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Mainly reviews of children's and young adult literature. Primarily focuses on new literature, 2004-present, but may feature older titles if they are "favorites" of mine. Feel free to leave comments. I always enjoy reading what others have to say!
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26. Hard Times (1854)

Hard Times. Charles Dickens. 1854/1992. Everyman's Library. 336 pages.  [Source: Library]

'Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them. This is the principle on which I bring up my own children, and this is the principle on which I bring up these children. Stick to Facts, Sir!'

Did I like Hard Times? Did I love Hard Times? I'm not sure which--like or love--at the moment. I can only say that I was surprised that I found this book to be so quick and entertaining. I'm used to spending weeks with Dickens, not a day. Yes, I sped through this one. Not because I had to, but, because I wanted to. I found it easy to follow, but, I'm finding it difficult to summarize.

Readers meet Mr. Gradgrind and two of his children whom he's bringing up on facts: Louisa and Tom. On the surface perhaps, the book is about how this philosophical upbringing works out for them as adults. Or how it doesn't, as the case may be. Louisa marries one of her father's closest associates, Josiah Bounderby, who is several decades (at least) older. Tom goes to work at Bounderby's bank. If you've read Dickens before, you know to expect plenty of characters and side stories. This is also the case in Hard Times. Readers also meet: Sissy Jupe, Mr. Sleary, Stephen Blackpool, Rachael, Mrs. Sparsit, Bitzer, James Harthouse, and Mrs. Pegler. There were characters that I really liked, and there were characters that I really didn't like at all!

I liked this one very much. I liked the writing style. I liked the pacing. I liked the characterization. I liked the dialogue. I'm so glad I've made a friend of Dickens! This definitely was not the case when I was in high school and struggling with Great Expectations!

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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27. Rachel Ray (1863)

Rachel Ray by Anthony Trollope. 1863. 403 pages. [Source: Bought]
There are women who cannot grow alone as standard trees;—for whom the support and warmth of some wall, some paling, some post, is absolutely necessary;—who, in their growth, will bend and incline themselves towards some such prop for their life, creeping with their tendrils along the ground till they reach it when the circumstances of life have brought no such prop within their natural and immediate reach. Of most women it may be said that it would be well for them that they should marry,—as indeed of most men also, seeing that man and wife will each lend the other strength, and yet in lending lose none; but to the women of whom I now speak some kind of marriage is quite indispensable, and by them some kind of marriage is always made, though the union is often unnatural. A woman in want of a wall against which to nail herself will swear conjugal obedience sometimes to her cook, sometimes to her grandchild, sometimes to her lawyer. Any standing corner, post, or stump, strong enough to bear her weight will suffice; but to some standing corner, post, or stump, she will find her way and attach herself, and there will she be married.
Mrs. Ray is one of the "weak" women described in the opening chapter. She is a widow with two grown (or nearly grown) daughters. Mrs. Prime (Dorothea) is a widow herself. She tends to take her opinions--in this case, religious or moral opinions--to the extreme. She is severe and critical. (Honestly, I hated her.) Miss Rachel Ray is the other daughter. She is the joy of her mother's life, really. While the daughter is off doing her duty, Rachel and her mother enjoy life's little luxuries and actually relax a bit with each other, relieved to have Dorothea out of the way even if it's just for an hour or two. When the novel opens, Mrs. Prime is on the attack--or close to it. She has ammunition to use against her sister. Her sister was SEEN talking to a man, talking to a man--a stranger--in the churchyard, and at sunset. Mrs. Prime doesn't need to be persuaded to think the worst, to think that Rachel is now somehow a fallen woman. Mrs. Ray (the mother), however, is both weak and loyal. Being weak, she will listen to Mrs. Prime going on and on about how wrong and scandalous it is for Rachel to walk and talk with a young man. Being loyal, she will believe the best about Rachel and hold out hope that there is a way to reconcile things nicely for everyone. Mrs. Ray will talk to Rachel, and, more importantly she will listen to Rachel. (Mrs. Prime LOVES to talk, but rarely listens or takes the time to understand and consider what the other person is saying.)

So who is the young man? Well, he's Luke Rowan. He's due to inherit a brewery, or at least half a brewery. At the time the novel opens, he's staying with the Tappits. Rachel is acquainted with the daughters of the family. Through these young women, she's introduced to Luke. Good news: Luke really takes a liking to Rachel. Bad news: The Tappits see Luke's interest in Rachel, and turn on them both. Plus, Mrs. Tappit and Mr. Tappit both are slanderers in their own way. As silly as it may seem,  soon the whole community is forced to take sides and have an opinion about Luke Rowan. It's also election time. It gets plenty messy. To sum it up: Luke proposes to Rachel. She says yes. He leaves town after a big falling out with the Tappits. Everyone takes sides. Everyone starts talking. Will he come back? Is he gone for good? Would it be a good thing for everyone if that was the last of him? Is he worthy of Rachel? Is she worthy of him? Was their attachment sincere? Should she consider herself actually engaged? Or was he using her?

Further complicating matters, Mrs. Ray insists that Rachel should NOT correspond with him, and that she should tell him that she releases him from their engagement. Why should Rachel end things because of hearsay? Mr. Comfort heard something from somebody who heard it from somebody else, etc. And Mr. Comfort passes along "good advice" to Mrs. Ray. What's an obedient girl to do?!

Luke wants two things from life: to brew GOOD beer, to make a success of his brewery, and to marry Rachel and live happily ever after...

I liked Rachel Ray. I did. I can't say that I like or respect all the characters. Mrs. Prime is very annoying, for example!!! I hated how judgmental she was, how cruel and selfish. Not to mention proud. I thought it was sad that Mrs. Ray was so dependent on others, how she relied so much upon Mrs. Prime and Mr. Comfort. She loved, loved, loved Rachel. But she was always more concerned with what do other people say is right?! I loved Mrs. Butler Cornbury (Patty Comfort). Her husband was in the election for parliament. She escorts Rachel to a party/dance. She "sides" with Luke and Rachel. She was just a great "minor" character. I almost wish we'd had more of her and less of Mrs. Prime and Mr. Prong.

Is Rachel Ray my new favorite by Anthony Trollope? Probably not. I think Belton Estate is a better fit for me. But I am glad I read it!!! I rarely--if ever--regret spending time with Trollope!!!

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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28. Week in Review: February 8-14

Memory and Magic (Anna & Elsa #2) Erica David. Illustrated by Bill Robinson. 2015. Random House. 128 pages. [Source: Library]
Monkey and Duck Quack Up! Jennifer Hamburg. Illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham. 2015. [February 2015] Scholastic. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]
All the Answers. Kate Messner. 2015. Bloomsbury USA. 256 pages. [Source: Review copy]
As Chimney Sweepers Come To Dust. Flavia de Luce #7. Alan Bradley. Random House. 392 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Bartholomew and the Oobleck. Dr. Seuss. 1949. Random House. 56 pages. [Source: Library]
ABC Bunny. Wanda Gag. 1933/2004. University of Minnesota Press. 40 pages. [Source: Library]
Invincible Louisa: The Story of the Author of Little Women. Cornelia Meigs. 1933/1995. Little, Brown. 256 pages. [Source: Library]
Thimble Summer. Elizabeth Enright. 1938/2008. SquareFish. 144 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Debby. Siddie Joe Johnson. Illustrated by Ninon MacKnight. 1940.  Longmans, Green and Co. 214 pages. [Source: Bought]
Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze. Elizabeth Foreman Lewis. illustrated by William Low. 1932/2008. Square Fish. 302 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Boundless. Kenneth Oppel. 2014. Simon & Schuster. 320 pages. [Source: Library]
Where Trust Lies. Janette Oke & Laurel Oke Logan. 2015. Bethany House. 336 pages. [Source: Review copy]
What Every Christian Needs to Know About Passover: What It Means and Why It Matters. Rabbi Evan Moffic. 2015. Abingdon Press. 224 pages. [Source: Review copy]

This week's recommendation(s):

I loved Debby and Thimble Summer. Debby is out of print, unfortunately. Amazon seems to have a few used copies. Thimble Summer perhaps because it was a Newbery winner is in print and more widely available.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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29. Seuss on Saturday #7

Bartholomew and the Oobleck. Dr. Seuss. 1949. Random House. 56 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence:
They still talk about it in the Kingdom of Didd as The-Year-the-King-Got-Angry-with-the-Sky. And they still talk about the page boy, Bartholomew Cubbins. If it hadn't been for Bartholomew Cubbins, that King and that Sky would have wrecked that little Kingdom.
Premise/Plot: The King is in a grumbling-complaining mood. He's angry at the sky for only sending down rain, snow, fog and sunshine. He sends for his magicians commanding them to make the sky produce something new. The magicians, well, they mumble a few words and promise to deliver something called 'oobleck.' Only Bartholomew is wise enough to predict that this means TROUBLE, big, big trouble. He is diligent in warning people to beware and be careful. But his words, well, aren't taken all that seriously. Or. In some cases, his words come just a little too late. The king has brought down trouble on his kingdom. How can the kingdom be saved?! Are there MAGIC WORDS the king can say to make the oobleck go away?!

My thoughts: I'd never read Bartholomew and the Oobleck before. I really liked it. I think I liked it even better than The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins. The King is just as silly and ridiculous. And the situation is even more out of control. I like that the 'magic words' that save the kingdom are "I'm sorry" and "It's all my fault."

Have you read Bartholomew and the Oobleck? Did you like it? Did you love it? Did you hate it? How do you think it compares to The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins? I'd love to hear what you thought of it!

If you'd like to join me in reading or rereading Dr. Seuss' picture books (chronologically) I'd love to have you join me! The next book I'll be reviewing is If I Ran the Zoo.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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30. Library Loot Second Trip in February

New Loot:
  • The Beatles: All These Years: Volume 1: Tune In by Mark Lewisohn
  • Can't Buy Me Love: The Beatles, Britain, and America by Jonathan Gould
  • Hard Times by Charles Dickens
  • Introducing the Honourable Phryne Fisher by Kerry Greenwood
  • Death at Victoria Dock by Kerry Greenwood
  • A Woman Unknown by Frances Brody
  • A Hard Day's Write: The Stories Behind Every Beatles Song by Steve Turner
  • Feed Your Brain, Lose Your Belly by Larry McCleary

Leftover Loot:
  • How To Be A Victorian: A Dawn to Dusk Guide to Victorian Life by Ruth Goodman 
  • Bridge of Time by Lewis Buzbee 
  • Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas, translated by Richard Pevear
  • The 8th Continent by Matt London
  • Out of the Easy by Ruta Septys
  • Devil at My Heels by Louis Zamperini
  • The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights by John Steinbeck
  • The Midwife's Tale by Sam Thomas
  • Historical Romances: The Prince and the Pauper, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc by Mark Twain
  • A Great and Glorious Adventure by Gordon Corrigan
  • The Upstairs Room by Johanna Reiss
  • Little Town on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  • These Happy Golden Years by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  • Bo at Iditarod Creek by Kirkpatrick Hill
  • Space Case by Stuart Gibbs
  • The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander
  • Socks by Beverly Cleary
  • The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss
  • The Cat in the Hat Comes Back by Dr. Seuss
  • On Beyond Zebra by Dr. Seuss
  • Horton Hears a Who by Dr. Seuss
  • If I Ran the Circus by Dr. Seuss
  • A Girl from Yamhill: A Memoir by Beverly Cleary
  • My Own Two Feet: A Memoir by Beverly Cleary
  • The Big Over Easy by Jasper Fforde
  • The Fourth Bear by Jasper Fforde
  • Wars of the Roses: Stormbird by Conn Iggulden
  • The Foundry's Edge by Cam Baity & Benny Zelkowicz
  • Red Berries, White Clouds, Blue Sky by Sandra Dallas
     Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Linda from Silly Little Mischief that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries.    

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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31. Monkey and Duck Quack Up! (2015)

Monkey and Duck Quack Up! Jennifer Hamburg. Illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham. 2015. [February 2015] Scholastic. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Monkey spied the bright blue sigh, hanging from a nearby vine. Rhyming contest, enter now! Register with Lou the Cow. Find a friend and rhyme in twos. (Winners win a three-day cruise!) Monkey screeched and turned to Duck. "Buddy, ol' pal, are we in luck! We can do this, we can rhyme! We're young, we're hip, we're in our prime. We'll find the perfect words to use, and then we'll win a three-day cruise!" "I'll say a rhyme, you say one back. Sound good to you?" And Duck said, "Quack."

Monkey and Duck Quack Up is an amusing picture book starring two good friends. Monkey, our hero, loves to rhyme. And he really wants to win the contest. He can picture it all: winning the contest, and enjoying the cruise.
But to win, he needs help from his friend Duck. If only, if only, if only Duck could do more--would do more--than say QUACK, QUACK, QUACK. Can Monkey find a way to win this contest with his friend?!

I liked this one very much. It was very playful. It reminded me--in a good way--of Jan Thomas' Rhyming Dust Bunnies. I'd definitely recommend this one.

Text: 4 out of 5
Illustrations: 4 out of 5
Total: 8 out of 10

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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32. Anna & Elsa #2 Memory and Magic (2015)

Memory and Magic (Anna & Elsa #2) Erica David. Illustrated by Bill Robinson. 2015. Random House. 128 pages. [Source: Library]

In Memory and Magic, Anna begins to worry about her memory. She's just now realizing that she has very few memories of playing with her sister in their childhood, and, absolutely no memories of her sister having magic. She learns that Elsa and Kristoff both knew that the trolls took her memories or changed her memories. She wants those memories back! It doesn't seem fair that Elsa can remember things that she can't. Elsa supports Anna in her quest to get those memories back. Even if it means trusting a less than reliable troll--a rogue troll, if you will.

I liked this one fine. I didn't not like it, mind you. But I didn't necessarily find it wonderful either. I will mention that this one shares several memories from their childhood.

Have you read either book in this series? What did you think?

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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33. The Chimney Sweepers Come To Dust (2015)

As Chimney Sweepers Come To Dust. Flavia de Luce #7. Alan Bradley. Random House. 392 pages. [Source: Review copy]

I enjoyed reading Alan Bradley's As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust. It is a series that is oh-so-easy to enjoy. That being said, some titles I love more than others. I almost always love Flavia, the heroine. But I don't always love the particulars of each murder case. The sixth book was probably my least favorite, in a way. (Though I'd probably need to reread all the books in the series to truly reach this conclusion.)

As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust isn't like the others in the series, for better or worse. Flavia is going to a boarding school in Canada. So this one is not set in the village we've come to love, and it's "missing" I suppose all the other characters we've come to love as well. It has a completely different feel to it. Flavia, for example, realizes she actually MISSES her sisters, and does in fact LOVE them after all. Flavia is on her own in a strange place and not quite sure WHO to trust. She's got her instincts and that's all. Flavia and another student at the boarding school find a body in the chimney in Flavia's room her very first night there. Flavia is super-curious of course, but, finds it more difficult perhaps to be directly involved in solving the case...not that it will stop her from trying!

I liked this one. I really, really liked it. I liked the boarding school setting. It's not that I didn't like the previous settings. It's not that I was tired or bored with the series or finding them lacking. But the opportunity of growth that comes about because of Flavia going away to school was worth it in my opinion.
© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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34. All the Answers (2015)

All the Answers. Kate Messner. 2015. Bloomsbury USA. 256 pages. [Source: Review copy]

The pencil didn't look magic. It looked the opposite of magic. It was the kind of pencil a parent might bring home from some boring financial planning convention. 

All the Answers has a wonderful premise. The premise is this: Ava Anderson, brings a pencil from home, from a junk drawer, to school because she knows she'll have a math quiz. During the quiz, she learns the pencil is magical. If she writes a question, the pencil will answer her, answer her as a voice in her head. She uses it--gently--to help her with the quiz. After school, she tests the pencil again. Is it helpful just in math? Or is it good for other subjects? What about subjects not studied in school at all? Will the pencil help her have a better life? Based on the premise alone, one would think the book would be great fun: playful and amusing and overall satisfying.

Unfortunately, the book itself is not as wonderful as the premise. I'll start with the good. First, I must admit that I liked how Ava uses the pencil to bring joy to the folks in the nursing home. I think it shows her thoughtfulness and sensitivity. Yes, her grandfather is in the nursing home. Yes, she's been in the habit of going with her family weekly to visit him. But her caring extends beyond that--in a way. She also learns that life isn't all that simple. The pencil might be able to tell her some things, but, not all things, and not all the most important things.

Another thing I appreciated about All The Answers is the characterization of Ava. In some ways, she was oh-so-easy to relate to. And I liked spending time with her. I liked how she grew up a bit in this one. 

The biggest problem I had with All The Answers is the resolution. There were a few answers that I didn't need or want. Why do we really need to learn how/why the pencil works!!! It made me want to yell at the book!

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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35. Debby (1940)

Debby. Siddie Joe Johnson. Illustrated by Ninon MacKnight. 1940.  Longmans, Green and Co. 214 pages. [Source: Bought]

Debby hesitated at the edge of the clearing. It was their own half-acre, that clearing, and held the new trailer house, shining so brightly in the June morning sunlight.

I loved, loved, LOVED Siddie Joe Johnson's Debby. This children's book is set in South Texas. Though it has a 'historical' feel about it now, at the time it was published in 1940, it would have been considered contemporary.

Debby is the heroine. The move is recent. Her father needed to get away from the city for health reasons. The family will be living in a trailer home for a year. He'll be recuperating and writing a book. Will Debby like it in the country? Will she like Texas? Yes, and YES! She'll have many adventures. She'll make plenty of good, good friends.

The book spans the months of June through December. During those months, Debby grows up a bit, makes new friends, and discovers plenty. There is just something pleasant and satisfying and lovely and SIMPLE (in a good way, I promise) about this one. Readers get the summer adventures, the starting-school adventures, and the holiday adventures. (I love that there are chapters about Thanksgiving and Christmas.)

Debby LOVES Mr. and Mrs. Sanders their closest neighbors. And Mrs. Sanders loves, loves, loves having Debby around. This couple never had children, and, they take great delight in Debby. Mrs. Sanders inherited a doll named Deborah. It is this doll which is depicted on the cover. You might suppose since the doll is on the cover, that, the doll would play a prominent role in the book. That the book might even read like Hitty or Miss Hickory. But. It doesn't. Sure, the doll is mentioned in two or three chapters. But the book is about so much more. I was wanting a doll-story. But what I got was even more satisfying in the end.

I would definitely recommend this one! I loved everything about it: the end papers, the illustrations throughout the book, the writing itself.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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36. The Boundless (2014)

Boundless. Kenneth Oppel. 2014. Simon & Schuster. 320 pages. [Source: Library]

Three hours before the avalanche hits, William Everett is sitting on an upturned crate, waiting for his father. The town doesn't even have a name yet.

If you love historical action-adventures with danger and mysteries and secrets and murders, then The Boundless might be a very good fit for you, especially if you love children's books, or circuses, or trains.

The first chapter serves as a prologue. It introduces the hero, of course, Will Everett, and many of the other characters as well. Readers learn that Will loves to draw. Will meets a mystery-girl that mesmerizes him, that will continue to mesmerize him for over three years. Will meets Cornelius Van Horne, the manager of the Canadian Pacific Railroad. Will gets invited to go along on a train ride. His father, James Everett, works for the railroad, they'll meet him at the end of the line. He'll meet several people on his journey. He'll hear things, see things. For example, he'll see the plans for the Boundless, and hear of this man's visionary idea for train travel. Things happen that will change his life forever.

The rest of the novel is set three years later and covers a short span--perhaps a week. In that week, much will happen. Will, the hero, will face DANGER and have to prove himself again and again and again. Will is many things, talented, for example, but courageous not so much. He is forced to risk much, to face many different kinds of threats and dangers. He also spends much of his time thinking and pondering.

Will has one idea of his future: what he wants, what he needs. His father has another idea. The two are opposites essentially. Part of him wants to completely reject his father's plans for him. Another part is scared. So when he's not actually at risk of dying, Will ponders the future.

I liked this one. I didn't love it. But I think for those that like action-adventure, this one could prove appealing.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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37. Invincible Louisa (1933)

Invincible Louisa: The Story of the Author of Little Women. Cornelia Meigs. 1933/1995. Little, Brown. 256 pages. [Source: Library]

My mom has wanted me to read Invincible Louisa for years. I finally did, and I enjoyed it. Did I love it? Probably not LOVE. But I certainly appreciated it and found it pleasant enough.

Invincible Louisa is a biography of Louisa May Alcott written for children. It reads much like a novel. There is plenty of dialogue; there is plenty of emotion and description. It covers her whole life--from birth to death. Though not equal attention is given to every year, of course!!! Much of the focus is on the whole Alcott family.

Probably half the book focuses on Louisa Alcott "becoming" a writer: how she came to write stories, sketches, poems, novels, etc., how she came to be published, how her works were received by critics and the public. But the book focuses much on her character. (It's not a word you hear a lot about now perhaps. But her values, beliefs, and principles.) So, yes, the book is about her being a writer, but, it is just as much about her being a daughter and sister.

Would I have appreciated Little Women more if I'd read Invincible Louisa as a child? Perhaps. The two books would definitely complement one another.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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38. Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze (1932)

Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze. Elizabeth Foreman Lewis. illustrated by William Low. 1932/2008. Square Fish. 302 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Young Fu stood on the narrow curbing before Dai's two-storied tenement in Chair-Maker's Way, Chungking, and stared about him. In the doorway, Fu Be Be, his mother, directed load-coolies in placing the household goods which she had brought from home, and anxiously examined each article as it passed before her. 

After his father dies, Young Fu and his mother move to the city of Chungking. Young Fu is eager to begin his work as an apprentice to a coppersmith, Tang. He's grateful for the opportunity. And more fortunate still that it isn't his only opportunity for learning, for their new upstairs neighbor is willing to teach him to read and write.

Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze is a coming-of-age novel. The book follows him from the age of thirteen to eighteen, I believe. I would say the book is about his adventures and misadventures growing up, but, I'm not sure adventures is the right word. It captures his experiences growing up in China in the 1920s. Sometimes the experiences are memorable for all the right reasons. Sometimes not. He makes mistakes, he does. But he acknowledges his mistakes, seeks to make restoration, and grows wiser--or at least a little wiser.

I definitely enjoyed this one. I found it interesting. The chapters were long, in my opinion, but ultimately worth it.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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39. Thimble Summer (1938)

Thimble Summer. Elizabeth Enright. 1938/2008. SquareFish. 144 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Garnet thought this must be the hottest day that had ever been in the world. Every day for weeks she had thought the same thing, but this was really the worst of all. 

Thimble Summer won the Newbery in 1939. Thimble Summer is about the 'magical' summer Garnet Linden (the heroine) experiences after finding a silver thimble in a dried up riverbed. (The book opens with a drought. It is hot, hot, hot, and rain is much needed.)

Thimble Summer celebrates life and family. I loved it.

In the first chapter, readers meet Garnet, her family, and her best friend. This is the chapter where she finds the thimble that "changes" everything. (She certainly believes it changes her luck).
In the second chapter, Garnet and her best friend, Citronella, visit Citronella's great-grandmother and hear a story about when she was very naughty. (I loved this bit!) The third and fourth chapters go together. The family is building a new barn, and a lime kiln is needed. During their time watching the kiln, a stranger is introduced to the family, a young boy named Eric. After listening to his story, well, the family just has to 'keep' him. In the fifth chapter, Citronella and Garnet accidentally get locked-in at the library. Chapters six and seven are about when Garnet runs away from home to the 'big' city for a day. Chapters eight and nine are about the fair--and all the fun to be had. Her pig also won a blue ribbon.  Chapter ten is Garnet reflecting at how WONDERFUL the summer has been, and how much she loves life just as it is.

I loved this one. I loved Garnet. I loved her family. I loved getting to know Jay, her older brother, and Eric, her new 'adopted' brother. (She has more brothers. But they are all younger, and, Garnet hardly has much to do with them.) I loved her adventures with or without Citronella! It's just a satisfying read from cover to cover.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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40. ABC Bunny (1933)

ABC Bunny. Wanda Gag. 1933/2004. University of Minnesota Press. 40 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence:

A for Apple, big and red
B for Bunny snug a-bed
C for Crash!
D for Dash!
E for Elsewhere in a flash
F for Frog--he's fat and funny
"Looks like rain," says he to Bunny

Premise/Plot: The plot is minimal. Though simple might be a better word. After Bunny is woken up suddenly, this alphabet book follows his adventures. This one won a Newbery Honor in 1934, so obviously the text was thought worthy! But it is an alphabet book. It is a beautifully illustrated alphabet book no doubt.

 My thoughts: I love the black and white illustrations. The illustrations are very detailed. I found them oddly mesmerizing. (I love the illustrations of the porcupine and the squirrel). This is an enjoyable book. I don't remember reading it as a child--that is I don't remember having it read aloud to me as a child. (I have very strong memories of reading Millions of Cats). But this is a lovely book. I wish my library had more of Wanda Gag's books.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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41. Library Loot: First Trip In February

New Loot:
  • Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas, translated by Richard Pevear
  • The 8th Continent by Matt London
  • Storybound by Marissa Burt
  • Story's End by Marissa Burt
  • Bridge of Time by Lewis Buzbee
  • Gretel and the Case of the Missing Frog Prints by P.J. Brackston
  • How To Be A Victorian: A Dawn to Dusk Guide to Victorian Life by Ruth Goodman
Leftover Loot:

  • The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights by John Steinbeck
  • The Midwife's Tale by Sam Thomas
  • Historical Romances: The Prince and the Pauper, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc by Mark Twain
  • A Great and Glorious Adventure by Gordon Corrigan
  • The Upstairs Room by Johanna Reiss
  • Little Town on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  • These Happy Golden Years by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  • Bo at Iditarod Creek by Kirkpatrick Hill
  • Space Case by Stuart Gibbs
  • The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander
  • Socks by Beverly Cleary
  • The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss
  • The Cat in the Hat Comes Back by Dr. Seuss
  • On Beyond Zebra by Dr. Seuss
  • Horton Hears a Who by Dr. Seuss
  • If I Ran the Circus by Dr. Seuss
  • A Girl from Yamhill: A Memoir by Beverly Cleary
  • My Own Two Feet: A Memoir by Beverly Cleary
  • The Big Over Easy by Jasper Fforde
  • The Fourth Bear by Jasper Fforde
  • Wars of the Roses: Stormbird by Conn Iggulden
  • The Foundry's Edge by Cam Baity & Benny Zelkowicz
  • Red Berries, White Clouds, Blue Sky by Sandra Dallas
  • Snow on the Tulips by Liz Tolsma
  • Out of the Easy by Ruta Septys
  • Devil at My Heels by Louis Zamperini
    Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Linda from Silly Little Mischief that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries.    

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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42. Week in Review: February 1-7

Beyond the Parallel. Robin Brande. 2015. Ryer Publishing. 348 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Little Author in the Big Woods. Yona Zeldis McDonough. 2014. Henry Holt. 176 pages. [Source: Library]
The Greatest Skating Race: A World War II Story from the Netherlands. Louise Borden. 2004. Illustrated by Niki Daly. Simon & Schuster. 48 pages. [Source: Library]
The Cats in Krasinski Square. Karen Hesse. Illustrated by Wendy Watson. 2004. Scholastic. 32 pages. [Source: Library]
Thidwick The Big-Hearted Moose. Dr. Seuss. 1948. Random House. 48 pages. [Source: Library]
Vegetables in Underwear. Jared Chapman. 2015. Abrams. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]

How Do Dinosaurs Stay Safe? Jane Yolen. Illustrated by Mark Teague. 2015. [February 2015] Scholastic. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]
All Hail the Queen (Anna & Elsa #1) Erica David. Illustrated by Bill Robinson. 2015. Random House. 128 pages. [Source: Library]
Best Kept Secret. (Family Tree #3) Ann M. Martin. 2014. Scholastic. 224 pages. [Source: Review copy]
The Graham Cracker Plot. Shelley Tougas. 2015. Roaring Brook Press. 288 pages. [Source: Library]
Dying in the Wool. (Kate Shackleton #1) Frances Brody. 2009/2012. Minotaur Books. 368 pages. [Source: Library]
Medal for Murder. (Kate Shackleton #2) Frances Brody. 2010/2013. Minotaur Books. 432 pages. [Source: Library]
Murder in the Afternoon. (Kate Shackleton #3) Frances Brody. 2011/2014. Minotaur Books. 400 pages.  [Source: Library]
Wycliffe New Testament 1388: An edition in modern spelling, with an introduction, the original prologues, and the Epistle to the Laodicieans. William R. Cooper, ed. 2002. British Library. 528 pages. [Source: Bought]
Chiseled by the Master's Hand. Erwin Lutzer. 1993. Victor Publishing. 153 pages. [Source: Bought]
The Unexpected Jesus. R.C. Sproul. 2005. (AKA Mighty Christ in 1995). Christian Focus. 142 pages. [Source: Bought]

This week's recommendation(s):

Robin Brande's Beyond the Parallel. This is the fourth in a series--the final book in the series. And the whole series is good, very good, but the last book is AMAZING--which is how you want to end a series, in my opinion!!!

For a different sort of picture book, I'd recommend Vegetables in Underwear.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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43. Seuss on Saturday #6

Thidwick The Big-Hearted Moose. Dr. Seuss. 1948. Random House. 48 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence:
Up at Lake Winna-Bango...the far northern shore...
Lives a huge herd of moose, about sixty or more,
And they all go around in a big happy bunch
Looking for nice tender moose-moss to munch.
Premise/plot: Is Thidwick your typical moose? Yes and no. On the one hand, he loves to munch moose-moss. On the other hand, he's the only moose that would put up with THAT MANY guests living in/on his antlers. Thidwick is a "big-hearted" moose who hasn't learned to say no or speak up for himself. He's ever-so-polite. But his "guests" well, they're pesky pests who lack consideration. The guests just keep on multiplying page by page.

My thoughts: I'd never read Thidwick the Big-Hearted Moose. I suppose I should have predicted that hunters would see him and chase him--wanting his head and antlers to mount. But I didn't. So it came to me as a shock, as did the ending. (Think Jon Klassen's I Want My Hat Back and This Is Not My Hat.) I can't say I loved this one. But it was okay for me.

My favorite quote:
Well what would YOU do
If it happened to YOU?
Have you read Thidwick The Big Hearted Moose? Did you like it? love it? hate it? I'd love to hear what you thought of it!

If you'd like to join me in reading or rereading Dr. Seuss' picture books (chronologically) I'd love to have you join me! The next book I'll be reviewing is Barthlomew and the Ooblecks.



© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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44. The Cats in Krasinski Square

The Cats in Krasinski Square. Karen Hesse. Illustrated by Wendy Watson. 2004. Scholastic. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

The cats come from the cracks in the Wall, the dark corners, the openings in the rubble.

The Cats in Krasinski Square is an incredible read: a picture book written in verse about the Warsaw ghetto in World War II. Readers meet a young girl, a Jewish girl, who escaped the ghetto and is trying to survive by passing as Polish.
I look like any child
playing with cats
in the daylight
in Warsaw,
my Jewish armband
burned with the rags I wore
when I escaped the Ghetto.
I wear my Polish look,
I walk my Polish walk.
Polish words float from my lips
and I am almost safe,
almost invisible,
moving through Krasinski Square
past the dizzy girls riding the merry-go-round.
But she can't forget--won't forget the Jews still "living" in the ghetto. She wants to do her part to help them. She hears through an older sister, I believe, about a project to smuggle food into the ghetto. But the Nazi's have also heard something. It might take a miracle for the food to reach the Jews now...or it might take hundreds of CATS.

I loved the story, loved the storytelling. The illustrations are great.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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45. The Greatest Skating Race

The Greatest Skating Race: A World War II Story from the Netherlands. Louise Borden. 2004. Illustrated by Niki Daly. Simon & Schuster. 48 pages. [Source: Library]

I enjoyed reading Louise Borden's The Greatest Skating Race. Though the book has been out for ten years, I'd not come across it before. It is a wonderful picture book for older readers. I've only read a handful of picture books with a World War II setting. I'm on the look out for more. So if you know of some, please let me know in the comments! I'll try my best to review them.

Readers meet Piet, a young Dutch boy, in The Greatest Skating Race. He loves, loves, loves to skate. It would be odd if he didn't love to skate. He loves to dream about competing in the Elfstedentocht--a famous skating race, the "Eleven Towns Race."  Readers learn details about the race throughout the text. But the race itself is not what this one is about. It is about the German occupation, and the ever-increasing threat to Jews.

One day, Piet's grandfather gives him a big, big task to accompany two Jewish children across the border and to their aunt's house.
Today you must be the best skater that you can be.
You must be as brave as your father...wherever he is.
You must be as brave as Pim Mulier!
You must skate the main canal to Brugge,
straight as an arrow to its mark.
And you will need to race against today's sun
to get there before dark.
I want you to skate as fast as you can,
but you must look like an unimportant schoolboy.
You will take Johanna and Joop Winkelman
and help them find their Aunt Ingrid's house.
We think this is the safest way to escape from those
who may wish these friends of ours harm. (16)
It will be a demanding journey--physically and mentally--and perhaps a dangerous one as well. There will be soldiers and checkpoints. And they'll have to find their way to the aunt's house--a place they've never been before. So they'll have to remember the directions carefully, and not let fear confuse them.

The book is good! I'd definitely recommend it.


© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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46. Best Kept Secret (2014)

Best Kept Secret. (Family Tree #3) Ann M. Martin. 2014. Scholastic. 224 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Better To Wish, the first in the series, introduced readers to Abby. The Long Way Home, the second in the series, introduced readers to Dana, Abby's daughter. Best Kept Secret, the third in the series, introduces readers to Francie, Abby's granddaughter, Dana's daughter.

This is Francie's novel. The book spans a little over a decade. Francie's first grade year through her arrival at college her freshman year. (1977-1988) Each chapter captures something significant about her growing up. A chapter could be good and happy (getting a puppy, finding a friend, going on vacation). Or a chapter could be sad and depressing (finding out a loved one has cancer, a funeral, learning your parents are getting divorced). One chapter was even traumatic.

The book as a whole has a heavy feel to it. Yes, I know there are a few good things in Francie's life, and Francie herself seems to be at peace--mostly--with everything that has happened. But. It felt like it was weighed down with dozens of issues. Perhaps because the chapters tended to focus more on the dramatic, and not enough on the day-to-day, ordinary moments where you just are.

The last chapter or two had a different feel to them. The chapter where she goes to college seems over-the-top rosy and optimistic. (Perhaps how a ten year old might fantasize about college?)

Because of how this one unfolds, it seems almost impossible for any character to be truly developed except for the main character. The characterization lacks something, in my opinion. It's not that I didn't like Francie. I did. But I wanted more depth and substance in general to all the people in her life.

For readers who love, love, love drama and more drama, this series may be a must. Each book tackles an issue or two or three. The good news is that if you hated The Long Way Home, there is a chance that you might still enjoy Best Kept Secret more.

The book is set primarily in New Jersey. 

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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47. The Graham Cracker Plot

The Graham Cracker Plot. Shelley Tougas. 2015. Roaring Brook Press. 288 pages. [Source: Library]

Most of The Graham Cracker Plot is a notebook or journal written to Judge Henry. The heroine, Daisy (Aurora Dawn) Bauer, though twelve, has gotten into trouble with the law. When the novel opens, Daisy is convinced of one thing. It is ALL Graham's fault. By the novel's close, will she have accepted responsibility for her role in 'The Graham Cracker' plot?

Will this review have spoilers? It depends. I tell no more than what the opening sentences reveal on the jacket flap. Actually, I reveal far less than the jacket flap does. In my opinion, this particular jacket flap reveals EVERY detail of the book. But the whole format of the book is an after-the-fact perspective of events.

So what is the Graham Cracker plot? Well. Daisy's father is in prison. She calls him the Chemist. (To my recollection, readers don't learn his real name.) She visits her father once a month with her grandmother. That is, she's supposed to be allowed to visit him once a month. Actually, Daisy loses her privilege of seeing him because of her behavior, her privileges are suspended for either three months or six. She loves the Chemist. And she hates to see him in prison. Not that she hates going there and seeing him. She feels she needs to see him in order to be okay. But she hates that he is in prison at all. She strongly feels that the Chemist is innocent and doesn't deserve to be in prison at all. The Graham Cracker plot is about breaking him out of prison and fleeing to Canada. It is the work primarily by two (troubled) children: Graham Hassler and Daisy herself. They get another person involved--Ashley. From start to finish, the Graham Cracker plot is a complete mess, a cringe-worthy failure of a plan. No matter what happens, however, Daisy and Graham want to carry on and keep on going.

Readers already know that the plan goes horribly wrong, and that Daisy is being 'punished' in some way for her involvement.

What I liked best about The Graham Cracker plot was the development of Daisy's character. The Daisy we meet at the beginning of the novel, is not quite the same Daisy readers are left with at the close. Some maturing has occurred. Which is a good thing, in my opinion. This one does have cringe-worthy moments. Moments where the characters are making horrible decisions--embarrassingly bad decisions.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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48. Vegetables in Underwear (2015)

Vegetables in Underwear. Jared Chapman. 2015. Abrams. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]

 Underwear!
I wear underwear!
You wear underwear!
We all wear underwear!

Even if the preschoolers in your life don't like eating vegetables, they may come to love reading about vegetables. As long as those vegetables are in UNDERWEAR perhaps.

I really enjoyed reading Vegetables in Underwear. I expected it to be silly and over-the-top and a bit odd. And it is in many ways. But I didn't expect to enjoy the illustrations as much as I did.

The endpapers of this one introduce readers of all ages to vegetables. The end papers at the start show each vegetable fully clothed. (Carrot, onion, celery, radish, mushroom, eggplant, squash, turnip, broccoli, corn, potato, pea, "baby" beet, "baby" corn, "baby" carrot.) The end papers at the end show off the vegetables in their underwear. (Notice how the "baby" vegetables are MOST upset that they are still in diapers.) 

Before the book even properly gets started, I found myself smiling. Note the VERY FRUSTRATED broccoli who can't get the striped shirt over his head!

So the text of the book is all about underwear, of course, a silly celebration if you will. Among other topics that come up: who wears underwear and who DOESN'T wear underwear. (Poor babies stuck wearing diapers!)

Text: 3 out of 5
Illustrations: 4 out of 5
Total: 7 out of 10

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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49. How Do Dinosaurs Stay Safe (2015)

How Do Dinosaurs Stay Safe? Jane Yolen. Illustrated by Mark Teague. 2015. [February 2015] Scholastic. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: How does a dinosaur stay safe all day? Whether at home or at school or at play? Does he climb up too high? Or jump on his bed? Does he race on his bike with no helmet on head? Is he rough with the cat? Does he stand up on chairs? When Mama says "No!" does he run down the stairs?

I can't say that I liked How Do Dinosaurs Stay Safe? Then again, I'm not sure that I have "liked" any of this dinosaur series by Jane Yolen. If you're looking for a book written in rhyme about safety for a dinosaur-obsessed child, then this is the book for you. Especially if you can embrace the idea of a dinosaur having a human mom and dad and living in the modern day world. Wearing helmets, being warned of stranger danger, and knowing to call 9-1-1 in an emergency are all good things technically speaking. But the book is far from entertaining. Should picture books tell a story or teach a lesson? Can they ever do both? Should they do both? Do they have to do both? For those looking more for a book about safety than an actual story this one may be of some use.

Text: 3 out of 5
Illustrations: 3 out of 5
Total: 6 out of 10


© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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50. Anna & Elsa #1 All Hail the Queen (2015)

All Hail the Queen (Anna & Elsa #1) Erica David. Illustrated by Bill Robinson. 2015. Random House. 128 pages. [Source: Library]

I enjoyed All Hail the Queen. In this first book of a new series following the events of Frozen, Elsa learns to balance work and play as she begins to reign as queen. In some chapters, Anna and Elsa get to spend some quality time together. Anna has a to-do list. There are SO MANY things she's eager to do, and eager to do WITH her sister. So much lost time to try to make up for. Most of these things has both Anna and Elsa interacting with the villagers. The depiction of Anna feels quite right. The depiction of Elsa doesn't feel right or wrong to me. (She does spend so much time in the movie isolating herself, and just a few minutes at the end after her transformation).

In other chapters, Elsa is all responsibility. The villagers have come to seek her help. It seems almost everyone wants an audience with her. It's overwhelming to her, in a way. Not to mention exhausting. Anna, I believe, is the one who points out to Anna that the people are using her, and, that she shouldn't so easily give into their pressure to use her magic to solve everything.

It's a pleasant read. For those who can't get enough of Anna and Elsa, I could definitely see the appeal!

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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