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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. Rump (2013)

Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin. 2013. Random House. 272 pages. [Source: Review copy]

What a fun book! I really, really enjoyed Liesl Shurtliff's Rump which boasts of being, of course, the TRUE story of Rumpelstiltskin. From page one, Rump makes a delightful hero in this middle grade fantasy. Here's the first paragraph: "My mother named me after a cow's rear end. It's the favorite village joke, and probably the only one, but it's not really true. At least I don't think it's true, and neither does Gran. Really, my mother had another name for me, a wonderful name, but no one ever heard it. They only heard the first part. The worst part." Rump lives in a world where your NAME leads to your destiny, so, you can imagine that Rump struggles with what destiny has in store for him since it "blessed" him with a name like that. Rump is NOT friendless, however. His two biggest supporters are his Gran, who has raised him from his birth, and Red, his best friend and sidekick who has a Granny of her own in the forest. The situation is relatively bleak when the novel opens. Rump lives in a poor community that is easily oppressed by the king. The local miller dispenses food to the community based on how much gold the person (family) has contributed. So hunger is a part of life for many. One day, however, Rump discovers something in his Gran's woodpile: his mother's spinning wheel. His Gran is NOT pleased that Rump wants to keep it, to learn to use it. Rump gives it a try, and, he discovers the magic within. Yes, he learns he has the magic inside him to spin straw into gold. But what does NOT come naturally is the wisdom on when to use and when NOT to use magic. He has NOT learned that all magic comes with a price. That his oh-so-delightful talent might come with a big, big price that he won't want to pay.

I love this one. I do. I love the narration. I love the storytelling. I love how the story was adapted and changed. I loved that magic had consequences. I loved seeing Rump grow and mature into Rumpelstiltskin.
© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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2. When Christ And His Saints Slept (1994)

When Christ and His Saints Slept by Sharon Kay Penman. 1994. Random House. 746 pages. [Source: Bought]

I've been meaning to read more of Sharon Kay Penman's work for years now. When Christ and His Saints Slept is set in the twelfth century. It begins with the tragic sailing of The White Ship and ends with Henry II ready to be crowned king of England. For readers who like numbers, that would be 1120-1154. It covers the later part of Henry I's reign: his grief and desperation over the loss of his son and heir, his wanting his daughter, Maude, to be his successor; it covers the war--which lasted over ten years--between Stephen and Maude for the crown of England. Readers also get a chance to see Maude's son, Henry, grow up to become "Henry II."

It is a novel with many strengths. One of its greatest strengths, perhaps, is in the wide range of characters or narrators. Stephen and Matilda, on one side, Maude and Geoffrey, on the other. Readers meet the men (and women) who supported Maude, including many of Henry I's illegitimate sons. Readers meet the men (and women) who supported Stephen's claim to the throne. If there is a point to When Christ and His Saints Slept, it is this: war is ugly and cruel and pointless. Readers see Stephen and his supporters--his army--do horribly cruel things in the name of war. Readers see Maude's army do some equally horrid things. One side is not holier than the other. While neither army was as cruel as they possibly could be all the time, without ceasing, year after year, the truth was that England suffered greatly during this tug of war. The truth was very few cared WHO ruled England, so long as England was ruled peaceably and practically. The burning. The stealing and looting. The raping. The killing. The holding of hostages. England was in a BIG BIG mess if this was the best either side could manage.

If the novel has one hero, one "main" character, it would be Ranulf. Ranulf is a fictional illegitimate son of Henry I. It is not a stretch to fit him in historically since Henry I recognized over twenty such sons! Ranulf along with Robert and Gilbert and Miles and Brien, and countless others supported Maude and her claim to the throne. While the novel does focus on the battles, the war, the political mess--it also gives a personal side to the time period. Readers see Ranulf grow up a bit, fall in love, make mistakes, find true love, and settle down to marry and raise his own family.

If the novel is allowed to have more than one hero, well, an obvious choice to me is Henry II. The book covers his teenage years: 14 to 19. The last third of the novel truly focuses on Henry, on his relationship with his parents, with his relationship with Eleanor of Aquitaine. Those last few chapters are far from clean.

I loved how many characters we get to meet and know. I loved that we get to know men AND women from the time period, most of them historical figures, though not all. I loved that readers get introduced to real history. Penman's pacing was wonderful, I felt!

For readers who ENJOY history, When Christ and His Saints Slept is easy to recommend. She gives you enough context so that you're not lost (or at least not lost past all hope!) but it never weighed the text down in my opinion. I admit that "being lost" in a history book is all a subjective matter based on what one does or doesn't know heading into a book, but, I thought she did a good balancing job.


Quotes:
And so began for the wretched people of England, a time of suffering so great that they came to fear "Christ and his saints slept." (171)
If ever there was a woman unable to learn from her mistakes, it was this one for certes. No more than Stephen could. If the Lord God plucked him out of his Bristol prison on the morrow and restored him to power at Westminster, nothing would change. He'd still go on forgiving men he ought to hang, promising more than he could deliver, failing to keep the King's Peace. Maude and Stephen, a match made in Hell. What was it Geoffrey de Mandeville had once said--a lifetime ago? Ah, yes, that Maude would listen to no one and Stephen to anyone. Had there ever, he wondered, been a war like this? Was there a single soul--not related to them by blood or marriage--who truly wanted to see either one of them on England's throne? (281)
"I am truly glad to have you safe, Robert. But tonight I feel as if... as if we'd struggled and panted and clawed our way up a mountain, only to stumble just as we neared the summit and fall all the way down, landing in a bloodied, bruised heap at the bottom. What in God's Name do we do now?"
"I suppose," he said, "we start climbing again."
"How many of our men will have the heart for it?" Rising, she began to pace, "To come so close and then to have it all snatched away like this...it is so unfair, Robert, so damnably unfair!"
"Life is unfair," he said, sounding so stoical, so rational, and so dispassionate that she was suddenly angry, a scalding, seething, impotent rage that spared no one--not herself, not Robert, not God.
"You think I don't know that? When has life ever been fair to women? Just think upon how easy it was for Stephen to steal my crown, and how bitter and bloody has been my struggle to win it back. Even after we'd caged Stephen at Bristol Castle, he was still a rival, still a threat...and why? Because he was so much braver or more clever or capable than me? No...because I was a woman, for it always came back to that. I'll not deny that I made mistakes, but you do not know what it is like, Robert, to be judged so unfairly, to be rejected not for what you've done but for what you are. It is a poison that seeps into the soul, that makes you half crazed with the need to prove yourself..."
She stopped to catch her breath, and only then did she see the look on Robert's face, one of disbelief and then utter and overwhelming fury, burning as hot as her own anger, hotter even, for being so long suppressed.
"I do not know what it is like?" he said incredulously. "I was our father's firstborn son, but was I his heir? No, I was just his bastard. He trusted me and relied upon me and needed me. But none of that mattered, not even after the White Ship sank and he lost his only lawfully begotten son. He was so desperate to have an heir of his body that he dragged you back--unwilling--from Germany, forced you into a marriage that he knew was doomed, and then risked rebellion by ramming you down the throats of his barons. And all the while, he had a son capable of ruling after him--he had me! But I was the son born of his sin, so I was not worthy to be king. As if I could have blundered any worse than you or Stephen!"Maude was stunned. She stared at him, too stricken for words, not knowing what to say even if she'd been capable of speech. Robert seemed equally shattered by his outburst: his face was suddenly ashen. He started to speak, then turned abruptly and walked out. (343-44).
© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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3. Meet Me in St. Louis (2004)

Meet Me in St. Louis: A Trip to the 1904 World's Fair. Robert Jackson. 2004. HarperCollins. 144 pages. [Source: Bought]

Meet Me in St. Louis is a fascinating book about the 1904 World's Fair. I found this nonfiction book for young readers to be entertaining and wonderful from cover to cover. It was well-organized. The narration was great--never a dull moment. It was detailed. If you love discovering "I didn't know that?!" facts, this is one to treasure. I found myself wanting to find people to enlighten. I learned so much from reading it.

Chapter one is a direct appeal to readers. Jackson writes in second person. He wants YOU to join him at the fair. This chapter gives a brief overview of the fair, inviting you to "experience" it through your five senses.
"The giant wheel lurches into motion; you hold your breath and feel yourself moving. How is it possible for such a large car, stuffed to the gills with sixty people, to rise into the air like this? You bravely take a first peek out the windows. Off to the near right, you spot the Abraham Lincoln Exhibit, which houses the actual log cabin where Lincoln lived as a child in Kentucky. Then the rolling gardens and peaceful ponds of the Japanese Pavilion opens up in front of you. A bit higher and you can see all of the Jerusalem Exhibit, a miniature version of that Middle Eastern city filled with replicas of ancient buildings. Can this be St. Louis, or have you been transported to a whole new world?" (10)
Chapter two chronicles the preparation and construction.
Chapter three tells of opening day.

Chapters four and five tells of buildings and exhibits. It tells about each of the palaces at the World's Fair. There was, for example, the palace of mines and metallurgy, palace of varied industries, palace of education and social economy, palace of fine arts, palace of liberal arts, palace of manufactures, palace of transportation, palace of electricity and machinery, palace of agriculture, palace of horticulture, palace of forestry, fish, and game. One of my favorite places to read about was the Model Playground.

Chapter six is a great for capturing the unique entertainments. It focuses on "the Illusions on the Pike." Jackson writes,
 "Plays, concerts, circus tricks--more than forty different shows were staged in all, some in theaters and others right in the center of the wide walkway. Fifteen hundred animals, from zebras to polar bears, lived on the Pike during the fair, and many of them were entertaining performers too. Without a doubt, the Pike was the loudest area on the fairgrounds. Dozens of men called "spielers" or "barkers" shouted into megaphones for hours, trying to attract people to rides and shows." (73) This chapter also mentions Geronimo. "He signed autographs for ten cents each; depending on his mood, the price for his photograph ranged between fifty cents and two dollars. Geronimo would even sell his hat for the wildly expensive price of five dollars--then coolly pull a new one from under the table, place it on his head, and wait for another buyer." (83)
Chapter seven focuses on the debut of the Ferris Wheel, or "Observation Wheel."

Chapter eight is titled, "Faces of the Fair." I thought this was a well done chapter that examines, with honesty, the diversity of the Fair; in many places, it addresses racism and exploitation. The fair, as we've read so far, may have been educational, and it may have been FUN, but, it wasn't always fair and just.
"While blacks were not the only minority group treated with disrespect, at least they were free to boycott the fair if they wanted. Others were not able to protest. Several ethnic groups had been brought from their homelands to St. Louis--in some cases by force. Men, women, and children were put on display so that fairgoers could take a first-hand look at them and, in theory, learn about their cultures. The largest of these "anthropological" exhibits came from the Philippines. Hundreds of exploited Filipinos lived on the fairgrounds in open huts and flimsy thatched cabins. Cramped and filthy, the housing offered almost no privacy. The Filipinos were forced by fair managers to sit quietly while crowds of curious visitors gawked at them; they were also told to sing, dance, and perform other activities against their will. Instead of learning about the Filipinos and gaining respect for this culture, most fairgoers concluded they were a primitive race of inferior beings." (100)
And later from the same chapter,
 "Some people were disturbed by the exploitation of ethnic groups, including a magazine reporter named Laura Ingalls Wilder. Long before the Little House on the Prairie books made her a well-known children's author, she traveled from her home in southern Missouri to write about the fair. Wilder enjoyed the palaces, foreign buildings, and the Pike, but she was appalled by the mistreatment of many of the foreign and Native American people. She reportedly even tried to stop exhibitors from forcing them on display. One day, a young man from Africa was being exploited during a typically cruel stage show. Wilder stood up in the middle of the audience and demanded that the show stop immediately." (103-4)
Chapter nine is about "special events." The chapter covers many such events. But the BEST, BEST, BEST part of this chapter is devoted to the 1904 Olympic Games in St. Louis!!! There were a dozen little things that I found fascinating in this section. At least a dozen!
"Because the Games were fairly new--and therefore disorganized--many bizarre and amusing things happened. After a disagreement over who won the fifty-meter race, two swimmers got into a brawl and just agreed to race again. There was no such thing as instant replay in 1904, of course. And American gymnast George Eyser ambled off with five medals, including two golds, after competing with a wooden leg. He had lost one leg after being run over by a train years earlier." (114) 
And
 "A pair of Zulu tribesmen, Len Taunyane and Jan Mashiani, became the first African athletes to compete in the Olympics, even though they were supposed to be part of the Boer War Exhibit. Taunyane might have won, but a fierce dog chased him nearly a mile off course, and he finished in ninth place." (116)
Chapter ten focuses on the last days of the fair.

I would definitely recommend this one!!

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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4. Phineas Redux (1874)

Phineas Redux. Anthony Trollope. 1874. 768 pages. [Source: Book I bought]

Phineas Redux is the fourth in the Palliser series by Anthony Trollope. Previous titles include Can You Forgive Her?, Phineas Finn, and The Eustace Diamonds.

It has been a few years since Phineas Finn left the joys and sorrows of political life to settle down and marry. (For the record, he didn't really have much of a choice in giving up the politics). But now his luck, for better or worse, is changing. His wife has conveniently died, and there is a new opportunity for him to run for a seat in parliament. He's hesitant but as always ambitious. He leaps for it knowing that he could easily regret it.

It has also been a few years since Lady Laura has left her husband, Robert Kennedy, whom she detests. She is still very obsessed with Phineas Finn. She loves him dearly, she makes him--in her own mind--her everything. Phineas Finn, on the other hand, remembers her kindly but rarely. She is NOT his everything: she hasn't been since she turned down his proposal all those years again. He would never--could never--think of her like that again. He respects her, but, he's content to keep his distance. Her confessions to him are improper, in a way, and prove embarrassing to him.

Lady Laura is not the only woman who has given away her heart to Phineas. Madame Max Goesler still loves him though she's at least discreet or more discreet. At the very least, she has a life outside her daydreams; her social life is active and she has many good friends. She's not as isolated, so, her love for Phineas perhaps does not come across as obsession.

While I was indifferent to Madame Max in Phineas Finn, I grew to really like her in Phineas Redux. Other female characters I enjoyed were Lady Chiltern (whom we first met in Phineas Finn as Violet Effingham), Lady Glencora (whom we first met in Can We Forgive Her?), and Lizzie Eustace (whom we first met in Eustace Diamonds). It was interesting to me to see which heroines Trollope allowed a happily ever after. I was so very pleased to see Lord and Lady Chiltern settling down quite happily. It was LOVELY to spend time with both of them. I still adore Lady Glenora and Plantagenet Palliser together. Lizzie reaps what she sows, but is fortunate in many ways!

There was a new romance introduced in Phineas Redux. Two men are in love with Adelaide Palliser: Gerard Maule and Thomas Platter Spooner. Adelaide, of course, has her favorite. But the other is very persistent. 

In terms of plot: A MURDER. A politician is murdered. There are two suspects. One suspect is Phineas Finn. He is put on trial for the crime...but the evidence is all circumstantial. Will he be convicted? Will doubt and uncertainty of his guilt prevent him from politics in the future? 

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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5. Library Loot: Third Trip in April

New Loot:
  • Lost in Shangri-La by Mitchell Zuckhoff
  • Kinfolk by Pearl S. Buck
  • The Living Reed by Pearl S. Buck
  • East Wind, West Wind by Pearl S. Buck
Leftover Loot:
  • Richard Scarry's Best Nursery Tales Ever by Richard Scarry
  • English German Girl by Jake Wallis Simons
  • Mommy & Me Craft (DK)
  • Mommy & Me Start Cooking (DK) 
  • The Diary of A Young Girl: The Definitive Edition by Anne Frank, edited by Otto H. Frank and Mirjam Pressler; translated by Susan Massotty.
  • How The Beatles Changed the World by Martin W. Sandler
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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6. Week in Review: April 13-19

The Shadow Throne. Jennifer A. Nielsen. 2014. Scholastic. 336 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Starstruck. Rachel Shukert. 2013. Random House. 339 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Mansfield Park. Jane Austen. 1814. 464 pages. [Source: Book I Bought]
A Year Down Yonder. Richard Peck. 2000. Penguin. 144 pages. [Source: Library]
Starters. Lissa Price. 2012. Random House. 352 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man Who Would Cure the World. By Tracy Kidder. Adapted for Young People by Michael French. 2013. Random House. 288 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
And He Dwelt Among Us: Teachings From the Gospel of John. A.W. Tozer. 2009. Regal. 224 pages. [Source: Bought]
Saved In Eternity (The Assurance of Salvation #1) D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. 1988. Crossway. 187 pages. [Source: Bought]
Safe in the World (The Assurance of Salvation #2). D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. 1988. Crossway. 160 pages. [Source: Bought]
The Life of Our Lord: Written For His Children During the Years 1846 to 1849. Charles Dickens. 1934/1999. Simon & Schuster. 128 pages. [Source: Bought]

This week's favorite:

I loved, loved, loved The Shadow Throne by Jennifer A. Nielsen. This series is oh-so-wonderful.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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7. Reread #16: A Year Down Yonder

A Year Down Yonder. Richard Peck. 2000. Penguin. 144 pages. [Source: Library]

I loved A Year Down Yonder so much more than Richard Peck's A Long Way From Chicago. And I definitely enjoyed A Long Way From Chicago! While A Long Way From Chicago was told from Joey's point of view, A Year Down Yonder is told from Mary Alice's point of view. Because of the Depression, Mary Alice has been sent by her parents to live with Grandma Dowdel. Mary Alice has spent more than a few summers with her Grandma, alongside her brother, but this time she'll be there all year long, and without her brother.

While A Long Way From Chicago is fun, in many ways, it is a bit disjointed as well. Each chapter tells the story of a summer vacation. In A Year Down Yonder, the plot is more traditional. The book follows the course of an entire year. Readers get a better chance to KNOW the characters, to appreciate the characters and the small town setting. And Mary Alice is a great narrator!!! I loved her story. My favorite chapters were "Rich Chicago Girl," "Vittles and Vengeance," "Heart and Flour," and "A Dangerous Man." I loved the slight traces of romance. 


I would definitely recommend both A Long Way From Chicago and A Year Down Yonder. Both books do stand alone, but, they do go together well.

I first reviewed A Year Down Yonder in May 2008.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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8. Starters (2012)

Starters. Lissa Price. 2012. Random House. 352 pages. [Source: Review copy]

I enjoyed this dystopian novel. Callie is our heroine. Early in the novel, Callie has to make a tough choice: should she rent out her body for profit and secure a life for herself and her younger brother, Tyler? Or should she continue the day-to-day struggle to survive when every single day brings danger and risk. Callie is older and stronger than her brother. If she goes to Prime Destination, it will be FOR him, not for greed. As you might have guessed, Callie DOES go to Prime Destination, she does sign the contract which allows Prime Destination to rent out her body to others (via neurochip). IN this society, "Enders" find enjoyment and thrills by renting the bodies of teenagers. The two are linked via the neurochip, but it is the Ender, the renter, who is in control of the young (newly made beautiful) body. Callie has signed on for three rentals, it will be the third that will change her life forever...

I enjoyed this one. I did. I enjoyed getting to know Callie AND the "voice in her head," Helena. I am looking forward to reading the second book!

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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9. The Shadow Throne (2014)

The Shadow Throne. Jennifer A. Nielsen. 2014. Scholastic. 336 pages. [Source: Review copy]

The Shadow Throne was the PERFECT conclusion to a near-perfect trilogy. I fell in love with this series from the very beginning. I absolutely loved The False Prince, which introduces the orphan Sage. Our hero is brave, strong, snarky, and clever. Technically, he's also good at lying. But some of that at least is due in part to the life he's been forced to lead for so long. Dare I say it's been NECESSARY lying?! Sage is a character I loved from the start. He's one of several orphan boys kidnapped by a rogue regent with his own agenda. Tobias and Roden are the other two boys. The regent's mad plan is to put an orphan onto the throne, trying to sell the other regents with the idea that this boy is THE LOST PRINCE thought to have been killed by pirates over four years before. Connor, the mad and bad regent, knows his schemes are ambitious. But he's very arrogant, confident that he can do the impossible: train an uneducated orphan how to be a prince in just TWO WEEKS. Sage, guessing that failure equals death, decides he will be THE ONE to win the job that when all is said and done he does not want. In book two, readers see Sage, King Jaron now, on the throne. But this transition has been anything but easy. His regents who are much, much older see King Jaron as a joke. I don't know that they'd openly admit that they regret his return from obscurity. But, more and more are willing to say they regret putting him on the throne WITHOUT a steward or regent to "GUIDE" him until he comes of age. Just a few weeks have gone by, and Jaron's future is looking bleaker and bleaker. Early on, it becomes obvious to Jaron that life cannot continue on as it is. Without his country's support, without his country's knowledge, King Jaron is determined to act in the best interests of Carthya, and try his best to prevent the war from starting NOW. Even Jaron knows that war will come. But war in a few months is better than war tomorrow if your country is as ill prepared as his is. This is the book with Pirates! In the third book, the war has begun. Jaron and Tobias and Roden (not to mention Imogen, Amarinda, Mott, and Harlowe) face incredibly difficult challenges; everyone will be pushed and challenged. It's VERY, VERY intense. I loved it.

There are so many reasons I loved this series.

I loved the characters. I loved how the characters developed throughout each book. I loved how the core of each character stayed the same, in a way, yet how they continued to grow and mature. I loved the main character, Sage/Jaron. I loved the minor characters. They never felt minor to me. I loved getting to know Tobias and Roden. Especially in this final book, I really appreciated these two! I also loved Harlowe, a character first introduced in the second book. Mott is another character I adored!!!

I loved the relationships. I loved how the relationships built. How respect and trust worked out in some of these relationships. I loved the theme of grace and redemption, of forgiveness. I loved the honesty. I loved see Jaron and Mott; loved seeing Jaron and Tobias; loved seeing Jaron and Roden. The friendships in this one are so very, very strong. And this isn't even including the light touch of romance!

I loved the world-building.

I loved the plotting. The twists and turns. This series has so many surprises! The plot is well-paced and a perfect blend of intensity and humor.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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10. Starstruck (2013)

Starstruck. Rachel Shukert. 2013. Random House. 339 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Starstruck is delightful and fun. It is. It is set in 1938 in Hollywood. It features three heroines; the narration switches back and forth between all three throughout the novel. The three aren't always friends. But. They aren't always enemies either. Each girl has a dream, a hope, an idea of how they want their happily ever after to come about. Selfishness comes naturally, but, that doesn't mean the girls lack depth of feeling.

Margaret (Margo) Frobisher (Sterling) has dreamed of being discovered for years and years. She is more than a little obsessed with the movies, with the big stars. When she is discovered, her life will change forever. It wouldn't have to be FOREVER, but, her family makes it super-dramatic. If she signs a contract with Olympus Studios, if she chooses to become an actress, then they never want to hear from her again. No matter what. She can never come home. Margo doesn't even take a minute to consider. To be a star is her destiny!

Amanda Farraday has reinvented herself more than once. She is another hopeful under contract at Olympus. She has not had her moment to shine...yet. She is not as obsessed with BEING A STAR as Margo. I think Amanda would settle for happily ever after off screen. I think Amanda just wants to be loved. Unfortunately, she seems to be caught in a world where appearance is everything and secrets have to stay buried because no one wants to live in the real world. I really cared about Amanda's story.

Gabby Preston is a talented singer, and a fine actress. Is she a great dancer? Not really. And Olympus wants her to SING and DANCE and ACT. To make it big, she needs to have it all, and Gabby isn't quite there yet. They encourage her to lose weight. They send her to a special doctor with special pills. Gabby is enthusiastic, or, as enthusiastic as one can be when struggling. Is Gabby happy? No! She wants to be a big star. She wants a HAPPILY EVER AFTER. And that means a romance with a star. Even if that romance is dictated and scripted--the product of the studio. Gabby has never felt good enough, she's always felt like an almost. Gabby, like Amanda, could use some good unconditional love.

Starstruck also features MYSTERY and ROMANCE.

For me, this series has more potential than Luxe. I enjoyed Luxe, but, saw the flaws and weaknesses with each book. That didn't stop me from reading the series! I read each and every one. I remember liking some characters, hating some characters. There weren't any characters that I truly LOVED. In Starstruck, I actually cared about all three girls.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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11. Mountains Beyond Mountains (2013)

Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man Who Would Cure the World. By Tracy Kidder. Adapted for Young People by Michael French. 2013. Random House. 288 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Some books are intimidating to review. They just are. Such is the case with Mountains Beyond Mountains. The book I read was the "adapted for young people" edition; it was adapted by Michael French. The book is good, very good. The subject is serious, but, the style is personal. The subject of the book is Dr. Paul Farmer. The book is not always in chronological order, but, essentially by the time you're done, you've got a good grasp on who he is, what he does, why he does it, how he grew up, how he balances (or not) his personal life and professional life, etc. The book seems very well-researched and quite detailed. I'm not sure all those personal details were essential. For example, I'm not sure readers need to follow every little fight he had with an ex-girlfriend and how that relationship developed and fell out. I suppose, it was interesting to have another strong opinion as to what he was like to be around on a day to day to day basis, but, was it essential? I'm not sure. 

 The book chronicles decades worth of work, mainly but not exclusively in Haiti. There is a lot of discussion about infectious diseases: how to treat them, how to make the most effective treatments available to everyone, how to decide who gets what and who pays what, etc. TB-MDR, HIV, AIDS among others.

The book has an honest, open approach to it. Many parts are narrated by the author who, over the years, accompanied him various places, observed him working and interacting, traveled with him to various conferences, etc. The author, of course, also was in contact with him at other times through email. The author, again, had access to interview those closest to Farmer. The book definitely reflects this.

I would recommend this one.


© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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12. My Year with Jane: Mansfield Park

Mansfield Park. Jane Austen. 1814. 464 pages. [Source: Book I Bought]

I have read Mansfield Park three times. The first time I found myself frustrated and bored. Where was the romance? Where was the satisfaction? Who was supposed to be THE HERO?! Was it really supposed to be Edmund?! The second time I read it, I found myself entertained. I also found myself falling for the wrong hero, Henry Crawford and asking plenty of what might have been questions. The third time it was a joy to revisit. This isn't the first time that it has taken multiple readings to enjoy and appreciate and love an Austen novel. I haven't decided what this means exactly. If it is a good thing that Austen's novels are layered and complex and take some time to absorb, or, if it's a weakness. If you don't exactly "enjoy" something the first time, what is there to make you want to go back and read it again and again? I think Pride and Prejudice is the one big exception to the rule. Also perhaps Persuasion.

Fanny Price is the heroine of Mansfield Park. She is intelligent, observant, selfless, and considerate. Part of this is her upbringing, she's been brought up to put everyone else's wants and needs and whims ahead of her own. Part of this is just her nature, in my opinion. She treats everyone with kindness and respect regardless of whether they "deserve" it or not.  
It would be delightful to feel myself of consequence to anybody.
Fanny, being always a very courteous listener, and often the only listener at hand, came in for the complaints and the distresses of most of them.
Edmund Bertram is Fanny's cousin. He will be a minister. He falls madly in love (if it is truly love and not lust) with Mary Crawford. For almost the entire novel, he talks on and on and on and on about Mary to poor Fanny. He can at any given time give you a top ten list on why Mary is completely wrong for him and why it would never work out in the end. But she is the ONLY WOMAN IN THE WORLD HE COULD EVER LOVE. Of course, Fanny is in love with Edmund. Fanny's patience in listening to Edmund alone would make her worthy of being a saint.
I cannot give her up, Fanny. She is the only woman in the world whom I could ever think of as a wife. If I did not believe that she had some regard for me, of course I should not say this, but I do believe it.
Mary Crawford is Fanny's opposite in many, many ways. She doesn't know how to be serious. She talks way too much. She shares way too much. She's rude and inconsiderate. And her first love, her forever love, will always be herself.
Selfishness must always be forgiven, you know, because there is no hope of a cure.
Henry Crawford is Mary's brother. He is Fanny's opposite too. He has a very high opinion of himself. And he finds nothing so satisfying as making women fall in love with him. He loves being loved and adored. He determines at one point that it would be SOMETHING to have Fanny fall in love with him. He knows it will be the most difficult challenge he's faced so far. She's no fool. In the attempting, it is Henry who falls hard. He finds himself for the first time actually caring and loving someone else. Or does he? Austen is a bit ambiguous how far his reform goes.
I never was so long in company with a girl in my life, trying to entertain her, and succeed so ill! Never met with a girl who looked so grave on me! I must try to get the better of this. Her looks say, ‘I will not like you, I am determined not to like you’; and I say she shall.
They will now see what sort of woman it is that can attach me, that can attach a man of sense. I wish the discovery may do them any good. And they will now see their cousin treated as she ought to be, and I wish they may be heartily ashamed of their own abominable neglect and unkindness. They will be angry,” he added, after a moment’s silence, and in a cooler tone; “Mrs. Rushworth will be very angry. It will be a bitter pill to her; that is, like other bitter pills, it will have two moments’ ill flavour, and then be swallowed and forgotten; for I am not such a coxcomb as to suppose her feelings more lasting than other women’s, though I was the object of them. Yes, Mary, my Fanny will feel a difference indeed: a daily, hourly difference, in the behaviour of every being who approaches her; and it will be the completion of my happiness to know that I am the doer of it, that I am the person to give the consequence so justly her due.
Now she is dependent, helpless, friendless, neglected, forgotten.” “Nay, Henry, not by all; not forgotten by all; not friendless or forgotten. Her cousin Edmund never forgets her.” “Edmund! True, I believe he is, generally speaking, kind to her, and so is Sir Thomas in his way; but it is the way of a rich, superior, long-worded, arbitrary uncle. What can Sir Thomas and Edmund together do, what do they do for her happiness, comfort, honour, and dignity in the world, to what I shall do?”   
Mansfield Park is without a doubt one of the messier Austen novels. Messy isn't the perfect word, I know. The characters of Mansfield Park are so messed up, so in need of fixing. Readers never know exactly why Fanny loves Edmund with all her heart and soul. Readers just have to take Fanny's love on faith, believing that she knows best, that she knows her heart better than we do, and, that Edmund BEFORE Mary was worth loving. Austen's ending is far from romantic in that the romance between Fanny and Edmund is not developed on the page.

I can easily imagine Fanny in these words:

You give your hand to me
And then you say, "Hello."
And I can hardly speak,
My heart is beating so.
And anyone can tell
You think you know me well.
Well, you don't know me.


And with a big, big stretch, maybe Edmund in these words:

Are those your eyes
Is that your smile
I've been looking at you forever
Yet I never saw you before
Are these your hands holding mine
Now I wonder how I could have been so blind
And for the first time I am looking in your eyes
For the first time I'm seeing who you are
I can't believe how much I see
When you're looking back at me

 The first is "You Don't Know Me" and the second is "For The First Time."

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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13. Library Loot: Second Trip in April

New Loot:
  • Richard Scarry's Best Nursery Tales Ever by Richard Scarry
  • Frozen in Time by Mitchell Zuckoff
Leftover Loot:
  • English German Girl by Jake Wallis Simons
  • Mommy & Me Craft (DK)
  • Mommy & Me Start Cooking (DK) 
  • The Diary of A Young Girl: The Definitive Edition by Anne Frank, edited by Otto H. Frank and Mirjam Pressler; translated by Susan Massotty.
  • The Pigeon Needs A Bath by Mo Willems
  • The Girl from the Tar Paper School: Barbara Rose Johns And the Advent of the Civil Rights Movement by Teri Kanefield
  • How The Beatles Changed the World by Martin W. Sandler
  • The Last Forever by Deb Caletti
  • Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker by Patricia Hruby Powell
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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14. Week In Review: April 6-12

The Runaway King. Jennifer A. Nielsen. 2013. Scholastic. 352 pages. [Source: Review copy]
The Heir Apparent: A Life of Edward VII, The Playboy Prince. Jane Ridley. 2013. Random House. 752 pages. [Source: Library]
The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches. Alan Bradley. 2014. Random House. 310 pages. [Source: Library]
The Trouble with Magic. Ruth Chew. 1976/2014. Random House. 144 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Magic in the Park. Ruth Chew. 1972/2014. Random House. 144 pages. [Source: Review copy]
The Very Cranky Bear. Nick Bland. 2008/2014. Scholastic. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Mighty Dads. Joan Holub. Illustrated by James Dean. 2014. Scholastic. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Hi, Koo! A Year of Seasons. Jon J. Muth. 2014. Scholastic. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Hot Rod Hamster Monster Truck Mania. Cynthia Lord. Illustrated by Derek Anderson. 2014. Scholastic. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]
The End (Almost) Jim Benton. 2014. Scholastic. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]    
Peppa Pig: My Mommy. 2014. Scholastic. 16 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Best Friends Pretend. Linda Leopold Strauss. Illustrated by Lynn Munsinger. 2014. 14 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Who Can Jump? Sebastien Braun. 2014. Candlewick. 14 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Who Can Swim? Sebastien Braun. 2014. Candlewick. 14 pages. [Source: Review copy]
The Tale of Peter Rabbit. Beatrix Potter. Illustrated by David McPhail. Text from 1902. Illustrations from 1986. Board book format 2014. Scholastic. 28 pages.    
Everyone's A Theologian. R.C. Sproul. 2014. Reformation Trust. 360 pages. [Source: Borrowed from friend]
In My Place Condemned He Stood: Celebrating the Glory of the Atonement. J.I. Packer and Mark Dever. 2008. Crossway. 192 pages. [Source: Review copy]

This week's favorite:

I absolutely LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Jennifer Nielsen's Ascendance Trilogy. I do. The Runaway King is the second in the series. 

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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15. Reread #15 The Runaway King

The Runaway King. Jennifer A. Nielsen. 2013. Scholastic. 352 pages. [Source: Review copy]

I have just finished rereading The False Prince and The Runaway King in anticipation of The Shadow Throne. In a perfect world, every single reader would be a rereader. In a perfect world, every one would find the time to go back and reread all the prior books in a series, in trilogies especially. I know it's not realistic. But I can dream, right?! I took the time this time. I am SO GLAD I took the time to go back and read these two books back to back. In three days, I read The False Prince, The Runaway King, and The Shadow Throne. It was WONDERFUL. It was all kinds of wonderful!!! It was so satisfying, so compelling. I really came to know and love all of the characters. I really started noticing all the stories within the BIG story. I definitely recommend this series!!!

I originally reviewed this one in March 2013

Original review:  

Jaron has only been on the throne a short while and already the kingdom is in great danger, Jaron's life is at risk. The regents of the kingdom want Jaron to go into hiding, "for his own good" of course. They would rather deal with a steward in the king's place than have a "boy" on the throne, a boy who isn't afraid of facing reality. Jaron looks at the facts and sees: WAR IS COMING, WAR IS COMING, WAR IS COMING. His regents seem to see a different reality: peace, peace, peace, we must have peace no matter what, peace, peace, always we must have peace. Jaron would feel absolutely alone--forsaken--if it wasn't for a few friends who knew him before, knew him as Sage...

Running away from the throne, from the kingdom, might be Jaron's best option...

The Runaway King is such an exciting book! I love, love, love the fact that we get to go with Jaron/Sage on his journey into enemy territory as his own cleverness is put to the test...

I am still loving the world-building, the characterization, the dialogue, the storytelling. It's a GREAT book.
© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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16. The Trouble with Magic (1976)

The Trouble with Magic. Ruth Chew. 1976/2014. Random House. 144 pages. [Source: Review copy]

I may not have loved Ruth Chew's Magic in the Park, but, I definitely LOVED her fantasy novel The Trouble with Magic. To think this little fantasy novel starts with a big stink! Barbara and Rick have sensitive noses, I suppose. They are so overwhelmed with disgust at the smell of cooking cabbage, that Rick easily persuades Barbara to spend her allowance money (fifty cents!) on air freshener. She doesn't have enough money for scented spray (that would cost sixty-nine cents), but, she does have enough for a bottle of something--something with a wick?--that will get the job done, or so they think. They take the bottle home...and that's when the adventure begins. For INSIDE the can is a wizard with a magical umbrella! This poor wizard has been TRAPPED. Harrison Peabody is more than happy to grant wishes (via the umbrella, though they don't know that at the beginning) to those lovely children who freed him. Barbara wishes for her room to be covered in roses! Rick wishes for his room to be covered in pine trees. Still the children are thinking of those noses and that CABBAGE. The children spend a few minutes quite pleased with themselves until they realize how impractical magic can be when it comes time to do homework and go to bed! It isn't long before they want the magic undone...

I thought this one was delightful. It definitely reminded me of other wish-related fantasy novels like Five Children and It and Half Magic. I love seeing WHAT these two children wish for and how it almost always goes wrong. I thought it was a fun twist that the wishes can only work IF the umbrella is used when it's raining.
© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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17. Magic in the Park (1972)

Magic in the Park. Ruth Chew. 1972/2014. Random House. 144 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Magic in the Park is a quick fantasy read. Jennifer, our heroine, has just moved to Brooklyn. At first, she is so focused on what she's missing, that she is more than a little bitter. However, after discovering nearby Prospect Park and meeting a new friend, a prone-to-falling-in-the-lake lad named Mike, she embraces her new life. It isn't just that Mike is great fun all on his own. It is, in part, that these two discover things together and keep secrets. They discover that Prospect Park is more than a little magical. They both happen to notice that there is one tree in particular, an old tree, a seemingly hollow tree, that MOVES around the park. You never know where you'll find it next. And some days...it's not there at all. On those days, the children see a friendly old man who feeds the birds. Birds are important in this one.

Magic in the Park is fantasy adventure. Mike and Jennifer are curious, of course. All children in fantasy novels seem to be extra curious, this helps them stumble into various adventures I suppose.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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18. The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches (2014)

The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches. Alan Bradley. 2014. Random House. 310 pages. [Source: Library]

I haven't loved each and every Flavia de Luce book equally. I definitely enjoy Flavia as a character and narrator even though I can't always relate to her all the time. In this sixth mystery, Flavia's focus is NOT on a current murder mystery. Far from it, even though a murder occurs practically in front of her (at the train station), she can't really be bothered. Why? Well, her mother is coming home...at last. For Flavia, the one de Luce child who CANNOT remember her mother at all, this is just confusing and bittersweet. Is she glad her mother's body has been found? That the body is being returned so it can be properly buried? In a way, perhaps. But. The homecoming is just as bitter as it is sweet. It upsets the family so much, brings so many emotions out in the open where they cannot be ignored. The situation is forcing Flavia outside her comfort zone. If the novel does NOT focus on the current dead body, what does it focus on?! Well, it focuses on the past; it focuses on the years leading up to World War II. It provides context for her mother's life...and death. For Flavia solving this mystery of who her mother was, who she really was, her worth and value, means EVERYTHING. There were quite a few uncomfortable scenes in this one for me. I found the scenes where Flavia is trying to scientifically bring her mother back from the dead (after ten years) to be a bit creepy--she's trying to acquire the right chemicals to resurrect the dead.

Just like the previous book, this one closes with change on the way for Flavia.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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19. Reread #14 The False Prince

The False Prince. Jennifer A. Nielsen. 2012. Scholastic. 342 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Last March, I read The False Prince and The Runaway King the first two books in Jennifer A. Nielsen's Ascendance Trilogy. It was love. Not just love, but LOVE, LOVE, LOVE. I considered myself lucky that I had waited until the second book in the series had been released. I didn't have to wait! I could continue reading right away! When I received a review copy of The Shadow Throne a few weeks ago, I was oh-so-tempted to read it right away. But I didn't. I thought the book would be even more satisfying, even more wonderful if I took the time to reread the first two books. It was worth the wait.

I thought it was love the first time around. I really, really did. But. If it's possible, I think I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED it even more the second time. The False Prince introduces the world and the characters so very well. And its a timeless fantasy story in many, many ways. Even knowing where the twists and turns were going, I still found myself very engaged with the story, still in love with its richness.

From my original review:

I thought this one would be good, but even I didn't expect it to be THAT GOOD. This book is WONDERFUL. Everything I wanted it to be! Readers first meet an orphan named Sage. When we meet him, he's on the run having just stolen meat from the butcher. He is "rescued" from the butcher by someone in the crowd, Connor. But is the rescue genuine? Connor goes with Sage to the orphanage and explains that he's just bought Sage. Sage soon meets other orphan boys his own age that Connor has bought from various orphanages in the land. He's taking them to his castle...

Sage is suspicious fearing that Connor and the men working for him are DANGEROUS. Yes, he could be beaten, he could be imprisoned, but he knows that he could also be KILLED if he displeases Connor. Does knowing this make Sage less defiant or outspoken? Not really.

Connor has a plan--an ambitious plan. The royal family has been killed, murdered, and no one knows the truth, yet. The second son was presumed dead at sea, but, what if one of the orphan boys could assume this second son's identity and become king? Connor wants the boys in competition with one another and in training to become the future king. In a few weeks time, he'll pick the "lucky" boy.

Sage wants to be the boy, for better or worse, perhaps knowing that to fail in this means certain death. But that doesn't mean he likes Connor or trusts him. He doesn't trust Connor...at all.

I loved spending time with Sage! I loved being introduced to this fantasy world!!! I loved the setting, the characterization, the writing!!! This is a magical, oh-so-satisfying read!

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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20. Challenge Updates

For the Once Upon A Time Challenge

Five Children and It. E. Nesbit. 1902/2004. Puffin Classics. 240 pages. [Source: Book I bought]
Seven Wild Sisters: A Modern Fairy Tale. Charles de Lint. Illustrated by Charles Vess. 2014. Little, Brown. 272 pages. [Source: Library] 
Lady Thief. A.C. Gaughen. 2014. Walker Books. 304 pages. [Source: Review copy]
The False Prince. Jennifer A. Nielsen. 2012. Scholastic. 342 pages. [Source: Review copy]

For the Victorian Reading Challenge

A Rogue's Life. Wilkie Collins. 1856. 159 pages. [Source: Book I bought]

For the British History Reading Challenge

Scarlet. A.C. Gaughen. 2012. Walker. 292 pages. [Source: Library]
Lady Thief. A.C. Gaughen. 2014. Walker Books. 304 pages. [Source: Review copy]

For the 2014 Year of Rereading:

The Giver. Lois Lowry. 1993. Houghton Mifflin. 180 pages. [Source: Library]  
A Long Way From Chicago. Richard Peck. 1998. Penguin. 148 pages. [Source: Library book]
Five Children and It. E. Nesbit. 1902/2004. Puffin Classics. 240 pages. [Source: Book I bought]
The Testing. Joelle Charbonneau. 2013. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 344 pages. [Source: Review Copy]
Pride and Prejudice. Jane Austen. 1813. 386 pages. [Source: Book I Bought]

Vintage Mystery Bingo

In the Best Families. (Nero Wolfe). Rex Stout. 1950. 272 pages. [Source: Book I Bought]

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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21. Week in Review: March 31 - April 5

From April:
Lady Thief. A.C. Gaughen. 2014. Walker Books. 304 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Switched at Birthday. Natalie Standiford. 2014. 240 pages. [Source: Review copy]
The Good Lie. Robin Brande. 2014. Ryer Publishing. [Source: Review copy]
The False Prince. Jennifer A. Nielsen. 2012. Scholastic. 342 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Sincerely Yours. A Novella Collection. Jane Kirkpatrick. Amanda Cabot. Laurie Alice Eakes. Ann Shorey. 2014. Revell. 384 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Taking God At His Word. Kevin DeYoung. 2014. Crossway. 144 pages. [Source: Review copy]

From March:
William Shakespeare's The Empire Striketh Back. (William Shakespeare's Star Wars #2) Ian Doescher. 2014. 176 pages. [Source: Library]
Firefighters by Chris Oxlade and Thea Feldman. 2014. Kingfisher. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]
In the Rainforest by Claire Llewellyn. 2014. Kingfisher. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

This week's favorite:

I definitely enjoyed the books I reviewed this week! Switched At Birthday was super fun! The False Prince is the first in what has become one of my favorite, favorite fantasy series. And Robin Brande's new book? Well worth reading! But since I have to choose just one, I'm going to go with A.C. Gaughen's The Lady Thief.

A few weeks I reviewed Scarlet. I enjoyed it. I enjoyed it for its premise and its potential. It wasn't a perfectly-perfect book--for me. The second book in the series just wowed me! It had so much depth, so much intensity. And the characters, well, they went from one dimensional to being oh-so-achingly human. Characterization is one of the most important things to me, and, this novel excelled way beyond what I hoped and expected. For anyone who enjoys Robin Hood stories, this one is a MUST. 

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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22. Library Loot: First Trip in April

 New Loot:
  • Elephant Twins by Richard Sobol
  • A Baby Elephant in the Wild by Caitlin O'Connell
  • The Pigeon Needs A Bath by Mo Willems
  • The Girl from the Tar Paper School: Barbara Rose Johns And the Advent of the Civil Rights Movement by Teri Kanefield
  • How The Beatles Changed the World by Martin W. Sandler
  • The Last Forever by Deb Caletti
  • Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker by Patricia Hruby Powell
  • Leaving China: An Artist Paints His World War II Childhood by James McMullan
  • English German Girl by Jake Wallis Simons
  • Mommy & Me Craft (DK)
  • Mommy & Me Start Cooking (DK)
Leftover Loot:

The Diary of A Young Girl: The Definitive Edition by Anne Frank, edited by Otto H. Frank and Mirjam Pressler; translated by Susan Massotty.


 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

0 Comments on Library Loot: First Trip in April as of 4/5/2014 11:01:00 PM
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23. Five 2014 Picture Books

The Very Cranky Bear. Nick Bland. 2008/2014. Scholastic. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: In the Jingle Jangle Jungle on a cold and rainy day, four little friends found a perfect place to play. Moose had marvelous antlers, and Lion, a golden mane. Zebra had fantastic stripes, and Sheep…well, Sheep was plain. None of them had noticed that someone else was there. Sleeping in the cave was a very cranky…BEAR!

I liked The Very Cranky Bear. I really liked some things about it. I liked the rhyming text. I liked the story of it. I liked how Sheep, who was, after all, so very plain…was the hero who made a friend of the "cranky" bear. Sheep's friends were a bit vain and very silly. As if adding antlers or stripes to a bear would make him less cranky?! I was less fond perhaps of the illustrations. While I certainly enjoyed it, it remains an almost book (an almost-love).

This story was originally published in Australia.

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

Mighty Dads. Joan Holub. Illustrated by James Dean. 2014. Scholastic. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Mighty Dads, strong and tall, help their children young and small. They keep them safe and bolted tight and show them how to build things right. Excavator Big helps little Vator dig. They go scoop, scoop, scoop.

I liked Mighty Dads. I think there will be a definite audience for this one. I think little ones who are truck-obsessed (construction-obsessed) will enjoy this very playful and active rhyming story that celebrates fatherhood. I thought it was interesting to see the pairs at work and play. To see what the little vehicles were called. My personal favorite was the pairing of "Backhoe Steady" and "Hoe-Hoe." I enjoyed the illustrations by James Dean. (Yes, the same James Dean who created Pete the Cat.)

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

Hi, Koo! A Year of Seasons. Jon J. Muth. 2014. Scholastic. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Autumn,
are you dreaming
of new clothes?

these leaves
fall forever
my Broom awaits

found!
in my Coat pocket a missing button
the wind's surprise

Dance through the cold rain
then go home
to hot soup

Eating warm cookies
on a cold day
is easy


Jon J. Muth's newest picture book celebrates the four seasons through haiku. Each season has its fair share of poems. These poems celebrate nature, life, and friendship. Many spreads star a panda that will be recognizable to Muth's fans. I enjoyed this one. I didn't love, love, love it. Poetry tends to be hit or miss with me. But I would still recommend it. These poems are, I believe, accessible to young readers.

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


Hot Rod Hamster Monster Truck Mania. Cynthia Lord. Illustrated by Derek Anderson. 2014. Scholastic. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Truck day, treat day, cotton-candy sweet day, fun day, fair day, music in the air day.
The monster truck show starts at there o'clock. We have some time to wait. What should we do? Rides!


I was surprised by how much I really did enjoy this one. I found myself really loving the rhythm and rhyme of it. It's a book that deserves to be read aloud again and again. It's just one of those books that reads oh-so-easily. You don't have to over-think it. It just works. For example, "Sailboat, rowboat, pirates long ago boat. Sub boat, tug boat, chugga-chugga-chug boat. Which would you choose?" Anyway, this book is about friends spending the day together at the fair. They are super-excited about the monster truck show, but, they're going to have as much fun as they can BEFORE the show starts. They are on a quest to find the best ride ever, and they will not leave disappointed!

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

The End (Almost) Jim Benton. 2014. Scholastic. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Once there was a bear named Donut.
That's me.
And he burped.
BURP!
The end.
Excuse me.
I said, that's the end.
Really? One burp?
Yes. The story is over.
No way.
This can't be right.
Sorry, it's the end. I mean it. I'm sending you home.

Someone does NOT want his story to be over. Donut the bear is sure that there is more to his story than just one not-so-tiny burp. What kind of story is that after all?! Donut gets in a very, very long argument with the narrator. He tries EVERYTHING to stay in the book. He's determined and sneaky. But will he actually win the day? You be the judge.

I didn't love this one or hate it. It reminds me, for better or worse, of an Elephant and Piggie book. And since I love, love, love, love the Elephant and Piggie book (We Are In A Book), this one ended up disappointing me. I can see why it would probably appeal to other readers.

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

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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24. Five New Board Books

Peppa Pig: My Mommy. 2014. Scholastic. 16 pages. [Source: Review copy]

My name is Peppa, and this book is all about my mommy, Mummy Pig! She is the best mommy in the whole wide world! And the prettiest. My mommy is very graceful--like a ballerina..except when it comes to picking blackberries. My mommy can be very serious...but sometimes she can be silly, too! 

 I love, love, love, LOVE this Peppa Pig board book. I do. If you enjoy the television show, chances are you'll be just as giddy to see this one release in time for Mother's Day. (Though I must say, it can be read EVERY DAY of the year. There's no reason to limit it!)

This board book stars Mummy Pig, Daddy Pig, and Peppa and George. Readers very familiar with the show may recognize references to certain episodes. The book is very sweet and funny.

Best Friends Pretend. Linda Leopold Strauss. Illustrated by Lynn Munsinger. 2014. 14 pages. [Source: Review copy]

I love to play with my best friend. Our favorite game is Let's Pretend...
Let's play... Ice Cream Truck!
You drive the truck.
I'll ring the bell.
"It's ice cream time!"
the kids will yell.
One scoop, two scoops, three scoops, four...
If one falls off, we'll give them more!

This book celebrates creative play and friendship. Despite the pink glittery cover, the book is much better than you might suppose. (In case you're "allergic" to glitter-y, princess-y books.) Each two page spread is a different "let's pretend." They pretend to be an ice cream truck; they pretend to be princesses; they pretend to be superheroes; they pretend to be astronauts; they pretend to be explorers; they pretend to be grown-ups.

I like this one. I do. I had my doubts. Glitter doesn't say read me, read me. It just doesn't. But I liked that this one shows two girls--two best friends--playing together. I liked the variety. Yes, they play princess which is typical or stereotypical--take your pick. But the other choices more than make up for it! And if your little one happens to LOVE playing princess, this one has some obvious appeal working in its favor.

Who Can Jump? Sebastien Braun. 2014. Candlewick. 14 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Who can jump? A cat can jump.
Who can jump? A frog can jump.
Who can jump? A squirrel can jump.

What a fun lift-the-flap board book! I really enjoyed this one. It is very simple. It asks one question, and only one question: who can jump. The answers vary, of course, spread by spread. Frogs. Dogs. Cats. Squirrels. Kangaroos. And, don't forget kids like YOU."Lifting" the flap shows the jumping action.

I like the simplicity. I like the boldness. I found the illustrations to be bright and bold and charming.

This one was originally published in the UK in 2012. It is newly published in the US this spring.

Who Can Swim? Sebastien Braun. 2014. Candlewick. 14 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Who can swim? A fish can swim.
Who can swim? Penguins can swim.
Who can swim? A seal can swim.

I think I loved Who Can Swim? even more than Who Can Jump? I definitely enjoyed both lift-the-flap books. In Who Can Swim? I love how the flap reveals the answer. The flap is the ocean on almost every page. Most of the time readers get a good hint or clue about what the flap will reveal. The whale, perhaps, being the MOST obvious. Again, the book is simple. The question is the same on each spread. Readers learn that fish, penguins, seals, polar bears, and whales all swim. The last page, you might have guessed, shows that kids (like you) can swim too.

Again, I like the illustrations. I think they make this one work. Who Can Swim? was originally published in the UK in 2012. It is newly published this spring in the US.

The Tale of Peter Rabbit. Beatrix Potter. Illustrated by David McPhail. Text from 1902. Illustrations from 1986. Board book format 2014. Scholastic. 28 pages.

Once upon a time there were four little Rabbits, and their names were--Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail, and Peter. They lived with their mother in a sandbank, underneath the root of a very big fir tree. 
"Now, my dears," said old Mrs. Rabbit one morning, "you may go into the fields or down the lane, but don't go into Mr. McGregor's garden: your father had an accident there; he was put in a pie by Mrs. McGregor.

This board book offers readers the original text by Beatrix Potter with new--or relatively new--illustrations by David McPhail. The story itself is lovely; it is everything it should be. It is a rich story. I love the writing. I love the language. It's just a good, entertaining story.

The illustrations. Well. They are not the original obviously. For readers who love and adore the original illustrations by Beatrix Potter, I'm not sure that McPhail's illustrations will satisfy in any way. For readers with less of an attachment, these new illustrations may work just as well. For readers meeting Peter Rabbit for the first time, I don't think the illustrations would be a big issue at all. Personally. I don't care for David McPhail's illustrations in this book. 

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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25. The Heir Apparent (2013)

The Heir Apparent: A Life of Edward VII, The Playboy Prince. Jane Ridley. 2013. Random House. 752 pages. [Source: Library]

The Heir Apparent was very fascinating in places. I wouldn't say it was equally fascinating from cover to cover, however. There are high points in this biography, and low points. Low points for me, for example, being chapters that focuses solely on politics, politics, foreign politics, and more politics. High points for me, on the other hand, being chapters that focused on royal dysfunction, family drama, relationships between family members, society-type gossip and scandals and potential scandals. This book is PACKED with detail: that is its greatest strength and biggest weakness.

The book begins, and appropriately so in my opinion, with the reign of George IV. It is only fair to readers to get Queen Victoria's FULL story from birth to death. For I believe it is only in understanding Victoria and Albert that you can begin to make sense of their children's lives. And Bertie's in particular. For example, I think it helps to know that he comes from a LONG LINE of people who are incapable of showing love and kindness and decency to the firstborn heir. Since over half the novel focuses on Bertie's relationship with his parents--particularly his mother, the more you know about Victoria, the better. Queen Victoria is not shown as wonderfully, adoring, kind-hearted, compassionate mother. She was VERY VERY VERY opinionated about her children, about their "weaknesses". She could have a very cruel tongue, to say the least.

For readers who want to know more about Victoria and Albert, about Bertie and his royal brothers and sisters (all who married royalty, I believe, and how Queen Victoria's children and grandchildren effected European politics), about Bertie and his wife, about Bertie and his many mistresses, about Bertie and his habits, about the politics of prime ministers and ministries and cabinets and such, then this is a good place to go.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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