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1. Oliver and the Seawigs (2014)

Oliver and the Seawigs. Philip Reeve. Illustrated by Sarah McIntyre. 2014. Random House. 208 pages. [Source: Review copy]

I didn't not like it. I could easily say I liked it well enough. But you know how there are certain books that you read and get excited about and just can't wait to talk about? This wasn't that kind of book for me. While there was not one thing about the book that I didn't like, I just didn't find myself loving it. I don't know why readers feel, in some ways, obligated to love everything they read.

I liked the opening paragraphs. "Oliver Crisp was only ten years old, but they had been a busy and exciting ten years, because Oliver's mother and father were explorers. They had met on top of Mount Everest. They had been married at the Lost Temple of Amon Hotep, and had spent their honeymoon searching for the elephants' graveyard. And when young Oliver was born, they simply bought themselves a back carrier and an off-road baby carriage and went right on exploring." See. It starts off cute and promising. And it doesn't disappoint. You know from the start what kind of book this will be. And you get just that.

I liked the characters. I liked Oliver Crisp. I liked the wandering albatross, Mr. Culpeper. I liked the near-sighted mermaid, Iris. I liked the island, Cliff. I liked how they met and became friends. You can certainly see this is a unique story.

I liked the pacing. It is a nice, imaginative adventure story starring unique characters.

I like the illustrations. I like the layout. Many kids, like Lewis Carroll's fictional Alice, do look for stories with plenty of pictures! It's a sign of it not being horribly dull. If you share Alice's opinion on books that is.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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2. Six Early Readers (2014)

Petal and Poppy. (Level 2, Green Light Readers) Lisa Clough. Illustrated by Ed Briant. 2014. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Poppy is not here. It is time to practice my tuba. Bah-bwab-baah! Bwah-bu-baah! 
Ack! Petal is practicing. It is time to go scuba diving!

Petal and Poppy are best friends. (Petal is the elephant. Poppy is the rhinoceros.) They are best friends, but, they are very different from one another. In this first book, readers learn that Petal can be a worrywart, and that Poppy is very understanding.

Poppy goes scuba diving. Petal comes along. She brings her tuba. She alternates playing her tuba and panicking about Poppy. Is Poppy okay? How about now? And now?

Did I like it? Sure. I didn't not like it. With the exception of Elephant and Piggie, I am unlikely to get EXCITED about any early readers I pick up.

Petal and Poppy and the Penguin. (Level 2, Green Light Readers) Lisa Clough. Illustrated by Ed Briant. 2014. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Someone has stomped on my flowers. Uh-oh--a storm is coming! Boom! Honk, honk! Who is there? Ahhh! A monster! 

Was there really a monster? Or was Petal, the elephant, just panicking again? Poppy, the rhinoceros, is such a good and understanding friend. Poppy will "save" Petal from the monster outside who is stomping on the flowers. Who is the monster making spooky sounds? A penguin, of course! It is called Petal and Poppy and The Penguin after all. These two take the penguin in. Petal very reluctantly. But these three may be great friends yet.

I liked this second book better than the first. I'm not surprised. I think with series books it can take a few books sometimes for readers to make a connection with characters. The third book in the series will be released at the end of August.  Petal and Poppy and the Spooky Halloween.

Steve & Wessley in The Ice Cream Shop. (Level 1 Reader) J.E. Morris. 2014. Scholastic. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Steve walked down the street. 
Steve walked by an ice cream shop.
Did someone say "ice cream"?
Steve liked ice cream.
Steve liked ice cream very much.

I like Steve. I do. He may not be very bright or smart. But there is something about him that is just likable. (Maybe he reminds me of Pinky?) In this book, Steve really wants ice cream. He wants it bad. One thing is standing in his way. The door. It won't open. Steve is very frustrated. What is the deal with this door?!

Wessley is much smarter than Steven. He realizes that some doors you push, and other doors you pull. 

I liked this one fine. The second book in this new series will release at the end of August. The Sea Monster.

Days of the Knights. (Level 2 Reader) Robert Neubecker. 2014. Scholastic. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

"What's up, Joe?" asked Lilly. 
"I'm doing a report on the Middle Ages." Joe shrugged. 
"With knights and queens and castles? What fun!"
"I guess so," mumbled Joe.
"I'll help you research," said Lilly. She tapped the keys on the library computer...

In Days of the Knights, readers meet Lilly, Joe, and Red the Time Dragon. Red the Time Dragon is their personal guide to the middle ages. Lilly and Joe learn a handful of facts about the middle ages during their brief stay. Red the Time Dragon also manages to find time to lead a peasant revolt against Sir Vile, a selfish knight.

I don't know what to think about this new series. I really don't! The second adventure is Racing the Waves. It releases in late August.


Little Big Horse: Where's My Bike? (Level 1) Dave Horowitz. 2014. Scholastic. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

I can't wait for class to be over. 
Finally.
To the bikes!
Where is my bike? I left it right here.

Someone has stolen his bike! Who did it? Why? What motivated the crime? Will he get his bike back?

This one is very simple. Of all the books I'm reviewing today, this one is the simplest. Simple can be a good thing. Young readers need access to simple books with big font.

I liked it well enough. I liked the illustrations. I liked reading the emotions on the faces of the two characters we meet.

Drop It, Rocket! (Step 1) Tad Hills. 2014. Random House. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Rocket and the little yellow bird love words. They love their word tree, too. "Are you ready to find new words for our word tree?" asks the bird. "Yes, I am!" says Rocket.

Readers may be familiar with the character of Rocket already. Rocket is the star of several picture books: How Rocket Learned to Read and Rocket Writes a Story.

This story is simple and repetitive. Rocket wants to learn new words and add new words to the word tree. He brings new things--new objects--to his friend the yellow bird. The bird tells him to "drop it" each time. Rocket is usually a good dog, so he obeys. New words are added. But what happens when Rocket does not want to drop it?

I liked this one. I liked the problem solving. It's a cute story.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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3. Don't Even Think About It (2014)

Don't Even Think About It. Sarah Mlynowski. 2014. Random House. 336 pages. [Source: Review copy]

The good news? I thought the first chapter or two was interesting and good. If not actually good, potentially good.

The bad news? With each chapter I read, well, let's just say I ended up not liking it very much. It did not finish as well as it started. Of course that is all subjective.

Don't Even Think About It is a premise-driven novel. 22 students, practically a whole homeroom in a school, receive a faulty batch of flu shots. The side effect of this bad batch is ESP. Overnight, twenty-two students suddenly gain the ability to read minds. Obviously, they can read the minds of those closest to them in proximity. What they find is that people of all ages typically think disturbing and inappropriate things. That thoughts tend to be rude and unfiltered. They learn secrets: some trivial secrets, some deep, dark secrets. Knowing things they shouldn't know proves more bothersome to some characters than others. Still, oddly enough, most characters come to feel it is an incredible gift that they've been blessed with. Even if it complicates their lives and relationships.

The premise itself wasn't an awful one. It's just I didn't like how it was developed throughout the book. The collective we narrator representing all twenty-two voices was a bit messy. On the one hand, it gave us glimpses into many lives. And some of the characters introduced were likable. (I think I counted three or four characters--children, teens, adults included--that I actually liked. Some of the characters I liked we only spent a couple of paragraphs with.) On the other hand, it was hard to care about ANY of the characters. Assuming that to care about a character you either have to love them or like them or at the very least understand why they are like they are. The characters I came closest to liking were Cooper and Olivia and Olivia's mom. This is not a character-driven novel.

The book is definitely a light romance. I did not necessarily like how "mature" the content was, I could have done without all the bad language, for example.
© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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4. Dualed (2013)

Dualed. Elsie Chapman. 2013. Random House. 304 pages. [Source: Library]

My second attempt at reading Dualed went much better than my first. The second time I picked it up, it was an easy read. Easy meaning that I read almost all of it in one sitting. The content itself, well, easy doesn't really describe the world Chapman created in her novel.

West, the heroine, has known her whole life that she'll have to kill or be killed in order to take a place in the community. That's just how things are now. Every person has an alt--a genetic clone of sorts. Every alt poses a threat. When an assignment goes active, both know it's kill or be killed. And both also know that timing is key. They have exactly one month to complete their assignment or both will be killed. West is the only one left in her family. It's a dangerous world, a violent world. Many people are PK's peripheral kills--being killed "accidentally" during the fight between two alts. No street or neighborhood is really safe because of it. There will always be teens who have gone active and are in survival mode. Though West does not have any family in her life--readers do briefly meet Luc, her brother--she is not truly alone. Her brother's friend, Chord, cares about her a great deal. The book opens with Chord receiving his assignment; readers get a brief glimpse of what the book will be like. His assignment is completed very quickly and dramatically. Though some of the drama is lost since readers barely know the characters and haven't come to care yet. Effective for letting readers know that death, violent death, is what this book is all about perhaps.

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West. I didn't like or dislike her really. I had a hard time understanding her, why, she would be completely fine being an assassin and murdering others on almost a daily or at least weekly basis. Yet be so anxious about facing her own alt. After all, the risks to her own life are the same. The fact that she was an assassin meant that she was capable of killing. It also meant that she was not afraid to put her own life in danger. Every job she took, there was risk that she could die if it went bad. Yet West does the opposite of what you'd expect: she hides and waits and hides and waits and hides and waits and mopes a bit.

Chord was a good guy, well, as good a guy as you're going to get in this crazy society where all adults have committed murder at least once. I did get the sense that he cared about West and wanted a relationship with her that was based more on them and less on Luc.

Overall, Dualed is a not-for-me book. Others may enjoy it more, of course.
© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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5. China Dolls (2014)

China Dolls. Lisa See. 2014. Random House. 376 pages. [Source: Library]

China Dolls is historical fiction. The novel follows three women through the latter days of the 1930s through the 1940s. Three very different women I might add. The friendship between these three women is not quite pure or ideal. Grace, one of the heroines, is running away from an abusive father. Her dream is to sing and dance and to go into show business. Ruby, another heroine, is also a dancer and performer. Helen is the third heroine. Before a chance meeting with Ruby and Grace, Helen had no big dreams of show business. In fact, Helen could not even dance! Yet, a chance meeting one day led all three women to audition for an Oriental nightclub. (For the record, Oriental is the term used throughout China Dolls.) Talent is only half of what is required, they learn. Appearance is super important. It is more important to be beautiful and amazing and be somewhat teachable than to be incredibly talented. Helen and Grace are hired to be essentially part of a chorus. (They're called Ponies.) But Ruby remains a part of their lives. For better or worse.

While each woman is given a back story and/or a sob story, I had a hard time liking any of the characters. Helen, Grace, and Ruby may spend time together, but, that doesn't mean they like each other and want each other to succeed. Helen, Ruby, and Grace could be quite mean and awful to each other.

The history is interesting. The story is certainly full of drama. The characters are incredibly flawed and remain consistently selfish.

I liked it fine, but, I definitely did not love it.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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6. The Summer I Saved The World in 65 Days (2014)

The Summer I Saved the World in 65 Days. Michele Weber Hurwitz. 2014. Random House. 272 pages. [Source: Review copy]

It starts with Mrs. Chung. And flowers. Marigolds. My grandmother believed in what she called STs--Simple Truths. This was one of her favorites: Things happen when they're meant to happen, and the sooner people realize that, the more content they'll be. 

I enjoyed reading The Summer I Saved the World in 65 Days. Nina Ross, our heroine, is thirteen. In the fall, she'll be starting a new school, going to high school. She is not sure how she'll fit or even if she'll fit there. If there is one thing Nina knows is that so much is changing so fast. Not just for herself, but for her family, and for most if not all of her neighbors. For example, one neighbor, Mrs. Chung, has a broken leg. Another neighbor is expecting her fourth child! Every house, or, should that be every neighbor, has a story to share. Perhaps not a story they want shared.

Soon after the novel opens, Nina has the brilliant idea to anonymously "save" the neighborhood one tiny step at a time through one anonymous good deed per day. Nina wants to seek out opportunities to be kind and thoughtful. During the process, she learns a bit about herself, about life, about friendship and community.

I liked this one. I liked meeting all the neighbors. I liked the coming-of-age aspects of it. I liked Nina's optimism. Change can be intimidating, but, you have got to hold onto hope that change can be good too.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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7. The Glass Casket (2014)

The Glass Casket. McCormick Templeman. 2014. Random House. 352 pages. [Source: Review copy]

The Glass Casket has a great opening line,
"One bleak morning in the eye of winter, five horses and five riders thundered into the remote mountain village of Nag's End." 
It caught my interest and kept me reading until the very, very end, without a single break. For the record, I do NOT like horror novels. I do NOT like thrillers. Witches. Monsters. Vampires. Not my thing AT ALL. Yet, for some reason, I found myself unable to walk away from this fantasy novel. In other words, I found myself LOVING it.

After these strange riders fail to return, several men go up into the woods and investigate. What they found shocks them to say the least. One man is bloodied and his eyes and tongue are missing. The remaining four were found NAKED and frozen. One could reason that wolves might have killed one of the five men. BUT what would lead four men to strip off their clothes, fold them up, and allow themselves to freeze to death?! And what was up with the last journal entry found in their belongings that reads: It's starting. Tom Parstle is, I believe, the one who finds that journal entry. And he also removes something else from the scene, something that any fan of Pirates of the Caribbean could warn him against, a coin or medallion. "It was a circle enclosing a smaller circle. They were linked by seven spokes, empty spaces between them. He was leaning in to examine it more closely when he found himself suddenly queasy, as if beset by a noxious force" (19). The men return with some answers but more questions.

Rowan Rose is our heroine. She is Tom's best friend. She's super smart. She doesn't only know how to read and write, she knows how to read and write in several languages. She assists her father in his translating work. In fact, she is BETTER at translating than her father is. She does not want to marry. She wants to be a scholar. She thinks her father is supportive of her plans for the future.

Jude Parstle is Tom's brother. Jude has long been thought to be the lesser of the brothers. No one expects much of him, Tom, well Tom is "the good brother." Jude, well, Jude is allowed to do whatever. Rowan and Jude have a tense relationship: they are ALWAYS bickering. Everyone thinks that Jude hates Rowan, that he perhaps hates her because she's so brainy, though that is more Tom's theory. (Tom thinks his brother is only interested in one thing from a woman.)

Those five riders weren't the ONLY strangers to come to town. There were three other strangers: a glassblower, his wife, and a young woman that is OH-SO-EXTRAORDINARILY-BEAUTIFUL. Her name is Fiona Eira. Not everyone is pleased with these strangers. Rowan's father, Henry, is the most opposed. He insists that Rowan have NOTHING AT ALL to do with Fiona.

So what is Rowan to do when her best friend, Tom, falls madly, deeply in instant-love with Fiona? He HAS to meet her. He just HAS to. He begs and pleads with her to be the go-between, to seek her out, to introduce herself, to speak well of Tom, to arrange a meeting for them the next day. Rowan is creeped out by Tom's obsession in all honesty. But. She dares to disobey her father. She'll do it for her friend. At the very least, her helping Tom may help him calm down a bit.

But this wouldn't be much of a horror novel if Tom and Fiona live happily ever after...

The Glass Casket is definitely packed with action and suspense. There is a big mystery to solve. It is intensely violent. The scenes depicting violence--murder--are very graphic. It is also graphic when it comes to passion. Yet despite the fact that this one is in many ways plot-driven, I feel Templeman did a good job with characterization. I definitely had favorite characters.

Rowan and Obsessed-Tom talking about LOVE:

"Rowan," he said, "do you think it possible to love someone upon first laying eyes on them?"
"Well, the poets certainly thought it so if they're to be believed, a woman's eyes can know a future lover upon seeing him, and if the man sees the fire in those eyes, sees himself there, then he can fall in love before they've even spoken a word."
"But what do you think? Do you think it's possible?"
"I don't know. I suppose I like the idea of some part of our bodies knowing and recognizing our futures even if our minds cannot. That appeals to me. But no, I don't think it possible."
"You don't? Really? If your future husband came riding into the village one day, you don't think you'd recognize him immediately?"
"I don't think that's how it works."
"How does it work, then?"
"I think in order to love someone, you must know their heart. You need to witness their goodness, and you can't know something like that unless you've known someone for a while. I think familiarity breeds love."
"That's not very romantic of you."
"Isn't it?"
"I'm talking about love, grand love--that thing that makes you feel like your knees are about to give way, that certainty that you've seen the essence of your future in a pair of red lips."
"Tom, beauty isn't the same thing as goodness; it isn't the same thing as love." (52, 53)
Rowan on Jude:
Staring at him, she felt rage burning in her chest. How was it that he could make her so angry? How was it that he always seemed to know how she felt without her saying a word? It was unfair. He had no right to her feelings. Her temper getting the better of her, she strode over to him, her hands clenched into fists, and took a single wretched swing at him. The force she'd put behind the blow was intense, but she never connected, for he caught her forearm gently in his hand, and looking deep into her eyes, he held her gaze. (75)
Sample of atmosphere:
The funeral should have been the next day. It ought to have been. The village ought to have gathered in Fiona Eira's home and the elders ought to have performed the rites. She should have been covered in the funerary shroud, hiding the sight of human flesh so as not to offend the Goddess. Her body laid up on Cairn Hill at the Mouth of the Goddess, stones carefully arranged atop her resting spot. These were the things that ought to have been done. But sometimes things don't go as planned. (117)
It was a coffin. A glass coffin, intricately carved, and set out in the yard for all to see. Inside it was the girl, her black hair splayed out around her, her lips like rotting cherries set against a newly ashen complexion. (129)
© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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8. Eight 2014 Picture Books

Count on the Subway. Paul Dubois Jacobs and Jennifer Swender. Illustrated by Dan Yaccarino. 2014. Random House. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

1 MetroCard, Momma and me.
Down 2 flights to catch the 3.
4 turnstiles, singers 5.
A rumble, a screech, the train arrives.
6 empty seats, sit right down.
7 more stops, going uptown.

I really enjoyed this bright and bold counting book. A young girl and her mom go on the subway. The experience allows readers a chance to count from one to ten and back again. I liked it. I really liked it. I liked how the numbers were incorporated right into the story. I liked that there actually is a story to this concept book. The language is very descriptive. Possibly my favorite: "4 doors open. Time to move. 3 drums thumpin' a rush hour groove." The rhythm and rhyme just work really well in this one.

The illustrations are by Dan Yaccarino. His style, as always, is very unique. Some of his other books include: Go, Go America; Every Friday; All the Way to America; Oswald; and Good Night, Mr. Night. Some images--some illustrations--work better for me than others. There were scenes in this one that I did enjoy. But there were also some that puzzled me. (Blue people? Purple people? Green people? Orange people? Though I admit that kept the mom and daughter always in focus.)

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

Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch. Anne Isaacs. Illustrated by Kevin Hawkes. 2014. Random House. 56 pages. [Source: Review copy]

On the fourth of July 1870, the widow Tulip Jones of Greater Bore, England, inherited thirty-five million dollars and a ranch at By-Golly Gully, Texas. She moved there at once. She brought two trunks of tea and her twelve pet tortoises: January, February, March--and so on, in order of age, down to little December, who was not much bigger than the period at the end of this sentence. Three servants came along as ranch hands: Linsey, Woolsey, and Calico. They had arrived in the middle of the hottest summer Texas had ever known. By-Golly Gully was so hot that chickens laid hard-boiled eggs, and lizards hobbled around on tiny stilts to avoid burning their feet on the ground. "Grab your hoes, girls!" said Tulip Jones. "We're going to plant a garden." She soon found that everything raised on Texas soil grows faster, bigger, and better than anywhere else.

I loved, loved, loved this one. I did. It was WONDERFUL. It had me from hello, from the endpapers which read: "under full penalty of law, exaggeration is forbidden in the state of Texas. No Texan may decorate a plain fact--except if that person is an elected official, or anyone who has ever ridden a horse. In such cases, all exaggeration must be restricted to the first twenty-four hours past sunrise." From the very start, readers know this tall tale is going to be something special. And in tall tales, the magic is all in the details.

Meanwhile Back at the Ranch is the story of a rich widow being pursued by thousands of cowboys. Some of the cowboys, the most persistent of the bunch, belong to the "Hole in the Pants" gang. Tulip Jones, our heroine, does NOT want to marry anyone, or so she says, so with a little help from Linsey, Woolsey, Calico, and her brand new friend Charlie Doughpuncher, she'll try to find a good solution. How does one go about getting rid of persistent suitors? 

As I said, I loved, loved, loved the storytelling. It's funny. And dare I say it's a bit romantic?!

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

Miles to the Finish. Jamie Harper. 2014. Candlewick. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

"Hey, Otto!" calls Miles.
"Whoa! Nice wheels."
"Check it out--it's a Speedster 660!" says Otto.
"Where did it come from?" asks Miles.
"That's my car. I'm Indie. Are you racing today, too?"
"How fast does it go?" asks Miles.
"Fast," says Indie.

If you enjoyed Miles to Go, chances are you'll enjoy Miles to the Finish. Miles and his friends--some old friends, some new friends--are having a big race. Most of the entries in the race run on kid-power: the power of feet! But Indie's entry is not. It's electric. Miles knows that he'll have to be in GREAT shape if he is to have a real chance. So he trains during recess! The race itself focuses on Miles, Otto, Axel, and Indie. Who will win?!

I like that Indie is a girl. I like that Miles makes a new friend, and that when it counts he puts friendship ahead of winning. I liked this one overall. But I didn't love it. I still really like the illustrations.

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

Baby's Got the Blues. Carol Diggory Shields. Illustrated by Lauren Tobia. 2014. Candlewick. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

You think babies have it easy?
Let me tell you, that's a lie.
Sometimes being a baby 
Is enough to make you cry,
'Cause I'm a baby,
And I've got those baby blues.
B-A-B-Y, baby,
Got the poor little baby blues.

I liked this one. In places. There were some places that I found the text could lend itself easily to being sung--blues style, of course. For example, "I'd like to eat some pizza, Macaroni, or beef stew, but I haven't got a single tooth, so I can't even chew." Those lines are probably my favorite of the whole book. I really like the concept of a baby singing the blues, of a baby sharing WHY his life is oh-so-hard. But it remains a solid like and not a love.

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

Miss You Like Crazy. Pamela Hall. Illustrated by Jennifer A. Bell. Tanglewood Press. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Walnut crunched Honey Bumbles for breakfast. 
"Ready to make tracks?" Mom asked.
"I want to stay home," Walnut groaned.
"Don't you miss me all day?"
"Only like crazy, Mom said, snitching a Bumble crumb.
"I wish I could  fold you up and pack you in my briefcase."

Walnut has to go to preschool (or daycare?) and the mom squirrel has to go to work. There are many picture books about separation anxiety. This one does get creative in places. It starts with her playfully saying that she wishes she could pack him in her briefcase. The illustrations show the oh-so-tiny Walnut with his mom at work: shows him in her pencil cup, climbing paper clip ladders, etc. The two take turns elaborating the adventure. It doesn't take long for them both to leave work behind and the fantasy becomes a bit out of control. But this one is grounded in reality. The fact remains that they can't always be together physically, and he has to be okay with that.

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

The Farmer's Away! Baa! Neigh! Anne Vittur Kennedy. 2014. Candlewick. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

neigh neigh baa baa quack quack tweet
arf oink ree ree cluck cluck cheep!

ribbet mama ribbet mama

eek honk quack
splish splash baa baa
moo moo yap

The story itself is told through the illustrations. The illustrations show young readers what happens on the farm when the farmer goes away for the day. The day is absolutely full of adventure: silly, over-the-top adventure. To name just a few things they do: Ride a roller coaster, have a picnic, go water skiing, go dancing. And that's just a few activities. The book does have text. But the text is ALL animal sound. It makes for a very playful, very rhythmic read-aloud. It's just a very fun book.

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

Peanut Butter and Jellyfish. Jarrett J. Krosoczka. 2014. Random House. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Peanut Butter and Jellyfish were the best of friends. Best of friends who spent their days exploring up, down, around, and through their grand ocean home. 
Unluckily for them, though, they lived near Crabby.

I don't know what I was expecting, but, it certainly wasn't a book about bullying. Peanut Butter and Jellyfish isn't a silly and playful book.

Every day Crabby has something new to say to Peanut Butter and Jellyfish. They don't like Crabby's attitude, but, these two certainly aren't upset and bothered by what he says. In fact, they seem to be very good at ignoring it. I get the feeling that Crabby wants more of a reaction from these two friends.

One day Crabby's not there to say mean things. One day Crabby is in need of their help. He's been caught in a trap. Of course, Jellyfish and Peanut Butter are there and are willing--very willing--to help Crabby. And, of course, the book ends with a reformed Crabby.

This one is predictable. I wanted something more, I suppose.

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

E-I-E-I-O How Old MacDonald Got His Farm. Judy Sierra. Illustrated by Matthew Myers. 2014. Candlewick. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Old MacDonald had a house, E-I-E-I-O!
Around that house there was a yard...
Mow
Mow
Mow
Mow
Mow!
MacDonald said, "I love my yard,
but mowing grass is mighty hard."
So off he went to get a goat, E-I-E-I-O!
The goat just nibbled at the edges.
Then she ate MacDonald's hedges.
Soon the plot began to thicken:
Old MacDonald got a chicken. E-I-E-I-O!

Picture books are completely subjective. But I thought this was a mess of a book. The text. I really had a hard time with it. This isn't the first Judy Sierra text that has proved irritating. The reason I keep giving her a chance is because every now and then she writes a wonderful little book like SUPPOSE YOU MEET A DINOSAUR. The story of this one is that slowly-but-surely Old MacDonald turns his unmanageable yard into a working farm. And before it gets better, it gets a whole lot worse. I don't know if the intent was to preach about compost heaps or not. But it was a bit much. "And when the mud had turned to goop, the Little Red Hen, atop her coop, clucked, "Who will help me find some poop?" Or maybe it was preaching about buying local and organic vegetables? I don't know. I just felt preached at, and, not in a good way.

Text: 2 out of 5
Illustrations: 2 out of 5
Total: 4 out of 10

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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9. A 320 page version of Richard McGuire’s Here is coming this fall

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Richard McGuire’s Here is a comics story originally published in RAW Magazine that used the comics form to dizzying effect, jumping from the dawn of time to the end of time using one specific location. It’s been anthologized many times, but but Random House is giving us all the HEre we could want with this fall an expanded 320 page edition of the book. that promises to be even more dizzying and amazing. he cover was released a little while ago.

McGuire is a multitalented artist and musician whose comics are few but powerful. This just went to the top of the fall reading list.

5 Comments on A 320 page version of Richard McGuire’s Here is coming this fall, last added: 6/4/2014
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10. Sleepytime Me, new art-the back cover that never was.

Final cover for Sleepytime Me by Edith Hope Fine
The cover for my most recent book, Sleepytime Me by Edith Hope Fine, came together very quickly. Those of you who are in the business picture books know this is a rare occurrence. We all loved the image of the house and wanted to stay with that theme. I could have done a wrap but was enjoying painting the images so much that I wanted to produce another piece of art. I was so excited when I had the idea of painting the same scene after the kid went to bed and the moonlight and stars had shifted that I went ahead and painted it. I loved painting the moonlight on the leaves and having it dapple over the house. Sadly, the art was never used but the incredible designer I worked with, Jan Gerardi, came up with a wonderfully elegant solution. Her design was beautiful but even with that we almost had the cover changed on us at the eleventh hour. Fortunately, we were able to compromise and meet the needs of the marketing department by zooming in on the house and character. For fans of the book, here is a look at never before seen art! Which one do you like?
Original cover art ©2014 Christopher Denise. I remember stargazing from the bedroom.
Original back cover art ©2014 Christopher Denise. ".ooo..what a little moonlight can do..."
How it might have looked...

My proposal
Jan Gerardi's design. I loved working with Jan! Love her type on this version.

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11. Between Two Worlds (2014)

Between Two Worlds. Katherine Kirkpatrick. 2014. Random House. 304 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Between Two Worlds was an interesting and thoughtful novel. The novel is set in Greenland at the turn of the twentieth century. It is told from the native perspective, a young woman named Eqariusaq, nicknamed Billy Bah by Robert E. Peary's wife and daughter. The novel explores the tension between the heroine's "two worlds." On the one hand, as a child, she went with Peary and lived with his family for about a year in the United States. Several years later, her parents also traveled with Peary. But they never returned, along with the other natives Peary had selected. Those natives did not have the personal connection, the friendship. These men and women were to be studied by a museum. Between Two Worlds tells young readers of their fate and treatment--or mistreatment as the case may be. Readers learn alongside the main character. On the other hand, her home is her HOME. Spending time with white people (qallunaat) did not change who she was, did not change her way of life, her culture, her beliefs. She did not trade in her spirituality, for example, for that of the white men. Since her time with Peary's family, she has grown up and gotten married. She's still super young for marriage by today's standards, but today's standards just don't apply to ANY part of this novel.

One of the novel's greatest strengths, perhaps, is that it presents the facts with little or no judgment at all. How husbands and wives treated one another, how women fit into the community and village life, it's something that modern readers will question perhaps. Especially in terms of how husbands traded their wives amongst themselves in addition to trading them to the white men. Part of a woman's value was the value she could bring her husband. A wife's body could be sold or traded. Eqariusaq's husband, Angulluk, loved to trade his wife alot, especially to the white men. He loved how he could use his wife to obtain guns and bullets and planks of wood. I should also point out that men and women could decide to separate or "divorce." Marriage did not mean forever. Women could decide to discard one man in favor of another, in favor of a better. Billy Bah takes comfort in that fact as she seriously considers leaving her husband; she has little respect for him since he's lazy and greedy.

Between Two Worlds is a contemplative novel. Our heroine is very much torn in what she wants and what she needs. She is questioning her past, her present, and her future. Her memories of the past are bitter and sweet. There are memories she cherishes, for better or worse, but she's more analytical than she was as a child. There were things that happened to her in America that through her innocence she did not see as damaging or painful, but, upon growing up and growing wise, she realizes things aren't that simple. For example, she has happy memories of Peary's wife and daughter. Seriously happy memories. Yet, as an adult, as she meets them again after years apart, she realizes the complexity of the situation. Mrs. Peary is willing to risk the lives of the natives without a thought, without a thank you. She commands and expects obedience. She simply does not see the natives as being equally human, equally of worth.

I thought it was a compelling read. It presents a whole other world to readers.
© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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12. Australian Readers Encouraged to Decorate New Haruki Murakami Book Cover

Random House Australia will include a sheet of stickers with the first edition printings of Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and the Year of His Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami.

Here’s more from the publishing house’s blog post: “[The] front cover design is an elegant abstract image representing the five main characters in the book, the close childhood friends Mr. Red, Mr. Blue, Miss White, Miss Black and Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki. Tsukuru means ‘to make’ or ‘to build’, and this is the concept behind the stickers, which encourage the reader to decorate the novel themselves.”

We’ve embedded an image featuring the sticker images below. Creative director Suzanne Dean, who designed the book jacket, commissioned five Japanese artists to create each sticker. As is the case with the U.S. and U.K. editions of this book, the publisher plans to release it on August 12, 2014.
(more…)

New Career Opportunities Daily: The best jobs in media.

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13. Six 2014 Picture Books

I Pledge Allegiance. Pat Mora and Libby Martinez. Illustrated by Patrice Barton. 2014. Random House. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]

On Monday when I get to school, my teacher, Mrs. Adams asks, "Did your great-aunt pass her test?"
"Yes!" I say. "She is very smart." I tell my class all about my great-aunt. She is eighty years old, and my family calls her Lobo, which means "wolf" in Spanish. (She calls us her lobitos--her "little wolves.")
Lobo studied very hard. She learned all about America. 

Inspired by her own aunt who became a citizen in her seventies, Pat Mora and Libby Martinez have crafted a lovely story of friendship between a young child and her great-aunt. While her great-aunt is preparing to become a citizen, to say the pledge of allegiance in a big ceremony, her young niece is preparing to lead the pledge of allegiance in her class. The two discuss what they love about the U.S.

I liked the focus on family. It was very sweet. A lot of the charm of this one is communicated through the illustrations.

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

Duck & Goose: Go To The Beach. Tad Hills. 2014. Random House. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]

"Don't you love it here, Duck?" Goose honked. The two friends relaxed in the early-morning sun and listened to the hum of the meadow. Butterflies flitted and grass swished in the breeze. "Yes, I do," Duck agreed. "Let's never leave," said Goose. 
Suddenly, Duck jumped up. "You just gave me the greatest idea, Goose!" he quacked. "Let's leave! Let's go away!"

I enjoy Duck and Goose. I do. Perhaps I don't love these two as much as say Gerald and Piggie. But I definitely like this friendship. These two star in many books together. I can't say that Duck & Goose Go To The Beach is my absolute favorite of the series. (I enjoy others in the series more actually.) But it is a fun summer addition for Duck & Goose fans.

The book begins with Duck wanting desperately to go somewhere, to have an adventure. Goose is super hesitant. He likes home. He likes the familiar. Duck does persuade Goose to come along. By the end, Goose has definitely become more comfortable! But will Duck like where the adventure leads him?! He may not!!!

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

Peppa Pig and the Vegetable Garden. 2014. Candlewick Press. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Peppa Pig and her little brother, George, are playing at Grandpa Pig and Granny Pig's house. They love to help Grandpa Pig in the garden.

If you enjoy the show Peppa Pig, chances are you'll enjoy reading the series of books based on the show. I know I do! In this book, Peppa Pig and her brother George are visiting their grandparents. They work in the garden. They plant seeds. They play in the garden. They pretend to be snails, butterflies, and worms. When Mummy Pig and Daddy Pig arrive, they pick blackberries. If you've seen the show, you know that usually means trouble! In this instance, it is Mummy Pig who ends up making a mess of things! The book concludes with a nice family meal.

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

Peppa Pig and the Great Vacation. Candlewick Press. 2014. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Peppa Pig is one of my favorite children's shows. It is. I love Peppa Pig and her brother George. I enjoy her parents Mummy Pig and Daddy Pig. I enjoy watching their adventures. The books which are based on the show can be great fun, but, they don't always match the quality or the charm of the show. I did enjoy Peppa Pig and the Great Vacation. But I didn't love it.

In Peppa Pig and the Great Vacation, Peppa and her family go on vacation. They do some hiking. They do some shopping. They have at least one picnic. (The family does love having picnics!) They go to the beach. Every day Peppa Pig calls home to see if Grandpa Pig and Granny Pig are properly watching her fish. Readers will see if they did a proper job by the end of the book!

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

Help! We Need A Title! Herve Tullet. 2014. Candlewick Press. 64 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Hey! Someone's watching us!
Guys, come here. Look at this.
There are people here...and they've opened our book!
Hi there.
Who are you? What do you want?
You're very sweet. Wow! 
So, what now?
I think they would like a story.

The reader catches the characters by surprise in Herve Tullet's new picture book. The illustrations, the characters, are an unfinished mess. They are. They know they are. They do not have a story ready to tell the reader. They know the reader expects a finished product, an actual story. But they do their best. They talk amongst themselves. They talk about what a book needs to work. Characters. Backdrops. A story or plot. Possibly a villain. But they're amateurs. What they need is a real author to help them. So they team up and surprise one. The author they choose, of course, is Herve Tullet. His photo is blended into the illustrations charmingly. He is willing to help them if they're willing for his story to be short and sweet.

 This one is definitely creative and unique. I liked it. It was originally published in France.

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

Very Little Red Riding Hood. Teresa Heapy. Illustrated by Sue Heap. 2014. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Very little Red Riding Hood was going to her Grandmama's for a sleepover. "I go see Gramma with cakes," said Very little Red Riding Hood.
"Yes, my love, I know," said her Mummy.
"Off you go. Be gentle with Grandmama. And don't break anything!"
"Bye bye, my Mummy!" said Very little Red Riding Hood.
So Very little Red Riding Hood set off for Grandmama's house. She hadn't gotten very far when she met a Wolf.
"A FOXIE!" said Very little Red Riding Hood. 
She gave him a BIG hug.

As I hope you can tell from my beginning quote, VERY little Red Riding Hood is a young girl with a BIG personality. She is truly the star of this fun retelling! You won't find VERY little Red Riding Hood scared or intimidated by the wolf! Not in this story! I loved, loved, LOVED this one!!!

This retelling is very fun, very creative, just a joy to read and reread. I definitely recommend it. The only predictable thing about it is perhaps the little girl's homesickness that she experiences at her first sleepover. But with Grandmama and "Foxie" by her side, all is good. (This one was originally published in the UK).


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

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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14. Alice-Miranda At School (2011)

Alice-Miranda At School. Jacqueline Harvey. 2010/2011. Random House. 257 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Alice Miranda at School is a manipulatively cute book. It tries to be "cute" and "charming" and "delightful" and "amusing" and "endearing" on almost every single page. It tries to fit a certain mold in its storytelling.

Alice Miranda, our heroine, is seven. She wants to attend a certain boarding school. Even though she's a good six months younger than most of the other beginning students. Eight is usual age, after all. Alice Miranda has to be the most intuitive child on the planet. She can "read" people of all ages extremely well. On her first day at the school, she finds three adults who need her help. The cook needs a vacation so she can go visit her grandchildren for the first time. The gardener is depressed because he can't have flowers on the school grounds anymore. The assistant or secretary (the second in command) is sad because she can't marry her true love because she'd be fired if she marries. Alice Miranda also finds some students nearer her own age who need fixing.

Alice Miranda would definitely be "Emma Approved." (I am currently watching "Emma Approved" which is an adaptation of Emma by Jane Austen.) Alice Miranda almost demands a reaction from everyone she meets: instant love or instant hate.

If this book actually has a real plot, it is the "three tests" that Alice-Miranda must take in order to stay at the school.

I liked this one. I didn't dislike it. I found Alice Miranda's character to be unbelievable and silly. But since I felt it was completely intentional for her to be so over-the-top and unnatural, I didn't mind it so much.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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15. Enders (2014)

Enders. Lissa Price. 2014. Random House. 288 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Enders is the sequel to Lissa Price's Starters. I enjoy reading dystopia, and I like that Starters and Enders offers a unique story to readers. I also appreciate that there isn't a love triangle. Callie, our heroine, and her brother, Tyler, have been "saved." They now have a home. They now have a legal guardian. But life isn't really much easier for Callie because she is still hearing voices in her head. She is still hearing via the neurochip from THE OLD MAN. He is still a threat to be reckoned with, and Callie, while not helpless, doesn't know how to take him down for once and for all.

I felt there was a LOT of action in Enders. The battle, if battle is the right word, has begun. Callie is not alone in facing The Old Man. She is not alone in her battle for justice for starters, for young people. New characters are introduced in Enders. Callie teams up with the good guys, and she places her trust in her new friends. And a BIG SHOWDOWN does happen in a way. But the twists and turns in this one reveal just how strange this war may prove to be.

I liked this one fine. But I didn't LOVE it.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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16. The Dust Girl (2012)

The Dust Girl (American Fairy #1) Sarah Zettel. Random House. 304 pages. [Source: Review copy]

I enjoyed reading Sarah Zettel's Dust Girl. It's historical fantasy set in America in the 1930s. It starts in the tiny town of Slow Run, Kansas, but, the heroine Callie LeRoux won't stay put. The quest in Dust Girl very much reminded me of the quest in Rick Riordan's Lightning Thief. Less humor though. It isn't just the depression getting Callie and her family down, it's the dust bowl too. Their are whole sections of the U.S. truly devastated and overwhelmed. Even those who aren't farmers are suffering greatly. Callie and her mom are among the last living in their town. Everyone else has left, out of want or desperation. One day, her mom disappears in a dust storm. Callie is upset and confused. How could her mom vanish so suddenly? It doesn't seem natural, it seems, well, supernatural. And Callie is right. There are secrets to be uncovered. For one, Callie is only half human. Callie is given the tiniest bit of help before her journey begins, and, she even finds a companion to go with her willing to face anything and everything. But it won't be an easy or safe journey. The journey, of course, is to find her mother, and, to find her father, and to learn MORE about her heritage, who she is, and what "magic" if any she possesses.

I liked this one. I found it a very pleasant, very enjoyable, fun read. I liked Jack. I liked Callie. I liked meeting some of the not-so-nice characters. I liked trying to piece together the mystery. I look forward to reading more in this series.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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17. You'll Like It Here (Everybody Does) (2011)

You'll Like It Here (Everybody Does). Ruth White. 2011/2012. Random House. 272 pages. [Source: Review copy]

You'll Like It Here (Everybody Does) makes a great, quick, entertaining read. If you enjoy classic twilight zone episodes, you'll likely enjoy this middle grade science fiction novel. Meggie Blue, and her brother, David, narrate this one. Though readers spend time with the characters before the move to FASHION CITY, most of this one takes place in Fashion City. (To be clear from the start, Fashion City is located in an alternate/parallel universe.) I think the details surrounding Fashion City and the Fathers is best left to the reader to discover. Some of the details about WHO is living in this parallel world is intriguing. For example, Elvis is contemporary with L. Frank Baum who is contemporary with Abraham Lincoln who is contemporary with Grandma Moses who is contemporary with Martin Luther King Jr. I imagine it was very fun for the author to fit these people into her alternate universe and play around with the facts of history. (In this parallel world, Walt Disney was killed as a teenager in war, as was Laura Ingalls.) The character of Gramps is very, very fun! The book is odd and quirky. But. I found it entertaining.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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18. SDCC 2014: Random House signings with Pahlaniuk, Carroll, O’Malley, Gabaldon, GRRM and more

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Some of the biggest stars at Comic-Con aren’t even on the CW. These stars write these book things, and you may want to see them or get them to sign your all time favorite book. At various times at the Random House/Ballantine/Del Rey booth you’ll find George R.R. Martin, Diane Gabaldon, Jim Butcher, Robin Hobb, John Jackson Miller, Anne Rice, Joe Abercrombie, Natalie Parker, Jeff and Ann VanderMeer, Bryan Lee O’Malley, Emily Carroll, Patrick Rothfuss, Morgan Rhodes, Lynn Flewelling, Daniel H. Wilson, Pierce Brown, James Dashner, and Christina Lauren.

Plus that Fight Club panel we mentioned before:

Chuck Palahniuk and director David Fincher, plus some unnamed “special guests” will be on a panel Saturday, July 26, titled “Fight Club: From Page to Screen and Beyond.” Even better? It isn’t going to be in the legendary and infamous Hall H. That means that you won’t need to set up camp on Tuesday to get a good place in line (like these super fans did in 2012 for theTwilight panel). I’d still get there plenty early, though. It’s in Room 25ABC.


More deets at Suvudu, but here’s the schedule in visual form:

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2014-Comic-Con-Programming-HANDOUT-page-two.jpg

1 Comments on SDCC 2014: Random House signings with Pahlaniuk, Carroll, O’Malley, Gabaldon, GRRM and more, last added: 7/24/2014
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19. 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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20. Love Me (2014)

Love Me. (Starstruck #2). Rachel Shukert. 2014. Random House. 336 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Love Me is the sequel to Rachel Shukert's Starstruck. I enjoyed Starstruck. I am not sure if I enjoyed Love Me as much. On the one hand, I could not put it down. I kept cheating. I would go to the end of the book, read a bit, and then go back to where I was. I don't ever really do that. So it did keep my interest, which, I suppose, is a good thing, right?! My favorite character is NOT a main character.

On the other hand, I found myself yelling at the characters from start to finish. I also found myself frustrated at times with the dialogue and the writing. Little things like name-dropping all the big, big stars and how they all were desperately mad to interact with these fictional characters. There were things that were just impossible to take seriously.

Love Me is definitely "darker" and messier than Starstruck. Every single character falls or fails in this one. Amanda, it turns out, had not reached her low point in Starstruck, far from it. And Gabby, well, I'm not sure Gabby makes even one good choice in this second novel. It's not that she doesn't try, it's just that her trying is hindered by her addictions. Margo's expectations are so out of control. After making one movie, she wants validation that she's the center of the universe. It doesn't happen. She whines and nags all the time. Readers, like Dane, may find themselves tuning her out.

The content of Love Me is definitely more adult than in Starstruck.

The men of Love Me:

Harry. Leftover from book one. Is there anything he does in this novel that does not make me angry?! I do NOT care for him at all. I HATE him.

Eddie. A musician. A band leader. Hints of trouble. I didn't mind him as much as Harry, because, at least he was honest about who he was and where he came from and what he was looking for. There is something refreshing about what you see is what you get.

Dexter. Another jazz musician. Not really seen as a love interest, but, an interesting guy I'd be curious to see again in a sequel if the author chooses to follow up with this character. I liked his scenes a good bit.

Dane. What can I say?! It has to be frustrating to be forced into a serious relationship with Margo. So I don't fault him for finding her annoying and frustrating and not who he hoped her to be. He wanted a girl who was smart enough not to fall for all the lies and concoctions the studio produced, and she is not that girl at all. That being said, he is far from perfect.

Don't expect Jimmy to have any scenes in this one. His name is mentioned a few times, sure, but that is it. This has me worried that Dexter won't be around in following books.

I mentioned that I "yelled" at the characters...

Dear Amanda,

Please stop obsessing over Harry. He is not worth it. Seriously. I know you want to feel loved and accepted. But it will NEVER happen with Harry no matter how much you put yourself into debt. A new dress will not change his mind. Your problems cannot be solved by going shopping every day. You've had to deal with so much, I just wish you'd be a little more grounded.

Dear Gabby,

You are the one least likely to listen, but the one who needs to hear the truth the most of all. Your mother would drive almost anyone crazy, so I don't blame you for wanting to escape it all. But the way you're doing it--drugs--is NOT the right answer.

Dear Margo,

You're so clueless that it hurts to be around you. Yes, I mean that. It hurts to see you act like a fool. Especially when it comes to Dane. You're so blinded by your so-called "love" for Dane. I have to ask: do you really love the real Dane OR are you in love with the Dane you've imagined in your own head? Do you even know there is a real Dane? Do you listen, really listen, when he talks? Do you see the way he acts around you? The way he treats you? Because I think if you had a little common sense and would just pay attention a fraction of the time, you would realize that your "relationship" with Dane is in trouble.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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21. Seven 2014 Picture Books

Go! Go! Go! Stop! Charise Mericle Harper. 2014. Random House. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

One day, Little Green said a word. 
It was his first word. He had never spoken before. The word was... GO!
He liked how it sounded. He practiced it quiet. Go! Then medium. Go! And finally very, very, loud. GO!
It was exciting to have a new word. Little Green couldn't wait to share it. 

Loved it. In this picture book, readers meet Little Green, who loves the word, GO, and Little Red, who loves the word STOP. Before Little Red showed up, things were lively: very, very lively. A bit out-of-control, and growing more chaotic by the minute. Little Red and his STOP definitely prove their worth in this one. Little Green and Little Red learn to work together to achieve the right balance at this super busy construction site.

For little ones who love construction, who love trucks and action, who love funny books, this one is great! I liked the story. I liked the language. "Tow Truck towed terrifically. Crane carried carefully. Dump Truck dumped dependably. Mixer mixed marvelously. And Backhoe waved his long arms in the air." I liked the details. I liked looking at the illustrations closely, the trucks were often talking to each other, or, interacting with each other. For this story, these illustrations work well.

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

Weasels. Elys Dolan. 2014. Candlewick. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Weasels. What do you think they do all day? Eat nuts and berries? Frolic in the leaves? Lurk in the dark? Argue with squirrels? Hide in their weasel holes? 
Well, all of these are wrong.
What they really do is...
plot world domination!
And today is the day they'll take over the world.

I loved this one. It is worth spending time with this one, focusing on the illustrations, following it along from cover to cover. If you do, you'll see that these weasels have personalities. The basic story is simple: the weasels have worked very hard, they are getting ready for the big countdown, they think their moment is at least here, and, then, they discover something is horribly wrong: the machine is BROKEN. Can this plot to take over the world be saved? Can the weasels work together to find out WHY the machine is broken? Can they fix it? This one has plenty of text. There is the main text of the narrator, and then the weasels' dialogue among one another. Added to the stories told through illustrations alone, and, readers are in for a fun treat. It may take more than a quick read to appreciate everything. This one may work best reading one-on-one with a child rather than in a group setting. Also this one may be a picture book older readers (independent readers) pick up. I think it's fun for many different ages--adults included.

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

Mama's Day With Little Gray. Aimee Reid. Illustrated by Laura J. Bryant. 2014. Random House. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

The sun shimmered in the sky as Little Gray walked in Mama's shadow. "Mama," said Little Gray, "when I grow up, will you grow down?" "Well," Mama said, "when you grow big, I may look smaller." "If I grew up and you were my calf," said Little Gray, "I'd spend every day with you." "I would be your calf and stay right by your side," said Mama. Their trunks swung together as they strolled along.

Mama's Day is a sweet picture book. I liked it very much. I like books that celebrate family. Little Gray imagines that she is all grown-up. She also imagines that her Mama has grown down, that she is, in fact, Little Gray's calf. The following conversation is cute, sweet, and perhaps familiar. What-if conversations between parent and child aren't exactly new to the genre. But. I liked it. I happen to LOVE elephants which certainly helped.

Plenty of books celebrating mothers are published each year, and this one is a very nice addition. I thought the illustrations were especially lovely.

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

Taking Care of Mama Rabbit. Anita Lobel. 2014. Random House. 24 pages. [Source: Review copy]

 One morning, Mama Rabbit stayed in bed. That made her ten little rabbits worried. "Where is Papa?" they asked. "Papa went to get me medicine," Mama mumbled.
Medicine! Mama did look very pale. And not at all happy. "We have to cheer up Mama," the ten little rabbits agreed. One by one, they brought her...

I think the book itself is simple enough, but, I can't stop over-thinking it. First, the story: Mama Rabbit is sick in bed. The ten rabbits can't find their father. They learn he's gone to buy medicine. They decide to cheer her up. By the end of the book, when the father returns with a bottle of medicine, she is all better without it.

The problem? If you're really sick and in need of medicine, drinking hot chocolate, eating cookies, and putting ribbons in your hair is not going to make you magically feel better. It's a nice enough thought, perhaps, but what Mamas need more than toys and apples and ribbons and necklaces is to be left alone to rest. I can imagine the ten rabbits interrupting her every five minutes in an effort to "cheer" her up. If she's not actually sick, if she is perhaps just SICK of her children's behavior and wants to take a break, then, the children's kindness might get her out of a bad mood. This one just leaves me unsatisfied.

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

A Gift for Mama. Linda Ravin Lodding. Illustrated by Alison Jay. 2014. Random House. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Morning bells rang out over Vienna. Shoppers and sellers filled the streets, and carriages clippity-clopped against the cobblestones. Oskar peered wide-eyed into the shop windows. It was his mother's birthday, and he wanted to give her the perfect gift. 

I enjoyed this one. Oskar, our hero, wants to give his Mama a gift. He has one single coin to buy that gift. His first gift is a yellow rose. It doesn't stay the gift for mama, however, for someone soon appears that has greater need for it. And he's willing to trade. A paintbrush for a rose. This may be the first exchange, but, it won't be the last. What gift will Oskar give his mother?

Oskar travels all around Vienna meeting lots of different people in Lodding's picture book A Gift for Mama. I think the premise is a good one. I enjoyed meeting the different characters. The illustrations in this one are just wonderful.

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

Where's Mommy? Beverly Donofrio. Illustrated by Barbara McClintock. 2014. Random House. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

 Maria had a friend who was a mouse. And Mouse Mouse had a friend who was a human. Maria and Mouse Mouse lived in the same house but couldn't tell anyone about each other. If Maria's parents knew there were mice in the house, they'd get a cat. If Mouse Mouse's parents knew their daughter was friends with a human, they'd flee to a hole in the ground. And so Maria and Mouse Mouse kept their secret.

Maria and Mouse Mouse think they know their mothers well. But. It turns out that their mothers both have secrets from their daughters. BIG secrets. Maria and Mouse Mouse get suspicious one night. Both Maria and Mouse Mouse realize that their moms are completely missing. No one else cares. No one else worries. But Maria and Mouse Mouse, well, they HAVE to find out where their moms are NOW! So they go searching everywhere. 

Where's Mommy is either a sequel or companion to Mary and the Mouse and The Mouse and Mary. I have not read the first book. But I'm guessing that this is a book about Mary's daughter.

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

The Pigeon Needs A Bath! Mo Willems. 2014. Hyperion. 40 pages. [Source: Library]

Hi! I don't know if you've noticed, but the pigeon is filthy. So, I could use your help, because: THE PIGEON NEEDS A BATH!
 
That is a matter of opinion.
What a Kidder.
I don't really need a bath!
I took one last month!
I think it was last month.
"Clean." "Dirty." They're just words, right?
I feel clean.
Maybe YOU need a bath!
Yeah! When was the last time YOU had a bath?!
Oh. That was pretty recently.

I love Mo Willems. I think if you were to go back and read all my reviews of Mo Willems' books, they'd all start the same gushy way. I do indeed love Mo Willems' work. I would never say--could never say--that my love for Pigeon matches my LOVE, LOVE, LOVE for Elephant and Piggie, I have grown fonder of this character over time. I think The Pigeon Needs A Bath may be my personal favorite from the Pigeon series.
 

Pigeon is going to do his best to convince you, his reader, that he absolutely does NOT need a bath. He sets forth quite a few arguments, but, ultimately, all fail. To the bath, he goes, will he like it? will he hate it? will he love it?

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

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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22. Review: We Were Liars

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart (Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House). 2014. Review from ARC.

The Plot: Cady, nearly eighteen, had a terrible accident two years before. She is still recovering, still not herself. Cady is hoping that a summer spent with her three best friends, the "Liars," will make things better. Or, that it will be a start to being the person she used to be.

Love, friendship, loyalty, family. This is what Cady thinks she is returning to. Cady thinks her summer will be about healing and friendship, brought to her by being with those she loves.

Instead, she is going to learn the truth.

The Good: Cady tells us her story, and she frames it not in who she is but in who her family is. "Welcome to the beautiful Sinclair family. No one is a criminal. No one is an addict. No one is a failure."

She is a Sinclair. And "we were liars."

The Sinclairs are a rich family. No, even richer than that. Her grandfather took family money and made even more. Each of his three daughters has a trust fund. The family summers on an island, an island that is home just to the family. In addition to the family home, each daughter has her own house. No one else lives on the island, well, except for the help during the summer. Oh, they are rich, and beautiful, and privileged.


It all looks so picture perfect. Part of that perfection is the tight, best friend bond between Cady and her cousins, Johnny and Mirren. Each the eldest child of one of the three daughters. They are together each summer, reuniting from the places and lives they live during the rest of the year. Gat, the nephew of Johnny's mother's boyfriend, joins the group. Somehow, four becomes the perfect number and each summer is better than the year before. Until Cady's accident.

We Were Liars is Cady's return to the island, to her best friends, after almost two years away, because of her accident and her parent's divorce. Her accident has caused terrible migraines and memory loss; she is an unreliable narrator, to say the least. That she and her friends were called the liars is another clue to how much, and when, they should be believed.

Part of why I adored We Were Liars is because Lockhart does such a beautiful job of creating the nostalgia a teenager feels for their childhood, and of the magic of innocent summers. Even if you're not a privileged teen going to a private island, childhood and summer and friendships are true for all of us. Before there is a chance to be wrapped in that warm cocoon of memory, though, We Were Liars lets us know that how we remember childhood does not mean that is how our childhood was. There are hints from the first that the perfect family is not perfect, but as Cady's summer passes, and as she begins to remember the events of two summers ago, the flaws and cracks of the family are revealed. (It is, in essence, what happens once you move from the children's table to the adult table at family holidays.)

Is the grandfather loving, or is he using his money to control his daughters and grandchildren? Is Gat, the almost-cousin, included among the Sinclairs or is he always an outsider because of the color of his skin? Are the sisters close, or competing to get more of the family money? And what secrets do the cousins keep from each other? Are Cady and her cousins fated to repeat the familiar family patterns, or can they break the bonds of family ties?

This exploration of identity, of the truth behind the illusion, was wonderful. It may be heightened because the money is more, but the Sinclairs are hardly the first or only family who wonders what the neighbors think; who don't discuss unpleasant truths; who fight over a family heirloom because it represents love. A first read may result in thinking the Sinclairs are so wealthy that they and their problems are "other," too removed, but as time passes and Cady and her family haunts you the way they did me,  you realize -- the problems are the same for many of us.

I first wrote this review after I read the book, and in rereading it, and remembering Liars, there is more I want to say. I kept on thinking about the Sinclairs and their money, and gradually thought less about the wealth and more about the privilege. How the privilege both gave the Sinclairs opportunities but also limited when, and how, those chances were pursued. And that the exaggeration of that privilege -- so much money! servants! travel! their own island! -- is necessary to show that privilege exists and what, exactly, it means.

I loved the language Lockhart uses in We Were Liars. Here is Cady, describing her beloved "liars": "Mirren. She is sugar. She is curiosity and rain. Johnny. he is bounce. He is effort and snark." Gat: "He is contemplation and enthusiasm. Ambition and strong coffee." Truth be told, I'd love to have Cady describe me, her choice of words are so perfect.

Cady's secret. Her accident, and what happened, so that "the last two years [were spent] in a shell of headache pain and self-pity." I don't want to reveal too much, because what matters is not just "what happened" but when, and how, Cady remembers. Remember the "we" were liars -- so it's not just Cady's own secrets.

I adore Cady, her voice, her character. That she is an unreliable narrator makes it that much better. And the plot, the structure, of trying to understand, along with Cady, just what happened. And here's a confession: I cannot say, at the end of the day, that I liked Cady. But I can say I loved her.

This is a Favorite Book Read in 2014. (Technically, yes, I read the ARC in 2013, but work with me, people.)

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23. The Winter Pony (2011)

The Winter Pony. Ian Lawrence. 2011. Random House. 256 pages. [Source: Review copy]

By the time I was halfway through The Winter Pony, I knew I had made a mistake, a big mistake. It isn't just that all the animals die, the ponies, the dogs, and lots of other Antarctic animals that were killed for food or fur, or both. It isn't just the fact that almost all the human characters die too.

I think it's the fact, and this is purely subjective on my part, that it was all so pointless. What could possibly be heroic or noble about starving to death and/or freezing to death? For what did these men risk their lives? For the glory of man? For pride? The men had a choice. They, for whatever reason, were excited and motivated and aware of the risks and hardships. The animals, well, they had no choice at any point. The animals were essentially doomed from the moment they were selected to be a part of Robert Falcon Scott's quest, his mission, to be the first to the South Pole.

Why am I focusing on the animals instead of the men? For the simple fact that this book does. The Winter Pony is told through a pony's perspective. The pony hero is James Pigg. The novel opens with James Pigg free and running wild, happy and innocent. It ends with him being shot and fed to the remaining dogs and men. (The men, the dogs, the ponies, all shared the same fate, it was just a matter of when.)

The author seems to like and respect Robert Scott, and has sought to tell the story honestly for better or worse. He does point out that big mistakes were made by Scott on his journey, that the story could have had a different ending, if Scott had made different choices, better choices. One of the mistakes is that Scott failed to push the ponies hard enough at the beginning. He had planned to create a supply cache, "One Ton Depot" at a certain degree, he stopped short of his goal for the sake of the ponies. On his return journey, he never came close to reaching the much-needed supplies that would have saved his life and the lives of his men. If he had stuck to the original plan, then he would have reached his supplies. There were other mistakes made as well.

There was nothing in Ian Lawrence's novel that made me like or respect Scott.

The Winter Pony stays relatively close to the facts. James Pigg's part in the story is stretched and expanded to tell more of what it was like to be one of twenty (or is nineteen?) ponies on the expedition.

The narrative switches between the pony's perspective AND an omniscient narrator that shares plenty of information.
© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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24. Penguin Random House Has Formed a Consumer Marketing Group

Penguin Random House has formed a division dedicated to marketing directly to consumers called the Consumer Marketing Development and Operations Group. The department will help market specific titles, individual authors and even specific genres within each of its U.S. publishing groups. The entity will also be tasked with developing company-wide digital programs, platforms and partnerships. Amanda Close will lead the new group as Senior V.P. and Director. "By approaching marketing development this way," stated Madeline McIntosh, U.S. President and Chief Operating Officer, "both from within publishing and from a broader corporate standpoint, we will be able to most effectively expand our consumer-focused capabilities, and deliver value for our publishers, authors, booksellers, and readers."

New Career Opportunities Daily: The best jobs in media.

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25. Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy (2014)

Ophelia and the Marvelous Boys. Karen Foxlee. 2014. Random House. 240 books. [Source: Review copy]

Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy is a fantasy novel. The prologue introduces readers to the Marvelous Boy. He has been stripped of his name by the three wizards who sent him to face off with the Snow Queen. In the prologue, the Snow Queen appears to have won. She has convinced the King that the Marvelous Boy should be kept on display as an oddity, a unique possession, but possession all the same. He'll be paraded out once a year, perhaps. The King, if he was ever strong before the Snow Queen arrived, has been weak and pathetic since her arrival in his kingdom. He agrees, of course. The Marvelous Boy enters his prison, and there he remains never aging for THREE HUNDRED YEARS.

The novel opens three hundred years later. Alice and Ophelia are the daughters of a man hired to be the new curator of a unique exhibit that is due to open in just a few days. All three are grieving, but, showing it in different ways. Ophelia is our heroine. In the first chapter, she stumbles across the Marvelous Boy in his prison. He asks her to save the world. She is stunned. She is not hero material. She just isn't. She doesn't even believe in stories like that. How on earth could the Snow Queen be real? He asks her to help him one baby step at a time. He reveals his story bit by bit, never giving her more than she can handle. Slowly, Ophelia begins to believe and by the end, she's frantic to save him and the whole world too.

If the novel has a strength, it is in establishing the creepiness of the setting. The odd rooms, the creepy collection, the secrets and dangers. Ophelia has several tasks before her. Each one gives the author the opportunity to create in detail spooky suspenseful scenes. The one that comes to mind easiest is the room of ghosts that she must pass through. These ghosts are story-hungry, and they want Ophelia to give them lots and lots of personal stories to feed their need.

If the novel has a weakness, it is perhaps in the characterization. I didn't feel this was a character-driven novel. I didn't really feel a connection to Ophelia herself. I was curious about the outcome, of course, and I was interested in details about the Marvelous Boy. But I never found myself falling in love with the book itself.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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