Monday, February 27, 2023

February Reflections

I read seventy-two books in February. It was a GREAT month for books. There were a handful of books that I just loved, loved, loved. (Road to Roswell and Lost in Time being two of the adult books that I absolutely loved. Both speculative fiction.)

Books Reviewed at Becky's Book Reviews

18. Poster Girl. Veronica Roth. 2022 [October] 288 pages. [Source: Library]

19. Belittled Women. Amanda Sellet. 2022. [November] 384 pages. [Source: Review copy]

20. Running Out of Time. Margaret Peterson Haddix. 1995. 184 pages. [Source: Library]

21. To Dream in the City of Sorrows. (Babylon 5: Book #9). Kathryn M. Drennan. Based on the series by J. Michael Straczynski. 1997. Random House. 352 pages.  [Source: Bought]

22. Baking Powder Wars: The Cutthroat Food Fight That Revolutionized Cooking. Linda Civitello. 2017. 264 pages. [Source: Review copy]

23. Peace is A Chain Reaction: How World War II Japanese Balloon Bomb Brought People of Two Nations Together. Tanya Lee Stone. [Plenty of photographs]. 2022. [September] 176 pages. [Source: Library]

24. The Many Fortunes of Maya. Nicole D. Collier. 2023. [January] 240 pages. [Source: Library]

25. Retro. Sofia Lapuente and Jarrod Shusterman. 2023. [January] 400 pages. [Source: Library]

26. Falling Out of Time. Margaret Peterson Haddix. 2023. [May] 352 pages. [Source: Review copy]

27. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Harry Potter #2) J.K. Rowling. 1998. 341 pages. [Source: Library]

28. Seven Percent of Ro Devereux. Ellen O'Clover. 2023. [January] 320 pages. [Source: Library]

29. Princess of the Wild Sea. Megan Frazer Blakemore. 2023. [January] 256 pages. [Source: Library]

30. Iveliz Explains It All. Andrea Beatriz Arango. 2022 [September] 272 pages. [Source: Library]

31. Freewater. Amina Luqman-Dawson. 2022. 416 pages. [Source: Library]

32. The Davenports (Davenports #1) Krystal Marquis. 2023. 384 pages. [Source: Library]

33. Gold Rush Girl. Avi. 2020. 306 pages. [Source: Library]

34. Their Eyes Were Watching God. Zora Neale Hurston. 1937. Harper Perennial Modern Classics. 256 pages. [Source: Bought]

35. Simon Sort of Says. Erin Bow. 2023. [January] 320 pages. [Source: Library]

36. The Last Mapmaker. Christiana Soontornvat. 2022. 368 pages. [Source: Library]

37. Maizy Chen's Last Chance. Lisa Yee. 2022. 276 pages. [Source: Library]

38. The Swifts: A Dictionary of Scoundrels. Beth Lincoln. 2023. 352 pages. [Source: Library]

39. Going Dark. Melissa de la Cruz. 2023. [January] 336 pages. [Source: Library]

40. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. 1999. 435 pages. [Source: Library]

41. The Tower of Life: How Yaffa Eliach Rebuilt Her Town In Stories and Photographs. Chana Stiefel. Illustrated by Susan Gal. 2022. 40 pages. [Source: Library]

42. Lost in Time. A.G. Riddle. 2022. 455 pages. [Source: Library]

43. Winston Chu vs. the Whimsies. 2023. [February] 368 pages. [Source: Library]

44. Beyond the Wire. James D. Shipman. 2022. 349 pages. [Source: Library]

45. The Road to Roswell. Connie Willis. 2023 [June] 416 pages. [Source: Review copy]


Books Reviewed at Young Readers

23. I Did It! Michael Emberley. 2022 [October 11] 40 pages. [Source: Library]

24. Worm and Caterpillar Are Friends (Ready-to-Read Graphics Level 1) Kaz Windness. 2023. [January] 64 pages. [Source: Library]

25. Sabrina Sue Loves the Sky. Priscilla Burris. 2023. [January] 32 pages. [Source: Library]

26. Chicken Karaoke. Heidi E. Y. Stemple. Illustrated by Aaron Spurgeon. 2023. [January] 32 pages. [Source: Library]

27. The Real Mother Goose. Illustrated by Blanche Fisher Wright. 1916. 128 pages. [Source: Library]

28. Never Glue Your Friends To Chairs (Roscoe Riley Rules #1) Katherine Applegate. Illustrated by Brian Biggs. 2008. 79 pages. [Source: Library]

29. The Secret School Avi. 2001. 157 pages. [Source: Library]

30. Lost Little Leopard (Lily to the Rescue #5). W. Bruce Cameron. Illustrated by Jennifer L. Meyer. 2021. 144 pages. [Source: Library]

31.  Lily to the Rescue #6: The Misfit Donkey. 2021. 144 pages. [Source: Library]

32. The Secret Sisters. Avi. 2023. [August] 256 pages. [Source: Review copy]

33. Hot Dog. Doug Salati. 2022. 40 pages. [Source: Library]

34. Foxes In A Fix (Lily to the Rescue #7) W. Bruce Cameron. 2021. 128 pages. [Source: Library]

35. The Three Bears (Lily to the Rescue #8) W. Bruce Cameron. 2022. 144 pages. [Source: Library]

36. Squirrel in the Museum. Vivian Vande Velde. 2019. 112 pages. [Source: Library]

37. Squirrel on Stage. Vivian Vande Velde. 2022. [October 25] 128 pages. [Source: Library]

38. Knight Owl. Christopher Denise. 2022. 48 pages. [Source: Library]

39. Ready for Spaghetti: Funny Poems for Funny Kids. Michael Rosen. Illustrated by Polly Dunbar. 2022. [November] 64 pages. [Source: Library]

40. Space Cat. Ruthven Todd. Illustrated by Paul Galdone. 1952. 80 pages. [Source: Library]

41. The Lost Galumpus. by Joseph Helgerson. Illustrated by Udayana Lugo. 2023. [January] 384 pages. [Source: Library]

42. Once Upon a Book. Grace Lin and Kate Messner. 2023. [February] 40 pages. [Source: Library]

43. Mister Kitty is Lost! Greg Pizzoli. 2023. [January] 32 pages. [Source: Library]

44. Dog Can Hide. (Ready to Read, Ready to Go) Laura Gehl. Illustrated by Fred Blunt. 2023. [January] 32 pages. [Source: Library]

45. Mushroom Lullaby. Kenneth Kraegel. 2022. [October] 32 pages. [Source: Library]

46. I Am Picky: Confessions of a Fussy Eater. Kristen Tracy. Illustrated by Erin Kraan. 2022. [October 18] 40 pages. [Source: Library]

47. How To Draw A Happy Cat. Ethan T. Berlin. Illustrated by Jimbo Matison. 2022. 40 pages. [Source: Library]

48. A Book, Too, Can Be a Star: The Story of Madeleine L'Engle and the Making of a Wrinkle in Time. Written by Charlotte Jones Voiklis and Jennifer Adams. Illustrated by Adelina Lirius. 2022. 40 pages. [Source: Library]

49. The Library Fish. Alyssa Satin Capucilli. Illustrated by Gladys Jose. 2022. [March] 32 pages. [Source: Library]

50. The Library Fish Learns to Read. Alyssa Satin Capucilli. 2023. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

51. Harriet Spies. Elana K. Arnold. 2023. 240 pages. [Source: Library]

52. In Every Life. Marla Frazee. 2023. [February] 32 pages. [Source: Library]

53. To Boldly Go: How Nichelle Nichols and Star Trek Helped Advance Civil Rights. Angela Dalton. Illustrated by Lauren Semmer. 2023. [January] 40 pages. [Source: Library]

54. Nat the Cat Takes a Nap (Ready to Read, Pre-Level 1) Jarrett Lerner. 2023. [January] 32 pages. [Source: Library]

Books Reviewed at Operation Actually Read Bible

11. Becoming Elisabeth Elliot. Ellen Vaughn. 2020. 320 pages. [Source: Library]

12. The Heidelberg Diary: Daily Devotions on the Heidelberg Catechism. William J Ouweneel. 2019. 768 pages. [Source: Library]

13. Be Thou My Vision: A Liturgy for Daily Worship. Jonathan Gibson. 2021. [November/December] 352 pages. [Source: Review copy]

14. Board book: Sounding Joy. Ellie Holcomb. Illustrated by Laura Ramos. 2022. [September] 24 pages. [Source: Library]

15. Becoming Free Indeed. Jinger Duggar Vuolo. 2023. 240 pages. [Source: Library]

16. We Believe: Creeds, Confessions, and Catechisms for Worship. Mathew B. Sims. 2015. 360 pages. [Source: Bought]

17. Selected Sermons. Lemuel Haynes. Edited by Jared C. Wilson. 2022. 71 pages. [Review copy]

18. Chosen by God. R.C. Sproul. 1986. 192 pages. [Source: Bought]

19. 5 Puritan Women: Portraits of Faith and Love. Jenny-Lyn de Klerk. 2023. [February] 161 pages. [Source: Review copy]

20. The Holiness of God. R.C. Sproul. 1985/2012. 226 pages. [Source: Bought]

21. PROOF: Finding Freedom Through the Intoxicating Joy of Irresistable Grace. Daniel Montgomery and Timothy Paul Jones. 2014. Zondervan. 224 pages. [Source: Bought]

22. One Perfect Life: The Complete Story of the Lord Jesus. John F. MacArthur Jr. 2013. 528 pages. [Source: Bought]

Bibles Reviewed at Operation Actually Read Bible

I didn't finish any Bibles in February.


Books Read in 2023122
Pages Read in 202328,089
# of Books50
# of Pages12,848
# of Books72
# of Pages15,241

© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Sunday, February 26, 2023

45. The Road to Roswell

The Road to Roswell. Connie Willis. 2023 [June] 416 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Serena wasn't in the airport waiting area when Francie got off the plane in Albuquerque, but a man carrying a sign reading FIRST CONTACT COMMITTEE--WELCOME TO THE UFO FESTIVAL was. UFO festival? Serena hadn't said anything about a UFO festival going on at the same time as her wedding. Maybe it's not in Roswell, Francie thought hopefully. But of course it was. Where else was a UFO festival be?

My thoughts: I know, I know. I usually start with "premise/plot". But I just wanted to pop in to say THERE BETTER BE A SEQUEL. And all the better if that sequel is also published this year. Like tomorrow. I wanted MORE, MORE, MORE, MORE. This is easily the best book I've read in 2023. I'll clarify that a bit. The best adult book I've read in 2023. 

Premise/plot: Francie goes to Roswell hoping to stop her friend--her former college roommate--from marrying a "true-believer." It's a UFO themed wedding coinciding with a UFO Festival. This won't be the first time Francie has persuaded her friend to be a runaway bride. But before she has a chance to have a heart-to-heart chat with Serena, but after she's tried on her maid of honor dress--it's horrific, of course--she's an alien. The alien, whom Francie eventually nicknames Indy (short for Indiana Jones), and Francie start off on a road trip of the most unusual kind. And as they travel--Indy indicates which direction to drive--they soon pick up more "guests" (or abductees). Wade. Lyle. Eula Mae. Joseph. The original car not being big enough for all the crew...they soon find themselves in a "borrowed" RV crisscrossing the Southwest. (It's Joseph's). What is Indy searching for? What does he want? What does he need? 

My thoughts (part 2): I loved, loved, loved this one. It was giddy-making. It has literally everything. This is a funny sci-fi rom-com. It would make an AWESOME movie. (In my opinion). I loved the characters. I loved the relationships. I loved the world-building. Nothing was tedious. I loved the amount of characterization. Yes, it's premise-driven. Yes, it pokes fun at at least a couple of sub-genres. (Lyle, a true believer, of sorts, has seen EVERY alien movie ever made. Joseph is a die-hard western fan. He's seen EVERY western ever made.) But it was such a delightful read. 

Did I love the ending???? I'm mad at it. Not mad-mad. Not angry, I mean. It's just like when a movie flashes up a big TO BE CONTINUED sign right in the middle of a scene. (Though the words were not to be continued. So there better be a sequel.) 


© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Sunday Salon #9 Twelve Favorites (So Far)

I have read 121 books so far this year. IF you are surprised, then that makes two of us. I think I usually have about fifty to sixty books read in an average year. (And not every year is an average year. Certainly I can get distracted from reading.)

So what books have 'stood out' to me so far??? IF I included rereads in this list, I don't know that it would be completely fair. So I'm going to try to focus on new-to-me books.

 I am currently reading a couple of books that may just end up on my ABSOLUTE FAVORITE AND BEST books of the year list. I am so in love with The Rose and the Thistle by Laura Frantz. It is historical fiction set in SCOTLAND. It is super swoon-worthy. I am also adoring The Road to Roswell by Connie Willis. This one is all kinds of awesome. Quite a road trip with unforgettable characters.


Have you loved, loved, loved a book this year? Do you have a favorite so far? Which book(s) would you recommend?

Several of the books on my list--and my currently reading list--don't release until later this year. Which book(s) are you looking forward to releasing? How do you keep up with new and upcoming releases?


© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Friday, February 24, 2023

44. Beyond the Wire

Beyond the Wire. James D. Shipman. 2022. 349 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: The screams faded. Jakub hunted through the coat of a dead man. He searched with a practiced hand, groping through pockets, fingering seams. He felt something hard. Eyes forward, he tore at the fabric, ripping open a secret pocket. An object fell into his hand, circular and metallic. A watch. He glimpsed a flash of gold. 

Premise/plot: Beyond the Wire is a historical novel set at Auschwitz-Birkenau circa 1944 through 1945. Jakub, our protagonist, has managed to survive the concentration far. But at great cost. His job, one of the 'cozier' jobs of the camp, is to go through the possessions of the new arrivals--those soon to be gassed/murdered. He is able to steal here and there enough to keep the guards bribed. He can buy extra food. He can buy his way into the women's camp to socialize. Anna, our second protagonist, is Jakob's girlfriend. They meet secretly. He is her protector. But they have secrets from one another... Jakob has been approached multiple times by Roch Laska, a prisoner who is plotting a revolt/revolution. Tomasz, Jacob's best-friend-and-companion, is dead-set against Jakob joining such a plot/scheme. Anna is "for" him joining, by the way. But soon he finds himself mixed in with the rebellion...for better or worse...and it starts with someone who is threatening Anna.

My thoughts: This is a very intense read. The author has a note on which elements of the story are 'true' and which are pure fiction. I believe the main characters--our two protagonists--are fictional. This one is packed with action and heartache.


© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

43. Winston Chu vs. the Whimsies

Winston Chu vs. the Whimsies. 2023. [February] 368 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Dad used to say that qi, like the Force, ran strong in our family. That if we nurtured this life energy, we could heal a broken bone, even change the flow of water. Bet he never thought I would use the Chu family qi to bake the most gooeylicious shoofly pie on the planet. 

Premise/plot: Winston Chu loses his pie and gains a broom and dustpan. If I wanted an inadequate, awkward one-sentence summary, that's what I would go with. Winston has a great group of friends, and, he relies on them a great deal since the death of his father, a veteran. His older sister is grieving in her own way. His younger sister can't remember her father at all. Winston--and his friends--encounter a mystical, magical, whimsical here-today-gone-tomorrow shop of oddities with a super-strange-and-suspicious-shop-keeper. He's allowed a magical item--in return for "scaring" away hoodlums--but it will be the first thing he touches. And that something--was it a trick???--was a broom and dustpan. His life--and the lives of his friends--will never be the same again. This broom and dustpan will wreak havoc on their personal lives....and they will have to risk everything to hold onto what matters most.

My thoughts: This was one strange book. I guess I didn't realize it was a changeling story--involving his younger sister and a creepy doll. If I'd more fully known where this fantasy book was heading, I personally wouldn't have picked it up. Of course, it's equally possible that a reader would pick it up simply because they want a changeling story. 

This one wasn't for me. But it might work better for other readers. 


© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Monday, February 20, 2023

42. Lost in Time

Lost in Time. A.G. Riddle. 2022. 455 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: On the anniversary of his wife’s death, Sam Anderson visited her grave. It was a crisp spring morning in Nevada, with dew on the grass and fog rolling through the cemetery. In one hand, Sam carried a bouquet of flowers. In the other, he gripped his son’s hand. Ryan was eleven years old and strong-willed and introverted, like his mother. After her death, he had withdrawn, spending even more time alone, playing with LEGOs, reading, and generally avoiding life.

Premise/plot: Sam and Adeline Anderson find themselves in quite the mess. This father and daughter are suspects in a murder investigation. There is video evidence that they were the last [last to be seen, at least] to enter the victim's home. Nora and Sam were in a relationship together. Now Sam may just be save his daughter from being implicated as well.

Exiled means EXILED in Lost in Time. Criminals/prisoners are sent to the FAR, FAR, FAR, DISTANT past in an alternate universe. Convicts won't get the chance to appeal, they'll be alive as long as they can survive the elements: dinosaurs, earthquakes, volcanoes, meteors, etc. 

What makes it worse for this father of two, is that he is one of SIX scientists who invented the Absolom time machine. It was meant to be a quick new way to "ship" stuff. They didn't know it was a time machine, but not a time machine to their own past, but a multi-verse time machine. 

Adeline will do just about anything to save her father [after the fact] even if it means working/living with the enemy.

My thoughts: I loved, loved, loved, loved, crazy-loved this one. I wish I could find more science fiction like this one. For #lawnerds who also love sci-fi, especially time travel, this one is a dream read. 

I enjoyed the complexity of this one. I loved the world-building and puzzle-building. All the pieces, all the clues, are there to be found. But it takes a while for everything to come together. (I was not expecting it to play out quite like it did.)

I really loved the characterization in this one. In particular, Adeline's character. She is our main narrator....

© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

41. The Tower of Life

The Tower of Life: How Yaffa Eliach Rebuilt Her Town In Stories and Photographs. Chana Stiefel. Illustrated by Susan Gal. 2022. 40 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: There once was a girl named Yaffa. She was a spirited girl who loved her home and her family. She was born in a shtetl, a small Jewish town that pulsed with love, laughter, and light. The name of her shtetl was Eishyshok (Ay-shi-shok). The family roots of the people in Eishyshok ran deep. For 900 years, their histories and spirits were woven into the fabric of the town. 

Premise/plot: Nonfiction picture book and/or nonfiction picture book biography. I could see it being classified as either/both. The jacket copy says it is the biography of Yaffa Eliach the woman who created "the Tower of Faces" (aka The Tower of Life) at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC. It is definitely the story of her life, her work, her life's work. But it is also so much more than that. It is the story of her community, and the story of the Holocaust as well.

My thoughts: I found this one FASCINATING. I really loved this nonfiction picture book. I loved learning the story behind The Tower of Faces. Though I'd not heard of this particular exhibit, I have heard of the Holocaust Memorial Museum. I would love to learn more about this exhibit and the others as well. I loved, loved, loved the photographs of this one.

I found it a powerfully compelling read. I'm not surprised a bit that it won the Sydney Taylor Book Award. (It was also a Robert F. Sibert Honor book). 


© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Sunday, February 19, 2023

Sunday Salon #8 Almost Books

What is an almost book? It is a book that *almost* works for me, or, a book that I *almost* love, or, even a book I can *almost* recommend. 

Almost books are tricky. Because within each almost book is strong potential. There may be a few characters that I love. There may be an intriguing story or premise. There are usually just a few tiny (or not so tiny) things that hold me back just a little. 

Almost books always get finished. Because I am holding out hope until the very last page, last paragraph, last sentence that there will be something persuasive and satisfying that ultimately wins me over. 

Almost books are books that stay with me, that live in my head. At least for a few days or few weeks. With as tricky as almost books can be, reviewing almost books is always helpful. Perhaps not helpful to those on the fence. But helpful to me. I can have hundreds of thoughts racing around--some positive, some negative. For me to make sense of my thoughts, I *have* to write. Sometimes I start composing my review in my head hours--if not days--before I sit down at the computer to write a proper review.

When I read reviews of *my* "almost" book, I'm never surprised to see other people who love it. Nor am I surprised to see other people who have issues with it, or have hesitations about gushing. I find it helpful to read reviews. I don't usually read reviews before I write my own review--with the exception of the times I read reviews BEFORE I read the book. I might read a dozen or so reviews before I decide to read a book.  

I don't think being an almost book is a bad thing. Reading is subjective. So long as any review of an almost book explains the personal reasoning of why it didn't work, then that review can be helpful.  

This past week, I encountered a few "almost" books. 

It's also been a busy week!!!

Books Read in 2023109
Pages Read in 202325,301


Do you look at a book's ratings before deciding to read it? Have you ever read a book because it had so many five star reviews? Or have you ever not read a book because it had such low ratings?


© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Saturday, February 18, 2023

40. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. 1999. 435 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Harry Potter was a highly unusual boy in many ways. For one thing, he hated the summer holidays more than any other time of year. For another, he really wanted to do his homework but was forced to do it in secret, in the dead of night. And he also happened to be a wizard.

Premise/plot: Harry Potter and his friends are preparing for a third year at Hogwarts. This one starts out in some ways extremely similar to the other two books in the series, but quite different as well. After an INCIDENT with his "family," Harry Potter runs away... Around this same time the magic world is shook by the escape of a prisoner from Azkaban--Sirius Black. Everyone is so distracted/concerned about his escape, that Harry Potter's so-called illegal use of magic is overlooked or quickly pardoned. Most of this school year is concerned with the missing Sirius Black. It is thought that Harry Potter is in even more danger than usual...

Plenty of adventures and misadventures are to be found in the day to day lives of Harry Potter and company. 

My thoughts: I certainly did not expect Scabbers--Ron Weasley's rat--to enter into the story in this fashion. I wasn't surprised by other elements of this one. I've learned to expect just about anything/everything from other characters--particularly adults, mostly professors, etc. 

I liked this one okay. I didn't hate it. But it also wasn't all that thrilling. Well, it had its thrilling moments towards the end. But for the most part it is all ho-hum. Hermione is super busy taking a million classes at once. Hermione has a "mean" cat. I guess the only other positive thing is that we get a few glimpses of who Harry's parents--their characters/personalities/relationships/etc.


© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

39. Going Dark

Going Dark. Melissa de la Cruz. 2023. [January] 336 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: The plane bucked with unexpected turbulence on its final descent, sending Josh’s stomach into his chest and causing him to grip the armrests so tightly his knuckles turned white. He’d finally dozed off while watching the in-flight movie when he’d been jolted awake by the sudden drop. Instinctively, he reached out to the seat next to him, only to find it empty. Of course, he’d forgotten. Amelia hadn’t boarded with him.

Premise/plot: Josh Reuter loves Amelia Ashley. Yet when these two get into a fight in Rome, Italy, he leaves for the States without her. That's when she goes dark. She disappears from social media. She doesn't respond to calls or texts. She vanishes. Her friends alert the police. Josh is questioned. Blood is found in his suitcase. He claims he's innocent. That she was alive and well--perhaps not mentally well, but physically well--the last time he saw her. As the police grow more and more suspicious, and the internet becomes more cruel, Josh faces a dilemma. 

Amelia Ashley is--or was, or is???--a social media star. Her "category" is food/travel. She's got quite a devoted following to her accounts. She shares her lives through photographs, videos, and blog posts. Josh Reuter is NOT a social media star. And that's the way he likes it. He may be a photographer, but, his private life is private. She includes him in several videos and posts. After she goes missing, he's tormented/bullied by his girlfriend's fans.

Harper plays a pivotal role in this one. She was not a fan of Amelia Ashley before she goes missing. Josh is a nameless familiar face. They share a class--abnormal psychology. Yet her side-business, her illegal side-business, gives her the tools she needs to get to the bottom of this missing person's case. Her discoveries--which she does not share with the police--reveal that BOTH Josh and Amelia have deep, dark secrets. 

The jacket flap pushes the idea that this one is "ripped from the headlines," and certainly on the surface that is true. The book also seems to be pushing the idea that coverage of missing persons is unjust, unfair, warped, racist, bigoted. While I don't negate that conclusion in its entirety, I'd just add that any person with a large following, a social media star, a person who has thousands of photographs, thousands of videos, media that is easy to "grab" for naturally going to get more coverage. It is more of a news story--because those images, those videos, those words--are an easy hook to fit into allotted space. Another thing that I think is not considered enough in this one, is that the other missing person case explored in this one is of a girl who while yes is biracial and therefore "not white" she's also someone who has a) a history of running away b) a history of running away c) a history of going off her medication guessed it...running away. That doesn't mean it's okay for the police to make all sorts of assumptions about her disappearance. (They assume that she has gone off her medication and run away.) So the conclusion that the reason this girl did not have a "trending hashtag" or a headline story simply because she was biracial...unfair at best. I think the trending hashtag has everything to do with her being a social media star....and not the color of her skin. As for headlines--I think there's more there to that argument.

My thoughts: I found this one super-compelling. It had multiple narrators--Josh, Harper, Amelia--and the points of view were so fascinating. As the mystery unfolded, it was just impossible to put down. I kept changing my mind with every chapter.


© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Thursday, February 16, 2023

38. The Swifts

The Swifts: A Dictionary of Scoundrels. Beth Lincoln. 2023. 352 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: It was a bright, well-dressed morning in early May and the Swifts were in the middle of a funeral. The House looked very fine. The lawns had been swept clean of leaves, the hedge maze had been trimmed, and the statues had been scrubbed behind the ears. The Family had spent the morning practicing their eulogies in front of a mirror, and now they walked in slow procession through the cemetery, faces professionally grim.

Premise/plot: The Swifts are something else. Shenanigan Swift, our narrator, has a LARGE, bizarre, odd, quirky, whimsical, one-of-a-kind family. And they're all coming--well the living ones--to a Reunion. Some may choose to partake in an actual treasure hunt--a Vile relation, literally named Vile Swift--hid treasure on the property way back when that has yet to be discovered. He lived up to his name. Supposedly, all Swifts lift up their names. But do they? Maybe. Maybe not. Shenanigan has spent much of her time mapping out the LARGE equally bizarre, quirky, one-of-a-kind house and looking for secret tunnels, secret rooms, secret hiding places, etc. She may not be the matriarch or the archivist, but, she's accumulating knowledge in her spare time--knowledge that may just prove useful once this family reunion turns deadly.

This whimsical mystery packed with dark humor is unique. There are dozens of characters--or suspects, or victims--and dozens of clues. There's plenty of twists and turns. 

My thoughts: I liked many things about this one. It was a little crazy--for better or worse. And by crazy I don't make an allusion to anything regarding mental health or well-being. I mean zany, topsy-turvy, out-there, bizarre, whimsical, quirky. It was a little OVER the top. So over the top that it goes right past "realistic fiction." Imagine if Roald Dahl ever wrote a family reunion with a treasure hunt. It isn't so much about in-depth characterization and believable story as it is just a roller coaster ride of whimsy. 

Erf. I personally am not a fan. I think giving them an actual name beyond "Erf" would go a long way. I can get--or try to get--why they would want to choose a new name for themself that wouldn't be the one on their birth certificate. But why Erf? And is Erf a new name? a nickname? an-in-between name? Is a better sounding name coming? I'm glad that Shenanigan makes a friend. But still...


© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

37. Maizy Chen's Last Chance

Maizy Chen's Last Chance. Lisa Yee. 2022. 276 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: The pies were fake, but my grandparents didn't know that. Not at first, anyway. My mother had invited them to watch her work on a Tasty Flaky Pie Crust commercial. 

Premise/plot: Maizy Chen and her mom go "home" to Last Chance, Minnesota, to visit her [maternal] grandparents, Opa and Oma. Opa [her grandfather] is in poor health. Though Oma isn't ready to say it out loud, he is dying. They've come to help out, mend fences, etc. This is the first time that Maizy is spending time with her grandparents. And she finds herself loving them and their "Lucky" stories. (Lucky is her second-great-grandfather, I believe. Her grandfather's grandfather.) He is the one who started Golden Palace in Last Chance. The restaurant has been in the family ever since.

Maizy Chen's Last Chance is a coming-of-age story focusing on family, friendship, and larger life lessons. For example, she's hearing about discrimination and prejudice in the Lucky stories of the past. AND ahe's learning first hand about discrimination and prejudice as she walks the streets in town. (Well, as she is encountering the townsfolk. Not everyone, of course, but there are a few rude people who are directly or indirectly hateful.) Race plays heavily in this NEWBERY honor book. 

My thoughts: I loved so many things about this one. I liked Maizy getting to know--really, truly know--her grandparents. Particularly she bonds with her Opa. I love their scenes together. I love all the family scenes really. Though she doesn't always understand all the complexity--the tension--of her family relationships. She also starts making a few friends. I enjoyed her writing the fortunes for the family restaurant. I loved her interest in researching the paper sons. 

There were times, however, I felt it was slightly info-dump-y. I loved so many things about this one. But there were places here and there where I wished it was a little less heavy. (Though the mystery in the middle was a plus.)

Overall, I liked this one.


© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

36. The Last Mapmaker

The Last Mapmaker. Christiana Soontornvat. 2022. 368 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: I must have looked like all the other Assistants standing in line for breakfast that morning at the Three Onions Cafe. We all wore the same starched white shirts, gray trousers, and stiff black cotton aprons with deep pockets. The Assistant's uniform was meant to put each of us on the same level, making us equals for the one year we would spend in service. What a joke.

Premise/plot: Sai is an assistant to the mapmaker Paiyoon. It's a job she keeps secret from her father--for good reasons. Her family background isn't the "best" and she's from the "wrong side" of town. She hides her work clothes and her earnings from her father--and his associates. The best part of her life is her days spent with the mapmaker. At one point, she's given an opportunity, to accompany her employer on a sea voyage. Their country is seeking the 'legendary' and 'fabled' land. It has not been mapped--officially at least. But her country--Mangkon, I believe--wants more than a map at the end of the day. They want to stake claim to this "new" country, this "new" land. 

My thoughts: This was a Newbery Honor for 2023. I wanted to enjoy it, I did. And at first, I did. But I got turned around once the voyage started. I became confused and disoriented. This may be all on me. I wouldn't be surprised. At one point, I skipped to the end and read the last chapter. I then went back and tried to read it through. But I just stayed confused. Again, this could be just me. Reading is so subjective.


© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

35. Simon Sort of Says

Simon Sort of Says. Erin Bow. 2023. [January] 320 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: People are always asking why my family came to the National Quiet Zone. Like we need a reason. I mean, who wouldn’t want to live in a place with no internet and no cell phones and no TV and no radio? Who wouldn’t want to live surrounded by emu farms in a town that’s half astrophysicists and half people who are afraid of their microwaves? I mean, isn’t that the American Dream? Hint: no. Obviously, there’s a story

Premise/plot: Simon and his family have moved to Grin and Bear It, Nebraska, in the "National Quiet Zone." The town is divided into two teams: "Team Science" and "Team Farm." [The scientists are listening for radio signals from outer space.] Simon is hoping to blend into his school--though he's neither team--as much as possible. He wants to 'fly under the radar' so to speak. But his developing friendship with Agate and Kevin might just bring him some unwanted attention...the tradeoff being the best friends he could ever hope for. 

Simon comes to town with a secret. He delights in the fact that there is no internet so that there no one can google his name and find out.

My thoughts: This one gets a million bonus points for quirkiness. Yet despite all the lighter, "quirky," moments this one hits heavy--in the heart. There are scenes that read like a punch in the gut. Simon's secret is that he is the sole survivor from his class after a school shooting. It changed Simon's life--and the lives of his parents--forever.

What I loved about this one was the characterization: ALL the characters--no matter how "big" or "small" "central" or "side" are developed. The narrative draws you into the story, into the community, into the characters' lives. I thought it was well done.

What I didn't quite love, however, was the theology. Granted, I'm not a Catholic. [His father is a deacon and program director]. I could understand how his son's experiences could shake/rattle/throw doubt upon his faith. However, I don't understand how he could maintain at least the outer profession of faith and religion yet preach--several times--in his belief, in his insistence, that there are no miracles, no providence, no sovereignty. He's applauded for embracing a "God of Chaos." This is a middle grade novel. It certainly isn't the place for a philosophical or theological discussion on the "Why is there evil?" or "If God is good, why is there evil?" or "If God is all-knowing or all-powerful, why is there evil?" or "Why does God allow evil?" There are other more appropriate places for that discussion. [I'm not saying it's not worth all...] Again, I'm not a Catholic, so I'm not sure how 'shocking' or 'progressive' or 'controversial' that statement would be. It got me to thinking--that's all.   

© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

34. Their Eyes Were Watching God

Their Eyes Were Watching God. Zora Neale Hurston. 1937. Harper Perennial Modern Classics. 256 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board. For some they come in with the tide. For others they sail forever on the horizon, never out of sight, never landing until the Watcher turns his eyes away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by Time. That is the life of men.
Now women forget all those things they don’t want to remember, and remember everything they don’t want to forget. The dream is the truth. Then they act and do things accordingly. 

ETA: I've read this one so many times. I just absolutely love this one. I believe this is my third time to review it for the blog???? I will say that the more times I read it, the more complex I find it. Teacake and Janie's relationship is *SO* complex. On the one hand, as a reader, I see the abusive nature of it at times. He even takes pride in his ability to "beat" his wife, his woman, Janie. The fact that he's proud that she's publicly seen with bruises visible all over her--is disgusting and revolting. The narration--the narrative--takes this so matter-of-factly. It wasn't DANGER, DANGER, DANGER. No, it was that's just facts. Men beat women they love, end of story. In particular, the narrative points out that while white men oppress black men, black men oppress black women. Almost like a coping mechanism. It is heartbreaking as a reader to see. On the other hand, this is the only relationship [romantic, sexual] relationship in the novel where Janie has agency, has voice. Her first two relationships she had no agency, no voice, no choice. Teacake and Janie were more equals. Janie absolutely loved him heart-soul-body. She didn't really "love" or even like or respect her first two husbands. So contemporary readers have to contemplate was this relationship good? healthy? abusive? bad? Hurston's characters are so human, so flawed. There are no simple answers.

Original review:

I've read Their Eyes Were Watching God a handful of times now. (I first read it in college.) This book by Zora Neale Hurston is just beautiful and compelling. Every time I reread it I'm reminded just how beautiful and how compelling. I never quite forget, mind you. But every time I pick the book up, I'm swept into the story and experience it all over again. (The best kind of book to reread!)

Janie is the heroine of Their Eyes Were Watching God. There is a framework to the story that allows the reader to come full circle with Janie. Readers first see Janie through an outsider perspective, a gossiping group.

So the beginning of this was a woman and she had come back from burying the dead... The people all saw her come because it was sundown. The sun was gone, but he had left his footprints in the sky. It was the time for sitting on porches beside the road. It was time to hear things and talk. These sitters had been tongueless, earless, eyeless conveniences all day long. Mules and other brutes had occupied their skins. But now, the sun and the bossman were gone, so the skins felt powerful and human. They became lords of sounds and lesser things. They passed nations through their mouths. They sat in judgment. (1)
One from the group is Janie's best friend, Pheoby, she leaves the group after a few pages, and goes to her friend bringing a much welcomed plate of food. Then, together, they talk. Janie tells her friend her story--her whole story--framing things just so, explaining and justifying as need arises. It's honest and emotional.
Janie saw her life like a great tree in leaf with the things suffered, things enjoyed, things done and undone. Dawn and doom was in the branches. (8)
 To keep it short: Janie was raised by her grandmother; when she came of age (16 or so), her grandma arranged a marriage for Janie to an older man; when that marriage failed to bloom in love and happiness, Janie is swept off her feet by a traveler passing by; she leaves her first husband and is married to a second; the two settle in Florida and are influential founders of the black community; after the third husband dies, Janie finally, finally, finally falls in love, but, is Tea Cake the love of her life perfectly perfect?! Of course not! Pheoby knew her when she was married to the second husband, when she was Janie Stark. Now, she's come back to that community without Tea Cake, and everyone wants to know EVERYTHING that has happened in the past two years.

Favorite quotes:
'Dat's you, Alphabet, don't you know yo' ownself?' (9)
Oh to be a pear tree--any tree in bloom! With kissing bees singing of the beginning of the world! She was sixteen. She had glossy leaves and bursting buds and she wanted to struggle with life but it seemed to elude her. Where were the singing bees for her? Nothing on the place nor in her grandma's house answered her. She searched as much of the world as she could from the top of the front steps and then went on down to the front gate and leaned over to gaze up and down the road. Looking, waiting, breathing short with impatience. Waiting for the world to be made. (11)
Janie's first dream was dead, so she became a woman. (25)
Her old thoughts were going to come in handy now, but new words would have to be made and said to fit them. (32)
It must have been the way Joe spoke out without giving her a chance to say anything one way or another that took the bloom off of things. (43)
Every morning the world flung itself over and exposed the twon to the sun. (51)
Janie stood where he left her for unmeasured time and thought. She stood there until something fell off the shelf inside her. Then she went inside there to see what it was. It was her image of Jody tumbled down and shattered. But looking at it she saw that it never was the flesh and blood figure of her dreams. Just something she had grabbed up to drape her dreams over. In a way she turned her back upon the image where it lay and looked further. She had no more blossomy openings dusting pollen over her man, neither any glistening young fruit where the petals used to be. She found that she had a host of thoughts she had never expressed to him, and numerous emotions she had never let Jody know about. Things packed up and put away in parts of her heart where he could never fidn them. She was saving up feelings for some man she had never seen. She had an inside and an outside now and suddenly she knew how not to mix them. (72)
All next day in the house and store she thought resisting thoughts about Tea Cake. She even ridiculed him in her mind and was a little ashamed of the association. But every hour or two the battle had to be fought all over again. She couldn't make him look just like any other man to her. He looked like the love thoughts of women. He could be a bee to a blossom--a pear tree blossom in the spring. He seemed to be crushing scent out of the world with his footsteps. Crushing aromatic herbs with every step he took. Spices hung about him. He was a glance from God. (106)
The wind came back with triple fury, and put out the light for the last time. They sat in company with the other in other shanties, their eyes straining against crude walls and their souls asking if He meant to measure their puny might against His. They seemed to be staring at the dark, but their eyes were watching God. (160)
No hour is ever eternity, but it has its right to weep. (184)
Have you read Their Eyes Were Watching God? What did you think?



© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

33. Gold Rush Girl

Gold Rush Girl. Avi. 2020. 306 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Have you ever been struck by lightning? I have. I write not of the sparkling that bolts from the sky, but of gold, the yellow metal buried in the earth and the shatter-wit world of those who seek it. That world turned me topsy-turvy, so that I did things I never dreamed I would or could do.

Premise/plot: Victoria 'Tory' Blaisdell leaves her Rhode Island home with her father and younger brother, Jacob, to go to California to find gold. The book chronicles their many adventures and misadventures. Tory did not want to be left behind with her mother in the care of a bossy aunt. But she didn't quite count on how rough, dangerous, and appalling the situation would be when they arrived. The dad soon leaves to go to the diggings leaving fourteen-year-old, Tory, in charge of Jacob. She has to be his caretaker yet also the one who earns enough money day by day by day to survive. Tory soon learns that she can do just about anything she sets her mind to, but, it is easier to dress as a boy if you want to find work. She makes a few friends--including Sam and Thad--but as the months go by....the family faces the unthinkable.... one day she returns home to discover that Jacob is completely missing. Can she find her brother????

My thoughts: It was a quick read. It was well-paced and packed with adventure, danger, and mystery. I loved Tory's narrative. I loved that she was brave and spunky. She was inspired by Jane Eyre to "take hold" of her own destiny. She was a positive person who tried to hold onto hope despite her circumstances. She wasn't one to let life just happen to her.

© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

32. The Davenports

The Davenports (Davenports #1) Krystal Marquis. 2023. 384 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Olivia Elise Davenport pulled a bolt of vibrant yellow silk from the display and held it to her dark complexion. She was drawn to the bright fabric nearly hidden behind the muted pastels, a shock of sunshine peeking through the clouds, and wondered if it was too bright for so early in the season. In her free hand, she held a sample of beaded lace and tried to imagine the sound it would make whispering around her ankles while she danced. There will be a lot of dancing, she thought.

Premise/plot: Set circa 1910 in Chicago, Illinois, The Davenports is an historical soap opera for young adults [and adults]. The Davenports are a socially elite, wealthy Black family. Mr. Davenport is a successful business man [carriage company]. They are the Somebodies of the [black] community. This soap opera features three Davenport siblings--Olivia (the oldest daughter), John (the only son), and Helen (the youngest daughter). Olivia is 'on the market' if you will. Her parents want her to make a great match. To find someone equally well-thought-of [admired, respected, successful]. The novel opens with Olivia and her best friend, Ruby shopping. John wants to go beyond mere carriages and get into the automobile business. He doesn't reject  the family business necessarily, but, he wants to take it in a new direction, expand upon it. The family assumes that Ruby and John will eventually make a match of it. But John, well, he's been noticing the maid, Amy-Rose. Helen, the youngest, I believe, is closest to John. The two of them really like automobiles and mechanics. Her parents frown her doing anything with mechanics or the family business really. She should be preparing herself for the marriage market. True, it isn't quite her turn in the spotlight, but she really should be mindful of her reputation, of her manners, of her appearance. Helen's practical, no-nonsense manner make her a good companion. Certainly Jacob Lawrence [Laurence???] thinks so. He's supposedly courting/wooing her older sister, Olivia. But. Helen and Jacob are drawn together. While Olivia is drawn to someone her parents do not at all approve of--an activist lawyer of a lower social standing, Washington DeWright. Ruby, her best friend, can relate. While her parents are pushing, pushing, pushing for her to get with John Davenport, she falls in love with someone she's "pretending" to court to make John jealous. (I don't remember his first name, but his last name is Barton). Her feelings turn all-too-real. John, meanwhile, is pursuing the maid, Amy-Rose, who has dreams of her own. She is head-over-heels in love with her employers' son, but, she also has more realistic 'impossible' dreams of opening up her own hair salon for black women. Many of the romances in this one have conflicts--obvious ones--which will require courage and boldness to defy expectations.

My thoughts: I'm not sure if the intended audience--actual preteens and teens--will see the similarities between this one and LUXE by Anna Godbersen. The first Luxe novel released in 2007. [Many teens wouldn't have even been born yet. Some would have been mere babies.]  Luxe features white characters in Manhattan circa 1899. Davenports feature a mostly-if-not-exclusively black cast of characters in Chicago in 1910. So there are certainly some differences. And not just surface-differences. The Davenports does address heavier issues, mainly in regards to race, race expectations, how to best 'serve the race,' 'represent the race,' 'raise the race,' etc.  

The Davenports is a soap opera. It is what it is. It isn't 100% fluff. That's not what I'm implying. Nor am I suggesting that the characterization is weak. It just follows a predictable formula in regards to how the drama [or melodrama] unfolds. 


© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews