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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. I Am A Story

I Am A Story. Dan Yaccarino. 2016. HarperCollins. 40 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: I am a story. I was told around a campfire, then painted on cave walls. I was carved onto clay tablets and told in pictures. I was written on papyrus and printed with ink and woodblocks, then woven into tapestries and copied into big books to illuminate minds.

Premise/plot: The story's autobiography. The concept of 'story' is personified and communicated in very simple, basic terms that readers of all ages can appreciate.

My thoughts: LOVED it. Loved, loved, loved, LOVED it. It's so simple yet so brilliant. Would recommend to anyone and everyone who loves stories and storytelling. It's not just for people who love books and libraries, but, for anyone who celebrates storytelling and communities.

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

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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2. Savaged Lands

Savaged Lands. Lana Kortchik. 2016. 292 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: It was a balmy September afternoon and the streets of Kiev were crowded. Just like always, cars screeched past the famous Besarabsky Market. And just like always, a stream of pedestrians engulfed the cobbled Kreshchatyk. Yet something was different. No one smiled, no one called out greetings or paused for a leisurely conversation in the shade of the many chestnut trees that lined the renowned street. On every grim face, in every mute mouth, in the way they moved – a touch faster than usual – there was anxiety, fear and unease. And only three teenagers seemed oblivious to the oddly hushed bustle around them.

Premise/plot: Natasha Smirnova's world is turned upside down by the Nazi's invasion of her hometown of Kiev in September 1941. Savaged Lands chronicles her life during the war.

My thoughts: I almost loved this one. I did. Why the almost? The love scenes were a bit too graphic for my personal taste. (I like things on the clean side). What did I love about it? The drama and intensity of it. The ugliness of war and the messiness of family life come together in this historical novel. I also thought the author did a good job creating complex characters. Not every single character perhaps. But the main characters certainly.

What did I like about it? The romance. The romance is both the novel's biggest strength and greatest weakness. It all depends on YOU the reader. If you love ROMANCE, if you love romance with DRAMA, with OBSTACLES, then you may love, love, love this one. It wouldn't be a stretch to say this one is more about a 19 year old girl falling madly, deeply in love for the first time than it is a novel about the second world war. If you love HISTORY more than romance, you might feel that too much emphasis is placed on her weak-in-the-knees, heart-pounding romance. Her life is practically unrecognizable, she's lost immediate family members, and all her thoughts are consumed in HIM. All the time it's him, him, him, HIM. (His name is Mark, I believe)

This one has plenty of tension and conflict. Is it good drama? or too melodramatic? I think again this is up to each reader. The conflict between Lisa and Natasha--two sisters--is very real and takes up a good portion of this one. Definitely gives readers something to think about as they keep turning pages.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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3. Anne's House of Dreams

Anne's House of Dreams. L.M. Montgomery. 1919. 227 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: “Thanks be, I’m done with geometry, learning or teaching it,” said Anne Shirley, a trifle vindictively, as she thumped a somewhat battered volume of Euclid into a big chest of books, banged the lid in triumph, and sat down upon it, looking at Diana Wright across the Green Gables garret, with gray eyes that were like a morning sky.

Premise/plot: Anne Shirley marries Gilbert Blythe in this oh-so-lovely, oh-so-charming book by L.M. Montgomery. Technically, it is the sequel to Anne of the Island! Anne of Windy Poplars was written in the 1930s, decades after Anne's House of Dreams. In this Anne book, the happily married couple settle down in their first home together near Four Winds Harbor and Glen St. Mary. 

Anne's House of Dreams introduces many new characters--some of my favorites I admit--Captain Jim, Miss Cornelia, Leslie Moore, Owen Ford. Marshall Elliot. Susan Baker. Who would ever want to forget their stories? Captain Jim's life-book. Leslie Moore's tragic past but enduring spirit. Miss Cornelia. She's got to be one-of-a-kind. Just a truly spirited character with so much heart and full of gumption. Practically everything out of her mouth is quotable. She sure is great at banter!

My thoughts: I love and adore this one!!! I love how emotionally satisfying it is. The Anne books may have sweet moments, but they pack in reality as well. No one can make me cry like L.M. Montgomery.

“Stoutness and slimness seem to be matters of predestination,” said Anne.
Jane was not brilliant, and had probably never made a remark worth listening to in her life; but she never said anything that would hurt anyone’s feelings — which may be a negative talent but is likewise a rare and enviable one.
“I’ve heard you criticise ministers pretty sharply yourself,” teased Anne. “Yes, but I do it reverently,” protested Mrs. Lynde. “You never heard me NICKNAME a minister.” Anne smothered a smile.
Their happiness was in each other’s keeping and both were unafraid. 
“Miss Cornelia Bryant. She’ll likely be over to see you soon, seeing you’re Presbyterians. If you were Methodists she wouldn’t come at all. Cornelia has a holy horror of Methodists.”
“I know we are going to be friends,” said Anne, with the smile that only they of the household of faith ever saw. “Yes, we are, dearie. Thank goodness, we can choose our friends. We have to take our relatives as they are, and be thankful if there are no penitentiary birds among them. Not that I’ve many — none nearer than second cousins. I’m a kind of lonely soul, Mrs. Blythe.” There was a wistful note in Miss Cornelia’s voice.
“Were you able to eat enough pie to please her?” “I wasn’t. Gilbert won her heart by eating — I won’t tell you how much. She said she never knew a man who didn’t like pie better than his Bible. Do you know, I love Miss Cornelia.”

“Our library isn’t very extensive,” said Anne, “but every book in it is a FRIEND. We’ve picked our books up through the years, here and there, never buying one until we had first read it and knew that it belonged to the race of Joseph.”
A woman cannot ever be sure of not being married till she is buried, Mrs. Doctor, dear, and meanwhile I will make a batch of cherry pies.
“I wonder why people so commonly suppose that if two individuals are both writers they must therefore be hugely congenial,” said Anne, rather scornfully. “Nobody would expect two blacksmiths to be violently attracted toward each other merely because they were both blacksmiths.”
The p’int of good writing is to know when to stop.
There’s only the one safe compass and we’ve got to set our course by that — what it’s right to do.
Logic is a sort of hard, merciless thing, I reckon.
“Since you are determined to be married, Miss Cornelia,” said Gilbert solemnly, “I shall give you the excellent rules for the management of a husband which my grandmother gave my mother when she married my father.” “Well, I reckon I can manage Marshall Elliott,” said Miss Cornelia placidly. “But let us hear your rules.” “The first one is, catch him.” “He’s caught. Go on.” “The second one is, feed him well.” “With enough pie. What next?” “The third and fourth are — keep your eye on him.” “I believe you,” said Miss Cornelia emphatically.
Cats is cats, and take my word for it, they will never be anything else.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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4. Ernie Pyle in England

Ernie Pyle in England. Ernie Pyle. 1941. 215 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: A small voice came in the night and said, “Go.” And when I put it up to the boss he leaned back in his chair and said, “Go.” And when I sat alone with my so-called conscience and asked it what to do, it pointed and said, “Go.” So I’m on my way to London.

Premise/plot: Ernie Pyle in England was first published in 1941. It gathers together Ernie Pyle's newspaper columns from his time--three or so months--in England (and Ireland and Scotland). (He was an American journalist.) At the time the book was published, America had NOT yet entered the second world war.

My thoughts: WHY DID NO ONE TELL ME THIS BOOK EXISTED?! Seriously. I've gone all these years of my life not knowing about Ernie Pyle?!?!?! This one was a PERFECT fit for me. I love to read about England. (I do. I really do.) And I love to read about World War II. If you love history, this one may prove quite satisfying. And if you love human-interest stories, then this one will certainly satisfy!!!

I found it fascinating, entertaining, compelling, charming.

A ship carries people out of reality, into illusion. People who go away on ships are going away to better things.
Our bathtub has three faucets, one marked cold, and two marked hot. The point is that one is a little hotter than the other. I don’t know why it’s done this way. All I care about is that one or the other should give off hot water; and they really do — plenty hot. But our radiator does not have the same virtue. It is a centuries old custom not to have heat over here. All radiators are vaguely warm; none is ever hot. They have no effect at all on the room’s temperature. I’ve been cold all over the world. I’ve suffered agonies of cold in Alaska and Peru and Georgia and Maine. But I’ve never been colder than right here in this room. Actually, the temperature isn’t down to freezing. And it’s beautiful outside. Yet the chill eats into you and through you. You put on sweaters until you haven’t any more — and you get no warmer. The result is that Lait and I take turns in the bathtub, I’ll bet we’re the two most thoroughly washed caballeros in Portugal. We take at least four hot baths a day. And during the afternoon, when I’m trying to write, I have to let the hot water run over my hands about every fifteen minutes to limber them up. I’m telling the truth.
My new English friends wanted to know what America thought; and they told queer bomb stories by the dozen. “You’re a welcome sight,” they said. “We’ve all told our bomb stories to each other so many times that nobody listens any more. Now we’ve got a new audience.”
London is no more knocked out than the man who smashes a finger is dead. Daytime life in London today comes very close to being normal.
Some day when peace has returned to this odd world I want to come to London again and stand on a certain balcony on a moonlit night and look down upon the peaceful silver curve of the Thames with its dark bridges. And standing there, I want to tell somebody who has never seen it how London looked on a certain night in the holiday season of the year 1940. For on that night this old, old city was — even though I must bite my tongue in shame for saying it — the most beautiful sight I have ever seen. It was a night when London was ringed and stabbed with fire. They came just after dark, and somehow you could sense from the quick, bitter firing of the guns that there was to be no monkey business this night.
And Big Ben? Well, he’s still striking the hours. He hasn’t been touched, despite half a dozen German claims that he has been knocked down. Bombs have fallen around Trafalgar Square, yet Nelson still stands atop his great monument, and the immortal British lions, all four of them, still crouch at the base of the statue, untouched.
Londoners pray daily that a German bomb will do something about the Albert Memorial in Kensington Gardens. If you have ever seen it, you know why.
Apparently the national drink in England is a beef extract called Bovril, which is advertised everywhere, like Coca Cola at home. Yesterday I went into a snack bar for some lunch. I asked the waitress just what this Bovril stuff was, and in a cockney accent that would lay you in the aisle she said: “Why sir, it’s beef juice and it’s wonderful for you on cold days like this. It’s expensive, but it’s body-buildin’, sir, it’s very body-buildin’.” So I had a cup. It cost five cents, and you just ought to see my body being built.
If I were making this trip over again I would throw away my shirts and bring three pounds of sugar. 
You can hardly conceive of the determination of the people of England to win this war. They are ready for anything. They are ready to take further rationing cuts. They are ready to eat in groups at communal kitchens. Even the rich would quit their swanky dining rooms without much grumbling. If England loses this war it won’t be because people aren’t willing — and even ahead of the government in their eagerness — to assume a life of all-out sacrifice.
Don’t tell me the British don’t have a sense of humor. I never get tired of walking around reading the signs put up by stores that have had their windows blown out. My favorite one is at a bookstore, the front of which has been blasted clear out. The store is still doing business, and its sign says, “More Open than Usual.”
One of the few things I have found that are cheaper here than at home is a haircut. I paid only thirty cents the other day in the hotel barbershop, and since then I’ve seen haircuts advertised at fifteen cents. I’m going to get a haircut every day from now on — enough to last me for a year or two.
It was amazing and touching the way the Christmas spirit was kept up during the holidays. People banded together and got up Christmas trees, and chipped in to buy gifts all around. I visited more than thirty shelters during the holidays, and there was not a one that was not elaborately decorated.
I probably wouldn’t have slept a wink if it hadn’t been for the bathroom. I discovered it after midnight, when everybody else had gone to bed. The bathroom was about twenty feet square, and it had twin bathtubs! Yes, two big old-fashioned bathtubs sitting side by side with nothing between, just like twin beds. Twin bathtubs had never occurred to me before. But having actually seen them, my astonishment grew into approval. I said to myself, “Why not?” Think what you could do with twin bathtubs. You could give a party. You could invite the Lord Mayor in for tea and a tub. You could have a national slogan, “Two tubs in every bathroom.” The potentialities of twin bathtubs assumed gigantic proportions in my disturbed mind, and I finally fell asleep on the idea, all my fears forgotten.
It is hard for a Scotsman to go five minutes without giving something a funny twist, and it is usually a left-handed twist. All in all, I have found the Scots much more like Americans than the Englishmen are. I feel perfectly at home with them.
Pearl Hyde is head of the Coventry branch of the Women’s Voluntary Services. It was Pearl Hyde who fed and clothed and cheered and really saved the people of Coventry after the blitz. For more than a week she plowed around in the ashes of Coventry, wearing policeman’s pants. She never took off her clothes. She was so black they could hardly tell her from a Negro. Her Women’s Voluntary Services headquarters was bombed out, so she and her women moved across the street. Her own home was blown up, and even today she still sleeps in the police station. Pearl Hyde is a huge woman, tall and massive. Her black hair is cut in a boyish bob. And she has personality that sparkles with power and good nature. She is much better looking than in the film. And she is laughing all the time. She was just ready to dash off somewhere when I went in to see her, but she tarried a few minutes to tell me how good the Americans had been with donations.
It is against the law to leave a car that could be driven away by the Germans. You have to immobilize your car when you leave it, even though you might be walking only fifty feet away to ask a policeman for directions. In daytime, just locking the doors and taking the key counts as immobilization, but at night you have to take out some vital part, such as the distributor.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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5. What I Nominated for Cybils

Audio Book: Full of Beans by Jennifer L. Holm
Easy Reader: Moo Bird by David Milgrim
Early Chapter Book: Posy the Puppy (Dr. KittyCat #1) by Jane Clarke
Middle Grade Speculative Fiction: The Adventures of Miss Petitfour by Anne Michaels
Board Book: Cityblock by Christopher Franceschelli
Picture Book (Fiction): Miracle Man by John Hendrix
Elementary/MG Graphic Novel: Alamo All-Stars by Nathan Hale
Young Adult: March: Book Three by John Lewis
Middle Grade Fiction: Paper Wishes by Lois Sepahban
Middle Grade/YA Nonfiction: Breakthrough by Jim Murphy; Fashion Rebels by Carlyn Cerniglia Beccia (one of these got moved from a different category)
Juvenile Nonfiction: Let Your Voice Be Heart by Anita Silvey
Elementary Nonfiction: Nadia the Girl Who Couldn't Sit Still by Karlin Gray
Poetry: Echo Echo by Marilyn Singer
Young Adult: Savaged Lands by Lana Kortchick
Young Adult Speculative Fiction: The Beauty of Darkness by Mary E. Pearson

2016 Nominations by category:

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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6. Full of Beans

Full of Beans. Jennifer L. Holm. 2016. Random House. 208 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Look here, Mac. I'm gonna give it to you straight: grown-ups lie. Sure, they like to say that kids make things up and that we don't tell the truth. But they're the lying liars.

Premise/plot: Full of Beans is the prequel to Jennifer L. Holm's Turtle in Paradise. Both books are set in Key West, Florida. Full of Beans is set in 1934, and Turtle in Paradise is set in 1935. Bean, a character first introduced in Turtle in Paradise, narrates the book. And WHAT A CHARACTER Holm has given us!!! I wish Bean starred in a dozen books! That is how much I love and adore him.

So what is it about? It's the Great Depression and Bean and his family--the whole community, the whole nation--is in need. Bean does what he can to help his family out while his Dad is off crossing the country looking for any job he can get. But it isn't until the end of the book that Bean's inspiration pays off. Until then, he too is prone to trying anything and everything to bring home what nickels and dimes he can.

Bean has two brothers: Kermit and Buddy. He has a very hard-working mother and a MEANIE of a grandmother.

The book opens with Bean trying to determine if the government's visitor to Key West is good news or bad news....

My thoughts: I really enjoyed this one. I'm not sure the plot is wow-worthy on its own. But. Because it's BEAN I was engaged start to finish. The characters make this novel well worth reading. Even if you don't love, love, love historical fiction.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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7. Turtle in Paradise

Turtle in Paradise. Jennifer L. Holm. 2010. Random House. 177 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Everyone thinks children are sweet as Necco Wafers, but I've lived long enough to know the truth: kids are rotten.

Premise/plot: Turtle, our heroine, is sent to live with her aunt and her cousins in Key West, Florida. The novel is set during 1935. And the Great Depression is one of the reasons why she's sent. Her mother is a housekeeper, and her new employer does not like children...at all. She needs the job so she sends her daughter away to live with her sister. Turtle's arrival is a surprise! She arrives before the letter does. Turtle brings with her one cat, Smokey. Her cousins are Bean, Kermit, and Buddy. The friends she hangs around with? The Diaper Gang.

My thoughts: What did I love most about this one? Practically everything. I loved Turtle's voice. I loved getting to know her. I loved getting inside her head. I also loved the setting and atmosphere of this one. One definitely gets a sense of time and place and culture. I also loved the characterization and the relationships. Seeing Turtle get to know her grandmother was priceless. Not because the grandma was sweet and lovely. But because she was just as fierce as Turtle herself.

I reread this one because I was excited about Full of Beans. I thought that Full of Beans was a sequel. It isn't. It's a prequel. It's set in 1934. It stars Bean and his family and friends. It's a great book. But I still wish I knew what happened next to Turtle. I don't doubt that Turtle will survive and find a way to thrive--that's who she is--but I do wish to spend more time with all of them.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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8. To Stay Alive

To Stay Alive. Skila Brown. 2016. Candlewick. 304 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: It is finished.

Premise/plot: I've got two sets of 'two words' that will either compel you to pick this one up or to avoid it. For better or worse. First: DONNER PARTY. Second: VERSE NOVEL.

Mary Ann Graves is the narrator of this historical verse novel. She was nineteen at the start of the journey in the spring of 1846. This one is divided into seasons: spring, summer, fall, winter. Almost all of the poems involve the traveling west and surviving aspect of the pioneer spirit. The landscape and environment do feature in quite a bit. Especially the SNOW.

What this book is not is Little House On the Prairie. This isn't even THE LONG WINTER. People do have tendencies to group books together. That is why I think it is important that DONNER PARTY leap out at you first before you hear of wagon trains, prairies, pioneers, homesteaders, or going west.

My thoughts: There is a bareness to the poems that oddly enough works for me. The narrator does not wear her heart on her sleeve. She's not overly dramatic and sensitive. She doesn't speak of her dreams and feelings and there is absolutely no gushing. (She's no Ann-with-an-e Shirley.)

When I say the poems avoid gushing, I don't mean they are void of description and detail.
The men think they're/ following a trail, a road/ well marked by wheels/ and feet, like a street,/ pointing you/ in the direction you need/ to go. But I know./ We follow a trail of broken things/ tossed from wagons--family heirlooms/ so heavy with memories/ the oxen couldn't pull--/ quilts, spinning wheels, dishes (too much/ dust to see the pattern), wooden bits,/ once part of something rich,/ portraits of great-grandmothers/ who'll spend eternity in the desert,/ watching beasts pull treasures/ while dirty people trail behind.
Some poems are long, descriptive. Others are very short and bare.
this land/ has eaten/ my feet/ chewed them/ ripped them/ cut them/ they bleed/ into land/ that drinks/ them up/ but it is never full
I am so glad I did not read anything about the Donner party as a child when I was obsessed with Laura Ingalls!!!

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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9. Another Day As Emily

Another Day as Emily. Eileen Spinelli. 2014. Random House. 240 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Mrs. Harden nearly died today.

Premise/plot: Suzy, the heroine, becomes jealous of her younger brother, Parker, when he saves Mrs. Harden's life by calling 911 and becoming the town's "little hero." The situation continues perhaps because Suzy's mom can't resist supporting, encouraging, enabling the hero-complex--cape and all. Suzy's friend, Alison, is good for her, for the most part. But Alison doesn't love to read, and, doesn't really enjoy going to the library for tween-time. Suzy, likewise, doesn't really want to be an actor and audition for a play--but she does anyway. So--perhaps unrealistically--the library's tween program meets weekly (or even several times a week?) and has a theme of the 1800s. This library program has homework too. And not even reading club type homework--reading and discussing the same book. Suzy's project is Emily Dickinson. And in light of failure--as she sees it, she did not get a part in the play--she decides to become a recluse for the summer. She only wants to be called Emily; she only wants to dress in white; she will no longer do technology. This phase is worrying to her parents and friends. Will Suzy ever want to be Suzy again?

My thoughts: Out of all the elements in this one, I think I like her friendship with Gilbert best. Though that isn't quite fair. I also like Mrs. Harden very much. This verse novel is a quick read. Suzy's emotions are up, down, and all over the place. She just doesn't feel comfortable in her own skin most of the time. That part is certainly easy to relate to, I think, for readers of the right age. I don't necessarily "like" verse novels. But at least verse novels are quick reads.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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10. Peppa Pig and the Little Train

Peppa Pig and the Little Train. 2016. Candlewick. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Peppa and George are visiting Granny and Grandpa Pig. Bang! Crash! Bang! Bang! "What's that noise?" asks Peppa. "Grandpa Pig is building a surprise for you," says Granny Pig.

Premise/plot: The book is an adaptation of a television episode of Peppa Pig. In this book, Peppa and George are surprised with Gertrude, a miniature locomotive made by their Grandpa. Soon, all their friends are riding Gertrude as well. One of the refrains of the book is that Gertrude is NOT a toy.

My thoughts: I LOVE this episode very much. But the book adaptation leaves a little to be desired. Not only has it been Americanized, but the lyrics to GRANDPA'S LITTTLE TRAIN SONG has been changed for no reason whatsoever. In the TV episode, Grandpa's little train goes CHOO, CHOO, CHOO. In the book, it goes CHUG, CHUG, CHUG. I don't expect the book to include the full song--it has multiple verses after all. But to not get the chorus right is just annoying. Any parent and child who KNOW the show, are going to KNOW the words to the "real song" and want to know WHY the book gets it wrong.

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

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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11. Trains

Trains: A Pop-Up Railroad. Robert Crowther. 2016. Candlewick Press. 10 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Locomotives. The first trains were just linked mining wagons pulled by human or horse power, used to carry coal and mineral ores back in sixteenth century Europe. The invention of the first powered locomotive in the early nineteenth century revolutionized the way a train moved.

Premise/plot: This is POP-UP book celebrating trains. It is an interactive book. Trains don't just pop-up on a few pages. There are flaps to lift and tabs to pull as well. Above all else, this one is packed with very detailed information.

Did You Know?
  • That Richard Trevithick built the first working steam locomotive in 1804.
  • That British trains began carrying passengers in 1829 and American trains began carrying passengers in 1830.
  • That Dr. Rudolf Diesel built the first diesel engine in 1897. 
  • That George Pullman introduced the first luxury sleeping cars in 1865.
  • That the fastest steam locomotive is/was the Mallard. It set the record in 1938 with 126 mph. The record has never been broken...by another steam train.
  • That the fastest train these days is the Japanese train, Maglev. It can go up to 374 mph!
My thoughts: I liked this one. I'm not a huge train enthusiast. But I know many people--of all ages--are. I think this one is a good and fun resource to have. It isn't so much a narrative to read aloud--there isn't a proper story. But it is a resource: plenty of definitions, explanations, illustrations, and such.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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12. Anne of Windy Poplars

Anne of Windy Poplars. L.M. Montgomery. 1936. 288 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence:  DEAREST: Isn't that an address! Did you ever hear anything so delicious? Windy Poplars is the name of my new home and I love it. I also love Spook's Lane, which has no legal existence. It should be Trent Street but it is never called Trent Street except on the rare occasions when it is mentioned in the Weekly Courier . . . and then people look at each other and say, 'Where on earth is that?' Spook's Lane it is . . . although for what reason I cannot tell you. I have already asked Rebecca Dew about it, but all she can say is that it has always been Spook's Lane and there was some old yarn years ago of its being haunted. But she has never seen anything worse-looking than herself in it. 

Premise/plot: Anne and Gilbert are engaged at last! But Gilbert still has three years of school to go, and, so Anne finds herself a job as principal of a school in Summerside. Anne of Windy Poplars gives us an intimate look at those three years. Much of the book provides glimpses into the letters Anne writes Gilbert. But there are some traditional chapters as well.

My thoughts: Anne of Windy Poplars is such a delightful (late) addition to the Anne series by L.M. Montgomery. I love, love, love it. Even if Gilbert himself is absent. (We only see her letters to him, never his letters to her.)

This book showcases what Montgomery does BEST: bring her characters to life. It doesn't seem to matter if we spend two paragraphs with a character or two chapters. I CARE about every character she introduces.

Some of the characters we meet in this one: Aunt Kate, Aunt Chatty, Rebecca Dew, Dusty Miller (cats count as characters, right?!), Little Elizabeth, Nora Nelson, Jim Wilcox, Esme Taylor, Dr. Lennox Carter, Cyrus Taylor, Teddy Armstrong, Lewis Allen, Katherine Brooke, Mrs. Adoniram Gibson and Pauline, Cousin Ernestine Bugle, Jarvis Morrow, Dovie Westcott, Frank Westcott.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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13. Last Day Cybils Recommendations

I can't provide recommendations in all categories. I just can't. Often all the books I've read and would nominate have already been nominated by this point. And there are other bloggers better qualified with last-minute recommendations. NOMINATION FORM. You have all day today!!! (October 15)

BUT. I can do plenty of recommendations in a few categories!


Barnacle is Bored by Jonathan Fenske
My review
I appreciate the fact that this is a book that allows for a lot of expression in the reading. I think it's a great choice to share with little ones. They may just ask for it again and again and again and again. Especially if you add in some effects! I *always* add the song to much delight to my listeners :)

Eat, Sleep, Poop by Alexandra Penfold
My review
The text is simple enough, and the premise is straightforward. But the illustrations say a lot--just as much as the text itself. Each 'eat' 'sleep' and 'poop' shows the progression of growth in the baby's first year.

Louise and Andie the Art of Friendship by Kelly Light
My review
It is so important--no matter your age--that you learn how to resolve conflict! I love seeing this friendship endure the stress of a big argument.


Fascinating the Life of Leonard Nimoy by Richard Michelson
My review
I thought it was very charming and well written. I did indeed find it fascinating. The author's note was great.

The Wildest Race Ever. Meghan McCarthy
My review
This nonfiction picture book tells the wild-but-true story of the first Olympic marathon. McCarthy introduces us to ten runners out of the thirty-two that started the race. This story has plenty of twists and turns. It's never dull! 

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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14. What's An Apple?

What's An Apple? Marilyn Singer. Illustrated by Greg Pizzoli. 2016. Abrams. 24 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: What's an Apple? You can pick it. You can kick it. You can throw away the core. You can toss it. You can sauce it. You can roll it on the floor. You can wash it, try to squash it, or pretend that it's a ball. You can drink it. You can sink it. Give your teacher one this fall!

Premise/plot: Marilyn Singer has crafted a poem answering the question, "What's An Apple?" The text is simple and rhythmic. Plenty of rhymes to be found. It reads pretty effortlessly.

My thoughts: I do like this one more than What's A Banana? Perhaps in part because I LOVE apples and don't really like bananas. But also because I think some of the rhymes are just better in this one. I really like the 'You can smell it, caramel it' line. The books do complement one another.

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

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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15. What's A Banana?

What's A Banana? Marilyn Singer. Illustrated by Greg Pizzoli. 2016. Abrams. 24 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: What's a banana? You can grip it and unzip it. Smash and mash it with a spoon. You can trace it. Outer-space it--make believe that it's the moon.

Premise/plot: The whole book is a poem answering the question 'What's a Banana?'

My thoughts: Marilyn Singer writes poetry for children. Usually her books are collections of her poems. Not one poem stretched to cover an entire book. I have really enjoyed her work in the past, so I wanted to really like this one. I didn't quite. It was okay for me. I don't want my three minutes back or anything. I just wasn't wowed.

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

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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16. Home Sweet Motel

Home Sweet Motel (Welcome to Wonderland #1). Chris Granbenstein. 304 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Like I told my friends at school, living in a motel is always exciting--especially during an alligator attack.

Premise/plot: P.T. Wilkie loves the attention that storytelling brings him. The wilder, the crazier, the better--in his opinion. Some of the adults in his life--namely his teachers--have little tolerance for P.T.'s obvious lies. But P.T. may come by all of it--his love of stories, his wacky sense of humor--honestly. He's just like his grandpa in many, many ways. Essentially, the whole book chronicles one family's fight to keep their motel from closing. They have ONE month and only one month to raise $100,000 to pay back the bank.

My thoughts: The plot is over-the-top ridiculous. There is not one believable thing that happens in this one from start to finish. The characters? Well they fit right in with the plot. I didn't believe in them for a minute. That being said, though I spent the first half of the book rolling my eyes and predicting exactly how it would all end, I spent the second half going with the flow and almost, almost enjoying it. I think it depends on what you value in a book. There is very little--if anything--real about this book. It's no window into anyone's soul. But there is a lot that is comical in an elementary way. And with hundreds of SAD books being published and pushed on this audience, you almost have to like a book that doesn't even try to be remotely SERIOUS.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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17. Weighed in the Balance

Weighed in the Balance. Anne Perry. 1996. 373 pages. [Source: Library]

Out of all the William Monk mysteries that I've read so far, Weighed in the Balance was the one that has proved the hardest going. In other words, I found it dragging from almost start to finish. I'm not sure if it was my mood, or, if possibly it was the case, or perhaps even a bit of both.

Sir Oliver Rathbone has accepted a new case, for better or worse, and it's a matter of slander. He's defending a woman, a foreigner, Countess Zorah Rostova on a slander change. She has accused someone (Princess Gisela) of murder, and, won't back down even though there isn't a bit of evidence against the woman. Not that anyone looks until Rathbone hires William Monk to investigate. But still.
The case is frustrating and loathsome to him. Even after the trial starts, he is clueless as to what to say in her defense. He can't possibly win this case. It's a matter of how big a fool he wants to appear. Should he try to build a case that it is murder, or was murder, but that his client was mistaken in WHO did the crime? Or should he try to hush up the murder-aspect of it? Does he himself believe there was a crime committed? Can he work up a believable motive?

One character I appreciated more than the others in this one: Hester Latterly. I didn't have to yell at her even once while reading this one. I did, I must mention, have to yell at William Monk more than once. Rathbone, well, he always does the honorable thing, and rarely needs yelling at.

Hester has nursing duties in this book. She's tending a young man after an injury, and, he'll likely never walk again. She brings a young woman into his life, a woman first introduced in A Sudden Fearful Death. I do enjoy how the series works. It's a whole world the author has created, and, characters are always reappearing as they carry on their lives. It's nice to see. And it's not something you often see in a mystery series.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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18. Mustache Baby Meets His Match

Mustache Baby Meets His Match. Bridget Heos. 2015. 40 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Baby Billy was born with a mustache.

Premise/plot: This is the sequel to Mustache Baby. In this second book, Baby Billy is mostly at odds with Baby Javier, a bearded baby. The problem? Baby Javier and Baby Billy both want to be THE BOSS and tell the other what to do. Also both babies want to be THE BEST. Can these two learn to be friends and get along?

My thoughts: I liked this one. I did. I don't know that I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED it like I did the first book. But I liked it. The illustrations make this a clever read. It's the little details--often in the illustrations--that bring a smile. For example, when the two compete at running for President.

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

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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19. Mystery in White

Mystery in White. J. Jefferson Farjeon. 1937/2014. 211 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: The Great Snow began on the evening of December 19th. Shoppers smiled as they hurried home, speculating on the chance of a white Christmas.

Premise/plot: Mystery in White may start out on a train, but, it soon turns into a country house murder mystery with hints of ghosts of Christmas past. A handful of strangers sharing a compartment in a train decide to see if they can walk to the next station instead of waiting out the storm on board the train. Two of these strangers are related--a brother and sister, David and Lydia. Not everyone thinks it's a good idea--in fact some think it's horribly foolish. But soon the company finds themselves seeking shelter at a seemingly abandoned house. The tea is hot, there is evidence that someone was there just minutes before, but now no one. The strength of the storm leaves them with little choice but to stay there for the duration. One of their company has already fallen sick--a fever--and a second has injured an ankle.

My thoughts: The book is a very atmospheric mystery. It is just a satisfying read from beginning to end. The characters are interesting and flawed but a delight to spend time with.

This compelling mystery is now back in print. I definitely recommend it!

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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20. The Case of the Feathered Mask

Case of the Feathered Mask. Holly Webb. 2016. HMH. 176 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: "But I don't see why you want to give all these things away, Professor."

Premise/plot: Maisie Hitchins stars in a mystery series for children. In this, her fourth adventure, she solves the case of the feathered mask. It begins with Professor Tobin deciding to give away most of his collection to the British Museum. As he's packing everything up, with Maisie's help, he tells her the story of his favorite mask--an Amazon one. Later that night, Maisie wakes up when her dog starts acting strangely. She feels certain that a burglar is in the house. Turns out she was right, and he was after one specific thing: the feathered mask. Can Maisie recover her memory (the confrontation with the burglar in the middle of the night did not go well) and solve the case?

My thoughts: I really enjoy this series. If Maisie had been around when I was a kid perhaps I would have started reading mysteries before the age of thirty.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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21. Fashion Rebels

Fashion Rebels. Carlyn Cerniglia Beccia. 2016. 176 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Today, we take for granted that Lady Gaga can wear slabs of meat or Kermit the Frogs affixed to her skin and call it a dress.

Premise/plot: Love fashion? Love history? Love pop culture? Young readers (8+) should find plenty to love in Carlyn Cerniglia Beccia's newest book, Fashion Rebels. After a short premise ("Why Fashion Matters," and a short quiz ("Who is Your Style Icon?"), the journey through history with fashion icons as our guide begins. From history, readers learn about Cleopatra VII, Elizabeth I, Marie Antoinette, Dolley Madison, Coco Chanel, Anna May Wong, Josephine Baker, Katherine Hepburn, Frida Kahlo, Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. From today, readers learn about Ellen DeGeneres, Madonna, Michelle Obama, Lady Gaga, Michelle Phan, Tavi Gevinson, and more. In addition, there are special articles and activities. For example, readers can read about "The Story of the Little Black Dress" and learn how to "Try a Classic Audrey Hepburn French Twist."

Each chapter is a few pages in length. Each chapter concludes with a style reference page and some general tips. For example, Anna May Style = blunt bangs, exotic eyes, red lipstick and nail polish, and high collars. And Anna May's Style Tips = comb your hair instead of brushing it. Don't wash your hair every day. Massage vegetable oil into scalp and hair (coconut oil is the best) as a conditioner. The book has plenty of information and some inspiration as well.

My thoughts: I really like this one. I do. I think the layout is great. It's a good reference. Readers may not be WOWed by each and every fashion icon. Chances are they'll be drawn to some, and, feel 'meh' about a few. But overall, it's a fun and appropriate fashion guide for young readers. I really love the illustrations.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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22. Why'd They Wear That?

Why'd They Wear That? Sarah Albee. 2015. National Geographic. 192 pages. [Source: Library]

Sarah Albee's Why'd They Wear That? Fashion as the Mirror of History is a (relatively) quick and entertaining read. Why 'relatively' quick? I read it in one sitting and found it fascinating. Other readers might not find it so.

This book seeks to do so very much: to expose readers (young readers--upper elementary through young adult) to dozens of cultures over the last ten thousand years and ultimately answer WHY DID THEY WEAR THAT? Think HORRIBLE HISTORIES only with a slightly refined focus on fashion.

Is the focus on fashion? Yes and no. Yes, in that fashion is basically discussed on every page. No, in that it is HISTORY that takes center stage. This book is all about building context. Answering the 'WHY' of the title. (It is not focused on WHAT they wore as to possible reasons WHY.) I also saw connection opportunities for linking to art appreciation or even archaeology. 80% of the book is illustrated by artwork not photographs.

I definitely liked that this leaned more towards focusing on history and culture than strictly on fashion. I definitely liked the sidebars. But unfortunately disagreed with the designer who thought it was a good idea to have black text on dark blue. Couldn't read a word of those sidebars.

What I liked best about this one was the amount of detail and research that went into the book.
Perhaps because so much skin was exposed to the drying sun, Egyptians used liberal amounts of oil on their bodies, made from animal fat, olive oil, and other plants. Hair could be conditioned with a paste made from gazelle dung and hippopotamus fat. At dinner parties slaves placed cones of perfumed animal fat on guests' heads. Over the course of the evening, the fragrant grease melted and ran down the hair and neck, scenting and conditioning the hair and bathing the wearer in fragrant grease. Scent cones were not just for the wealthy. Musicians, dancers, servants, and children all wore them as well. (17)
Being a fan of Horrible Histories, I looked for connections. I found plenty!

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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23. Board book: Hooray for Hat

Hooray for Hat. Brian Won. 2016. HMH. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: When Elephant woke up he was very grumpy. The doorbell rang. Elephant stomped down the stairs. "Go away! I'm Grumpy!"

Premise/plot: Elephant was very, very grumpy until the unwrapping of a present. The gift? A hat. But not just any hat! A super-super-crazy hat that goes a long, long way in lifting one's grumps! This Elephant learns throughout the book. Elephant first visits Zebra--who is GRUMPY--and then Turtle--who is GRUMPY--and then Owl--who is GRUMPY--and then Lion--who is GRUMPY--and then Giraffe....

My thoughts: I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED, LOVED this one. I loved all the crankiness. I loved how the giving--or sharing--of a hat, and, perhaps most importantly the support of friends who understand and relate--can make such a big difference. It was cute and funny. (Not all cute books are funny. Not all funny books are cute.)

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

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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24. Hooray for Today

Hooray for Today! Brian Won. 2016. HMH. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: "I'm wide awake and ready to play!" said Owl. "This will be a good, good day."

Premise/plot: Owl is ready to start the day. The problem? Owl's "day" is actually night. And all of Owl's friends are asleep--or about to asleep. Owl is frustrated and sad that no one wants to PLAY.

My thoughts: I liked this one. I didn't like it the first time I read it, however. I needed to meet Owl and friends properly by reading Hooray for Hat! Once I got 'attached' to the characters I went back to read Hooray for Today and liked it much, much better. My advice? Read both books.

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

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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25. Board Book: You Are My Pumpkin

You Are My Pumpkin. Joyce Wan. 2016. Scholastic. 14 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: You are my happy, smiley Pumpkin. My sugary, sweet Candy Corn.

Premise/plot: You Are My Pumpkin is a board book for parents to read to their little ones. Joyce Wan has a handful of board books that are just perfect for this youngest age group. (My personal favorite is You Are My Cupcake. You Are My Cupcake is without a doubt my favorite, favorite, favorite board book of all time.)

My thoughts: I liked this one. It isn't quite as magical as You Are My Cupcake. But it is good. Is it Halloween themed? Maybe. There's mention of candy corn, ghosts, bats, and monsters. But there's also mention of cute little kitties and pumpkins. There's something cozy-sweet about the book not at all scary.

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

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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