth to the danger after all. It doesn't mean DEAD BODIES and MURDERER necessarily. (Though it could). But someone--not one of them--is up to something, something potentially deadly. And so the mystery starts all over again... 

I won't be so mean as to spoil WHO the threat is...and if there are any real casualties...but....I didn't necessarily like the prank element of this one. ALL THE SUSPENSE THAT BUILDS UP is wasted and it's not amusing. By the time the suspense builds up a second time, readers--if they are like me--may be over it.


© 2022 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

72. And We Rise

And We Rise. Erica Martin. 2022. 160 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: It's 1877 when
Jim Crow laws says it's
to segregate Blacks
based on the color of
their skin.

And We Rise is a free verse poetry book on the Civil Rights Movement, centering on the 1950s and 1960s.
The subject matter is heavy--weighty. These poems may best be appreciated when read slowly allowing for absorption and digestion. If you rush through the poems, I think (some) of the power of these poems is lost. 

Free verse poems. Poetry isn't for everyone. Poems can add an extra step or two (or three) to the reading process. Poems have to be unpacked and interpreted. Sometimes you have to read between the lines, look at how the words are arranged on the page, take notice of SPACE, perhaps even take time to notice what is not being said directly. 

I don't know that this would be a good introduction to the Civil Rights Movement. I think other books might be best for introducing the subject. The poems may best be appreciated by those with at least a little familiarity with the subject. You need that background to better grasp, comprehend, appreciate the poems. 

This one could definitely be used to supplement a study of the Civil Rights movement. It is good to see the subject being presented in multiple formats--graphic novels, memoirs, biographies, poetry, and even to some extent fictional novels. 


© 2022 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Monday, June 13, 2022

71. A Gambling Man

A Gambling Man. (Archer #2) David Baldacci. 2021. 432 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: With a new decade looming, Aloysius Archer was on a creaky bus headed west to California to seek as much of a life as someone like him could reasonably expect. 

Premise/plot: Archer stars in his second mystery novel in David Baldacci's A Gambling Man. (His first being One Good Deed.) Since the last book, he has been offered a job--potentially--in Bay Town, California, as a private investigator. He'll be working alongside--learning the ropes, if you will--Willie Dash. He's barely arrived in town when he's thrown in the middle of a DANGEROUS case. Within days, the body count starts to climb...and climb...and climb...and climb. His first 'real' case may just end up being his last case unless he (and Dash) can put all of the many pieces together. The case starts simply enough, his client has been threatened with blackmail...but the case is anything but simple.

My thoughts: I liked the first book better. I did. I can't help it. This book and I got off to a very rocky start. It took FOREVER for me to get into this second novel. Meandering might best fit. The novel begins with Archer on the road to Bay Town. And the book spends WAY too much time getting him there. Granted, a little back story on how he picked up his lady sidekick, Liberty, was necessary. But mystery novels shouldn't have so much extra stuff that is ultimately irrelevant and cumbersome. When it takes TOO LONG for the mystery to start--in this case, someone to be murdered--then readers get antsy, bored. It sounds horrible to admit, but, honest all the same. 

Once the mystery starts to unfold, plenty happens. I didn't stay bored with this one. It was just a rough start.


© 2022 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Friday, June 10, 2022

70. Lines of Courage

Lines of Courage. Jennifer A. Nielsen. 2022. 400 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Deep inside, Felix knew something was wrong.

Premise/plot: Lines of Courage is historical fiction (middle grade audience) set during the first world war. The novel opens on June 28, 1914 and concludes on November 11, 1918. The novel doesn't only span the entire war, it also spans Europe. There are FIVE protagonists--five protagonists from five different countries, from both sides of the war. The protagonists are Felix (from Austria-Hungary), Elsa (from Germany), Kara (from Britain), Juliette (from France) and Dimitri (from Russia). (At first I was skeptical as to how these separate stories could come together cohesively. But by the end, I saw.)

My thoughts: At first I was skeptical about having FIVE protagonists. That is a LOT of narrators for readers to have to get to know, to come to care for, to become engaged with. It is a big undertaking. For better or worse--my opinion better--the chapters do not alternate. The book is divided into five sections. Each narrator has his or her own section, and narrates a portion of the war. At the end, readers revisit all five protagonists on Armistice day (November 11).

My expectations were different coming into this one. I expected ONE narrator, one story. But by the end, I'd come around to HOW this story is told. I think it works. It may not have had me at hello, but, slowly but surely I came to care for this story. The war is bigger than one person's story. 

© 2022 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Tuesday, June 07, 2022

69. Summer of the Gypsy Moths

Summer of the Gypsy Moths. Sara Pennypacker. 2012. 275 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: The earth spins at a thousand miles an hour. Sometimes when I remember this, it's all I can do to stay upright--the urge to flatten myself to the ground and clutch hold is that strong. 

Premise/plot: I hope YOU do not judge books by their covers. Sometimes covers lie. They don't truly capture the truth, the whole truth, of a book. (Probably rarely do cover the whole truth). But I do think books should capture the tone/essence of a book. This book looks whimsical, sweet, wholesome, adorable, light-hearted, feel-good, delightful. It is anything but. 

Stella lives with her great-aunt Louise. Louise has not only taken in her great-niece, Stella, but has also taken another foster child into her home. Angel and Stella don't always see things eye to eye, but, they will through the course of this book when circumstances change.

Stella is hoping that her mother (who abandoned her) will return by the end of the summer. Stella (and Angel) just have to hold on until the end of summer, right? How hard can it be???

My thoughts: Summer of the Gypsy Moths probably is in my top five books of MOST DISTURBING BOOKS WRITTEN AND PUBLISHED FOR CHILDREN list. Emphasis, MY list. I am sure there are PLENTY of books that I have yet to discover that could make this list. I don't seek out disturbing books. Well, I guess that could be debated. I do read some books with heavy, weighty subjects. 

What makes Summer of Gypsy Moths disturbing???? Well. Let's just say their guardian, Louise, doesn't survive the first few chapters. (Perhaps even dying in chapter one? maybe, maybe chapter two?) Plenty of children's books deal with death and dying. But not many go the direction this one does....














Angel and Stella (two eleven year olds) decide NOT to report Louise's death. And it takes them a while (perhaps days, maybe even a week? a little longer?) to decide WHAT to do with her body. In the meanwhile, as they are debating betwixt themselves, just grab the Febreze and spray, spray, spray. Eventually, they agree to bury her in the garden--by themselves--still not alerting anyone about her death. The girls will go on living in their home and tending to themselves. If adults should ask questions about Louise (and they do), just lie, lie, lie, lie, lie. 

It isn't until Stella comes to the hard realization that her mother may not return anytime soon--at the end of summer--that she thoughtfully considers putting an end to this game.And I do think the girls almost think of it as a game--playing grown-up and seeing how long they can go on without getting caught. So MONTHS go by essentially.

Eventually, the girls will need to face consequences, BUT, those consequences are essentially non-existent. Angel finds an aunt to take her in. And Stella enters the foster care system. But no adult or community of adults--not police officers, not social workers, not mental health professionals, not journalists--seem to care at all--even a little bit--about what the girls have done. Covering up a death, burying a body, and telling hundreds of lies. Maybe you think the girls haven't done anything criminal exactly--maybe you do--but let's take a moment or two to think MENTAL HEALTH. Don't these girls need some help or intervention???? Even if it is just to work through the trauma of it all??? But NOPE, everything is 100% okay. 

I had some issues with George. George seems to be the only human being in this town that even ventures forth to ask the occasional question about Louise. And he even admits later that the girls lies shouldn't have been convincing, that he was a fool to believe them for a second. Yet this man, this man who essentially believed those lies--no matter how silly and stupid--is capable of taking Stella in as a foster child????? I have questions.


© 2022 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Monday, June 06, 2022

68. The Bachelor and the Bride

The Bachelor and the Bride. (The Dread Penny Society #4) Sarah M. Eden. 2022. [September] 368 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: London was no place for the faint of heart. Fortunately for Barnabus Milligan, he'd stopped listening to that organ long ago. 

Premise/plot: The Bachelor and the Bride is the fourth book in the Dread Penny Society series by Sarah M. Eden. Each book in the series features characters who are also authors of penny dreadfuls. Readers are treated to two penny dreadfuls in addition to the actual romance/story. This formula also proves true for this latest novel. The two penny dreadful serials we are following are "The Bachelor and the Bride" by Mr. King and "Bodies of Light" by Dr. Barnabus Milligan. (The two serials could not be more different!) 

So throughout the series--previous three books--the Dread Penny Society have been on the case--or on the chase, if you prefer, to bringing down (unmasking) the Mastiff who has been terrorizing parts of London. In particular the weakest, most vulnerable communities of London. Each novel--four now--has been working towards this goal...the mystery element of his identity and his ultimate goal have been slow to reveal. (As has the identity of the Dread Penny Master, by the way). But the "big" reveal in this fourth book, is, well, I will never be the one to spoil a novel before it's even released. But let's just say that there is more than one villain in London.

The heroine of The Bachelor and The Bride is Gemma Kincaid, a woman with a shady family history. She's incredibly ashamed of her family--with good reason--and wants NOTHING at all to do with their evil schemes and fortunes. The man who rescued her is Dr. Barnabus Milligan; and that rescue involved saying I do. But though "rescued" in one sense, Gemma is still very lost...and her husband is in part to blame. 

My thoughts: If I had the time, I would love to read the series back to back. All four novels over the course of a month, let's say, I think my overall reaction would change. It is just plain hard to wait a year for each book and then be able to jump straight back into the action and remember WHO all the characters are and their relationships to one another. Each novel features a new romance--which is always a bonus. But still there is an interconnected story that progresses with each book. 

I definitely enjoyed the serial "The Bachelor and the Bride" by "Mr." King. I don't always love, love, love these penny dreadfuls that are bonus stories essentially. Sometimes I do. 

I would say that the pace was so-so and the story was just okay for me....until I reached a certain part in the story where the intensity was cranked up. THE LAST FEW CHAPTERS, oh my!!!!! It's like the climaxes of all four books come together in this one novel...and without warning...we've got the mystery finally beginning to pay off. Not that there is resolution...there is absolutely NO RESOLUTION. It ends on a big cliff hanger. 


© 2022 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Saturday, June 04, 2022

67. The Peach Rebellion

The Peach Rebellion. Wendelin Van Draanen. 2022. 416 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence from the prologue: It's August sixteenth. My birthday. I wake up before sunup, excited.

Premise/plot: The Peach Rebellion is historical fiction with dual narration. Our two heroines are Peggy Simmons and Ginny Rose Gilley. These two were friends as children, but life has pulled them in different directions, until now. Now eleven years later, these two friends are reuniting. But they've grown and changed in oh so many ways. The Gilley family migrated to California from Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl. Life has been HARD, tremendously hard. The Simmons family isn't rich by any means, but they are rich by comparison. They have their own farm--growing and selling peaches. Neither family is super-excited that the girls are becoming friends again. Another person who shows some dissatisfaction with this new (old) friendship is Lisette Bovee, the banker's daughter. 

The historical setting is California in the summer of 1947.

My thoughts: I wanted to (but didn't) love this one. There were things that I liked about it. I think I liked the characters at their core. I liked Peggy and Ginny Rose. I even grew to tolerate Lisette. (Mostly I wanted to yell at Lisette.) But I definitely did not like the story or the direction the story goes. A different story with these characters I could easily see myself enjoying more. I liked the coming-of-age elements of this one. And how each of the girls is handling the new responsibilities that come with growing up. Including an interest in boys. There is a we're-in-this-together element that I definitely enjoyed.

So what didn't I like about the story itself? I thought it was MORBID. Morbid and weird. The major plot of this one involves, well, something a bit unusual...and dark. In my opinion. Reading is subjective. Maybe other readers won't find it so unpleasant?



Read at your own risk, spoilers ahead.

So in the prologue (when the main characters are around seven), Ginny Rose goes with her father to bury her younger (twins???) brothers who died of disease in one of the migrant camps. (Remember this was during the Dust Bowl, the big migration to California, and during the Great Depression as well.) That's not the morbid part, not really. Now as a teen (seventeen? eighteen?) Ginny Rose is determined (with the help of her friends) to go on a journey to discover the unmarked grave of her brothers and bring home their bodies. Maybe it is 100% me. Maybe teens wouldn't mind at all trekking across the country in a "borrowed" family truck with a couple of shovels on a mission to dig up dead bodies. But for me, well, it isn't so much the desire to give closure to the family by giving them a proper burial and an actual marked grave that is disturbing, but the hands-on and SURPRISE element of it. They are going to sneak out on their own and SURPRISE their family with the bodies in the back of the truck. And that just doesn't sound like something you should just surprise someone with. Or maybe again that's just me???

© 2022 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews