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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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1. Wagon Wheels

Wagon Wheels. Barbara Brenner. Illustrated by Don Bolognese. 1978. HarperCollins. 64 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: "There it is, boys" Daddy said. "Across this river is Nicodemus, Kansas. That is where we are going to build our house. There is free land for everyone here in the West. All we have to do is go and get it."

Premise/plot: Wagon Wheels is an early chapter book based on a true story. Set in the late 1870s, the book follows the adventures of the Muldie family as they settle in Kansas. First the family settles in Nicodemus, Kansas, a black community. Then the father leaves the boys behind and searches for a better place to settle down and call home, this time near Solomon City. The boys--all on their own--travel to rejoin their father. (The father disliked the flat land and missed trees and hills.)

The book is narrated by Johnny, one of four boys being raised by a widower. The text is simple, and the action is straight-forward. Though simple, it was packed with just the right amount of detail. This book is much, much shorter than any of the Little House books, but, it is just as vivid.

My thoughts: I really liked this one. The edition I picked up is all black-and-white illustrations. I could not tell based on the cover alone that it was a black pioneer family. So I was very pleasantly surprised when I started reading the text to find some diversity. The family--and the community--are saved from starvation by the generosity of Indians--Osage, I believe. Unlike the Little House books, the Indians are portrayed positively. Yes, they are referred to as "Indians" but not savages or redskins or the like.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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2. Library Loot: September

New Loot:
  • Stories from the Life of Jesus by Celia Barker Lottridge
  • Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
  • It's Not About Perfect by Shannon Miller
  • Won Ton by Lee Wardlaw
  • The Huntress of Thornbeck Forest
  • Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott
  • Louise & Andie: The Art of Friendship by Kelly Light
  • Won Ton and Chopstick by Lee Wardlaw
  • This Is My Dollhouse by Giselle Potter
  • March: Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin
  • March: Book Two by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin
  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

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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3. Alcatraz versus the Shattered Lens

Alcatraz Versus the Shattered Lens. Brandon Sanderson. 2010. Scholastic. 294 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: So there I was, holding a pink teddy bear in my hand.

Premise/plot: The fourth book in the Alcatraz fantasy series for children. Is Alcatraz brave or stupid in this one? He insists that bravery and stupidity are essentially the same. The free kingdom of Mokia is in danger of falling. Their capital city seems doomed to fall within days...if not hours. The royal family has been evacuated, so we're told, and unless a famous person whose life is so very, very, very valuable is there to be saved, no knights or soldiers will be endangered or sacrificed recklessly. Alcatraz's scheme? To go to Mokia so that the KNIGHTS will go to Mokia. Once he arrives, he learns, well, that would be SPOILERS. But he learns that he isn't the only person with Smedry blood to be stupid or brave. Bastille is along for this adventure....Kaz as well.

The new character introduced in this one is Aydee, and, her talent is being BAD AT MATH.

My thoughts: This one is definitely the best of the series perhaps. Or rereading all four books within two weeks has made me care so very much about these characters?! Either way, I recommend the series.

This book left so many unanswered questions. I had almost come to terms with having no true answers...when I learned that the fifth book will be released this year. So after years, I can finally know what happens next!

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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4. Alcatraz Versus the Knights of Crystallia

Alcatraz Versus the Knights of Crystallia. Brandon Sanderson. 2009. Scholastic. 299 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: So there I was, hanging upside down underneath a gigantic glass bird, speeding along at a hundred miles an hour above the ocean, in no danger whatsoever.

Premise/plot: This is the third book in the Alcatraz fantasy series. IN this one, Alcatraz and company arrive at last in the Free Kingdoms, in Nalhalla. Alcatraz wrestles with fame and ego in this one. Though raised in the Hushlands in a Librarian-controlled nation, he's FAMOUS in Nalhalla already, even starring in his own book series. (The book series being written by the Prince himself). Open up one of his books, and his theme music plays. You don't really get more famous than Alcatraz Smedry, of course, it's not really, truly HIM that is famous, more an idea of him. Also in this one, Bastille is put on trial. Will she be stripped of knighthood? How long will her punishment last? I should also not forget to mention that the LIBRARIANS want to come to peaceful terms and end the war at last. But Alcatraz and his friends suspect the WORST. But so many people want peace that they seem willing to give the Librarians the benefit of the doubt....

My thoughts: This one is an action-packed read full of fun and humor. I love this series. And I think I enjoyed this third book even more than the first two books. Folsom was a great new character to introduce--loved his talent, by the way. And it was nice to meet a librarian who wasn't evil for a change!!!

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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5. The Scourge

The Scourge. Jennifer A. Nielsen. 2016. Scholastic. 368 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Few things were worth the risk to my life, but the juicy vinefruit was one of them. Even more so today because I was long past hungry. If I didn't eat something soon, my life was in danger anyway.

Premise/plot: Ani and Weevil are best, best friends who will face much DANGER together in Jennifer Nielsen's newest fantasy book, The Scourge. It has been hundreds of years since the plague--the scourge--has devastated their country. The scourge has left its mark on their history. And the fear of it has never completely gone away. Now, it seems, almost out of nowhere, the scourge is back. Those who test positive for the scourge are sent to an isolated island--a former prison--to live out the rest of their lives. Ani and Weevil end up there. (It's complicated to try to summarize). And they will spend most of their time a) trying to survive b) distinguishing between lies and truth c) trying to change the way things are.

My thoughts: If you love Shannon Hale's fantasy novels, you MUST read The Scourge. I greatly enjoyed this one. And I think it has a similar feel to some of Hale's novels. This one is, however, different from Nielsen's other series. It is perhaps slightly less action-packed than her previous books. And it is written from a female perspective.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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6. Dog Loves Drawing

Dog Loves Drawing. Louise Yates. 2012. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Dog loved books. He loved books so much that he opened his own bookshop.

Premise/plot: Dog receives a package from his Aunt Dora. It is a blank sketch book. Dog knows just what to do: he grabs his drawing supplies and draws a door. Not wanting to be alone, he draws some friends: a stick man and a duck. His drawings soon start drawing too. Soon they are joined by an owl and a crab. It is Owl's idea to go on an outing--and it is with the outing that the ADVENTURE begins. (They start out on a train...) Soon Dog's sketchbook is FULL.

My thoughts: I enjoyed this one very much. I thought it was fun, playful, creative, charming. I really enjoyed all the drawing adventures. It is, of course, a bit like Harold and the Purple Crayon. I really enjoyed the characterization and the action. For example, "While the duck was arguing with the others about who should drive, the stickman drew himself a driver's hat, scribbled some steam, and...they were off!" I love seeing Dog and Duck argue! The expressions on the crab and owl are pretty priceless as well.

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

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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7. Dog Loves Books

Dog Loves Books. Louise Yates. 2010. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Dog loved books. He loved the smell of them, and he loved the feel of them. He loved everything about them...

Premise/plot: Dog loves books so much that he decides to open a bookstore. Initially disappointed that no one comes to his store, he begins to lose himself in the books he reads. He forgets that he's alone. The story ends with his first real customer. Dog knows just what books to recommend because if there's one thing he loves as much as reading, it is sharing what he reads with others.

My thoughts: I really liked this one. Dog is a character I can relate to easily. I also love to read. Books have always helped me to forget that I was alone. And sharing books? Probably one of the best things ever.

Text: 5 out of 5
Illustrations: 3 out of 5
Total: 8 out of 10

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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8. Emily's Runaway Imagination

Emily's Runaway Imagination. Beverly Cleary. 1961. 288 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: The things that happened to Emily Bartlett that year!

Premise/plot: Emily Bartlett is the heroine of Beverly Cleary's Emily's Runaway Imagination. Emily has many adventures or misadventures, many of which center around the formation of the first public library in her town. I would categorize the book as historical fiction. Reference is made to a world war, and, I think it may even be the first world war. One of the adventures involves Emily's grandpa getting a car. And having a car is a novelty in their town. Most people either walk, ride horses, drive a horse and wagon.

My thoughts: I really LOVE this one. If I read this one growing up, I only read it once. It's even possible this is one we didn't own. It took me so long to get to it as an adult because the local library doesn't have a copy of it. I bought this battered copy of it at my local charity shop for a quarter.

Favorite quotes:
"There are still books left to choose from," answered Mama.
And there were! Just think of it, real library books right here in Pitchfork, Oregon. The Dutch Twins, the Tale of Jemima Puddleduck--what a tiny book that was! Emily had not known they made such little books. The Curly-Haired Hen, English Fairy Tales. But no Black Beauty. Oh, well, perhaps another time. Emily chose English Fairy Tales because it was the thickest, and Mama wrote her name on a little card that she removed from a pocket in the book. Emily now had a library book to read. (117)
"Ma'am, is it all right if I get some books for my family?" he asked.
Mama smiled at the boy. "I don't believe I have seen you in Pitchfork before. Do you live in the country?"
"No, ma'am. I live in Greenvale," he answered. "We read about the library in the Pitchfork Report and I walked down the railroad track to see if we could get some books too."
"Why, that's at least four miles," said Mama, "and four miles back again."
The boy looked at the floor. "Yes ma'am."
"Of course you may take books for your family," said Mama. This boy wanted to read. That was enough for her. It made no difference where he lived. (118)


© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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9. Hansel and Gretel

Hansel and Gretel. Neil Gaiman. Illustrated by Lorenzo Mattotti. 2014. Toon. 54 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: This all happened a long time ago, in your grandmother's time, or in her grandfather's. A long time ago. Back then, we all lived on the edge of the great forest.

Premise/plot: The book is an illustrated retelling of the fairy tale Hansel and Gretel. It isn't a picture book necessarily. Nor is it a graphic novel. Every two pages of text is followed by two pages of illustration. The illustrations are black and white and are by Lorenzo Mattotti.

My thoughts: Hansel and Gretel isn't one of my favorite fairy tales to begin with, so my expectations were not very high. I wasn't disappointed perhaps because my expectations were realistic. I was surprised by how much I liked the illustrations. They are dark but expressive. This retelling by Gaiman isn't new and unique and full of extra-special clever twists and turns. It is traditional for the most part.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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10. Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd

Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd. (Flavia de Luce #8) 2016. 320 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: The winter rain slashes at my face like icy razor blades, but I don't care. I dig my chin deep into the collar of my mackintosh, put my head down, and push on against the buffeting of the furious wind.

Premise/plot: Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd is the EIGHTH novel in the Flavia de Luce mystery series by Alan Bradley. If you're not hooked to the series by now, chances are my review won't persuade you to pick this one up. Do you have to read the books in order? Yes and no. I'd say that it's always best to read the first book first. But perhaps after that if you've missed one or two then it would still be okay to pick up this newest one and treat yourself.

So, what is it about? Flavia de Luce is home from Canada--it's almost Christmas--and things are not the same at home. Her father is sick and in the hospital. Which means almost everyone is acting differently. And every day there is the question: will the hospital allow visitors today?!?! For too many days in a row the answer has been NO. One thing that is the same? There is a mystery to be solved. While doing an errand for Cynthia, I believe, she comes across a dead body--Mr. Sambridge, a local woodcarver.

My thoughts: The mystery in this one is very interesting in my opinion. While I've enjoyed the past few books in the series okay, I think this one is my favorite by far. It is COMPELLING and EMOTIONAL. And oh the ending....it revealed how much I do CARE about the characters and it made me want to yell at the author.
There are times when even family can be of no use: when talking to your own blood fails to have meaning.
As anybody with two older sisters can tell you, a closed door is like a red rag to a bull. It cannot go unchallenged.
Playing the clown is not an easy task. Clowns, I have come to believe, are placed upon the earth solely to fill the needs of others, while running perilously close to "Empty" themselves.
You can learn from a glance at anyone's library, not what they are, but what they wish to be.
Giving someone the benefit of the doubt is not so simple as it sounds. What it means, in fact, is being charitable--which, as the vicar is fond of pointing out, is the most difficult of the graces to master. Faith and hope are a piece of cake but charity is a Pandora's box: the monster in the cistern which, when the lid is opened, comes swarming out to seize you by the throat.
The world can be an interesting place to a girl who keeps her ears open.
Authors are known to have fiendishly clever minds, and the authors of children's books are more fiendishly clever than most.
Some sleeps are washed with gold, and some with silver. Mine was molten lead. 

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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11. The Borrowers

The Borrowers. Mary Norton. Illustrated by Beth and Joe Krush. 1952/2006. HMH. 192 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: It was Mrs. May who first told me about them.

Premise/plot: Ever wondered why there's never a safety pin when you need one? Readers meet a family of Borrowers who live under the kitchen floor in an older house. Pod is the 'borrower' of the family. He knows the routines of the 'human beans' and can go out and about without being seen, most of the time. He doesn't mind being seen by the matriarch of the family at night. (She thinks she's hallucinating because she's had a couple too many drinks.) His wife, Homily, is quite satisfied to stay safely in her house behind dozens of locked gates and such. (She gives him plenty of instruction on what to borrow, however.) The couple's daughter is Arrietty, and, she is the book's heroine by my reckoning. She meets a boy that has come to stay--recuperate--for a couple of months. They become very, very good friends. She reads to him. He brings her and her parents STUFF for their home. (He 'borrows' freely from the house, most notably from a doll house that everyone seems to have forgotten about.)

Readers learn about the dangers of being a Borrower and 'the good old days' when the house was FULL of families. Arrietty fears that her family is the last living in the house.

My thoughts: This one is super fun. It is also quite suspenseful at the end!!!! I definitely recommend this one!

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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12. Agatha

Agatha: The Real Life of Agatha Christie. 2016. 130 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: These novelists will stoop to anything for some attention!

Premise/plot: Agatha: The Real Life of Agatha Christie is a graphic novel for adults and perhaps even young adults, if they have read Christie's mysteries and can't get enough! I would say this one is primarily for fans of Agatha Christie. If you've never read Christie, if you've never met Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, then this isn't the way to be introduced to them. Trust me. What readers get are snippets of Christie's life.

The graphic novel opens in 1926 with the mysterious disappearance of Agatha Christie. It then flashes back to the beginning, to tell a more traditional life story. The flow of this one is start-and-stop. More like you're flipping through a stack of photographs of a person's life than actually taking the time to read a narrative biography.

One sees Agatha Christie as a writer--haunted in a way by her creations. Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple especially have a way of popping up and interacting with Christie. One also sees her as a world-traveler, a wife, and a mother. One catches the barest of glimpses of Christie during World War I and World War II.

My thoughts: I read the HUGE autobiography of Agatha Christie a year or two ago. I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED, LOVED it. Found it absolutely fascinating. Perhaps a little rambling for those who aren't big readers, but, just about perfect for me. This is very condensed and abbreviated.

That being said, I am glad I read this one. I liked it. I may not have loved, loved, loved it. But it is an entertaining read.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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13. Applesauce Weather

Applesauce Weather. Helen Frost. Illustrated by Amy June Bates. 2016. 112 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Today is the day I've been waiting for: the first apple fell from the tree.

Premise/plot: Faith and Peter love, love, LOVE applesauce weather. When the apples are ready to pick from the family's apple tree. Uncle Arthur comes and tells stories--thousands of stories--and it's the best time ever. This year, there's some question though if he will come at all. Though Faith--aptly named Faith--never wavers in her belief that he will come. This year will be the first time for making applesauce WITHOUT Aunt Lucy. Uncle Arthur is still deeply mourning the love of his life. Lucy was someone he knew since he was a child, his best friend and soul mate. Will he come? Will he still tell stories? Or will he be too sad?

My thoughts: I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this one. Dare I say it's more than practically perfect in every way, that, it is in fact actually perfect in every way?! I love Faith and Peter. I do. I love Uncle Arthur. I love seeing Arthur interact with his great-niece and great-nephew. I love how Arthur tells true stories--of him and Lucy--and more fanciful tales as well. (For example, how he lost his finger.) I love seeing authentic family moments.

It is a verse novel. But Helen Frost excels in this genre. Her verses resonate. One never feels that her verses are chopped up prose. At least I never feel that way. I suppose I should be careful generalizing!

Here's a verse from Uncle Arthur's perspective:

Here comes an old memory
walking down the road,
like a peddler
pushing a heavy load.
I'll walk out to meet him,
see what he has to sell--
a hammer, and a pound
of two-inch nails,
a cooking pot, and
a new tin pail.
Somewhere in the mix,
I might have found
the beginning of a strange
new tale to tell. (48)

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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14. The Flame Never Dies

The Flame Never Dies. Rachel Vincent. 2016. 343 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: I crouched, tense, in the derelict remains of a high school gymnasium, one of the last buildings still standing in the town of Ashland, which had been mostly burned to the ground during the demonic uprising more than a century ago.

Premise/plot: The sequel to The Stars Never Rise by Rachel Vincent. If you've read the first book, it's likely you won't be able to resist picking up the second book. (And this is NOT a trilogy. So this is not a middle book--feels nothing like a middle book.) So Nina Kane, our heroine, is now officially an outlaw of sorts, on the run from THE CHURCH and hiding out in the badlands. She's not alone...she's surrounded by friends and almost friends. Much of the book focuses on their exorcist lifestyle--fighting the bad guys--the demons--whenever, wherever, and taking risks when needed, which is often.

My thoughts: I read both books one right after the other. I found them impossible to put down. I don't know that they are "great literature" as they say. But if you're looking for ACTION and DRAMA with some romance this is a good series to pick up. I like that the romance is not in any way whatsoever a love triangle. Now that doesn't mean it's an problem free romance...but it does mean it's not your typical YA dystopian novel.


© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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15. The Stars Never Rise

The Stars Never Rise. Rachel Vincent. 2015. 368 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: There's never a good time of day to cross town with a bag full of stolen goods, but of all the possibilities, five a.m. was the hour best suited to that particular sin.

Premise/plot: Nina Kane, the heroine, is contemplating pledging herself to the Church--the Unified Church when the novel opens. But a few things get in her way of making that commitment. First, her fifteen year old sister, Mellie, rebels and flees a school required assembly, second, comes the big reveal that Mellie is PREGNANT. Since pregnancy requires a license and the full permission of the church beforehand, that's a BIG one. Third, the WAY their mom reacts to the news that she's going to be a grandma turns Nina's world upside down and then some.

Things you should know:
It's a dystopian novel (YA, of course) with a very urban setting for the most part.
There is NOT a love triangle, but, there is a romantic twist.
You should forget everything--and I do mean EVERYTHING--you know about "the church." This futuristic UNIFIED CHURCH should not in any way be connected to the actual Christian church of this or any age.
The book is all ACTION, ACTION, DRAMA.
What is predictable, in a way, is that the heroine comes into her own and gains an ability--an advantage--for surviving in the crazy world she lives in.
The world-building is great for the most part. There is some info-dumping squeezed into the novel early on. Nina is quizzing kindergartners on some fairly basic material....material that the author definitely wants readers to know.

My thoughts: If you look at the bare facts of the premise, there would be no reason in the world for me to like it--or love it even. It's PARANORMAL. There are demons and exorcists. And even zombies, though they are not called such. The church instead of standing for good, is a downright evil institution. And yet, I could not put this one down. I read it in one day. I read both books in the series over about a thirty hour period.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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16. What is a Child?

What is a Child? Beatrice Alemagna. 2016. Tate. 36 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: A child is a small person. They are only small for a little while, then they grow up. They grow without even thinking about it. Slowly and silently, their body grows taller. A child is not a child forever. One day, they change.

Premise/plot: "What is a Child?" That is the question asked and answered by author, Beatrice Alemagna. Her answers are thoughtful, and, at times poetic. She definitely takes the question seriously.

My thoughts: I really found myself loving the text. Here's a phrase that caught me: "The children who decide not to grow up will never grow up. They keep a mystery inside them." And another, "Children want to be listened to with eyes wide open."

While I loved the text, I didn't love the illustrations.

Text: 5 out of 5
Illustrations: 2 out of 5
Total: 7 out of 10

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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17. A Child of Books

A Child of Books. Oliver Jeffers. 2016. Candlewick Press. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: I am a child of books. I come from a world of stories and upon my imagination I float.

Premise/plot: Books are celebrated in Oliver Jeffers' newest picture book. The illustrations are both simple and complex. Many illustrations feature a young girl and boy. Most pages also feature illustrations crafted out of the text of many, many books. For example, a path is created using the text of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Or a mountain is created using the text of Peter Pan and Wendy. Or tree branches are created using the text of several fairy tales. Each two-page spread is well-worth an adult's time.

My thoughts: I really liked this one. The narrative itself is beautiful, definitely poetic. I think the narrative is simple enough that it could work as a read aloud for almost any age. (Well, maybe not babies and toddlers and preschoolers with almost nonexistent attention spans.) The illustrations add a lot of depth and complexity. This element would probably be lost for a group read aloud, but, perhaps preserved in reading one on one with a child. Adults could definitely spend a LOT of time looking carefully at every single page. If you've read a lot, you may recognize phrases from the illustrations that 'jump' out at you.

Text: 5 out of 5
Illustrations: 4 out of 5
Total: 9 out of 10

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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18. The Beauty of Darkness

The Beauty of Darkness (Remnant Chronicles #3) Mary E. Pearson. 2016. Henry Holt. 679 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Darkness was a beautiful thing.

Premise/plot: The Beauty of Darkness is a CHUNKSTER of a sequel, the third book in the Remnant Chronicles trilogy. Read the books in order, that's really all I have to say about that. Emphasis on READ THE SERIES. Perhaps now is the best time--now that all three are finally released. No torturous waiting, I might add!

Lia and Rafe (with the help of FOUR VERY CAPABLE soldier/friends of Rafe) have escaped Venda...barely. To say that their group escaped healthy and whole and ready for anything would be a lie. But they are not escaping unchanged. Lia is very different from who she was before. She now has a PURPOSE, a clear direction her future must take. And Rafe? Well, his purpose seems equally as clear. Within a chapter or two, he goes from prince to KING. There are now a dozen or so reasons why Lia and Rafe will find it challenging or even impossible to be together. But one thing is unchanging: their love for each other. Now that love will be TESTED big time. (For example, it is never, ever, ever, ever a good idea to tell your girlfriend she's now your prisoner and that you are keeping her locked up and guarded for her own good because you know what is best for her.) Kaden and Griz, two Vendans, are in this as well.

My thoughts: Kaden, I must confess, is someone I found myself LOVING. Not just in this book. But from the start. Don't ask me to defend my choice, I'm not sure I can. But I love, love, LOVE him. And he's a big reason of why this one is so perfectly perfect.

I don't want you to get the wrong impression. This isn't a book that is 90% romance and 10% action. Not by any stretch. There is action, drama, war, politics, lies, secrets, betrayals, twists and turns. It is a very PACKED novel. It may seem ALL action-driven, but, the characterization is GREAT too.

I loved, loved, LOVED this trilogy. It is an emotional, compelling read.


© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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19. Snow White: A Graphic Novel

Snow White. Matt Phelan. 2016. Candlewick. 216 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: What's the story here? Who is she?

Premise/plot: Those questions are asked by a New York City detective as he examines a crime scene--or potential crime scene at a department store. They provide the framework for Matt Phelan's newest graphic novel, Snow White. The book is a retelling of the traditional tale set in America, in New York City, for the most part, during the Depression.

Instead of an evil Queen of a stepmother, Samantha White (aka Snow) has dealings with the Queen of the Follies. Her stepmother being a Broadway star, a Ziegfeld girl. Instead of seven dwarfs, Snow is saved by THE SEVEN, a gang of street children.

My thoughts: I like this one a lot. I really enjoyed his artwork. I thought while both story and illustration were on the simple, understated side, it worked well for me. While the setting makes this one unique, the story is traditional. No further characterization has been done--for better or worse. I didn't mind this. As I said, it worked for me. I don't have to have "new" and "modern" twists and turns and complications for me to like a fairy tale retelling.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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20. Singalong Saturday (Outside)

Today's prompt: Favorite Song Outside Your 'Usual' Taste

This meme is hosted by Bookish Things & More.

This was tough because my 'usual' taste--depending on my mood probably covers a lot. I don't just have one or two genres as my comfort zone.

But I think I'll go with the soundtrack to HOME.




© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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21. B is for Big Ben

B is for Big Ben. Pamela Duncan Edwards. 2016. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: A is for the Anglo-Saxons...

Premise/plot: The book is an alphabet book for a much, much older audience. The "main" narrative perhaps is simple enough that it could be read aloud to elementary students. But each page has paragraphs of side text that are weighty indeed. This information would not be of interest to say, first graders or second graders, and perhaps even of limited appeal to older children, say fourth and fifth graders. Emphasis on limited: there will always be readers--no matter their age--who do love HISTORY and are interested in CULTURE.

My thoughts: Well, I really wanted to love this one. I did. I didn't dislike it by any means. I preferred the weighty "side" text that is packed with a LOT of information. I was not overly impressed by the alphabet side of it. For example, "F is for Famous Folk." It goes on in poetic form to add: "There have been many famous people from England through the years--many artists, poets, and writers, scientists, and engineers." Now in the aside, readers learn about Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Charles Kingsley, William Wordsworth, Beatrix Potter, Winston Churchill, Florence Nightingale, Emmeline Pankhurst, Charles Darwin, Isaac Newton, Margaret Thatcher, Queen Victoria, and Robert Scott.

Some of the choices seemed both random and generic. (For example: "Historic Sites" and "Famous Folk." Others seem to be specific and meaningful. (For example, "London," "Guy Fawkes," "Domesday Book," "William Shakespeare," and "Union Jack.")

I found it very informative. But I'm not sure how kids would really respond to it.

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

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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22. Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians

Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians. Brandon Sanderson. 2007. Scholastic. 308 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: So there I was, tied to an altar made from outdated encyclopedias, about to get sacrificed to the dark powers by a cult of evil Librarians.

Premise/plot: Alcatraz Smedry is not your ordinary boy, even before he learns of his special ancestry and his magical powers. He's a foster kid with a talent for breaking things--no matter how big or how small. On his thirteenth birthday he receives a package in the mail--from his father--a bag of sand. He thinks, at first, it's a joke. He doesn't think: Wow! I bet my life is going to change forever and ever! On his birthday, he "breaks" the stove and accidentally catches the kitchen on fire. His foster care worker shows up and steals the sand, though he doesn't realize it just yet. She'll be back for him in the morning with a new foster home ready to take him in. Before she shows up, his GRANDFATHER shows up to "rescue" him. Alcatraz was clueless he had a grandfather. And his grandfather is so weird and odd and a CHARACTER. But it's either go with his grandfather....or....face a hitman with a gun. So Alcatraz's second day as a thirteen year old is something....

My thoughts: I love this one. This is my first time to reread the series. Or at least I think it is! Readers meet Alcatraz, his grandfather, Bastille (a knight around his own age), Quentin, and Sing Sing. (I hope I didn't forget anyone!) Their mission is to infiltrate the downtown library and get back the sand....it won't be easy.

The style of this one is half the fun. I do like some of the commentary quite a bit!

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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23. Alcatraz Versus the Scrivener's Bones

Alcatraz Versus the Scrivener's Bones. Brandon Sanderson. 2008. Scholastic. 322 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: So, there I was, slumped in my chair, waiting in a drab airport terminal, munching absently on a bag of stale potato chips.

Premise/plot: This is the second book in the fantasy series. Alcatraz has had several months to get used to the truth. (The Hushlands (including the U.S.) are ruled by EVIL LIBRARIANS who control all information and manipulate and manufacture things their own way.) Smedry was raised in the Hushlands, but his 'real' place is with the Free Kingdomers. He's a SMEDRY. His family is one of the oldest and most powerful. He comes from a line of Oculators, for one thing, and each Smedry has their own unique talent. His grandfather's talent is arriving late. His own talent is for breaking things.

This is his second adventure...Bastille is present, but, readers meet many new sidekicks in this one. The mission this time is to find Alcatraz's GRANDFATHER and possibly his FATHER who have gone missing. They are believed to be in the Library of Alexandria. Kaz is an uncle. Australia is another relation, possibly a cousin? Also there is Bastille's mother--also a knight. The novel is definitely action-packed. Perhaps even more so than the first book.

My thoughts: Definitely like this series very much. I know I've read all four books before, but, it's been so long it was like reading them again for the very first time.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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24. Fascinating: The Life of Leonard Nimoy

Fascinating: The Life of Leonard Nimoy. Richard Michelson. Illustrated by Edel Rodriguez. 2016. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Lenny took a deep breath and looked out at the playhouse stage.

Premise/plot: Richard Michelson has written a picture book biography of Leonard Nimoy. The book opens in 1939 with a young Lenny preparing to sing "God Bless America" at a talent show. He was the son of Russian immigrants--Jewish, and raised so. In fact, his inspiration for the Vulcan hand gesture--live long and prosper--came from a priestly blessing.

Readers learn about his interest in photography and acting. Both would be life-long pursuits and interests.

The book closes with Leonard Nimoy taking on the role of Spock and making it truly his own. The last illustrated spread depicts the first use of the "live long and prosper" from the episode Amok Time.

The next two pages fill out the rest of his life. He was an actor and a director. He was a photographer who displayed his photographs for the public, and, in fact published them as works of art. He was also an author.

The end brings a smile to my face. Before he left home, his mother encouraged him to learn to play the accordion. Acting jobs may come and go, she warned. But musicians can find a way to work. The book ends, "But he never did learn to play the accordion."

My thoughts: I LOVED this one so much. I thought it was very charming and well written. I did indeed find it fascinating. The author's note was great. I love that this book was written by one of Leonard Nimoy's close friends. I loved the personal touch--knowing that Nimoy read and approved of the project.

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

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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25. The Heart of Betrayal

The Heart of Betrayal (Remnant Chronicles #2) Mary E. Pearson. 2015. Henry Holt. 470 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: One swift act. I had thought that was all it would take.

Premise/plot: The Heart of Betrayal is the second book in Mary E. Pearson's The Remnant Chronicles. First, I have to say: READ THE FIRST BOOK before you even think of picking up this one. I think the first book will sufficiently hook you. You can pick it up knowing that the second and third book likely won't disappoint. Second, this review will probably contain a few spoilers for book 1 but a bare minimum of book 2.

So Lia, our heroine and runaway princess, has been captured and taken to an enemy nation, Venda. She knew little, if anything, about Venda before being taken hostage by THE ASSASSIN who was under strict orders to KILL her not BRING HER BACK A PRISONER. But Kaden could not, would not, kill her--though he considers himself to be a very loyal follower of the Komizar. Rafe, aka The PRINCE, has followed her to Venda, followed her straight into danger because though there relationship started out built almost exclusively on lies...him pretending to be a farmer...her pretending to be work in a tavern...he considers himself head over heels in love with her now. Willing to risk everything to save her from certain death. Lia learns a lot about herself, Kaden, the Komizar, and VENDA. The book is ACTION-PACKED and full of drama.

Is there a love triangle? Yes, no, maybe. Kaden certainly finds himself drawn to Lia, and, he does share his quarters with her...and perhaps a kiss or two. But Lia does not see him in that way at all. She regards him as someone to be manipulated and used in order aid her eventual escape. Competition for her heart? Not really. And the Komizar, well, does he fit into a triangle? Well, only if you consider physical threats to be a form of wooing. Which I DON'T. But their lips do meet... Rafe is not jealous so much as OUTRAGED that "his" girl is being essentially assaulted.

My thoughts: Could NOT put this one down. Seriously intense. Loved it. At first I thought I would be absolutely lost since it's been almost two years since I read the first book. But I soon found myself swept up into the drama...the politics...the romance...the action.

This series is easy to recommend.


© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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