Wednesday, September 15, 2021

117. Miss Kopp Investigates

Miss Kopp Investigates. (Kopp Sisters #7) Amy Stewart. 2021. [September] 304 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: That Fleurette emerged from her first assignment unscathed, her dignity intact, her virtue unassailed, and her pride in place was, she felt, a triumph, and a sign of further good fortune to come. Having carried out the job in secrecy, with her sisters knowing nothing of her whereabouts, her success tasted all the sweeter.

Premise/plot: Miss Kopp Investigates is the seventh book in Amy Stewart's historical mystery series. Constance, Norma, and Fleurette star in the series. This seventh book opens in the winter of 1919. The war is over. But life is far from settled. Francis, their brother, has died. The women feel responsible for helping his widow, Bessie, and their children: Lorraine, Frankie, and one on the way. Though all three sisters had plans, dreams, hopes of their own, they are dutiful and compassionate--mostly.

Financial problems abound in this one!!! As the problems worsen--or come to light--tensions within the family increase as well. Fleurette especially is feeling stressed. She's a grown woman who is tired of being bossed around by her two older (much, much older) sisters. She doesn't want to be told how she can and cannot earn money to support the family.

While previous books have focused more on the others--this one focuses primarily on Fleurette. And it is HER investigation. There is a mystery or two to be solved in this one....

My thoughts: I really LOVED this one. I've enjoyed the series throughout. I have. But something about Fleurette being the protagonist in this worked really well for me. I loved learning how the fictional Kopp sisters are finally aligning with the real-life Kopp sisters of Stewart's research. The fact that the REAL Kopp sisters did start their own detective was just a gleeful moment. Now there is still plenty that is fictional in this one...but still.

© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

116. The Ambassador of Nowhere Texas

The Ambassador of Nowhere Texas. Kimberly Willis Holt. 2021. 320 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: My grandmother told me she once watched an abandoned house fold inside itself. The roof had caved in, leaving a hollow shell. “A house needs people, Rylee,” she claimed, “or it will die.” Every time I passed Miss Myrtie Mae’s home, I watched for signs of the roof giving way or the walls collapsing. But even though ivory paint flakes covered the ground like snow and the roof had shed a few shingles, the old house looked as if it were holding its breath, waiting for someone to claim it.

Premise/plot: The Ambassador of Nowhere Texas is set thirty years after the events of When Zachary Beaver Came To Town. It opens in late summer of 2001. Rylee Wilson, Toby's daughter, is the main character. Her best friend, Twig, may or may not be still her best friend. The two just don't seem to be on the same track anymore. No matter how much Rylee still wants things to be the same. A new family will soon be heading to Nowhere...and life for Rylee may never be the same...

When Zachary Beaver Came To Town opens with Miss Myrtie Mae taking pictures, pictures, and more pictures. The Ambassador of Nowhere Texas opens with her estate being settled. (She's recently died.) Who inherits her house--and will they stay and settle down in Antler, Texas??? or will they sell the house??? who will buy it if they do???--makes up a bit of the story. But mainly the focus is on FRIENDSHIP.

My thoughts: I am super thankful that this book exists. The publication of this sequel/companion book motivated me to read When Zachary Beaver Came To Town. I wasn't expecting to love it as much as I did. But I did LOVE it. Primarily because it was so character-driven and the world-building was great. It gave a real sense of time and place. I fell in love with a whole town. Though you may hear that this one can be read as a standalone, I disagree. I mean technically, yes, it could be I suppose. But you'd be missing out on so many squeal-worthy moments of pure glee. (Like when you find out WHO Toby married!!!) Because what we get are snippets here and there that update you on EVERYONE.

The books I love the most seem to be the ones I struggle with the most in the writing of the review. (Even that sentence was a bit awkward). I want to gush enough that you want to read the book--or both books--but I don't want to spoil either book!


“Looking forward to seventh grade?” “Well, I wish Twig was going to be there.” “Rylee, Twig may not be here every day of your life. People come and go even when we don’t want them to.” I wondered who he was talking about, because he’d seen his best friend practically every day of his life. “Seventh grade is going to be great,” he said. “Because you are.” I only wished everyone saw me the same way my dad did.
Saying “sorry” was easy for me even if something wasn’t my fault. If someone dropped a pencil or spilled juice, I apologized as if I’d done it myself. Twig would catch me every time, and ask, “Why are you sorry?” One day she said, “Don’t say sorry, say squim.” Twig rarely, if ever, used squim, but it was the first of three words she’d invented.
That’s what we’d been since September—tumbleweeds—Joe, Twig, and me. Thinking we were so strong and independent, but we’d learned that we were fragile, too. Maybe we weren’t made of sticks and debris, powered by the wind, but like tumbleweeds, we couldn’t make it alone. We needed each other. Twig was moving at a leisurely pace. She hadn’t even made it halfway down the street. Joe looked over at me, and it was as if we could read each other’s thoughts. He hurried toward his porch and went after his bike while I hopped on mine. We pedaled fast, trying to catch up. Twig didn’t seem to know we were behind her, until I yelled, “Wait up!” She slowed to a stop and glanced over her shoulder. The forced smile from a moment before was missing. In its place was the big one I knew by heart.

© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

115. Dear Mrs. Bird

Dear Mrs. Bird. (Emmy Lake Chronicles #1) A.J. Pearce. 2018. 281 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: When I first saw the advertisement in the newspaper I thought I might actually burst.

Premise/plot: This one is set in London in 1941. Emmy Lake, our heroine, has big dreams. She'd love nothing more than to be a journalist, a war correspondent to be precise. A misunderstanding at a job interview leads to somewhat comic results. She's hired as a typist at a journal, sure, but it's the Woman's Friend magazine. And she'll be working for Mrs. Henrietta Bird, the advice columnist. She'll be reading all the letters that come in and throwing out all the INAPPROPRIATE ones. You see, Mrs. Bird has a long list of subjects that are TABOO. Emmy doesn't find the letters inappropriate or scandalous. She finds them honest and refreshing. Real women--of all ages--in real situations feeling perplexed and troubled. But how can she help when she's under direct orders to throw them straight into the trash?!

Well, Emmy CAN'T throw some of the letters away. She cares too much. And Mrs. Bird, well, Mrs. Bird (in Emmy's opinion) doesn't care at all. Is it worth risking her job to help these women?

When she's not working for Mrs. Bird, she's a volunteer telephone operator for the Auxiliary Fire Service. The novel shows her at work in both places....and also follows her personal life.

My thoughts: I really enjoyed this one. It was so good. Especially if historical fiction set in London during World War II is one of your favorite sub-genres. (It's one of mine.) I loved meeting Emmy and her roommate, Bunty. I loved being immersed in this world. There's a hint of romance--but only the lightest trace. I would say that FRIENDSHIPS and the WAR matter more than romance.


© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Monday, September 13, 2021

114. When Zachary Beaver Came To Town

When Zachary Beaver Came to Town. Kimberly Willis Holt. 1999/2003. 256 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Nothing ever happens in Antler, Texas. Nothing much at all. Until this afternoon, when an old blue Thunderbird pulls a trailer decorated with Christmas lights into the Dairy Maid parking lot. The red words painted on the trailer cause quite a buzz around town, and before an hour is up, half of Antler is standing in line with two dollars clutched in hand to see the fattest boy in the world.Since it’s too late in the summer for firecrackers and too early for the Ladybug Waltz, Cal and I join Miss Myrtie Mae and the First Baptist Quilting Bee at the back of the line. Miss Myrtie Mae wears a wide-brimmed straw hat. She claims that she’s never exposed her skin to sun. Even so, wrinkles fold into her face like an unironed shirt. She takes her job as town historian and librarian seriously, and as usual, her camera hangs around her neck.

Premise/plot: In the summer of 1971, Zachary Beaver came to town; he came to Antler, Texas, a super small town. For better or worse, he came as a sideshow act--an act labeling him the fattest BOY in the world. Toby Wilson, Cal McKnight, and Tara Stalling are just a few among the many that have gathered together and payed a few bucks to see this 'fattest boy in the world' with their very own eyes. Days later it appears that Zachary has been abandoned there in town in his trailer...and thus begins an unforgettable summer.

My thoughts: I really loved When Zachary Beaver Came to Town. The characterization was amazing. We get to know what feels like the whole town. The characters have depth and substance. I cared about them all. It's not unusual to care about the main characters--but to care about all the characters, to feel that they are all "real" "breathing" "living" human beings...that is much rarer. The book is sad without drowning in sadness. I guess what I'm trying to say (and probably failing) is that the weight of the sadness is balanced with light, hope, and even humor. It is a book that celebrates FRIENDSHIP. And specifically how friends forgive each other and support each other. 

I also loved the writing.


Scarlett Stalling walks toward the line, holding her bratty sister Tara’s hand. Scarlett looks cool wearing a bikini top underneath an open white blouse and hip huggers that hit right below her belly button. With her golden tan and long, silky blond hair, she could do a commercial for Coppertone.
Scarlett doesn’t go to the back of the line. She walks over to me. To me. Smiling, flashing that Ultra Brite sex appeal smile and the tiny gap between her two front teeth. Cal grins, giving her the tooth, but I lower my eyelids half-mast and jerk my head back a little as if to say, “Hey.”
Then she speaks. “Hey, Toby, would ya’ll do me a favor?”

Sheriff Levi Fetterman drives by, making his afternoon rounds. He slows down and looks our way. His riding dog, Duke, sits in the passenger seat. Duke is Sheriff Levi’s favorite adoptee. Anytime someone in Antler finds a stray cat or dog, they call the sheriff to pick up the animal and take it to the pound. Sheriff Levi can’t bear to dump a dog, and because of that he has a couple dozen living on his one-acre place a mile out of town. However, cats are a different story. They go straight to the pound.
It seems weird, standing here, staring at someone because they look different. Wylie Womack is the strangest-looking person in Antler, but I’m so used to seeing his crooked body riding around town in his beat-up golf cart that I don’t think about him looking weird.
Dad might as well be from Pluto as from Dallas. People in Antler see it as the same thing. The funny thing is, now it seems like Dad belongs here more than Mom. I don’t think she ever counted on him settling in Antler when he passed through years ago, looking for a place to raise worms.

Mom is known as the singing waitress. She makes up songs for the customers, and if they’re a pain, she makes up songs about them. Her voice is high and strong with just the right twang. She may sing songs about honky-tonk angels while serving Bowl-a-Rama specials, but in her mind she’s probably on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry.
In the cafe, next to the picture of the Lord’s Supper, Ferris hung a huge banner above the soda fountain counter—Good Luck, Opalina!
Ferris comes out from behind the counter, limping to the door and turning the Open sign around to face the front. The talk around town is his limp was a self-inflicted wound so he didn’t have to serve in the Korean War. Ferris claims it was a pure coincidence that he was cleaning his gun the day before he was to report for active duty.
Before that happened, Ferris wanted to be a preacher. He even went a semester to a Bible college in Oklahoma. Now he never goes to church, but Mom says he knows the Bible from Genesis to Revelation.
Ferris’s chalkboard hangs near the kitchen window behind the counter. Today’s Special: Honey Fried Chicken, Corn Fritters, and Mustard Greens. Beneath the menu is the daily Bible verse. “It is an honor for a man to cease from strife: but every fool will be meddling.” Proverbs 20:3. Mom says some people wear their religion on their sleeves. Ferris posts his on the chalkboard.
Southern gospel music plays from the jukebox, but the sound of bowling balls hitting pins in the next room can still be heard. From the kitchen window, Ima Jean stares at us through her steamed-up cat-eyed glasses. With the back of her hand, she wipes them in a circular motion.
Ferris does a double take when he sees Dad. “How ya doing, Otto? Haven’t seen you in a long time.”
Dad nods toward Ferris. “Doing fine. Yourself?”
Ferris strokes his beard stubble. “Couldn’t be better. Sure do miss your woman, though.”
Dad glances at the Good Luck, Opalina! sign hanging over the counter.  

While we wait, Malcolm’s little brother, Mason, and four other chubby third graders show up with sticks in their hands. Unlike Malcolm, Mason is tough and the leader of his bully pack. Each kid takes a side of the trailer and starts hitting it with sticks. Over their pounding, Mason yells, “Hey, fat boy! Show your face!”
Something boils inside me. I remember when kids like them beat up on me just because they could. I wouldn’t snitch, and since Dad was against it, I wouldn’t fight back either. But today is different. Today we’re soldiers, fighting for Zachary.

© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

113. Last Witnesses

Last Witnesses (Adapted for Young Adults) Svetlana Alexievich. 2021. 288 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Last Witnesses is a collection of true stories told firsthand by people who grew up in the Soviet Union (present-day Russia and Eastern Europe) and lived through World War II as children. Their accounts of survival range from gruesome and tragic to extraordinarily lucky to—in some cases—even hopeful. All the stories are alarming, as they took place against a backdrop of fearsome war and violence. It is crucial to understand both the geography and the history of the Soviet Union to fully feel the impact of each shocking testimony. On June 22, 1941, the German army invaded the Soviet Union. A titanic battle unfolded. It would last for four years, setting in opposition two countries with a long history of rivalry and antagonism. The battle also brought two ruthless dictators head to head: Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin.

This is how the book opens:



In the course of the Great Patriotic War (1941–1945) millions of Soviet children died: Russians, Belorussians, Ukrainians, Jews, Tatars, Latvians, Gypsies, Kazakhs, Uzbeks, Armenians, Tadjiks…
People’s Friendship magazine, 1985, No. 5


Fyodor Dostoevsky once posed a question: can we justify our world, our happiness, and even eternal harmony, if in its name, to strengthen its foundation, at least one little tear of an innocent child will be spilled? And he himself answered: this tear will not justify any progress, any revolution. Any war. It will always outweigh them.
Just one little tear…

Premise/plot: Essentially it is a collection of short vignettes by survivors sharing their memories. Most--if not all--were young children (a few younger, some older). These memories are unique yet seen together as a whole paint a horrific picture of the war.  Most entries are short--a few are longer. I believe the last entry is the longest. 

My thoughts: This was a powerful read. It certainly isn't for everyone. It is a heavy, heavy book in terms of emotional weight and burden. Yet their voices mattered then and now. Their stories need to be heard; heard and not forgotten.

This book has been adapted for young readers. But I think 'young' is a matter of perspective. Young adult would be a good fit even if most of the stories are about younger children. As I mentioned, it's a heavy book.


The war ended…I waited for a day, for two days. No one came to get me. Mama didn’t come for me, and papa, I knew, was in the army. I waited for two weeks like that, and couldn’t wait any longer. I got under a seat on a train and rode…Where? I didn’t know. I thought (this was still my child’s mind) that all trains went to Minsk. And in Minsk mama was waiting! Then papa would come…A hero! With orders, with medals.
They had perished somewhere under the bombs. The neighbors told me later—they had both gone looking for me. They had rushed to the train station.
I’m already fifty-one years old. I have children of my own. But I still want my mama.

Zina Kosiak


© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews