Wednesday, May 31, 2023

May Reflections

I read fifty-two books in the month of May!

Books reviewed at Becky's Book Reviews:

87. Queen Bee. Amalie Howard. 2023. 368 pages. [Source: Library]

88. A Sky Full of Song. Susan Lynn Meyer. 2023. [April] 272 pages. [Source: Library]

89. Girl Forgotten. April Henry. 2023. [March] 264 pages. [Source: Library] 

90. The Choice. Gillian McAllister. 2020/2017. 368 pages. [Source: Library]

91. Project F. Jeanne DuPrau. 2023. [October 10] 224 pages. [Source: Review copy]

92. Signs of Survival: A Memoir of the Holocaust. Renee Hartman with Joshua M. Greene. 2022. (2021) 128 pages. [Source: Library]

93. The Refusal Camp. James R. Benn. 2023. [March] 255 pages. [Source: Library] 

94. Snow and Poison (Cinder & Glass #2) Melissa de la Cruz. 2023. [April] 336 pages. [Source: Library] 

95. Honest June. Tina Wells. 2021. 272 pages. [Source: Library]

96. Peter and the Starcatchers (Peter and the Starcatchers #1) Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson. Illustrated by Greg Call. 2004. 452 pages. [Source: Library]

97. Star Splitter. Matthew J. Kirby. 2023. [April] 320 pages. [Source: Library]

98. When Clouds Touch Us. Thanhhà Lại. 2023. [May] 256 pages. [Source: Library]

99. Menacing Manor. (Sinister Summer #4) Kiersten White. 2023. 272 pages. [Source: Library]

100. Bea and the New Deal Horse. L.M. Elliott. 2023. 384 pages. [Source: Library]

 101. And Then She Vanished. Nick Jones. 2021. 246 pages. [Source: Library]

102. Flipped. Wendelin Van Draanen. 2001. 212 pages. [Source: Library] 

103. A Darkening of Dragons. (Songs of Magic #1) S.A. Patrick. 2018/2020/2022/2023. 400 pages. [Source: Library] 

104. Lying in the Deep. Diana Urban. 2023. 384 pages. [Source: Library] 

105. The Woman in the Moon: How Margaret Hamilton Helped Fly the First Astronauts to the Moon. Richard Maurer. 2023. 272 pages. [Source: Library] 

106. Hidden Hope: How a Toy and a Hero Saved Lives During the Holocaust. Elisa Boxer. Illustrated by Amy June Bates. 2023. [March] 48 pages. [Source: Library] [Link to Cover Image

107. An Ocean of Stars. Becca Mionis. 2023. 421 pages. [Source: Library]

108.  A Vanishing of Griffins. (Songs of Magic) S.A. Patrick. 2021/2023. 400 pages. [Source: Library]

Books reviewed at Young Readers:

100. Board book: Bugblock. Christopher Franceschelli. Illustrated by Peski Studio. 2023. [April] 84 pages. [Source: Review copy] 

101. Animals in Pants. Suzy Levinson. Illustrated by Kristen and Kevin Howdeshell. 2023. [April] 32 pages. [Source: Library] 

102. The Astronomically Grand Plan (Astrid the Astronaut #1) Rie Neal. Illustrated by Talitha Shipman. 2022. [July] 112 pages. [Source: Library] 

103. Woo Hoo! You're Doing Great! Sandra Boynton. 2023. [April] 40 pages. [Source: Library] 

104. A Giant Problem. (Mihi Ever After #2) Tae Keller. 2023. [May] 208 pages. [Source: Review copy] 

105. Dazzle Makes a Wish (Book Buddies #3) Cynthia Lord. Illustrated by Stephanie Graegin. 2023. 80 pages. [Source: Library]

106. Princess Private Eye. Evelyn Skye. 2023. [May] 320 pages. [Source: Library]

107. Basil of Baker Street. (Great Mouse Detective). Eve Titus. 1958. 113 pages. [Source: Library]

108. Doggo and Pupper Search for Cozy (Doggo and Pupper #3) Katherine Applegate. Illustrated by Charlie Alder. 2023. [March] 96 pages. [Source: Library] 

109. What Does Baby See (Board Book) Peter Pauper Press, Inc. Illustrated by Simon Abbott. 2023. 20 pages. [Source: Library]

110. Nat the Cat Takes a Bath (Ready to Read: Pre-Level One) Jarrett Lerner. 2023. [May] 32 pages. [Source: Library]

111. Ways to Build Dreams. Renee Watson. Illustrated by Nina Mata. 2023. [October] 208 pages. [Source: Review copy] 

112. Ella Fitzgerald (She Persisted) Andrea Davis Pinkney. Illustrated by Alexandra Boiger. 2023. [April] 80 pages. [Source: Library] 

113. How Do You Spell Unfair? MacNolia Cox and the National Spelling Bee. 2023. 40 pages. [Source: Library]

114. Pew! The Stinky and Legen-dairy Gift From Colonel Thomas S. Meacham by Cathy Stefanec Ogren. Illustrated by Lesley Breen. 2023. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

115. Picture book:  The Teachers I Loved Best. Taylor Mali. Illustrated by Erica Root. 2023. [March] 32 pages. [Source: Review copy] 

116. Board book: Cowy Cow. Chris Raschka. 2014. 24 pages. [Source: Library] 

117. Picture book: Truffle: A Dog (And Cat) Story. David McPhail. 2023. [June] 40 pages. [Source: Review copy] 

118. Picture Book: Oh No, the Aunts Are Here. Adam Rex. Illustrated by Lian Cho. 2023. [May] 40 pages. [Source: Library] 

119. Picture book: Anatole (Anatole #1) Eve Titus. Illustrated by Paul Galdone. 1956. 40 pages. [Source: Library]

120. Anatole and the Cat (Anatole #2) Eve Titus. Illustrated by Paul Galdone. 1957. 32 pages. [Source: Library] [Link to cover image]  

121. Picture Book: (Golden Book) The Kitten Who Thought He Was A Mouse. Miriam Norton. Illustrated by Garth Williams. 1951. 22 pages. [Source: Library]

Books reviewed at Operation Actually Read Bible

45. Thru the Bible #29: Jonah and Micah. 1979. 173 pages. [Source: Bought]

46. Be Amazed: Restoring an Attitude of Wonder (Minor Prophets). Warren W. Wiersbe. 1996. 212 pages. [Source: Bought]

47. Petunia. Roger Duvoisin. 1950. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

48. Be Concerned: Making a Difference in Your Lifetime (Minor Prophets). Warren Wiersbe. 1996. 148 pages. [Source: Bought]

Bibles reviewed at Operation Actually Read Bible

3. NRSV XL: Holy Bible. God. 2007. 1824 pages. [Source: Bought]

4. The NIV Rainbow Study Bible. (NIV 1984) 1992. 1576 pages. [Source: Bought]

5. NKJV, Deluxe Reader's Bible. God. 2018. 1952 pages. [Source: Bought] 

5.5 New Testament with Study Helps: New International Version. God. 1973/1976. 489 pages. [Source: Bought]


Books Read in 2023284
Pages Read in 202368876
# of Books50
# of Pages12848
# of Books72
# of Pages15241
# of Books55
# of Pages15216
# of Books55
# of Pages10876
# of Books52
# of Pages14695

© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Monday, May 29, 2023

108. A Vanishing of Griffins

A Vanishing of Griffins. (Songs of Magic) S.A. Patrick. 2021/2023. 400 pages. [Source: Library] [Link to cover image] [Middle Grade]

First sentence: Erner woke, as he did every morning, from a nightmare: being pushed off the back of a dracogriff, into a cold lake far below.

 Premise/plot: A Vanishing of Griffins is the second book in a trilogy of MG fantasy inspired by the Piper of Hamelyn. (Darkening of Dragons was the first book in this trilogy.) The first third of this one wraps up some of the drama from book one. (Erner is reunited with his former friends/companions. Wren is no longer cursed. One of the leaders (I forgot his name) has been healed.) The remainder of the book is essentially a new action-adventure fantasy story. New characters. New main story. Big battle. Huge battle. Way more action than character development. (They are facing off against the same villain.)

My thoughts: I really LOVED A Darkening of Dragons. Or at least I remember really, really liking it. I don't recall off hand if it was four stars or five stars.) I loved the storytelling, the characterization. Everything I loved about the first novel in the series seems to be absent in the second. It might be mostly me. It might not be either. I did read the first third of the book in one sitting. Took one day off of the book. Came back and discovered that there were a thousand and one new characters and a big shift in story. It might just be that I blanked out on the transition and some key moments where those new characters are introduced. This one has a LOT of action. At least twice the action. So for readers who enjoy action-packed fantasy, this one may appeal. I like a little more characterization. (Which I got for the first third.)

© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Saturday, May 27, 2023

Sunday Salon: Why Do I Read?

Does the world need this post? No. Definitely no. Do I sometimes feel the need to reassure myself and reassess by writing such a post? Yes. 

Reading is a habit. Reading is a choice. Reading is deliberate and intentional. Reading is spontaneous and fun. 

I think reading, for me, has become so embedded in a BRAID of reading-reviewing-blogging, that it can be a bit messy to separate it all out again. 

Would I still read books if I never wrote another review? 

Would I still read books if I retired from blogging? 

If I never once wrote about books again, would I still be a reader? 

Would I still choose to read books each and every day? 

How long would I go between books? Would I approach reading books the same way? 

Would I choose different books? Is my reading taste really different if I'm reading 100% for me? Should it be? 

If I am reading for me, why do I write reviews? Are reviews more for me or for others? Is there a right answer to this question?

Would I keep reading (and reviewing) even if my reviews are only seen and read by less than a dozen people? less than a handful? Do I need *any* validation to keep reading?

Am I looking for validation? for appreciation? for bragging rights? Am I reading for the right reasons? Is there a wrong reason to read? Is reading its own reward?

What is most satisfying...reading the book...or posting a review???

Would I still be a reader if I wasn't also a reviewer? a blogger? 

Is reading still my "first love"? Or has it become mechanical, just something I can do so I can keep on keeping on with the blog?

Do I want to finish a certain number of books per week because I genuinely love reading? Or am I thinking about the rankings on GoodReads? Is it wrong to want to move up the list? 

These are the questions that I don't know if I can ever fully answer--internally. Definitely not going to try in this post.

I want to read for the right reasons. I want reading to be first and foremost. I want to care more about reading than I do about the rest of it, the trappings, the byproducts. I want to be madly in love with reading without getting caught up and overwhelmed in the other stuff. 

© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Friday, May 26, 2023

107. An Ocean of Stars

An Ocean of Stars. Becca Mionis. 2023. 421 pages. [Source: Library] [Link to cover image] [Young Adult]

First sentence: "Xanorra Nepier, the council will see you now."

Premise/plot: The synopsis from GoodReads starts off strong, "Girl, meet boy. He’s the reason you’re lost in space." The heroine, Xan (or Xanorra), is the "sole survivor" (so she thinks) of a "space pirate" attack. Her escape pod was damaged and--for better or worse--she was rescued by the attacking ship. Captain Omen (his first name is literally Captain) has been raised by A.I. robots. At least within his own memory, he's never seen--or interacted with--another human being. (His birthday messages from his parents do reveal that his parents did hold him as a baby--before shipping him off into space.) So Captain and Xan are the sole humans on board this vessel. And the ship's A.I. robots are one-minded. MISSION, MISSION, MUST FULFILL THE MISSION. And the mission doesn't include Xan. At all. Not even a little bit. Xan's presence on the ship distracts Captain, to say the least. Can she teach him to be human and less robotic? What will the come to mean to one another?

My thoughts: Science Fiction. Set in space. Some romance. What's not to love? This one started off strong, in my opinion, the hero was giving off a mix of Sheldon Cooper and Beast (from Beauty and the). The banter was of decent quality. There was some suspense and tension. But the more I read, the more disappointed I ultimately became. (I am not saying all readers will.) As the story progressed, my vibes switched from Beauty and the Beast to Isaac Asimov...and while I appreciate some of his work...I didn't really want super-creepy-robots intruding on the story. But ultimately, I think I was mainly disappointed by the lack of ending. It didn't even particularly end in a dramatic cliff-hanger way. It just ended with a whimper. 

I liked some things. I didn't like other things. I think it depends on your expectations on if this one is for you.

© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

106. Hidden Hope

Hidden Hope: How a Toy and a Hero Saved Lives During the Holocaust. Elisa Boxer. Illustrated by Amy June Bates. 2023. [March] 48 pages. [Source: Library] [Link to Cover Image] [Middle Grade]

 First sentence: "Hide! Quick!"
Hearts pounding,
breath quickening,
feet scrambling.
Down into damp basements,
up into old attics,
crammed into dark closets.

Premise/plot: Nonfiction title for upper elementary on up. This picture book for older readers is set in France during the Second World War. The focus is on a young girl--a young woman--who smuggles false identity papers to Jews by using a TOY DUCK. (Yes, a toy duck). Her name is Jacqueline Gauthier. This is her story of how she (and the duck) helped save two hundred lives. It is written in verse. 

My thoughts: I loved this one so much. I absolutely love hearing new stories. I love continuing to learn about the war, about the Holocaust, about these experiences. Every voice matters. Every story is worthy of an audience. I'd never heard of this story! And it was such a great story! I loved learning about this young woman and the creative way a TOY DUCK was used to smuggle papers. I loved the gumption and bravery. 

The narrative and illustrations are SO good. Definitely recommend it.

© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

105. The Woman in the Moon

The Woman in the Moon: How Margaret Hamilton Helped Fly the First Astronauts to the Moon. Richard Maurer. 2023. 272 pages. [Source: Library] [Link to cover image] [middle grade; young adult]

First sentence: One evening in the late 1950s, Massachusetts senator John F. Kennedy and his brother Robert were enjoying a relaxing dinner with their companion, a brilliant, eccentric inventor named Charles Stark "Doc" Draper.

Premise/plot:  The Woman in the Moon by Richard Maurer is a biography of Margaret Hamilton, a mathematician who 'helped fly the first astronauts to the moon.' That is the sum of it; Margaret Hamilton wrote computer codes--routines and subroutines, the software that was integral to the space program.  

My thoughts: When I saw the cover (linked above), I initially thought I was committing to a smaller book--not physically smaller--but a picture book. This is a biography for upper elementary OR middle school OR possibly high school. I think it is not so much the complexity of the subject matter that determines the ideal audience as it is the interest level of the reader. In other words, the more you are interested in math, science, history--the space race--the better this one will "read." If you have zero interest in the subject, then chances are you'll find it 'dull' and 'dry.' 

I do have an interest in history and the space race. I just don't have an interest in math and science. I found this to be a little too technical for me. Reading is subjective and if my mind was wired differently--to appreciate more technical sciences--then perhaps I would have found it fascinating. It is not the fault of the author. 

My favorite bits were the sections that focused on her personal life.

© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Sunday, May 21, 2023

Sunday Salon #21 Random June

Is it too early to start thinking about June reading goals??? Probably not. I am thinking that it wouldn't be a bad idea to use RANDOM.ORG to do random reads from my list of review copies.

#91 on my list:

From Dust to Stardust. Kathleen Rooney. 2023 [September] 287 pages. [Source: Review copy] 

Goodreads description: From the bestselling author of Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk comes a novel about Hollywood, the cost of stardom, and selfless second acts, inspired by an extraordinary true story.

Chicago, 1916. Doreen O’Dare is fourteen years old when she hops a Hollywood-bound train with her beloved Irish grandmother. Within a decade, her trademark bob and insouciant charm make her the preeminent movie flapper of the Jazz Age. But her success story masks one of relentless ambition, tragedy, and the secrets of a dangerous marriage.

Her professional life in flux, Doreen trades one dream for another. She pours her wealth and creative energy into a singular achievement: the construction of a one-ton miniature Fairy Castle, the likes of which the world has never seen. So begins Doreen’s public tour to lift the nation’s spirits during the Great Depression—and a personal journey worth remembering.

A sweeping journey from the dawn of the motion picture era through turbulent twentieth-century America, From Dust to Stardust is a breathtaking novel about one determined woman navigating change, challenging the price of fame, and sharing the gift of real magic.

#98 on my list

Saving Grayson. Chris Fabry. 2023. [November] 272 pages. [Source: Review copy]

From Goodreads description: An inspiring fiction story from the bestselling author of War Room

Grayson Hayes doesn’t remember things as well as he used to, but he’s sure his time is running out. Diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s, he realizes he has a small window of time left to right a terrible injustice―he just can’t remember what it is.

Convinced of the importance of his mission, he embarks on a journey to the small West Virginia town of his childhood hoping he can put together the fractured pieces of his memory and set things right. But as the past becomes more clear, he wonders if God forgives the sins he can’t remember.

A thought-provoking story with challenging themes, this book deals with issues like Saving Grayson is a wrenching yet hopeful story of a journey to right unknown wrongs and of holding on to what you know even when it feels like everything is slipping away.

#138 on my list:

Elisabeth Elliot by Lucy S.R. Austen. 2023 [June] 624 pages. [Source: Review copy]

From the GoodReads description: An In-Depth Biography on the Life and Work of Missionary Elisabeth Elliot

Elisabeth Elliot (1926–2015) is one of the most widely known Christians of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. After the death of her husband, Jim, and four other missionaries at the hands of Waorani tribesmen in Ecuador, Elliot famously returned to live among the same people who had killed her husband. Her legacy, however, extends far beyond these events. In the years that followed, Elliot became a prolific writer and speaker, touching the lives of countless people around the world.

In this single-volume biography, Lucy S. R. Austen takes readers on an in-depth journey through the life of Elisabeth Elliot―her birth to missionary parents, her courtship and marriage to Jim Elliot, her missions work in Ecuador, and her private life and public work after she returned to the United States. Through Elliot’s example of love for God and obedience to his commands, readers will ponder what it means to follow Jesus.

#38 on my list 

The Radcliffe Ladies' Reading Club by Julia Bryan Thomas. 2023. [June] 384 pages. [Source: Review copy]

From Goodreads description: For readers of Martha Hall Kelly and Beatriz Williams comes poignant historical fiction that reminds us that literature has the power to speaks to everyone uniquely — but also to draw us together.

Massachusetts, 1954. With bags packed alongside her heavy heart, Alice Campbell escaped halfway across the country and found herself in front of a derelict building tucked among the cobblestone streets of Cambridge. She turns it into the enchanting bookshop of her dreams, knowing firsthand the power of books to comfort the brokenhearted.

The Cambridge Bookshop soon becomes a haven for Tess, Caroline, Evie, and Merritt, who are all navigating the struggles of being newly independent college women in a world that seems to want to keep them in the kitchen. But when a member of the group finds herself shattered, everything they know about themselves will be called into question.

From the author of For Those Who Are Lost comes an extraordinary love letter to books and friendship, a story that is at once heart-wrenching, strengthening, and inspiring.

# 56 on the list

Ladies of the Lake. Cathy Gohlke. 2023. [July] 384 pages. [Source: Review copy] 

From GoodReads description: A historical novel about the wonder and complexities of friendship, love, and belonging. Band of Sisters.

When she is forced to leave her beloved Prince Edward Island to attend Lakeside Ladies Academy after the death of her parents, the last thing Adelaide Rose MacNeill expects to find is three kindred spirits. The "Ladies of the Lake," as the four girls call themselves, quickly bond like sisters, vowing that wherever life takes them, they will always be there for each other. But that is before. Before love and jealousy come between Adelaide and Dorothy, the closest of the friends. Before the dawn of World War I upends their world and casts baseless suspicion onto the German American man they both love. Before a terrible explosion in Halifax Harbor rips the sisterhood irrevocably apart.

Seventeen years later, Rosaline Murray receives an unsuspecting telephone call from Dorothy, now headmistress of Lakeside, inviting her to attend the graduation of a new generation of girls, including Rosaline's beloved daughter. With that call, Rosaline is drawn into a past she'd determined to put behind her. To memories of a man she once loved . . . of a sisterhood she abandoned . . . and of the day she stopped being Adelaide MacNeill.

 #69 on the list

The Museum of Lost and Found. Leila Sales. 2023 [May] 304 pages. [Source: Review copy]

From GoodReads description: A warm, relatable middle-grade story about a friendship falling apart and the abandoned museum that becomes a shrine to lost connections

Vanessa isn't sure which happened finding the abandoned museum or losing her best friend Bailey. She doesn't know what to do with herself now that Bailey has left her behind—but when she stumbles upon an empty, forgotten museum, her purpose becomes clear. Vanessa starts filling the museum with her own artifacts and memories, hoping that perhaps, if she can find the right way to tell the story of her broken friendship, she can figure out how to make it whole again.
As Vanessa's museum grows, it seems like the place might have the answers to other questions, too. Like why a mysterious work of art was left behind. Or how to deal with a military dad who's trying to parent from thousands of miles away. Or why Vanessa's bad habit is getting harder and harder to quit. Or even, maybe, how to set the past to rest and find a way to move forward.
Moving and charming, The Museum of Lost and Found is about how we grow apart from some people as we grow up—and how sometimes we can find new pieces of ourselves in the aftermath.

#125 on the list

Give Me A Sign. Anna Sortino. 2023. [July] 320 pages. [Source: Review copy] 

From GoodReads description: Jenny Han meets CODA in this big-hearted YA debut about first love and Deaf pride at a summer camp.

Lilah is stuck in the middle. At least, that’s what having a hearing loss seems like sometimes—when you don’t feel “deaf enough” to identify as Deaf or hearing enough to meet the world’s expectations. But this summer, Lilah is ready for a change.

When Lilah becomes a counselor at a summer camp for the deaf and blind, her plan is to brush up on her ASL. Once there, she also finds a community. There are cute British lifeguards who break hearts but not rules, a YouTuber who’s just a bit desperate for clout, the campers Lilah’s responsible for (and overwhelmed by)—and then there’s Isaac, the dreamy Deaf counselor who volunteers to help Lilah with her signing.

Romance was never on the agenda, and Lilah’s not positive Isaac likes her that way. But all signs seem to point to love. Unless she’s reading them wrong? One thing’s for Lilah wanted change, and things here . . . they're certainly different than what she’s used to.

© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Friday, May 19, 2023

104. Lying in the Deep

Lying in the Deep. Diana Urban. 2023. 384 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: I didn't realize there'd be this much blood.

Premise/plot: Lying in the Deep is greatly influenced/inspired by Agatha Christie's classic mystery, Death on the Nile. Jade, our protagonist/narrator, has been looking forward to her semester at sea for years. She always thought she'd do this with her best friend, Lainey, but, the pair have fallen out. That's an understatement. Her best friend, Lainey, and her boyfriend, Silas, have gotten together. She was dumped via text message. Both have blocked her. Zero communication. She's angry and hurt and confused. She daydreams about bad things happening to both of them. She was NOT expecting to see both of them on board. She assumed that Lainey had changed her mind...and this was never Silas' dream. 

All the college students on board seem to have something against Lainey--either something in the recent past, the more distant past, or the present. Lainey isn't always the most likeable in her scenes. It seems plenty of the students on board are clashing with one another--petty things really. 

But after Jade accidentally stabs Silas with a letter opening--she lost her balance not having grown quite accustomed to life at sea--Lainey comes up missing. Lainey's room is covered in blood. There's no body, but, a splash was heard in the middle of the night.

Silas and Jade look a little guilty--in the eyes of the others on board. (Everyone has secrets. Jade and Silas' possible motive is just a little more obvious. As Jade tries to play detective and interrogate her classmates/shipmates, it seems the murderer may come back and strike again...

Will Jade know who to trust in the end? 

My thoughts: So many things are similar to Death on the Nile. One big difference, however, is the point of view. We don't have an outsider-detective processing the scene. Jade plays the role inspired by Jacqueline de Bellefort. Silas plays the role inspired by the Simon Doyle character. Lainey plays the role inspired by the Linnet Ridgeway Doyle character. While Death on the Nile gives us Hercule Poirot's perspective, Jade is our narrator. She's either a super unreliable narrator (a possibility to a certain point in the novel) or Diana Urban's story has gone a whole other direction (definitely a possibility). 

For those unfamiliar with the original, Jade might come across as jaded, unhinged, toxic. But for those familiar with the original, Jade seems much more relaxed and put together. All a matter of perspective, I suppose. 

The changes made to the original murder mystery mostly work for me. It can still be a tribute to the original AND have a different story to tell.


© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Thursday, May 18, 2023

103. A Darkening of Dragons

A Darkening of Dragons. (Songs of Magic #1) S.A. Patrick. 2018/2020/2022/2023. 400 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: The screams of the children brought the villagers running. 

Premise/plot: A Darkening of Dragons is the first in a fantasy trilogy that is an adapted twist on the Piper of Hamelyn tale. Patch Brightwater, our hero soon to be on a quest, isn't your typical hero. In fact, he soon lands himself in prison. The prisoner next door is legendary, and, obviously not in a good way: the evil Piper of Hamelyn. He's wearing an iron mask to prevent him from mischief, doomed to repeat the last word he said before the mask was attached. Wren, a girl with big dreams, has been cursed and turned into a rat. Wren and Patch become great friends. When an opportunity for escape presents itself (this scene reminded me of Pirates of the Caribbean), Patch and Wren make a run for it. Soon they are joined by Barver, a dracogriff (dragon/griffin). Thus begins their bigger adventures...

My thoughts: The world building in this fantasy novel is great. The characterization is there--it's substantive. I never thought I would get so attached to Wren and Barver. (But I did.) The quest doesn't begin on page one, there's lots of build-up. There were twists and turns along the way....and, of course, it ends on a cliffhanger. 

I can't wait to start the second book!


© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

102. Flipped

Flipped. Wendelin Van Draanen. 2001. 212 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: All I've ever wanted is for Juli Baker to leave me alone. For her to back off--you know, just give me some space. It all started the summer before second grade when our moving van pulled into her neighborhood. And since we're now about done with the eighth grade, that, my friend, makes more than half a decade of strategic avoidance and social discomfort. She didn't just barge into my life. She barged and shoved and wedged her way into my life.

Premise/plot: Bryce Loski and Juli Baker narrate this he-said, she-said middle grade novel. It was love at first sight--in second grade--for Juli Baker. But for Bryce, well, Juli is a pesky, pesty neighbor that follows him--literally--everywhere. But in eighth grade, however, roles seemed to have flipped. She begins to doubt her feelings for him--there's more to attraction that just eyes and smile--and he begins to see her in a whole new way. 

This one opens with a flashback scene of sorts showing the introduction or "meet cute" of this unlikely pair. But most of the story chronicles sixth grade through eighth grade. Reader see the same exact events through two pairs of eyes.

My thoughts: I am rereading this one after watching the movie for the first time. I ADORED the movie. It definitely changed some things up. For one, it took the contemporary setting of Flipped and made it a period piece. In the movie, the story unfolds in 1957-1963. And the soundtrack is FANTASTIC. I think one reason--pure speculation--to make this switch is it feels a little less controversial to have a girl literally chasing down a boy and smelling him if you set it in the distant past. Also some of the viewpoints of the characters seem to align more with what you'd expect in days long ago. (Teasing about being having a  r****d in the family, etc.) Some of the scenes just have JERKS. 

This one is thought-provoking. Love it or hate it. I definitely think the book doesn't address consent or boundaries--a must for a contemporary book being published post #metoo. The main message, I believe, is looking beyond appearances. What makes someone attractive. What makes you "flip" for someone. Juli is best for illustrating this. She's so accustomed to "loving" or "crushing" on Bryce, that she doesn't stop to consider WHO he is. What kind of person is Bryce? What is his character? If she really knew him--actually knew him--would she still love him? Is her attraction all surface-level? As for Bryce, he seems much less self-aware and just a bit clueless and immature. (Not for not liking girls. But just on processing and observing the world.) 

 The book definitely is open-ended and ambiguous. As is the movie--to a certain degree--but the closing music, "Let It Be Me" and the fact that she joins him outside to help him plant the new tree, does add an element of hope that the book doesn't quite reach.

© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

101. And Then She Vanished

And Then She Vanished. Nick Jones. 2021. 246 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: The smell of roasting chestnuts and sweet candy, the piercing screams of kids being thrown around at impossible speed. 

Premise/plot: Joseph Bridgeman is haunted by the disappearance of his younger sister, Amy, even decades after the event. They were together at the fair. It was one second--maybe two--where his eyes were on a cute girl instead of his younger sister. A friend encourages him to see a hypnotherapist, I believe. He learns a few mindfulness techniques to help him relax, to help him sleep...and suddenly...he becomes an insta-time-traveler. (Not that I'm complaining). Now that he's figured out that he can travel to the past--be it ten minutes, two weeks, or ten years--he's convinced that he HAS to save his sister, Amy. His whole reason for being is to save Amy. And by saving Amy, perhaps, he can save his family....

But traveling from 2020 to 1997 isn't easy. And time travel has its own risks....

My thoughts: I enjoy time travel stories. I do. When time traveling is part of the premise, I'm going to be curious and want to read it. I enjoyed this one. There is a lot of set-up--which is to be expected--and the pacing may be slightly uneven. But I found it a compelling read. Definitely this one is more premise-driven and plot driven. But I don't mind that. It is the first in a series. I'm curious to read more in the series...


© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

100. Bea and the New Deal Horse

Bea and the New Deal Horse. L.M. Elliott. 2023. 384 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: I woke up in a billowing pile of fresh-cut hay, wrapped in its miraculous smells--of buttercups, of those miniature fuzzy wild daisies, of grasshoppers. Not the big, prickly legged locusts that spit tobacco juice but the sweet little sliver of green grasshoppers that look like tiny blades of grass. No needles of dried-up, dead-yellow straw sticking and tickling either. Soft, like sleeping on a little mountain of emerald-colored lace.

Premise/plot: Bea and Vivian are abandoned (essentially) by their father and left in the barn of their mother's college roommate's mother's Virginia horse farm. He leaves a note to his eldest, Bea, explaining just why he's leaving them there. (Not why he's leaving perhaps, but why there.) The novel is set during the early years of the Depression. (FDR is not president yet, though an election year is coming up). Their father, a banker, has lost everything--including hope that he can take care of his two little girls. Mrs. Scott, who owns the horse farm, is on hard times herself; she may lose everything too. Bea doesn't reveal all, but she does her best to prove useful to Mrs. Scott. Her and Vivian will do their best to contribute enough to the house to stay welcome. Bea's usefulness with horses comes in handy.

My thoughts: I do not like horse books. Usually. I did LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this horse book, however. It's good to know there are exceptions to the rule. (Black Beauty also comes to mind as an exception.) I really loved the characters--both major and minor characters. The story was engaging. I didn't think I could care about horses and horse competitions, but, I was very invested in the outcome.



© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Monday, May 15, 2023

99. Menacing Manor

Menacing Manor. (Sinister Summer #4) Kiersten White. 2023. 272 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: The Sinister-Winterbottom children had no problems. Their summer was rolling along as merrily as a summer could, endless days and warm nights perfumed with sunscreen and bug spray, drenched in fun and relaxation.

Premise/plot: The worst summer ever continues in the fourth book of the Sinister Summer series. Each book does build on the others--so don't read out of order. Mainly, characters from other books get picked up and carried along--I'm picturing a tumbling tumble weed. So the first book introduces us to three siblings--Sinister-Winterbottoms. Their parents have vanished completely. They are visiting their aunt (who turns out to be a ghost). They visit different 'sinister' locations for summer vacation. They're solving puzzles, piecing together clues, trying to make everything that is wrong in their lives, right again. So far, four books in and the kids (siblings + all other side characters caught up in this mess) are no closer--at all, not even a little bit--to solving anything. No answers, no not one. 

My thoughts: I enjoyed the first book. I didn't really enjoy books two and three. I almost enjoyed book four. I have very mixed feelings on the series. I thought the writing of the book one was fun and delightful. Silly melodrama with some cleverness. I don't know that books two through four continue that vibe. Perhaps if you were to read ALL of the books back to back to back to back, then the books would be more enjoyable. One plus, however, is at least the books aren't horribly long. Especially this one. It didn't drag, which was nice.


© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

98. When Clouds Touch Us

When Clouds Touch Us. Thanhhà Lại. 2023. [May] 256 pages. [Library]

First sentence: First refugee year
I didn't know to ask
for a day-of-birth party.
Last year Mother reminded us
all Vietnamese gain an age
together at Tet.
Our flip of the lunar calendar
was celebrated back home
as if combining Christmas,
western New Year's,
Thanksgiving, July 4th,
plus millions of days of birth.
This year,
Pam and I, April babies,
will invite twenty friends
to a rolling-shoe party
like Amy's last autumn.
I vow fewer
purple quail eggs
on my swollen knees
while Pam plots around
her religion's no-music rule.
Pam insists on April 10th,
my day, not hers,
to mark my first party.
So like her.
We were each
a maple seed,
spinning unclaimed
until we rooted
as best friends.

Premise/plot: When Clouds Touch Us is the sequel to Inside Out and Back Again (2011), a Newbery Honor book. , our heroine, is settling into Alabama and loving life (mostly) with her best friend. But all is upended when her mother decides to move the family to Texas for better employment opportunities. Hà is crushed. Making friends--or a friend--and settling down in school wasn't easy in Alabama a year (or so) ago, and she fears that Texas will prove equally difficult. This verse novel follows Hà and her family for about a year--give or take a month. 

My thoughts: Is it easier to move from Alabama to Texas than to move across the world from Vietnam to the United States? Maybe. Maybe not. Both books are coming of age novels written in verse. Both capture the uncertainty of her life and complexity of emotions. Both books are set in the 1970s. I have not read the first book since 2012 when I initially reviewed it. I am relying on my review of the first book to help me out here. I have, of course, just read the second book.

I wish I'd taken the time to reread the first book. (But I didn't). I liked the second book. I don't know that I loved it. I think the potential for love might have been there if I'd read the books back to back. If I was more invested in this family and their story.

© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Saturday, May 13, 2023

Sunday Salon #20 Current Obsession

My absolute favorite quote from Wind in the Willows:

"What are we to do with him?" asked the Mole of the Water Rat.
"Nothing at all," replied the Rat firmly. "Because there is really nothing to be done. You see, I know him from old. He is now possessed. He has got a new craze, and it always takes him that way, in its first stage. He'll continue like that for days now, like an animal walking in a happy dream, quite useless for all practical purposes. Never mind him." 

At first, he was just uploading them one week at a time. Then he uploaded all fifty-two. So my nice Friday-night treat became an all day, every day obsession. 

Bob Moke has four YouTube channels. Including this one that focuses on the two hour radio show, Moments to Remember. His other channels are AnotherProf, 78 Prof, 45 Prof. The radio show, Moments To Remember focuses on the years 1950 to 1956. His other YT channels are individual songs organized into playlists. 

So here are a *few* of my favorites.

 It's A Sin To Tell A Lie (1955) Somethin Smiths and the Redheads.

How Much Is That Hound Dog in the Window (1953)  Homer and Jethro

Close the Door They're Coming In the Windows (1955) Jim Lowe

Okay, favorites might be a strong word. Ear worms might be better. I love listening to the playlists by year--I do. (He's up to 1975 now). But there's something about the radio show format that I just love and adore. 

How does this connect to books? Well, indirectly, the music is BACKGROUND for much of my reading. I love to read while music is on. (Except perhaps Bible reading.)

© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews