Saturday, July 30, 2022

July Reflections

In July I read fifty-six books! Of those fifty-six books, forty-two were for Young Readers!!! By far the most I've read for that "middle baby" blog of mine. I was able to reread some great books, but I also found new favorites. I also have reached 250 for the yearly total!!!

Books Reviewed at Becky's Book Reviews

81. The Lightning Thief. Rick Riordan. 2005. 377 pages. [Source: Library]
82. Dream Town. (Archer #3) David Baldacci. 2022. 432 pages. [Source: Library]
83. A Talent to Deceive: The Search for the Real Killer of the Lindbergh Baby. William Norris. 2020. 384 pages. [Source: Review copy]
84. Wretched Waterpark (Sinister Summer Series #1) Kiersten White. 2022. [June] 256 pages. [Source: Library]
85. Escape. K.R. Alexander. 2022. 240 pages. [Source: Library]
86. The Sea of Monsters. (Percy Jackson and the Olympians #2) Rick Riordan. 2006. 279 pages. [Source: Library]
87. The Star That Always Stays. Anna Rose Johnson. 2022. 224 pages. [Source: Library]
88. The Titan's Curse. (Percy Jackson and the Olympians #3) Rick Riordan. 2007. 320 pages. [Source: Library]
89. Mystery in the Mansion (Case Closed #1) Lauren Magaziner. 2018. 390 pages. [Source: Library]
90. Stolen from the Studio (Case Closed #2) Lauren Magaziner. 2019. 480 pages. [Source: Library]
91. The Ogress and the Orphans. Kelly Barnhill. 2022. [March] 400 pages. [Source: Library]

Books Reviewed at Young Readers

79. Eerie Elementary: The School Is Alive. Jack Chabert. Illustrated by Sam Ricks. 2014. 96 pages. [Source: Library]
80. The Ember Stone (The Last Firehawk #1) Katrina Charman. Illustrated by Jeremy Norton. 2017. 96 pages. [Source: Library]
81. Mindy Kim and the Yummy Seaweed Business (Mindy Kim #1) Lyla Lee. Illustrated by Dung Ho. 2020. 96 pages. [Source: Library]
82. Pizza and Taco: Too Cool for School. (Pizza and Taco #4) Stephen Shashkan. 2022. [June] 72 pages. [Source: Library]

83. Robo-Dodo Rumble (Didi Dodo, Future Spy #2) Tom Angleberger. Illustrated by Jared Chapman. 2019. 128 pages. [Source: Library]
84. Doggo and Pupper (Doggo and Pupper #1) Katherine Applegate. Illustrated by Charlie Alder. 2021. 96 pages. [Source: Library]
85. Charlie and Mouse: Lost and Found, (Charlie & Mouse #5) Laurel Snyder. Illustrated by Emily Hughes. 52 pages. [Source: Library]
86. The Candy Caper (Trouble at Table 5 #1) Tom Watson. 96 pages. [Source: Library]
87. Double-O Dodo (Didi Dodo, Future Spy #3) Tom Angleberger. 2021. 128 pages. [Source: Library]
88. Ways to Share Joy. Renee Watson. 2022. [September] 208 pages. [Source: Review copy]
89. Busted by Breakfast (Trouble at Table 5 #2) Tom Watson. 2020. 96 pages. [Source: Library]
90. Duckscares #1: The Nightmare Formula. Tommy Greenwald. 2021. 208 pages. [Source: Review copy]
91. I Am Lucille Ball. Brad Meltzer. Illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos. 2015. 40 pages. [Source: Library]
92. Who Was E.B. White? Gail Herman. 2022. 112 pages. [Source: Library]
93. Cat Crusader (Max Meow #1) John Gallagher. 2020. 240 pages. [Source: Library]
94. Cat Ninja (book 1) The Silent Master of Kat Fu. Matthew Cody. Illustrated by Yehudi Mercado. 2020. 160 pages. [Source: Library]
95. Mia Mayhem Is a Superhero! Kara West. Illustrated by Leeza Hernandez. 2018. 128 pages. [Source: Library]
96. A Perfect Fit: How Lena "Lane" Bryant Changed the Shape of Fashion. Mara Rockliff. Illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal. 2022. 32 pages. [Source: Library]
97. Daisy Dreamer and the Totally True Imaginary Friend. (Daisy Dreamer #1) Holly Anna. Illustrated by Genevieve Santos. 2017. 128 pages. [Source: Library]
98. Wish. Barbara O'Connor. 2016. FSG. 240 pages. [Source: Library]
99. Inspector Flytrap: The President's Mane is Missing. (Inspector Flytrap #2) Tom Angleberger. Illustrated by Cece Bell. 2016. 112 pages. [Source: Library]
100. The Firefly Fix (Trouble at Table 5 #3) Tom Watson. Illustrated by Marta Kissi. 2020. 96 pages. [Source: Library]
101. Out in the Wild (Bug Scouts) Mike Lowery. 2022. 64 pages. [Source: Library]
102. Welcome to the Creature Cafe (The Aristokittens #1) Jennifer Castle. 2022. 128 pages. [Source: Library]
103. Waffles and Pancake: Planetary Yum (Waffles and Pancake #1) 2021. [October 26] 64 pages. [Source: Library]
104. Cornbread and Poppy at the Carnival. (Cornbread and Poppy #2) Matthew Cordell. 2022. [May] 80 pages. [Source: Library]
105. Survival Tails #1: The Titanic. Katrina Charman. Illustrated by Owen Richardson. 2018. 224 pages. [Source: Library]
106. Nacho's Nachos: The Story Behind the World's Favorite Snack. Sandra Nickel. Illustrated by Oliver Dominguez. 2020. 32 pages. [Source: Library]
107. Hattie Harmony: Worry-Detective. Elizabeth Olsen and Robbie Arnett. Illustrated by Marissa Valdez. 2022. 40 pages. [Source: Library]
108. The Purrfect Show (Home for Meow #1) Reese Eschmann. 2022. 128 pages. [Source: Library]
109. Show and Tail (Home for Meow #2) Reese Eschmann. 2022. 144 pages. [Source: Library]
110. Endurance in Antarctica (Survival Tails #2) Katrina Charman. 2018. 272 pages. [Source: Library]
111. Tide Pool Troubles (Shelby & Watts) Ashlyn Anstee. 2021. [September] 96 pages. [Source: Library]
112. The Great Biscuit Bake-Off. (Aristokittens #2) Jennifer Castle. 2022. 128 pages. [Source: Library]
113. Fitz and Cleo #1 Jonathan Stutzman. 2021. Illustrated by Heather Fox. 64 pages. [Source: Library]
114. This Is My Daddy. Mies van Hout. 2020. 32 pages. [Source: Library]
115. Do Baby Elephants Suck Their Trunks: Amazing Ways Animals Are Just Like Us. Ben Lerwill. Illustrated by Katherine McEwen. 2022. 32 pages. [Source: Library]
116. Everything In Its Place: A Story of Books and Belonging. Pauline David-Sax. Illustrated by Charnelle Pinkney Barlow. 2022. 40 pages. [Source: Library]
117. Baby Squeaks. Anne Hunter. 2022. 40 pages. [Source: Library]
118. Marco Polo Brave Explorer (Book Buddies #2) Cynthia Lord. Illustrated by Stephanie Graegin. 2022. 80 pages. [Source: Library]
119. Fitz and Cleo Get Creative (Fitz and Cleo #2) Jonathan Stutzman and Heather Fox. 2022. [March] 80 pages. [Source: Library]
120. Lily to the Rescue (Lily to the Rescue #1) W. Bruce Cameron. 2020. 128 pages. [Source: Library]

Books Reviewed at Operation Actually Read Bible

26. The Brilliance of Stars. (Jack and Ivy #1) J'nell Ciesielski. 2022. [November] 352 pages. [Source: Review copy]
27. The Dragon Stone. (The Dream Keeper Saga #1) Kathryn L. Butler. 2022. 240 pages. [Source: Review copy]
28. The London House. Katherine Reay. 2021. [November] 368 pages. [Source: Library]

Bibles Reviewed at Operation Actually Read Bible

0 for this month.

July Totals

July reads
# of books56
# of pages9298

2022 Yearly Totals

2022 Totals
# of books250
# of pages74655

© 2022 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

91. The Ogress and Orphans

The Ogress and the Orphans. Kelly Barnhill. 2022. [March] 400 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Listen. This is a story about an ogress. She is not who you might think she is. (But really, is anyone?) The Ogress lived in a crooked house at the far edge of town. She enjoyed baking and gardening and counting the stars. Like all ogres, the Ogress was quite tall—even sizable adults would have to crane their necks and squint a bit to say hello. She had feet the size of tortoises, hands the size of heron’s wings, and a broad, broad brow that cracked and creased when she concentrated.

No matter how I describe the plot or premise of this one, I won't be able to do it justice. I could say it is set in the town of Stone-in-the-Glen. (Because it is). And the town has fallen on very hard times. (It had). No one feels the hardship more than the orphans. (Definitely true.) The town's biggest loss is the loss of kindness, compassion, empathy, neighborliness. The Mayor certainly doesn't promote any of these virtues. (Far from it.) But someone hasn't forgotten the town of Stone-in-the-Glen. That someone is the Ogress....

The Ogress and the Orphans had me at hello. I wasn't sold on the cover. It didn't scream out read me, read me. If I'm honest (which I strive to be) then the opposite is true. An Ogress???? Why would I read a book, a long book at that, about an ogress? But the opening chapter(s) won me over completely. There's a chapter about an Ogress, a chapter about the Dragon, and a chapter about the town, and perhaps a chapter about the orphans. (Unless the orphans are part of the town chapter???) But with just a few pages, I was HOOKED. 

I loved the narration. I loved the narrative style. The writing is excellent--above and beyond excellent. (Mind you, I'm not saying it is excellent "for a children's book." I make no distinction in excellence. It is excellent period. I do think readers of any and every age could very well fall in love with this one just as I have. 

I am not an expert in distinguishing between a parable and an allegory. I'm not sure there is a distinct, definite difference. I don't feel this is a story where you can say this character stands in for so-and-so and this symbolizes that. I do think it paints grand, broad pictures that are timeless and universal. The main theme of the novel is WHAT IS A NEIGHBOR? 


Like all ogres, she spoke little and thought much. She was careful and considerate. Her heavy feet trod lightly on the ground.
This is also a story about a family of orphans. There were fifteen orphans living in the Orphan House at the time our story begins, several years after the Ogress first arrived in town. There were too many children for one house, but they made do. Their names were Anthea, Bartleby, Cassandra (who preferred Cass), Dierdre, Elijah, Fortunate, Gratitude, Hiram, Iggy, Justina, Kye, Lily, Maude, and the babies, Nanette and Orpheus. They were good children, these orphans: studious and hardworking and kind. And they loved one another dearly, ever so much more than they loved themselves.

The Ogress, too, was hardworking and kind and generous. She also loved others more than she loved herself. This can be a problem, of course. Sometimes. But it can also be a solution. Let me show you how.

This is also a story about a dragon. I do not like to talk about him much. I don’t even like to think about him.
I should clarify: It is not my intention to speak ill of dragons generally. It is a terrible practice to prejudge anyone, be they ogres or orphans or dragons or nosy neighbors or assistant principals or people with unusual manners. It is important, always, to treat everyone with compassion and respect. This is well known.
As for dragons in particular, they are as diverse in their dispositions as any other creature.
He delighted in discord and sowed acrimony wherever he went. These are all large words, and I apologize for them. But my feelings about this dragon are large.
I would like nothing more than to tell you that every person—human, dragon, or any other kind of creature—is fundamentally good. But I can’t tell you that, because it is not in my nature to lie. Everyone starts fundamentally good, in my experience, and nearly everyone stays mostly good for the most part. But some . . . well. They choose to do bad things. No one knows why. And then a small number of those choose to stay bad. I wish it weren’t true. But it’s best you know this now, at the beginning of this book. Every story has a villain, after all. And every villain has a story.

The children in the Orphan House grew up next door to the remains of the Library. They could smell the smoke and ash. At night, the ghosts of old books haunted their dreams.
After the Library burned, the town’s school, too, burned down. A tragic coincidence, everyone agreed. They held on to one another and grieved. Soon after, several other buildings burned as well—homes, shops, beloved spaces—in a rash of fires that spanned a little more than a year.

If you were to ask the Ogress how long it took her to finish building her crooked little house, she would likely be baffled by the question.
It isn’t that time works differently for ogres—how could it? Time is time.
And yet.
We might think time is stable and consistent—seconds and minutes assembled like marks on a ruler—but that isn’t true at all. Time stretches and bunches and wobbles about. It loops and twists, and sometimes lays itself flat and sometimes ties itself in knots. A stone buried in the earth experiences time differently than a comet hurtling through space.

“Have you visited the Library yet?”
If the answer was no, then the people would grasp at their hearts and say, “Oh, but you must! Let us go this very minute!”
If the answer was yes, then the people would grasp at their hearts and say, “Oh, but only one time? That isn’t nearly enough! Let us return at once!”
It was said that the Library housed the heart of the town. And the mind of the town. It had stately towers of carved stone, and wide windows, and books so numerous they seemed to bend both space and time. What a lucky town, people said, to have such a marvel in their midst! How lucky indeed.
So imagine, then, what the town must have felt like on the night of the fire. I was there. I heard each heart crack, one by one. I heard the guttural cries as they watched the building collapse into an ashy heap on the ground.
On that terrible night, before the panicked townsfolk arrived with their buckets, I saw the shine of a dragon emerging at the foot of the building. I saw the glint of malevolence in its eye.

Anthea’s face produced tears and snot in great waves that poured onto her dress. Myron gave her a handkerchief, which she soaked through almost immediately. “Are you hungry?” he asked. “Being hungry can profoundly disrupt the mood. Perhaps you need something to eat.”

Dragons, as we all know, are as unique as snowflakes, as unique as fingerprints, as unique as a particular baby’s laugh to its particular mother. Some dragons are funny. Others are known for their prodigious kindness. Some dragons are shy. Some are studious. Some are generous. Dragons, by and large, have glittering personalities: they are quick-witted, erudite, and persuasive. They are in possession of a small amount of magic, which assists them as they move about their days. Their magic allows them to fly, breathe fire, and camouflage their great bodies to blend in with their surroundings. It comes at a physical cost, of course—it gives them dreadful dyspeptic stomachaches, for starters, and it starts to whittle away at their health and vigor, and, over time, even their size—which is why they use it rarely.

The orphans, as I mentioned before, were curious children. And the Orphan House’s collection was surprisingly large—there were more books than the space seemed to allow.
This is not unusual. Books, after all, have their own peculiar gravity, given the collective weight of words and thoughts and ideas. Just as the gravitational field around a black hole bends and wobbles the space around it, so, too, does the tremendous mass of ideas of a large collection of books create its own dense gravity. Space gets funny around books.

Your neighbor, you see, is anyone. A person. A person who thinks and breathes and worries and loves. That person is your neighbor.

What is a neighbor? the book asked, yet again. A neighbor is similar to you. Or they are different from you. Or they are equal parts similar and different. A neighbor shares all your values. Or some of them. Or none of them. A neighbor is someone you care about anyway. A neighbor is someone who helps you for no reason at all.
A neighbor exists without condition—if I were to declare that this person is my neighbor and that person is not, then it is I, and not they, who have failed at neighborliness. It is only by claiming all as your neighbors, and behaving as though all are your neighbors, that we become good neighbors ourselves. The act of being a good neighbor must always begin with us.

The people of Stone-in-the-Glen thought about the many times that they had passed by the Ogress’s house and didn’t say hello. How they didn’t offer her welcome when she arrived. They thought about the no more ogres sign, and they felt ashamed. They thought about the books are dangerous sign, too, and they started to wonder.

One by one, the people of Stone-in-the-Glen looked up. They looked one another in the eye. They waved. They noticed for the first time there was a bit of a ruckus near the center of town. The sound of children laughing with one another. The sound of crows calling and calling and calling. One by one, the people of Stone-in-the-Glen stood and followed the sound.

What is a neighbor? the book asked. A neighbor is someone who brings soup. Or bread. Or open arms. A neighbor is ready to help with the roof that has caved in, or the garden that needs turning, or with safe shelter during a terrible night. Your neighbor, you see, is anyone. A person. A person who thinks and breathes and worries and loves. That person is your neighbor.



© 2022 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Thursday, July 28, 2022

90. Stolen from the Studio

Stolen from the Studio (Case Closed #2) Lauren Magaziner. 2019. 480 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: "Are we there yet?" Frank asks for the millionth billionth time. "No," I sigh. "Are we there yet now?" "No," my best friend, Eliza, says through gritted teeth.

Premise/plot: Stolen from the Studio is the second in an interactive choose-your-own-adventure style mystery novel. Carlos, Eliza, and Frank are back for another adventure--or misadventure. Carlos' mom has been hired by a studio executive to find a missing television star, Layla Jay. Teen Witch was supposed to resume filming the third season, but, the actresses' disappearance has halted things. So the mom and three kid-detectives (or defectives as Frank likes to introduce themselves) are heading to Burbank, California, to solve the case. Technically, the three are just along for the ride. They are not supposed to get carried away and insert themselves into the case. But. We all know that if she truly wanted the kids to NOT get involved in another case, she'd have found a babysitter. (And why bring a friend and friend's little brother???) 

Our three amateur detectives have plenty of people to "interview" and plenty of scenes to investigate. Will their involvement lead to triumph or disaster?

My thoughts: I definitely enjoyed this one. I think the second novel has definitely increased in intensity. The stakes are higher, in my opinion. The children face real danger as they risk it all to solve the case. (This choose-your-own-adventure still isn't as dangerous as Oregon Trail, mind you. More failures abound in Oregon Trail than in Stolen From the Studio.) 

Choose your own adventure novels may not be known for their substance--fully fleshed out stories and well developed characters. But I was pleasantly surprised by both Mystery in the Mansion and Stolen from the Studio. It is still very much a premise-driven, plot-driven, action-packed adventure. But attention has been paid to details. I like how fleshed out the whole story is when you take the time to read all the various paths. 

It does require a bit suspension of disbelief--that a detective agency from a small(er) town is called to Hollywood (essentially) to solve a missing persons case instead of local or federal agencies that are designed to do just that. But still, the book is fun.


© 2022 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

89. Mystery in the Mansion

Mystery in the Mansion (Case Closed #1) Lauren Magaziner. 2018. 390 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Rrrrrrriiiiiiinnnnngggg!!!! Rrriiinnngggggg! Mom's alarm clock goes off for the second time this morning. It rattles through my wall.

Premise/plot: Long story short: a CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE mystery novel for elementary/middle grades. Carlos Serrano, our protagonist, is teaming up with his best friend, Eliza, and Eliza's little brother, Frank, to solve mysteries for his mom's detective agency. The agency is having a bit of trouble. They need cases--successful cases. But when his mom is too sick to work, well, Carlos decides to play detective. A choice that will either be hugely successful or total failure. And part of that depends on you the reader....

The case YOU will be helping Carlos (and friends) solve involves a local millionaire receiving death threats. The first person Carlos [and the reader] will be meeting is the victim of these threats....from there the opportunities abound. There are dozens of places where the reader will decide what happens next...

My thoughts: I thought this was a FUN and DELIGHTFUL mystery. I liked this 'choose your own adventure' aspect to the mystery. It was well thought out. Unlike the choose your own adventure Oregon Trail series, Magaziner manages to still tell essentially one cohesive story. That is, that though the paths may vary, there is only ONE guilty party. And the clues that you find on *every* path could ultimately help you solve the case. Or almost every path. There are still a few paths that end within pages and don't really contribute to the overall story. But it isn't so much finding the one and only path that will lead you to success. I appreciated this. It felt logical to me. It doesn't matter if person X is interviewed first or third in the line of suspects, the information is going to stay constant. And you can take multiple paths and get a fully rounded set of clues. 

The puzzles. For some readers the puzzles will be a HUGE bonus. For me personally, the puzzles were the least favorite aspect of this one. I didn't really want to actually have to do the puzzles, so I just randomly chose options. (Well, perhaps not completely random. My first time through this one, I just picked the first option for every choice. I then went back and visited other paths.)

I would recommend this one.


© 2022 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Sunday, July 24, 2022

88. The Titan's Curse

The Titan's Curse. (Percy Jackson and the Olympians #3) Rick Riordan. 2007. 320 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: The Friday before winter break, my mom packed me an overnight bag and a few deadly weapons and took me to a new boarding school. We picked up my friends Annabeth and Thalia on the way.
It was an eight-hour drive from New York to Bar Harbor, Maine. Sleet and snow pounded the highway. Annabeth, Thalia, and I hadn't seen each other in months, but between the blizzard and the thought of what we were about to do, we were too nervous to talk much. Except for my mom. She talks more when she's nervous. By the time we finally got to Westover hall, it was getting dark, and she'd told Annabeth and Thalia every embarrassing baby story there was to tell about me.
Thalia wiped the fog off the car window and peered outside. "Oh yeah. This'll be fun."
Westover Hall looked like an evil knight's castle. It was all black stone, with towers and slit windows and a big set of wooden double doors. It stood on a snowy cliff overlooking this big frosty forest on one side and the gray churning ocean on the other.
"Are you sure you don't want me to wait?" my mother asked.
"No, thanks, Mom," I said. "I don't know how long it will take. We'll be okay."
"But how will you get back? I'm worried, Percy."
I hoped I wasn't blushing. It was bad enough I had to depend on my mom to drive me to my battles.

Premise/plot:  The stakes have never been higher in the third adventure in the Percy Jackson fantasy series by Rick Riordan. The quest(s) in this third book make the other quests [in books one and two] seem easy-breezy. 

While The Titan's Curse certainly stars some of our well-known and well-loved cast [from previous books], plenty of new characters--both demi-god, god, and monster--are introduced and play integral roles. Like Bianca and Nico. This is also the first book where readers get a chance to learn about the newly resurrected from the dead, Thalia. [She was technically a tree for all of book one and most of book two.] 

Like the previous two books, this one mainly occurs outside of Camp Half-blood and involves a quest....or should that be quests. Because the stakes have never been higher, there will be BIG consequences if the quest goes anything like the prophecy foretells. And Percy, well, he may have to live with the fall out....

My thoughts: I really enjoyed this one! I did. The only one in the series that I am super familiar with is the first book, The Lightning Thief. Reading book two and three is like reading them again for the very first time. And that is such a delight. I think there are pros and cons to waiting so very long to reread a series you've adored in the past. I am loving the characters. I am enjoying the action. I am remembering all the reasons why I made my mom read this series with me.

© 2022 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Friday, July 22, 2022

87. The Star That Always Stays

The Star That Always Stays. Anna Rose Johnson. 2022. 224 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: I'm standing before the castle-like structure of Boyne City High School, staring at its gleaming windows, my heart filling with the anticipation of beginning the journey into higher education. 

Premise/plot: The Star That Always Stays is historical fiction set circa 1914/1915. It very roughly follows the protagonist's first year of high school. It is very much a coming of age novel. Norvia Nelson, our protagonist, is processing a LOT. Her father is long gone; her mother is remarrying after their divorce; she'll have new step-siblings; she'll be in a new house; she'll be starting high school...and she's Ojibwe. (Or half-Ojibwe). Perhaps because of how her father cruelly used their heritage against them in arguments (he was verbally abusive) perhaps because of the times, Norvia's mother has asked all of her children to keep their native heritage hush-hush. 

At first Norvia is hesitant and skeptical of "Uncle Virgil" and her new step-brother, Vernon. She's worried that her mother is being foolish and naive. That this rushed marriage is a big, big mistake. They come from two different worlds after all. But slowly and surely over the course of an entire year, Norvia changes her mind. 

My thoughts: The Star That Always Stays is an incredibly slow novel that is character-driven. Don't expect action, adventure, or excitement. The most excitement you can expect (and do expect it!) is when Norvia discovers a new book to love, a new character to emulate or admire. She's a sensible character not prone to dramatic hysterics. She does have a younger sister (Dicta) that is an absolute HOOT. She's a scene-stealer for sure. But this is a quiet-book with a quiet-heroine with subtle themes and tones.

I didn't fall for this novel from the start. I did think it was a bit slow. But somewhere in the middle, well, I can't even explain when or where or how, I realized that I was in love with this book. 

I loved, loved, loved, loved, loved the slow-build relationship between Norvia and her stepfather....and her slow-build relationship with her step-brother. (The other step-siblings are older and married. And they don't enter into the story as much.)

The book is based on the author's own family history. 


"But you have to realize that life does change. Things will be different, always. There's only one thing you can control."
"What?" Norvia murmured.
"The way you handle those changes. You're in complete control of yourself and how you adjust and respond. And," said Uncle Virgil, breaking off and smiling, "there is Someone on whom you can always rely--completely. He will never fail you. Christmas is a good time to remember that Jesus is always there for us, caring for us."


© 2022 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Sunday, July 17, 2022

86. The Sea of Monsters

The Sea of Monsters. (Percy Jackson and the Olympians #2) Rick Riordan. 2006. 279 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: My nightmare started like this. I was standing on a deserted street in some little beach town. It was the middle of the night. A storm was blowing. Wind and rain ripped at the palm trees along the sidewalk. Pink and yellow stucco buildings lined the street, their windows boarded up. A block away, past a line of hibiscus bushes, the ocean churned. Florida, I thought.

Premise/plot: The Sea of Monsters is the sequel to The Lightning Thief. A year has passed since the events of the first [fantasy] novel. Percy will soon be returning to Camp Half-blood and rejoining his friends, frenemies, and perhaps actual enemies. He's been having troubling dreams the past few days--mainly concerning his friend Grover. He senses danger. He just doesn't know how grave the danger is...for all of them. The tree that [helps] protect the camp from monsters is dying; it has in fact been poisoned. To save the camp may require another quest, but, not everyone thinks the camp needs to be saved. (Could their be traitors at camp still???) 

Annabeth, Percy, and TYSON (a new character introduced) team up to save Grover...but their quest is UNofficial. They do not have permission to leave camp let alone permission to go on a quest for the golden fleece. Their quest will not take them all across the United States but down to Florida to THE SEA OF MONSTERS which is off the coast of Florida. They'll face monsters, monsters, and more monsters. But will their quest be successful?

My thoughts: I have so many memories of The Lightning Thief. Every chapter of the first novel is super familiar. But there was something delightful about reading this second novel. It has been so many years since I first read it (it would have been circa 2006), that it was like experiencing this fantasy-adventure-questing novel for the first time...again. That is rare (in my opinion.) 

I liked Tyson. I did. I missed Grover being an active part of their adventure, but I didn't blame Tyson for being a replacement of sorts. Grover is in the book, just, not an active part of the quest. He's the point of the quest. I thought there were some great character-building scenes in this one. I thought we got a chance to better get to know Annabeth. The siren sequence was quite something. Percy truly risked all--not only for Annabeth, but later for Grover and for Tyson.


© 2022 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

85. Escape

Escape. K.R. Alexander. 2022. 240 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Escape your troubles! Escape to adventure! It was the same tagline Cody had read a hundred times. But he still felt a thrill every time he read it. ESCAPE wasn't just a theme park. It was an Event. A Happening. It promised everything a kid could want, and more. Want to cast magical spells in cutting-edge VR? Done. Fly among dragons and dinosaurs on a real live hang glider? No problem. Eat all the junk food you can stomach and stay up until four in the morning? Go for it. ESCAPE was built to cater to dreams. Whatever you wanted, whenever you wanted it--the moment you stepped foot within the park's door, it was yours. And the best part? No. Adults. Allowed.

Premise/plot: A new theme park, ESCAPE, will be opening soon. And the tickets are quite exclusive--just a hundred tickets. Unless you are somebody who is SOMEBODY. The first seventy invites go to celebrities. But the last thirty tickets, well, anyone can enter the drawing. It will be completely random. But will Cody, our hero, be one of those thirty???? (Of course, or this would be a very, very, very short book). But will Cody want to escape from ESCAPE? 

My thoughts: I thought this was a good action-packed mystery-thriller. Cody and his new (celebrity) friends will have to work as a team if they hope to survive what is supposed to be the greatest week of their lives. The focus is on the many aspects of the theme park--all the attractions, all the themed sections. There's a good bit of characterization of those three characters--Cody, Inga, and Jayson. The other 90 plus kids not so much. But I wouldn't expect there to be. This is Hunger Games + Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. 

I liked it for the most part. It is definitely a premise-driven, plot-driven thriller. But I think it is entertaining.


© 2022 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Monday, July 11, 2022

84. Wretched Waterpark

Wretched Waterpark (Sinister Summer Series #1) Kiersten White. 2022. [June] 256 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Their aunt was decidedly Sinister. But only because she was from their mother's side of the family. If she had been from their father's side of the family, she would have been decidedly Winterbottom. It had been a great trial for each of the Sinister-Winterbottom children to learn how to write their own names, something their usually thoughtful parents had neglected to think through.

Premise/plot: Wil (Wilhelmina), Theo (Theodora) and Alexander have been dropped off at their Aunt Saffronia's house for the summer, presumably. It all happened so suddenly. The aunt seems just as puzzled by the arrangement as they are. (Or is she???) But her idea of taking care of the children in (Wil is 16; the twins Theo and Alex are 12) involves buying them week-long passes for the local water part. But this isn't any ordinary water part. It is a gothic/goth waterpark that is decidedly odd and potentially sinister. With each moment spent at the park, the creepiness increases--or their awareness of the creepiness increases. Will these three children survive their week at the waterpark?

My thoughts:  If you are looking for a whimsical read with eerie, creepy atmosphere and plenty of mystery and suspense, this one may be for you. This isn't my favorite genre, however, the narrative style hooked me. Even though I don't seek out creepy-creep books that special in gothic atmosphere and unexplained mysteries, once I started reading chapter one, I just had to keep reading.


© 2022 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Saturday, July 09, 2022

83. A Talent to Deceive

A Talent to Deceive: The Search for the Real Killer of the Lindbergh Baby. William Norris. 2020. 384 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: On the night of March 1, 1932, a small child was taken from his bedroom in a lonely house near Hopewell, New Jersey. A ransom note was discovered, and a demand of $50,000 paid by the distraught parents. But the little boy never came home. His body was later found some two miles away, decomposed almost beyond recognition.

A Talent To Deceive is true crime nonfiction. It highlights the injustice and absolute absurdity of the investigation, trial, and appeal process. The crime being that of the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby. From day one it was a total disaster--if the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth is what guides you. 

The presentation itself was a bit messy here and there. It perhaps could have been better organized. But even with its tiny 'flaws' it remains fascinating. (At least to me). So, in no particular order, the book is about: a) how the author became interested in the case b) the bare basic essentials of the crime c) background information on the Morrow and Lindbergh families d) the million mistakes made in every stage of this case e) potential suspects f) red herring suspects g) the trial itself h) the appeal process. 

The book essentially argues that the man arrested, charged, convicted, and sentenced to die--Bruno Richard Hauptmann--was innocent. At the very, very least innocent of kidnapping the Lindbergh baby, and innocent of murdering the toddler. Perhaps, he was guilty of coming into possession of *some* of the $50,000 ransom. In other words, he was found to have some of the ransom in his home. And he did spend some of it. (That's how they knew to search his home.) 

The book makes a case for his innocence. And it's a convincing argument, in my opinion. But Norris doesn't just make a case for Hauptmann's innocence, he argues that at the very, very, very least Charles and Anne Lindbergh KNEW the identity of the kidnapper and covered it up. Perhaps their suspicions were later confirmed, but from day one there are strong reasons to believe that they were covering up, interfering, mangling the investigation. The author does not argue that Lindbergh is guilty of the crime himself. (Though he does mention that some do.) He makes a case for a member of the Morrow family to be the kidnapper. Was his argument 100% convincing???? I'm not sure I'd go that far. While Norris convinced me that Hauptmann was innocent...and that EVERYONE involved in the case was a liar-liar-liar-liar pants. Or completely incompetent. Or completely immoral and unethical. OR easily bribed. I'm not as equally convinced that Dwight Morrow Jr. was the kidnapper/murderer. I definitely think that he should have been on the list of suspects, perhaps, but I'm not convinced he's the one and only most likely candidate.

The book was fascinating. But it was also intense in that it made me ANGRY. This trial was just appalling and absurd. There were a million reasons why the case was handled WRONG. And it cost this man his life.

© 2022 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

82. Dream Town

Dream Town. (Archer #3) David Baldacci. 2022. 432 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: It was New Year's Eve, 1952. Aloysius Archer was thirty years old, once a decorated soldier, and next a humbled inmate. He was currently a private detective with several years of intense experience trolling the darker side of life.

Premise/plot: Aloysius Archer is back for his third mystery novel. He's spent the past few years (since the events of A Gambling Man) in Bay Town working with private investigator, Willie Dash. Now he's visiting his friend, Liberty Callahan in Los Angeles. The two are spending the New Year's holidays together. (But not together-together. Think of it as more a timing issue. Plus neither is willing to give up their own dream for that of the other. She *will be* a famous actress no matter the sacrifice and he *will be* a private investigator no matter the danger.) While they are out together, they are approached by a woman, Eleanor "Ellie" Lamb. She wants to hire Archer. But before they can meet privately to discuss just why she needs a private investigator, she goes missing AND he discovers a body in her home. And so begins a messy, chaotic twisty-turny mystery set in LA featuring writers, directors, actors and actresses--and their spouses. 

My thoughts: I did not care for this one. The mystery element was, as I said, messy-chaotic. Nothing was as it appeared. It was very dark. The clues may have been there for readers to deduce and piece together, but I felt it required too much work. There were simply too many characters (aka too many characters with secrets, too many characters caught lying, too many characters in general). There were two or three extremely intense scenes with great danger. But most of this one is literally just him doing dozens and dozens of interviews. And if he was quick to piece it together, he wasn't revealing that to readers. I think this one kept him guessing for quite a while. 

I found it both boring and confusing.


© 2022 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Friday, July 08, 2022

81. The Lightning Thief

The Lightning Thief. Rick Riordan. 2005. 377 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Look I didn't want to be a half-blood. If you're reading this because you think you might be one, my advice is: close this book right now. Believe whatever lie your mom or dad told you about your birth, and try to lead a normal life. Being a half-blood is dangerous. It's scary. Most of the time, it gets you killed in painful, nasty ways. If you're a normal kid, reading this because you think it's fiction, great. Read on. I envy you for being able to believe that none of this ever happened. But if you recognize yourself in these pages--if you feel something stirring inside--stop reading immediately. You might be one of us. And once you know that, it's only a matter of time before they sense it too, and they'll come for you. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Premise/plot: Percy Jackson, our hero, is about to be thrown into quite the adventure. It will be quite the fight for survival. Though he doesn't know it at the start, he's a half-blood. His mother is mortal and his father is a god, one of the big three gods, POSEIDON. And well, his very existence is upsetting the order of things. (You see, the big three had a pact that they would not have any more children with mortals. Things get messy when they did.) Soon after the novel opens, he finds himself at camp with others like himself--other halfbloods. He'll be making some great friends--like Grover and Annabeth. Camp may be interesting, but, not nearly as interesting as the quest he's soon given. Percy and his friends have quite an undertaking before undertaking that may even take them to the underworld....and hopefully back again. 

My thoughts: I would have thought I'd have so many reviews of this up on my blog. I guess I haven't reread it nearly as much as I thought I had. That being said, it was so familiar. Each chapter was like an old friend. I have vivid memories of a handful of scenes (like the casino, for example). I also remembered *who* at camp was going to end up fulfilling a certain prophecy that the oracle gave Percy. So a few of the twists and turns and surprises were no longer twisty-turny. But that's a small sacrifice to make for revisiting with such good friends.

I don't think I've reread the others nearly as much. 


© 2022 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews