Sunday, April 14, 2024

41. One Big Open Sky


One Big Open Sky. Lesa Cline-Ransome. 2024. 304 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: On the ride back from church
every time Charly
trotted faster
or trotted out the way
of a too-big hole in the road
my head fell against
Daddy's soft Sunday shirt
blue as a clear sky
Momma was humming
the hymns to herself
in the back of the wagon
we just finished
singing out loud
in the pews
Riding next to Daddy
listening to Momma
I asked Daddy
What was your momma and daddy like?
and he pulled back
hard on the reins
enough to make Charly start
and lift his head
wondering what Daddy wanted
Charly knew there wasn't no need
for Daddy to be pulling
in the middle of his trotting
in the middle of the road
when he knew just where he was going
Daddy heard my asking
but didn't answer straitaway...

Premise/plot: Historical verse novel written for middle grade about the pioneer life--that essentially describes this one. Set circa 1879, this one follows a wagon train of black pioneers or homesteaders. All are heading west for a chance to improve upon their lives--a chance to own their own land and embrace more freedom, to break with their pasts. There are three points of view. 

My thoughts: Verse novels can be hit or miss for me. I sometimes do enjoy verse novels, but sometimes I'm more why is this written in verse??? why wouldn't prose be a better fit???? Personally--and this is completely subjective--I think prose would have worked better for me. 

Pioneer life was DIFFICULT. This book doesn't shy away from death, death, death, and more death. 

I was slightly bothered by the lack of punctuation throughout the novel. I think you can tell that from the first sentence. 


 

© 2024 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Thursday, April 11, 2024

40. How To Solve Your Own Murder


How To Solve Your Own Murder (Castle Knoll Files #1) Kristen Perrin. 2024. 368 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: "Your future contains dry bones."

Premise/plot: Frances Adams receives a fortune at a country fair that changes the lives of her and her friends in Kristen Perrin's newest mystery novel. The mystery has dual time periods. Frances' journal/diary is from 1965/1966. The present story is told from the point of view of her great-niece, Annie Adams. It seems that Frances' fortune that she would be murdered was accurate. It is up to Annie (and several others) to solve her murder and possibly inherit her estate. Frances spent most of her life--all her adult life--preparing for the day. She took NOTES and kept files and records on anybody/everybody. So Annie will have a lot of material to work from...but it might just prove dangerous. The person who murdered Frances might not hesitate to murder again...

My thoughts: I really LOVED this one. There were multiple crimes to solve. The characterization was substantive. So MANY characters--all of them quirky/interesting. Plenty of people might have motives for wanting Frances to mind her own business...but who would kill to protect a secret? There are red herrings. But I really enjoyed puzzling this one out. I enjoyed BOTH narratives. Definitely recommend this one. 

 

© 2024 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

39. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes


The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. Suzanne Collins. 2020. [May] 439 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Coriolanus released the fistful of cabbage into the pot of boiling water and swore that one day it would never pass his lips again.

ETA: I just reread The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes after watching the movie adaptation--twice. The movie (obviously) resonated with me. It helped in the reread that I knew exactly what was coming in regards to the end. Though to be fair the end is ambiguous both in the book and film. There are definitely differences between the book and film. I highlighted--digitally--some scenes that were different. One thing that stands out, for example, is that Sejanus asks Coriolanus to TRADE tributes. Lucy Snow definitely comes across more as a possession, an asset, an object than a love interest. There are a million and one red flags...not only in his relationship with Lucy Snow but also with his non-friend-friend Sejanus. There are MORE characters in the book than there are in the film. 

My original review:

Premise/plot: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is a prequel (of sorts) to Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games. The protagonist (he is not a hero) is a young (very young) Coriolanus Snow. He comes from a previously wealthy (high class) family that has fallen (hard and fast) on hard times. His only hope of a better life--a more prosperous future--is a scholarship to university. And that may be completely out of his control. Twenty-four students will become mentors to the twenty-four tributes coming to the Capital for this year's Hunger Games. (It's the TENTH hunger games.) The victor's mentor will receive a scholarship. The Hunger Games are still relatively new. Those viewing (and participating) still remember the hard, bitter, horrifying, traumatic times of actual war. Capital's economy certainly hasn't recovered from the actual war. (There is nothing lavish and luxurious as readers (and viewers) may remember from the original trilogy of books.) The Hunger Games are still in their infancy, still being shaped and formed by master minds. (People like Dr. Gaul...and her students...)

Coriolanus's tribute is from district twelve. Her name is Lucy Gray Baird. She's a singer with charisma, a bit of star quality. She has a little something special that makes her stand out from others. He sees this as her greatest strength. Perhaps the two of them can manipulate things along--here and there--and with a little luck she may win it all. Hooray for his bright future....

But things don't always go according to plan...even when they seem to... It seems there's always someone watching just a smidge cleverer.

Readers also meet his classmates. In particular Sejanus Plinth who is essentially "new money." His family has the funds but they are new to Capital. Sejanus still thinks of himself as belonging to District 2 and being one of the people. Which makes things super tricky when he has to participate (as a mentor) in the Hunger Games. He feels one with the tributes--whether they see him as one of them or not. He cannot accept that these tributes are animals, monsters, incapable of thought and feeling. There is no "us" and "them."

Throughout the book, Coriolanus struggles with his ambitions and his conscience. You might think of the old imagery of an angel on one side and a devil on the other. 

My thoughts: I don't feel like my time has been completely wasted. It hasn't. I just wish the book had been shorter. I really don't understand *why* the part after the conclusion of the Hunger Games had to go on so long. The first half of the novel was compelling enough. It was interesting to see the great contrast between these primitive earlier Hunger Games and the later Games which are depicted in the trilogy. Worlds of difference between Capital then and now, between the Games then and now. I liked how Coriolanus and Sejanus both--in their own ways--disapproved of how the tributes were being treated. There are moments when Snow comes across as well--human.

S
P
O
I
L
E
R
S

I almost wish that Lucy Gray had lost in the games OR been murdered by the powers that be soon after. I really HATED how that story resolved. I think Snow could still have turned all dark side and evil as a result of someone else killing Lucy (the supposed love of his life). Their scenes together reminded me of the DARK and DEPRESSING scenes of Oliver Twist. (The murder of Nancy).

 

© 2024 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Monday, April 01, 2024

38. Snowglobe


Snowglobe. (Snowglobe Duology #1) Soyoung Park. Translated by Joungmin Lee Comfort. 2024. 384 pages. [Source: Library] [YA Dystopian; New Adult]

First sentence: In the living room, Grandma is sunk in her chair in front of her favorite TV show, a heavy quilt draped over her lap. I look down at the weather ticker scrolling away along the bottom of the screen.

I read the description of this one and that was enough of a hook to get me. I'm not sure I could do the book justice by trying to summarize it. You should know it is set in a futuristic dystopia. The world building was FANTASTIC. The characters were well-developed, fleshed out. The plot was both simple and complex. 

It stars a sixteen year old, Jeon Chobahm, who wants to be part of their world--Snowglobe. The residents of Snowglobe seemingly have it all. The residents are actors, directors, celebrities if you will. They are the only people on earth to live in a warm climate. The rest of the world is in perpetual winter or ice age. Her dream is to be a director, to be direct one of the shows of Snowglobe. 

Be careful what you wish for. She'll be presented with an opportunity. Does she have the right to say no? Maybe? maybe not? Regardless, she does NOT want to miss this opportunity. She runs straight for it. It is only afterwards when she begins to suspect that the Snowglobe she knows through the screen isn't the real Snowglobe.

I am so glad I borrowed this one from the library. It was such a fascinating/engaging read. Usually dystopian novels require a LOT of suspension of disbelief. You almost read with an eye-roll. It may be very entertaining, but equally obnoxious. Some are so heavy-handed and ridiculous hitting you over the head with a couple of hammers that there's no fun to be had. This one I completely became absorbed in. I didn't feel manipulated or preached at.

 

© 2024 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

37. Uprising


Uprising. Jennifer A. Nielsen. 2024. 384 pages. [Source: Review copy] [J Historical Fiction; MG Historical Fiction]

First sentence: If I'd known what was coming that morning, I'd have done things differently. I certainly wouldn't have fought with my mother.

Premise/plot: Jennifer Nielsen's newest book is set in Poland during the Second World War. It is a fictionalized account inspired by a real teenager, Lidia Zakrzewski, a Resistance fighter. Lidia, our heroine, is outraged when Poland falls and the Nazis invade. Everything changes dramatically in such a short amount of time. Her home life--which had some tension before with a difficult mother--becomes truly dramatic. Still, she keeps on keeping on--resisting, persisting, doing anything and everything to defy the new regime. "Simple" things like going to an illegal school so she can continue her education. More difficult things like becoming a messenger--running messages for those in the resistance--before ultimately becoming a fighter herself. This is a brutal coming of age story set in a harsh environment.

My thoughts: I have never been disappointed by Jennifer A. Nielsen. Still holds true with her newest book. I found this one engaging. I read it quickly--one or two sittings--because I just got caught up in the story. It was a rough read as many war books are. But it was a GREAT read. Definitely recommended.

 

© 2024 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Sunday, March 31, 2024

March Reflections

In March, I read 39 books.

Books reviewed at Becky's Book Review

29. A Murder in Hollywood: The Untold Story of Tinseltown's Most Shocking Crime. Casey Sherman. 2024. 304 pages. [Source: Library]

30. Everyone On This Train is A Suspect. Benjamin Stevenson. 2023. 335 pages. [Source: Library] 

31. Across So Many Seas. Ruth Behar. 2024. 272 pages. [Source: Library] [interconnected stories; novellas; historical fiction; mg]

32. The Girl Who Sang: A Holocaust Memoir of Hope and Survival. Estelle Nadel. Illustrated by Sammy Savos. 2024. 272 pages. [Source: Library] [graphic novel; graphic memoir; Jewish/Holocaust] 

33. Ferris. Kate DiCamillo. 2024. 240 pages. [Source: Library] [MG Fiction, J Fiction, Realistic, Historical] 

34. You've Been Summoned. Lindsey Lamar. 2024. 376 pages. [Source: Library] [adult mystery, adult fiction] 

35. The Light That Shines Forever: The True Story and Remarkable Rescue of 669 Children on the Eve of World War II. David T. Warner. 2023. 32 pages. [Source: Library] 

36. The Luminous Life of Lucy Landry. Anna Rose Johnson. 2024. 192 pages. [Source: Library]

 

Books reviewed at Young Readers

25. Cranky. Phuc Tran. Illustrated by Pete Oswald. 2024. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

26. My Thoughts Have Wings. Maggie Smith. Illustrated by Leanne Hatch. 2024. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

27. Today is For You! Sally Lloyd-Jones. Illustrated by Kevin Waldron. 2024. 48 pages. [Source: Library]

28. Barnacle is Bored. Jonathan Fenske. 2016. Scholastic. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy] 

29. You Are Not a Cat. Sharon G. Flake. 2016/2024. 40 pages. [Source: Library]

30. You Make Me Sneeze! Sharon G. Flake. Illustrated by Anna Raff. 2024. 48 pages. [Source: Library] 

31. Tucker's Nose Knows: An Allergen Detection Dog Graphic Novel. Mari Bolte. Illustrated by Diego Vaisberg. 2023. 29 pages. [Source: Library]

32. Daphne Shows Support: An Emotional Support Dog Graphic Novel. Mari Bolte. Illustrated by Alan Brown. 2023. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

33. Rossi Guides the Way: A Guide Dog Graphic Novel. Mari Bolte. Illustrated by Alan Brown. 2023. 32 pages. [Source: Library] 

34. Buffalo Fluffalo. Bess Kalb. Illustrated by Erub Kraan. 2024. 40 pages. [Source: Library]

35. Hot Cat, Cool Cat. Laura Manaresi. Illustrated by Roberta Angaramo. 2023. [November] 32 pages. [Source: Library]

36. Why Do Elephants Have Big Ears? Questions -- And Surprising Answers -- About Animals. Steve Jenkins and Robin Page. 2023. [November] 40 pages. [Source: Library] 

37. Board book: Good Night, Cuddle Tight. Kristi Valiant. 2023. [December] 20 pages. [Source: Library]

38. Baby Bear's Busy Day with Brown Bear and Friends. [Board book] "Eric Carle" Odd Dot. 2023. [September] 10 pages. [Source: Library]

39. The Paper Doll Wedding. Hilda Miloche and Wilma Kane. 1954. 20 pages. [Source: Bought] [Vintage Golden Book, Little Golden Activity Book]  

40. Board book: Country Baby. Laurie Elmquist. Illustrated by Ellen Rooney. 2024. 20 pages. [Source: Library]

41. Slide and See First Words: Farm (Board book) Helen Hughes. Illustrated by Samantha Meredith. 2024. 12 pages. [Source: Library]

42.  Board book: Don't Push the Button! On the Farm. Bill Cotter. 2024. 24 pages. [Source: Library] 

43. The Great Puptective. Alina Tysoe. 2024. 128 pages. [Source: Library]

44. Henry and the Something New. Jenn Bailey. Illustrated by Mika Song. 2024. 56 pages. [Source: Library] [early chapter book; series book] 

45. The Very Hungry Caterpillar at the Bakeshop (Board book) Eric Carle (World of Eric Carle). 2023. [November] 14 pages. [Source: Library]

46. Bears are Best: The Scoop About How We Sniff, Sneak, Snack, and Snooze. Joan Holub. Illustrated by Laurie Keller. 2023. 48 pages. [Source: Library]

47. Cookie Queen: How One Girl Started Tate's Bake Shop. Kathleen King (Founder of Tate's Bake Shop) and Lowey Bundy Sichol. Illustrated by Ramona Kaulitzki. 2023. 40 pages. [Source: Library]

Books reviewed at Operation Actually Read Bible 


20. Eve and Adam and Their Very First Day. Leslie Kimmelman. Illustrated by Irina Avgustinovich. 2023. [October 24] 32 pages. [Source: Library]

21. The Rand McNally Book of Favorite Stories of Jesus. Mary Alice Jones (according to GoodReads). Illustrated by Elizabeth Webbe, Eleanor Corwin, Manning de V. Lee, and Janet Robson Kennedy. 1981. 109 pages. [Source: Bought]

22. When the Day Comes. (Timeless #1) Gabrielle Meyer. 2022. 384 pages. [Source: Review copy]

23. Live Your Truth and Other Lies: Exposing Popular Deceptions That Make Us Anxious, Exhausted and Self-Obsessed. Alisa Childers. 2022. 240 pages. [Source: Library]

24. This Special Blessing for You. Eric and Meredith Schrotenboer. Illustrated by Denise Hughes. 2024. 32 pages. [Source: Library] [Picture book, children's book]

25. In This Moment. (Timeless #2) Gabrielle Meyer. 2023. 416 pages. [Source: Library] [Speculative fiction; historical romance]

Bibles reviewed at Operation Actually Read Bible

3. Whole Bible. The Holy Bible, King James Version, Red-Letter Edition, Self-Pronouncing Text. God. 1769. 1246 pages. [Source: Bought]
4. ESV Bible with Creeds and Confessions. Crossway. 2020. 1424 pages. [Source: Review copy]

2024 Totals

 

Books Read in 2024113
Pages Read in 202423,336
January
Books read in January36
Pages read in January6,875
February
Books read in February 38
Pages read in February9,731
March
Books read in March39
Pages read in March6,730

 

 

© 2024 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

36. The Luminous Life of Lucy Landry


The Luminous Life of Lucy Landry. Anna Rose Johnson. 2024. 192 pages. [Source: Library]

 First sentence: "What are we going to do with young Lucy?"

Premise/plot: The Luminous Life of Lucy Landry is a children's historical fiction novel set in 1912. Lucy Landry is an orphan being sent to live with a new family--the Martins. The Martins live in a lighthouse and Mr. Martin is the lighthouse keeper. The family is already LARGE. They are strangers to one another. Lucy has a vivid imagination--especially when it comes to her identity and story. She is a girl on a mission. She wants to "complete" her father's mission--as best she can. He wanted to find treasure from a shipwreck. (The name of the ship is escaping my memory). Lucy is terrified of the water and not so fond of ships or boats, but her love of her father may prove stronger.

My thoughts: This one was an almost for me. I wanted to love it. I did. In the actual year 1912, one of the biggest trends in children's literature WAS orphans. THIS is the time of Pollyanna and Anne Shirley and Emily (of New Moon) and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. I'm sure there are dozens more. An orphan with a big imagination sounds like my cup of tea. The opening was giving off big vibes of Emily of New Moon--minus the cats. But I personally failed to bond with the characters. At one point--and I take full responsibility--I blinked and missed a crucial plot point. I spent the last half of the novel slightly confused and out of sorts. Not lost enough to truly have lost the plot. Yet just confused enough to feel something was missing. If I could pinpoint *where* I blinked and missed something, I would go back to the chapter and pick it up again. But I don't know where I lost it. I think I wanted a stronger emotional reaction to this one. I still think this one could largely be all on me--my fault. Your reading experience might be different.

© 2024 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Monday, March 25, 2024

35. The Light That Shines Forever


The Light That Shines Forever: The True Story and Remarkable Rescue of 669 Children on the Eve of World War II. David T. Warner. 2023. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: In the final months of 1938, the shadow of war was spreading across Europe. HItler's armies had marched into the borderlands of Czechoslovakia, forcing Jewish families, among others, to flee their homes and seek refuge inland.

Premise/plot: This is a picture book for older readers--mid to upper elementary aged students through adults. This is the story of Nicholas Winton and his rescue of six hundred plus Jewish children. While he couldn't rescue or save whole families, he could get hundreds of Jewish children out of the country and living with host families. He did what he could in the months that he could. 

My thoughts: The story has been told in other books about the war (and holocaust). It certainly is a story worth sharing in this new format. The illustrations are beautiful. I definitely found both narrative and illustrations engaging. I would definitely recommend this one to readers of most ages. 

 

© 2024 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Saturday, March 23, 2024

34. You've Been Summoned


You've Been Summoned. Lindsey Lamar. 2024. 376 pages. [Source: Library] [adult mystery, adult fiction]

First sentence: Wear your best costume and tell your worst secret....you've been summoned.

My thoughts (preview): This one definitely requires some suspension of disbelief. But if you go with the flow, you might get caught up and forget how unrealistic it is. 

Premise/plot: YOU the reader are being asked to go through the files of a case and make a recommendation to the police on who to arrest for the crime. The files are unusual--hence why you will need to suspend your disbelief. You'll have access to the INTERIOR thoughts of Jane--the sister of the victim of the crime. These are "Jane's Recount." They are not an interview. They are not diary or journal entries. You'll have access to a diary of a woman (another twin) Mary who lived in 1940s at this same house. There are amateur interviews conducted by Jane, and professional interviews conducted by the police. There are physical documents/evidence--notes and letters found on the scene. There is digital evidence as well--text messages, etc. There is a "call transcript" from 911. YOU the reader are being asked to sift through these files and make your best educated guess as to who, how, and why. 

After you have made your recommendation, the author lets you know what really happened and how it all played out. In other words providing the "correct" answer to your amateur detecting. 

My thoughts: Technically, I don't find the premise believable. BUT all that aside, I found it great fun. I did find it an engaging/compelling read. I read through the first file folder in one sitting. I read the other nine file folders in one sitting. I found it that gripping. 

Did I guess right? Yes. Did I arrive at my conclusion reasonably and logically piecing together all the clues and evidence? No. The ending lists out all the clues that point to the right answer. I missed most of them. Because they required a lot of reading between the lines, noticing what was missing or going unsaid; things that should have been present or accounted for but weren't in other words. I wasn't randomly guessing, mine was more of a following my gut.


 

© 2024 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Thursday, March 14, 2024

33. Ferris


Ferris. Kate DiCamillo. 2024. 240 pages. [Source: Library] [MG Fiction, J Fiction, Realistic, Historical]

First sentence: It was the summer before Emma Phineas Wilkey (who everyone called Ferris) went into fifth grade. It was the summer that the ghost appeared to Charisse, the summer that Ferris's sister, Pinky Wilkey, devoted herself to becoming an outlaw, and the summer that Uncle Ted left Aunt Shirley and moved into the Wilkey basement to paint a history of the world. It was the summer that Ferris's best friend, Billy Jackson, played a song called "Mysterious Barricades" over and over again on the piano. Billy Jackson loved music. The very first sentence he had ever spoken to Ferris, was, "I hear piano music in my head all the time, and, I wonder, would it be all right if I held on to your hand?"

Premise/plot: Ferris is Kate DiCamillo's newest children's book. I would say the book is timeless, but, what I truly mean is that the book exists out of time. It could almost be any and every time period. So what is it about? The recurring theme or message is that every story is a love story, or, every good story is a love story. It is very much a story celebrating family and friends and community. Ferris isn't particularly "troubled;" she isn't facing an extraordinary problem that she has to overcome. There are no gigantic, looming conflicts. And THAT is a trend I'd love to see in children's books now and then. 

Ferris' grandmother is seeing a ghost, AND has recently been diagnosed with [congestive] heart failure. When she learns from her grandmother that the ghost wants to see the chandelier lighted so that her husband can find her, Ferris sets about doing just that. It isn't so much fulfilling a ghost's wish as it is fulfilling her grandmother's wish too. This is, I suppose, the "big" plot point of the book, but the book has scores of LOVELY quiet moments, ordinary moments, lovely moments where Ferris is just living life. They aren't always calm, peaceful, relaxed moments. But they are the little moments that make up a life. 


ETA: I could see Pinky, Ferris' sister, stealing the show much like Ramona did in Beezus and Ramona. Now that I think of that comparison, I can't not see it. This book is, in some ways, the answer to the question how on earth can I get along with my sister story.

My thoughts: The writing was solidly good. I do tend to love and adore her writing. I enjoyed the characters. I LOVED the relationships. I think the highlight, for me, are the many, many relationships we get to explore in this one. Do I love the ghost aspect? Not really. Is it a big enough subtraction that I dislike the book? No.

© 2024 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Friday, March 08, 2024

32. The Girl Who Sang


The Girl Who Sang: A Holocaust Memoir of Hope and Survival. Estelle Nadel. Illustrated by Sammy Savos. 2024. 272 pages. [Source: Library] [graphic novel; graphic memoir; Jewish/Holocaust]

First sentence: Will I ever be free?

Premise/plot: The Girl Who Sang is a MEMOIR [nonfiction autobiography] in graphic novel format. It is set primarily during the Second World War, but the memoir continues through some turbulent aftermath years. After the war, the family of siblings emigrate to the United States. But there is no magical, warm and fuzzy happily ever after story. Love sometimes isn't enough to keep a family of siblings together. 

My thoughts: I loved, loved, loved, loved this one. I don't read many graphic novels--fiction or nonfiction. But this one is a MUST. I found it compelling and haunting. It was SO well done. I have read plenty of books about the Holocaust and the Second World War. I've read fewer graphic novels, however, this is a powerful format for storytelling. Perhaps the story will impact readers more by being in this format.

 

© 2024 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

31. Across So Many Seas


Across So Many Seas. Ruth Behar. 2024. 272 pages. [Source: Library] [interconnected stories; novellas; historical fiction; mg]

First sentence: The sound of trumpets coming from the direction of our town gates tears me from sleep, my dreams forgotten as I jolt out of bed.

Premise/plot: Across So Many Seas contains four interconnected (three super-connected) historical stories or novellas. The time periods are 1492 (Spain), 1923 (Turkey), 1961 (Cuba), and 2003 (Miami, Florida). 

The novel opens with Benvenida, our twelve-year-old narrator, learning of a new decree. ALL Jews must either a) convert to Christianity b) leave the country [Spain] or c) disobey by staying and risk being hanged. Some of the community--including some of her extended family--do choose to convert. They do not want to leave their homes, businesses, etc. The story chronicles their exodus as they flee their country and seek a new homeland. It's a tough, demanding journey.

The three following stories follow three generations of the same family. Reina, Alegra, and Paloma star in compelling stories of their own. The stories examine coming of age from a Jewish perspective. Though that isn't really doing any of the stories justice. There is great turmoil in the first three stories. In the first, the Jewish population is being persecuted. In the second, the family is living in a newly independent Turkey. In the third, she is coming of age in the midst of Cuba's revolution. The fourth story "closes the circle" or "bridges the gap" the narrator is traveling with her family to Spain to learn more about their cultural history. 

My thoughts: I found this a great read. I really was invested with ALL of the stories. I sped through it. I used to speed through books all the time. As I get older, as my vision worsens, as reading becomes more physically demanding, I don't always give in to "page-turners." But I absolutely loved this one. 

© 2024 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Monday, March 04, 2024

30. Everyone On This Train is a Suspect


Everyone On This Train is A Suspect. Benjamin Stevenson. 2023. 335 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: 
Hi <Redacted>,
It's a hard no on the prologue, I'm afraid. I know it's the done thing in crime novels, to hook the reader in and all that, but it just feels a bit cheap here. I know how to do it, of course, the scene you want me to write.

Premise/plot: A handful of mystery writers board a train on their way to the Australian Mystery Writers' Festival. But not everyone who boards the train exits the train....still breathing. Hence, everyone on this train is a suspect. 

Ernest Cunningham is the main character "author" who wrote the book Everyone In My Family Killed Someone based on a horrific family reunion. He's working on a second novel, hopefully a book not based on his personal life, but events of the train are proving challenging. If he survives the trip, then a second book has conveniently unfolded right when he needs it. (Though is that a motive for crime???)

Most all of the characters are new in this one--with the exception of his love interest. 

My thoughts: I absolutely loved Everyone In My Family Killed Someone. I thought Ernest Cunningham was a delightful narrator. I liked the gimmick of it, the premise of it. In theory, I like the premise of this one as well. In theory. I didn't quite love this one. I'm not sure if I just wasn't in the right mood for it, or, if the first book was just better. I still like the main character, and, sometimes with detective novels, each mystery has a little bit of hit or miss to it. Some you just enjoy more than others all the while loving the detective character at the center of the novel.

 

© 2024 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

29. A Murder in Hollywood


A Murder in Hollywood: The Untold Story of Tinseltown's Most Shocking Crime. Casey Sherman. 2024. 304 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Lana Turner paced the pink carpeted floor with a cigarette gripped tightly between her fingers. She took a deep drag into her lungs and blew out a cloud of smoke toward the ceiling of her spacious bedroom. Her fourteen-year-old daughter, Cheryl, was in her own bedroom, sobbing hysterically. 

Premise/plot: Nonfiction with a gossipy twist--that is how I would describe this one. It gives brief biographies of Lana Turner and her immediate family (her parents, her husbands, her daughter) and brief biographies of a series of crime bosses (mob bosses) including Johnny Stompanato. The stories cross paths when Lana Turner entangles herself with Johnny Stompanato. This is a combustive relationship--for sure--leading to murder and scandal. Casey Sherman argues that it was not Lana's fourteen-year-old daughter but Lana herself who killed Johnny. 

My thoughts: This book is troubling and disturbing both in content and narrative style. I'll try to explain. This one goes into great detail--graphic detail--of horrific crimes. Many of these crimes are of the SA of a minor child variety. Of course there are plenty of other crimes as well that do not involve children. But still. This is a HEAVY read that is treated perhaps a little lighter than I would personally like. The book's approach--in my personal opinion--is like gossip, gossip, give me all the gossip, spill all the tea, tell me everything. It doesn't necessarily--to me--seem respectful. The content IS shocking and NOT shocking at the same time. Hollywood is presented as an absolute nightmare. The more power and influence, the more guilty you are of horrendous crimes. Nothing glamorous or glitzy--just very horrific crimes going on and kept hush-hush by the powers that be. 

This one is definitely more graphic than I like to read.

 

 

© 2024 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

February Reflections


In February, I read thirty-eight books. 

Books reviewed at Becky's Book Reviews

14. Mexikid: A Graphic Memoir. Pedro Martin. 2023. 320 pages. [Source: Library] [Nonfiction Graphic Novel; MG Graphic Novel; Newbery Honor]

15. Little House on the Prairie. Laura Ingalls Wilder. 1935. 335 pages. [Source: Bought] [children's classic] 

16. Not Quite a Ghost. Anne Ursu. 2024. [January] 288 pages. [Source: Library] 

17. The Frozen River. Ariel Lawhon. 2023. [December] 432 pages. [Source: Library] [adult historical fiction] 

18. Fighting With Love: The Legacy of John Lewis. Lesa Cline-Ransome. Illustrated by James E. Ransome. 2024. [January] 48 pages. [Source: Library] [nonfiction picture book; picture book biography; civil rights movement] 

19. The Fire, The Water, and Maudie McGinn. Sally J. Pla. 2023. [July] 336 pages. [Source: Library] [J Fiction; J Realistic Fiction; MG Fiction, MG Realistic Fiction; dysfunctional families]

20. Danny Dunn and the Anti-Gravity Paint. (Danny Dunn #1) Jay Williams. Illustrated by Raymond Abrashkin. 1956. 154 pages. [Source: Library] 

21. Making It So. Patrick Stewart. 2023. 469 pages. [Source: Library]

22. Mrs. Quinn's Rise To Fame. Olivia Ford. 2024. 384 pages. [Source: Library] 

23. All-of-A-Kind-Family. Sydney Taylor. 1951. 192 pages. [Source: Library]

24. Nothing Else But Miracles. Kate Albus. 2023. 288 pages. [Source: Library]

25. Heroes. Alan Gratz. 2024. 272 pages. [Source: Library] 

26. Wait! What? The Beatles Couldn't Read Music? Dan Gutman. 2023. 144 pages. [Source: Library]  

27. Who is Nathan Chen? (Who Was? Series) Joseph Liu. 2023. 56 pages. [Source: Library] 

28. What was the Children's Blizzard of 1888? Steve Korte. 2023. [November] 112 pages. [Source: Library]

 

Books reviewed at Young Readers

My Dog and I. Luca Tortolini. Illustrated by Felicita Sala. 2023. [November] 48 pages. [Source: Library] [Picture book, Humor, Pets, Animals] 

13. [Board book] Teeny Tiny Turkey. Rachel Matson. Illustrated by Joey Chou. 2023. 16 pages. [Source: Library]

14. [Board book] If Mama Sings. Laura Wittner. Illustrated by Maricel R. Clark. 2023. 16 pages. [Source: Library]

15. [Board Book] The Bedtime Book. Katy Hedley. Illustrated by Paola Camma. 2023. [October 17, cybils eligible] 20 pages. [Source: Library]

16. [Board book] Lion, Lion Peekaboo. Grace Habib. 2023. 8 pages. [Source: Library]

17. [Board book] Baby On Board Train With Tabs to Push and Pull. Sebastien Braun. 2023. 8 pages. [Source: Library]

18. [Board book] You're the Apple of My Pie. Rose Rossner. Illustrated by Jill Howarth. 2023. 24 pages. [Source: Library]

19. [Board book] Winter with Hedgehog. Elena Ulyeva. Illustrated by Daria Parkhaeva. 2023. 20 pages. [Source: Library] 

20. [Board book] Bundle up, Little Pup. Dori Elys. Illustrated by Elena Comte. 2023. 20 pages. [Source: Library] 

21. The Fabulous Fannie Farmer: Kitchen Scientist and America's Cook. Emma Bland Smith. Illustrated by Susan Reagan. 2024. 40 pages. [Source: Library]

22. Board book: Apple vs. Pumpkin. Jeffrey Burton. Illustrated by Lydia Jean. 2023. 22 pages. [Source: Library]

23. Board book: Some Cats. Illustrated by Lydia Nichols. 2023. 12 pages. [Source: Library] 

24. Kitty and Cat: Bent Out of Shape. Mirka Hokkanen. 2023. [November] 40 pages. [Source: Library]

 

Books reviewed at Operation Actually Read Bible


12. Simplify Your Spiritual Life. Donald S. Whitney. 2003. 208 pages. [Source: Library] [Christian nonfiction; theology; Christian living]

13. A Season of Harvest (Leah's Garden #4) Lauraine Snelling. 2024. 336 pages. [Source: Review copy]

14. Just Once. Karen Kingsbury. 2023. 336 pages. [Source: Library]

15. My Jesus: From Heartache to Hope. Anne Wilson. 2022. 196 pages. [Source: Library] [Memoir, Biography, Music Industry]

16. God Is Kind. Jamie Calloway-Hanauer. Illustrations by Patrick Brooks. 2023. 24 pages. [Source: Library] [Board book, children's book]

17. The Watchmaker's Daughter. Larry Loftis. 2023. 384 pages. [Source: Library]

18. If the Boot Fits. Karen Witemeyer. 2024. 368 pages. [Source: Review copy]

19. The Bookends of the Christian Life. Jerry Bridges and Bob Bevington. 2009. March 2009. Crossway Publishers. 160 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Bibles reviewed at Operation Actually Read Bible

1. WHOLE BIBLE. New King James Version, Sovereign Collection, Wide Margin. God. (Thomas Nelson Publisher). 2022. 1696 pages. [Source: Bought] [Bible]

2. WHOLE BIBLE. New American Standard Reference Edition. 1973. God. 1899 pages. [Source: Bought]

 2024 Reading Totals

Books Read in 202474
Pages Read in 202416606
January
Books read in January36
Pages read in January6875
February
Books read in February 38
Pages read in February9731

 

© 2024 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

28. What was the Children's Blizzard of 1888?


What was the Children's Blizzard of 1888? Steve Korte. 2023. [November] 112 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: January 12, 1888, started out as an unusually warm and sunny winter day in much of the central and midwestern parts of the United States. This area was known as the Great Plains.

Premise/plot: This nonfiction book for young readers answers the question, What was the Children's Blizzard of 1888. It is part of the WhoHQ series of books. This book focuses--though not narrowly--on an event. It provides different "snapshots" of what happened. There are small stories--vignettes--from many different people chronicling their experiences. This was a big-interest news story back in the day, and these stories were captured in newspapers--many, many from all across the country. There are happier stories and sadder stories. 

My thoughts: I definitely enjoyed reading this one. I always have had a big interest in history. This is a good introduction to the Children's Blizzard of 1888. There are plenty of books on this event/subject. (Though many are for adult readers.) Some nonfiction. Some fiction. Many if not most are fascinating and haunting. 

IF kids enjoy the I Survived series--which are mostly historical--then I see this one could having great appeal to the same audience. 

I mentioned earlier that the focus wasn't narrow. I haven't decided if that's good or bad. This one pulls in a LOT of what might pass as "context" if you are kind or "filler" if you are mean. I have to remember that it is written for young kids and it assumes no previous knowledge of American history. This makes sense when talking about weather forecasts especially. I'm going to guess that most kids haven't wondered HOW weather was forecast/predicted a 140+ years ago. It is so ordinary, so common place, to have MANY ways to get alerts about bad weather. The book could have perhaps gone into more when it comes to early meteorology. But some places felt a little history-dumping of more general knowledge that didn't really directly connect to the story. (Indirectly yes.)  

 

© 2024 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

27. Who Is Nathan Chen?


Who is Nathan Chen? (Who Was? Series) Joseph Liu. 2023. 56 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: During the 2022 Winter Olympics, Nathan Chen stood alone in the middle of the ice rink in Beijing (say: BAY-jing), China. His legs were spread apart and his arms were relaxed at his side. He was dressed in black pants and a red shirt covered in stars. The stars were not like those you see on a flag. These were more like stars you see in space.

Premise/plot: Who is Nathan Chen? is a biography for young readers--think elementary aged. It is part of the Who HQ series. Who is Nathan Chen? A figure skater--from the United States--who, for a time, dominated the sport and many competitions. The sport is an ever-constant in its changing. Skaters come. Skaters go. Legacies can be formed, for sure. But there's always "new" and "better." I use quotes because there's SO much room for subjective speculation in the sport. There are a million and one factors involved in judging. One person's "better" is another person's flop. Fans can and do disagree with judges. Fans can and do disagree with other fans. The book is a basic, straightforward biography of an athlete, an Olympian.

My thoughts: I just remember so much RAGE of the 2022 Olympics when it comes to figure skating. Though not particularly the men's competition. (I was bitter/am bitter at the LACK OF DECENT coverage on television. But that's another story not for another day). The writing of this one was serviceable and decent. It works okay. I thought the writing was a little lacking, but it was far from horrible.

Do kids watch figure skating? Maybe. Maybe not. Do kids get assignments like read a biography? Yes. Probably. Are athletes a more interesting choice for such assignments? For some, sure. Are living subjects infinitely more exciting than dead ones? Probably. Maybe. This one will have an audience.

 

© 2024 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Friday, February 23, 2024

26. The Beatles Couldn't Read Music?


Wait! What? The Beatles Couldn't Read Music? Dan Gutman. 2023. 144 pages. [Source: Library] 

First sentence: Most teachers don't really want you to know anything about the Beatles! They want you to know about Abraham Lincoln and educational stuff like that.

Premise/plot: This is a "nonfiction" book. The framework is fiction, a fictional brother and sister duo battle it out to see who knows more about the Beatles. The information they're sharing is factual and nonfiction.  

The book talks about the band, The Beatles. It talks about the four members of the band, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr. Each Beatle gets his own personal biographical chapter. Other chapters talk more about the band as a whole--chronicling the timeline of the band. 

My thoughts: Did I learn anything new? No. Is that surprising? Not really if you KNOW me. I liked this one. I did. I was slightly annoyed by the fictional framework. However, I do appreciate that this one focused on the band AND the individuals within the band. I do think the Beatles are best introduced by their music. I know this is impossible to do in a book. Or perhaps not impossible, challenging enough, but the best way to get to know the Beatles is by....listening to the Beatles. Without that immediate connection to the music itself, I'm not sure how memorable or impactful or interesting or entertaining the book is. 


 

© 2024 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

25. Heroes


Heroes. Alan Gratz. 2024. 272 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: "It's an attack!" Stanley cried. "Enemy airplanes--dozens of them. Coming in low over the water!" 

Premise/plot: Frank and Stanley are best friends living on [one of the islands] of Hawaii in December 1941. When the novel opens, these two are bonding over comic book superheroes. In fact, these two want to write and illustrate their own comic book series. So many ideas. So much potential. But that near-perfect day is soured when bullies enter the scene. Stanley stands up to the bullies, and Frank, well, Frank is too scared to stand up for what's right and just. The next day, December 7, will be a big day. Frank must find a way to repair his relationship with Stanley. The two will be going on a tour of a battleship. But Frank's confession of a deep, dark secret takes second place to the drama-trauma of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Can Frank and Stanley be heroes when it counts the most? 

My thoughts: I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED, LOVED, LOVED, LOVED, LOVED, LOVED, crazy-loved this historical novel for children and middle grade. Definitely my best read of the year--granted it is February. I loved Frank. I loved Stanley. I loved all the talk of superheroes and origin stories and comic books. I loved the creativity. I loved the HEART and substance of this one. I thought the book was great at SHOWING and not telling. Of course, that is my perspective. I loved the narrative. The writing was outstanding.

 I already want to reread this one.

© 2024 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

24. Nothing Else But Miracles


Nothing Else But Miracles. Kate Albus. 2023. 288 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence:  If you were looking for Dory Byrne--not that there's any reason you would be--you'd most likely find her at the Castle. Which makes it sound as if this is a story about a princess. It isn't. Castle Clinton, as it was known to most people, wasn't actually a castle at all. It was--or had been--at various points in its history: 1) a fort, 2) a restaurant and opera house, 3) an immigration processing center, 4) an aquarium, 5) a ruin. Which is what it was now. An empty place, half-demolished. Derelict. Dangerous, even. But a place whose remaining ramparts, if you were a slightly underfed girl of twelve who wasn't afraid to climb over a little rubble, provided an excellent view of the Statue of Liberty. So now you know.

Premise/plot: Dory and her family--siblings--are on their own...mostly. Their father is away fighting in the war (World WAR II) and the three siblings are relying heavily on each other AND on their neighbors AND on their community. But a difficult, uncompromising landlord changes their more relaxed approach to surviving. Can Dory brainstorm a way to keep their family together and safe while they wait for news of their father? [And the funds he sends...]

My thoughts: I enjoyed this one. It is set in the Lower East Side of New York City during the Second World War. I loved the setting, the story, the characters.

 

© 2024 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

23. All-of-a-Kind Family


All-of-A-Kind-Family. Sydney Taylor. 1951. 192 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: "That slowpoke Sarah1" Henny cried. "She's making us late!" Mama's girls were going to the library, and Henny was impatient.

Premise/plot: Ella (12), Henny (10), Sarah (8), Charlotte (6) and Gertie (4) are sisters that make up [part of] an "all-of-a-kind family."  The book is set in the Lower East Side of New York City at the turn of the twentieth century. It chronicles the adventures of a Jewish family in the course of a year (or most of a year). The book opens with a bittersweet library visit and ends with the birth of a new sibling! There are highs and lows.

My thoughts: I love this book. I'm excited to read all the sequels. I remember reading this one a few times as a kid. This is my second time, I believe, to read it as an adult. (I first blogged about it in 2008). I enjoy the storytelling and characterization. I love the old-fashioned, traditional feel. I think it has acquired that through the decades. It wasn't particularly 'traditional' at the time it was published. I was reading the introduction to the one of the sequels and it was pointing out all the ways this book was 'novel' aka "new" and unconventional.

© 2024 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Thursday, February 15, 2024

22. Mrs. Quinn's Rise to Fame


Mrs. Quinn's Rise To Fame. Olivia Ford. 2024. 384 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: It was a December night, the sort which usually makes being inside feel wonderfully cozy, but tonight it didn't. 

Premise/plot: Mrs. Quinn's Rise to Fame is a "coming-of-old-age" story. (To be clear, "coming of old age" is on the publisher description of the book. I didn't come up with the phrase). Jenny Quinn loves, loves, loves, LOVES to bake. But as much as baking has saved her--in a way--she can't help feeling a little out of sorts and empty. She decides somewhat impulsively that it's time to do something "risky," and apply to a television show--Britain Bakes. She keeps her application and audition secret from her husband, Bernard. The two have been married almost sixty years, but, there are a few things he doesn't know about her. And it is one very big secret that is eating away at her one bite at a time. 

My thoughts: I mostly enjoy Great British Bake-Off. I don't always love the un-funny, often crude jokes. Some of the hosts have been absolutely awful. But the contestants and the baking are very enjoyable to follow. I also LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Call the Midwife. Mrs. Quinn's Rise to Fame was a good fit for me. 

 

© 2024 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

21. Making It So


Making It So. Patrick Stewart. 2023. 469 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: We called it t'bottom field, never wondering where, in relation to "t'bottom," t'middle field and t'top field might be. 

Premise/plot: Making It So is Patrick Stewart's memoir. It doesn't get more straight-forward than that. He writes of his family, growing up, friendships and romantic relationships, and his career on stage and on screen. He has spent more time, I believe, on stage--doing live theatre productions--than on screen. But only because there have been decades where he was able to do both. 

My thoughts: I enjoyed this one. Not all chapters are equally enthralling or fascinating. But all chapters were well written. The book covers so much more than just his years playing Jean-Luc Picard or Charles Xavier. He does mention that he watched the WHOLE Star Trek The Next Generation series before starting his memoir. He does talk about THE INNER LIGHT the absolute best episode of TNG. I think I will like it even more now--and I didn't think that was possible.

© 2024 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews