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.


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