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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. Winterfrost (2014)

Winterfrost. Michelle Houts. 2014. Candlewick. 272 pages. [Source: Review copy]

I very much enjoyed Michelle Houts' Winterfrost. This wintery read is set in Denmark. It opens one Christmas Eve. The first chapter starts off with a family celebrating together. That first chapter ends with a phone call and a promise. A promise not to the characters, but, to the readers:
It should have been an ordinary Christmas on the Larsen farm, nestled among the flat, snowy fields of an island called Lolland in the south of Denmark. But it wasn't. And if it had been, well, we wouldn't have much of a story to tell, now, would we?
Bettina, the heroine, is left on the farm with her younger sister, Pia. Every year, her father visits his uncle at this time of year--the week between Christmas and New Year. Her mother is called away unexpectedly with news about a family member's health. (Just who is not mentioned in the first chapter.) So Bettina, aged 12, can take care of a nearly 1 year old and a whole farm, right? Well? Mostly.

In her parents' rush, the entire family, it seems, forgot to put out the traditional bowl of Christmas rice pudding for the nisse. The Larsen family's nisse, Klakke, is NOT happy. Klakke isn't necessarily "bad," just in a bit of a bad mood. But even in a horrible mood, he'd never do anything to hurt any human.

Winterfrost is about what happens when her parents are away. It's about one girl's adventure with nearby nisse. Though traditionally, nisse are not supposed to show themselves to humans, to interact with them, rules are broken in Winterfrost.

It is a fun fantasy. Bettina is a lovely heroine. It is a quick read that I enjoyed very much.


© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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2. Golden Dreydl

The Golden Dreydl. Ellen Kushner. Illustrated by Ilene Winn-Lederer. 2007. Charlesbridge. 126 pages. [Source: Review copy]

The Golden Dreydl is an interesting Chanukah themed fantasy novel for children. There is an album that goes along with it. The book and album put a Jewish twist on the Nutcracker story.

Sara, the heroine, of The Golden Dreydl has quite the bad attitude about "having" to celebrate Chanukah and "not getting to" celebrate Christmas like all her friends. But to the family gathering she will go--no matter the fuss. (Sara has an older brother, Seth).

Readers briefly meet Sara, Seth, and their many, many cousins. The "kids" of the family are playing dreydl. Sara is still in a mood. A mood that isn't exactly improved when Tante Miriam shows up with presents for one and all. It's not her fault, mind you, Sara even seems a little inclined to like her present: a golden dreydl. But Seth and her get into a bit of a fight. The dreydl ends up flying through the air and hitting the TV and breaking it. That puts most everyone in a mood.

Readers next join Sara later that evening, for a fantasy adventure. She follows a young girl--a girl claiming to be the Golden Dreydl--through the hole in the TV, I believe. They arrive in a fantasy land, of sorts, with demons, peacocks, a fool, and King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. There is also much talk of a Tree of Life.

Sara is given a quest, of sorts, to save the girl from the demons/demon king. She has the Fool to help her. A few riddle games are played. First, between Sara and the Fool, and, then later between the Demon King and Sara and the Fool.

For those readers who enjoy fantasy novels, going to different worlds, doing quests, this one is enjoyable enough. If you get a chance to listen to the music, it will probably help you 'enjoy' it even more.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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3. A Quilt for Christmas (2014)

A Quilt for Christmas. Sandra Dallas. 2014. St. Martin's Press. 256 pages. [Source: Library]

For readers who love to read about quilters or quilts, this one may prove satisfying. Also, this one would be a good match for those who like to read about the Civil War. This one is set in Kansas during the last year of the Civil War. I liked Sandra Dallas' A Quilt for Christmas even though I don't consider myself fitting into the ideal audience. (I don't particularly seek out books about quilts. I don't seek out historical fiction set during the Civil War.)

Eliza Spooner is the heroine. She loves, loves, loves to quilt. She loves to get together with other women in the community. The war has had an effect on the community. Many husbands (and brothers, fathers, sons, etc.) are gone, away fighting for one side or the other. Eliza's husband, Will, is fighting for the Union. The novel opens with Eliza finishing a quilt she's made for her husband. She'll be sending the quilt along with a soldier who is returning to her husband's unit from leave. Her love for her husband is obvious, and, not just because she's spent all this time making a quilt. There are dozens of flashbacks. These flashbacks give readers a chance to get to know the couple. However, I must admit that these flashbacks are confusing at times. They are not really set apart in the text, and the transition from present-day to the past can be sloppy at times.

Readers meet Eliza and her son and daughter. Readers meet men and women of the small community as well. Mainly, readers get to know Missouri Ann and her daughter. When Missouri Ann's husband dies, she takes the opportunity to flee from her abusive in-laws. Eliza opens her home to the pair, and this isn't without some risk. Missouri Ann's in-laws are probably without a doubt the meanest and cruelest in the county--if not the state. But not everyone in the community is as immediately open to including Missouri Ann in their group. Her in-laws have tainted her, a bit, no one wants to get close to someone who would marry into that family.

At one point, at a quilting party of sorts, the discussion of slavery and runaway slaves comes up. Opinions are mixed. Prejudices are voiced. Even though most of the women are for the Union--for the Yankees--most if not all have very strong views about blacks.

Eliza's own views will be tested when she's asked to hide a runaway slave: a woman who murdered her mistress. Will she welcome her home to this slave and put her own life and the lives of her children at risk?

A Quilt for Christmas is an odd book at times. It seems to have a handful of plots and stories, any one could be the MAIN one, but really not one seems to stand out as being the one it's all about. It's definitely NOT a plot-driven book. It's mainly about the lives of women in a particular community during the fall of 1864 and throughout 1865.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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4. Brown Girl Dreaming (2014)

Brown Girl Dreaming. Jacqueline Woodson. 2014. Nancy Paulsen Books.  336 pages. [Source: Library]

Brown Girl Dreaming is a lovely, often fascinating, memoir written in verse. "Verse novels" can be tricky for me. Sometimes I love them, sometimes I really don't. But in this case, it works well. The writing is just lovely, for the most part. The book is rich in detail capturing what it was like to grow up in Ohio, South Carolina, and New York in the 1960s and 1970s. The people. The places. The sights, sounds, and tastes. The feelings. It's a book that feels personal: an intimate look at family and friends. I very much enjoyed reading it.

Brown Girl Dreaming is a memoir of an author. So it's no big surprise that the focus of this one is on words and stories and reading and writing, of using words and stories to make sense of the world, or, to make a whole new world. But in addition to being about an author's journey, it is a novel about identity as well: who am I, why am I here, what am I supposed to do, etc.
How can I explain to anyone that stories
are like air to me,
I breathe them in and let them out
over and over again. (247)
© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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5. Eight Christmas Books

Mr. Willowby's Christmas Tree. Robert E. Barry. 1963. Random House. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

Mr. Willowby's Christmas tree came by special delivery. Full and fresh and glistening green--the biggest tree he had ever seen. He dashed downstairs to open the door--This was the moment he'd waited for.

I loved, loved, loved Mr. Willowby's Christmas Tree. It celebrates giving in a fun and playful way. Mr. Willowby starts off a long chain of giving when he chops off the top of his too-tall Christmas tree. A tree that is splendid in every other way. He gives the tree-top to the upstairs maid. She's delighted. Very delighted. How thoughtful! How cheery! But the tree is too-tall for her small room. The top must go! Chances are you can predict at this point how the story will go. But that doesn't mean it is in any way less delightful. This little tree-top gets passed down and re-trimmed again and again and again and again and again. And it's just WONDERFUL to see how much happiness and cheer it brings to others.

I loved the premise. I loved the writing. The rhyming was delightful. It worked very well for me! I think this one would make a great read-aloud. I also loved how uplifting it is. (After reading Baboushka and the Three Kings, I needed a cheery story!)

Why didn't someone tell me about this wonderful and charming picture book?! Why?! Well, I am glad to have discovered it now!

Which Christmas books would you consider classic? Which would you recommend?

Uncle Vova's Tree. Patricia Polacco. 1989. Penguin. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

Uncle Vova's Tree is rich in detail and tradition. The author, Patricia Polacco, is drawing from her past and recalling some of her childhood Christmases. She writes, "As a child I celebrated Christmas as most American children did, but at Epiphany in January, my brother, my two cousins, my grandparents and I would go to the farm of my Great Uncle Vladimir and Aunt Svetlana to celebrate in the Russian tradition." The book recalls two family gatherings specifically. The first is Uncle Vova's last Christmas. Though of course, most everyone did not *know* it would be his last Christmas. The second is that first Christmas without him. The book definitely has tones of sadness, but, it is ultimately hopeful. Memories, good, strong happy memories, remain.

The book is rich in detail and tradition. It is informative in many ways. Did you know about the tradition of putting hay underneath the tablecloth to remember and honor the stable in Bethlehem where Jesus was born? But in addition to honoring tradition--in this case, Russian tradition--it also celebrates families. Readers meet a family that is close and loving and supportive. Little details make this one work well.

Too Many Tamales. Gary Soto. Illustrated by Ed Martinez. 1993. Penguin. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

Snow drifted through the streets and now that it was dusk, Christmas trees glittered in the windows.

Too Many Tamales is a great family-oriented Christmas story. Maria, our heroine, is helping her mom make tamales. She loves helping her mom, loves being grown-up in the kitchen. But things don't go smoothly with this first batch of tamales. And it is her fault. Mostly. Maria really, really, really wanted to try on her mom's ring. Unfortunately, this-too-big ring falls right into the masa mixture. Hours later, she realizes that she never took the ring off. She doesn't know for sure where the ring is. But she has a strong suspicion that it may very well be in one of the twenty-four tamales. With a little help from her cousins, Maria is in a race to find the ring before her mom--and all the other relatives--realize what has happened. Will she find the ring? Will her mom find out? Will her cousins ever want to eat another tamale?!

I liked this one very much.

Angelina's Christmas. Katharine Holabird. Illustrated by Helen Craig. 1986. Penguin. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

Christmas was coming, and everyone at Angelina's school was working hard to prepare for the Christmas show.

I enjoyed reading Angelina's Christmas. I enjoyed meeting Angelina and her family. I loved how thoughtful and empathetic Angelina was. She realizes that there is one house in the village that is not decorated. She notices that there is one "old man huddled by a tiny fire." She learns from her parents that this old man is Mr. Bell, a retired postman. She decides that she will do something special for him so he won't be all alone at Christmas time. (And Angelina isn't the only one joining in to help make this Christmas memorable for Mr. Bell.) She makes him cookies, her mom sends along mince pies and fruit, her dad cuts him a Christmas tree. They visit him, Henry, Angelina's brother comes along too. But perhaps even more importantly than showing him kindness through things, they take the time to listen to him, to include him. This one is a lovely book.

The Trees of the Dancing Goats. Patricia Polacco. 2000. Simon & Schuster. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

At our farm just outside Union City, Michigan, we didn't celebrate the same holidays as most of our neighbors...but we shared their delight and anticipation of them just the same.

I enjoyed reading The Trees of the Dancing Goats by Patricia Polacco. She is sharing yet another holiday memory with young readers in this picture book.

The story focuses on one holiday season when the town is hit by an epidemic, scarlet fever, I believe. The heroine's family is not sick, but, most of their neighbors are. As they are preparing to celebrate Hanukkah, they realize that most of their neighbors are too sick to prepare for and celebrate Christmas. They love their neighbors. They want to do something for them. Working together as a family, they decide to bring Christmas to their neighbors: food, a tree, decorations. Since they don't own any Christmas ornaments, they use animals carved out of wood. One of the animals, as you might have guessed, is a goat. When hung on the tree, it appears to be a dancing goat. Can one family bring Christmas cheer to a community?

I liked this one. I liked the family scenes very much. It is a thoughtful book. I'm glad I finally discovered it!

Morris' Disappearing Bag. Rosemary Wells. 1975. Penguin. 40 pages. [Source: Library]

It was Christmas morning. "Wow!" said Morris.

Morris' Disappearing Bag probably isn't my favorite Rosemary Wells, but, this one is enjoyable enough that it's worth reading at least once or twice. Morris stars in this one. He has three older siblings: one big brother, Victor, and two older sisters, Rose and Betty. It is a Christmas book, of course. After all the presents are opened, the three older siblings play with their presents and play with each others presents. Victor got hockey stuff. Betty got a chemistry set. Rose got a beauty kit. They take turns sharing. Much fun is had. But not by all. For Morris has only his present (a teddy bear) to play with. He doesn't get a turn with his siblings' presents. But that changes when Morris discovers a fantastic present under the tree. A bag. A disappearing bag. Whatever is in the bag disappears. His siblings all want a turn, and, he lets them in the bag. While his siblings have disappeared for the day, Morris plays with their stuff before settling into bed with his bear.

Max's Christmas. Rosemary Wells. 1986. Penguin. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

I love watching Max and Ruby. I've seen the adaptation of Max's Christmas plenty of times before I read the book. If you like the show, chances are you'll enjoy reading this book. It is very similar. For those new to these lovable siblings, Ruby is the older sibling. She seems to be raising Max all on her own. (Ruby and Max don't have parents. They have a Grandma, but, she does not live with Max and Ruby.) Max is the younger sibling. He is many things: cute, clever, curious. Yes, he can be mischievous, but, he is also super-observant. I love, love, love them both. I might like Max a tiny bit better than Ruby. But still. I love them both.

In this book, readers join Ruby and Max on Christmas Eve night. Ruby is trying her best to get Max to get ready for bed, to go to sleep. Max is excited, of course. Once he knows that Santa is coming to his house tonight, he wants to see it for himself. So he goes downstairs to wait for Santa....

I liked this one very much.

Wombat Divine. Mem Fox. Illustrated by Kerry Argent. 1995/1999. HMH. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

I found Mem Fox's Wombat Divine to be charming. I loved Wombat. He loves, loves, loves Christmas. More than anything, he wants a part in the nativity play. At the auditions, he tries his best. But there are so many parts that he's just not right for. I love the refrain, "Don't lose heart. Why not try for a different part?" which is used throughout the whole auditioning process. He auditions for Archangel Gabriel, Mary, a wise king, Joseph, an innkeeper, and a shepherd. But there's one role that he'd be just perfect playing. Can you guess it?

I liked this one. I thought it was cute and sweet. I liked the writing. I found it unique and oh-so-right.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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6. My Year with Jane: A Darcy Christmas

A Darcy Christmas: A Holiday Tribute to Jane Austen. By Amanda Grange, Carolyn Eberhart, and Sharon Lathan. 2010. Sourcebooks. 304 pages. [Source: Library]

I reread two of the three novellas in A Darcy Christmas. I reread Amanda Grange's Christmas Present and Carolyn Eberhart's Mr. Darcy's Christmas Carol. I chose not to reread Sharon Lathan's A Darcy Christmas. Each novella was around a hundred pages. A perfect length, in my opinion, for both stories.

Mr. Darcy's Christmas Carol is an interesting and often entertaining read starring Austen's characters and borrowing much from Charles Dickens. The premise is simple yet not completely predictable. Mr. Darcy is oh-so-happy that Bingley and Jane have married. But. He's still alone this holiday season. Unlike the original, he did not propose marriage to Elizabeth soon after Bingley and Jane's happy announcement. Georgiana, his sister, wants a new sister, a new particular sister for Christmas. His cousin has made a similar request, a particular new cousin. It isn't that Darcy doesn't still love her, want her, need her. But he's a bit proud and stubborn. So on the Christmas Eve in question, Darcy is visited by the ghost of his father who warns him of his faults and promises the visits of three spirits in the night. He adds that they will come with familiar faces. (Can you guess which "familiar face" is the ghost of Christmas future?)

I have conflicting thoughts on Mr. Darcy's Christmas Carol. On the one hand, there would be scenes and passages where I'm: it works, it really works, I can't believe this is working!!! And then perhaps just a page later, I'm: I take it back, this doesn't work at all, how am I suppose to believe this?! So there were plenty of scenes I liked. I liked how she fit it all together and made it work at least some of the time. It would be hard to fit all the great bits of Pride and Prejudice with all the great bits of A Christmas Carol. So I'm surprised it worked as well as it did actually. I like how one of my favorite scenes of A Christmas Carol is reworked from the beginning to the near-ending. That was something! I don't LOVE this one necessarily. As I mentioned, there are places where it is an almost-but-not-quite. It was a fun idea, perhaps, but not absolutely flawless. I alternated between wanting to shout at the book, and cheering. Still, it's worth reading at least once.

What did I think of Amanda Grange's Christmas Present? I liked it very much!!! I tend to like or love Amanda Grange's Austen adaptations. I think she does a great job with keeping Austen's characters as we know them and love them. She is able to capture the essence of each character. In this novella, readers get a glimpse of their second Christmases. (I believe, the two couples married in November or possibly early December?) Bingley and Jane have a baby. Elizabeth and Darcy are oh-so-close to having a baby as well. But have-her-own-way Elizabeth is insistent that even though she is due to have a baby any day, she is perfectly capable of traveling a few hours by carriage so she can spend the holidays with her family. Darcy gives in, of course. So what does a family Christmas look like? Well, this family Christmas borders on insane! Through half-a-dozen coincidences it seems, that most of the family (minus Georgiana) are brought together to share these few days. Including some you might not be expecting to see: Lady Catherine. Mr. Collins. The novella is comical. It's just a satisfying way to spend an afternoon. Sometimes a good, quick read that is light-hearted fun is just what you need.

This is my final post for "My Year With Jane." Here's a look at all the posts about Jane Austen:
© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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7. 2015 Challenges: Back to Classics Challenge

Host: Books and Chocolate
Name: Back to Classics Challenge (sign up)
Dates: January - December 2015
# of Books: minimum six; twelve max.

The twelve categories:
A 19th Century Classic:
A 20th Century Classic:
Classic by a Woman Author:
Classic in Translation:
A Very Long Classic Novel:
A Classic Novella:
A Classic with a Person's Name in the Title:
Humorous or Satirical Classic:
A Forgotten Classic:
Nonfiction Classic:
Classic Children's Book:
Classic Play:

What I'm thinking of...
A 19th Century Classic: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (1884) OR Hide and Seek by Wilkie Collins (1854; by the way, Hide and Seek would also work for 'forgotten classic)
A 20th Century Classic: Exodus by Leon Uris OR East of Eden by John Steinbeck
Classic by a Woman Author: Miss Marjoribanks. Margaret Oliphant OR Sylvia's Lovers by Elizabeth Gaskell (1863),
Classic in Translation: Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo OR Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky OR Les Miserables by Victor Hugo in one of the new translations I haven't read yet (Julie Rose OR Christine Donougher)
A Very Long Classic Novel: Ayala's Angel. Anthony Trollope (631 pages, 1881)
A Classic Novella: The Lilies of the Field by William Edmund Barrett (1962)
A Classic with a Person's Name in the Title: Rachel Ray by Anthony Trollope.
Humorous or Satirical Classic: Thank You, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse (1934) OR The Code of The Woosters by P.G. Wodehouse (1938)
A Forgotten Classic: Debby by Siddie Joe Johnson (1940) OR Miss Hargreaves by Frank Baker OR But He Doesn't Know the Territory by Meredith Wilson (1959)
Nonfiction Classic: Out of Africa/Shadows on the Grass by Isak Dinesen (1937, 1961) OR A Man Called Peter by Catherine Marshall (1951) OR The New World (History of the English Speaking Peoples, Vol. 2) Winston Churchill. (1956) OR The Life of Charlotte Bronte by Elizabeth Gaskell (1857)
Classic Children's Book: Thimble Summer. Elizabeth Enright. (1938) OR Winterbound by Margery Williams (1936) OR Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze. Elizabeth Foreman Lewis. (1932)
Classic Play:Trifles by Susan Glaspell (1916) OR A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry (1959),


© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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8. Week in Review: December 7-13

Les Miserables. Victor Hugo. Translated by Isabel Florence Hapgood. 1862/1887. 1232 pages.
The Plantagenets. Dan Jones. 2013. Viking. 560 pages. [Source: Library]
Palace of Spies. Sarah Zettel. 2013. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 368 pages. [Source: Library]
The 5th Wave. Rick Yancey. 2013. Penguin. 457 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Jane Austen's First Love. Syrie James. 2014. Berkley Trade. 400 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Where The Heart Is. Billie Letts. 1995. 376 pages. [Source: Bought]
My New Friend Is So Fun! Mo Willems. 2014. Hyperion. 60 pages. [Source: Library]
Waiting is Not Easy. Mo Willems. 2014. Hyperion. 64 pages. [Source: Library]
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Robert Lewis May. Illustrated by Denver Gillen. 1939/1990. Applewood Books. 32 pages. [Source: Library]
On Christmas Eve. Margaret Wise Brown. Illustrated by Nancy Edwards Calder. 1938/1961/1996. HarperCollins. 32 pages. [Source: Library]
Silver Packages: An Appalachian Christmas Story. Cynthia Rylant. Illustrated by Chris K. Soentpiet. 1987. Scholastic. 32 pages. [Source: Library]
The All-I'll-Ever-Want Christmas Doll. Patricia C. McKissack. Illustrated by Jerry Pinkney. 2007. Schwartz & Wade. 40 pages. [Source: Library]
The Bells of Christmas. Virginia Hamilton. Illustrated by Lambert Davis. 1989/1997. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 64 pages. [Source: Library]
The Gift of the Magi. O. Henry. Illustrated by Lisbeth Zwerger. 1905/2006. Simon & Schuster. 32 pages. [Source: Library]
The Tailor of Gloucester. Beatrix Potter. 1903. 58 pages. [Source: Library]
Lucy's Christmas. Donald Hall. Illustrated by Michael McCurdy. 1998. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 40 pages. [Source: Library]
Baboushka and the Three Kings. Ruth Robbins. Illustrated by Nicholas Sidjakov. 1960/1986. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 32 pages. [Source: Library]
Polar Express. Chris Van Allsburg. 1985/2009. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 32 pages. [Source: Library]
Keeping Holiday. Starr Meade. Illustrated by Justin Gerard. 2008. Crossway. 192 pages. [Source: Review copy]
A Most Inconvenient Marriage. Regina Jennings. 2014. Bethany House. 336 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Love Unexpected. Jody Hedlund. 2014. Bethany House. 348 pages. [Source: Review copy]

This week's favorite:

I choose Victor Hugo's Les Miserables. I love, love, love this one. There were other books I loved as well, of course. I loved both My New Friend Is So Fun and Waiting is Not Easy!!! I also loved Loved Unexpected. I loved rereading The Polar Express. I loved rereading The 5th Wave. But Les Miserables is so amazing! The choice was an easy one.         

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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9. Library Loot: Second Trip in December

New Loot:
  • The Greatest Skating Race by Louise Borden
  • Death by Toilet Paper by Donna Gephart
  • Little Town on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  • These Happy Golden Years by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  •  Zebra Forest by Adina Rishe Gewirtz
  • Hope by LouAnn Gaeddert
  • Bartholomew and the Oobleck by Dr. Seuss
  • Thidwick and the Big-Hearted Moose by Dr. Seuss
  • Scrambled Eggs Super by Dr. Seuss
  • If I Ran the Zoo by Dr. Seuss
  • Nuts to You by Lynne Rae Perkins
  • The Zoo at the Edge of the World by Eric Kahn Gale
  • Dory Fantasmagory by Abby Hanion
  • The Book of Secrets by Cynthia Voigt
Leftover Loot:
  • Go To Bed, Monster! Natasha Wing
  • Jazz Baby by Lisa Wheeler
  • Murder in the Afternoon by Frances Brody 
  • The Upstairs Room by Johanna Reiss
  • Xander's Panda Party by Linda Sue Park
  • Millions of Cats by Wanda Ga'g
  • A Royal Pain by Rhys Bowen
  • Royal Flush by Rhys Bowen
  • Invincible Louisa by Cornelia Meigs
  • Bomb by Steve Sheinkin
  •  Quinny & Hopper by Adriana Brad Schanen  
  • What If...? by Anthony Browne  
  • Hercule Poirot's Christmas by Agatha Christie
  • Follow Follow: A Book of Reverso Poems by Marilyn Singer
  • Train by Judi Abbot
  •  The Time Traveler's Almanac ed. by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer
  • A Great and Glorious Adventure by Gordon Corrigan
  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.  

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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10. 2015 Challenges: British History

Host: Impressions in Ink
Name:  British History Reading Challenge (sign up)
Dates: January - December 2015
# of books: 3+ (my goal is 12)

I'm so excited to join this challenge! I love and adore reading British history!!!! I'll be reading a mix of nonfiction and fiction.

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© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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11. Reread #50 Les Miserables

Les Miserables. Victor Hugo. Translated by Isabel Florence Hapgood. 1862/1887. 1232 pages.
This book is a drama, whose leading personage is the Infinite. Man is the second.
I have now read Les Miserables three times. This will be my second review of Les Miserables on my blog. My first review was in April 2013. I love Les Miserables. I do. I think I love it more each time I read it. The book has depth. The story it tells is memorable and emotional. It is a book you EXPERIENCE. I love so many things about it: the depth and quality of the writing, the characterization, the narration, the themes.

There are many words that could be used to describe Les Miserables: compelling, political, spiritual, philosophical, dramatic, romantic. It is just as concerned about politics and social justice as it is romance and family. It touches on the subjects of education, crime, poverty, and injustice. It's a novel where ideas matter just as much as characters.

It's also a novel heavy on details. When it's good, it's REALLY good. But at times some of the details are too taste-specific. In other words, some of the details weigh the story down. At times Les Miserables is boring. It's worth reading. It is. It's worth pushing through to the end. It's okay to skim certain sections, in my opinion, because it is one of the most satisfying reading experiences overall. Not that I LOVE the ending, though I think I may have made peace with it this time around.

Who are some of the characters? Bishop Myriel, Jean Valjean, Fantine, Inspector Javert, Cosette, Marius, Eponine, Enjolras, Monsieur and Madame Thenardier, Mabeuf, Monsieur Gillenormand, and Gavroche--just to name a few.  I don't know if I can say I have a favorite. I know which characters I don't like. But I really just like all of them--no matter their strengths and weaknesses.

Do you have a favorite character? a favorite scene?

One of my favorite scenes is early in the novel when Jean Valjean meets Bishop Myriel (Bienvenu). He is an ex-convict who has just been released. He's seeking a place to stay for the night. It is not going well.
"I have knocked at all doors."
"Well?"
"I have been driven away everywhere."
The "good woman" touched the man's arm, and pointed out to him on the other side of the street a small, low house, which stood beside the Bishop's palace.
"You have knocked at all doors?"
"Yes."
"Have you knocked at that one?"
"No."
"Knock there."
It opened wide with a rapid movement, as though some one had given it an energetic and resolute push.
A man entered.
We already know the man. It was the wayfarer whom we have seen wandering about in search of shelter.
He entered, advanced a step, and halted, leaving the door open behind him. He had his knapsack on his shoulders, his cudgel in his hand, a rough, audacious, weary, and violent expression in his eyes. The fire on the hearth lighted him up. He was hideous. It was a sinister apparition.
Madame Magloire had not even the strength to utter a cry. She trembled, and stood with her mouth wide open.
Mademoiselle Baptistine turned round, beheld the man entering, and half started up in terror; then, turning her head by degrees towards the fireplace again, she began to observe her brother, and her face became once more profoundly calm and serene.
The Bishop fixed a tranquil eye on the man.
As he opened his mouth, doubtless to ask the new-comer what he desired, the man rested both hands on his staff, directed his gaze at the old man and the two women, and without waiting for the Bishop to speak, he said, in a loud voice:—
"See here. My name is Jean Valjean. I am a convict from the galleys. I have passed nineteen years in the galleys. I was liberated four days ago, and am on my way to Pontarlier, which is my destination. I have been walking for four days since I left Toulon. I have travelled a dozen leagues to-day on foot. This evening, when I arrived in these parts, I went to an inn, and they turned me out, because of my yellow passport, which I had shown at the town-hall. I had to do it. I went to an inn. They said to me, 'Be off,' at both places. No one would take me. I went to the prison; the jailer would not admit me. I went into a dog's kennel; the dog bit me and chased me off, as though he had been a man. One would have said that he knew who I was. I went into the fields, intending to sleep in the open air, beneath the stars. There were no stars. I thought it was going to rain, and I re-entered the town, to seek the recess of a doorway. Yonder, in the square, I meant to sleep on a stone bench. A good woman pointed out your house to me, and said to me, 'Knock there!' I have knocked. What is this place? Do you keep an inn? I have money—savings. One hundred and nine francs fifteen sous, which I earned in the galleys by my labor, in the course of nineteen years. I will pay. What is that to me? I have money. I am very weary; twelve leagues on foot; I am very hungry. Are you willing that I should remain?"
"Madame Magloire," said the Bishop, "you will set another place."
The man advanced three paces, and approached the lamp which was on the table. "Stop," he resumed, as though he had not quite understood; "that's not it. Did you hear? I am a galley-slave; a convict. I come from the galleys." He drew from his pocket a large sheet of yellow paper, which he unfolded. "Here's my passport. Yellow, as you see. This serves to expel me from every place where I go. Will you read it? I know how to read. I learned in the galleys. There is a school there for those who choose to learn. Hold, this is what they put on this passport: 'Jean Valjean, discharged convict, native of'—that is nothing to you—'has been nineteen years in the galleys: five years for house-breaking and burglary; fourteen years for having attempted to escape on four occasions. He is a very dangerous man.' There! Every one has cast me out. Are you willing to receive me? Is this an inn? Will you give me something to eat and a bed? Have you a stable?"
"Madame Magloire," said the Bishop, "you will put white sheets on the bed in the alcove." We have already explained the character of the two women's obedience.
Madame Magloire retired to execute these orders.
The Bishop turned to the man.
"Sit down, sir, and warm yourself. We are going to sup in a few moments, and your bed will be prepared while you are supping."
At this point the man suddenly comprehended. The expression of his face, up to that time sombre and harsh, bore the imprint of stupefaction, of doubt, of joy, and became extraordinary. He began stammering like a crazy man:—
"Really? What! You will keep me? You do not drive me forth? A convict! You call me sir! You do not address me as thou? 'Get out of here, you dog!' is what people always say to me. I felt sure that you would expel me, so I told you at once who I am. Oh, what a good woman that was who directed me hither! I am going to sup! A bed with a mattress and sheets, like the rest of the world! a bed! It is nineteen years since I have slept in a bed! You actually do not want me to go! You are good people. Besides, I have money. I will pay well. Pardon me, monsieur the inn-keeper, but what is your name? I will pay anything you ask. You are a fine man. You are an inn-keeper, are you not?"
"I am," replied the Bishop, "a priest who lives here."
"A priest!" said the man. "Oh, what a fine priest! Then you are not going to demand any money of me? You are the cure, are you not? the cure of this big church? Well! I am a fool, truly! I had not perceived your skull-cap."
As he spoke, he deposited his knapsack and his cudgel in a corner, replaced his passport in his pocket, and seated himself. Mademoiselle Baptistine gazed mildly at him. He continued:
"You are humane, Monsieur le Curé; you have not scorned me. A good priest is a very good thing. Then you do not require me to pay?"
"No," said the Bishop; "keep your money. How much have you? Did you not tell me one hundred and nine francs?"
"And fifteen sous," added the man.
"One hundred and nine francs fifteen sous. And how long did it take you to earn that?"
"Nineteen years."
"Nineteen years!"
The Bishop sighed deeply.
The man continued: "I have still the whole of my money. In four days I have spent only twenty-five sous, which I earned by helping unload some wagons at Grasse. Since you are an abbe, I will tell you that we had a chaplain in the galleys. And one day I saw a bishop there. Monseigneur is what they call him. He was the Bishop of Majore at Marseilles. He is the cure who rules over the other cures, you understand. Pardon me, I say that very badly; but it is such a far-off thing to me! You understand what we are! He said mass in the middle of the galleys, on an altar. He had a pointed thing, made of gold, on his head; it glittered in the bright light of midday. We were all ranged in lines on the three sides, with cannons with lighted matches facing us. We could not see very well. He spoke; but he was too far off, and we did not hear. That is what a bishop is like."
While he was speaking, the Bishop had gone and shut the door, which had remained wide open.
Madame Magloire returned. She brought a silver fork and spoon, which she placed on the table.
"Madame Magloire," said the Bishop, "place those things as near the fire as possible." And turning to his guest: "The night wind is harsh on the Alps. You must be cold, sir."
Each time that he uttered the word sir, in his voice which was so gently grave and polished, the man's face lighted up. Monsieur to a convict is like a glass of water to one of the shipwrecked of the Medusa. Ignominy thirsts for consideration.
"This lamp gives a very bad light," said the Bishop.
Madame Magloire understood him, and went to get the two silver candlesticks from the chimney-piece in Monseigneur's bed-chamber, and placed them, lighted, on the table.
"Monsieur le Curé," said the man, "you are good; you do not despise me. You receive me into your house. You light your candles for me. Yet I have not concealed from you whence I come and that I am an unfortunate man."
The Bishop, who was sitting close to him, gently touched his hand. "You could not help telling me who you were. This is not my house; it is the house of Jesus Christ. This door does not demand of him who enters whether he has a name, but whether he has a grief. You suffer, you are hungry and thirsty; you are welcome. And do not thank me; do not say that I receive you in my house. No one is at home here, except the man who needs a refuge. I say to you, who are passing by, that you are much more at home here than I am myself. Everything here is yours. What need have I to know your name? Besides, before you told me you had one which I knew."
The man opened his eyes in astonishment.
"Really? You knew what I was called?"
"Yes," replied the Bishop, "you are called my brother."
"Stop, Monsieur le Curé," exclaimed the man. "I was very hungry when I entered here; but you are so good, that I no longer know what has happened to me."
The Bishop looked at him, and said,—
"You have suffered much?"
"Oh, the red coat, the ball on the ankle, a plank to sleep on, heat, cold, toil, the convicts, the thrashings, the double chain for nothing, the cell for one word; even sick and in bed, still the chain! Dogs, dogs are happier! Nineteen years! I am forty-six. Now there is the yellow passport. That is what it is like."
"Yes," resumed the Bishop, "you have come from a very sad place. Listen. There will be more joy in heaven over the tear-bathed face of a repentant sinner than over the white robes of a hundred just men. If you emerge from that sad place with thoughts of hatred and of wrath against mankind, you are deserving of pity; if you emerge with thoughts of good-will and of peace, you are more worthy than any one of us."
This meeting will change his life. The impact of the Bishop on Jean Valjean is huge. And this scene is just the beginning.

In writing this review, I discovered two books releasing in 2015, that I really, really WANT to review--NEED to review. Both are February releases. Candlewick Press is releasing Marcia Williams' retelling of Les Miserables.  Penguin is releasing a NEW translation of Les Miserables by Christine Donougher.

I could not possibly share every quote I loved from the book. There are hundreds. But I will share some with you.

Favorite quotes:

True or false, that which is said of men often occupies as important a place in their lives, and above all in their destinies, as that which they do.
"Jean Valjean, my brother, you no longer belong to evil, but to good. It is your soul that I buy from you; I withdraw it from black thoughts and the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God." 
Teach those who are ignorant as many things as possible; society is culpable, in that it does not afford instruction gratis; it is responsible for the night which it produces. This soul is full of shadow; sin is therein committed. The guilty one is not the person who has committed the sin, but the person who has created the shadow.
The supreme happiness of life consists in the conviction that one is loved; loved for one's own sake—let us say rather, loved in spite of one's self.
To make the poem of the human conscience, were it only with reference to a single man, were it only in connection with the basest of men, would be to blend all epics into one superior and definitive epic.
Diamonds are found only in the dark places of the earth; truths are found only in the depths of thought. It seemed to him, that, after having descended into these depths, after having long groped among the darkest of these shadows, he had at last found one of these diamonds, one of these truths, and that he now held it in his hand, and he was dazzled as he gazed upon it. 
If you wish to gain an idea of what revolution is, call it Progress; and if you wish to acquire an idea of the nature of progress, call it To-morrow. To-morrow fulfils its work irresistibly, and it is already fulfilling it to-day. It always reaches its goal strangely.
Man lives by affirmation even more than by bread.
Peace is happiness digesting.
The bourgeoisie is simply the contented portion of the people. The bourgeois is the man who now has time to sit down. A chair is not a caste.
True history being a mixture of all things, the true historian mingles in everything.
Of all the things that God has made, the human heart is the one which sheds the most light, alas! and the most darkness.
A compliment is something like a kiss through a veil.
Civil war—what does that mean? Is there a foreign war? Is not all war between men, war between brothers? War is qualified only by its object. There is no such thing as foreign or civil war; there is only just and unjust war.
The right to the alphabet, that is where the beginning must be made. The primary school imposed on all, the secondary school offered to all, that is the law. From an identical school, an identical society will spring. Yes, instruction! light! light! everything comes from light, and to it everything returns. Citizens, the nineteenth century is great, but the twentieth century will be happy.
Everything can be parodied, even parody.
He sleeps. Although his fate was very strange, he lived. He died when he had no longer his angel. The thing came to pass simply, of itself, as the night comes when day is gone.
© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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12. Jane Austen's First Love

Jane Austen's First Love. Syrie James. 2014. Berkley Trade. 400 pages. [Source: Review copy]

  I enjoyed reading Jane Austen's First Love. I admit I had my doubts at the beginning. On the one hand, after being so disappointed in Becoming Jane, I was hesitant to read anything giving Jane Austen a romance of her own. Also I wasn't wowed by The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen. On the other hand, several people I respect really did love Jane Austen's First Love. While I can't say that I loved, loved, LOVED Jane Austen's First Love, I did really enjoy it. More than I thought I would at any rate.

1791. Summer of 1791. Jane and Cassandra travel to meet their brother Edward's fiancee, Elizabeth Bridges, and her family. (Several other family members go as well. The mother, but, not the father. Another brother, Charles, I believe. But the focus is mostly on Jane and Cassandra). Jane is just fifteen, she's not "out" yet. Her sister is a year or two older and is. Part of what makes this trip special, is that Jane is to be allowed certain privileges. She'll be allowed to go to dances and balls. She'll be allowed to powder her hair, etc. Most--if not all--the events will be family and friends. (Bringing together multiple families. Several of the Bridges' sisters are engaged to be married. All the engagements are being celebrated. There will be plenty of people there.)

On their trip, they happen to meet--quite dramatically--a young man named Edward Taylor. (He happens to be a neighbor, I believe.) Jane becomes smitten with him. He enjoys being with her, but, there aren't any OBVIOUS signs that he's madly, deeply in forever-and-ever-love with her. She may hope that he is "the one." But he is sixteen and not anywhere close to proposing marriage to anyone, no matter how lively, witty, charming, talented, beautiful, etc. Does Jane hope he is the one? The fictional, Jane, I mean? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Without a doubt, Jane enjoys herself tremendously, and finds time with him thrilling.

Strawberry picking. Dances. Dinners. Walks. Riding horses. Play acting. Matchmaking. Such is the stuff of Jane Austen's First Love.

One of the main plots surrounds the Bridges' sisters: Fanny, Elizabeth, and Sophia. They are all older than Jane. They are all of the courting age. Elizabeth and Fanny are engaged. Sophia is close to an engagement as well. Jane is watching; watching carefully, closely, analyzing and taking notes. Jane's observations lead her to believe that the sisters are mismatched! Readers meet a young Jane, an opinionated Jane, who is enjoying the idea of love, of falling in love, of finding love. What does she know of LOVE? What does she know of what makes two people compatible? It's interesting!

I also enjoyed how readers get a behind-the-scenes glimpse of Jane writing The Three Sisters. I would say that readers should take the time to read this little story on their own before, during, or after the novel.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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13. The 5th Wave (2013)

The 5th Wave. Rick Yancey. 2013. Penguin. 457 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Why reread The 5th Wave? Well, I wanted to reread The 5th Wave before beginning the second book in the series, The Infinite Sea. Also, it made sense to reread it for the Sci-Fi Experience!!!

If you're considering reading it for yourself in the near future, you might want to skip this review. Not because I'm planning on including spoilers. I'm not. But because some books should just be experienced as they are--no expectations, no hype.

So what is it about? Alien invasion. Humanity's fight to survive. It's a sci-fi thriller. It's intense and action-packed. Yet not without heart and soul and substance. It's action-packed and emotional. (Not always easy to balance the two to every reader's satisfaction.)

What else should you expect? Well. It's told through multiple narrators. Cassie, "Zombie," and "Nugget" to name a few. Normally this tends to irritate me. But I actually really enjoyed it in The 5th Wave. Yes, it was a bit disconcerting the first transition or two. But overall, it adds to the suspense and tension. The novel is better because of it.

Choices. To trust or not to trust. That is what The 5th Wave is about. Human survivors forced into difficult situations. Should they trust any survivor they come across? Should they assume the worst, and kill before they can be killed. Kill without question, without thinking, no exceptions. Or should they risk their own lives by clinging to hope that their are other survivors out there--survivors that are very much still human? Misplaced trust could prove deadly after all. But becoming a killer robs you of who you were.
This is what the Others have done to us. You can't band together to fight without trust. And without trust, there was no hope. How do you rid the Earth of humans? Rid the humans of their humanity. 
© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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14. Where The Heart Is (1995)

Where The Heart Is. Billie Letts. 1995. 376 pages. [Source: Bought]

The novel opens circa 1985. Novalee Nation, the heroine, is seven months pregnant. She is with her boyfriend, and they're both heading west. He's a man without integrity, to say the least. He does reluctantly give her a ten dollar bill so she can go buy some shoes when her own shoes are lost through the hole in the floor of his car. But he expects a good bit of change back. Or does he? Was he planning to abandon her at the Walmart all along? Or did he just get tired of waiting? Does it matter? The truth is that Novalee Nation is left at a Walmart in a small town in Oklahoma with only $7.77. She has no family to call, no friends either. So Novalee settles down in Walmart for the rest of her pregnancy, hiding when need be, so no one knows that she is living there. She ventures out during the day and meets people, meets the librarian, for example. By the end of her pregnancy, she's made a few friends. Now these new friends of hers don't know the truth exactly. But they're not the type of people who would care overly much about the truth. Novalee happens to find herself among the least judgmental folks she's ever met. The book spans seven years worth of drama. If the book has a theme it is one of 'home' and 'belonging' and 'family.'

Where the Heart Is was not a good match for me. I wanted a different book, perhaps. A book that kept the "down-to-earth" quirky characters perhaps, but, lost much of the smut. It isn't that Where the Heart Is is your traditional smutty romance--it isn't, far from it. But I thought there were certainly plenty of details that were tasteless. Why did readers need to follow Willy Jack's story at all???? Every chapter that focused on Willy Jack seemed tasteless and pointless. Why do we need to know about his time in prison? If the story had centered exclusively on Novalee Nation, would I have liked it a bit more? I think I would have. At least I wouldn't have hated it. Eliminating Willy Jack wouldn't have solved all the problems, one scene that was too much to take, and rightly so, was the child rape. The scene had every right to be disturbing. It was a horrible awful situation. Still. The details were too much. The profanity--the blasphemy--was also too much. 


© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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15. Palace of Spies (2013)

Palace of Spies. Sarah Zettel. 2013. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 368 pages. [Source: Library]

Peggy Fitzroy lives with her aunt, uncle, and cousin. She knows she's not wanted, her aunt and uncle have made that clear. But she gets along quite well with her cousin, Olivia. The novel opens with Peggy in a difficult position. Her uncle has arranged a marriage for her. She's not thrilled instead more than a little hesitant. Her hesitation only increases AFTER she meets him at a ball. Her intended isn't the only person she meets there, however. One other mystery man makes her acquaintance. He offers her a way out. He tells her that he knew her mother. He wants to make a deal with her, of sorts. He wants her to spy for him, to impersonate one of the Queen's maids. (Ladies-in-waiting?) He leaves her with his card. She's curious but just as hesitant about that option as well. If only she could have some control over her own future...

With a title like Palace of Spies, it's obvious what her choice was. She will become Lady Francesca Wallingham. Can she learn enough from Mr. Tinderflint and Mr. Peele? Do they know enough about her to tell her everything she needs to know to pass as this lady? Is either man trustworthy? What are their intentions? What will they do with the information she provides? Who can she trust at court? Did Lady Francesca have enemies? How will she be able to discern who her friends were and who her enemies were? Will she fool anyone? Will she fool everyone? Will she ever get a minute to call her own? How long will this deception last?

I enjoyed this one. I think I enjoyed it even more having read Lucy Worsley's The Courtiers: Splendor and Intrigue in the Georgian Court at Kensington Palace earlier this year. I was familiar with several of the characters. It was quite entertaining with a nice balance of danger and romance.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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16. The Plantagenets

The Plantagenets. Dan Jones. 2013. Viking. 560 pages. [Source: Library]

I enjoyed reading this overview of British history. The book examines the reigns of a handful of Plantagenet kings: Henry II, Richard I, John, Henry III, Edward I, Edward II, Edward III, and Richard II. It spans several centuries: 1120-1399. It also overlaps a bit with French history.

The book opens with "The White Ship." It's a dramatic way to start a book. Henry I, the son of William the Conqueror, loses his son and heir in a shipwreck. Henry I has two dozen illegitimate children--give or take one or two. But his only legitimate child is a daughter, Matilda. He remarries hoping presumably to have another child--a son, a new heir. But that is not to be. He marries the widowed Matilda off--it was anything but a love match--and she starts having children of her own, many of them sons. He leaves his kingdom to his daughter, supposedly everyone has sworn their allegiance to her, but, in reality, she's never in a position to reign as queen. Her cousin, Stephen, reigns instead. War follows, naturally. It is not a short war, a quick and decisive war. It is a here and there, on-and-off again war where the people suffer for the family squabble most. Eventually, an agreement of sorts is reached, Stephen will pass the crown to Matilda's son, Henry II. He is the first Plantagenet king. Henry II, if you remember, is married to Eleanor of Aquitaine, the former French queen as well. They have many children together...

The book follows the reigns of each king. It goes into detail with politics and economics. It goes into detail with the struggles of each king. Their strengths and weaknesses, their battles. Sometimes these battles are with the church; sometimes these battles are with the French; sometimes these battles are with the Irish or the Welsh or the Scottish; sometimes these battles are with their own flesh and blood, their family; sometimes these battles are with their own countrymen, the barons, the nobility, or even the peasants. No one king has it all. No one king has a perfect, problem-free reign. It wouldn't necessarily be fair or right to sort the kings into two groups of "good" and "bad." Some kings had a reputation of being horrible, and yet they didn't do anything over and above what other kings before them or after them did. Writers of all centuries can label kings this or that, but, that is because historians can be biased. (Some are openly biased. Some not so much.)

As for the details about each king, what can I say? It's an overview, a detailed overview, to be sure. Some readers may be more of an expert and find fault with statements here and there throughout the book. They may spot myths presented as fact. But I certainly can't be among them. I don't know enough about each and every king.

I found the book to be interesting. Some chapters were more fascinating than others. Some chapters even seemed a bit confusing. But I kept reading.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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17. Two by Mo Willems

My New Friend Is So Fun! Mo Willems. 2014. Hyperion. 60 pages. [Source: Library]

I love Gerald. I love Piggie. I love Mo Willems. This is the twenty-first book starring Piggie and Gerald. I did enjoy it. How could I not enjoy it? I couldn't imagine not loving a book starring my favorite pig and favorite elephant.

In this addition to the series, Piggie becomes friends with Brian Bat, and Gerald becomes friends with Snake. Gerald and Snake are talking. They become worried, very, very worried. The more they talk, the more they think, the more they think, the more anxious and excited they become. What if Piggie becomes BEST, BEST friends with Brian?! What if Brian the Bat doesn't *need* Snake anymore?! What if Piggie doesn't *need* Gerald anymore?! What if Piggie decides that it is more fun to spend time with Brian?! Gerald and Snake would be doomed if that happened. They can't let that happen. They just can't. So they go to confront Piggie and Brian....

Will Gerald and Piggie stay best, best friends?

This one is cute enough. Of course, Gerald has nothing to worry about. Piggie is loyal through and through. (As is Brian the Bat.)


Waiting is Not Easy. Mo Willems. 2014. Hyperion. 64 pages. [Source: Library]

Note: This one will be Cybils eligible next year! Don't forget!

Did I love the twenty-second Elephant & Piggie book? I did! You know I did! I adore Gerald and Piggie!!!

In this addition to the series, Piggie has a surprise for Gerald. But it is a surprise that can't be given or shared right away. Which means that both Gerald and Piggie have to wait...and wait...and wait. Piggie, at least, knows why. But Gerald, well, he doesn't. And the suspense is torture for this oh-so-emotional elephant!

What I love best about the series is the expressiveness of the illustrations. Spotlight on Gerald!!! I love watching his expressions on every page of Waiting Is Not Easy. I think my favorite is Gerald's groaning. (p. 20/21, 30/31, 38/39).

The story is fun and playful. It is oh-so-easy to relate to Gerald's impatience and frustration!

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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18. Ten Christmas Picture Books

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Robert Lewis May. Illustrated by Denver Gillen. 1939/1990. Applewood Books. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

I enjoyed this one more than I thought I would. This is the original story by Robert L. May with the original illustrations by Denver Gillen. It is so different from the song and the stop-motion animated special. And I think it was the fact that it was different that made me appreciate it more.

The story is told in rhyme. It's essentially one long (perhaps poorly punctuated) poem. Here's how it begins:
Twas the day before Christmas, and all through the hills
The reindeer were playing…enjoying the spills
Of skating and coasting, and climbing the willows…
And hop-scotch and leap-frog (protected by pillows!)
While every so often they'd stop to call names
At one little deer not allowed in their games:--
"Ha ha! Look at Rudolph! His nose is a sight!"
"It's red as a beet!" "Twice as big!" "Twice as bright!"
While Rudolph just wept.
What else could he do?
He knew that the things
they were saying were true!
Readers first meet Rudolph, a young deer who is teased by his peers. He does NOT live at the North Pole. And he's not one of Santa's own reindeer.
What we do learn is that he's a very good, very obedient deer who is expecting Santa to leave him some lovely presents because he's been so very, very good.

Readers then meet Santa and learn of the horrible weather conditions that prove most challenging. Santa starts out on his trip, it isn't until he's delivering presents to Rudolph's house that he notices the brilliant light of his nose.

Santa then decides to wake him up and ask for his help. The rest of the journey goes much easier for Santa!

The book concludes with Santa returning Rudolph to his family, to his hometown. He is now a hero, of course.

I liked this one. I liked some of the rhymes more than others. There are definitely some quirky lines!
Come Dasher! Come Dancer! Come Prancer and Vixen!
Come Comet! Come Cupid! Come Donner and Blitzen!
Be quick with your suppers! Get hitched in a hurry!
You, too, will find fog a delay and a worry!"
And Santa was right. (As he usually is!)
The fog was as thick as a soda's white fizz.
The book is definitely text-heavy. So a longer attention span would be needed for little ones to enjoy this one.

The copy I read was a facsimile edition. A 75th Anniversary edition with new illustrations was released in September 2014.

On Christmas Eve. Margaret Wise Brown. Illustrated by Nancy Edwards Calder. 1938/1961/1996. HarperCollins. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

It was the middle of the night. And night of all  nights it was Christmas.

I enjoyed Margaret Wise Brown's On Christmas Eve. It is a descriptive look at what Christmas--at what Christmas Eve--is like for children. It focuses on simple things: what your eyes see, what your ears hear, what your nose smells, what your hands and feet touch. It seeks to capture the emotion of the holiday: the excitement, the waiting, the longing.

Lots of details, lots of adjectives. It's rich in imagery and description. There is also a bit of repetition. The text is lyrical in places.

I can't say that I loved it. But it was very enjoyable. I was also glad to see that one of the presents under the tree was a train. The children are just in awe of the magic of Christmas, of the stockings and packages, of the snow falling outside, of the carolers outside.

It was a sweet story about three siblings.

Silver Packages: An Appalachian Christmas Story. Cynthia Rylant. Illustrated by Chris K. Soentpiet. 1987. Scholastic. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

Silver Packages is a picture book for older readers most likely. I wouldn't say it is for an exclusively adult audience. But I think readers need some perspective in order to appreciate the book fully. I think it can resonate with readers, it has the potential. But I don't think the emotional reaction would be--or even should be--automatic. One can't assume that every reader will respond with tears and "this is the best book I've ever read!!!"

Silver Packages is about giving back to the community. In this instance, one very specific community--Appalachia. The book is about the Christmas Train. It starts with one man who wants to show his appreciation for the community that helped him when he needed it. He was injured in an accident, the community took in this stranger and nursed him back to health without asking for anything in return. He decides that he will come every year--by train--and hand out packages to the children who meet the train. These packages are wrapped in silver paper. Every story needs a protagonist. Silver Packages introduces us to Frankie. Readers first meet Frankie as a boy. He's a boy with a dream. He wants to be a doctor. And he really, really, really wants a doctor kit for Christmas. But each year, he's slightly disappointed. He receives a handful of silver packages through the years. Every gift seems to have a toy--something a boy or girl might want--and something a boy or girl might need. The practical gifts include: socks, mittens, hats, scarves, etc. Readers later see Frankie all grown up. He is a doctor. He reflects on his life, on his past Christmases, he has a light-bulb moment. He decides it is his turn to give back to the community in his own special way. It's a book about kindness and gratefulness and community awareness.

The All-I'll-Ever-Want Christmas Doll. Patricia C. McKissack. Illustrated by Jerry Pinkney. 2007. Schwartz & Wade. 40 pages. [Source: Library]

Christmas always came to our house, but Santy Claus only once in a while.

I haven't read The All-I'll-Ever Want-Christmas Doll in years. It was just as good as I remembered. The book is set during the Depression. A little girl, Nella, knows that her family is poor, that Santy may not come this year at all. Yet, she can't resist writing to him all the same begging for a Baby Betty doll. Her two sisters perhaps think a little less of Nella for her dreaming so big. She shouldn't expect so much from Christmas. But on Christmas morning, there are a few surprises. Each girl gets a Christmas sack filled with walnuts, peppermint candy, an orange, and a box of raisins. But there is one present, one special present remaining: a doll. Nella thinks the doll should be HERS and hers alone. After all, her sisters haven't gone around talking about the doll nonstop, her sisters didn't write Santa a letter begging for the doll. Why should she have to share the doll with them? But does the doll make her happy? Is the doll truly all she'll ever want? She has a few lessons to learn for sure!

I really enjoyed the story and the message.

The Bells of Christmas. Virginia Hamilton. Illustrated by Lambert Davis. 1989/1997. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 64 pages. [Source: Library]

I didn't dislike Virginia Hamilton's The Bells of Christmas. But I didn't love, love, love it either. I think it depends on what exactly you're expecting from a Christmas book. The Bells of Christmas is very much a celebration of a Christmas long ago. Christmas 1890. Readers meet a young boy, Jason Bell, and experience the holiday through his perspective. We learn about his mom and dad, his brothers and sisters, his cousins, his aunt and uncle, his friend, Matthew. The book is set over a period of several days. Among the things readers learn that Jason's dad is a carpenter, that he wants his sons to join him in his business one day, his dad has only one leg, that his dad wears a peg leg part of the time and is in his wheel chair the rest of the time. Readers also learn that Jason is just a wee bit obsessed with wheels--mainly trains, but, also wagons, etc. The book has plenty of detail and characterization which is a good thing. Jason is waiting for quite a few things: 1) he can't wait for Christmas morning and presents! 2) he can't wait for the Bells to arrive--his uncle and aunt and cousins, 3) he is excited about church, most everyone is performing and participating in some way. (Jason is singing a solo.) The book perhaps seeks to capture one Christmas for one extended family. It is a pleasant, enjoyable book. It isn't quite a chapter book or novel. It isn't quite a picture book.
 
The Gift of the Magi. O. Henry. Illustrated by Lisbeth Zwerger. 1905/2006. Simon & Schuster. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

I've seen adaptations of The Gift of the Magi--who hasn't? (My favorite is Bert and Ernie and Mr. Hooper.) But this is the first time I've read the actual short story. I haven't decided how I feel about it. Is this couple wise or foolish? Or are they at times foolish and at times wise?

The wife, Della, takes extraordinary pride in her long hair. She doesn't seem the vain sort except for when it comes to her hair. And even if she is vain about it, there's no indication it's anything besides a private vanity. The wife apparently has been coveting expensive hair combs as well. The husband, Jim, takes extraordinary pride in the family watch. The narrator uses exaggeration when discussing the woman's long hair and the man's gold watch. I didn't love the narrator. In fact, I think the narrator is a distraction. He won't let the reader forget for a moment that this is a precious story.
Now, there were two possessions of the James Dillingham Youngs in which they both took a mighty pride. One was Jim's gold watch that had been his father's and his grandfather's. The other was Della's hair. Had the queen of Sheba lived in the flat across the airshaft, Della would have let her hair hang out the window some day to dry just to depreciate Her Majesty's jewels and gifts. Had King Solomon been the janitor, with all his treasures piled up in the basement, Jim would have pulled out his watch every time he passed, just to see him pluck at his beard from envy.
The wife can't afford a gift for her husband. The husband can't afford a gift the wife. The wife knows this--or should know this. The husband knows this--or should know this. The wife has saved $1.87. The husband might have saved a small sum as well. Readers don't know one way or the other. Both husband and wife will have something to offer the other, however. Something more than love. For both have decided--quite independently--to give sacrificially. To give up what they supposedly value most: her hair, his watch. And this giving up wasn't to support the family, but, to support the other's vanity.

I think actions can speak more than words. I think the narration took away some of my enjoyment of this one. It felt odd at times. There were sentences that were eloquent and refined and then it would slip into something else.
"It's sold, I tell you--sold and gone, too. It's Christmas Eve, boy. Be good to me, for it went for you. Maybe the hairs of my head were numbered," she went on with sudden serious sweetness, "but nobody could ever count my love for you. Shall I put the chops on, Jim?"
I think I like the adaptations better.

The Tailor of Gloucester. Beatrix Potter. 1903. 58 pages. [Source: Library] 
In the time of swords and periwigs and full-skirted coats with flowered lappets—when gentlemen wore ruffles, and gold-laced waistcoats of paduasoy and taffeta—there lived a tailor in Gloucester.
He sat in the window of a little shop in Westgate Street, cross-legged on a table, from morning till dark.
All day long while the light lasted he sewed and snippeted, piecing out his satin and pompadour, and lutestring; stuffs had strange names, and were very expensive in the days of the Tailor of Gloucester.
I enjoyed rereading Beatrix Potter's The Tailor of Glouchester. In this delightful Christmas tale, readers meet a tailor, a cat named Simpkin, and some lovely mice. It is several days before Christmas. He's working hard to finish a coat and waistcoat for the Mayor of Glouchester. The Mayor is getting married on Christmas day. The tailor has just enough money to finish the coat. Not a penny to spare. He sends his cat, Simpkin, with his money to buy what he needs: a little for himself (food: bread, sausage, milk) a little for his work (one twist of cherry-coloured silk). It is only after the fact that he questions whether he should have sent the cat or gone himself. The cat returns, but, in a mood. The cat is upset for he's discovered that the tailor freed the mice he had captured and hid under the teacups. The cat hides the twist. The man is upset, of course, and sick. He takes to his bed unable to work. The oh-so-thankful mice go to his shop and finish his work for him. But since they are one twist short, they are unable to finish completely. Still, they do what they can, and they do a wonderful job. The cat who spies them at work, I believe, has a change of heart and gives the twist to the old man on Christmas morning. He has just enough time to finish. The Mayor is very, very pleased. And the tailor's luck changes for the better, and his business is much improved. This one is a lovely, delightful read from start to finish.

Lucy's Christmas. Donald Hall. Illustrated by Michael McCurdy. 1998. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 40 pages. [Source: Library]

I enjoyed reading Lucy's Christmas by Donald Hall. Lucy's Christmas is a picture book set in 1909 in New Hampshire. In the fall of 1909, Lucy and her family start preparing for Christmas. For Lucy, this means starting to make her own gifts for her family and friends. It pays to plan ahead since so many gifts take time, and thought must be placed into each gift. She's not the only one thinking ahead. This year the family is ordering a new stove for the kitchen. The family has spent a lot of time browsing in the Sears catalog. Lucy's choice is the one the family decides upon: the Glenwood Kitchen Range. The focus is not just on gifts: planning, making, giving, receiving. The focus is also on family life and community life. Readers get glimpses of the school and church. Both places are very busy! I enjoyed this glimpse into the past! It was interesting to see the family prepare for the new year--1910. The enthusiasm in the story is sweet. The author's note reveals that this picture book is based on family history.

I really liked this one very much. I liked Lucy and her family. I liked the fact that the church plays such a HUGE role in the Christmas celebrations. There are gifts, it's true. But it's not commercialized and selfish.

Baboushka and the Three Kings. Ruth Robbins. Illustrated by Nicholas Sidjakov. 1960/1986. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

Long ago and far away, on a winter's evening, the wind blew hard and cold around a small hut.

Baboushka and the Three Kings won the Caldecott Medal in 1961. It is Russian folktale with a Christmas setting. The three kings--wise men--come to Baboushka's hut. They only stay a few minutes. Long enough to extend an invitation to the old woman. Will she join them in their procession, in their quest, to find the Babe, the Child? She'd love to join them, she'd love to bring gifts to the Child. But she is not ready to go just yet. Couldn't they all wait until morning? Couldn't they wait for her to finish up a few small, tiny chores first? Couldn't they wait for the storm to clear? Their answer was firm. Their journey to the Child was too important to postpone. They couldn't linger longer. She watched them depart. But they were not easy men to forget. The next morning, she begins a journey of her own. A journey that will take her far. But will her journey lead her to where she wants to go?

It's a simple story, nicely written. "It is no ordinary Babe they seek. Yes! I must go and follow them! To find the new Babe, to offer Him her gift, was now her one yearning. This thought burned in her mind like a candle in the dark." It is also nicely illustrated. The illustrations complement the text well. Both illustrations and text have a different flavor, an authentic flavor, but not exactly American. After several readings, I came to appreciate both a bit more.

In case you're unfamiliar with the story, the book is bittersweet at best. While it is true that Russian children everywhere look forward to Baboushka's gifts each year as her journey continues, it is also true that Baboushka's journey has no happy ending. She never finds the Child. She is never able to give Him her gifts.

Polar Express. Chris Van Allsburg. 1985/2009. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

The Polar Express is one of my favorite Christmas books. It is. The book is a thousand times better than the movie. (Though the soundtrack of the movie isn't bad.) So if you've only seen the movie, you might want to give the book a try to. You might have a different response to it.

The Polar Express is about belief and doubt--in Santa. It's told in the first person, so we never learn the protagonist's name, but it is a little boy with a younger sister named Sarah. One Christmas Eve, the little boy is awakened by The Polar Express. He goes to the North Pole on the Polar Express train, there are other passengers too. All presumably boys and girls on the verge of not-believing. At the North Pole, he sees Santa, reindeer, and elves. He happens to be chosen to receive the first gift of Christmas. He asks for a bell from Santa's reindeer. This gift is not in his possession for long, however, because he has a hole in his pocket. On Christmas day, he receives a special gift under the tree: the bell he had lost. He can hear it. His sister can hear it. But his parents do not. The book ends wonderfully with a message for "all those who truly believe."

I loved this one cover to cover, though I love the ending most of all.


© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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19. My Friend the Enemy (2014)

My Friend the Enemy. Dan Smith. 2014. Scholastic. 288 pages. [Source: Review copy]

I really enjoyed reading Dan Smith's My Friend the Enemy. Give me a book set during this time period--World War II--and I'll most likely be eager to read it. This one happens to be set in England during the war! (It being set in England is an added bonus for me! Two reasons for me to be excited to pick it up!) I found My Friend the Enemy to be a quick read, and a compelling one. The premise is simple enough. Two twelve-year-olds, Peter and Kim, find a 'souvenir' in the woods after a German plane crashes near their village.

These two have just met. Kim isn't like any other girl he's known before. She dresses and acts differently. There is something about her that he's drawn to. I think they bring out the best in each other, in some ways, and I think together they are more likely to get into trouble! Kim is new to the community/village. Her parents wanted her to be safer, and they have sent her to live with an aunt. But she's seen more than Peter, perhaps, when it comes to the effect of the war. Her brother is a soldier. His father is a soldier. These two can relate well to one another. So. Back to the souvenir. These two break curfew and risk everyone's wrath by going where they technically have no business going at all. They go first to the scene of the crash, crawl into the plane itself, and then go exploring in the surrounding woods. What they find in the woods that night changes everything. For they find a near-dying German soldier, one of the plane's crew. He is--in German, of course--pleading for help, begging for mercy.

Before, if you'd asked either one, they most likely would have said Germans are the enemy, show no mercy, they're evil, they're killing monsters. But things change when they have 'the enemy' right in front of their eyes. He is young. He looks to be a teenager. To Kim's eyes, she's seeing someone just like her brother. He is not only young, but he's also weak and helpless. He is obviously in pain and very scared. They decide the right thing to do is to show him mercy, to treat him as they would want others--strangers--to treat his dad and her brother if their positions were reversed. They choose kindness. They give him water. They take him to a hiding place. They give him food and a blanket. Not right away, of course. They weren't walking around carrying provisions or anything. What they both struggle with in the next few days/weeks is keeping the secret. Is it right what they've done? They don't feel it is wrong to be merciful, of course, but is it wrong to lie and steal to cover up everything? They struggle with the ethics of it. In their minds, they see it as being a choice between life and death. They feel certain that soldiers would kill him, show no mercy or grace. (They are assuming this, of course. And adult readers might question their assumption.) But great risk and sacrifice is involved in keeping that secret, and it doesn't get any easier at all. It sounded good and right initially, but, what if the war lasts years?! How are they really going to pull this off? What will happen to Erik, the soldier? What will happen to them?! What is best for everyone?

Readers get to know Peter and Kim very well. And, to some extent, readers get to know Erik as well. Though perhaps limited since Kim and Peter don't speak much German, and Erik doesn't speak much English. Readers spend more time with Peter and his mother than with Kim and her aunt. Readers also get acquainted with the community, meeting various people. It has just enough detail to establish the setting. It isn't weighed down tediously by description. The plot moves quickly, and there is plenty of action.

I loved this one.
All those Germans we heard about on the wireless were different. They were not men, they were faceless, helmeted and armed, marching across places I knew the names of but had never seen. France, Norway, Africa. They were airplanes dogfighting over the English channel; they were bombers casting a shadow over our cities. They were the enemy. Our German was different. He was a real person. He was here, he had a face, and he was in trouble. (121)

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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20. Tumtum and Nutmeg (2009)

Tumtum and Nutmeg: Adventures Beyond Nutmouse Hall. Emily Bearn. Illustrated by Nick Price. 2009. Little, Brown. 512 pages. [Source: Library]

I definitely enjoyed Tumtum and Nutmeg: Adventures Beyond Nutmouse Hall. Did I enjoy all three adventures equally? I'm not sure I can say that I did. The book contains three adventures--perhaps the first three adventures--of Mr. and Mrs. Nutmouse: Tumtum & Nutmeg, The Great Escape, and The Pirates' Treasure. Tumtum and Nutmeg are the nicknames this husband and wife have for one another. He is Tumtum. She is Nutmeg. The mice live in Nutmouse Hall, and Nutmouse Hall itself is in a closet (of sorts) in Rose Cottage. The mice are more well-to-do than the humans that reside there. Mr. Mildew lives at Rose Cottage with his daughter, Lucy, and son, Arthur. Tumtum and Nutmeg feel sorry for them all, but, especially for the two children who live in the attic. They decide to be good Samaritans. They will fix what needs fixing or mending. They will do what they can, when they can, to make things better. The children definitely notice. They believe it is the work of a fairy. That's enough of a background to appreciate the three stories in this one.

In Tumtum and Nutmeg, readers meet the mice, the family, the children. It focuses on what happens when Aunt Ivy comes to stay. The dangers that come about from her visit. And what the mice do about it. How they handle the situation. Readers also meet General Marchmouse.

In The Great Escape, the focus is on General Marchmouse. He was captured by the children in the attic. This visiting mouse against the good advice of Mr. and Mrs. Nutmouse became too fond of playing with the children's toys. He was NOT a careful mouse. The children take him to school and he's put into a cage with a dozen or so gerbils. I can't remember if it was a dozen gerbils or twenty-four gerbils. But A LOT. When Mr. and Mrs. Nutmouse learn of the situation, what will they do, how will they make it right?!

In The Pirates Treasure, the focus is on a camping trip gone wrong. Mr. and Mrs. Nutmouse, for better or worse, feel certain that the children NEED them so much that they just have to go along with the children on an overnight camping trip. All might have been well if it hadn't been for that bothersome General Marchmouse. Quite accidentally on Tumtum and Nutmeg's part, they find themselves at sea, or, at pond. They are on board the toy boat that the children float on the pond. They end up--with General Marchmosue, of course--shipwrecked on an island. What will they do? How can they get back to their home? Is the island dangerous?

I like the premise behind this series. I like the characters of Tumtum and Nutmeg. General Marchmouse is infuriating. But. I can also see that he is what makes these into adventure books. He brings the action, and, perhaps also the laughs.
© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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21. The Princess in Black (2014)

The Princess in Black. Shannon and Dean Hale. Illustrated by LeUyen Pham. 2014. Candlewick. 96 pages. [Source: Review copy]

I loved everything about The Princess in Black. That doesn't surprise me. I tend to love Shannon Hale's work. I also tend to love, love, love LeUyen Pham's work. It is an early chapter book. It stars Princess Magnolia, Duchess Wigtower, and Duff the Goat Boy. It also stars some monsters and goats.

Princess Magnolia is everything a princess should be by all appearances. But Princess Magnolia has a secret. Duchess Wigtower loves secrets. She loves discovering people's secrets. On the day this book opens, Duchess Wigtower and Princess Magnolia are having hot chocolate and scones. All was going smoothly, until...her glitter-stone rang. This ring alerts her to danger, the danger from monsters. When she hears the alarm, Princess Magnolia sheds her princess-y identity and becomes the mysterious-clever-and-strong Princess in Black.

Readers get to see the Princess in Black in action. The whole book is just fun and silly and oh-so-right and just-about-perfect. I loved the writing. I loved the descriptions. I loved the characters. I loved Duff the Goat Boy more than I thought I would. I expected to LOVE the main character. I didn't expect to LOVE Duff the Goat Boy too. Overall, it's just as charming and delightful as can be.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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22. Reread #49 Tale of Despereaux

The Tale of Despereaux. Kate DiCamillo. 2003. Candlewick Press. 272 pages. [Source: Bought]

There are so few rereads left in the year, yet, I couldn't miss rereading Kate DiCamillo's The Tale of Despereaux. (I first reviewed this one in September 2007). I've also made a point of rereading Because of Winn Dixie and The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane.

I tend to like talking-mice books. I tend to like animal fantasy when it's well done. And in The Tale of Despereaux it is very well done. DiCamillo is a GREAT author. She is. She has a way with words, with phrasing things just so that happens to appeal to me. She's a good, solid storyteller. Her characters are always unique and memorable. That is definitely the case with The Tale of Despereaux.

Do you have a favorite Kate DiCamillo book?

Quotes:
“Stories are light. Light is precious in a world so dark. Begin at the beginning. Tell Gregory a story. Make some light.”
“There are those hearts, reader, that never mend again once they are broken. Or if they do mend, they heal themselves in a crooked and lopsided way, as if sewn together by a careless craftsman. Such was the fate of Chiaroscuro. His heart was broken. Picking up the spoon and placing it on his head, speaking of revenge, these things helped him to put his heart together again. But it was, alas, put together wrong.”
“Reader, you must know that an interesting fate (sometimes involving rats, sometimes not) awaits almost everyone, mouse or man, who does not conform.”
“Once upon a time," he said out loud to the darkness. He said these words because they were the best, the most powerful words that he knew and just the saying of them comforted him.”
“Despereaux looked at his father, at his grey-streaked fur and trembling whiskers and his front paws clasped together in front of his heart, and he felt suddenly as if his own heart would break in two. His father looked so small, so sad.
"Forgive me," said Lester again.
Forgiveness, reader, is, I think, something very much like hope and love - a powerful, wonderful thing.
And a ridiculous thing, too.
Isn't it ridiculous, after all, to think that a son could forgive his father for beating the drum that sent him to his death? Isn't it ridiculous to think that a mouse ever could forgive anyone for such perfidy?
But still, here are the words Despereaux Tilling spoke to his father. He said, "I forgive you, Pa."
And he said those words because he sensed it was the only way to save his own heart, to stop it from breaking in two. Despereaux, reader, spoke those words to save himself.”

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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23. Challenge Updates

For the Victorian Reading Challenge:

  1. Stand There! She Shouted: The Invincible Photographer Julia Margaret Cameron. 2014. Candlewick. 80 pages. [Source: Review copy]  
  2. Black Beauty. Anna Sewell. 1877. 245 pages. [Source: Bought] 
  3. Is He Popenjoy? Anthony Trollope. 1878/1993. Penguin. 632 pages. [Source: Bought]  
  4. A Christmas Carol. Charles Dickens. 1843. 96 pages. [Source: Bought] 
  5. The Man Who Invented Christmas. Les Standiford. 2008. Crown. 241 pages. [Source: Library]
For the British History Reading Challenge:
  1. A Christmas Carol. Charles Dickens. 1843. 96 pages. [Source: Bought] 
  2. The Man Who Invented Christmas. Les Standiford. 2008. Crown. 241 pages. [Source: Library]
For the 2014 Year of Rereading Challenge:
  1. Countdown by Deborah Wiles. 2010. May 2010. Scholastic. 400 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
  2. Dark Triumph (His Fair Assassin #2) Robin LaFevers. 2013. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 387 pages. [Source: Review copy]  
  3. Black Beauty. Anna Sewell. 1877. 245 pages. [Source: Bought] 
  4. Persuasion. Jane Austen 1818/1992. Knopf Doubleday. 304 pages. [Source: Bought]
  5. A Christmas Carol. Charles Dickens. 1843. 96 pages. [Source: Bought]  
For the Vintage Mystery Bingo Challenge: CHALLENGE COMPLETE!
  1. Where There's A Will. Rex Stout. (Nero Wolfe #8) 1940. Bantam. 258 pages. [Source: Bought]
For the 2014 Chunkster Challenge: 
  1.  Is He Popenjoy? Anthony Trollope. 1878/1993. Penguin. 632 pages. [Source: Bought] 

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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24. Week in Review: November 30 - December 6

From November:
Miracle on 34th Street. Valentine Davies. Illustrated by Tomie de Paola. 1947/2001. HMH. 136 pages. [Source: Library]
From December:
The Tale of Despereaux. Kate DiCamillo. 2003. Candlewick Press. 272 pages. [Source: Bought] 
The Princess in Black. Shannon and Dean Hale. Illustrated by LeUyen Pham. 2014. Candlewick. 96 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Tumtum and Nutmeg: Adventures Beyond Nutmouse Hall. Emily Bearn. Illustrated by Nick Price. 2009. Little, Brown. 512 pages. [Source: Library]
My Friend the Enemy. Dan Smith. 2014. Scholastic. 288 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla. Katherine Applegate. 2014. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 40 pages. [Source: Library]
Love Letters From God. Glenys Nellist. Illustrated by Sophie Allsopp. 2014. Zondervan. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Jesus Unmasked: The Truth Will Shock You. Todd Friel. 2014. New Leaf Press. 238 pages. [Source: Library]
God Has Spoken: A History of Christian Theology. Gerald Bray. Crossway. 1264 pages. [Source: Review copy]

This week's favorite:
Must I decide? Since I can choose only one, I must go with Shannon Hale's The Princess in Black. I think it may be the first 'favorite' of the week that is an early chapter book. It is a great read!!! But I also loved, loved, loved The Tale of Despereaux. I did love My Friend the Enemy and Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla. So many great books in one week.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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25. Library Loot: First Trip in December

New Loot:
  • The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney
  • Go To Bed, Monster! Natasha Wing
  • Jazz Baby by Lisa Wheeler
  • Murder in the Afternoon by Frances Brody
Leftover Loot:
  • The Infinite Sea by Rick Yancey
  • The Upstairs Room by Johanna Reiss
  • Xander's Panda Party by Linda Sue Park
  • Millions of Cats by Wanda Ga'g
  • Her Royal Spyness by Rhys Bowen
  • A Royal Pain by Rhys Bowen
  • Royal Flush by Rhys Bowen
  • The Martian by Andy Weir
  • Invincible Louisa by Cornelia Meigs
  • Bomb by Steve Sheinkin
  • Here I Stand by Roland H. Bainton
  • Quinny & Hopper by Adriana Brad Schanen  
  • The Art of the English Murder by Lucy Worsley
  • What If...? by Anthony Browne  
  • Hercule Poirot's Christmas by Agatha Christie
  • Follow Follow: A Book of Reverso Poems by Marilyn Singer
  • McElligot's Pool by Dr. Seuss
  • Horton Hatches The Egg by Dr. Seuss
  • And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street by Dr. Seuss
  • The King's Stilts by Dr. Seuss
  • The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins by Dr. Seuss
  • The Daring Ladies of Lowell by Kate Alcott
  • Train by Judi Abbot
  •  The Time Traveler's Almanac ed. by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer
  • A Great and Glorious Adventure by Gordon Corrigan 
  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.   

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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