Friday, August 17, 2018

The Road to Oregon City (The Oregon Trail #4)

The Road to Oregon City. (The Oregon Trail #4) Jesse Wiley. 2018. HMH. 176 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: You are a young settler headed out West by wagon train in the year 1850.

Premise/plot: This is the fourth book in this choose your own adventure series inspired by the classic computer game Oregon Trail. There are either twenty-three or twenty-four possible endings, but only one sees you reach your dream destination of Oregon City. Some endings are more bleak and dismal than others.

My thoughts: I have enjoyed this series. I have. I've read one a day. I've read all the possible endings for each book in the series. I can easily recommend the series as a whole.

The narrator, the "you" is obviously a child within the story. We don't know if the you is a young man or a young woman. But for better or worse the YOU is trusted with some mighty big decisions. Not just within the family--what will your wagon do--but ultimately what the wagon train does. I don't think that is realistic to the real world. (However it is so realistic to a game.)

The endings tend to be bleak and dismal OR unrealistically cheerful. For example, more than once the family decides to settle elsewhere. Ma is always selling FRUIT PIES and QUILTS wherever the family ends up settling. Often they end up settling because a) someone gets injured or sick b) the wagon is in too poor condition to go on c) the author wanted an excuse to end the story early. Pa is good at hunting and building furniture and repairing things. It is not that I want every ending to end in the grave--I don't. But where is Ma getting the fruit? If fruit trees were that readily available along the trail you'd never have endings where you die of scurvy. Where is Ma getting an endless supply of SUGAR and FLOUR? True, they have a cow. But would one cow really forever and ever produce enough milk and butter to start a bakery? Where is Ma getting fabric? Yes, you can make quilts from old clothes, old blankets, flour sacks, etc. But where would new clothes and new blankets come from? Where would your essentials come from to decide if you're out in the middle of nowhere not close to any forts or settlements?  

But overall, I do like the books!

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Thursday, August 16, 2018

The Search for Snake River (Oregon Trail #3)

The Search for Snake River. (Oregon Trail #3) Jesse Wiley. 2018. HMH. 160 pages. [Review copy]

First sentence: You are a young pioneer headed West by wagon train in the year 1850. You and your family have already braved nearly half of the perilous frontier path known as the Oregon Trail, crossing 820 miles of territory in what will later become the states of Kansas, Nebraska, and Wyoming.

Premise/plot: The Search for Snake River is the third book in this Choose Your Own Adventure series inspired by the classic computer game Oregon Trail. There are twenty-three possible endings, but only one ending that will bring you and your family closer to your dream of reaching Oregon City.

The first decision you'll be asked to make is should you head to Fort Bridger OR should you take the Greenwood Cutoff. One choice will lead to four endings. The other closer to twenty possible endings.

Risks abound in this choose your own adventure book. Some of the risks directly relate to your decisions in a logical way. Others not so much. 

My thoughts: These books are fun and enjoyable. In spite of the many deaths you might die. Not all failures result in death which I suppose is a good thing. I imagine in the game that is not the case.

  • It will be several months before Pa can walk again, and he's likely to limp for the rest of his life. In the meantime, he'll have to give up his dream, which has become your dream, too, of getting to Oregon.
  • Your family decides to stay for a few days in the cave while Pa hunts for food. But then you'll have to figure out how to go on without your wagon or any supplies. 
  • By the time the oxen are ready to go, you are ready to move on, too...only not to Oregon Territory. You die of dysentery.
  • Ma and Pa are so concerned about you that they tell the wagon train to go ahead while they try to nurse you back to health. But soon they have to leave you behind. You die of dysentery.
  • But as the water hisses and steams, your insides burn, and you realize that your dreams of getting to Oregon have just evaporated into thin air. 
  • Hannah and Samuel cry because their legs hurt, and because they are scared to end up looking and feeling like you. They're right to be scared, because you will eventually die of scurvy.
  • Without your food supply, the risks of starving on the Trail are too great to continue. In a flash, your dreams of Oregon are over. 
  • You hate the fort and the idea of being there any longer, but for now it's where your dreams end. Be sure to keep an eye out for snakes!
  • But what is real is the fact that you've been wandering in the hot desert for a while and no one knows where you are. Your chances of being found are extremely low. 
  • "It was a rattler," you manage to whisper. Your eyes start to roll back in your head, and the last thing you see is Pa's stricken face as he cradles you in his arms. 
  • Even if you make it back to solid land, you'll have to make some hard choices about what to do next. Getting to Oregon City seems impossible now. 
  • Your family is stranded without any water, any animals to pull your wagon, and, soon, any hopes of survival. 
  • Pa explains that he wants to start a business with the local people, offering services to other pioneers. "We can help people who have lost animals, want guides, or need food and water," Pa says. "And I'm sure people will want to trade and buy things from us, which will make us a good living!" Your family's dreams of getting to Oregon aren't gone forever, just on hold for a little while. 
  • Luckily you do wake up, but you are much too weak to continue on this journey. And pretty soon, without any water, the rest of your family is feeling the same as you. You never imagined that something as simple--but as precious--as water would end up destroying your dreams of Oregon.
  • You search desperately for water. But there is nothing. Your family cannot survive. As you lie down for the night, parched and weak, you wonder who will pass by your bones. 
  • While you're waiting, Pa discovers a freshwater spring with clear and delicious water. As you camp there, Ma and Pa start to sell fresh pies, quilts, and other goods to thirsty travelers who stop to rest. By the time Caleb is ready to move on, your family is settled, happy, and convinced that this is a better life than the one on the Trail. You watch the rest of the wagon train roll away, as you help yourself to a big piece of pie.
  • Bam! the next rocks are too big to avoid. You crash into them, and right before you are knocked out forever, you wonder if the wagon wheel will still make it to shore.
  • But you're wrong. Within moments the fire catches up to all of you and you are engulfed in flames. 
  • In one dream, you have taken too much medicine and ended up poisoning yourself. Or is that your fate?
  • As your oxen start to die, you realize that you won't ever make it to Oregon. 
  • You never wished for the veggies you used to leave on your plate more than right now. 
  • You have water in your lungs and will die of pneumonia.
Some endings sound happy enough until you start to overthink them. 

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Danger at the Haunted Gate (Oregon Trail #2)

Danger at the Haunted Gate. (Oregon Trail #2) Jesse Wiley. 2018. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 160 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: You are a young pioneer headed by wagon train to Oregon Territory in the year 1850. You've already traveled almost six hundred miles from Independence, Missouri, to Chimney Rock, in what is now Nebraska. You and your family are on the second leg of your journey across the wild frontier--and you're aiming to reach Devil's Gate, mysterious cliffs in what later becomes Wyoming. Once you get there, your journey West will be nearly over.

Premise/plot: Danger At The Haunted Gate is the second book in Scholastic's OREGON TRAIL series by Jesse Wiley. All four books are choose-your-own-adventure. There are twenty-two possible endings but only ONE ending will see you successfully past Devil's Gate.

My thoughts: I enjoyed the first book. I did. I enjoyed the second one as well. I think that the books are in part a way to test if young readers will follow directions. At the start of each book, the author tells young readers to read the guide to the trail at the end of the book. This guide contains obvious hints on how to make the right choices. Some of the decisions then become obvious. Emphasis on some. There are some things the guide couldn't possibly help you predict!

While some of the twenty-one endings lead to DEATH or almost certain death, not all of them are that dismal. Some just allow for dreams to change OR circumstances. For example, if you become paralyzed...chances are you're not going to keep going to Oregon.

I would recommend the series.

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Tuesday, August 14, 2018

The Race To Chimney Rock (The Oregon Trail #1)

The Race to Chimney Rock. (The Oregon Trail #1) Jesse Wiley. 2018. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 160 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: You are loading up your covered wagon to head out to Oregon Territory, where a square mile of free farmland awaits your family. It's 1850 and there aren't any planes or trains yet, so you'll have to walk while your oxen pull your jam-packed wagon across North America's Great Plains, Rocky Mountains, and the lands of many First Nations tribes, like the Otoe-Missouria, Osage, Cheyenne, Pawnee, Arapaho, and Shoshone.

Premise/plot: The Race to Chimney Rock is the first in a four book series based on the classic computer game Oregon Trail. It is a choose-your-own adventure book with over twenty possible endings. I believe only one will lead you to Chimney Rock and set you up for book two.

Your biggest decision is your first decision. Will you choose to start your journey west in April or May?

If you want a REALLY short story to read, always decide to leave in April. You'll be done with the story in no time. There are just four possible stories with an April beginning.  

My thoughts: I really enjoyed this one. I was determined to keep reading until I made it to Chimney Rock.

Are the decisions obvious? Yes. No. Sometimes. Not really. A few do seem easier to discern "wise" from "foolish" actions.

Do all the wrong/foolish decisions lead to death? No. Don't get me wrong. While all wrong decisions hinder you from reaching Chimney Rock and thus keep you from reaching Oregon, not all wrong decisions lead to a grave for you and/or your whole family. I was happily surprised to see some genuinely happy endings. I didn't feel so bad reading the words "The END" if I managed to still be alive. That being said, there were some horrible, horrible endings where you did end up dead.

While I understand that it's necessary to restrict EVERY decision to just two choices in the book and in the game, life doesn't really work like that. A third option makes sense sometimes.


If you want to reach Chimney Rock
  • DO leave in May
  • DO buy extra wagon parts
  • DO let Joseph help you catch rabbits
  • DO go to Papan's Ferry
  • DO make friends with an Indian boy
  • DO admit to not feeling well
  • DO stay with the train instead of following a soldier-guide
  • DO go to the Pawnee nation for help with muddy wheels
  • DO lower the wagons by your own strength
  • DO stop climbing the rock and go back to the wagon when it's time for supper
  • DO stand up taller and face the bear

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Monday, August 13, 2018


Pretties. (Uglies #2) Scott Westerfeld. 2005. Simon & Schuster. 370 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Getting dressed was always the hardest part of the afternoon.

Premise/plot: Pretties is the second book in Scott Westerfeld's futuristic dystopian series. In the first book, Uglies, Tally, our heroine, decides to become PRETTY so that she can be the guinea pig for the cure for the brain lesions. She wrote herself a note explaining everything--or almost everything. But what she didn't take into account was how being pretty would change your thinking and reasoning ability. Instead of taking the two-pill cure herself Tally decided to split the cure with her new friend, Zane. She took one pill; he took the other. Now they are awaiting the results. Will they be cured of their pretty-thinking? Will they stay bubbly all the time? Is it time for the PRETTIES to revolt against the system?

My thoughts: This is a reread. I believe this is the third time I've read it and the second time I've blogged a review. I do like Tally Youngblood. She's flawed but believably so in my opinion. If the series has a flaw--emphasis on if--it's the LOVE TRIANGLE aspect of it that some readers might be annoyed by. The first book was all David. This second book is all Zane. One she loved as an ugly. The other she loves as a pretty. She's endured a lot of hard circumstances with both--situations that draw you close to someone.

I listened to UGLIES on audio a few weeks ago. It was such a relief to read PRETTIES. Shay is much less annoying in print. 

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Review Policy

I am interested in reviewing books and audio books. This blog focuses on books written for middle grade on up (essentially 10 to a 110). I review middle grade fiction and young adult fiction (aka tween and teen).

I also review adult books.

I read in a variety of genres including realistic fiction, historical fiction, mystery, romance, science fiction, fantasy, literary fiction, and chick lit. (I've read one western to date.)

I read a few poetry books, a few short story collections, a few graphic novels, a few nonfiction books.

I am especially fond of:

  • Regency romances (including Austen prequels/sequels)
  • Historical fiction set in the Tudor dynasty
  • Historical fiction and nonfiction set during World War II
  • Jewish fiction/nonfiction
  • dystopias
  • apocalyptic fiction
  • science fiction (especially if it involves time travel and alternate realities)
  • fantasy
  • multicultural books and international books

I am not a fan of:

  • sports books
  • horse books
  • dog books if the dog dies (same goes with most pets actually except maybe fish)
  • westerns (if it's a pioneer story with women and children, then maybe)
  • extremely violent books with blood, blood, and more blood

I am more interested in strong characters, well-written, fleshed-out, human characters. Plot is secondary to me in a way. I have to care about the characters in order to care about the plot. That being said, compelling storytelling is something that I love. I love to become absorbed in what I'm reading.

If you're interested in sending me a review copy of your book, I'm happy to hear from you. Email me at laney_po AT yahoo DOT com.

You should know several things before you contact me:

1) I do not guarantee a review of your book. I am just agreeing to consider it for review.
2) I give all books at least fifty pages.
3) I am not promising anyone (author or publisher) a positive review in exchange for a review copy. That's not how I work.
4) In all of my reviews I strive for honesty. My reviews are my opinions--so yes, they are subjective--you should know my blog will feature both negative and positive reviews.
5) I do not guarantee that I will get to your book immediately. I've got so many books I'm trying to read and review, I can't promise to get to any one book in a given time frame.
6) Emailing me every other week to see if I've read your book won't help me get to it any faster. Though if you want to email me to check and see if it arrived safely, then that's fine!

Authors, publishers. I am interested in interviewing authors and participating in blog tours. (All I ask is that I receive a review copy of the author's latest book beforehand so the interview will be productive. If the book is part of a series, I'd like to review the whole series.) Contact me if you're interested.

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