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Results 1 - 25 of 102
1. Independent Study (2014)

Independent Study. Joelle Charbonneau. 2014. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 320 pages. [Source: Library]

Independent Study was an interesting read. I had just reread The Testing, and it was nice to be able to jump right into this story without feeling lost. Cia herself still feels lost at times because her memory of the actual testing is gone. True, she was wise enough to hide clues for her future clueless self, but, having clues--even good, strong clues--aren't quite the same as vivid memories of the horrific past. Essentially, six months have passed, I believe, and the students are getting ready to be tested again, they'll be placed into special training preparing them for future careers. They do not get to pick their "majors." They will take the classes and internships chosen for them by authorities, all for the common good of the future, of course. Most of the characters from the first novel are absent from most of Independent Study. Cia and Tomas are separated by different career paths now. Will and Cia are on the same career path--government--but even Will only has a handful of scenes in the novel. A character that some might consider minor in The Testing, plays a bigger role in the second novel: Michal. He clues Cia in on her past and gives her hope for the present and the future. What if there was a way to abolish "The Testing."

Independent Study is all about Cia seeking to discover the inner-leader inside that is strong and brave and wise and true. Is Cia a great character? Are any of the characters "great"? I'm not sure. I'm not sure that 'liking' most of the characters in a novel is a requirement for it being an entertaining read. I wanted to know what happened next.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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2. Six Board Books

Toot. Leslie Patricelli. 2014. Candlewick Press. 24 pages. [Source: Review copy]

I tooted!
I'm a train!

I love, love, love Leslie Patricelli's baby board books. I do. There are so many to choose from: Yummy Yucky; Baby Happy, Baby Sad; Quiet Loud; Huggy Kissy; Potty; Tubby; Faster! Faster!; Higher! Higher!; No No Yes Yes; The Birthday Box; Big Little; Blankie; Binky; Fa La La. It would be hard to choose a true favorite. Because there is something about each one that has again, again kid appeal. There's not much to say about Toot, one of the newest books. "I don't know if Kitty toots or if Fishy toots. But I KNOW Doggy toots." AND "I toot in the tubby. It's so bubbly!" This one probably won't be a favorite with me. But I don't think I'm the target audience!

Tickle. Leslie Patricelli. 2014. Candlewick Press. 26 pages. [Source: Review copy]

I am not ticklish!
I am NOT ticklish!
Except for my legs!

I said earlier that it would be hard to choose a true favorite by Leslie Patricelli. Tickle comes closest perhaps to being a favorite of mine. I ADORE this one. I do. I love, love, love it. It's fun and playful. I think it has great again-again-again appeal! I think there are people who love to be tickle, and people who love to BE tickled. I think this appeals to both!

A Birthday for Cow. Jan Thomas. 2008/2014. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 36 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Today is Cow's birthday...
Pig and Mouse are going to make Cow the best birthday cake ever!
They put flour and sugar and eggs in a big bowl.
No, Duck. We will not put in a turnip.

I love Jan Thomas. Like Leslie Patricelli, she's one of my favorite, favorite writers for young children. I adore her books. Probably my favorite, favorite is IS EVERYONE READY FOR FUN? I also enjoy Rhyming Dust Bunnies. Those two along with Birthday for Cow are among my favorites. I am so pleased that A Birthday for Cow is now available in board book format.

In A Birthday for Cow, readers meet Cow, Pig, Mouse, and Duck. Pig, Mouse, and Duck are going to surprise Cow with a birthday cake. They are hard at work. Duck is not helping. Duck is a distraction. A big distraction. Finally the cake is ready to give to Cow. How will Cow react?! Will this be the BEST BIRTHDAY EVER?!

I love the humor! I love the illustrations! It's just fun and playful.

Can You Say It, Too? Moo! Moo! With BIG Flaps to Lift! Sebastien Braun. 2014. Candlewick Press. 10 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Who's that in the barn?
It's a friendly cow!
Moo! Moo!

Who's that behind the bucket?
It's a noisy rooster!

Lift the flap books can be fun. Farm books can be fun. So this seems like an easy choice for parents with little ones. It's simple. Very simple. The emphasis is on the sounds farm animals make. I'm not sure it's unique enough to be a WOW book. Personally, my FAVORITE book in this sub-genre is Pig-a-Boo! by Dorothea DePrisco published by Simon & Schuster. It has flaps and is also a touch-and-feel book. Do you have a favorite farm animal book for little ones?

Can You Say It, Too? Woof! Woof! With BIG flaps to Lift! Sebastien Braun. 2014. Candlewick Press. 10 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Who's that behind the gate?
It's a friendly dog.
Woof! Woof!

Who's that beside the flower pots?
It's a playful cat.
Meow! Meow!

 Does your little one love to make animal sounds? Does your little one love to lift flaps in books? Then this new series in the Nosy Crow line might be a good match. Woof! Woof! and Moo! Moo! are two books in a new series called "Can You Say It, Too?" Both books are very simple and quite adequate.

B is for Bulldozer: A Construction ABC. June Sobel. Illustrated by Melissa Iwai. 2003/2013. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Do you see the Asphalt for paving the road,
or the big shiny Bulldozer pushing a load?
I see a Crane way up high in the sky,
and a rusty red Dump truck rumbling by.
Here comes an Excavator to dig a huge hole.
Nearby there's a Forklift hauling a pole.
Let's look for the Grader on the roadbed,
and a man with a Hard hat protecting his head.
I spy an I beam made out of steel,
and a Jackhammer making a noise you can feel.

I was impressed by June Sobel's B is for Bulldozer. Most alphabet books--though not all alphabet books--"teach" the alphabet but fail to tell a larger story. B is for Bulldozer is clearly an alphabet book, but, it is also an entertaining story TOLD IN RHYME. An amusement park is being built. It takes about a year from start of construction to opening day, but for curious children watching the action (from afar) it is a delight! By the end, the children are ready to ZOOM on the roller coaster.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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3. Review of the Day: The Meanest Birthday Girl by Josh Schneider

MeanestBirthday1 333x500 Review of the Day: The Meanest Birthday Girl by Josh SchneiderThe Meanest Birthday Girl
By Josh Schneider
Clarion Books (an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
ISBN: 978-0-547-83814-4
Ages 6-9
On shelves now.

Life is easier when you can categorize it. When you can slot it in a distinct category and reduce everything to black and white terms. Gray is problematic and messy, after all. This type of thinking certainly applies to how people learn how to read. If you’re a library you separate your written fiction into five distinct locations: Baby & Board Books, Picture Books, Easy Readers, Early Chapter Books, and Middle Grade Fiction. Easy peasy. Couldn’t be simpler. And it would be an absolutely perfect system if, in fact, that was how humans actually learned how to read. Wouldn’t it be great if you could make mental leaps in difficulty from one book to another with sublime ease? Yet the fact of the matter is that for all that “leveling” a collection or trying to systematically give each book a Lexile reading level makes life easier for the folks who don’t want to bother to read the books themselves, it’s not so hotso for the kiddos. Not everything written in this world can be easily summarized. For this very reason I like books that don’t slot well. That are neither fish nor fowl. And I particularly like extraordinary books that fall into this category. Behold, then, the magnificent The Meanest Birthday Girl. Simple, straightforward, and smart as all get out, it’s too long for an easy book, too short for an early chapter book, and entirely the wrong size for a picture book. In other words, perfect.

As Dana sees it, birthdays are great for one particular reason. “It was Dana’s birthday and she could do whatever she liked.” Fortunately we’re dealing with a young kid here, so Dana’s form of Bacchanalian abandon pretty much just boils down to eating waffles for breakfast and dinner, showing off her birthday dress, and torturing fellow student Anthony. So it’s with not a little surprise that Dana finds at the end of the day that Anthony has shown up on her stoop with the world’s greatest birthday present. There, in the gleam of the house lights, stands a white elephant with pink toenails and a pink bow. Dana is elated and thinks that this is the best gift a gal could receive. It isn’t until she spends a little time with her white elephant gift that she begins to understand not just what a jerk she’s been, but how to spread the elephant “love” to those who need it the most.

MeanestBirthday2 Review of the Day: The Meanest Birthday Girl by Josh SchneiderI’ll confess to you right here and now that sometimes when I’m reviewing a book I find it helpful to look at the professional reviews so that I can nail down exactly WHY it is I like such n’ such a book. I mean, I liked the art and the story and the characters here, sure. But what I really liked was what the book was trying to say. Small difficulty: I’m not entirely certain what that was. Is this a book about the selflessness of parenthood or is the elephant a metaphor of unchecked desires? So I turned to the professionals. PW said the book “both makes amends and pays it forward”. SLJ eschewed any complex interpretations just saying that this was “more a story about a girl and her pet than it is about birthday shenanigans”. The Horn Book Guide (the book didn’t even rate a proper Horn Book review) found the message confusing while Kirkus gave the book a star and saw the elephant as simply a delivery system for a lesson about kindness. None of these really do the plot justice, though. I sympathize with Horn Book Guide’s confusion, but I disagree that the message doesn’t make any sense. It just requires the reader to dig a little deeper than your average Goosebumps novel.

Here’s how I figure it. Dana’s mean. She’s given an elephant (I love the idea that Anthony, the victim, may have previously been himself a pretty nasty customer to have had the elephant in the first place). The elephant demands constant attention, but subtly. It could just be Dana’s projections of what the elephant wants that undo her. That means she’s capable of empathy, which in turn leads to her feeling bad for what she did to Anthony. And then much of why this book works as well as it does has to do with the fact that the elephant isn’t, itself, a bully. If it were then the message of the book would be pounded into your skull like a hammer on a nail. Far better then that this particular elephant is just quietly insistent. It isn’t incapable of emotion, mind you. I was particularly pleased with the look of intense concentration on its face as it attempts to ride Dana’s rapidly crumpling bicycle. The slickest elephant moment in the book visually is when its trunk makes a sly play for Dana’s sandwich when she falls asleep under a tree, but the last image as the elephant stands in front of its new owner is of equal note. There you’ll see its trunk making the gentlest of movements towards the girl’s slice of birthday cake. It doesn’t take a Nostradamus to know that that’s the last the girl will ever see of her cake from here on in.

MeanestBirthday3 314x500 Review of the Day: The Meanest Birthday Girl by Josh SchneiderIt was the PW review that probably did the best job of honing in on what makes this book special. Said they, the author “serves justice, [and] subtly (and quite cleverly) lets readers see another side to Dana …” That’s not something that occurred to me on an early reading but it’s entirely true. You meet Dana, her head resembling nothing so much in shape and size as those birthday balloons on the cover, and she does unlikable thing after unlikable thing. Then she gives up everything she has, from sandwiches to her bike, for a pachyderm. Kids may not make an immediate leap in logic between what Dana does and what they themselves sometimes have to do (willingly or unwillingly) for their little siblings, but it’s there. Schneider’s best move, however, is to show Dana being teased by a fellow classmate. Nothing cranks up the sympathy vote quite like someone suffering at the hands of another. Hence, by the time Dana formally apologizes to Anthony we’re completely Team Dana.

The art is all done in a simple execution of pen, ink, colored pencil, and watercolor. All of Schneider’s kids look like escapees from “L’il Orphan Annie” comic strips. They sport the same pupil-less eyes. Normally eyes without pupils are downright scary in some fashion, but Schneider shrinks them down so that they’re little more than incredibly expressive Os. Eyebrows go a long way towards conveying emotion anyway (the shot of Anthony raising one very cross eyebrow as Dana systematically nabs his cupcake is fantastic). Because Schneider’s books all have a tendency to look the same (Tales for Very Picky Eaters looks like The Meanest Birthday Girl looks like Princess Sparkle-Heart Gets a Makeover, etc.) there’s a temptation to discount him. Resist that urge. His is a star that is rising with rocket-like rapidity. I see great things for this guy. Great things.

The age level for this will cause no end of sorrow amongst the cataloging masses. I don’t care. The same could have been said for Sadie and Ratz (another preternaturally smart early early chapter book with a psychological base worth remembering) and a host of other books out there. What it all boils down to is the fact that The Meanest Birthday Girl is one of the rare books that makes for really intelligent fare. Odd? Certainly. But it’s willing to go places and do things that most books for kids in the 6-9 age range don’t dare. Not everyone will get what it’s trying to do. And not everyone deserves to. One of the best of 2013, bar none.

On shelves now.

Source: Final copy sent from publisher for review.

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4. Year of the Baby (2013)

The Year of the Baby. Andrea Cheng. Illustrated by Patrice Barton. 2013. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 176 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Anna and her friends are back for a second adventure. The Year of the Baby is mainly focused on two things: Anna's new adopted (all the way) from China baby sister AND the fact that their class is participating in a science fair. When Anna's baby sister fails to thrive and starts losing weight, Anna decides her science project will be her baby sister. She teams up with her two best friends and they start their ongoing project. All the adults in her life (her parents, her teacher, the pediatrician) all act as if Anna and her friends "save the day." This bothered me. It's one thing to say "good job," or "great idea" and quite another to say it is because of YOU that the baby has gained several pounds. When the experiment only focuses on one snack of each day, and that snack consists of a handful of banana slices or pieces of Chinese burgers. That one snack is just a fraction of the meals and snacks (or feedings) consumed in a day. And most of the daily calories are coming from the other meals that have nothing to do with the experiment or observation. The experiment was fun and playful and a great chance to bond, but, I'm not convinced that it "saved the day." (The bonding might have led the baby to feel happier and more secure in her new home which might help overall in her health.)

I really wanted to love The Year of the Baby. I definitely enjoyed reading Year of the Book. However, I have hesitations about The Year of the Baby; my hesitations are about the science experiment or science fair.

© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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5. Middle Ground (2012)

Middle Ground. Katie Kacvinsky. 2012. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 336 pages. [Source: Review Copy]

Middle Ground is the sequel to Awaken. Maddie, our heroine, has had her one last chance to conform. So when she brings attention to herself in L.A. by speaking out against virtual school, she ends up in a detention center; her sentence is for six months. Most of the novel focuses on the detention center, and on how corrupt the system is. Will Maddie survive the torturous rehabilitation process?! Can she hold onto who she is and what she believes in most?

I really have enjoyed this series of books. I liked Kacvinsky's focus on the dangers of technology and addiction. It isn't that technology is bad if used responsibly, but, it can be so addictive. In this future world, technology is used to keep the populace content and conformable--to keep them from thinking, questioning, and possibly rebelling.

There is a romance, but, to me this is a secondary story almost.

© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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6. Two Picture Books Turning Ten

This is The Baby. Candace Fleming. Illustrated by Maggie Smith. 2004. FSG. 40 pages. [Source: Book I Own]

This is the baby who hates to be dressed.
"No! No! Nooo!"
This is the diaper, often a mess, that goes on the baby who hates to be dressed.
"No! No! Nooo!"
This is the T-shirt, wrinkled a lot, that snaps over the diaper, often a mess, that goes on the baby who hates to be dressed.
"No! No! Nooo!"
This is the sweater, itchy and hot, that covers the T-shirt, wrinkled a lot, that snaps over the diaper, often a mess, that goes on the baby who hates to be dressed.
"No! No! Nooo!"
These are the jeans, stiff in the knee....

I love this one. I do. I like true picture books. Stories that reflect every day situations and struggles, stories that look at life realistically. The book is also fun and playful. I also like picture books that are repetitive or that have refrains, making it easy for little ones to join in during the reading.

In This is the Baby, readers meet one stubborn mother and one just-as-stubborn baby. Who will win the battle?!

This one has a good twist on it, a bit predictable perhaps, but still fun! I would definitely recommend this one to parents who have little ones who like to wiggle and giggle free and undressed...

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

Dig! Andrea Zimmerman and David Clemesha. Illustrated by Marc Rosenthal. 2004. Harcourt. 32 pages. [Source: Book I Own]

Mr. Rally drives a big yellow backhoe. It has a scooper and a pusher. Mr. Rally loves to dig in the dirt. So does his dog, Lightning. Mr. Rally buckles his overalls and pulls on his boots. He has five big digging jobs to do today. He counts them. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Job #1 up ahead. One is a bridge on the ridge. 

Dig is a fun picture book that I really enjoy. Readers meet Mr. Rally and his dog, Lightning.

Readers see the two get excited about digging in the dirt. This one has a repeating refrain: "Dig up rock and dig up clay! Dig up dirt and dig all day!" This refrain is repeated at all five jobs, as is the congratulating refrain of "Good job, Mr. Rally! Good job, Lighting!" 

After a long day of work, you might think Mr. Rally would want to go home and relax. And he does, in his own way, I suppose. But at the end of his day, Mr. Rally can still be found digging alongside Lightning. He loves to dig for work and play, of course. He loves to dig at home in his garden.

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

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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7. Review of the Day: Spirit Seeker by Gary Golio

SpiritSeeker1 Review of the Day: Spirit Seeker by Gary GolioSpirit Seeker: John Coltrane’s Musical Journey
By Gary Golio
Illustrated by Rudy Gutierrez
Clarion Books (an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
ISBN: 978-0-547-23994-1
Ages 6 and up
On shelves now

Is there any complicated hero with a past so full of darkness that their life cannot be recounted to children? This is the conundrum of any author who takes it upon his or herself to tell the stories of people who didn’t grow up happy, live lightly, and die laughing in their beds. The most interesting stories are sometimes the ones about folks who look into the eye of the devil and walk away the wiser. Trouble is, it can be hard to figure out whether or not theirs is a story kids need to know. They might love the life of Charlie Chaplin, but do you bring up his penchant for the very young ladies? Bob Marley did great things in his life . . . and consumed great amounts of drugs. Do you talk to kids about him? In the end, it all comes down to the skill of the biographer. The person who sits down and turns a great man or woman into a 32-48 page subject, appropriate for kids too young to watch PG-13 films on their own. To do it adequately is admirable. To do it brilliantly, as it’s done in Spirit Seeker: John Coltrane’s Musical Journey is worthy of higher praise.

He led as perfect a childhood as any African-American kid in the late 1930s could hope for. A loving family, two grandfather preachers, a great musician for a dad, the works. But all that came before the deaths. First his grandfather, then his father, then his grandmother too. Things grew dark for John, but an opportunity to learn the saxophone for free arose. It became John’s new religion, and the void inside him was easily filled by drugs and alcohol. He was brilliant at the instrument but was his own worst enemy when his addictions held sway. Golio tells the tale of how one young man bucked his fate and went on to become a leader in more ways than one. An Afterward, Author’s Note, Artist’s Note, and Sources and Resources appear at the end.

SpiritSeeker6 300x183 Review of the Day: Spirit Seeker by Gary GolioIn any picture book biography (and this applies to bio pics on the silver screen too) the author needs to determine whether or not they’re going to try to cover the wide swath of their subject’s life, or if they’re going to select a single incident or turning point in that life and use that as the basis of their interpretation. Golio almost has it both ways. He’s certainly more in the wide swath camp, his book extending from John the child to John the successful and happy (relatively) adult. But within that storyline Golio takes care to build on certain images and themes. Reading through it you come to understand that he is showing how a happy child can become a brilliant but cursed young man, and then can escape his own personal demons, inspiring others even as he inspires himself. Under Golio’s hand Coltrane’s early exposure to religion reverberates every time he seeks out more spiritual knowledge, regardless of the sect. He loses so many people he loves (to say nothing of financial stability) then grows up to become the perfect melding of both his grandfather and his father.

Just as Golio builds on repeating images and themes in his text, so too does artist Rudy Gutierrez make a go of it in his art. The author/artist pairing on picture book is so often a case of an author writing a story, handing it over to their editor, that editor assigning it to an illustrator, and the illustrator working on the piece without any interaction with its original creator. It seems like a kind of crazy way to make great picture books, and many times the art and the text won’t meld as beautifully as they could. Then you’ll see a book like Spirit Seeker and though I know that “Gary Golio” is not a pseudonym for “Rudy Gutierrez” (or vice-versa) it sure feels like the two slaved together over each double-paged spread. I suppose the bulk of that credit lies with Gutierrez, all fairness to Golio’s text admitted. Gutierrez explains in his Artist’s Note at the end of the book that Coltrane was such an “artistic angel” to him that he fasted for two weeks so as to best focus, meditate, pray and paint this book. The result is a product that looks as though someone cared and cared deeply about the subject matter.

SpiritSeeker3 300x183 Review of the Day: Spirit Seeker by Gary GolioMind you, the book will do kids and adults little good unless they like Gutierrez’s style. I happen to find it remarkable. He strikes the perfect balance between the literal and allegorical representation of certain aspects of Coltrane’s life. Some artists fall too far on one side or the other of that equation. Gutierrez isn’t afraid to attempt both at once. You’ve the energy of his lines trying to replicate the energy of the music, John’s grandfather’s preaching, his spiritual journey, etc. There are moments when you can actually sit a kid down and ask them something like, “What do you think it means when that single curving line moves from John’s father’s violin to his son’s heart?” At the same time, you know that Gutierrez is doing a stand up and cheer job of replicating the faces of the real people in this book time and time again. The melding of the two, sad to say, does turn a certain type of reader off. Fortunately I think that a close rereading can allay most fears.

In my own case, it took several rereadings before I began to pick up on Gutierrez’s repeated tropes. Golio begins the book with a description of John sitting in his grandfather’s church, his mother at the organ, the words of the sermon making a deep and lasting impression. That passage is recalled near the end of the book when John does his own form of “preaching” with his horn. As the text says, he was, “a holy man, shouting out his love of man to the whole human race.” You could be forgiven for not at first noticing that the image of John’s grandfather at the start of the book, hunched over a pulpit, the curve of his body lending itself to the curve of his words, is recalled in the very similar image of John’s and his saxophone, the curve of HIS body lending itself to the curve of his saxaphone’s music near the book’s end. Notice that and you start jumping back to see what else might have passed you by. The image of the dove (my favorite of these being when John meets Naima and two doves’ tails swirl to almost become a white rose). There’s so much to see in each page that you could reread this book twenty different times and make twenty different discoveries in the art alone.

SpiritSeeker4 300x183 Review of the Day: Spirit Seeker by Gary GolioI’ve mentioned earlier that there are some folks that don’t care for Gutierrez’s style. Nothing to be done about that. It’s the folks that object to doing an honest bio of Coltrane in the first place that give me the willies. I have honestly heard folks object to this story because it discusses John’s drug use. And it does. No question. You see the days when his deep sadness caused him to start drinking early on. You see his experiments with drugs and the idea some musicians harbored that it would make them better. But by the same token it would be a pretty lackadaisical reader to fail to notice that drugs and alcohol are the clear villains of the piece. Gutierrez does amazing things with these light and dark aspects of John’s personality. On the one hand he might be looking at the symbols of countless world religions. Then on the facing page is an opposite silhouette of John, the borders little more than the frightening red crayon scratchings of a lost soul. Read the book and you discover what he did to free himself from his trap. Golio even goes so far as to include a lengthy and in-depth “Author’s Note: Musicians and Drug Use” to clarify any points that might confuse a young reader. Let’s just say, all the bases are covered here. These two guys know what they are doing.

If there is any aspect of the design of the book that makes me grind my teeth to a fine powder it’s the typeface of the text. I’m not a typeface nerd. Comic Sans does not strike a chord of loathing in my heart as it does with others. That said, I do harbor a very strong dislike of this horrendous LA Headlights BTN they chose to set this story in. It fails utterly to complement the writing or the tone or the art in any way, shape, or form and makes the reading process distinctly unpleasant. They say that in some cultures artists will include a single flaw in a work because otherwise that piece would be perfect and only God is true perfection. With that in mind, I’ll consider this the single flaw that keeps Spirit Seeker from attaining a higher calling.

SpiritSeeker5 300x183 Review of the Day: Spirit Seeker by Gary GolioThe reason Coltrane works as well as he does as a subject is that his is a story of redemption. Not just the redemption of a life freed from the power of drugs and alcohol, but a spiritual redemption and reawakening as well. It would pair beautifully with books like Malcolm X: A Fire Burning Brightly by Walter Dean Myers which perfectly complement this idea. It is the only real picture book bio of Coltrane worth considering, and a kind of living work of art as well. Melding great text with imagery that goes above and beyond the call of duty, this is one biography that truly does its subject justice. Complex in all the right ways.

On shelves now.

Source: Copy sent from publisher for review.

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8. Two nonfiction biographies (2012, 2013)

Miss Moore Thought Otherwise: How Anne Carroll Moore Created Libraries for Children. Jan Pinborough. Illustrated by Debby Atwell. 2013. [March 2013] Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.  40 pages.

Once in a big house in Limerick, Maine, there lived a little girl named Annie Carroll Moore. She had large gray eyes, seven older brothers, and ideas of her own. In the 1870s many people thought a girl should stay inside and do quiet things such as sewing and embroidery. But Annie thought otherwise...

There was a time when children weren't allowed in libraries, weren't allowed to touch books let alone to take them home. Some librarians felt differently. Anne Carroll Moore was among them. Children needed access to books, to good children's books. Libraries needed to have special rooms and collections for children. Miss Moore Thought Otherwise tells the story of one librarian whose special work within the field of librarianship had a great impact on the world, on how people thought of libraries. The book does note that she was not the only librarian working in this field, striving to make children's rooms a part of every public library. She just happened to be in the right place and right time. (New York City). She not only was a librarian; she reviewed children's books and compiled recommended reading lists as well.

I definitely enjoyed this one. It is so easy to take having access to books for granted, it's good to have a reminder now and then that it always wasn't so. This book might pair well with Miss Dorothy's Bookmobile.

Noah Webster & His Words. Jeri Chase Ferris. Illustrated by Vincent X. Kirsch. 2012. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 32 pages.

Noah Webster always knew he was right, and he never got tired of saying so (even if, sometimes, he wasn't). He was, he said, "full of confidence" [noun: belief that one is right] from the beginning. He was born in 1758 on a farm in West Hartford, Connecticut, when America still belonged to England, and by the time he was twelve he knew how to grow everything from beans and corn to peas and potatoes. His father said Noah would be a fine farmer, following in the footsteps of a long line of Webster farmers. But Noah did not want to be in that long line. He didn't want to be a farmer at all. 

I definitely enjoyed this picture book biography of Noah Webster. The narrative was straightforward and yet playful at times with it's interruptions of definitions. The book provides background on American life and culture in addition to providing background on Webster himself. The book primarily focuses on Webster writing AMERICAN textbooks for use in schools and his writing of the AMERICAN dictionary. There are plenty of details to bring this story to life. For example, his blue-back speller cost fourteen cents, but Webster's profit was only a penny per book sold. It didn't take Webster long to learn that he wouldn't be getting rich by writing textbooks. Half the book focuses on the time he spent working on the dictionary. It was quite an accomplishment of course...
An example of the book's playfulness:
Now Noah needed to read the two thousand pages he had worked on for almost twenty years, to be sure there were no mistakes. Next, he needed to find just the right publisher. Last, he needed to take a nap.

I would recommend this one.

© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

1 Comments on Two nonfiction biographies (2012, 2013), last added: 1/25/2013
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9. The Center of Everything (2013)

The Center of Everything. Linda Urban. 2013. Harcourt. 208 pages.

I was not disappointed with Linda Urban's newest novel, The Center of Everything. While I didn't love, love, love it to the same degree as I loved A Crooked Kind of Perfect (a book I read twice in one week because it was just that good), I still found myself loving The Center of Everything.

Ruby Pepperdine is the heroine of The Center of Everything. We meet her on a big day, the day she's part of the town's parade. She'll be reading her winning essay to the waiting crowd. Winning is something that she definitely didn't expect. Then again, a lot of unexpected things have been happening: her grandmother dying, a growing distance between herself and her best friend, her newly developed friendship with a boy, and that's not to mention the wish...

Readers get flashes from the past bringing the story to life. We learn chapter by chapter what is going right and what is going wrong in this young girl's life.

The Center of Everything is a great coming of age story; it captures some of the emotions of being eleven-going-on-twelve.

Read the Center of Everything
  • If you are a fan of Linda Urban
  • If you enjoy middle grade fiction with a focus on friendship and family
  • If you enjoy coming of age stories
  • If you are looking for a MG title about grief
  • If you are looking for a 'summer' book

© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

3 Comments on The Center of Everything (2013), last added: 2/26/2013
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10. Affected by Hurricane Sandy? First Book Can Help You Get New Books.

First Book and Hurricane Sandy relief

Click here (or on the flyer above) to sign up! Feel free to share this link, or download the graphic and share.


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11. The Lightning Dreamer (2013)

The Lightning Dreamer. Margarita Engle. 2013. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 182 pages.

Books are door-shaped
carrying me
across oceans
and centuries,
helping me feel
less alone.

But my mother believes
that girls who read too much
are unladylike
and ugly,
so my father's books are locked
in a clear glass cabinet. I gaze
at enticing covers
and mysterious titles,
but I am rarely permitted
to touch
the enchantment 
of words. (3)

I definitely enjoy Margarita Engle's verse novels. Her newest is a verse novel about Cuban abolitionist poet, Gertrudis Gomez de Avellaneda, who was nicknamed Tula. For a young girl--a young woman--who dreamed so big, wanted so much, her environment was quite oppressive. Her family wanted, NEEDED, her to marry well. But. Tula had different ideas. She held onto the notion that she could have ideas of her own:

Girls are not supposed to think,
but as soon as my eager mind
begins to race, free thoughts
rush in
to replace
the trapped ones. (4)

 Tula discovers a whole new world within the convent library, and once she begins her journey, there will be no dissuading her...

So many!
How can I choose?
Between bursts
of lightning-swift energy,
I enjoy peaceful moment
when the whole world
seems to be a flowing river
of verse
and all I have to do is learn
how to swim.
During those times,
I find it so easy to forget
that I'm just a girl who is expected
to live
without thoughts. (41)

The novel is rich and descriptive. I love the writing...

"I feel certain that words
can be as human 
as people,
with the breath
of compassion." (26)

So many people 
have not yet learned
that souls have no color
and can never
be owned. (69)

Love is as tricky as a wall
of mirrors that make
narrow hallways
seem open
and wide. (146)

I would definitely recommend this one! 

Read The Lightning Dreamer
  • If you enjoy verse novels
  • If you enjoy historical novels based on real people and events
  • If you enjoy Margarita Engle's works
  • If you are looking for YA books set in Cuba

© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

1 Comments on The Lightning Dreamer (2013), last added: 3/3/2013
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12. More New Maps

I love getting things in the mail. These arrived recently– maps for an ongoing series of books about the USA for Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. More states to come!

(Hairy Little Assistant #1 likes to read.)

4 Comments on More New Maps, last added: 4/8/2013
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13. The Little Prince (1943)

The Little Prince. Antoine de Saint-Exupery. 1943/2013. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 112 pages.

The Little Prince is unique and delightfully odd. A pilot crashes in the desert and meets a strange 'little prince.' They have many conversations together over the course of a week. These conversations make up the heart of The Little Prince. It's a quick little read. I am glad I read it.

Favorite quotes:
"It is only with the heart that one can see rightly. What is essential is invisible to the eye.”
“All grown-ups were once children... but only few of them remember it.”
“But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world.”
Read The Little Prince
  • If you enjoy children's classics
  • If you enjoy beautiful writing
  • If you like quirky, unique stories
  • If you like reading books in translation

© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

3 Comments on The Little Prince (1943), last added: 3/16/2013
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14. Rereading Grave Mercy (2012)

Grave Mercy. Robin LaFevers. 2012. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 560 pages.

Last summer, I reviewed Robin LaFevers' Grave Mercy. It was LOVE. To sum up Grave Mercy in many words: Politics. Romance. Drama. Dysfunctional Families. Poison. Murder. Betrayal. Mystery. Suspense. To sum it up in just two: assassin nuns. The novel is set in Brittany in the late 1480s.

Ismae, our heroine, is one of Death's handmaidens. She's a trained assassin, trained by a convent of nuns dedicating their lives to serving St. Mortain (Death). The nuns are loyal to the Duchess of Brittany, and the victims are often her political enemies--foreign or domestic--those that pose the greatest threat to Brittany's independence.

While we do see her first few jobs carried out, most of the novel focuses on one job in particular. The abbess wants her to team up with Duval, the Duchess' older brother and her most trusted friend and advisor. She's to pose as his mistress, and travel with him to the Duchess' household. There she will "help him" find any possible traitors...

I wanted to reread Grave Mercy because the second novel in the series, Dark Triumph, is releasing soon. I thought the second novel would read better if I took the time to reread the first novel. And I think this was very beneficial. Especially since this is a novel heavy in politics. While I read Grave Mercy in one night the first time, I took my time for the reread. I think I was better able to absorb the politics at a slower pace. I was able to focus more on the minor characters as well. The first time, it was ALL about the romance--that was the only thing I cared about. This time, I was able to appreciate the story as a whole.

Read Grave Mercy

  • If you're a fan of Robin LaFevers
  • If you're a fan of historical romance, with a fantasy feel to it (mythology/supernatural)
  • Also if you're a fan of mystery/suspense/political thrillers
© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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15. Review of the Day: Twelve Kinds of Ice by Ellen Bryan Obed

Twelve Kinds of Ice
By Ellen Bryan Obed
Illustrated by Barbara McClintock
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
ISBN: 978-0-618-89129-0
Ages 6-10
On shelves November 6th

Every year the children’s librarians of the New York Public Library system come together and create a list of 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing. The list, now entering its 101st year, originally had a dual purpose. On the one hand it was meant to highlight the best children’s books at a time when finding books written specifically for kids was difficult in and of itself (the “100” number idea came later). On the other hand, when printed out the list was intended to serve as a Christmas shopping guide for parents looking to give away quality works of children’s literature with the potential to someday be considered “classics”. These days, that idea of using the list as a shopping guide has become less important, but the search for books that aim for “classic” ranks never ceases. Such books are difficult to find, partly because the ones that try to feel that way utilize this sickening faux nostalgia that, in particularly egregious examples, can make your hair curl. That’s why a book like Twelve Kinds of Ice strikes me as such a rarity. Here we have something that feels like something your grandmother might have read you, yet is as fresh and fun and original as you could hope for. Original and difficult to categorize, the one thing you can say about it is that it defies you to sum it up neatly. And that it’s delightful, of course. That too.

In this family there are twelve kinds of ice. All the kids know this fact. “The First Ice” is that thin sheen you find in pails. “The Second Ice” can be pulled out like panes of glass. As the winter comes on, the days grow colder and colder and the kids wait in anticipation. Finally, after the appearance of “Black Ice” it’s time to turn the vegetable garden into a skating rink that will last the whole winter. The whole family creates the sides and uses the hose to create the perfect space. With crisp prose designed to make you feel excited and cozy all at once, the author goes through a full winter with this family. There are sibling rivalries for ice time, skating parties, comic routines, an ice show, and then finally those spring days where you can only skate an hour before the sun starts making puddles. Fortunately for all the kids there’s one kind of ice left and that is dream ice. The ice where you can skate everything from telephone wires to slanting roofs and it will last you all the year until the first ice comes again.

My instinct here is to just start quoting large sections of the text out of context so that you can listen to the wordplay. The trouble is that much of this book works precisely because those very words, when read as part of the story, simply feel like there was no other way to say that exact thing at that exact moment. So, for example, when we read “Black Ice” section where the ice has arrived before the snow, we have to know that the kids are skating on a Great Pond. We read that “We sped to silver speeds at which lungs and legs, clouds and sun, wind and cold, race together. Our blades spit out silver. Our lungs breathed out silver. Our minds burst with silver while the winter sun danced silver down our bending backs.” It helps to know that until now the kids have been limited to Field Ice (narrow strips) and Stream Ice (uneven and broken by rocks). This is the moment when they’

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16. Panorama City/Antoine Wilson: Reflections

I encountered Antoine Wilson at the BEA, where I had gone to find out which adult titles had all the buzz, and why, on behalf of Publishing Perspectives.  Quick on his feet, witty, Antoine was, nonetheless, the author of a book about a "slow absorber"a 28 year old named Oppen Porter who is recording every millimeter of minutiae about his life and thoughts for the benefit of his unborn son, whom Oppen doesn't expect to meet, stuck as Oppen is, in a hospital, and perhaps dying.  I would need to add a few more commas to that last sentence, a smattering of additional half-steps, not to mention some unexpected profundities, they would have to be funny profundities, but also true, in the way that funny is also true, except that I am personally incapable of conjuring either the profound or the funny, in order to foreshadow the nature of the novel itself, which I have just finished reading, in order to give you a sense for the whole. Or one small sentence of the whole.

I would have to be Antoine Wilson, but I am not.  I would have to be a literary ventriloquist with an obsession with the question, What is a man of the world?, but this is Wilson's terrain.  His Oppen is a Forrest Gump of sorts (minus the super-hero powers and the awesome historic coincidences)—optimistic, well-meaning, highly observant but also stuck in his observing, capable of seeing a lot of the picture, but perhaps not the same picture that so many of us see (because we are rushing, because we have conformed, because we have ceded something of the raw and unschooled in ourselves).  The novel is a monologue, a man talking into a tape recorder while his baby sits coiled within his gold- and white-toothed mom.  It is a circle, and while riding the circle, one meets fast-food workers, big thinkers, exasperated aunts (all right, just one single exasperated aunt), religious zealots, and a talking-cure shrink who cures nothing. 

I'm going to share here three sentences of Oppen's world.  Oppen is tall, you see, and his sleeping arrangements are unfortunate.  He's finding himself slightly fatigued:
I'm not a complainer, I wouldn't have said anything, except that I was concerned I wasn't going to be getting enough rest, that over the course of several nights the lack of rest would add up to a general fatigue, it had happened to me before, it had happened to me in Madera, when I had broken my arm, or rather my arm had gotten broken while playing Smear the Queer with the Alvarez brothers, I had fallen in an awkward way, and because of the cast and the way it was situated I could not roll over freely in my sleep, and as a result I suffered from what your grandfather called general fatigue, which he said was quite noticeable with me, what happened was that in addition to having less energy I was less interested in everything and less friendly, too, I wasn't myself.  At the time I did not know the root cause of the general fatigue but I have since come to realize that without sleep the head gets clogged with other people's words.  The head needs sleep to make everyone else's words into our own words again, it is a conversion process.
One final thing.  Panorama City is a Lauren Wein (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) book.  Lauren, whom I am proud to say is a friend, continues to produce some of the most interesting books around.  Read Shards, if

2 Comments on Panorama City/Antoine Wilson: Reflections, last added: 7/27/2012
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17. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Partners with Libboo For Social Media Promotion

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has partnered with social networking site for readers Libboo. The two companies have launched an online pilot program to help HMH promote books.

AppNewser has more about the partnership: “The two Boston-based companies have created a three-month program to offer readers access to some of their books. Readers who share these books through their own social networks will be able to earn free eBooks. ‘Libboo’s unique platform allows our authors to share their work with an even wider audience using the power of social media,’ stated Gary Gentel, president of HMH’s trade and reference division.”

HMH will be showcasing the new books Diving Belles by Lucy Wood, The Heart and the Fist by Eric Greitens and How Children Succeed  by Paul Tough, as well as a number of previously published titles by HMH authors.

New Career Opportunities Daily: The best jobs in media.

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18. Two Early Readers Starring Joe

Joe on the Go. (Green Light Readers, Level 1) Peggy Perry Anderson. 2012. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 32 pages.

"Let's go!" said Joe to Mother dear.
"Sorry, Joe, I am busy here."
"Let's go!" said Joe. Dad said, "No way. Today is family meeting day."
Then came cousins, uncles, and aunts. They came to visit, eat, and dance.

Joe is a very energetic little frog. But no one at the frog family reunion wants to play with him. Each has a reason or excuse. Each tells him no and sends him away. But Joe keeps trying, surely, someone wants to play with him. He meets that someone....in Grandma.

The text, as you might expect, is repetitive and predictable making it just about right for young readers beginning to read on their own. And it could be a read aloud, as well, for parents to read to little ones.

Let's Clean Up. (Green Light Readers, Level 1) Peggy Perry Anderson. 2012. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 32 pages.

Mother said, "I have the broom. Let's clean up this messy room." Mother cleaned high. Mother cleaned low. Mother cleaned the room for Joe. 

Another Joe adventure. Joe has an extremely messy room. His mom cleans the room, Joe is happy to see his floor again. He's eager to "rediscover" all his toys again. He makes his room a big, big mess. His mom is not happy that minutes later her son's room is out of control...again. The illustrations show her close to tears. But Joe has a way to make his mom happy again. He'll clean his room all by himself. And he'll do it much, much quicker. And, as long as his mom doesn't look in the yard, things should go well. 

In October, two more early readers will be released: Time for Bed, the Babysitter Said and To The Tub

Read Joe on the Go and Let's Clean Up
  • If you're looking for early readers to share with young beginning readers
  • If your little one likes frogs

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

1 Comments on Two Early Readers Starring Joe, last added: 9/26/2012
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19. The Broken Lands (YA)

The Broken Lands. Kate Milford. 2012. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 455 pages.

I just loved, loved, loved Kate Milford's The Boneshaker. I can't say I loved The Broken Lands as much, but, I still really liked it. I think I loved the narration more in Boneshaker. With The Boneshaker, it was love almost from the first page, it definitely took me longer to connect with the characters and the story from this newest book. But. Once I started caring about Sam and Jin, I did care. Both books, of course, are about good versus evil, and being brave enough to make the right choices and stand up for good. And there were great scenes in both books. I continued to love the author's description and storytelling. I would recommend both books.

The Broken Lands is historical fantasy set in New York City in 1877.

Read The Broken Lands
  • If you love great storytelling and unique characters
  • If you love historical fantasy young adult fiction
  • If you're looking for a 'magical' or 'supernatural' book set in New York City
  • If you are looking for a little supernatural in your fantasy BUT you don't necessarily want werewolves or vampires or zombies

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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20. What Came From the Stars (MG)

What Came From the Stars. Gary D. Schmidt. 2012. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 304 pages.

I wanted to love this one, but I'm not sure I can even say I liked it. I found the fantasy sections to be confusing, in an unnecessary way. (I think he could have written it to be more accessible and enjoyable.) YET at the same time, these sections reminded me of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Silmarillion. (I would have preferred to be reminded of The Hobbit!) The realistic sections were interesting. A grieving boy finds an out-of-this-world necklace that changes him in small ways--foreign ways; and since this necklace is highly sought after by evil aliens from a far away planet, bad stuff starts happening in the boy's community. This one had a handful of scenes that I really enjoyed. For example, when Tommy Pepper (our hero) is "fixing" the painting of his principal, I believe. There were a few scenes with delightful details that just worked. And some of the dialogue was great. But I had a hard time connecting with this one for the most part.

Read What Came From The Stars
  • If you're a fan of Gary D. Schmidt
  • If you enjoy children's fantasy OR science fiction
  • If you're looking for a unique book on grief and guilt

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

2 Comments on What Came From the Stars (MG), last added: 10/15/2012
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21. Gathering Blue (MG)

Gathering Blue. Lois Lowry. 2000/2012. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 215 pages.

In anticipation of reading Son, I decided to reread the Giver trilogy by Lois Lowry. Gathering Blue is the second book, it is a companion to The Giver. Readers are introduced to a crippled heroine named Kira whose life is in danger because of her mother's recent death. The village in which she lives has a small tolerance level, I suppose you'd say, for those they deem worthless or less-than. Because of her so-called disability, there are those that food should not be wasted on her, for what good could she ever be to the community. Soon after the novel begins, Kira finds herself on trial. If the court decides in her favor, she'll continue to live in the village, if not, she'll be forced out. Kira lucks out, and she is "rescued" by one of the council. But her life will never be the same, she'll have an honored role in her village, in a way, doing a special job, something that only she can do, but along with the privilege she'll learn some secrets that will perhaps haunt her...

Readers also meet Kira's friend Matt.

I definitely liked this one. I think this is only the second or perhaps third time I've ever read it--I've read The Giver probably six or seven times. I think I appreciated it more this time around.  

Read Gathering Blue
  • If you're a fan of The Giver and want to read on in the series
  • If you're a fan of Lois Lowry
  • If you enjoy middle grade dystopias 
© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

1 Comments on Gathering Blue (MG), last added: 10/25/2012
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22. The Giver (MG/YA)

The Giver. Lois Lowry. 1993. Houghton Mifflin. 180 pages.

 It was almost December, and Jonas was beginning to be frightened. No. Wrong word, Jonas thought. Frightened meant that deep, sickening feeling of something terrible about to happen. Frightened was the way he had felt a year ago when an unidentified aircraft had overflown the community twice. He had seen it both times. Squinting toward the sky, he had seen the sleek jet, almost a blur at its high speed, go past, and a second later heard the blast of sound that followed. Then one more time, a moment later, from the opposite direction, the same plane.

This is my third blog review for The Giver. (My first review. My second review.)

I decided to reread The Giver in anticipation of Lois Lowry's newest book, Son. While there have been two companion books to The Giver--Gathering Blue and Messenger--Son will be the sequel to The Giver. I knew I would need to reread the three previous books in order to fully, fully appreciate and enjoy Son.

I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE The Giver. It is one of my favorite, favorite books. No matter how many times I read it, I just continue to love it and think it is one of the best books ever. The same conversations get me every time. I just think it's a book EVERYONE should try.

It's a quick read, but a memorable one. The world Lowry has created in haunting and unique. I've read a handful of dystopian novels lately--including Yesterday, Bar Code Tattoo, The Forsaken, Once, Eleventh Plague, Rootless, etc. just to mention the ones I've read this past month or so--and while many dystopias are good, there's something almost magical about this one. The WAY she has written the story. There's not too much telling and not enough showing. To me, it doesn't feel forced or unnatural. It isn't too didactic. The characters feel authentic to the world, and fully developed. That is why it is so chilling, so horrific, so wonderfully haunting. 

Read The Giver
  • If you're a fan of Lois Lowry
  • If you want to read one of the best, best books ever written
  • If you're looking for a timeless, classic dystopian novel 
  • If you enjoy science fiction, dystopias
  • If you enjoy children's literature
  • If you're looking for a Newbery

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

6 Comments on The Giver (MG/YA), last added: 11/2/2012
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23. Messenger (MG/YA)

Messenger. Lois Lowry. 2004/2012. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 169 pages. 

In anticipation of reading Son, I decided to reread the Giver trilogy. Messenger is the third book, and it is a companion to The Giver and Gathering Blue. The hero of Messenger is Matt, a character first introduced in Gathering Blue. Several years have passed between the two books, and Matt is living with Kira's (blind) father. At one time, both found their village completely ideal. It was a community that celebrated morality: kindness, mercy, tolerance. It was a community that celebrated second chances. Open hearts, open borders, education for all. But times are changing slowly but surely and some are beginning to notice the differences. The Forest is also changing...

At one time Matt felt comfortable entering the Forest. He traveled from community to community. Not everyone COULD enter the Forest, not everyone wanted to enter the Forest. The Forest had a way of letting a person know if he/she were welcome. For those not welcome, it would seem to maliciously attack you.

Matt has ONE HUGE MESSAGE to deliver when the Forest begins to become unfriendly...will he leave the forest alive?

This one stars Matt and Kira (and Kira's father), but also mentions THE LEADER and a certain sled.

This one is definitely a darker novel, and a more symbolic novel.

Read The Messenger
  • If you enjoyed The Giver and Gathering Blue and want to continue on in the series
  • If you are a fan of Lois Lowry
  • If you enjoy mysteries and dystopias 
© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

2 Comments on Messenger (MG/YA), last added: 11/2/2012
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24. Son (MG/YA)

Son. Lois Lowry. 2012. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 400 pages.

I found SON to be an amazing read!!!! I just loved, loved, loved it! Definitely a book I read in one sitting. In fact, I read The Messenger and Son the same evening. The book focuses on two characters: Claire and Gabe.

When Claire was twelve, she was assigned to be a birthmother. Barely two years later, she gives birth to her first (and only) child. Birthmothers never raise their own children, never care for their own young, not even that first year before it is placed into an adopting family. Because #36's arrival was complicated, Claire is dismissed from her (original) assignment and reassigned to the fish hatchery. Perhaps she should have stopped thinking about the baby she gave birth to, the baby she never even caught a glimpse of. But she happens to have an acquaintance assigned to the Nurturers, and she happens to learn the number of her child. And she learns he was a boy. She takes risks, perhaps, and decides to volunteer--unofficially if she must. Over the course of a year or so, she has the chance to bond with her son. She doesn't know his name, not really. And it's not as if there is a way for her to get her happily ever after, but, she has to make those few precious stolen moments count.

What I loved about Claire's story is that it offers readers an opportunity to revisit The Giver, to see it from another point of view. Readers get a chance to meet Jonas's father, to get to know him, in a way, over a series of encounters throughout the year. Readers also get a chance to explore different sides of the community. Claire is a fascinating heroine, in my opinion. I'm not sure that she's more fascinating than Jonas in The Giver, but, she's an observant, emotional heroine. And I connected with her from the start.

The novel covers many years, and only the first section is set in the same community as The Giver...

The other narrator of Son is Gabriel. Readers get a chance to revisit the community first introduced in Messenger. It gets VERY exciting and dramatic...

Read Son
  • If you're a fan of Lois Lowry
  • If THE GIVER is one of your favorite books and you really want to revisit it and learn more about this chilling community
  • If you've read the The Giver, Gathering Blue, and Messenger and want a conclusion to a great series
  • If you enjoy dystopias and middle grade science fiction

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

3 Comments on Son (MG/YA), last added: 11/3/2012
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25. 16 Self-Published Books Make Top 100 Kindle List

hidinginthesnowThis December illustration titled, Hiding in the Snow was sent in by Summer Hart. Perhaps we are seeing the beginnings of self-published books coming out of their hiding, too.

There’s been a lot of talk about self-published bestsellers, Amazon’s own publishing lines, and the disruption of “gatekeepers” in 2012, so I was interested when Publisher Marketplace reported what Amazon’s own lists show (below).

For the “announced” lists of 2012 books only, leaving aside EL James, by our count the top 100 Kindle list includes 16 titles that were originally self-published. But only 5 of those books are still self-published (The Secret of Ella and Micha, by Jessica Sorensen; Down to You and The Wild Ones, by M. Leighton; Blood Stained by CJ Lyons; and The Unwanted Wife, by Natasha Anders).

And of those 5, Leighton’s two books are also moving to Penguin Group’s Berkley–and Berkley/NAL now publishes 7 more of those originally self-published books on the Kindle bestseller list:

Sylvia Day’s Bared to You and Reflected In You Samantha Young’s On Dublin Street Tammara Webber’s Easy Sydney Landon’s Weekends Required Sylvain Reynard’s Gabriel’s Rapture Sydney Landon’s Not Planning On You

Amazon’s imprints accounted for 4 books: The Long Way Home, by Karen McQuestion (Encore) Hidden, by Kendra Elliot (Montlake Romance) Thicker Than Water, G.M. Ford (Thomas & Mercer) Dead Weight, by T.R. Ragan (Thomas & Mercer) and two of them are Kindle single exclusives — Snatched, by Karin Slaughter, and An Unexpected Twist, by Andy Borowitz.

On the “actual” list of 2012 Kindle bestsellers, regardless of when published, the highest-ranking self-published title is Stephanie Bond’s OUR HUSBAND (at No 29–though Penguin’s Sylvia Day editions are at No. 7 and No 8.) This list has 15 books that were originally self-published, 4 Amazon-published books, and one Kindle Single exclusive (Karin Slaughter’s).

More Self-Publish Success:

Author of self-published NYT and USA Today ebook bestseller WOOL Hugh Howey has made a print-only deal with Simon & Schuster, which will release his title in both hardcover and paperback editions simultaneously in March 2013 while Howey continues to control the ebook version. He had already made a traditional publishing deal in the UK (with Century) and agent Kristin Nelson and her sub-agents have already licensed the book in over 18 territories.

Spokesperson for the Simon & Schuster Publishing Group Julia Prosser told us, “Not one size publishing fits all, and Simon & Schuster wants to publish the most talented writers out there. We’re thrilled to be able to bring WOOL to a larger audience.” In 2011 Simon& Schuster agreed to distribute print books for another successful self-published ebook author, John Locke, and that unit also provided full-line distribution (this time including ebooks) to Tucker Max’s Blue Heeler Books for his latest book, HILARITY ENSUES.

Print-only deals remain rare, though not singular (and they may become more common as the 21st-century version of the old paperback license). Mira licensed print-only rights from another self-published author, Bella Andre, in September. And Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s New Harvest imprint issues Amazon Publishing books in print only, and when they first licensed two Oliver Pötzsch books from Amazon Crossing it was for print only. Other one-offs include Jon Krakauer’s Three Cups of Deceit and the NYT’s WikiLeaks book OPEN SECRETS, which Grove/Atlantic published as a trade paperback.

Talk tomorrow,


Filed under: News, Publishing Industry, success Tagged: Amazon, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Kindle, Penguin Group's Berkley, self publish book success, WOOL Simon & Schuster

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