Sunday, April 30, 2023

April Reflections

In April, I read fifty-five books. I am a little shocked I read exactly the same number of books as last month (March). I read fewer pages however. There were some fantastic books, and some that were extremely MEH. 

Books Reviewed at Becky's Book Reviews:

66. Vera Wong's Unsolicited Advice for Murderers. Jesse Q. Sutanto. 2023. 352 pages. [Source: Library]

67. Find the Moon. Beth Fehlbaum. 2023. 282 pages. [Source: Review copy]

68. When the Moon Turns to Blood: Lori Vallow, Chad Daybell, and a Story of Murder, Wild Faith, and End Times. Leah Sottile. 2022. 320 pages. [Source: Library]

69. The Other Side of the River (Petra Luna #2) Alda P. Dobbs. 2022. [January] 368 pages. [Source: Library] 

70. Zukie's Burglar (Zukie Merlino #1) Cynthia E. Hurst. 2014. 238 pages. [Source: Library]

71. The Renaissance of Gwen Hathaway. Ashley Schumacher. 2023. [March] 320 pages. [Source: Library]

72. Sad Cypress. Agatha Christie. (Hercule Poirot #22). 1940. 256 pages. [Source: Library]

73. While You Were Dreaming. Alisha Rai. 2023. 432 pages. [Source: Library]

74.  One, Two, Buckle My Shoe. Agatha Christie. 1940. 224 pages. [Source: Library]

75. Hamra and the Jungle of Memories. Hanna Alkaf. 2023. [March] 400 pages. [Source: Library]

76. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Harry Potter #6). J.K. Rowling. 2005. 652 pages. [Source: Library]

77. The Long Winter (Little House #6) Laura Ingalls Wilder. 1940. 334 pages. [Source: Library] 

78. Yours Turly, Shirley. Ann M. Martin. 1988. 128 pages. [Source: Library]

79. Dial A for Aunties. Jesse Q. Sutanto. 2021. 299 pages. [Source: Library]

80. Arch-Conspirator. Veronica Roth. 2023. 112 pages. [Source: Library]

81. The House Is On Fire. Rachel Beanland. 2023. 384 pages. [Source: Library]

82. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. (Harry Potter #7) J.K. Rowling. 2007. 759 pages. [Source: Library]

83. Jane and Edward. Melodie Edwards. 2023. [March] 352 pages. [Source: Review copy]

84. Everyone In My Family Has Killed Someone. Benjamin Stevenson. 2022. 384 pages. [Source: Library]

85. Harboring Hope. Susan Hood. 2023. [March] 400 pages. [Source: Library]

86. Kill Joy. Holly Jackson. 2021. 130 pages. [Source: Library]

Books Reviewed at Young Readers:

78. The Umbrella. Beth Ferry. Illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld. 2023. [March] 48 pages. [Source: Library]

79. Board book: 10 Little Excavators. Annie Bailey. Illustrated by Jeff Harter. 2022. 24 pages. [Source: Library]

80. Board book: Orange Excavator. Kersten Hamilton. Illustrated by Valeria Petrone. 2022. 28 pages. [Source: Library]

81.  Pocket Full of Sads. Brad Davidson. Illustrated by Rachel Mas Davidson. 2023. [April] 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]

82. The World And Everything In It. Kevin Henkes. 2023. [March] 32 pages. [Source: Library]

83. Zoobilations! Animal Poems and Paintings by Douglas Florian. 2022. 48 pages. [Source: Library] 

84. The Story of the Saxophone. Lesa Cline-Ransome. Illustrated by James E. Ransome. 2023. [March] 40 pages. [Source: Library]

85. Pat the Bunny. Dorothy Kunhardt. 1940. 18 pages. [Source: Library]

86. Horton Hatches The Egg. Dr. Seuss. 1940/1968. Random House. 64 pages. [Source: Library]

87. Betsy-Tacy. Maud Hart Lovelace. Illustrated by Lois Lenski. 1940. 144 pages. [Source: Library]

88. A Fine, Fine School. Sharon Creech. Illustrated by Harry Bliss. 2001. 32 pages. [Source: Library] 

89. Stars of the Night: The Courageous Children of the Czech Kindertransport. Caren Stelson. Illustrated by Selina Alko. 2023. [February] 40 pages. [Source: Library] 

90. Caps for Sale. Esphyr Slobodkina. 1940. 48 pages. [Source: Childhood Copy] 

91. A Day in the Sun. Diana Ejaita. 2023. [May] 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

92. Palace of Books. Patricia Polacco. 2023. 56 pages. [Source: Library]

93. Board book: Sometimes Babies. Charlotte Trounce. 2021. 20 pages. [Source: Library]

94. Meet Danitra Brown. Nikki Grimes. Illustrated by Floyd Cooper. 1994. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

95. Ode to a Bad Day. Chelsea Lin Wallace. Illustrated by Hyewon Yum.  2023. [April] 48 pages. [Source: Library]

96. Picky Panda. Jackie Huang. 2023. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]

97. Twenty Questions. Mac Barnett. Illustrated by Christian Robinson. 2023. [March] 40 pages. [Source: Library]

98. Newton and Curie: The Science Squirrels. Daniel Kirk. 2020. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy] 

99. Too Many Lollipops. Robert M. Quackenbush. 1975. 32 pages. [Source: Book from my childhood]

Books Reviewed at Operation Actually Read Bible:

34. All My Knotted Up Life. Beth Moore. 2023. 304 pages. [Source: Library]

35. Mornings with Tozer: Daily Devotional Readings. A.W. Tozer. 2008. 416 pages. [Source: Bought]

36. Reading for the Love of God. Jessica Hooten Wilson. 2023. [March] 208 pages. [Source: Library]

37. In Her Sights (Pink Pistol Sisterhood #1) Karen Witemeyer. 2023. 108 pages. [Source: Borrowed]

38. The Man Born to Be King. Dorothy L. Sayers. Edited by Kathryn Wehr. 1943/2023. 464 pages. [Source: Library]

39. Go and Do Likewise: The Parables and Wisdom of Jesus. John Hendrix. 2021. [February] 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]

40. Found: God's Will. John F. MacArthur Jr. 1972/1998. 64 pages. [Source: Bought]

41. Cultural Counterfeits: Confronting 5 Empty Promises of Our Age and How We Were Made For So Much More. Jen Oshman. 2022. [March] 208 pages. [Source: Review copy]

42. Do Not Be True To Yourself: Countercultural Advice for the Rest of Your Life. Kevin DeYoung. 2023. [April] 61 pages. [Source: Review copy]

43. Mark. (Thru the Bible #36) J. Vernon McGee. 1975. 204 pages. [Source: Bought]

44. Old Made New: A Guide to the New Testament Use of the Old Testament. Greg Lanier. 2022. 197 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Bibles Reviewed at Operation Actually Read Bible:

2.5 Wycliffe New Testament 1388: An edition in modern spelling, with an introduction, the original prologues, and the Epistle to the Laodicieans. William R. Cooper, ed. 2002. British Library. 528 pages. [Source: Bought]


Books Read in 2023232
Pages Read in 202354,181
# of Books50
# of Pages12,848
# of Books72
# of Pages15,241
# of Books55
# of Pages15,216
# of Books55
# of Pages10,876

© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Saturday, April 29, 2023

Sunday Salon #18

I was able to read a full bowl of alphabet soup this month! Though I admit I looked for qualifying picture books the last few days of the month. 

 I think my favorites from this bowl include: EVERYONE IN MY FAMILY HAS KILLED SOMEONE and VERA WONG'S UNSOLICITED ADVICE FOR MURDERERS. My favorite picture book (new-to-me picture book) is THE UMBRELLA by Beth Ferry. 

Caps for SaleC
Dial A for AuntiesD
Everyone In My Family Has Killed SomeoneE
Find the MoonF
Go and Do LikewiseG
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood PrinceH
In Her SightsI
Jane and EdwardJ
Kill JoyK
Long WinterL
Man Born to Be KingM
Newton & Curie The Science SquirrelsN
Other Side of the RiverO
Pat the BunnyP
Twenty QuestionsQ
Renaissance of Gwen HathawayR
Sad CypressS
Too Many LollipopsT
The Umbrella (Ferry, Beth)U
Vera Wong's Unsolicited Advice for MurderersV
When the Moon Turns to BloodW
10 Little ExcavatorsX
Yours Turly, ShirleyY
Zukie's BurglarZ

 Do I have goals for May? Yes. I think I want to either focus on a) library books I already have checked out or b) review copies for 2023. Or maybe I want to focus on both????

© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Friday, April 28, 2023

86. Kill Joy

Kill Joy. Holly Jackson. 2021. 130 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: For this murder mystery game you will be playing the role of Celia Bourne.

Premise/plot: Kill Joy is a prequel to Holly Jackson's A Good Girl's Guide to Murder. (I didn't know this when I started it). Six teens gather together for a murder mystery party with a 1920s theme. It is narrated by Pippa Fitz-Amobi. She enjoys dressing up, following the (fake) clues, and solving the (fake) murder. 

My thoughts: I read this one because I needed a K title for my Alphabet Soup challenge. I wasn't paying the closest attention to the fact that it was a novella and a prequel novella at that. I think prequels written several years after book one (A Good Girl's Guide to Murder) are mainly read by those who've already read the big book, the main book. It is written for fans of the book, the series. There is less characterization, perhaps. 

This one is weak on characterization (mind you, I think if I'd read book one first, I wouldn't have this complaint), and it's also weak on story. It is literally just six teenagers hanging out together and play-acting a murder mystery. It isn't that suspenseful. There are no twists and turns. It's fairly ho-hum and meh. 

That being said, I do want to read the series now simply because I think there's promise there in that direction.


© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Thursday, April 27, 2023

85. Harboring Hope

Harboring Hope. Susan Hood. 2023. [March] 400 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Knock! Knock!
A package at the door!
It was rectangular,
big enough
that Henny had to grasp it
with two hands.
It was addressed to her.
Who was it from?
What was inside?

Premise/plot: Middle grade historical fiction novel written in verse with a World War II setting--this is how I'd describe Susan Hood's newest novel, Harboring Hope. It is based on the life of Henny Sinding, a young woman (teen? tween?), who helped Jews escape from Nazi-Occupied Denmark. She was part of a network, certainly, part of the Danish Resistance. She smuggles Jews onto the Gerda III, a supply boat. The boat then takes the Jews to a safer country. (The historical note at the end pointed out that 99 (or 98) percent of Jews were saved--avoided deportation to concentration camps or falling into the hands of the Nazis. This is a really HIGH number.)

As I said, this is one story about one person who helped. It has fallen out of favor--and who am I to argue--to call them rescuers. I hope it isn't incorrect to say helped. 

My thoughts: I definitely felt the story was engaging/compelling. I am always open to reading more stories [fiction and nonfiction] about World War II and the Holocaust. Every story is important. This one is based on a true story, a real person. 

I don't automatically love, love, love the verse novel format. I would read it either way--verse or prose. The subject matter is heavy, weighty, serious. The verse doesn't seem to be elevating the narrative. In other words, the verse doesn't seem especially poetic. 

Again, I enjoyed the book. I would read it no matter the format. One plus to having it in verse format, I suppose, is that verse novels *feel* quicker to read.

ETA: Is it historical fiction? Is it nonfiction? I am not 100% sure. I know it is BASED on a true story, the characters were real people, this is history. But does that automatically make it nonfiction? Or can it have fictional elements--like dialogue or sequence of events--added???


© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Monday, April 24, 2023

84. Everyone In My Family Has Killed Someone

Everyone In My Family Has Killed Someone. Benjamin Stevenson. 2022. 384 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Everyone in my family has killed someone. Some of us, the high achievers, have killed more than once. I'm not trying to be dramatic, but it is the truth, and when I was faced with writing this down, difficult as it is with one hand, I realized that telling the truth was the only way to do it. It sounds obvious, but modern mystery novels forget that sometimes. They've become more about the tricks the author can deploy: what's up their sleeve instead of what's in their hand. 

Preview of my thoughts: I WAS HOOKED by the opening sentences. So onto my library's hold list I went. It took its own sweet time to get into my hands, but it was so worth the wait! I enjoyed this one so much.

Premise/plot: This one is written in first person. Ernest Cunningham is the narrator. He's an author who writes books about how to write books. The novel starts out with him sharing Ronald Knox's 10 Commandments of Detective Fiction. They are as follows:

1. The criminal must be someone mentioned in the early part of the story, but must not be anyone whose thoughts the reader has been allowed to follow.

2. All supernatural or preternatural agencies are ruled out as a matter of course.

3. Not more than one secret room or passage is allowable.

4. No hitherto undiscovered poisons may be used, nor any appliance which will need a long scientific explanation at the end.

5. Author's note: Culturally outdated historical wording redacted. [If you should be curious and want to seek out why Stevenson decided to skip over commandment five.]

6. No accident must ever help the detective, nor must he ever have an unaccountable intuition which proves to be right.

7. The detective must not himself commit the crime.

8. The detective must not light on any clues which are not instantly produced for the inspection of the reader.

9. The stupid friend of the detective, the Watson, must not conceal any thoughts which pass through his mind; his intelligence mus be slightly, very slightly, below that of the average reader.

10. Twin brothers, and doubles generally, must not appear unless we have been duly prepared for them.

The premise of this one is that the Cunningham family is having a reunion at a ski resort (in the middle of a big storm, it turns out). A Cunningham extended-family reunion. The family is not known for getting along; Ernest Cunningham is on the outs with his family for testifying against his brother at his murder trial. But this reunion is set to celebrate his brother, Michael, getting released from prison. But this reunion may just turn deadly...

 This one features plenty of flashbacks as Ernest reveals just how everyone in his family has killed someone....

My thoughts: The narrator won me over. It has DOZENS of twists and turns. Plenty of reveals. And plenty of twists lurking in those reveals. By the end, it's been quite a dance. In case you couldn't tell, this one has a dark sense of humor. But if you enjoy dark/dry humor....then this one has plenty to satisfy. I liked seeing how everything unfolded. 

GoodReads says this is "Ernest Cunninham #1." Could it really be the first in a series??????? Just checked and apparently there is a second book coming called EVERYONE ON THIS TRAIN IS A SUSPECT. Squeal!!!! Isn't that a great title!!!!!!

© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Sunday, April 23, 2023

83. Jane and Edward

Jane and Edward. Melodie Edwards. 2023. [March] 352 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: She hated burgers. Hated the smell of them, the sight of them, the over-puffed buns and leaky meat grease that dripped out of them, hated the sticky condiment bottles that shuffled from table to table to accompany them, and the ever-present customer complaints of overcooked/undercooked.

Premise/plot: Jane Raine, our protagonist, is a waitress who absolutely hates her job. She goes to school to become a legal assistant. After finishing school, she is hired to become the assistant to a difficult-to-work-for lawyer, Edward Rosen. Few assistants stick with the job long. He goes through a LOT of assistants. But Jane Raine is determined to make this job work. Over several months, these two adjust to each other and even come to enjoy one another's company. Yes, he isn't quite like the other lawyers at the law firm. But she comes to appreciate his eccentricities (or most of them). They even begin to fall in love and date...secretly. (Not coming out to HR). But his secret(s) may doom the relationship...

My thoughts: The setting for this contemporary Jane Eyre retelling is Canada. (Toronto, to be exact. Though the characters do move around a bit through the novel. So not exclusively Toronto). 

Retellings can be tough. This one keeps some of the original story/details. But it also changes plenty. Don't expect a literal 'crazy' wife kept in an attic. Don't expect his brother-in-law to be stabbed. Definitely don't expect Edward to dress up as a fortune teller. And probably it's best if you don't expect literal fires--though there is a fire drill. The romance keeps obstacles, but just switches things up a bit.

As with the original novel, I found myself loving the first half more than the second half. It's just really hard to stay (as) engaged once Jane runs away. 

All things considered, I enjoyed it for the most part. I am definitely glad I gave it a chance. It may not be better than the original, but it is enjoyable.

(For those that are curious, this one mainly fades to gray when it comes to intimate scenes. (Not completely clean by a long shot. But not horribly graphic either.) 

© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Saturday, April 22, 2023

Sunday Salon #17

I am *almost* caught up on reviews! Just one book in my stack that still needs to be reviewed....and it is Jane & Edward: A Modern Reimagining of Jane Eyre by Melodie Edwards.

I am currently reading:

Girl Forgotten by April Henry
Everyone In My Family Has Killed Someone by Benjamin Stevenson

This week's big accomplishment was finishing the Harry Potter series. I do have a question for you. I've read the original seven full-length novels. Is the play HARRY POTTER AND THE CURSED CHILD worth reading??????? Or is it something I should skip?


© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

82. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. (Harry Potter #7) J.K. Rowling. 2007. 759 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: The two men appeared out of nowhere, a few yards apart in the narrow, moonlit lane. For a second they stood quite still, wands directed at each other's chests; then, recognizing each other, they stowed their wands beneath their cloaks and started walking briskly in the same direction.

Premise/plot: Harry Potter is on his final quest(s) in this final fantasy novel starring Harry Potter and company. (In particular, Ron and Hermione are his companions for most of the novel.) He is preparing day and night (night and day) for that final battle, the big showdown. He's also trying to decipher (uncover, discover) the mysteries of Dumbledore. There's so much he doesn't know, and he's still grieving the loss of his mentor. 

My thoughts: I thought I'd share my thoughts on the series as a whole. The seven books do need to stand together, work together. I would say the first few books are like waiting to watch water boil. Depending on how hungry you are, and how anxious you are for that water to boil so you can begin actually cooking your meal, you may or may not find them satisfying in and of themselves. I found the pace to be a bit slow. Or if not slow, a bit uneven. All the books do build up to a climax, of sorts, but never the BIG finale-style showdown you know is bound to be coming. The last two books, however, the pacing is much quicker; there isn't as much waiting around for the sake of waiting around. Everything seems to be happening quickly and "now." There's action, action, more action. (Or perhaps my analogy is wrong. Maybe the series isn't like boiling water...maybe it's making homemade bread and the slow pacing is like waiting for the bread to rise (in cycles) and occasionally you get to punch it down and have some fun kneading). The last two novels are, by far, my favorite in terms of pace and action. 

Did I enjoy the series? Yes. No. Maybe. It is not one that I see myself reading again and again and again. I am VERY glad I read through them once. I am glad I've met the characters. But I can't see myself become obsessed with the series, with the characters, with the story and actually needing to revisit it again and again. I can't see myself getting caught up in it, going all fangirl. 

I do think it is unfortunate that the series isn't allowed to just be a series. That you've got two VERY rigid extremes. One side being Harry Potter must be canceled because J.K. Rowling is a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad person. She has thoughts. She has opinions. We don't like her thoughts and opinions. We can't allow ourselves to enjoy Harry Potter BECAUSE we don't like the author's thoughts and opinions. Never mind that the book never once goes there and voices anything remotely about the 'controversial' subject. Rowling has been deemed bad, all must unite to agree that Rowling is bad. The other side being Harry Potter must be canceled because of witchcraft, wizards, and magic, oh my. This is by far, the longest held "canceling" position. And my thoughts about both are you do you. It's this need to make every other person agree with you, to feel what you feel, to be as outraged as you, etc. It would have been interesting how things would have unfolded [for the series] if there hadn't been such an uproar, outrage, strong reaction to the initial book being published. If it hadn't been made such a LINE IN THE SAND HAS BEEN DRAWN phenomenon. Depending on where you lived, I suppose, it was very defining--are you the type of Christian who WILL or WON'T read the books. There was a LOT of judgment. And I'm *all* for discernment. I am. I really am. I think every single person should have control over what they personally read (or watch or listen to). 

© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Friday, April 21, 2023

81. The House Is On Fire

The House Is On Fire. Rachel Beanland. 2023. 384 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Sally Campbell's shoes are fashionable but extremely flimsy. She ordered them from Curtis Fairchild's specifically for Richmond's winter season, but now she feels like a fool for thinking she could get away with wearing them on the half-mile walk from her brother-in-law's house to the theater.

Premise/plot: Historical fiction set in Richmond, Virginia, in December 1811. This historical novel based on a true historical event--the 1811 Richmond Theater fire--and features some historical figures. It has four alternating narrators: Sally Campbell (the daughter of Patrick Henry and widow of Robert Campbell); Gilbert Hunt, an enslaved man who rescued dozens of women from the fire by catching them (they were being tossed/thrown out of a third-story window); Cecily, a slave of the Price family (whom is being sexually assaulted by her own half-brother Elliott Price); and Jack Gibson, a young stagehand just getting into show business. 

The theater fire occurred on December 26, 1811. The book chronicles the immediate aftermath from these four perspectives.

My thoughts: I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED, LOVED, LOVED, LOVED this one. Is it perfectly perfect? Probably not. Did I find it incredibly intense and super-compelling? YES. A million times yes. It was torture to keep reading. It was torture to stop. I'll try to explain. This book NEEDED the freezer. The part about the fire itself was terrifying and scary. SO horrifying. I had to know what happened but I was worried about what might happen. The aftermath was perhaps a little less intense, but it was fascinating as well. Cecily and Gilbert's story stayed INTENSE. 

I loved all four narrators. All the characters were well written. Even the ones I didn't really "like" all that much. I would definitely recommend this one.


© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Thursday, April 20, 2023

80. Arch-Conspirator

Arch-Conspirator. Veronica Roth. 2023. 112 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: I asked my father, once, why he chose to curse us before we were born.

Premise/plot: A futuristic (post-apocalyptic/dystopian) retelling of Antigone--this is how this one is being marketed. Is knowledge of the classic (tragic) (Greek) play, "Antigone" a must to reading this one? I'd say no. Is familiarity of it helpful to appreciating it? Maybe. Long story short, Antigone and her siblings are "doomed from the start" or "cursed." Their (tyrant) Uncle Kreon has had them in a "gilded cage" of a "prison" since coming to power (after the murder/death of Antigone's parents--Oedipus and Jocasta.) Even if the fate of humanity on Earth wasn't in a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad shape, these siblings would be in a bad position. When two of the brothers kill each other (Polyneikes and Eteocles), Kreon forbids Polyneikes a proper 'memorial' of sorts. (In this futuristic culture, DNA is extracted from the dead (within twenty-four hours) and preserved in an archive. The genetic material from the dead are used to create new life. Future parents select which 'souls' from the past to join together. Natural born children do not have souls according to this lore.) Antigone made a vow to extract her brother's DNA so his soul (ichor) could live on and be immortal. But she does so at great risk to her own life. If caught, she could face extreme punishment. Those closest to her will face difficult decisions...

My thoughts: I would say I am conflicted about this one, but I'm not conflicted at all. Retelling a classic story can work well in some (but not all) instances. Futuristic dystopian novels can work well in some (but not all) instances. 

Typically dystopian novels are written heavy-handed (even if they are not received that way) with an agenda (a dramatized WARNING to 'gently' or not so gently guide the present day away from (perceived) dangers). I expected agenda in Arch-Conspirator as well. In this future-world, women are valued as vessels. Population has plummeted--extinction likely. Women's wombs are extremely valued by society. Now, all humanity has been damaged the effects of by nuclear warfare, but scientists are patching together viable life--using DNA from the Archive--so humanity is surviving (barely) but not thriving. Wanting or not wanting children isn't really a question worth considering.  

Retellings can be handled many different ways. Authors can choose to change a LOT or very little. If you change too much, the original might disappear altogether and become unrecognizable. If you change too little, well, you risk it not working in another way. Removed from the original world, original setting, the plot devices, the characters, the themes might not make sense or as much sense as you'd hope.

 Long story short, I don't know that the meshing of an Antigone retelling in a futuristic, post-apocalyptic world makes the most sense. If the retelling hadn't stuck so closely to the original, then it might have worked better. 


© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Monday, April 17, 2023

79. Dial A for Aunties

Dial A for Aunties. Jesse Q. Sutanto. 2021. 299 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: There is a curse in my family. It's followed us all the way from China, where it took my great-grandfather (freak accident on the farm that involved a pregnant sow and an unfortunately placed rake), to Indonesia, where it claimed my grandfather (a stroke at the age of thirty, nothing quite so dramatic as great-grandfather's demise but still rather upsetting.) My mom and aunts figured that a Chinese curse wouldn't follow them to the West, so after they all got married, they moved to San Gabriel, California. But not only did the curse find them, it mutated. Instead of killing the men in my family, it made them leave, which is so much worse.

Premise/plot: Meddelin Chan is a wedding photographer in her family's wedding business. (Don't leave your big day to chance, leave to the Chans!) The novel opens with her family setting her up on a blind date. Well, an arranged date. I believe it is her mom who has been chatting up a guy on a dating app pretending to be Meddelin. Surprise, you're meeting tonight after months of texting/chatting. The date goes horribly wrong almost from the start. It ends in disaster. Literally. It will take a whole family to get Meddelin out of this mess....but are they up for the job? 

The family has a BIG, BIG, BIG wedding--on an island--the next day. On this island, Meddelin will bump into her old college boyfriend...Nathan. The wedding is a huge disaster... can anything good come from this weekend???

My thoughts: This book has a weird/odd sense of humor. It is definitely a slapstick style comedy....but with a dead body as a prop for most of the novel. It is not a murder mystery. (No mystery to it). It isn't really seen as a grave situation (pun intended) but rather an over-the-top slapstick comedy. 

It features flashbacks. I liked some of them. But the flashbacks definitely added some graphic-ness to this one. Definitely not clean. But I personally think it was sneakily done. The first half (or perhaps first third) is relatively clean, no obvious red flags. Then BOOM it is a graphic romance novel--in flashback form. By this point I was hooked enough to *need* to keep reading. But I felt bad about it. (Not a win-win situation). 

The jacket flap is all about "four aunties" this and that. But NONE of the aunts had names--just numbers. The first aunt, I believe, was called Big Aunt, but the rest were just numbers. And I *think* though I'm not positive that Meddelin's own mother was one of the four aunts. Which is just weird that she's lumped in as an auntie. Yes, she's a sister. But she's not Meddelin's auntie. I suppose it is possible that there was a mother + 4 aunties. It really BOTHERED me that the aunts did not have names. 

This one just wasn't my personal 'cup of tea' if you will. My sense of humor did not align with the book's sense of humor.


© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Sunday, April 16, 2023

Sunday Salon #16 Making Progress

I'm trying to get a full bowl of alphabet soup in April! The month is halfway over and I'm doing well, I think. True, I have some ways to go. But I think it might just happen. Maybe. I hope.

I have several books checked out from the library that I know will fit what I need:

Coronation Year by Jennifer Robson
Everyone In My Family Has Killed Someone by Benjamin Stevenson
Tell Me What Really Happened by Chelsea Sedoti
Arch-conspirator by Veronica Roth
Girl Forgotten by April Henry
Just Jerry by Jerry Pinkney
Island of Sea Women by Lisa See OR Influential by Amara Sage
My Jasper June by Laurel Snyder OR Mission at Nuremberg by Tim Townsend OR My Second Impression of You by Michelle I. Mason
Kill Joy by Holly Jackson

I don't think that Queen Bee by Amalie Howard will reach me in time. (Though I am on the hold list).

So the letters I still need are N, Q



Dial A for AuntiesD

Find the MoonF

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood PrinceH



Long WinterL


Other Side of the RiverO
Pat the BunnyP

Renaissance of Gwen HathawayR
Sad CypressS

The Umbrella (Ferry, Beth)U
Vera Wong's Unsolicited Advice for MurderersV
When the Moon Turns to BloodW
10 Little ExcavatorsX
Yours Turly, ShirleyY
Zukie's BurglarZ


© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Saturday, April 15, 2023

78. Yours Turly, Shirley

Yours Turly, Shirley. Ann M. Martin. 1988. 128 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Bzzzz! Shirley Basini's alarm clock went off and Shirley rolled over, grabbed it, and threw it at the wall. Shirley's clock looked like a baseball and you were supposed to throw it at the wall. That was the only way to turn it off.

Premise/plot: Shirley Basini, our protagonist, has dyslexia and is in fourth grade. She knows her diagnosis. Her parents know. Her teacher(s) know. Everyone knows. But knowing isn't exactly the same as understanding. She's been warned that if she doesn't improve throughout the year, she'll be held back to repeat fourth grade. She knows this from day one. Yours Turly, Shirley, is in part, Shirley's experiences in fourth grade--her ongoing struggle to improve academically and learn to manage/cope with her dyslexia.

The novel is also Shirley's new little sister. The family has decided to adopt a child from Vietnam. At first, they think they'll be receiving/adopting a three year old baby boy. As the date to pick him up from the airport draws closer, however, they learn surprise surprise that it will be an eight year old girl. They decide to rename her Jackie. 

Jackie is super-smart, super-intuitive, super savvy. She starts the school year in first grade, speed runs learning English (and other subjects presumably?). By the middle of the year, they [the powers that be at school] decide to move her to third grade to be with her peers [children her own age]. Jackie loves, loves, loves to read. And the library is her favorite place.

All isn't perfectly, perfect for Jackie, however. The students--even her own big sister--tease her for pronouncing her "r's" as "l's." Granted, her big sister doesn't do it nearly so often as everyone else. But the one time she does it is in front of a lot of people--at a spelling bee. Besides being teased for talking different/weird, she's teased for being "yellow" or "slope eyes." (These words come straight from the book. I'm just mentioning what the book says). Shirley who was halfway to hating her little sister for being smarter and better, now swoops in to save her. (But does Jackie need saving? Maybe. Maybe not. The two girls take a stand together--and speak up loudly about the teasing.) 

Each chapter is a month of the school year. 

Ann M. Martin wrote this during the same time she was writing The Babysitter's Club books. This one is not a series book but a standalone. 

My thoughts: I am conflicted. I am. It is dated. I wasn't in fourth grade in 1988/89. But I was in elementary school. I don't think if I'd read it as a child I would have questioned the representation of those with learning differences (aka dyslexia) OR being Vietnamese-American. I don't know how realistically or authentically either comes across perhaps even then. I don't know that there is ever only one "right" way to depict something. Jackie is a gifted, super-smart, people-pleaser. Shirley is a class clown who makes other students laugh and teachers groan. The book is told from Shirley's point of view exclusively. 

I do not have dyslexia. I can't judge if the "skills" and "techniques" being shown in this one were generally helpful or not so much. I use quotes because really the only thing she learns from the resource teacher is that if you love the content of what's in books, you will do anything to keep reading. You will teach yourself the skills needed so that you can find out what happens next. The resource teacher begins by reading aloud book after book after book. She reads aloud a little here or there. Taking on the part of one character in the book and reading that one character's dialogue. Soon, he [the teacher] has her reading books all on her own. She now has a long list of authors whom she loves and adores. She's now eager to read books for fun, to read all the books in series, to keep finding new authors, new series, etc. 

As a reader, I loved all the name-dropping. Even more so since I was in elementary school at this time. These books, these authors, these series...were the ones I myself was reading at the time. So it was a treat to see this aspect of the book.


© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

77. The Long Winter

The Long Winter (Little House #6) Laura Ingalls Wilder. 1940. 334 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: The mowing machine's whirring sounded cheerfully from the old buffalo wallow south of the claim shanty, where bluestem grass stood thick and tall and Pa was cutting it for hay.

Premise/plot: The Ingalls family--and the whole community/territory--face a brutal, harsh, and terribly long winter full of blizzards. 

This first chapter is called "Make Hay While the Sun Shines" and if it's found within a book called THE LONG WINTER, the reader knows what to expect even if the characters don't. The book opens with Ma and Pa and family getting ready for harvest and winter. Laura is helping out Pa. Mary and Carrie are helping out Ma. Laura is especially pleased that she's old enough (around 14 now) to help Pa and do outdoor chores.

The Ingalls family is living in their claim shanty. This would be the first fall/winter they've been there. And they know it will be tough, but when the first blizzard comes in October, they know that it wouldn't only be tough to survive but impossible to survive if they were to try to stay on their homestead. Fortunately, Pa owns property in town. A place where they can be nice and warm and cozy for the winter. Or so they think.

What no one could know is just how hard, how long, how tough this winter was going to be. Some folks are prepared--the Wilder boys for instance--but most are not. Most are relying on the train making regular stops in town. The trains are essential for stocking the stores of supplies. But when almost every day brings a blizzard--with clear days coming only one at a time and never on a predictable schedule--it soon becomes clear that the trains will not be saving the day. Not til spring. The town's survival, the Ingalls' family survival, is a big if at this point.

Cold. Hunger. Starvation. No supplies. What's not to love?

My thoughts: The Long Winter has always been one of my favorites of the Little House series. I'll admit it tends to make you cold and hungry. But that's not a bad thing, right? I didn't think so. Only two books can trick my mind and body--okay maybe three--into thinking it's cold and hungry. One, of course, is The Long Winter. The other two are by Susan Beth Pfeffer. I think one of the reasons I love The Long Winter is that it introduces Almanzo Wilder onto the scene. True, there was Farmer Boy, but not every reader takes the time to read Farmer Boy. I spent forty plus years avoiding it. I read it earlier this year for the first time. But this Almanzo is a man--a young man it's true--19 years of age. And he's acting "manly" alright when it's time to save the day. I love every scene Almanzo is in. Laura first meets him when she's lost and trying to find her Pa in the slough of hay. Here is the description: "His blue eyes twinkled down at her as if he had known her a long time." Anyway, I love this book.

Is it my favorite and best from the series? Probably. I do love These Happy Golden Years. So those two are my favorite and best. But I really LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this one so much.

© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Friday, April 14, 2023

76. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Harry Potter #6). J.K. Rowling. 2005. 652 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: It was nearing midnight and the Prime Minister was sitting alone in his office, reading a long memo that was slipping through his brain without leaving the slightest trace of meaning behind.

Premise/plot: Harry Potter (and company) face their biggest challenges yet. Lord Voldemort's return/resurrection is no longer being ignored by the powers that be. Harry Potter (and company) are no longer being ridiculed for spouting 'nonsense' about Voldemort. The threat is acknowledged. Some precautions are being taken. (But are they ever going to be enough?)

This one does take place mostly at Hogwarts. Harry Potter (and company) are doing their best to prepare for inevitable showdowns. Harry is taking special lessons with Professor Dumbledore. They are 'visiting' Voldemort's past memories. They are preparing for the 'war to come' by learning as much as they possibly can about every moment of his life. Looking for anything and everything they can use against him. 

This one has quite the ending. It is SUPER intense. More intense than any of the other novels. 

My thoughts: Yes, it's taken me ABSOLUTELY forever to start this series. I'm glad I waited this long to be honest. Harry Potter has fallen out of favor, these days, is being canceled--this time by the Left. But that is neither here nor there. (That's not why I'm reading the books now. That's not my motivation). I'm glad I waited so that I could read all the books back-to-back-to-back. No waiting. And since it was impossible to avoid spoilers there in early-to-mid 2000s, I know just enough about the characters.


© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

75. Hamra and the Jungle of Memories

Hamra and the Jungle of Memories. Hanna Alkaf. 2023. [March] 400 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: There was once a girl named Hamra who lived in a crooked house on the edge of the tangled Langkawi jungle, with a mother and father who told her what to do, a grandfather who told her stories, and a grandmother who told her truths. In time, she would come to discover that all of these things were equally important. In fact, if Hamra could go back in time, she'd tell herself three very important things: 1. Listen to Atok. 2. Listen to Opah. Listen to your father and for goodness' sake, tie your shoelaces. 

Premise/plot: There are RULES (not guidelines) for how to enter the jungle. Hamra has grown up with these five rules forever. (The rules are as follows: 1) Always ask permission before you enter; 2) Don't challenge what you can't even see; 3) Never use your true name; 4) Never take what isn't yours; 5) If you hear someone calling your name, never, ever look behind you.) One day, a day when Hamra is already super-flustered and angry, she forgets ALL five rules. And there are consequences...even if the consequences aren't right in the moment. Soon, her consequences lead her to a quest in the jungle with her best-friend/neighbor, Ilyas, and a were-tiger. The were-tiger wants to be human again, but, he's forgotten how to transform. He's also forgotten his true name. Since she took a piece of fruit for the jungle, she's in his debt. He's demanding that she help him become human again. Ilyas owes no one a thing; he's there simply because he's a decent friend. 

My thoughts: Set near/in Malaysia during the COVID pandemic, this one plays around with being a twist on a folk tale. The setting is novel/unique. I've not read many middle grade books set on one of the islands in Malaysia. Let alone a middle grade fantasy novel with were-tigers and were-snakes and faerie folk. Is it a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood? Not really. Not in my opinion. Yes, there's a jungle (instead of woods). Yes, there's a grandma (though she lives with the family full time). Yes, there's danger in the jungle--a tiger (instead of a wolf). But the tiger is not following her--not really--and the tiger isn't out to gobble down grandma. The tiger doesn't try to gobble down anyone. There's no trying to fool anyone and dressing up like Grandma. Hamya has a hot-temper and is reckless. Definitely not your stereotypical little girl with a red hood/cape skipping merrily and innocently along with a basket of goodies. I'm also not sure why the COVID setting is a plot point--except that it makes the absence of the parents easier. All the reminders to wear a mask...which are sprinkled throughout...seems a little silly. If you're in an enchanted jungle with supernatural/magical/immortal just seems random to have reminders about COVID protocol thrown in. 

I really enjoyed the first third of this one. I didn't end up enjoying it overall. But reading is subjective and maybe it will be just the right match for you.


© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Thursday, April 13, 2023

74. One, Two, Buckle My Shoe

One, Two, Buckle My Shoe. Agatha Christie. 1940. 224 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Mr. Morley was not in the best of tempers at breakfast.

Premise/plot: Hercule Poirot goes to the dentist. Several hours later, he learns that the dentist--his dentist--has been found dead. Was it suicide? Was it murder? Can Hercule Poirot find out who hated this dentist enough to murder him--if it was murder at all? Why was he killed? Or why did he kill himself? Poirot tracks down who had motive and opportunity to commit this crime...

My thoughts: I didn't like this Agatha Christie novel at all. I don't know that I'd go so far as to say it's my least favorite Christie novel of all time. But it's probably bottom five material. I just didn't care for how this one unfolded. I don't mean I didn't care for how it resolved or how all was resolved. I meant the way that the suspects entered the story, the way the clues unfolded, it was just odd. Odd can be a good thing in a mystery. (But not always). 

Have you read this one? What did you think?


© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews