Tuesday, September 26, 2023

164. The Librarian of Auschwitz

The Librarian of Auschwitz. Based on the novel by Antonio Iturbe. Adapted by Salva Rubio. Translated by Lilit Zekulin Thwaites. Illustrated by Loreto Aroca. 2023. 144 pages. [Source: Library] [Graphic novel; YA graphic novel]

First sentence: Back then, she was just a child...but books were already a window.

My thoughts, part one: This one is a [young adult] graphic novel adaptation of an award-winning novel. I have read both the original novel and the graphic novel. 

Premise/plot: Though it is a work of fiction, The Librarian of Auschwitz is based on a true story: the story of a super-small library and its young librarian, Dita. Block 31 is different, special, almost miraculous and too good to be true. Here Jewish children come together every day while their parents labor under the watchful eyes of their guards. School is forbidden; learning is forbidden. But. A school it is. There are teachers and teenage helpers. Dita is one of the helpers or assistants. She's also the librarian. For what is a school without a library? This library collection, like the school, is completely forbidden. It consists of EIGHT books plus additional living books. Dita's job is risky, but important. Block 31 exists for one reason only: to fool the world in case someone comes looking for answers. The Germans mistreat Jews? You've got to be kidding. Just look! Here's a camp of families. We even see that the children are taken care of during the day and laugh and play and sing. The prisoners are not fooled for a minute, but, the children are fortunate in some ways.

My thoughts, part two: THE graphic novel condenses the story considerably. The illustrations may add something to the story for some readers. Graphic novels aren't exactly my favorite and best. I read a few per year. I can find them incredibly engaging at times.

Having read both the graphic novel and the original novel it is based on, I prefer the original. But I can appreciate why this one was adapted to a new format to potentially reach different readers.

© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

163. The Great Halifax Explosion

The Great Halifax Explosion: A World War I Story of Treachery, Tragedy, and Extraordinary Heroism. John U. Bacon. 2017. 418 pages. [Source: Library] 

First sentence: On Thursday, December 1, 2016, the people of Boston slogged through a drizzly day with temperatures in the 40s--neither fall nor winter, the kind of cold that gets deep in your bones and stays there.

Premise/plot: Narrative nonfiction covering the Halifax Disaster of December 1917. The book provides context, context, more context. But there does seem to be a point--not details for the sake of details. For example, it provides several chapters on the history of Halifax--including Halifax's complex relationship with the United States. There's also context about the First World War (aka the War to End all Wars or The Great War). The book chronicles the disaster through the eyes of a dozen or so people. 

My thoughts: I definitely appreciated this one more than the first book I read on this topic. The first book I read, Shattered City, was a bit dry at times and the book wasn't always great at connecting the dots and showing the relevance or significance of the facts it was sharing. 

I don't know exactly why this topic/subject has become of interest to me. It was in a fiction book--Christian fiction--book I read earlier this year. I then came across a movie on Tubi. I'll probably read more on the subject--fiction or nonfiction. 

© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

162. Zeus

Zeus: Water Rescue (Dogs with Purpose #1) W. Bruce Cameron. 2023. [August] 288 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Something was happening to my puppy family. 

Premise/plot: Zeus is chosen as a puppy to be trained for water rescue. He bonds with the son (Kimo) of the man who chose him to train. When his initial training fails to thrive--he doesn't seem to understand basic commands--Kimo takes over his training "secretly." He doesn't want Zeus to be sold. But he does want Zeus to succeed as a water rescue dog (and/or search and rescue). 

The book is set, I believe, in Hawaii. Zeus will have an opportunity to prove himself by the end of the novel.

My thoughts: I had a hard time connecting with this one. I'm not sure if this is because a) my expectations were so high b) my attention span was malfunctioning when I sat down to read it c) I wasn't expecting it to be for a slightly older audience. 

I like it well enough to do a general recommendation. It is not 'cutesy' like some of his earlier dog books--like the Lily series. It is more serious-minded than cutesy.


© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Monday, September 25, 2023

161. Dogtown

Dogtown (A Dogtown Book #1) Katherine Applegate and Gennifer Choldenko. 2023. [September] 352 pages. [Source: Library] [Animal fantasy; J Fiction; MG Fiction]

First sentence: I know what you're thinking: That poor dog only has three legs. But don't go there. It's not that bad, okay? So, I'm not American Kennel Club material. Big deal. My eyes are sharp, my nose is wet, my coat puppy soft, and the white patch over my eye? It's a charmer, I don't mind saying. My name is Chance. I'm pleased to meet you.

ETA: I first reviewed Dogtown in July 2023. Yes, it's only been a few months. Barely two months. But I loved it so much. The first time I read a review copy. The second time I checked it out from the library. I loved it just as much--if not more. 

Premise/plot: Dogtown is an animal shelter (dog shelter). It features dog-dogs and robot-dogs. (Presumably, this animal fantasy is futuristic animal fantasy). It stars Chance, our LOVABLE, adorable, super-kind hero. He's long been a resident at Dogtown. This is the story of his friendships at Dogtown. In particular, how he made [close] friendships with two unlikely residents: a mouse (named Mouse) and a robot dog, Metal Head. The book contains their adventures/misadventures.  

My thoughts: Does this one feature a dog in peril? Yes and no. No, in that it isn't just one dog in peril. It is DOGS (plural) in peril. Though this one doesn't feature direct-direct sads, it features plenty of potential peril. Does it have heart and substance? A thousand times yes. I loved, loved, loved, loved this one so much. I LOVE the emotional journey of this one. Very feel-good. Very warm-and-cozy. Yet not instant. Do I see myself rereading it? YES. I already want to reread it. I could reread it a million times and still be moved by how awesome it is.

I loved the story. I loved the characters. I loved EVERYTHING. 

My favorite, favorite, favorite element of this one is the inclusion of the BOOK BUDDY program. Pairing school-age children with shelter-dogs for reading time. These scenes were HEART-MELTING. 


I learned something important that day: Never say something about a dog that you wouldn't want him to hear. "I like the moniker," Metel Head said. I didn't know if he'd burned out his bulbs or somebody had adjusted his settings, but the blue flashing had stopped. I could look at him without getting a headache. "Why do you want to escape?" I asked. "I want to go home," he said.

Here's another thing humans are sadly misguided about: Luck is not a winnin ghand of cards. Luck is making a new friend.

It wasn't the way it was supposed to be, with the kid reading and the dog listening. But one look at Metal Head and Quinn, scooted up close to each other, and  it was pretty clear something had happened. Something big.

"What about your humans, Chance? Don't you want to go home?" This was not the kind of question Dogtown dogs asked each other. If a dog wanted to talk about how she ended up at Dogtown, that was fine. But you didn't ask a question that broke a dog's heart to answer. How do you explain kindness to a a machine with a hunk of metal where his heart should've been? I really didn't know.

"Your heart is a muscle," I told Mouse at dinner that night. "It grows stronger the more you use it." 

I can't say that Metal Head was a friend, then,. He was more of a friend of a friend. Quinn liked him and I liked Quinn. But yeah, I did want to see if everything worked out for him. But wasn't the real reason I said yes. The real reason was something I didn't want to admit...there were a lot of phone poles up ahead. And maybe they had signs, too.

The smell of cheese is simply divine. The taste of it is even better.

Once hope gets inside you, you want your wishes to come true so badly, you just can't imagine that they won't.

© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

160. A Papa Like Everyone Else

A Papa Like Everyone Else. Sydney Taylor. 1966. 176 pages. [Source: Library] [mg historical fiction; j historical fiction; children's classic]

First sentence: Gisella sat very still, her pale green eyes round with wonder. Again the miracle was happening! She had seen it many times before, but always her pulse quickened with the mystery of it. 

Premise/plot: A Papa Like Everyone Else is set in Czechoslovakia circa 1918/1919. Szerena and Gisella long for a 'papa like everyone else' since their papa is far away in America. He went a year before the war started to find a job, to get established, to earn enough to bring his family over. The world war changed plans significantly. But now the war is over and the family hopes to be reunited soon. Meanwhile, life on the farm in the farm village continues on. This is a 'slice of life' glimpse at a rural Jewish family from the time period. There isn't "action" or major plot points so much as it is just capturing the 'old world' life as experienced by one Jewish family. (There is at least one chapter with some excitement. But mostly just flavor of life, normal, ordinary, routine.) 

My thoughts: I didn't enjoy this one as much as All of A Kind Family. But I liked it well enough. I am very glad I was able to read it. I've always wanted to read more Sydney Taylor. 

© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Monday, September 18, 2023

159. Shattered City

Shattered City: The Halifax Explosion and the Road to Recovery. Janet Kitz. 2010. 351 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: My interest in the Halifax Explosion began in 1980, sparked by research for an anthropology paper at Saint Mary's University.

Premise/plot: Shattered City is a nonfiction book for adults about the Halifax explosion (which occurred on December 6, 1917). It starts off by explaining the research process and project. Talking about the ways information for the book was gathered and collected, what resources were examined. It then begins chronicling the event. The section of the book that chronicled the day of the disaster was intense yet intriguing. It was packed with what appear to be firsthand accounts. This section is where there is a human element. It isn't so much that there's a consistent cast of [real life] characters to follow, but even spending a few paragraphs with a family is something more personal. The 'aftermath' section which is "the road to recovery," is perhaps less personal, less human-interest, more facts and statistics. (Though not always.) For example, reading about the reconstruction of houses, streets, neighborhoods is less personal and more matter-of-fact. Or reading about the weekly allotment of financial assistance to buy food and how that was determined. But there were also updates on schools for the blind and how adults and children were learning or relearning necessary skills for beginning to live life again. So there were occasional moments of high interest. 

My thoughts: This book should NOT be confused with a movie with the same name. That is how I came across this book. It is not the author's fault--nor the book's fault--that the movie about the Halifax explosion shares the same name. The movie chronicles ONE family and a small cast of characters. It builds up to the explosion over several days. You get attached to the characters. There is intensity and suspense. There is heartbreak. It is super-absorbing and compelling. This book....isn't. The first part is definitely more interesting than the second part. But it is also very technical. I'm not expressing it in the right words. Human interest. This one doesn't always stay focused on a 'human interest' perspective. The facts may be of great interest to the right reader. But if you care more about people than supplies of food or lumber...then you might find yourself a bit bored now and then.


© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Thursday, September 14, 2023

158. Rewind

Rewind. Lisa Graff. 2023. [August] 256 pages. [Source: Library] [MG Speculative Fiction; Time Travel]

First sentences: In most ways, Gap Bend, Pennsylvania, was just like any other small town. 

Premise/plot: Gap Bend, Pennsylvania, has a tradition of hosting a 'Time Hop' community event. McKinley O'Dair is super excited. This year the Time Hop will be celebrating all things 1993. She realizes--foreshadowing--that 1993 was the year her father was her age. 

After an explosive argument with her father--in which she runs away at the Time Hop--she finds herself traveling back in time. She's IN the "real" 1993. Her father is her own age. And she is clueless as to how to return to 2018. 

My thoughts: I wanted to love, love, love this one. I didn't love it. I will try to share why I personally didn't love this one so that you can make up your own mind as to if this is one you'd be interested in picking up and reading for yourself.

What I liked: I liked the premise of time travel. I LOVE the premise of time travel. I seek out time travel books like they're candy. I was super excited about the premise of this one. The fact that she'd be able to "get to know" her father when he was her own age was intriguing. It had potential.

The chapter titles are song titles. I wasn't familiar with most of these songs, but, it could make a good side project for those that love music OR that love quests in general. Not having listened to these songs, I'm not sure if the song lyrics themselves have anything at all to do--themes? tones?--with the plot of the book. Perhaps they do. Maybe they don't. I will say that the characters themselves don't really talk music--artists, songs--all that often (if at all). (And when they do bring up a song title, I *think* it was a song actually released in 1997. Granted, perhaps the Backstreet Boys only covered "Hey Mr DJ Keep Playing That Song". But any internet search showed that the Backstreet Boys as the artist and the 1997 as the year it released.) 

What I didn't like: I found almost all the characters (except McKinley's grandma) insufferable. I truly found them so incredibly annoying and obnoxious. The characters in 2018 and the characters in 1993--both were so unlikable that even the premise of time travel didn't really keep me loving the book. McKinley, our main character, was SO full of it. I just couldn't stand her smugness. And I don't think she was purposefully written to be smug. She wasn't the only annoying character, but, she was the one readers never got away from.

One thing that definitely bothered me was that every single character was disrespectful, rude, unkind, bully-ish. All the conversations McKinley and Jackie had in the past were SO rude and obnoxious. The way they treated others. The way they treated each other. 

I also didn't like the fact that the fashion descriptions felt a LOT more like mid-to-late 1990s--than 1993. Again, every adult who lived through the nineties might have a different recollection of the details. So perhaps it's just me that thinks it's a tiny bit off. You can decide for yourself. Maybe 1993 was all about Doc Martens, silver spaghetti strap dresses, white baby doll tees, lace choker necklaces, butterfly clips, and denim vests. I wouldn't let the fashion descriptions keep you from picking up the book. If that was the only thing that annoyed me--slightly--I would still have enjoyed the book. It was mainly the characters being annoying. Again--totally subjective.

© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

157. The Blonde Identity

The Blonde Identity. Ally Carter. 2023. 304 pages. [Source: Library] [spy thriller; adult fiction; adult romance]

First sentence: Here's the thing about waking up with no memory in the middle of the night, in the middle of the street, in the middle of Paris: at least you're waking up in Paris. 

Premise/plot: The Blonde Identity is a premise-driven spy thriller with a dose of romance. The main character, Zoe, finds herself waking up in the middle of a Parisian street injured. She's discovered soon after, by "Hot Guy," aka Sawyer. He thinks that Zoe is Alex, at least for a few seconds. He soon realizes that Alex--someone he knows very well--must have an identical twin sister. Alex may be an agent and able to take care of herself, but, Zoe seems vulnerable, unable to take care of herself in this new reality. The BAD GUYS are after Alex and want her dead. Zoe's life is in danger...at least until Alex turns up again...maybe longer than that. So Sawyer decides to help her--but is he trustworthy? Will Zoe ever get her memory back?

My thoughts: Imagine two book manuscripts from two different genres being shuffled together. The good news is that I think fans of adult romance novels will probably find it to their liking. It is very rom-com. Sawyer and Zoe in dozens of different scenarios--having somewhat enjoyable banter back and forth. There's insta attraction and lust. (Though some restraint.) Circumstances keep throwing them together into compromising positions. It is super predictable. I think it is more romance than some readers might prefer. Maybe. Again, I'm just one person. I liked this one okay.


© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Monday, September 11, 2023

156. Anne of Avonlea

Anne of Avonlea. L.M. Montgomery. 1909. 304 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: A tall, slim girl, "half-past sixteen," with serious gray eyes and hair which her friends called auburn, had sat down on the broad red sandstone doorstep of a Prince Edward Island farmhouse one ripe afternoon in August, firmly resolved to construe so many lines of Virgil. 

Premise/plot: Anne Shirley, a YOUNG Anne Shirley, assumes the responsibilities of school teacher and big sister while resuming her roles as kindred spirit, best friend, and daughter. At the end of Anne of Green Gables, Gilbert gallantly offers the Prince Edward Island school to Anne Shirley so that she can remain closer to home so she can care for (an aging) Marilla while she saves money for college. Anne of Avonlea chronicles about two years. She's a teacher...with some memorable students, notably Paul Irving. She's a friend...Mr. Harrison, a grumpy neighbor, is one new friend. But most importantly perhaps, she becomes a "big sister." Marilla takes in TWO children--twins--Davy and Dora. Davy is a HANDFUL and delight. Never a dull day with his troublesome, mischievous adventures/misadventures. Dora is a saint. By the end of the novel, Anne Shirley is ready to head off to college....

My thoughts: I really LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this one. Is it as good as the first book or last book in the series? Probably not. Is it as good as Anne of the Island? Well. It's a toss-up. Because as much as I love and crazy love and adore aspects of Anne of the Island, Anne of Avonlea is just MARVELOUS. And Anne of the Island has its duller moments. Definitely less comedic. 

Mr. Harrison about Mrs. Rachel Lynde:

"I detest that woman more than anybody I know. She can put a whole sermon, text, comment, and application, into six words, and throw it at you like a brick."
"I never was much of a talker till I came to Avonlea and then I had to begin in self-defense or Mrs. Lynde would have said I was dumb and started a subscription to have me taught sign language."
Fun with Davy:
"Anne," said Davy, sitting up in bed and propping his chin on his hands, "Anne, where is sleep? People go to sleep every night, and of course I know it's the place where I do the things I dream, but I want to know WHERE it is and how I get there and back without knowing anything about it...and in my nighty too. Where is it?"
 "I wish people could live on pudding. Why can't they, Marilla? I want to know."
"Because they'd soon get tired of it."
"I'd like to try that for myself," said skeptical Davy.
Paul Irving to Anne:
"I've prayed every night that God would give me enough grace to enable me to eat every bit of my porridge in the mornings. But I've never been able to do it yet, and whether it's because I have too little grace or too much porridge I really can't decide."

Favorite quotes: 
"You're never safe from being surprised till you're dead."
“One can't get over the habit of being a little girl all at once.” 
“After all," Anne had said to Marilla once, "I believe the nicest and sweetest days are not those on which anything very splendid or wonderful or exciting happens but just those that bring simple little pleasures, following one another softly, like pearls slipping off a string.”
“Anne had no sooner uttered the phrase, "home o'dreams," than it captivated her fancy and she immediately began the erection of one of her own. It was, of course, tenanted by an ideal master, dark, proud, and melancholy; but oddly enough, Gilbert Blythe persisted in hanging about too, helping her arrange pictures, lay out gardens, and accomplish sundry other tasks which a proud and melancholy hero evidently considered beneath his dignity. Anne tried to banish Gilbert's image from her castle in Spain but, somehow, he went on being there, so Anne, being in a hurry, gave up the attempt and pursued her aerial architecture with such success that her "home o'dreams" was built and furnished before Diana spoke again. ”
“…I think,' concluded Anne, hitting on a very vital truth, 'that we always love best the people who need us.” 
“When I think something nice is going to happen I seem to fly right up on the wings of anticipation; and then the first thing I realize I drop down to earth with a thud. But really, Marilla, the flying part is glorious as long as it lasts...it's like soaring through a sunset. I think it almost pays for the thud.” 
“It takes all sorts of people to make a world, as I've often heard, but I think there are some who could be spared,' Anne told her reflection in the east gable mirror that night.” 
"If we have friends we should look only for the best in them and give them the best that is in us, don't you think? Then friendship would be the most beautiful thing in the world." 
"In this world you've just got to hope for the best and prepare for the worst and take whatever God sends."


© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Wednesday, September 06, 2023

155. Into Thin Air

Into Thin Air. Jon Krakauer. 1997. 368 pages. [Source: Library] [adult nonfiction]

First sentence: In March 1996, Outside magazine sent me to Nepal to participate in, and write about, a guided ascent of Mount Everest. I went as one of eight clients on an expedition led by a well-known guide from New Zealand named Rob Hall.

Premise/plot: Jon Krakauer shares his [expanded] experiences on a fateful trip to Mount Everest in the spring of 1996. Not all on his expedition 'team' survived their attempt to the summit. The book is slightly confusing in that there were dozens (probably) of different expedition teams led by various people all attempting to climb Mount Everest. The teams weren't exactly taking turns or going in any specific order. So a handful of teams--with six plus people each--could be near one another on the mountain. His story isn't solely focused on his expedition team. It's about those attempting to make the summit on one specific day, May 10, 1996. It turned out to be a very dangerous day in part because of an unexpected storm/blizzard. His story was about--I believe--the risks of commercialization. Is Mount Everest something that should be attempted by just anyone who could pay...or does it require a certain amount of skills, fitness, and experience. Is money more important than safety? That is just the 'big picture' take-away that I got from his journalistic angle (at the beginning). There were and are many other concerns.

My thoughts: The movie was definitely more action-packed and engaging. I am less sure that it is faithful and true to the events. I think here an there that might be some sensationalizing. I think things might be condensed and arranged for the most drama impact. Perhaps. I watched the movie first. Found it very engaging and exciting. I put the book on hold within hours of watching the movie. The book moved at a much slower pace. For better or worse. It was haunting in its own way. I do think the movie might have had fewer characters it was following.


© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Monday, September 04, 2023

154. Love, Clancy: Diary of a Good Dog

Love, Clancy: Diary of a Good Dog. W. Bruce Cameron. 2023. [January] 336 pages. [Source: Library] [adult fiction; animal fantasy; rom-com]

First sentence: Dear Diary, The cat is despicable. Even her name is dreadful: Kelsey. My name, Clancy, carries with it all the fun and love that a wonderful dog can bring to the world. 

Premise/plot: Though W. Bruce Cameron does write for children often, this is an adult novel. 

Clancy's person, his human, is JayB. JayB is currently in-between jobs...but his life is far from dull. He's got a "girlfriend" (Maddy) he can't seem to shake off. (They went on maybe two dates, she ended the relationship; she is a bit, well, a character for sure.) He's got an elderly neighbor, Helen, who has a dog named Odin. There are other dogs and other neighbors as well.... Everyone assumes that JayB is a dog walker and treats him accordingly.

His father, Walter, has teamed up with his so-called "best friend" Rodney...which is proving concerting. Rodney seems to see Walter as big money. (Walter being gullible and Rodney being scummy).

There are MANY adventures and misadventures--this is more COM than rom-com. But the romance is definitely there...if you wait for it. 

My thoughts: I don't know that I've ever read a novel told first person from a dog's point of view. I've read dozens if not hundreds of children's novels from pets points of view. Clancy is a good dog. Obviously. There is a dog on the cover...do you need to be warned? Yes and no. No, in that this is an adult novel and I don't know that adult readers are as super-sensitive as younger readers are. Yes, in that, well, there are some sad scenes in this one. 

This is a smooth-flowing often humorous romp. I could see it easily being adapted into a rom-com. I think it works well for what it is. Silly, adventurous, full of characters that are CHARACTERS.

© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

153. Tiger Daughter

Tiger Daughter. Rebecca Lim. 2021/2023. 192 pages. [Source: Library] [MG Fiction; MG Realistic Fiction; "Problem Novel" "Important" Book]

First sentence: As we take our places in the classroom, Mr Cornish writes with a flourish on the whiteboard, What is the essence of being 'Australian'?

Brief Note: Tiger Daughter, I'm assuming, was originally published in Australia in 2021. It was first published in the United States in 2023. What this says about Cybils eligibility I'm not quite sure... 

Premise/plot: Tiger Daughter is a heavy/weighty "problem novel." Not all problem novels are equally heavy/weighty. It was almost as if the author wanted to pack in as many problems as humanly possible to make the reader bear them one and all. (Perhaps as an endurance or strength exercise in empathy?) If one was to list all the possible trigger warnings--as is so often done these days--the list would go on for pages. Expect the worst on every page and you've got an idea of what this one is like.

Wen Zhou, our heroine, is the daughter of Chinese immigrants. Her father is a piece of work. Controlling, demanding, cruel, bitter, etc. (Tip of the iceberg). Her mother takes it all--not with a smile, but because she has to it seems. Wen is also supposed to just take life as it is--on her father's terms. No hopes. No dreams. Just be a mindless yet always respectful servant to her father. 

Henry Xiao, our heroine's closest friend, is the son of Chinese immigrants. His home life is DIFFERENT than Wen's homelife but equally problematic and woeful. Henry has a wee bit more hope than Wen--which inspires Wen. But things seem BLEAK and bleaker still. 

Is this friendship approved by Wen's father? by Wen's mother? Not really. Wen isn't encouraged to be friends with anyone. It seems the father's mission to make sure that NO ONE wants to be friends with Wen. 

Both families face a million problems--each heavier than the last. Things continue bleakly on until the ending when things go from oppressingly bleak to mostly bleak.

 My thoughts: No doubt there will be readers who enjoy carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders as they read this one. The bleakness is immersive. And some adult readers--especially the ones that hand out stars--seem to LOVE wading through bleak novels with IMPORTANT topics and themes. Teachers, librarians, other adults that read children's novels--they may love this one exceedingly for being so obviously IMPORTANT and WEIGHTY and authentically bleak. 

Did I enjoy this one? No. Is there beauty that could have been found in this one--perhaps through the characterization or narration? Perhaps. I didn't find it personally. But reading is so subjective. And IMPORTANT "problem novels" aren't usually my thing.

© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

August Reflections

This month I have not done any sneak-peeking so I don't know beforehand a rough estimate of how many books I've reviewed...I am curious.

I read 51 books in August!

Books Reviewed at Becky's Book Reviews

139. Utterly Me, Clarice Bean. Lauren Child. 2005. 208 pages. [Source: Library] [illustrated chapter book] 

140. Lucille Ball Had No Eyebrows. Dan Gutman. (Wait! What? series) 2023. [May] 112 pages. [Source: Library] [nonfiction; elementary nonfiction] 

141. The Two Towers. J.R.R. Tolkien. 1954/1965. Houghton Mifflin. 352 pages. [Source: Bought] 

142. Anne of Green Gables. L.M. Montgomery. 1908. 448 pages. [Source: Bought] 

143. Dust (Silo #3) Hugh Howey. 2013. 458 pages. [Source: Bought] [Adult science fiction; dystopia; adult fiction]

144. Thee, Hannah! Marguerite de Angeli. 1940. 98 pages. [Source: Library] [children's classic; j fiction]

145. Code Name Bananas. David Walliams. 2020/2023. 384 pages. [Source: Library] [J Historical Fiction; MG Historical Fiction] 

146. Proud Sorrows. (Billy Boyle #18) James R. Benn. 2023. [September] 365 pages. [Source: Review copy] [historical fiction; mystery; world war II; series book] 

147. Rebecca of Salerno: A Novel of Rogue Crusaders, a Jewish Female Physician, and a Murder. Esther Erman. 2022. [August] 264 pages. [Source: Review copy] 

148. Canary Girls. Jennifer Chiaverini. 2023. [August] 432 pages. [Source: Library] [historical fiction; world war I; adult fiction] 

149. I'll Tell You No Lies. Amanda McCrina. 2023. [August] 224 pages. [Source: Library] [YA Historical fiction; YA Fiction; Cold War] 

150. Queen Wallis. C.J. Carey. 2023. [July] 416 pages. [Source: Library] [adult fiction; alternative history; 1950s; speculative fiction] 

151. Don't Trust the Cat. Kristen Tracy. 2023. [July] 336 pages. [Source: Library] [J Fiction; MG Fiction; Speculative fiction] 

152. Abandon Ship! The True World War II Story About the Sinking of the Laconia. Michael J. Tougias and Alison O'Leary. 2023. [February] 272 pages. [Source: Library] [MG Nonfiction; Nonfiction; World War II]

Books Reviewed at Young Readers

201. Sometimes Shy. Julie Bliven. Illustrated by Dang Khoa Tran. 2023. [May] 32 pages. [Source: Library] [Picture book]

202. This Is The First Book I Will Read To You. Francesco Sedita. Illustrated by Magenta Fox. 2023. [May] 32 pages. [Source: Library] [Picture book]

203. Something's Wrong: A Bear, A Hare, and Some Underwear. Jory John. Illustrated by Erin Kraan. 2021. 40 pages. [Source: Library] [Picture book]

204. Bing! Bang! Chugga! Beep! Bill Martin Jr. Michael Sampson. Illustrated by Nathalie Beauvois. 2023. [April] 32 pages. [Source: Library] [Picture book] 

205. Hope In the Valley. Mitali Perkins. 2023. 304 pages. [Source: Library] [J Fiction; MG Fiction; everybody-fiction, "historical" fiction, realistic fiction]

 206. Simon and the Better Bone. Corey R. Tabor. 2023. 40 pages. [Source: Library] [Picture book; animal fantasy; dogs; humor]

207. How To Talk Like a Bear. Charlie Grandy. Illustrated by Alex G. Griffiths. 2023. 32 pages. [Source: Library] [picture book; animal fantasy; bears; humor]

208. Fox Forgets (Goose and Bear Stories) Suzanne Bloom. 2013/2023. 32 pages. [Source: Library] [picture book; animal fantasy]

209. Bear Can Dance! (Goose and Bear Stories). Suzanne Bloom. 2015/2023. 32 pages. [Source: Library] [Picture book; animal fantasy] 

210. Adventures in Fosterland: Emmet and Jez (Adventures in Fosterland #1) Hannah Shaw. Illustrated by Bev Johnson. 2022. 144 pages. [Source: Library] [chapter book; animal fantasy; series]

211. Super Spinach (Adventures in Fosterland #2) Hannah Shaw. Illustrated by Bev Johnson. 2022. 173 pages. [Source: Library] [chapter book; animal fantasy; series] 

212. When Rubin Plays. Gracey Zhang. 2023. 56 pages. [Source: Library] [picture book; music appreciation; cats]

213. Luli and the Language of Tea. Andrea Wang. Illustrated by Hyewon Yum. 2022. 40 pages. [Source: Library] [picture book]

214. I Cannot Draw A Bicycle. Charise Mericle Harper. 2023. 48 pages. [Source: Library] [picture book]

215. YOU Can't Be a Pterodactyl! James Breakwell. Illustrated by Sophie Corrigan. 2023. 32 pages. [Source: Library] [picture book] 

216. See the Ghost: Three Stories about Things You Cannot See. David LaRochelle. Illustrated by Mike Wohnoutka. 2023. 64 pages. [Source: Library] [early chapter book] [early reader]

217. Big Kids No Everything. Wednesday Kirwan. 2023. [April] 36 pages. [Source: Library] [Board book]

218. Baby Animals First Sounds. Alexandra Claire. 2023. [February] 20 pages. [Source: Library] [Board book]

219. My First Book of Fruit. Fred Wolter. 2023 [March] 20 pages. [Source: Library] [Board book]

220. My First Book of Veggies. Fred Wolter. 2023. [March] 20 pages. [Source: Library] [Board book]

221. Bear With Me. Kerascoët (Sebastien Cosset and Marie Pommepuy). 2023. [June] 40 pages. [Source: Library] [picture book] [near wordless picture book]

222. The Together Tree. Aisha Saeed. Illustrated by LeUyen Pham. 2023. 40 pages. [Source: Library] [picture book] [school, bullying]

223.  Tap! Tap! Tap! Dance! Dance! Dance! Hervé Tullet. 2023. [May] 64 pages. [Source: Library] [Picture book] [interactive]

224. Fox Has a Problem. Corey R. Tabor. 2023. 32 pages. [Source: Library] [early reader]

225. Mindy Kim and the Summer Musical. Lyla Lee. Illustrated by Dung Ho. 2023. [July] 96 pages. [Source: Library] [early chapter book; series book]

 226. Bad Luck Lola (Hola, Lola) Keka Novales. Illustrated by Gloria Felix. 2022. 64 pages. [Source: Library] [early chapter book]

227. Dance of the Feather (Hola, Lola) Keka Novales. Illustrated by Gloria Felix. 2022. 64 pages. [Source: Library] [early chapter book] 

228. Mine! Candace Fleming. Illustrated by Eric Rohmann. 2023. [August] 40 pages. [Source: Library] [Picture book]

229. Who Made This Mess? Laura Gehl. Illustrated by Aleksandar Stojsic. 2023. [July] 32 pages. [Source: Library] [Picture book] 

230. NO is all I know! Chris Grabenstein. Illustrated by Leo Espinosa. 2023. [May] 40 pages. [Source: Library] [Picture book]

231. Jungle Cat. Andrew Larsen. Illustrated by Udayana Lugo. 2023. [May] 32 pages. [Source: Library] [Picture book]

Books Reviewed at Operation Actually Read Bible

55. Your God Is Too Small. By J.B. Phillips. (1952) 2004. Simon & Schuster. 128 pages. [Source: Bought]

56. The Great Love of God: Encountering God's Heart for a Hostile World. Heath Lambert. 2023. [April] 208 pages. [Source: Library]

57. Elisabeth Elliot: A Life. Lucy S.R. Austen. 2023. Crossway. 624 pages. [Source: Review copy] [adult nonfiction; biography]

58. No Greater Love: Experiencing the Heart of Jesus. A.W. Tozer. 2020. 158 pages. [Source: Library]

59. Being Elisabeth Elliot: The Authorized Biography: Elisabeth's Later Years. Ellen Vaughn. 2023. [September] 304 pages. [Source: Review copy] [biography]

Bibles Reviewed at Operation Actually Read Bible

9. Giant Print Handy Size Reprint NASB 1977 Edition. 2011. AMG Publishers. 2304 pages.


Totals for 2023

Books Read in 2023453
Pages Read in 202398677
# of Books50
# of Pages12848
# of Books72
# of Pages15241
# of Books55
# of Pages15216
# of Books55
# of Pages10876
# of Books52
# of Pages14695
# of Books46
# of Pages8196
# of Books72
# of Pages10400
# of Books51
# of Pages9868


© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

152. Abandon Ship!

Abandon Ship! The True World War II Story About the Sinking of the Laconia. Michael J. Tougias and Alison O'Leary. 2023. [February] 272 pages. [Source: Library] [MG Nonfiction; Nonfiction; World War II]

First sentence: Port Tawfiq, Egypt, simmered in the summer sun of mid-August 1942.

Premise/plot:  Nonfiction book suitable for MG, YA, and Adults about the sinking of RMS Laconia on September 12, 1942, in the midst of the Second World War. It was carrying British soldiers, of course, but also women and children--in addition to 1,800 Italian Prisoners of War. The destination was Britain, but it sank shortly it was torpedoed. The German submarine realized afterwards that the ship they'd bombed had been carrying thousand plus ITALIAN POWs. Commander Werner Hartenstein decided to help rescue those he'd just attacked--yes, the Italians, but also all the others. Some he took aboard his own ship, others he helped find accommodations on lifeboats. (The lifeboats were a bit haphazard. Some too full. Others less so. Some more seaworthy than others.) The most in need of medical attention received it. Women and children were prioritized as well. But this isn't a sweet, warm-and-cozy rescue. For things got a LOT more complicated and complex as the rescue unfolded...

My thoughts: WHAT AN ORDEAL. I found this one captivating and fascinating. But also super-intense. I'm not sure I'd have been able to handle it as a child. But it is an incredibly told tale of survival. I do wish it was more well known. (I'd not heard of it before.) I would have been watching documentaries and such about it if I'd known. It tells a big picture story, but it also focuses in on some of the survivors and their MANY ordeals in the days and weeks (yes, WEEKS) spent at sea adrift.


© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Monday, August 28, 2023

151. Don't Trust the Cat

Don't Trust the Cat. Kristen Tracy. 2023. [July] 336 pages. [Source: Library] [J Fiction; MG Fiction; Speculative fiction]

First sentence: What if it's possible to fix your whole life in an instant?

Premise/plot: Poppy (a human fifth grader) changes places accidentally with Mitten Man (her mischievous cat). The novel is told in alternating view points. Poppy has no experience being a cat, of course. And Mitten Man has no experience being human, let alone a GIRL in fifth grade with delicate, fragile friendships. Both struggle with difficulties. Mitten Man isn't treated all that well by the parents OR the visiting aunt. Mitten Man is super-independent and before switching places was in troubles of his own--involving a feral cat (Death Tiger) and a turtle. Poppy, as I said, is having some typical troubles with her friend group. Poppy has to learn how to follow her cat instincts. Mitten Man has to LET GO of all his natural instincts and think about what is best for Poppy. (But is he capable of higher thinking????)

My thoughts: I wanted to love this one so much. I liked the premise. I think it could be relatable for young cat lovers. Cats can seem to have it all. But Mitten Man seems contrary. He doesn't seem to like any of the humans who live with him. (Not even Poppy). And everyone but Poppy seems to dislike Mitten Man. I personally don't like the way he's treated. (He's almost always being "punished" and stuck in the garage for hours on end. The VISITING aunt decides to go a step further, and put Mitten Man outside (lock him out). Since this is Poppy at that point, it's even more annoying. Ideal cat owners they are not. Mitten Man, to be fair, is super annoying. But I didn't want him to be annoying. I wanted to LOVE him. 

I ended up disliking almost all the characters in this one--but especially the adults.


© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

150. Queen Wallis

Queen Wallis. C.J. Carey. 2023. [July] 416 pages. [Source: Library] [adult fiction; alternative history; 1950s; speculative fiction]

First sentence: If pelicans cared about views, then the pelicans of St. James's Park would appreciate that the view from their home on the lake was the most historic in England.

Premise/plot: Queen Wallis is the sequel to Widowland. But is it the thrilling sequel to Widowland? (See my thoughts below). Both books imagine an intriguing what-if. What if Britain had formed an alliance with Nazi Germany instead of fighting in World War II. What would Britain have looked like in the 1950s. Obviously, one can tell from the title, that there would be a Queen Wallis--instead of Queen Elizabeth. 

Rose Ransom, our protagonist, spends her days rewriting literature and 'sanitizing' it for the present day. She removes anything offensive to the powers that be. No exceptions. Play it safe on what is "offensive." But Rose has a big secret--a secret that apparently she has forgotten completely. A secret that readers of the first novel may be aware of. But does someone know her secret? Is she a target?

MY thoughts: I do not think this is a thrilling sequel. The first novel was definitely premise-driven. It had plenty of action on top of an intriguing premise. So much of this one is Rose being clueless. There doesn't seem to be much of a plot. Definitely a LOT more dialogue this time around. (Or perhaps I'm misremembering the first book?) But it was hard to care about any of the characters. Not even Rose since Rose seems to sometimes forget who she is and what she stands for.


© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Friday, August 25, 2023

149. I'll Tell You No Lies

I'll Tell You No Lies. Amanda McCrina. 2023. [August] 224 pages. [Source: Library] [YA Historical fiction; YA Fiction; Cold War]

First sentence: Mom died on Monday morning, June 6, 1955, about half an hour after she dropped me off at school in Kaiserslautern. 

Premise/plot: Shelby Blaine is in for a whirlwind experience the summer after her mother dies. The family rushes back to the states. Her military father has a new mission. (Air Force Intelligence officer). He will be one of the men debriefing a Russian defector. Shelby never thought to be involved with Maksym (the Russian defector). But their chance meeting at a social event changes everything...just a day or two later (maybe just a day???) he's on the loose--escaped from custody.

Is he trustworthy? Maybe. Maybe not. Are the agents "protecting" or "guarding" him trustworthy? Maybe. Maybe not. So many stories. So many lies. Can Shelby make sense of anything at all? 

Shelby will be forced to question everything and everyone.

MY thoughts: I like this one. I don't know that I loved it. It keeps your head spinning for sure, which was the goal, I suppose. Having seen Alias multiple times, I kept expecting twists and turns--even though Shelby is not in intelligence at all. (She's eighteen and getting ready to go to college.) There were twists and turns. There was a LOT of action. I'm not sure that there needed to be hints of romance. (But there was).


© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

148. Canary Girls

Canary Girls. Jennifer Chiaverini. 2023. [August] 432 pages. [Source: Library] [historical fiction; world war I; adult fiction]

First sentence: Lucy rested the heavy sack of vegetables and paper-wrapped meat on her hip, reluctant to set it down at her feet beside her suitcase despite the ache in her arms. 

My thoughts, part one: I love historical fiction (most of the time). I dislike sports (most of the time). If I had known ahead of time that this newest one features sports--football (aka soccer)--so heavily, so front and center, I probably would have passed on reading this one. 

Premise/plot: This newest novel by Jennifer Chiaverini has multiple narrators. Each narrator is affiliated with the same munitions factory. (One is married to the boss, but oversees here and there some of the concerns of the female workers; she is also involved in the sports team, the Thornshire Canaries.) The others work in the Danger Building doing the most dangerous work--involving potentially deadly chemicals. The factory workers are all experiencing health problems--hair turning ginger, skin turning yellow, sore throats, coughs, etc. The list goes on and on of their symptoms. But the pay is good and the motivation--to end the war quickly--is strong. All have loved ones in the war overseas. No sacrifice is too big when it comes to ending the war. Yes, the characters have names. No, the voices are not unique. 

My thoughts: I do enjoy reading fiction and nonfiction about the Great War (aka World War I, the War to End All Wars). I don't necessarily enjoy reading books with multiple narrators particularly when the voices are so similar and all the characterization blends together. I don't know if it is characters blending together OR if all the characters are drawn so shallowly that it seems to blend together. The book is essentially about their friendships--they work together, they sport together, they care about one another. 

I skimmed ALL sport-related sections. 

Obviously, if you like sports fiction OR enjoy watching sports in real life, then perhaps this one would hold greater appeal. 

© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

147. Rebecca of Salerno

Rebecca of Salerno: A Novel of Rogue Crusaders, a Jewish Female Physician, and a Murder. Esther Erman. 2022. [August] 264 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Barcelona, 1195 CE "How beautiful you have grown, Rebecca." Uncle Carlos, my father's younger brother, had rushed to greet us when, after a long, harrowing voyage from England, our feet at last touched land in Barcelona. "But you, Isaac, you have only grown older."

Premise/plot: Rebecca of Salerno was written to be the sequel to Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe. Most of the novel is set circa 1205--give or take a year or two. Rebecca, our heroine, is leaving apart from her father (and rest of her family). She's settled in the Jewish community of Salerno. She's gone to medical school. She's a practicing physician and a teacher. She, for the most part, enjoys the community where Jews, Muslims, and Christians can coexist together. Perhaps not always equitably and friendly. But there's some amount of normalcy in coexisting. But this peace is shattered when a crusader is murdered. Rebecca teams up with Rafael, the man who has proposed dozens of times, to solve the crime. I honestly can't remember if Rafael is a fellow doctor, or, if his "job" is more academic. I know there's always talk of them working together to translate various texts--some medical, some not. A rabbi--a visiting rabbi with somewhat radical views, unpopular views--has been arrested and charged with the crime. Rafael and Rebecca believe that he is innocent of the crime, or, at the very least should be considered innocent until proof can be found. The powers that be--a duke, I believe???--just want this bother to be over and done with. Execute already. Who cares who's guilty and who's innocent??? Just kill the person you've already got locked up.

Rebecca and Rafael--but especially Rebecca--believe in justice even when it is uncomfortable and dangerous. What is best for the community at large cannot justify injustice for the individual.

MY thoughts: I don't often read in this time period. I have read Ivanhoe. I'm not sure I'm perfectly convinced that this Rebecca is THE Rebecca from Ivanhoe. Though I will say that I was interested in this Rebecca. She is essentially flawless. Essentially. Her flaw being that she's blind and a bit stupid when it comes to matters of the heart. I have a hard time believing that THE Rebecca would cling so fiercely to the idea of remaining true to Ivanhoe, the so-called love of her life, that she would lock her heart away and never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever marry. I would imagine that after a year or two, she'd start realizing that there is life out there to be lived. I also think this may be more of a LATER notion. I could be wrong, but I think at this time it was a LOT more common for arranged marriages and matchmaking to happen. That parents would be more likely to choose for their children instead of "love matches" and this idealized notion of "romantic love." Culturally and socially, I imagine that marriage and children would have been fundamental and foundational. Again, I could be wrong. I'm no expert in Jewish communities of the thirteenth century. I think readers can see the fact that she will eventually fall in love with Rafael by the end of the novel coming from the start.

I do wish we'd not jumped from 1195 to 1205. The immediate years following Ivanhoe are jumped over completely. Readers have to wait until the last few chapters for Rebecca to begin talking about her time in England and Ivanhoe. 

© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews