Monday, September 25, 2023

161. Dogtown

Dogtown (A Dogtown Book #1) Katherine Applegate and Gennifer Choldenko. 2023. [September] 352 pages. [Source: Library] [Animal fantasy; J Fiction; MG Fiction]

First sentence: I know what you're thinking: That poor dog only has three legs. But don't go there. It's not that bad, okay? So, I'm not American Kennel Club material. Big deal. My eyes are sharp, my nose is wet, my coat puppy soft, and the white patch over my eye? It's a charmer, I don't mind saying. My name is Chance. I'm pleased to meet you.

ETA: I first reviewed Dogtown in July 2023. Yes, it's only been a few months. Barely two months. But I loved it so much. The first time I read a review copy. The second time I checked it out from the library. I loved it just as much--if not more. 

Premise/plot: Dogtown is an animal shelter (dog shelter). It features dog-dogs and robot-dogs. (Presumably, this animal fantasy is futuristic animal fantasy). It stars Chance, our LOVABLE, adorable, super-kind hero. He's long been a resident at Dogtown. This is the story of his friendships at Dogtown. In particular, how he made [close] friendships with two unlikely residents: a mouse (named Mouse) and a robot dog, Metal Head. The book contains their adventures/misadventures.  

My thoughts: Does this one feature a dog in peril? Yes and no. No, in that it isn't just one dog in peril. It is DOGS (plural) in peril. Though this one doesn't feature direct-direct sads, it features plenty of potential peril. Does it have heart and substance? A thousand times yes. I loved, loved, loved, loved this one so much. I LOVE the emotional journey of this one. Very feel-good. Very warm-and-cozy. Yet not instant. Do I see myself rereading it? YES. I already want to reread it. I could reread it a million times and still be moved by how awesome it is.

I loved the story. I loved the characters. I loved EVERYTHING. 

My favorite, favorite, favorite element of this one is the inclusion of the BOOK BUDDY program. Pairing school-age children with shelter-dogs for reading time. These scenes were HEART-MELTING. 


I learned something important that day: Never say something about a dog that you wouldn't want him to hear. "I like the moniker," Metel Head said. I didn't know if he'd burned out his bulbs or somebody had adjusted his settings, but the blue flashing had stopped. I could look at him without getting a headache. "Why do you want to escape?" I asked. "I want to go home," he said.

Here's another thing humans are sadly misguided about: Luck is not a winnin ghand of cards. Luck is making a new friend.

It wasn't the way it was supposed to be, with the kid reading and the dog listening. But one look at Metal Head and Quinn, scooted up close to each other, and  it was pretty clear something had happened. Something big.

"What about your humans, Chance? Don't you want to go home?" This was not the kind of question Dogtown dogs asked each other. If a dog wanted to talk about how she ended up at Dogtown, that was fine. But you didn't ask a question that broke a dog's heart to answer. How do you explain kindness to a a machine with a hunk of metal where his heart should've been? I really didn't know.

"Your heart is a muscle," I told Mouse at dinner that night. "It grows stronger the more you use it." 

I can't say that Metal Head was a friend, then,. He was more of a friend of a friend. Quinn liked him and I liked Quinn. But yeah, I did want to see if everything worked out for him. But wasn't the real reason I said yes. The real reason was something I didn't want to admit...there were a lot of phone poles up ahead. And maybe they had signs, too.

The smell of cheese is simply divine. The taste of it is even better.

Once hope gets inside you, you want your wishes to come true so badly, you just can't imagine that they won't.

© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

160. A Papa Like Everyone Else

A Papa Like Everyone Else. Sydney Taylor. 1966. 176 pages. [Source: Library] [mg historical fiction; j historical fiction; children's classic]

First sentence: Gisella sat very still, her pale green eyes round with wonder. Again the miracle was happening! She had seen it many times before, but always her pulse quickened with the mystery of it. 

Premise/plot: A Papa Like Everyone Else is set in Czechoslovakia circa 1918/1919. Szerena and Gisella long for a 'papa like everyone else' since their papa is far away in America. He went a year before the war started to find a job, to get established, to earn enough to bring his family over. The world war changed plans significantly. But now the war is over and the family hopes to be reunited soon. Meanwhile, life on the farm in the farm village continues on. This is a 'slice of life' glimpse at a rural Jewish family from the time period. There isn't "action" or major plot points so much as it is just capturing the 'old world' life as experienced by one Jewish family. (There is at least one chapter with some excitement. But mostly just flavor of life, normal, ordinary, routine.) 

My thoughts: I didn't enjoy this one as much as All of A Kind Family. But I liked it well enough. I am very glad I was able to read it. I've always wanted to read more Sydney Taylor. 

© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Monday, September 18, 2023

159. Shattered City

Shattered City: The Halifax Explosion and the Road to Recovery. Janet Kitz. 2010. 351 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: My interest in the Halifax Explosion began in 1980, sparked by research for an anthropology paper at Saint Mary's University.

Premise/plot: Shattered City is a nonfiction book for adults about the Halifax explosion (which occurred on December 6, 1917). It starts off by explaining the research process and project. Talking about the ways information for the book was gathered and collected, what resources were examined. It then begins chronicling the event. The section of the book that chronicled the day of the disaster was intense yet intriguing. It was packed with what appear to be firsthand accounts. This section is where there is a human element. It isn't so much that there's a consistent cast of [real life] characters to follow, but even spending a few paragraphs with a family is something more personal. The 'aftermath' section which is "the road to recovery," is perhaps less personal, less human-interest, more facts and statistics. (Though not always.) For example, reading about the reconstruction of houses, streets, neighborhoods is less personal and more matter-of-fact. Or reading about the weekly allotment of financial assistance to buy food and how that was determined. But there were also updates on schools for the blind and how adults and children were learning or relearning necessary skills for beginning to live life again. So there were occasional moments of high interest. 

My thoughts: This book should NOT be confused with a movie with the same name. That is how I came across this book. It is not the author's fault--nor the book's fault--that the movie about the Halifax explosion shares the same name. The movie chronicles ONE family and a small cast of characters. It builds up to the explosion over several days. You get attached to the characters. There is intensity and suspense. There is heartbreak. It is super-absorbing and compelling. This book....isn't. The first part is definitely more interesting than the second part. But it is also very technical. I'm not expressing it in the right words. Human interest. This one doesn't always stay focused on a 'human interest' perspective. The facts may be of great interest to the right reader. But if you care more about people than supplies of food or lumber...then you might find yourself a bit bored now and then.


© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Thursday, September 14, 2023

158. Rewind

Rewind. Lisa Graff. 2023. [August] 256 pages. [Source: Library] [MG Speculative Fiction; Time Travel]

First sentences: In most ways, Gap Bend, Pennsylvania, was just like any other small town. 

Premise/plot: Gap Bend, Pennsylvania, has a tradition of hosting a 'Time Hop' community event. McKinley O'Dair is super excited. This year the Time Hop will be celebrating all things 1993. She realizes--foreshadowing--that 1993 was the year her father was her age. 

After an explosive argument with her father--in which she runs away at the Time Hop--she finds herself traveling back in time. She's IN the "real" 1993. Her father is her own age. And she is clueless as to how to return to 2018. 

My thoughts: I wanted to love, love, love this one. I didn't love it. I will try to share why I personally didn't love this one so that you can make up your own mind as to if this is one you'd be interested in picking up and reading for yourself.

What I liked: I liked the premise of time travel. I LOVE the premise of time travel. I seek out time travel books like they're candy. I was super excited about the premise of this one. The fact that she'd be able to "get to know" her father when he was her own age was intriguing. It had potential.

The chapter titles are song titles. I wasn't familiar with most of these songs, but, it could make a good side project for those that love music OR that love quests in general. Not having listened to these songs, I'm not sure if the song lyrics themselves have anything at all to do--themes? tones?--with the plot of the book. Perhaps they do. Maybe they don't. I will say that the characters themselves don't really talk music--artists, songs--all that often (if at all). (And when they do bring up a song title, I *think* it was a song actually released in 1997. Granted, perhaps the Backstreet Boys only covered "Hey Mr DJ Keep Playing That Song". But any internet search showed that the Backstreet Boys as the artist and the 1997 as the year it released.) 

What I didn't like: I found almost all the characters (except McKinley's grandma) insufferable. I truly found them so incredibly annoying and obnoxious. The characters in 2018 and the characters in 1993--both were so unlikable that even the premise of time travel didn't really keep me loving the book. McKinley, our main character, was SO full of it. I just couldn't stand her smugness. And I don't think she was purposefully written to be smug. She wasn't the only annoying character, but, she was the one readers never got away from.

One thing that definitely bothered me was that every single character was disrespectful, rude, unkind, bully-ish. All the conversations McKinley and Jackie had in the past were SO rude and obnoxious. The way they treated others. The way they treated each other. 

I also didn't like the fact that the fashion descriptions felt a LOT more like mid-to-late 1990s--than 1993. Again, every adult who lived through the nineties might have a different recollection of the details. So perhaps it's just me that thinks it's a tiny bit off. You can decide for yourself. Maybe 1993 was all about Doc Martens, silver spaghetti strap dresses, white baby doll tees, lace choker necklaces, butterfly clips, and denim vests. I wouldn't let the fashion descriptions keep you from picking up the book. If that was the only thing that annoyed me--slightly--I would still have enjoyed the book. It was mainly the characters being annoying. Again--totally subjective.

© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

157. The Blonde Identity

The Blonde Identity. Ally Carter. 2023. 304 pages. [Source: Library] [spy thriller; adult fiction; adult romance]

First sentence: Here's the thing about waking up with no memory in the middle of the night, in the middle of the street, in the middle of Paris: at least you're waking up in Paris. 

Premise/plot: The Blonde Identity is a premise-driven spy thriller with a dose of romance. The main character, Zoe, finds herself waking up in the middle of a Parisian street injured. She's discovered soon after, by "Hot Guy," aka Sawyer. He thinks that Zoe is Alex, at least for a few seconds. He soon realizes that Alex--someone he knows very well--must have an identical twin sister. Alex may be an agent and able to take care of herself, but, Zoe seems vulnerable, unable to take care of herself in this new reality. The BAD GUYS are after Alex and want her dead. Zoe's life is in least until Alex turns up again...maybe longer than that. So Sawyer decides to help her--but is he trustworthy? Will Zoe ever get her memory back?

My thoughts: Imagine two book manuscripts from two different genres being shuffled together. The good news is that I think fans of adult romance novels will probably find it to their liking. It is very rom-com. Sawyer and Zoe in dozens of different scenarios--having somewhat enjoyable banter back and forth. There's insta attraction and lust. (Though some restraint.) Circumstances keep throwing them together into compromising positions. It is super predictable. I think it is more romance than some readers might prefer. Maybe. Again, I'm just one person. I liked this one okay.


© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews