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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. Sky Jumpers: Forbidden Flats (2014)

The Forbidden Flats (Sky Jumpers #2) Peggy Eddleman. 2014. Random House. 288 pages. [Source: Review copy]

In the first book, Sky Jumpers, readers are introduced to Hope, Aaren, and Brock. Three kids who risked their lives to save their community of White Rock. Bandits had come, threatened everyone, threatened to steal the drugs that keep them safe from a deadly plague. Against all odds, these three manage it all. They take risks. They take chances. They face the elements. They cling to hope. They think of the people they love whom they are trying to save. It's an intriguing, dramatic read.

In the second, Hope, Brock, and Aaren will have to do it all over again. The world-saving. Not from bandits, mind you. An earthquake has occurred. This quake changes their community. It opens up a crevice, I believe, that releases gases into the air which interact with the Bomb's Breath. Life as they knew it is over. The Bomb's Breath is dropping lower and lower and lower day by day. Within a month, their community will lose its healthy pocket of air. But there is a tiny bit of hope. One of the adults knows of a mineral (or metal?) that can counteract and reverse everything. Their town can be saved if a) they send a team to a far-away community in the Rocky mountains b) if the team is able to travel to the town and back within the time period c) if the trade goes well in the first place. They send adults. They send kids. It's a good thing they send kids. Their guide is Luke. And for better or worse, Luke seems to dominate most of this book. Luke and Hope. The book is their journey to and from. Will they be able to save White Rock?

Did I love The Forbbiden Flats as much as I loved the first novel in the series? No. Not really. I wanted to. I did. But I was a bit disappointed in the sequel.

As the title suggests, this one takes place almost exclusively out of the community of White Rock. As this group travels together new communities and settings are introduced. We get a glimpse here. We get a glimpse there. Nothing deep or substantive. Mainly what the book is about is Hope's newfound interest in rocks. Do you enjoy reading about a person who becomes passionately interested in rocks? I wasn't. The main relationship focus of this book is between Hope, the heroine, and Luke, the guide they hire. Hope's relationships with Brock and Aaren are less important, I'd say. Hope has struggled with belonging in her own community, and, I suppose this book is suggesting that maybe Hope will one day choose differently, that she may find where she belongs someplace out there.

So I said I was disappointed. That doesn't mean I hated it. That doesn't mean I disliked it. It means I didn't love, love, love it the same way as the first book.
© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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2. Magic in the Mix (2014)

Magic in the Mix. Annie Barrows. 2014. Bloomsbury. 288 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Magic in the Mix is the sequel to Magic Half. I enjoyed both Magic Half and Magic in the Mix. Both books star Miri, a middle child. In the first book, Magic Half, Miri travels back in time and "rescues" Molly, a girl living in 1935. Molly fits right in with Miri's family when the two return. In fact, Miri and Molly are the only two that remember Molly's true origin. To everyone else, Miri and Molly are twins. Molly has always been a part of their family. In the second book, Molly and Miri do more time traveling. First, they travel back in time to 1918. Molly recognizes her mother, Maudie, and her aunt, Flo. The two are teens. Flo sees Molly and Miri as unwelcome intruders--gypsies, she calls them. Maudie, on the other hand, while still thinking of them as gypsies, sees them as potential friends. Second, they travel back in time to the Civil War era. I'm not exactly sure the book names a year. If it does, I can't recall it. Here's where everything turns tricksy. Molly and Miri aren't the only ones doing time travel. (view spoiler)

I liked the book fine. However, there were several things that didn't charm me. I don't necessarily enjoy the family scenes. I don't know about the two youngest, but the oldest four children are irresponsible, disobedient, and disrespectful. All of the children are rude and insult one another. I didn't like some of the phrases they use. The children think absolutely nothing of lying and sneaking around. The dad. Has he had even a sentence or two in either book that could count as characterization? The mom. On the one hand, her children are always, always doing something they shouldn't be, and are very proud of the fact. But she seems to have only one tone: angry. The time travel also seemed even less realistic to me. I'm not sure how either girl managed to fool anyone in the Civil War era. (Rolling up your pants so they just see your T-shirt doesn't seem very a very authentic way of passing, even if you go the extra step and take off your glasses.)

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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3. The Night Gardener (2014)

The Night Gardener. Jonathan Auxier. 2014. Abrams. 350 pages. [Source: Library]

I loved, loved, LOVED Jonathan Auxier's The Night Gardener. It may just be my favorite new book published in 2014. I loved so many things about it: the atmospheric setting, the creepy world-building, the storytelling, the writing, and the characterization. (Yes, those overlap, I imagine.) I could just say that I loved all the elements of this one; that I loved it absolutely from cover to cover. (Which does more justice for the book?)

Here's how the story opens. I'm curious if it will grab you like it did me!
The calendar said early March, but the smell in the air said late October. A crisp sun shone over Cellar Hollow, melting the final bits of ice from the bare trees. Steam rose from the soil like a phantom, carrying with it a whisper of autumn smoke that had been lying dormant in the frosty underground. Squinting through the trees, you could just make out the winding path that ran from the village all the way to the woods in the south. People seldom traveled in that direction, but on this March-morning-that-felt-like-October, a horse and cart rattled down the road. It was a fish cart with a broken back wheel and no fish. Riding atop the bench were two children, a girl and a boy, both with striking red hair. The girl was named Molly, and the boy, her brother, was Kip. And they were riding to their deaths. This, at least, was what Molly had been told by no fewer than a dozen people as they traveled from farm to farm in search of the Windsor estate.
I loved Molly and Kip. It wasn't that either protagonist was perfect. It was that I felt both were oh-so-human. These two do find the Windsor estate. And they do manage to stay on as help. Even though they don't necessarily receive wages--just room and board. This country estate is...well, I don't want to spoil it. But the people who warned them to stay away from the estate, from the sour woods, well they had good intentions. The book is creepy in all the right ways. It is a WONDERFUL read if you love rich, detailed storytelling.

I also loved Hester Kettle. She is the old woman--Kip thought she was a witch at first glance--who tells them the directions to the estate. She also proves to be a friend and kindred spirit. She is, like Molly, a story-teller.
Hester touched the button, "Funny things, wishes. You can't hold'em in your hand, and yet just one could unmake the world." She looked up at Molly. (214)
"You asked me for a story; now you call it a lie." She folded her arms. "So tell me, then: What marks the difference between the two?"
Agitated as she was, Molly couldn't help but consider the question. It was something she had asked herself in one form or another many times in her life. Still, Molly could tell the difference between the two as easily as she could tell hot from cold--a lie put a sting in her throat that made the words catch. It had been some time, however, since she had felt that sting. "A lie hurts people," she finally answered. "A story helps 'em."
"True enough! But helps them do what?" She wagged a finger. "That's the real question..." (214)
I loved the story. I loved the pacing. It was a great read!!! Definitely recommended!

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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4. Silver Like Dust

Silver Like Dust. Kimi Cunningham Grant. 2012. Pegasus. 288 pages. [Source: Library]

Silver Like Dust focuses on the relationship of a grandmother and granddaughter. The author--the granddaughter--wants to strengthen her relationship with her grandmother. At the start, she feels like she barely knows her. She knows a few things, perhaps, but not in a real-enough way. For example, she knows that her grandmother spent world war 2 in an internment camp. She knows that that is where her grandparents met, and also where her uncle was born. But her grandmother has never talked about the past, about the war, about her growing-up years. In fact, her grandmother has always been a private, quiet person. So she focuses her attention and begins to do things intentionally. She sets out to get to know her grandmother, she sets out to get the story, the real story. The book isn't just telling readers about the grandmother's experiences in the 1940s. The book is telling readers about the process, the journey, to getting to the story. That was unique, I thought. Not every nonfiction book lets readers in behind the scenes. I also thought it kept the book personal. This is very much family history, taking an interest in your family, in the past, of making sense of it all.

I found it an interesting read.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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5. A Tale of Two Cities (1854)

A Tale of Two Cities. Charles Dickens. 1854/2003. Bantam Classics. 382 pages. [Source: Bought]

I didn't love A Tale of Two Cities. Or should I say I didn't love it as much as I hoped I would OR even thought I would. A Tale of Two Cities is definitely a subject-driven novel. The focus, I would even say sole focus, is on the French Revolution. We meet individual characters within that setting, to make the French Revolution more personal, perhaps, but, in my opinion, Dickens characterization is not as strong in A Tale of Two Cities as it is in some of his other novels. That doesn't mean his characters are not memorable. In fact, I imagine that there are at least two or three characters in this one that are very memorable indeed. A Tale of Two Cities is also a very heavy novel thematically. It's just dark and oppressive. Dickens won't be bringing any smiles to readers in this one. Personally, I love it when Dickens makes me laugh!

The novel begins with a reunion. A daughter, Lucie Manette, learns that the father she has long presumed to be dead is, in fact, alive. His existence seems to be news to quite a few people. Lucie Manette and Mr. Jarvis Lorry travel to France from England to meet him and bring him back. The name of this section is "Recalled to Life." And it's a very fitting title, in my opinion. Lorry and Lucie never really learn the whole story, all the ugly details of the past. Seeing Lucie with her father reminded me--in a good way--of the relationship between Jean Valjean and Cosette.

The second book, "The Golden Thread," introduces readers to Charles Darnay and Sydney Carton. These two men become very well known to Dr. Manette and his daughter. Both men love and admire her, as you would expect. But she can only love one of them, and, her heart belongs to Charles. Of course, this is a very simple summary!

The third book is "The Track of A Storm." Let's just say, Dickens can do bleakity-bleak. This book follows Charles Darnay into France during the early days of the French Revolution. I had a hard time reading this section, because I didn't want to experience it. Darnay is NOT alone in France. And he's far from forgotten. Dr. Manette and his daughter and granddaughter are there, for one, and so is Sydney Carton. Of course, there are others as well to round out the plot.

Throughout all three sections, readers have also followed a few people from France, mainly Monsieur Defarge and his not-so-lovely wife, Madame Defarge. I'm not sure I've ever hated a character more. I am sure that I have. Probably. Still, this book made me so very angry in places!!!

I won't talk about the ending. I won't. I don't want to. I probably don't even need to. A Tale of Two Cities left me needing a comfort read as a follow-up.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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6. Week in Review: October 12-18

An Autobiography. Agatha Christie. 1977/1996. Berkley. 635 pages. [Source: Bought] 
The Eye of the World (Wheel of Time #1) Robert Jordan. 1990. Tor. 814 pages. [Source: Bought]
A Creature of Moonlight. Rebecca Hahn. 2014. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 313 pages. [Source: Review copy]
The Madman of Piney Woods. Christopher Paul Curtis. 2014. Scholastic. 384 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
The Magic Half. Annie Barrows. 2007. Bloomsbury. 212 pages. [Source: Library]
Lady Susan, The Watsons, Sandition. Jane Austen. 1975. Penguin. 211 pages. [Source: Bought]
Read the Bible for Life: Your Guide to Understanding and Living God's Word. George H. Guthrie. 2011. B&H Books. 338 pages. [Source: Bought]
A Bride in Store. Melissa Jagears. 2014. Bethany House. 363 pages. [Source: Review copy]

 This week's favorite:

I loved, loved, LOVED Agatha Christie's Autobiography. It was so very GOOD from cover to cover--not dull for a moment. The Eye of the World was a great re-read, I'm glad I made time for it this year. But. It can't really compete with Agatha Christie's Autobiography.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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7. Library Loot: Third Trip in October

New Loot:
  • Sky Raiders by Brandon Mull
  • The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier
  • My New Friend Is So Fun by Mo Willems
  • The Wars of the Roses by Dan Jones
  • Tsla's Attic by Neal Shusterman and Eric Elfman
  • The Plantagenets by Dan Jones
  • Once Upon An Alphabet by Oliver Jeffers
Leftover Loot:
  • Graduation Day by Joelle Charbonneau
  • The Infinite Sea by Rick Yancey
  • Half A World Away by Cynthia Kadohata
  • Tumtum & Nutmeg The Rose Cottage Tales by Emily Bearn
  •  The King's Speech by Mark Logue and Peter Conradi
  • A Cat of A Different Color by Steven Bauer
  • The Carpet People by Terry Pratchett
  • Mr. and Mrs. Bunny Detectives Extraordinaire by Polly Horvath
  • The Edge of Terror by Scott Walker
  • Until Our Last Breath by Michael Bart and Laurel Corona
  • The War of Our Childhood reported by Wolfgang W.E. Samuel
  • The Little Girl Who Fought the Great Depression: Shirley Temple and 1930s America by John F. Kasson 
  • End Times by Anna Schumacher
  • Hero on a Bicycle by Shirley Hughes
  • The Dark Lady by Irene Adler, translated by Chris Turner
  • 4:50 From Paddington by Agatha Christie
  • A Darcy Christmas by Amanda Grange, Sharon Lathan, Carolyn Eberhart
  • Saving Lucas Biggs by Marisa de los Santos and David Teague
  • Envious Casca by Georgette Heyer
  • Through the Skylight by Ian Baucom
  • The Inventor's Secret by Andrea Cremer
  • A Little House Christmas by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  • Ivan: The Remarkable true Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla by Katherine Applegate
  • Fancy Nancy Splendiferous Christmas by Jane O'Connor
  • What Cats Want for Christmas by Kandy Radzinski
  • The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg
  • Wombat Divine by Mem Fox
  • Santa Clauses: Short Poems From the North Pole. Bob Raczka
  • Palace of Spies by Sarah Zettel
  • When Santa Fell To Earth by Cornelia Funke
    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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8. Reread #42 The Eye of the World

The Eye of the World (Wheel of Time #1) Robert Jordan. 1990. Tor. 814 pages. [Source: Bought]

The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth comes again. In one Age, called the Third Age by some, an Age yet to come, an Age long past, a wind rose in the Mountains of Mist. The wind was not the beginning. There are neither beginnings nor endings to the turning of the Wheel of Time. But it was a beginning.

The Eye of the World is the first in Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series. I first reviewed this one in October 2012. I thought the book was promising, that it had great potential. As the first book in a long series, it also serves as an introduction. An introduction not just to the world or to the main characters, but an introduction to the writing style: the details, the descriptions, the narration, the foreshadowing. It also hints at the complexity. Hints. (If you think there are a lot of names--both people and place--to keep up with in the first book, then you should know it only becomes more challenging in later books. It isn't necessarily good or bad that this is so. It just is.)

To keep it very simple, The Eye of the World is a coming-of-age adventure-quest story. It is all about the journey, or, you could just as easily say it is all about the chase. Eye of the World is essentially setting the stage for a big battle between the forces of good and evil.

The Eye of the World introduces readers to a handful of characters. Three young men who could potentially change the world for better or worse: Rand, Perrin, and Mat. Two young women who follow them into danger: Egwene and Nynaeve. Both have significant roles to play in the books ahead. Neither really steal the show in this first book. We learn that both women are able to touch the True Source (One Power) though they've not received training. Both women intrigue Moiraine, the Aes Sedai who has promised to protect them all--to the best of her ability. She knows that the Dark One seeks to destroy these three men, and quite possibly all those that stand in his way. Moiraine and Lan, her warder, will do what they can but they know it will be a continual struggle, a challenge, to stay a step or two ahead of the evil that pursues them.

There are also other characters introduced in this book that I'd like to mention. I love, love, love Loial. He's introduced relatively late in this one. But I adore him! He's an Ogier. There is also Thom Merrilin. He's a gleeman--an entertainer, storyteller, musician, juggler, etc. He travels with this group at the very beginning. There's also a young girl, Min, who is able to a certain degree to see the future. Readers also briefly meet Elayne, Gawyn, and Galad. And Queen Morgase. And the queen's Aes Sedai, Elaida.

It had been two years since I'd read this one. It was interesting to see what I remembered, and what I'd completely forgotten. I liked this one very much upon rereading. I enjoyed so many things about it still.

Quotes:
Not more than twenty spans back down the road a cloaked figure on horseback followed them, horse and rider alike black, dull and ungleaming. It was more habit than anything else that kept him walking backward alongside the cart even while he looked. The rider’s cloak covered him to his boot tops, the cowl tugged well forward so no part of him showed. Vaguely Rand thought there was something odd about the horseman, but it was the shadowed opening of the hood that fascinated him. He could see only the vaguest outlines of a face, but he had the feeling he was looking right into the rider’s eyes. And he could not look away. Queasiness settled in his stomach. There was only shadow to see in the hood, but he felt hatred as sharply as if he could see a snarling face, hatred for everything that lived. Hatred for him most of all, for him above all things.
He was hoping his father had not noticed he was afraid when Tam said, “Remember the flame, lad, and the void.” It was an odd thing Tam had taught him. Concentrate on a single flame and feed all your passions into it—fear, hate, anger—until your mind became empty. Become one with the void, Tam said, and you could do anything.
Strangers and a gleeman, fireworks and a peddler. It was going to be the best Bel Tine ever.
Aes Sedai and wars and false Dragons: those were the stuff of stories told late at night in front of the fireplace, with one candle making strange shapes on the wall and the wind howling against the shutters. On the whole, he believed he would rather have blizzards and wolves. Still, it must be different out there, beyond the Two Rivers, like living in the middle of a gleeman’s tale. An adventure. One long adventure. A whole lifetime of it.
“What kind of need would be great enough that we’d want the Dragon to save us from it?” Rand mused. “As well ask for help from the Dark One.”
“I still think you shouldn’t come,” he said. “I wasn’t making it up about the Trollocs. But I promise I will take care of you.” “Perhaps I’ll take care of you,” she replied lightly. At his exasperated look she smiled and bent down to smooth his hair. “I know you’ll look after me, Rand. We will look after each other. But now you had better look after getting on your horse.”
The Aes Sedai you will find in Tar Valon are human, no different from any other women except for the ability that sets us apart. They are brave and cowardly, strong and weak, kind and cruel, warm-hearted and cold. Becoming an Aes Sedai will not change you from what you are.
But hope is like a piece of string when you’re drowning; it just isn’t enough to get you out by itself.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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9. A Creature of Moonlight (2014)

A Creature of Moonlight. Rebecca Hahn. 2014. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 313 pages. [Source: Review copy]

A Creature of Moonlight is an enjoyable fantasy novel for young adults. Marni, the heroine, is being raised by her grandfather (Gramps). The two live an isolated life, in a way. They don't mingle with the villagers as often as one might expect. Marni, for the most part, is too interested in her garden and the woods. And Gramps, well, he's a lot older than he used to be. Still people come. Some important people. Nobles and such. Some villagers. Now that Marni is nearly grown up, men of all classes are beginning to see her as more than a flower girl, more than "Tulip." Does this make Gramps happy or worried? And how does Marni feel about it herself?

A Creature of Moonlight is fantasy. In the world Hahn has created, the woods are magical and mysterious and more than a little dangerous. There are stories--new stories, old stories, long-handed-down stories--of young women who entered the woods and were never seen again. Marni herself knows one such case. One of her friends disappeared in the woods. But Marni knows the woods. I wouldn't say she feels absolutely at home in the woods. There is a part of her that loves the woods, loves the danger and mystery. There is a hesitant part of her as well, that part keeps her coming home again. As she says so well later in the novel, "You can want a whole slew of things. It's what you choose that ought to matter."

Choices. Marni has difficult choices to make. Does she belong in the woods? Does she belong at the palace? For you see, Marni is no ordinary village girl. Her grandfather was the king. Her uncle IS the king. She is the daughter of a princess--a murdered princess. Neither choice appeals completely to Marni. The novel introduces readers to both settings. Readers see Marni reclaim her place in the royal family. They see her being courted by one of the lords. Readers also see her come into her own in the woods. These chapters in the woods are fascinating in a dark way. Marni learns what happens to young women who WANT to be taken by the dragon of the woods. But is either place right for her?

I liked this one very much. I thought it was beautifully written. There are sentences that are just WOW. The storytelling was nicely done. I liked quite a few of the characters. The characters all seemed appropriately flawed. That being said, not all the characters were given equal depth and substance. Even more characterization might have made this one great. But as it is, it is an enjoyable read.

Quotes:
"But she always kept on until the end. She knew, as I knew, that you don't stop a story half done. You keep on going, through heartbreak and pain and fear, and times there is a happy ending, and times there isn't. Don't matter. You don't cut a flower half through and then wait and watch as it slowly shrivels to death. And you don't stop a story before you reach the end" (11).
"My breath catches. Not just because I thought we'd gone over this, but because as he says it, for one crazy instant I think about saying yes. I think about living with this man, who's always taken my side, who melts me right away with his kisses, who believes in me and my innocence even when he really shouldn't. He really shouldn't. Before I can stop myself, I throw my sewing back on the floor and push myself out of my chair. Edgar rises to his feet as well, wary. "How many times is this?" I say, my voice shriller than I mean it to be, but I push my anger on, fall gladly into it. "What is it with you, my Lord of Ontrei, that makes you think that when I'm telling you no, and no, and no again, what I really must be meaning is ask me again? Could be I'm crazy, but I've no wish to be the stone you step on to reach the throne..." (181)
© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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10. The Magic Half (2007)

The Magic Half. Annie Barrows. 2007. Bloomsbury. 212 pages. [Source: Library]

Miri is the middle child in a large family. She has twin older brothers--Ray and Robbie--and twin younger sisters--Nell and Nora. The family has just moved into a new house, a not-so-new house. Miri's room used to be part of the attic, it is a bit unusual, and not just because of the super-ugly wallpaper. But Miri only comes to realize this a week or two after the move. One afternoon after a horrible fight that ends in punishment for Miri, she discovers something that will change everything. The discovery? A single lens from a pair of glasses taped to the wall near the floor. She looks through the lens. She's curious like that. And that's when it happens. She finds herself in 1935. She meets Molly. Molly's mom is dead, her dad is out of the picture--has been out of the picture for six years. Molly is "being raised" by her aunt alongside her cousins. Think Jane Eyre. That's really all I have to say about Molly's situation! Molly is convinced that Miri is her savior, could Molly be right? Has Miri traveled to the past to save Molly? And what does it mean to save Molly? Does that mean taking her back to the future? How would that even work? So many questions Miri has! She'll need to brainstorm if she's going to succeed.

I liked The Magic Half. I like fantasy novels. I like time travel stories. Is it the best book ever? Is it the best time travel story ever? Probably not. But it doesn't have to be the best for me to like it, to enjoy it. This one might pair well with Laurel Snyder's Seven Stories Up.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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11. Madman of Piney Woods (2014)

The Madman of Piney Woods. Christopher Paul Curtis. 2014. Scholastic. 384 pages. [Source: Review copy] 

In Christopher Paul Curtis' latest novel, readers meet two young boys, one white (Irish), one black. One boy, Benji Alston dreams of being a reporter. He wants to be a great reporter, to write compelling stories. All of his chapters contain one or more of his imagined headlines. The other boy, Alvin "Red" Stockard, dreams of a better home life. You see, Red lives with his father and grandmother, his maternal grandmother. And she can be a bit too much to take. He doesn't even know if it is possible to be on her good side! She seems to always, always be after him about something. And it gets physical. His father is sympathetic, but, kind-hearted. How can he throw his mother-in-law out of his house? Even if she does get her cane after his son? Even if he disagrees with her on most things most of the time? These two boys live in different towns. But Benji's new apprentice-type job as a reporter for a newspaper brings him to Chatham regularly. And once these two boys meet, well, they become close friends.

For better or worse, this book isn't so much about WHAT happens as it is about characters and setting and atmosphere. If you happen to like or love Red and Benji, then you're in for a treat. The two alternate chapters. It isn't easy to summarize what happens and what the book is about. You can summarize a chapter here and there, but, it doesn't really do the book justice.

The Madman of Piney Woods is set in Buxton, Canada--the same locale as his earlier novel Elijah of Buxton. The Madman of Piney Woods, however, is set forty years after the events of Elijah of Buxton. It introduces readers to a new generation of residents. (I do not believe it is essential to have read Elijah of Buxton in order to enjoy The Madman of Piney Woods. I don't. I think Elijah of Buxton is a wonderful novel, and, personally I enjoyed it more than The Madman of Piney Woods. But The Madman of Piney Woods is great all on its own.)
© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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12. Nominated a Picture Book Yet?


There is still a little bit of time to nominate books for the 2014 Cybils.  Children's books published between October 16, 2013 and October 15, 2014 are eligible. I have a few suggestions for picture books that have not been nominated yet.

The Midnight Library. Kazuno Kohara. 

Very Little Red Riding Hood. Teresa Heapy. Illustrated by Sue Heap.

Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch. Anne Isaacs. Illustrated by Kevin Hawkes.  





Naughty Kitty! Adam Stower. 


The Way to the Zoo. John Burningham. 

Go! Go! Go! Stop! Charise Mericle Harper. 

The Mouse Who Ate The Moon. Petr Horacek.

Druthers. Matt Phelan.  

The Cat, The Dog, Little Red, the Exploding Eggs, The Wolf, and Grandma. Diane and Christyan Fox.

Red Panda's Candy Apples. Ruth Paul.  

Mighty Dads. Joan Holub.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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13. An Autobiography Agatha Christie

An Autobiography. Agatha Christie. 1977/1996. Berkley. 635 pages. [Source: Bought]

Agatha Christie's autobiography has been on my tbr pile for years now. I have looked forward to reading it for so long! I must admit the length had me a little intimidated. But once I started reading this one, I found myself completely absorbed in it. It is truly a fascinating read cover to cover. I think this one could prove appealing to a variety of readers.

Do you love history? I found Agatha Christie's Autobiography to be fascinating. This book is rich in details. Readers learn in great detail about her family and her growing up years. What Christie is describing is a way of life, and the way she saw the world around her. Her thoughts on her parents, grandparents, siblings, the family servants--the cook and the maids and nannies. You get a real sense of what it was to be a child (and teen) growing up in England in the 1890s and 1900s. She was "out" (ready to date) a year or two (or even three) before World War I began.

Are you interested in World War I? in World War II? Christie details what life was like during the war years. She was a nurse for a great part of World War I. She also assisted in dispensing drugs. She fell in love and got married during this time. During World War II she again did her part in the war effort. I believe volunteering in a hospital. She was in and around London during the War. She recalls how she rarely (if ever) took shelter during the raids because she was afraid of being buried alive under all the rubble. She had a grown daughter by that point. A daughter who fell in love, got married, and had a child during this time.
England was at war. It had come. I can hardly express the difference between our feelings then and now. Now we might be horrified, perhaps surprised, but not really astonished that war should come, because we are all conscious that war does come; that it has come in the past and that, at any moment, it might come again. But in 1914 there had been no war for--how long? Fifty years--more? True, there had been the "Great Boer War," and skirmishes on the Northwest frontier, but those had not been wars involving one's own country--they had been large army exercises, as it were; the maintenance of power in far places. This was different--we were at war with Germany. (257)
Are you interested in archaeology? in world-traveling? She spends a good deal of time recalling her travels around the world. She accompanied her first husband on an extended trip--covering several continents. (She left her (quite young) daughter with her mother and sister.) After her divorce--he fell in love with another woman and blamed her for it--she traveled on her own. On one of her trips to the Middle East, she met the man who would become her second husband. He was an archaeologist. While she did not stay with him the duration of all of his digs, she accompanied him on some, and visited on others. Readers learn that Christie LOVED, LOVED, LOVED to travel.

Are you a rehab addict? Christie loved looking at houses, buying houses in need of repair, fixing them up, renting them out, and selling them. She owned many properties at various points in her life. I believe the book said she owned eight during World War II. The book talks about her remodeling and redesigning houses.

Are you interested in writing, in her writing life? You'll find plenty to delight you within her autobiography. She talks about different sides of her writing life. Her novels. Her mystery novels. Her plays. Her short stories. Her poems. She talks about her mistakes and successes. Readers learn about which books she liked best and which book she really, really hated!
It was while I was working in the dispensary that I first conceived the idea of writing a detective story. (289)
People never stop writing to me nowadays to suggest that Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot should meet--but why should they? I am sure the would not enjoy it at all. Hercule Poirot, the complete egoist, would not like being taught his business by an elderly spinster lady. He was a professional sleuth, he would not be at home all in Miss Marple's world. No, they are both stars, and they are stars in their own right. (502)
Do you love to read? Christie shares her thoughts on her favorite writers and books!

I want to emphasize the fact that you do not have to love mysteries in order to find this autobiography of a mystery writer fascinating! I marked so many passages that I wanted to share with you. Too many to actually share. It would overwhelm any post. So just trust me, read this one!

I will choose a quote which happens to bring to mind a certain song from Frozen.
One of the first things that happens when you are attracted to a man and he is to you is that extraordinary illusion that you think exactly alike about everything, that you each say the things the other has been thinking. (228)

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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14. My Year with Jane: Lady Susan, Watsons, Sandition

Lady Susan, The Watsons, Sandition. Jane Austen. 1975. Penguin. 211 pages. [Source: Bought]

Lady Susan. I've read Lady Susan several times now. This is a quick, enjoyable read. I always forget how playful it is until I'm rereading it. I do have a tendency to dismiss it. The story, the drama, is told almost exclusively through letters. The epilogue being the exception. While I'm glad that readers do learn what happens next, how happily ever after is achieved for certain characters, it doesn't quite feel like it belongs either.

In the novel, readers meet Lady Susan and her daughter. She has invited herself to stay with a brother-in-law, I believe, and his family. Catherine is one of the main characters. She HATES Lady Susan and wishes she could politely throw her out of her home. She LOVES Lady Susan's daughter, however. One of Lady Susan's biggest fans is Reginald, Catherine's brother. Lady Susan can do no wrong in his eyes. His journey to the truth is interesting but frustrating.

The characters in this one are certainly different. Lady Susan reminds me of Mary Crawford in a way, with Mary Crawford being the tamer. Lady Susan is SOMETHING. She belongs on a soap opera perhaps.
Where there is a disposition to dislike, a motive will never be wanting.
In short, when a person is always to deceive, it is impossible to be consistent.
Facts are such horrid things!
The Watsons. This was my first time to read this incomplete novel. I would have loved it if Austen had finished it, I'm sure. It has so much potential. It had me from hello. Unfortunately, it is too brief to be truly satisfying. But in just a few short chapters, I found everything I love about Austen to be present.   
Miss Emma Watson, who was very recently returned to her family from the care of an aunt who had brought her up, was to make her first public appearance in the neighbourhood, and her eldest sister, whose delight in a ball was not lessened by a ten years’ enjoyment, had some merit in cheerfully undertaking to drive her and all her finery in the old chair to D. on the important morning.
Sandition. This was also my first time to read this incomplete novel. I think I liked the beginning of The Watsons more than I liked Sandition. (Even though Sandition is longer. Even though I found Sandition more quotable.) I am glad I read it...once. It was certainly enjoyable enough for what it was.
Sanditon was a second wife and four children to him, hardly less dear, and certainly more engrossing. He could talk of it forever. lt had indeed the highest claims; not only those of birthplace, property and home; it was his mine, his lottery, his speculation and his hobby horse; his occupation, his hope and his futurity.
EVERY NEIGHBOURHOOD should have a great lady. The great lady of Sanditon was Lady Denham; and in their journey from Willingden to the coast, Mr. Parker gave Charlotte a more detailed account of her than had been called for before. She had been necessarily often mentioned at Willingden -- for being his colleague in speculation, Sanditon itself could not be talked of long without the introduction of Lady Denham. That she was a very rich old lady, who had buried two husbands, who knew the value of money, and was very much looked up to and had a poor cousin living with her, were facts already known; but some further particulars of her history and her character served to lighten the tediousness of a long hill, or a heavy bit of road, and to give the visiting young lady a suitable knowledge of the person with whom she might now expect to be daily associating.
She took up a book; it happened to be a volume of Camilla. She had not Camilla’s youth, and had no intention of having her distress; so she turned from the drawers of rings and brooches, repressed further solicitation and paid for what she had bought.
 
© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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15. Library Loot: Second Trip in October

New Loot:
  • End Times by Anna Schumacher
  • Hero on a Bicycle by Shirley Hughes
  • The Dark Lady by Irene Adler, translated by Chris Turner
  • 4:50 From Paddington by Agatha Christie
  • A Darcy Christmas by Amanda Grange, Sharon Lathan, Carolyn Eberhart
  • Saving Lucas Biggs by Marisa de los Santos and David Teague
  • Envious Casca by Georgette Heyer
  • Through the Skylight by Ian Baucom
  • The Inventor's Secret by Andrea Cremer
  • A Little House Christmas by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  • Ivan: The Remarkable true Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla by Katherine Applegate
  • Fancy Nancy Splendiferous Christmas by Jane O'Connor
  • What Cats Want for Christmas by Kandy Radzinski
  • The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg
  • Wombat Divine by Mem Fox
  • Santa Clauses: Short Poems From the North Pole. Bob Raczka
  • Palace of Spies by Sarah Zettel
  • When Santa Fell To Earth by Cornelia Funke
Leftover Loot:
  • Graduation Day by Joelle Charbonneau
  • The Infinite Sea by Rick Yancey
  • Half A World Away by Cynthia Kadohata
  • Tumtum & Nutmeg The Rose Cottage Tales by Emily Bearn
  •  The King's Speech by Mark Logue and Peter Conradi
  • A Cat of A Different Color by Steven Bauer
  • The Carpet People by Terry Pratchett
  • Mr. and Mrs. Bunny Detectives Extraordinaire by Polly Horvath
  • The Edge of Terror by Scott Walker
  • Until Our Last Breath by Michael Bart and Laurel Corona
  • The War of Our Childhood reported by Wolfgang W.E. Samuel
  • The Little Girl Who Fought the Great Depression: Shirley Temple and 1930s America by John F. Kasson
    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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16. Week in Review: October 5-11

The Hiding Place. Corrie Ten Boom. With John and Elizabeth Sherrill. 1971/1984/1995. Chosen. 228 pages. [Source: Bought]
Sky Jumpers. Peggy Eddleman. 2013. Random House. 288 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Howl's Moving Castle. Diana Wynne Jones. 1986. 336 pages. [Source: Bought]
Sniffer Dogs: How Dogs (And Their Noses) Save The World. Nancy F. Castaldo. 2014. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 160 pages. [Source: Review copy]
The Case of the Stolen Sixpence. Holly Webb. Illustrated by Marion Lindsay. 2014. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 176 pages. [Source: Review copy]
The Only Thing To Fear. Caroline Tung Richmond. 2014. Scholastic. 288 pages. [Source: Review copy]
The Midnight Library. Kazuno Kohara. 2014. Roaring Brook. 32 pages. [Source: Library]
Say Hello Like This! Mary Murphy. Candlewick. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]
The Good-Pie Party. Elizabeth Garton Scanlon. Illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton. 2014. Scholastic. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]
My Pet Book. Bob Staake. 2014. Random House. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]
A Bunny in the Ballet. Robert Beck. 2014. Scholastic. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Frances Dean Who Loved To Dance and Dance. Birgitta Sif. 2014. Candlewick. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]  
Druthers. Matt Phelan. 2014. Candlewick. 32 pages. [Source: Review Copy] 
Alexander, Who's Trying His Best To Be The Best Boy Ever. Judith Viorst. Illustrated by Isidre Mones. Simon & Schuster. 40 pages. [Source: Library]
The Way to the Zoo. John Burningham. 2014. Candlewick. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]
The Mouse Who Ate The Moon. Petr Horacek. 2014. Candlewick. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]   
Can You Say It Too? Roar! Roar! Sebastien Braun. 2014. Candlewick. 10 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Can You Say It Too? Growl! Growl!  Sebastien Braun. 2014. Candlewick. 10 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Open Wide. Stephen Krensky. Illustrated by James Burks. 2014. Scholastic. 14 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Bizzy Bear's Big Building Book. Benji Davies. 2014. Candlewick. 8 pages. [Source: Review copy]
The Adventure of Christmas: Helping Children Find Jesus in Our Holiday Traditions. Lisa Whelchel. Illustrated by Jeannie Mooney. 2004. Multnomah Books. 72 pages. [Source: Library]
When Love Calls. (The Gregory Sisters #1) Lorna Seilstad. 2013. Revell. 338 pages. [Source: Bought]

This week's favorite:

There are four books I considered picking as favorite. The Midnight Library is a picture book that I absolutely loved. It still hasn't been nominated for the Cybils, if you're looking for a picture book to nominate. Howl's Moving Castle is a reread. I love this book. I do! Sky Jumpers is another book that I loved. (Though I didn't love the sequel as much as the first book.) If I hadn't happened to reread The Hiding Place, it would definitely have been the favorite this week. But. The Hiding Place is special. It is one of the BEST, best books. It is a must-read memoir.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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17. Reread #41 Howl's Moving Castle

Howl's Moving Castle. Diana Wynne Jones. 1986. 336 pages. [Source: Bought]

 I first read and reviewed Howl's Moving Castle in 2009.

After Sophie's father dies, her step-mother sends away two of her sisters. Sophie she keeps on as an apprentice in the family's hat business. Sophie trims hats. While she's trimming hats and arranging them, she finds herself very often talking to the hats, supposing what kind of person will buy the hat, etc. The shop begins to do well--really well. One person--one witch--notices and decides to act. Poor Sophie finds herself under the witch's spell! Sophie leaves her old life behind, without a word, and goes on an adventure of sorts. Life certainly becomes more challenging for Sophie! But she soon finds a new place to belong, a strange place, an odd place, but a place that begins to feel oddly enough like home. Sophie makes friends in unexpected places.

I loved rereading Howl's Moving Castle. From start to finish, this fantasy novel proves delightfully charming. I loved the characters. I especially loved Sophie and Wizard Howl. I loved the world-building. I love the storytelling. I loved Jones' descriptions. It's just a fun, fun adventure story with heart.

Here's how it begins: "In the land of Ingary, where such things as seven-league boots and cloaks of invisibility really exist, it is quite a misfortune to be born the eldest of three. Everyone knows you are the one who will fail first, and worst, if the three of you set out to seek your fortunes. Sophie Hatter was the eldest of three sisters. She was not even the child of a poor woodcutter, which might have given her some chance of success!" It hooks readers from the very beginning. It certainly hooked me!

I would definitely recommend this one! I just love it!
© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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18. Sky Jumpers (2013)

Sky Jumpers. Peggy Eddleman. 2013. Random House. 288 pages. [Source: Review copy]

I loved, loved, loved Sky Jumpers by Peggy Eddleman. I didn't expect to love it that much. I certainly wanted to enjoy it, to love it even. I always want to like what I read. I was swept away by Sky Jumpers. I found it impossible to put down! I thought the world-building was fantastic. I thought the characterization was so well done. And the plotting too. Really, I have no complaints actually! Everything just works so very well in this one. It is intense and dramatic when it needs to be, and full of heart when it needs to be. It balances action with emotion.

Hope Toriella is the heroine of Sky Jumpers. I loved Hope. I did. Hope is different from the others in the community of White Rock. It seems EVERYONE in the community is good--if not great--at inventing. And since everyone over the age of four is encouraged--strongly encouraged--to invent things throughout the year, to be good at it means that you belong, that you fit. Why are inventions so central to the community? Well, the world has been devastated by World War III. And surviving communities are trying to rebuild and survive. Anything that can make surviving easier, anything that enhances life in the community is a very, very good thing. Hope has strengths. She does. But they aren't useful-to-the-community strengths. She is clever--quick thinking. When she gets in a predicament, she can usually think her way out of it. She is athletic too. And above all else, Hope is a brave, risk-taker. Hope seems certain that the community doesn't need her, that instead of contributing to the community, she's just a burden--another mouth to feed, another body to clothe and shelter. But is that really true? Could Hope's unique gifts be just what the community needs to survive another winter?

Along with Hope, readers get to know Brock, Aaren, and Brenna. To name just a few. I really thought the whole community was developed well, brought to life. The world Eddleman created seems so real, so possible. 

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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19. Library Loot: First Trip in October

New Loot:
  • Graduation Day by Joelle Charbonneau
  • A Little Women Christmas by Heather Vogel Frederick
Leftover Loot:
  • Max's Christmas by Rosemary Wells
  • Morris' Disappearing Bag by Rosemary Wells
  • Papa's Christmas Gift by Cheryl Harness
  • Rudolph, the Red Nosed Reindeer by Robert L. May
  • The Man Who Invented Christmas by Les Standiford
  • The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing by Sheila Turnage
  • The Infinite Sea by Rick Yancey
  • Half A World Away by Cynthia Kadohata
  •  The King's Speech by Mark Logue and Peter Conradi
  • The Tailor of Gloucester by Beatrix Potter
  • A Cat of A Different Color by Steven Bauer
  • The Carpet People by Terry Pratchett 
  • A Time To Dance by Padma Venkatraman
  • Mr. and Mrs. Bunny Detectives Extraordinaire by Polly Horvath 
  • The Edge of Terror by Scott Walker
  • Until Our Last Breath by Michael Bart and Laurel Corona
  • The War of Our Childhood reported by Wolfgang W.E. Samuel
  •  The Little Girl Who Fought the Great Depression: Shirley Temple and 1930s America by John F. Kasson 
  • Tumtum & Nutmeg Adventures Beyond Nutmouse Hall by Emily Bearn
  • Tumtum & Nutmeg The Rose Cottage Tales by Emily Bearn
    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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20. Four 2014 Board Books

Open Wide. Stephen Krensky. Illustrated by James Burks. 2014. Scholastic. 14 pages. [Source: Review copy]

 Time for dinner, Sam. You must be hungry. Open wide for the airplane. Pay attention, Sam. There's a lot of good food on board. 

Two frustrated parents try their best to get their son, Sam, to eat his dinner. I'm not sure which parent has the "easy" role in this one: Mom with the spoon, or Dad with his crazy antics. Sam is not impressed enough, I suppose, by Dad's antics to open wide enough for Mom to slip in the spoon. Will the two give up? Should the two give up? Will Sam's dinner go into Sam?

I liked this one okay. The Dad is certainly silly. And both Mom and Dad are persistent and frustrated. But I didn't love the illustrations. (I liked them okay. But I didn't LOVE them.)

Can You Say It Too? Roar! Roar! Sebastien Braun. 2014. Candlewick. 10 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Who's that behind the bush? It's a friendly lion! Roar! Roar!
Who's that in the treetops? It's a tall giraffe! Munch! Munch!

Does your little one love to make animal sounds? Does your little one love to lift flaps in books? Then this new series in the Nosy Crow line might be a good match. The books are simple, very simple. There are only a few words per page making this one a good choice for little listeners with short attention spans. It can also be an interactive experience if you encourage your little one to join in on making all the sounds. I will say that this probably isn't the best in the series for actual animal sounds. The animals featured are lion (great choice), giraffe, hippo, crocodile, and elephant (great choice).

 Earlier in the year, I reviewed two books in this series. Can You Say It Too? Moo! Moo! And Can You Say It Too? Woof! Woof!

Can You Say It Too? Growl! Growl!  Sebastien Braun. 2014. Candlewick. 10 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Who's that behind the rock? A hungry bear! Growl! Growl!
Who's that among the flowers? It's a pretty parrot! Squawk! Squawk!

This is the fourth book in Nosy Crows' Can You Say It, Too? series. This series is great for little ones who love animal sounds. Also there is a big (seemingly sturdy) flap to lift for each page. All the animals are hiding, of course! Which animals can little ones find in this book? A bear! A parrot! A snake! A monkey! A tiger. You can guess based on this selection, that reading it aloud will be a treat. Plenty of opportunities to get loud and play!

Bizzy Bear's Big Building Book. Benji Davies. 2014. Candlewick. 8 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Bizzy Bear has an exciting building project to do today! First he makes sure he has all the tools he needs. Then he gets started with some measuring.

Bizzy Bear and three of his friends, Eric, Rosie, and Freddy, are all busy building something. When the project is finished, they'll all be able to enjoy it. But building can be fun too. This one is an interactive book for little ones. Little ones can measure with the tape measure. They can saw wood. They can use a drill. They can paint. The book itself seems sturdy. There are a few flaps--some of the smaller flaps--that seem a little less durable than the rest. But for the most part, I think this one was designed to be played with by the target audience.

I liked this one.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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21. Ten 2014 Picture Books

The Mouse Who Ate The Moon. Petr Horacek. 2014. Candlewick. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

One evening, Little Mouse peered out of her hole. She was looking at the moon. "The moon is beautiful," she said as she settled down to sleep. "I would love to have my very own piece of the moon."

I enjoyed reading The Mouse Who Ate The Moon. I liked Little Mouse very much. One night Little Mouse wishes she could have a piece of the moon. The next morning, she discovers that her wish has come true. She is delighted to find a piece of the yellow moon had fallen from the sky and landed on her doorstep. She never expected it. She also didn't expect to be tempted by it, tempted to want to eat it. One thing leads to another, and soon Little Mouse is convinced that she's eaten HALF the moon and the sky will never be the same again... Her friends try to gently tell her that she's just being silly. NO ONE can eat the moon they say again and again and again. Can her good friends cheer her up again?

I love the illustrations. I love "the piece of the moon" that Little Mouse discovers. Readers may realize the truth about "the moon" long before Little Mouse does! It is a simple story that is beautifully illustrated.

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

The Way to the Zoo. John Burningham. 2014. Candlewick. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]

One evening, just before Sylvie went to sleep, she thought she could see a door in the wall of her bedroom. She decided to look again in the morning to see if the door was really there. In the morning, Sylvie was late for school and forgot about the door until bedtime. 

What will Sylvie find when she opens the door? You'll want to read this one and find out for yourself.  (Or you could read the title and take a guess, I suppose!) I loved John Burningham's The Way to the Zoo. It was oh-so-magical for me. I loved the story progression. How Sylvie brings back animals--small animals, mainly--back to her own room night after night. I loved how careful she was with this magic. She always made sure to leave the door closed. But I also loved that there was just this one time when she forgot...

The story is just fun and joyful. I loved seeing what happened next, what animals she brought back with her. I loved the story, I did. But I didn't love the illustrations. At least not as much as I loved the text itself.

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


Alexander, Who's Trying His Best To Be The Best Boy Ever. Judith Viorst. Illustrated by Isidre Mones. Simon & Schuster. 40 pages. [Source: Library]

Can Alexander be "the best boy ever" for one whole week?! After suffering the consequences of eating a whole box of donuts, Alexander sets out to prove that he CAN and WILL be good, better than good, the BEST. His parents and his brothers may have their doubts, big doubts, that Alexander can stay away from trouble for even just a day or two. But Alexander has something to prove to himself. His goal is ambitious, his temptations are many. At home and at school, everywhere he goes Alexander is tempted. There are so many things he wants to do during those six or seven days that are a bit naughty--some more naughty than others perhaps. What will Alexander learn about himself during this week? Is it good or bad that he learned it? Will readers agree or disagree with Alexander's conclusions?

I liked it. I didn't love it.


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


Druthers. Matt Phelan. 2014. Candlewick. 32 pages. [Source: Review Copy]

It was raining. And raining. And RAINING. "I'm bored," said Penelope. "If you had your druthers, what would you do?" asked her Daddy. "What are druthers?" "Druthers are what you would rather do if you could do anything at all." 

I really enjoyed reading Matt Phelan's Druthers. I loved how Penelope and her Dad played together on a rainy day. I loved turning the pages to see what she wanted to do next. Each activity was a "druther" of course. For example, wanting to go to the zoo, wanting to be a cowgirl, wanting to go to the moon, etc. Each druther leads to a fun opportunity for this father and daughter to explore together. This is a book that celebrates imaginative play. It also celebrates family! (I suppose you could also say the book handles disappointments as well.) The book is very sweet. I definitely recommend it.

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


Frances Dean Who Loved To Dance and Dance. Birgitta Sif. 2014. Candlewick. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Once there was a girl whose name was Frances Dean. She loved to dance and dance. 

Frances Dean loves to dance. She does. She loves, loves, loves to dance. But only in private. Only outside surrounded by nature. In front of people, well, Frances Dean gets too shy to dance. Will meeting a little girl who loves to sing inspire her to share her love of dance with another person? It just might! 

I love the illustrations. I do. This is a beautiful book. The story and illustrations are charming. I love how passionate Frances Dean is. This book is dedicated to "all those who live with all their heart."

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


A Bunny in the Ballet. Robert Beck. 2014. Scholastic. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Of the great many things in this world that we rabbits LOVE to do, ballet dancing tops the list! At least it does for me, Desiree Rabbit. But there were NO BUNNIES in the ballet until I came along. And this is my story...

Desiree is a bunny with big dreams. She is a Parisian bunny that wants to study ballet. She loves it so much. Dancing is her life, her passion. She adores ballet. If only she can convince a couple of humans to give her a real chance to learn and perform. Will Desiree achieve her dreams? Will she dance in a ballet? 

This one is a cute read. It's predictable, I suppose. But charming too. I definitely enjoyed some of the illustrations. There were one or two that were just so very right. (I liked the illustrations of Desiree better than the illustrations of the humans in her life.)

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


My Pet Book. Bob Staake. 2014. Random House. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Most pets, you know, are cats and dogs. Go out and take a look. But there's a boy in Smartytown whose pet is... a little book. 

The boy in this story has a book for a pet. It's not that his parents wouldn't allow a cat or a dog, but, that this boy really wanted a pet book. The premise is quirky and not without potential. For some readers, this one may prove completely charming. 

My problem with the Pet Book was not the premise. I found the rhythm and rhyme to be a bit off or unnatural. The rhyming just didn't work for me. And it felt like it was the need to rhyme that was driving the book, the story. For example when the book "runs away," this is the rhyme we're "treated" to:
"He ran away! He ran away!" The boy began to bleat. "How could a pet book run away without a pair of feet?" 
It continues, 
The maid could hear the crying boy. (That sound was such a rarity.) "I think I know what happened..." (gulp) "I gave your book to...charity."
Text: 2 out of 5
Illustrations: 2 out of 5
Total: 4 out of 5

The Good-Pie Party. Elizabeth Garton Scanlon. Illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton. 2014. Scholastic. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Posy Peyton doesn't want to move. 

Posy Peyton may not want to move, but, Posy Peyton really doesn't have a choice in the matter. What she does have a choice in perhaps is how to handle it, how to cope with it. And one of the ways she does handle it is by baking in the kitchen with her friends. (The kitchen is the only room in the house that hasn't been boxed up...yet.) What she discovers is that GOOD PIE is better than saying good bye. And so inspiration comes, they throw a good-pie party and invite their friends and neighbors. Everyone is to bring a pie....

I liked this one.

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

Say Hello Like This! Mary Murphy. Candlewick. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

A dog hello is licky and loud...like this!
bow-wow-wow-wow!
A cat hello is prissy and proud...like this!
purrrrrr...meow

Say Hello Like This! is a fun, playful book to read aloud to little ones. It is all about the animal sounds! It is also rich in descriptive words. (licky, loud, prissy, proud, silly, happy, tiny, tappy, etc.)

I would recommend this one as a read aloud. I love the bright illustrations.

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

The Midnight Library. Kazuno Kohara. 2014. Roaring Brook. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

Once there was a library that opened only at night. A little librarian worked there with her three assistant owls. Every night, animals came to the library from all over the town. And the little librarian and her three assistant owls helped each and every one find a perfect book. 

I really, really liked this one. I still don't know what it is about it that I do like so very much. If it is the illustrations. If it is the premise. But there is just something magical about this one for me. I find myself mesmerized by the illustrations. Most picture books are after all illustrated in more than three colors. (Midnight Library is all black, blue, and yellow.) They are simple too. Yet I find myself spending time looking at the illustrations carefully. I find the story charming. My favorite part? Well, I guess that would be when the little librarian insists that the tortoise gets a library card. The image of him with the book on his back, it just makes me smile!

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

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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22. Excited about Cybils

Nominations are now for the 2014 Cybils. You may nominate books October 1 through October 15. You can read all about it at the Cybils site: the categories, the current nominations, the guidelines and rules.
I haven't nominated for all the categories myself. There are some categories that I just don't read much: the graphic novels, for example.

If you need ideas for what to nominate in picture books, you can browse through my 2014 posts.

October -- Ten 2014 Picture Books
September -- Nine 2014 Picture Books 
August -- Nine 2014 Picture Books 
July -- Six 2014 Picture Books
June -- Eight 2014 Picture Books
May -- Seven 2014 Picture Books
April -- Five 2014 Picture Books
March -- Five 2014 Picture Books
January -- Four 2014 Picture Books

And for early readers and early chapter books:

Eight 2014 Early Readers (September)
Six 2014 Early Readers (August)

I do try to group books together in terms of publication date because I always keep the next Cybils in mind. Next year, I might even start adding the month of publication.

I am also super-excited that Hope is The Word is hosting the Armchair Cybils Reading Challenge!!!

The categories:
I will not be reading from every category--just most of them. The rules as listed on her post.
  • Read as many or as few of the Cybils nominated titles as you care to and write up your thoughts on your blog.  You can do this on a title-by-title basis or in one big ol’ post–it’s up to you!
  • Come back here on the following dates to link up your Armchair Cybils posts:
    • October 15 — your “I’m participating!” post
    •  November 15–reviews
    •  December 15–reviews
    •  January 1–shortlist thoughts
    •  January 15– reviews and thoughts
    • February 14–reviews and thoughts about the winners

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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23. Sniffer Dogs (2014)

Sniffer Dogs: How Dogs (And Their Noses) Save The World. Nancy F. Castaldo. 2014. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 160 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Sniffer Dogs was a great read. It is packed with information. I learned so much by reading it. For example, did you know that there are specially trained dogs who can alert diabetics (type 1) if their blood sugar is too high or too low?! While I knew that there were dogs involved in search and rescue, I did not know that there were also dogs especially trained to search out bones. The book is very reader-friendly; I loved all the photographs. I loved the personal stories about the men and women who work with and train dogs to do very special tasks.

I would definitely recommend this one to readers of all ages who love dogs. It would also make a great choice for those readers who enjoy compelling nonfiction. This book is about dogs who make a difference, and also about the special bond between dogs and their trainers/owners.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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24. The Case of the Stolen Sixpence

The Case of the Stolen Sixpence. Holly Webb. Illustrated by Marion Lindsay. 2014. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 176 pages. [Source: Review copy]

I liked The Case of the Stolen Sixpence. It is a light historical mystery set in Victorian London. It is light on history and light on mystery. But light isn't necessarily a bad thing. This is an often charming book for young readers.

Maisie Hitchins is the protagonist. Perhaps she is supposed to be helping her grandmother run the boardinghouse. Perhaps she is supposed to be focused on helping with chores and running errands and keeping guests happy. But Maisie sees the world differently. She sees herself as a detective, a young detective perhaps, but one with great potential. She wants REAL cases, HARD cases. But the cases that come her way right now come from her own curiosity. For example, she finds a puppy in a wet sack, she wants to know WHO tried to drown the puppy? (And can she keep him PLEASE!!!!) She hears that the delivery boy has lost his job at the butcher's shop, she wants to know WHY did he lose his job? (And can he have it back PLEASE!!!!) Maisy is certainly likable and there are plenty of cute, charming scenes. The mysteries may be "light" cases, but, they matter very much to Maisy.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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25. The Only Thing To Fear (2014)

The Only Thing To Fear. Caroline Tung Richmond. 2014. Scholastic. 288 pages. [Source: Review copy]

What if the Nazis had won the war? The Only Thing To Fear by Caroline Tung Richmond is set in an alternate universe where this is so. It is set in the future, eighty years after the Nazis win the war. Zara St. James is our sixteen year old heroine. She is a bit unusual. And not just because the Nazis are so strict as to what is normal and abnormal. There are a couple of premises in the book: 1) Germany and Japan were successful in creating super-soldiers, genetically enhanced superior soldiers giving them the military advantage. 2) Russia, or the Soviets, never joined the war against the Nazis. I share these details because it is important to be grounded in this imagined reality or future. Both facts are important not only in understanding the past--as created by the author--but the future as well.

Though the eastern states have been under Nazi rule for almost eight decades, there are plenty of Americans still angry enough to fight and rebel. Zara's uncle Redmond leads the local Alliance. Zara whines for almost the entire book on how it is so completely unfair that she's not allowed to join yet. Zara is the only family Uncle Red has left. He's lost almost everyone he's ever cared about. Plenty of people have lost loved ones to the Nazis. Zara refuses to accept that that is just the way things are. She demands justice. Not clinging to future justice when the Alliance gains strength and numbers, but a RIGHT NOW justice even though all the odds are against them.

So Zara's rebellion is strengthened by her odd gifts. To say more would be to spoil the book. To say less would give you the wrong impression of the book. This book is DEFINITELY speculative fiction and not just because it's set in an alternate future. Zara has a unique advantage over most people--an unnatural advantage. I almost wish that it hadn't gone that direction. I wasn't looking for that kind of read.

Romance. What would a YA read be without a little romance?!

The Only Thing To Fear was a quick read. I liked it just fine. I didn't love it.


© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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