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1. Seuss on Saturday #9

Scrambled Eggs Super! Dr. Seuss. 1953. Random House. 64 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence:
I don't like to brag and I don't like to boast,
Said Peter T. Hooper, but speaking of toast
And speaking of kitchens and ketchup and cake
And kettles and stoves and the stuff people bake...
Well, I don't like to brag, but I'm telling you, Liz,
That speaking of cooks, I'm the best that there is!
Why, only last Tuesday, when mother was out
I really cooked something worth talking about!
Premise/Plot: Peter T. Hooper is bragging to a girl, presumably his sister? presumably named Liz? that he is the best cook ever, and that he recently made the best scrambled eggs ever. Of course, his scrambled eggs weren't ordinary. His eggs didn't come from ordinary hens. His eggs didn't come from a store. He sought out extraordinary birds--both big and small--and spared no expense or effort. He even recruited helpers to help him collect the most exotic bird eggs. 

My thoughts: Like If I Ran the Zoo, this is all about the rhyme. This is classic Seuss coming up with silly, bizarre yet oh-so-fun words to say.
Then I went for some Ziffs. They're exactly like Zuffs,
But the Ziffs live on cliffs and the Zuffs live on bluffs.
And, seeing how bluffs are exactly like cliffs,
It's mighty hard telling the Zuffs from the Ziffs.
But I know that the egg that I got from the bluffs,
if it wasn't a Ziff's from the cliffs, was a Zuff's.
The book is definitely silly and over-the-top. And Seuss is definitely beginning to develop his style.  Is it my favorite? Far from it.

Have you read Scrambled Eggs Super? 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 Horton Hears A Who!

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

0 Comments on Seuss on Saturday #9 as of 2/28/2015 5:50:00 PM
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2. Interview and Giveaway: Elizabeth Harmon, Author of Pairing Off

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Good morning, Elizabeth!  Describe yourself in five words or less.

[Elizabeth Harmon] Creative, energetic, sociable, easily-distracted, short

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Can you tell us a little about Pairing Off?

[Elizabeth Harmon] Absolutely! A great way to describe my debut novel, “Pairing Off” is that it’s like “The Cutting Edge” with a Russian twist. It’s the story of a pairs figure skating duo who team up to train for the Olympics and fall in love in the process. What makes it different from TCE is that it’s set mostly in Russia and the hero is Russian.  He’s also a champion pairs figure skater, rather than a hockey guy recruited at the last minute. Anton did play hockey as a kid though, and was proud to have the best double toe loop jump of any goalie in the youth league.

[Manga Maniac Cafe]  Can you share your favorite scene?

[Elizabeth Harmon] One of the most romantic scenes is when Carrie and Anton skate on a moonlit pond in Moscow’s Gorky Park. Their relationship has deepened but they’ve not yet crossed the line from friend-zone into something more.  I love the romantic setting, the sexual tension between Carrie and Anton, and also the details about the cold night, tinny music and the little crowd who applauds after watching this champion-level pair skate together.  Watching skilled pair skaters do their stuff live is really amazing, especially when it’s impromptu, as this skate is.  I also love Anton’s little comment to Carrie at the end, when he says, “guess we’re pretty good.”

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What did you enjoy most about writing this book?

[Elizabeth Harmon] Getting to know Russia and Russians, both through my own research and with the help of a Moscow-based blogger and his wife, who proved to be an invaluable resource. As an American, we don’t always get the most favorable impressions of Russia and it was great to be able to connect with two Russians who were so generous with their time and excited to see the city they love used as the setting for a light, fun romance.  Corresponding with them also helped me create the cadence of Anton’s speech, and helping them edit an English-language cookbook gave me some insights into Russian home-cooking. The descriptions of fish pie and syrniki in Pairing Off were inspired by their family recipes. 

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What’s one thing you won’t leave home without?

[Elizabeth Harmon] Something to read, because you never know when you’re going to be stuck waiting, as well as something to write with and on, because you never know when inspiration is going to strike.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Name three things on your desk right now.

[Elizabeth Harmon] Pictures of my family, today’s to-do list, and my cat, who loves to lay (and walk!) on my laptop.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What’s your favorite snack when you’re working on a deadline?

[Elizabeth Harmon] For late night writing, nothing beats popcorn– NOT the microwaved stuff, but the real kind cooked on the stove, and tossed with butter, parmesan and salt.  

[Manga Maniac Cafe] If you could trade places with anyone for just one day, who would you be?

[Elizabeth Harmon] Just one day? Probably an average person living in either ancient or medieval times. I think it would be fascinating to experience these worlds, but not live there long term, especially not as a woman.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] You have been granted the use of one superpower for one week.  Which power would you choose, and what would you do with it?

[Elizabeth Harmon] There are a lot of powers I’d love to have, but surrendering them after a week would be so hard! I would choose teleportation, the ability to travel anywhere instantly. I’d make a list of all the places I’d love to visit, but are difficult to actually travel to and hit all of them during that one week. As a writer, this would be an amazing experience.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What are some books that you enjoyed recently?

[Elizabeth Harmon] Fiction-wise, I loved “The Haunting of Maddie Clare,” which was beautifully written, and scary– kind of “Downton Abbey” meets “The Ring” if you can imagine that.  I also enjoyed “ICE Blue,” a Chicago-set romantic suspense novel by Susan Rae. It’s the second book in her DeLuca family series and the latest installment is on my TBR list.

Since I’m in the midst of turning my National Novel Writing Month first draft into the third book in the Red Hot Russians series, I’ve been reading my favorite writing books which I always turn to at revision time. One the best is James Scott Bell’s “Revision and Self-Editing,” which takes the big scary revision monster and turns it into something manageable, as well as offering great ideas to develop characters and setting. Writing isn’t an easy job, but so much fun, because you’re always learning and improving.

Pairing Off
Red Hot Russians # 1

By: Elizabeth Harmon

Releasing February 2, 2015

Carina Press

Blurb

A scandal-plagued American figure skater’s last chance at gold means pairing up with Russia’s sexiest male skater…who happens to be the first man she ever loved.

“The Cutting Edge” with a Russian twist.

American pairs figure skater Carrie Parker’s Winter Games dreams were dashed when her philandering partner caused one of the greatest scandals in skating history. Blacklisted from competing in America, her career is over…until she receives a mysterious invitation and is reunited with the most infuriating, talented—and handsome—skater she’s ever met.

Russian champion Anton Belikov knows sacrifice. He gave up a normal life and any hope of a meaningful relationship to pursue his dream. And he’s come close—with a silver medal already under his belt, the next stop is the gold. All he needs is a partner. While he’s never forgotten the young American skater he seduced one long-ago night in Amsterdam, he never expected to see her again…never mind skate with her.

When what starts as a publicity stunt grows into something real between them, Carrie and Anton’s partnership will test their loyalties to family, country, and each other. With only a few months to train for the competition of a lifetime, can they master technique and their emotions, or will they lose their footing and fall victim to the heartaches of their pasts?

Link to Follow Tour: http://www.tastybooktours.com/2015/01/pairing-off-red-hot-russians-1-by.html

Goodreads Link: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/23440537-pairing-off?from_search=true
Goodreads Series Link:
https://www.goodreads.com/series/141555-red-hot-russians

Buy Links: Amazon | B & N | iBooks | Kobo

Author Info

I love stories that give a fresh take on classic themes, and feature characters and locations not often seen in romance. Give me a lovable, if less-than-perfect heroine, a gorgeous hero with a heart of gold, take them a little off the beaten path and I’m a happy girl.

I read a variety of genres– romance to horror and just about everything in between. I am a member of Romance Writers of America. I have worked as a freelance journalist for a number of local publications and am a contributing writer to Romance Writers Report.

When I’m not writing, I love to ice skate, bike ride, hang out at the beach or on my front porch. I love vintage homes, adventurous cooking, spending time with my family and traveling.

Author Links: Website | Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

 Excerpt:

This is it…I’m going to die.

Carrie clutched the back of the sticky vinyl seat and braced for the end. She hadn’t imagined she’d meet it speeding down a Moscow highway in a small, vomit-scented taxicab.

“Slow down!” she shouted, but it was useless. The driver spoke almost no English. She knew three words of Russian. Desperately, she tried to remember one. “Pozhalujsta! Please! Slow! Gooo sloooow!” She gestured with raised, outstretched hands.

The driver glanced back. “Chto?”

Thank God, he’d understood. “Yes! Slow!”

Instead, she was thrown back against the seat as he darted into a tiny gap between an 18-wheeler and a sinister, black Lexus SUV with tinted windows. The Lexus honked its displeasure. Wind whipped through the open windows, blowing her hair into her eyes and mouth. As they rocketed past the warehouses, office buildings and apartment blocks that lined Kashirskoe Highway, Norman Greenbaum’s Spirit in the Sky blasted from the rear speakers.

When I die and they lay me to rest…”

Nice music. What was next, Death Cab for Cutie? From behind, a shadow loomed. She turned to see the Lexus bearing down.

The cabdriver saw it too. Yelling, he gestured out the window with a raised middle finger and shot back into the center lane, just missing the front bumper of a cement mixer. More horns honked. She yelped and covered her eyes. It was best not to look.

She could have waited for a legitimate cab, but her flight landed late, Customs took forever and the line at the taxi-booking desk inched forward at a glacial pace. When two German-speaking business types left the official line and gravitated toward the motley fleet of private cabs parked outside, she’d followed. The driver, a friendly guy in a faded Beatles T-shirt and Yankees cap, promised in very broken English to get her downtown by 3:00, or 15:00 as it was known here, no problem.

She should have mentioned that alive would be nice too.

She was rocked by another wild swerve, followed by more horns and Russian swear words. Then, the cab slowed. She peeked between her fingers. They were on an exit ramp. The tense knot between her shoulders relaxed, and she glanced at her watch. Two forty-five. Miraculously, she’d survived, and was right on time to meet her new coach.

A little smile tugged at her lips. For the first time in a long time, things were looking up. They parked in front of an old red brick building in an industrial area near a river. A concrete medallion of a hammer and sickle loomed above the door, but the geranium-filled urns flanking the front steps were a nice touch.

The driver turned in his seat and tugged his ragged ballcap, ready for his fare. Carrie reached into her purse, her fingers brushed against the clasp of her wallet. At the airport, they’d agreed on one hundred U.S. dollars, but that was before he’d almost killed her. She shifted her gaze from his expectant, gap-toothed smile, to the dirty windshield. The peeling dashboard. The items attached to the sun visor with rubber bands. A pencil and notepad. A packet of tissues. School photos of two little girls.

The driver pointed to the pictures and his smile grew wider. “Moi docheri.”

His daughters. The pride in his voice required no translation. This man supported a family with his beat-up, smelly taxi. She counted out five twenties, and added an extra as a tip. “Spasibo,” she said. A Southern girl always knew the words for please and thank you.

As the driver carted her bags inside, she reread Galina Borisova’s email, shaking her head in wonder. American skating had shunned her, fans had turned their backs, yet here was the official paperwork confirming that someone—a Russian coach of all people—still thought Carrie was worthy of her time.

In the rink’s lobby, she bit back disappointment. This looked more like a neighborhood hangout than an elite training facility. Why was she surprised? Galina was a minor coach who’d gotten lucky and discovered Olga Zelenskaya, one of skating’s stars in the making. After winning silver at Worlds in Halifax this spring, Olga and her partner, Anton, had no doubt left to train with a top-level coach, leaving Galina to cast her net for new skaters. That she was willing to take on the pariah of American figure skating proved how desperate she must be.

Good thing Carrie’s expectations were modest. Since no one in North America would partner with her, she’d team up with a reasonably skilled Russian leftover, and find something low-profile to fill the days—maybe a cruise ship ice show—while she figured out what to do with the rest of her life.

In one corner of the rink’s lobby were wooden benches and day lockers, in the other, a shuttered blade-sharpening counter. At the rear of the lobby was a concession stand, also closed. The faint, fried aroma that hung in the air brought a memory of corn dogs. And just like that, she was ten years old, gliding across the oval at the Sweetspire Ice Palace.

“Momma! Watch me land a toe loop!”

At the boards, Momma chuckled and shook her head. “You’re gonna crack your skull, baby girl.”

Not that it would have mattered. She would have been back on the ice the minute the bandages came off. Skating once made her so happy. Dare she hope that it might again?

She pressed her fingers against her lips. She wasn’t asking much, just to find the joy she lost somewhere between landing that first jump, winning—then losing—the U.S. Championship, and arriving at this run-down Moscow rink, hoping for a fresh start.

She wiped perspiration from her brow and took a zippered makeup pouch from her purse. Her hair was a snarled disaster, but she tugged out most of the tangles and dabbed powder on her shiny cheeks. She slicked her lips in Succulent Peach, dabbed on enough Calvin Klein to mask any trace of the Vomit Comet and straightened her travel-wrinkled linen skirt and silk top.

She glanced at the swinging doors that led to the rink and took a deep breath. Time to face the future.

She’d seen Galina Borisova at competitions, but they’d never been introduced. Galina looked to be in her fifties and her thin neck, sharp features and spiky bleached blond hair, tinted pink on the ends, brought to mind a flamingo. Her dark eyes and brows suggested neither blond nor pink were her natural shade.

“It is well to meet you. Flight was agreeable, yes?” Galina’s accent was so heavy, Carrie struggled to understand. The ancient Zamboni rumbling past on the ice didn’t help.

“Yes. Spasibo. As I said before, I want to reimburse you for the airfare. I know it was very expensive.”

Galina waved the offer away. “Money is made to be spent. I consider investment. I wish you had let me arrange pickup car.”

“Really, that’s fine. You’ve been more than generous.” The Russian coach’s willingness to pay for and arrange everything now seemed too good to be true. Didn’t Dad always say “There’s no such thing as a free lunch?” She had the feeling she’d just flown six thousand miles to see him proven right. “I’m excited to begin training. I was a big admirer of your work with Zelenskaya and Belikov.”

Galina gazed wistfully at the departing Zamboni and the glistening ice left in its wake. “Olga and Anton were once-in-lifetime pair. Every coach should have good fortune to work with skaters so talented.”

Carrie offered a sympathetic smile. Losing her longtime students must have been heartbreaking for Galina. “Well, I’m no Olga Zelenskaya, but I’ve also been quite successful.”

Galina thinned her lips. “In your way. But we all must move forward, not live in past, yes?”

She bobbed her head, as her cheeks grew warm. Just how successful she’d been was the subject of ongoing debate. From the corner of her eye, she spotted someone doing warm-up stretches on the opposite side of the rink. “Is that my new partner? Your emails didn’t provide much information.”

A tall, dark-haired man skated out. Fast and athletic, he stroked halfway around, then cut toward center ice, launching himself into a double axel. After a confident landing, he glided into the far corner and did a camel spin, rotating with perfect form, his muscular body in flawless, T-shaped alignment over the ice.

Carrie caught her breath, but it wasn’t his beautiful skating that made her heart race. “Oh. My. God.”

“Yes, this must be good news for you. Antosha!” Galina waved, beckoning him over.

Carrie grasped the rink board to ground herself in reality, shaking even more than in the cab. This couldn’t be happening. But incredibly, it was. Her new skating partner was Anton Belikov, World silver medalist…and the first man she’d ever made love to.

He gave a polite nod, but didn’t smile. “Hello, Carrie. Welcome to Moscow.”

How could this be? He belonged with Olga, training at a top rink with a top coach. Not here, with a second-rate coach and skating with…her! She gaped and shook her head. “What are you doing here?”

His brows lifted in surprise. “You don’t keep up with news of your sport?”

Under normal circumstances yes, but these past months she’d avoided as much contact as possible with the outside world and especially the skating world. Galina crossed her arms. “Olga has teamed with Valentin Egorov. You are to be her replacement.”

She grasped the board tighter, as her out-of-control life spun into orbit. “That’s impossible.”

“I’m afraid I don’t understand,” Galina said. “You will train with me, and partner with one of world’s top male pair skaters. I cannot see how this is bad thing.”

Well gosh, for starters, she knew how he looked naked. Damn good, if memory served. Though seven years had passed since that night, this wasn’t an ideal start to a professional partnership. Even if he and Olga no longer skated together, she assumed they were still an off-ice couple. She searched his eyes for any sign of recognition. There was none. Was she relieved, or disappointed?

And how was it that Galina had simply decided to pair her with Anton, without even a tryout? Skaters were matched after weeks of evaluation, like dating before you were engaged. This felt more like a quickie Vegas wedding. She shook her head, as if that might clear her addled brain. This was ridiculous. They couldn’t possibly skate together. “We’re very different,” she began. “Olga’s delicate and artistic. I’m more of a jumper. An acrobat.”

Anton nodded. “You and Olga are different. But with right coach…and right partner, you could be champion again.”

His smile was much too attractive. Straight, perfect teeth gleamed against tawny skin dusted with the shadow of late afternoon stubble. She flashed back to that smile shining brightly in a stranger’s dim bedroom, as Anton gazed down and gently stroked her face. She crossed her arms over her chest as her cheeks burned hot and she let out a harsh laugh.

“Well, bless your heart.” The damn drawl slipped out, the way it always seemed to when she was nervous. “This is all very flattering but I’m afraid we can’t compete together. I’m an American. I’m not eligible.”

Galina spoke up. “Under international rules, you are eligible by permission to compete for us one year after date of your last competition for United States. Since you never skated at World Championship, your last competition was U.S. Nationals and this year, Russian Nationals begin exactly three days after one-year date. Our skating federation has contacted yours and both are willing to grant permission.”

Wasn’t that nice of them? Normally, a top-tier skater wouldn’t be released to compete for another country so easily. American figure skating was clearly anxious to be rid of her.

“As for citizenships,” Galina continued, “you can be both American and Russian. Becoming citizen here normally takes long time, but our government can be most accommodating when dreams of gold medals are at stake. Now then, shall we get to work?”

Carrie stared. Her hands fell to her sides. These two weren’t talking cruise ships. “Lake Placid is in less than seven months! You can’t be serious.”

But the Russians looked dead serious. Anton shrugged. “Not ideal situation, but neither of us is beginner. I am World medalist. You were U.S. champion.”

“Only because my partner slept with a judge!”

“Is that what you think?”

She gave a bitter laugh. “What difference does it make? Everyone else thinks so.” “Maybe you have something to prove, then?” His deep, exotic voice sent a shiver up her spine.

God, it was tempting. She’d been so close to her dream of competing at the Winter Games, only to see it snatched away. Here was another chance. Maybe, if she could salvage her career and restore her reputation, she could finally hold her head up. The public would forgive her. Dad would forgive her.

Was this the opportunity of a lifetime…or a disaster waiting to happen?

Just as she had skating dreams, Dad had political dreams; to win Georgia’s U.S. Senate seat this fall…then in a few years, maybe run for president. The Cody scandal had embarrassed him, and as much as it hurt that he’d done nothing to defend her publicly, she understood. His political opponents had slobbered over images of Les Parker’s cheating daughter like dogs with new bones.

Imagine how they would react to her turning Russian so she could compete in Lake Placid.

And suppose Anton suddenly remembered their night in Amsterdam? True, she’d had jet-black hair at the time, and been hidden behind those silly sunglasses she and the other Silverettes wore when they snuck out after curfew. Back then, she’d still talked like Scarlett O’Hara too. But hey, it could happen. How would he feel about skating with a girl he’d deflowered, even if it meant nothing? Nothing to him, anyway.

Besides, who was she kidding? She didn’t belong here. The Russians ruled figure skating—especially pair skating—like the popular kids ruled the school cafeteria. She’d been the queen of that lunch table in high school, and if you didn’t belong there, you didn’t try to sit down. She’d lost her seat in spectacular fashion and now the quarterback wanted to take her to prom.

This was too weird for words, and she’d had enough weird to last a lifetime.

 Rafflecopter Giveaway (5 eBook copies of PAIRING OFF)

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The post Interview and Giveaway: Elizabeth Harmon, Author of Pairing Off appeared first on Manga Maniac Cafe.

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3. Review of the Day: My Near-Death Adventures by Alison DeCamp

My Near-Death Adventures (99% True)
By Alison DeCamp
Crown Books for Young Readers (an imprint of Random House)
$16.99
ISBN: 978-0-385-39044-6
Ages 9-12
On shelves now

Children’s historical fiction novels often divide up one of two ways. In the first category you have your important moments in history. In such books our heroes run about and encounter these moments by surprise. Extra points if it happens to be a Great Big Bad Moment in history as well. Then in the second category are the books that have opted to go a more difficult route. They may be well grounded in a time period of the past, but they do not require historical cameos or Great Big Bad Moments to transport their readers. Such books run a very great risk of, quite frankly, becoming dull. Read enough of them and, with the exception of a few, they all run together. Humor often helps me distinguish them from the pack. After all, would Catherine Called Birdy command quite so many hearts and minds if it weren’t also deeply amusing? Still, it’s rare to find fiction set in the past for kids that’s quite that original. It takes a certain kind of devious brain to hit on an all-new take. Enter My Near-Death Adventures by Alison DeCamp. Falling squarely into the second category rather than the first, this 1895 charmer utilizes plenty of visuals along with an unreliable narrator and classic comedic setting. I can say with certainty that your kids will never read a work of lumberjack fiction quite as fast and funny as this ever again.

Well, sir, it looks like Stan’s found himself in a heap of trouble. First off there’s the difficulty with his dead father. The problem? He’s not dead. He’s nowhere around, and now he seems to have divorced Stan’s mama, but dead he is not. Then there’s the fact that it’s the middle of winter yet Stan’s mama and his 95% evil Granny (her percentage fluctuates a lot) are packing him up and they’re all heading up to some godforsaken lumber camp in the middle of nowhere. Of course, that’s good for Stan since he’s been hoping to build up his manly skills so that he can support his mama. Unfortunately his cousin Geri, who seems to revel in torturing him, will be there as well. Can Stan fight off his mother’s multiple suitors, keep his eye on the lumberjack he’s dubbed “Stinky Pete”, and learn to be a man (if Geri doesn’t kill him first) all at once? If anyone can, it’s Stan. Probably.

Humor in historical fiction can come across as a case where the contemporary author is shoehorning his or her own beliefs onto characters from the past. Often when this happens it feels fake. I remember once reading a children’s novel set in the Civil War South where an enterprising young woman, with no outside influences, actually said, “Corsets don’t just restrict the waist. They restrict the mind,” or something equally out of left field. So to what extent are anachronisms a threat in books of this sort? For example, would someone like Stan really have called his cousin “Scary Geri”? For me, I don’t worry as much about the small details. If the language isn’t strictly of the late 19th century variety then who in the Sam Hill cares? (Forgive my language, granny.) It’s the big things (like mind restricting corsets) that catch my eye. With that in mind, I was somewhat relieved when I realized that Stan is a sexist jerk. He quite believably does not look on women’s accomplishments as something to commend (which, in turn, is an interesting way of building up sympathy for his cousin Geri). In other words, he’s of his time.

To bring the funny, DeCamp does two things I’ve not seen done in works of historical fiction before. The first involves a ton of late 19th/early 20th century advertisements. Using the conceit that this is Stan’s scrapbook, each image makes some kind of commentary on what Stan is describing. They’re also hilarious. I cannot help but imagine the countless hours DeCamp spent poring through advertisement after advertisement. One wonders if there were parts of the narrative wholly reliant on the existence of one ad or another. Hard to say.

The second clever and hitherto unknown thing DeCamp does with her storytelling is to make Stan an unreliable narrator with unreliable narration. Which is to say, you’ll be reading his private thoughts on the page when suddenly another character will comment on what clearly should have been kept inside Stan’s brain. The end result is that the reader will lapse into a continual sense of security, safe in the knowledge that what they’re reading isn’t dialogue (after all, there aren’t any quotation marks) and then, exactly like Stan, the reader will be shocked when someone comments on information they shouldn’t know anything about. It really puts you directly into Stan’s shoes and helps to make him more relatable. Which is good since he runs the risk of being considered unsympathetic as a character.

Unreliable as a narrator, potentially unsympathetic as a human being, Stan still wins our love. Why? He’s Kid Falstaff! A coward you root for and love, yet still don’t always approve of. Still, even in the depths of his own delusion, how can you not love the guy? He’s a Yooper Telemachus fending unworthy suitors off of his mama. And even when you’ve taken almost all you can take from the guy, you’ll find him saying something like, “This is the furthest I’ve ever felt from being a man. All I really want to do is cuddle up in bed and have Mama read me a book. Or play with the toy soldiers still lined up on my windowsill in the apartment house. But I can’t. Because that’s not manly, and being manly is the only way I’ll ever understand my father . . .” Poor kid.

A good author, by the way, allows their supporting characters some personal growth as well. It doesn’t all have to come from the protagonist, after all. In this particular case it’s Stan’s mama, a character that could easily have just been some passive, maternal bit of nothingness, who comes into her own. For years she’s been held down pretty effectively by her own mother. Now she has a chance at making a bit of a life for herself, choosing her own mate (or not choosing, as the case may be), and generally having a bit of fun. I know no kid reading this book is going to care, but I appreciated having someone other than Stan learn and grow.

I sit here secure in the knowledge that somewhere, at some time, an enterprising adult (be it teacher, parent, or librarian) will take it upon themselves to actually follow Mrs. Cavanaugh’s recipe for Vinegar Pie. The recipe is right there in black and white in the book, clear as crystal. If you have any goodness in your heart and you are tempted to tread this path, here is a bit of advice: don’t. It’s called Vinegar Pie, for crying out loud! What part of that sounds appetizing? You know what is appetizing? This book. Hilarious and heartbreaking and funny funny funny. You know what you hand a kid that gets the dreaded, “Read one work of historical fiction” assignment in school? You hand them this and then sit back to wait for their inevitable gratitude. They may never say thank you to your face, but you’ll be able to rest safe and secure in the knowledge that they loved this book. Or, at the very least, found it enticing and intriguing. 99-100% fantastic.

On shelves now.

Source:

Final copy sent from publisher for review.

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4. Seuss on Saturday #8

If I Ran the Zoo. Dr. Seuss. 1950. Random House. 64 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence:
"It's a pretty good zoo,"
Said young Gerald McGrew,
"And the fellow who runs it
Seems proud of it, too."
"But if I ran the zoo,"
Said young Gerald McGrew,
"I'd make a few changes.
That's just what I'd do..."
Premise/Plot: Gerald dreams of all the changes he'd make if he ran the zoo. He wouldn't dream of having ordinary animals that you could see at any zoo. No, he wants fantastic animals that have never been seen or heard of. His animals have strange names and come from faraway places. His animals still need to be discovered, hunted, captured. The zoo he dreams up will be something.

My thoughts: This one is silly enough. It is ALL about the rhyme. Making up ridiculous-yet-fun sounding names for animals and countries. For better or worse, sometimes the text and/or the illustrations don't quite hold up so well.
I'll hunt in the mountains of Zomba-ma-Tant
With helpers who all wear their eyes at a slant,
And capture a fine fluffy bird called the Bustard
Who only eats custard with sauce made of mustard.
and
I'll go to the African island of Yerka
And bring back a tizzle-topped Tufted Mazurka,
A kind of canary with quite a tall throat.
His neck is so long, if he swallows an oat
For breakfast the first day of April, they say
It has to go down such a very long way
That it gets to his stomach the fifteenth of May. 
In the last example, it isn't so much what is said as to how it is illustrated. 

Have you read If I Ran the Zoo? Did you like it? love it? hate it? I'd love to hear what you thought 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 Scrambled Eggs Super!

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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5. please join us at Kelly Writers House as we host Editor/Writer Extraordinaire, Daniel Menaker

A CONVERSATION WITH DANIEL MENAKER (TUE, 2/24 AT NOON)

Dear friends,

We hope you’ll join us next Tuesday, February 24th, for a noontime
conversation with DANIEL MENAKER. Over the course of his career, Daniel
has been the fiction editor of THE NEW YORKER and Executive
Editor-in-Chief at Random House. Now he works with Stonybrook
Southhampton’s MFA program and consults for Barnes & Noble—so rest
assured, this is a man who knows his books. The conversation will be
moderated by BETH KEPHART. RSVP now to wh@writing.upenn.edu or call us
at 215-476-POEM. We’d love to see you here, next Tuesday.

All the best,
The Kelly Writers House
______________________________

The Sylvia Kauders Lunch Series presents:
A CONVERSATION WITH DANIEL MENAKER
Hosted by BETH KEPHART

Tuesday, Feb. 24th | 12:00pm | Arts Café
Kelly Writers House | 3805 Locust Walk
No registration required - this event is free & open to the public
______________________________

DANIEL MENAKER is a fiction writer and editor, currently working with
the MFA program at Stony Brook Southampton and as a consultant for
Barnes & Noble Bookstores. Daniel was a fiction editor at THE NEW YORKER
for twenty years and had material published in the magazine frequently.
In 1995 he was hired by Random House as Senior Literary Editor and later
became Executive Editor-in-Chief.

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6. Seuss on Saturday #7

Bartholomew and the Oobleck. Dr. Seuss. 1949. Random House. 56 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence:
They still talk about it in the Kingdom of Didd as The-Year-the-King-Got-Angry-with-the-Sky. And they still talk about the page boy, Bartholomew Cubbins. If it hadn't been for Bartholomew Cubbins, that King and that Sky would have wrecked that little Kingdom.
Premise/Plot: The King is in a grumbling-complaining mood. He's angry at the sky for only sending down rain, snow, fog and sunshine. He sends for his magicians commanding them to make the sky produce something new. The magicians, well, they mumble a few words and promise to deliver something called 'oobleck.' Only Bartholomew is wise enough to predict that this means TROUBLE, big, big trouble. He is diligent in warning people to beware and be careful. But his words, well, aren't taken all that seriously. Or. In some cases, his words come just a little too late. The king has brought down trouble on his kingdom. How can the kingdom be saved?! Are there MAGIC WORDS the king can say to make the oobleck go away?!

My thoughts: I'd never read Bartholomew and the Oobleck before. I really liked it. I think I liked it even better than The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins. The King is just as silly and ridiculous. And the situation is even more out of control. I like that the 'magic words' that save the kingdom are "I'm sorry" and "It's all my fault."

Have you read Bartholomew and the Oobleck? Did you like it? Did you love it? Did you hate it? How do you think it compares to The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins? I'd love to hear what you thought 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 If I Ran the Zoo.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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7. 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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8. 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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9. 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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10. 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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11. 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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12. 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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13. 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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14. 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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15. 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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16. 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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17. Seuss on Saturday #5

McElligot's Pool. Dr. Seuss. 1947/1974. Random House. 64 pages. [Source: Library]

 First sentence:
"Young man," laughed the farmer, "You're sort of a fool! You'll never catch fish in McElligot's Pool!"
Premise/Plot. Marco, the young boy in the story, is fishing at McElligot's Pool. Though the farmer warns him that the pool is just where people throw junk, the young boy claims he's not foolish or wasting his time fishing there. He tells how the pool could be--might be--connected to the sea itself. And how right this minute even all sorts of fish might be making their way to the pool for him to catch. He describes hundreds of fish, giving his imagination room to shine. But is the farmer convinced? Are readers?

My thoughts: It is nice to see Marco again. (I'm assuming that this Marco is the Marco of And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street, which was published ten years previously.) Marco's imagination is going strong.

Even though I don't like fishing. I liked this book about fishing. I liked it more than I thought I would.
I might catch a thin fish,
I might catch a stout fish.
I might catch a short
or a long, long, drawn-out fish.
Any kind! Any shape! Any color or size!
I might catch some fish that would open your eyes!
and
Oh, the sea is so full of a number of fish
If a fellow is patient, he might get his wish!
This one won a Caldecott Honor. Half the illustrations are in black and white. Half the illustrations are in color.

Have you read McElligot's Pool? Did you like it? love it? hate it? I would love to hear what you thought 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 Thidwick The Big-Hearted Moose.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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18. The Chimney Sweepers Come To Dust (2015)

As Chimney Sweepers Come To Dust. Flavia de Luce #7. Alan Bradley. Random House. 392 pages. [Source: Review copy]

I enjoyed reading Alan Bradley's As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust. It is a series that is oh-so-easy to enjoy. That being said, some titles I love more than others. I almost always love Flavia, the heroine. But I don't always love the particulars of each murder case. The sixth book was probably my least favorite, in a way. (Though I'd probably need to reread all the books in the series to truly reach this conclusion.)

As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust isn't like the others in the series, for better or worse. Flavia is going to a boarding school in Canada. So this one is not set in the village we've come to love, and it's "missing" I suppose all the other characters we've come to love as well. It has a completely different feel to it. Flavia, for example, realizes she actually MISSES her sisters, and does in fact LOVE them after all. Flavia is on her own in a strange place and not quite sure WHO to trust. She's got her instincts and that's all. Flavia and another student at the boarding school find a body in the chimney in Flavia's room her very first night there. Flavia is super-curious of course, but, finds it more difficult perhaps to be directly involved in solving the case...not that it will stop her from trying!

I liked this one. I really, really liked it. I liked the boarding school setting. It's not that I didn't like the previous settings. It's not that I was tired or bored with the series or finding them lacking. But the opportunity of growth that comes about because of Flavia going away to school was worth it in my opinion.
© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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19. 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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20. 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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21. 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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22. 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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23. 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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24. 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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25. 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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