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1. Seuss on Saturday #4

Horton Hatches An Egg. Dr. Seuss. 1940/1968. Random House. 64 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence:
Sighed Mayzie, a lazy bird hatching an egg:
"I'm tired and I'm bored
And I've kinks in my leg
From sitting, just sitting here day after day.
It's work! How I hate it!
I'd much rather play!
I'd take a vacation, fly off for a rest
If I could find someone to stay on my nest!
If I could find someone, I'd fly away--free..."
Plot/Premise: Mayzie does not want to hatch her own egg. So Horton, the elephant, steps in and does the job for her. It isn't that he loves the work either. But..."an elephant's faithful one-hundred percent!" He said that he'd take care of the egg, and he will. Because he always means what he says and says what he means. He's faithful through and through. What will happen when the egg hatches? Will Horton's steadfastness be rewarded?

My thoughts: I love this one. I do. I have loved this one since childhood. I'm not sure I could choose which Horton book I like best: Horton Hatches an Egg or Horton Hears a Who. Both illustrate great lessons. I don't mind the lessons so much in either one of these!

His previous book, The King's Stilts, was about balancing work and play. And again, we see those themes at work in Horton Hatches An Egg. Mayzie is an incredibly selfish and lazy bird. She tricks the good-hearted Horton into sitting on her nest and hatching her egg. She lies to him as well, promising that she'll only be gone for a short amount of time, she has every intention of coming back soon. Horton is a great contrast. He endures much, suffers much. But he's calm and steadfast. He's diligent and faithful--disciplined.

I love the surprise ending. Do you?

Have you read Horton Hatches An Egg? Did you like it? love it? hate it? Do you prefer it to Horton Hears A Who? Or do you--like me--love both books almost equally? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

If you'd like to join me in reading or rereading Dr. Seuss' picture books (chronologically) I'd love to have you join me! The next book I'll be reviewing is McElligot's Pool. 


© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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2. Seuss on Saturday #2

The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins. 1938/1965. Random House. 56 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence:
 In the beginning, Bartholomew Cubbins didn't have five hundred hats. He had only one hat. It was an old one that had belonged to his father and his father's father before him. It was probably the oldest and the plainest hat in the whole Kingdom of Didd, where Bartholomew Cubbins lived.
Premise/plot. Bartholomew Cubbins gets into big, big trouble when he "refuses" to remove his hat in the presence of the king. The king gets more and more flustered as he sees the "insolence" of Bartholomew. To Bartholomew's credit, he is trying very hard to remove his hat. But every time he removes a hat, another appears on his head. What is going on?! What will the king do?!

My thoughts: I have only read this one twice. It definitely has more text than And To Think That I Saw it On Mulberry Street. And it also is written in prose. It does not rhyme. The story is just as over-the-top as And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street, but it definitely has a different feel to it. According to Wikipedia, it was received well by reviewers. What did I think? Well, it was silly. I think the key to enjoying it is in focusing on the king and his reaction to the "problem." Seeing the king and those close to him try to solve the problem. For example, at one point he calls in seven black-gowned magicians:
Low and slow, they were chanting words that were strange...
"Dig a hole five furlongs deep,
Down to where the night snakes creep,
Mix and mold the mystic mud,
Malber, Balber, Tidder, Tudd."
In came seven black-gowned magicians, and beside each one stalked a lean black cat. They circled around Bartholomew Cubbins muttering deep and mysterious sounds.
It's never fun to be frustrated yourself. But the king's frustration proves comical. There are no real questions answered in this one.  But the ending proves satisfying enough.

Have you read The 500 Hats of Barthomew Cubbins? Did you like it? love it? hate it? What age do you think it works best for?

If you'd like to join me in reading or rereading Dr. Seuss' picture books (chronologically) I'd love to have you join me! The next book I'll be reviewing is The King's Stilts.


© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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3. Seuss on Saturday #1

And to Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street. Dr. Seuss. 1937/1964. Random House. 40 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence:
When I leave home to walk to school, Dad always says to me, "Marco, keep your eyelids up and see what you can see."
Premise/Plot: While Marco is on his way home, he plans what to say to his father when he asks what he's seen. Marco really sees just a horse and wagon. But what he imagines he sees, well, it gets outlandish. What will he end up telling his father? a pack of lies? or the truth?

My thoughts: It's been years since I read this one. And it is a bit dated when you think about it. For example, as Marco gets carried away with his story, he imagines a reindeer pulling a sled. But he stops himself by adding,
Say--anyone could think of that,
Jack or Fred or Joe or Nat--
Say, even Jane could think of that.
Also of note, it includes a "Chinese man who eats with sticks..." and the illustration of course is not ideal. I'm not mentioning these things to say that the book is "bad" and doesn't belong in your child's library. Just noting that times have changed quite a bit since 1937!!!

Overall, I'd say I liked this one. Didn't necessarily "love" it. But I like it. How many picture books from the 1930s are still in print?! Well, I suppose there's The Story of Ferdinand, Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, Madeline, and The Story of Babar. There may be others as well.

Have you read And To Think I Saw It On Mulberry Street? Did you like it? love it? hate it? I'd love to know what you think of it!

If you'd like to join me in reading or rereading Dr. Seuss' picture books (chronologically) I'd love to have you join me! The next book I'll be reviewing is The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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4. Review: The Family Romanov

The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia by Candace FlemingSchwartz & Wade, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books. 2014. Reviewed from ARC. YALSA Nonfiction Finalist.


It's About: The story of the last Russian Tsar and his family. It begins with privilege, power, and opulence. It ends in a bullets and bayonets in a basement.

The Good: Like many, the story of Nicholas and Alexandra fascinated me as a child and teen. The combination of the tragedy of their deaths and the young ages of their children (ages 13 to 21 at the time of the executions) with the mystery of Anastasia made this irresistible. My serious introduction to the topic was Nicholas and Alexandra by Robert K. Massie.

What I like about The Family Romanov is that it doesn't just depict the world of the Romanovs. It also includes stories about the workers and peasants, to put into context not just the vast differences between the Tsar and those he rules but also to understand why a violent revolution happened.

The Family Romanov portrays Nicholas and Alexandra as complex, complicated people. They are a young couple in love, who have a gravely ill son, whose love and loyalty survive. They love all their children, creating a protected world for them.

Alexandra is deeply religious with a firm belief that prayers can cure her son. This leads her to Rasputin, and Fleming shows just why Alexandra was so willing to believe in Rasputin and his abilities.

Nicholas believes that as the Tsar, he is and should be all powerful. At the same time, he's not an outgoing man or a micromanager: he is content to be with his family rather than in the seat of power.

What struck me about Nicholas and Alexandra was how deeply they believed in their power and privilege due to their birth and bloodlines, but how little either had been educated or prepared to live up to that power and privilege and responsibility. Reading how Nicholas's war effort included sleeping in, good dining, and playing cards while his soldiers didn't have ammunition or clothes was almost impossible to believe. Except Fleming went into detail about the education being provided to their children, and how limited and sparse and undemanding it was, and the reader imagines that these two gave their children what they had been given.

There were some things I wondered about, but it falls more under "this is a book that made me want to know more" than "this book failed to mention something" -- no one book can include everything. The family Romanov is Nicholas, Alexandra, and their five children. It is not his brothers or sisters, and it is not about his relatives. When I read about his sister Olga, I wanted to know how she survived, how she got out of Russia -- but that is beyond the intended scope of the book.

I also wondered about Alexandra, a woman who loved her family but clearly wasn't meant for a public life. There was something sweet about her devotion to her husband, about their love match, about how close the family was. Yet, at the same time, she (and Nicholas) used that closeness as a reason to hide from the world and responsibility, it seemed, to everyone's detriment. Had they just  been a rich family, it wouldn't have mattered -- but Nicholas was the ruler of Russia. And that wasn't a titular head, or in name only, only for important events. It was total, absolute control. Or as one person laments late in the book, "oh, how terrible an autocracy without an autocrat!"

Because this gave me a fuller picture of the family, and provided a good background of their times, this is another Favorite Book of 2014.





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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

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5. The Family Romanov (2014)

The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia. Candace Fleming. 2014. Random House. 304 pages. [Source: Library]

I've had this one checked out from the library for months, it seems. But once I actually started reading it, it moved quite quickly. That doesn't mean it was an "easy" read, however. It was just as dark and depressing as you might expect. It isn't always easy to read a book when you know the ending.

This one is rich in details, I thought. And it did a great job of putting everything into context, especially in terms of social classes. One got a feel for what life was like for the rich and the poor. It was easy to understand WHY the masses were ready for change, ready to rebel, ready to have a voice, ready to be taken seriously. Desperation. The book dwells on the desperation felt during these decades. That and despair. It's not an uplifting book. It's not a book with a lot of hope to it.

I think it authentically captures the times, the injustice of the times. And in a way, it is fascinating enough. But it's also heartbreaking. Because it doesn't matter if you're looking at the before or after picture, life was HORRIBLE, living conditions were awful.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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6. The Fourteenth Goldfish (2014)

The Fourteenth Gospel. Jennifer L. Holm. 2014. Random House. 208 pages. [Source: Library]

Ellie gets the unique opportunity to hang out with her grandfather, Melvin, when his scientific experiments succeed. Ellie has grown up knowing--observing--that her mom and her grandfather don't get along very well. But she'll get the chance to know him much, much better when his experiment reverses the aging process and he becomes 13 again. They'll live together. They'll go to school together. It would be hard to judge who has a harder time: Ellie, Melvin, or the mom/daughter. (Though my guess would be the mom/daughter. By all appearances, he's a kid, he's living in her house! She has to make sure he's doing his homework! But he is still very much her father. He has OPINIONS on everything she does.)

Ellie is growing apart from her best, best friend. Her friend has some new interests. Ellie has new interests as well. Ellie is meeting people she likes and though she hasn't made a new best friend overnight, Ellie is learning that change can be good, that meeting new people can be a good thing. One of Ellie's new interests is science. She really enjoys it! And she loves hanging out with her grandfather and their new friends. (Yes, they have friends in common.)

I liked it. I did. I am on the fence on if I liked it or loved it. It was a quick read that I enjoyed very much.
© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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7. Gabriel Finley & The Raven's Riddle (2014)

Gabriel Finley and the Raven's Riddle. George Hagen. 2014. Random House. 384 pages. [Source: Review Copy]

I would say I enjoyed Gabriel Finley and the Raven's Riddle, but, I'm not sure enjoyed is the right word. It kept me reading. I found it hard to put down. I wanted to know what happened next. Even if part of me didn't want to know. The book is creepy, or middle grade creepy which may or may not be satisfying enough for adult readers. There are ravens and valravens (vampire ravens), owls, robins, and perhaps a handful of other birds. Some working for good, some working for evil. There is some mythology and world-building. Gabriel Finley is the hero. This is his coming-of-age story. He's being raised by an aunt. She's strange and secretive and NEVER talks about his parents--well, in particular his father. As his birthday approaches, he begins to find out a bit about his family's past for better or worse. Turns out his father and uncle are a bit different or unique. Turns out he is different too. He can understand birds--ravens. He can hear them talking in his mind. Their is one in particular that is apparently destined to be his best friend, his other half.

Gabriel Finley and the Raven's Riddle is part coming of age novel and part adventure-quest-fantasy. The quest is both to save his father AND to save the world. All adventure quest stories have friends who help. Gabriel has several that he lets in on the secret. Abby and Pamela. And then there is Somes, a sometimes bully that just happens to come along at the right time to fall into this adventure.

I wanted to know what happened next. But at the same time, this one irritated and annoyed me. The hero didn't always seem so bright and clever.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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8. Sky Jumpers: Forbidden Flats (2014)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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9. New Truman Capote Stories Discovered

Truman CapoteA Swiss publisher named Peter Haag unearthed several of Truman Capote’s (pictured, via) lost writings. Haag made this discovery during a research session at the New York Public Library.

Four oshort fiction pieces have been translated into German and featured in a publication called ZEITmagazin. Random House will release the English edition of this new Capote collection, which contains 20 stories and 12 poems, in December 2015. Executive editor David Ebershoff is editing the book

Here’s more from The New York Times: “Capote, who died in 1984, at 59, is believed to have written these works between the time he was 11 and 19, although not all are dated. Mr. Haag, whose house, Kein & Aber, based in Zurich, publishes Capote in German, said he and Anuschka Roshani, Capote’s German-language editor, came across the writings on one of their frequent trips to the New York library’s manuscripts and archives division looking for clues to the fate of Capote’s unfinished novel, Answered Prayers.”

New Career Opportunities Daily: The best jobs in media.

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10. Sky Jumpers (2013)

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

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

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

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

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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11. Ten 2014 Picture Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

I liked it. I didn't love it.


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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Posy Peyton doesn't want to move. 

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

I liked this one.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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12. Cover Revealed For New Sara Gruen Novel

At the Water's Edge

Water For Elephants novelist Sara Gruen has penned a new book entitled At the Water’s Edge. The jacket was unveiled today—what do you think?

According to the Water For Elephants movie fan page, the story features “a privileged young woman’s moral and sexual awakening as she experiences the devastations of World War II in a Scottish Highland village.” Spiegel & Grau, an imprint at Penguin Random House, will release the book on June 02, 2015.

New Career Opportunities Daily: The best jobs in media.

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13. One Year in Coal Harbor (2012)

One Year in Coal Harbor. Polly Horvath. 2012. Random House. 224 pages. [Source: Review copy]

I'm not sure I loved-loved Everything On a Waffle OR One Year in Coal Harbor. But I think I almost loved both books. I think my favorite part--for better or worse--was the recipes at the end of each chapter. I loved Primrose's narration of this recipes. They were cutesy at times, I admit. But they were pure fun. I kept reading so I could get to the next recipe. I'm not sure I was supposed to like them that much.

As to the rest of the book, I'm glad she's still in touch with her former foster parents. I think her foster parents, Bert and Evie, are more developed than most of the other characters. Primrose's parents still felt under-developed to me. I liked meeting Ked. I am glad that Primrose finally, finally got someone her own age to spend time with. I liked Ked very much. Both before and after. I wish that the romance between Uncle Jack and Miss Bowzer was better. I'm not sure what better would look like. I am not sure that the romance should be center-stage of this book. And I am glad with the overall outcome. But it just felt awkward at times. Granted, we see all of this through Primrose's eyes, so maybe Uncle Jack and Kate saw each other more than we know, and had actual conversations.

I like the idea of liking this book. It has a couple of cute concepts: the restaurant that serves EVERYTHING on the menu with a waffle, the couple that serves just about everything with mini-marshmallows. But the book(s) remain almost for me.
© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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14. Unbroken

Unbroken. Laura Hillenbrand. 2010. Random House. 473 pages. [Source: Library]

Unbroken is an incredible read and an emotional one. It is the biography of Louis Zamperini. Readers learn about his family, his growing up years, his training and competitive years. Zamperini competed in track in the 1936 Olympics. He went home knowing that the next Olympics would be his Olympics. He spent years training for an Olympics that was never to be. The arrival of war shifts the focus to Zamperini in the military. Much of the book focuses on the war years. I suppose there are three sections that focus on the war years: his time as a bombardier, his crash and survival in the seas--this section was INTENSE, his "rescue" and time spent as a POW in Japan--and I thought the earlier section was intense! There is so much drama, so much emotion in this one. I don't mean that in a bad way at all. It's not overly dramatic or inappropriately dramatic or manipulative. The book is straightforward in its horrors. But the description of what life was like in the prisoner of war camps is vivid. Same with the descriptions of his survival at sea. For over a month, Zamperini and two others barely survived in two small rafts with essentially little to no food and water. So as I said, this is an emotional and unforgettable story of survival. What I didn't quite expect to be as emotional was the final section which focuses on his return to the States after the war is over. Those months and years where he had to get on with his life, to return to a "normal" life, his mental and emotional struggles. Since he was famous, it was made all the more difficult perhaps? As I said, I wasn't expecting that section to be as emotional as previous sections. There are a couple of scenes in this last section that just get to me.

I would recommend this one.


© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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15. 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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16. 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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17. 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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18. 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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19. 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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20. 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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21. 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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22. 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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23. 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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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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24. 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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25. 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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