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Results 1 - 25 of 153
1. The Polar Bear Scientists

The Polar Bear Scientists. Peter Lourie. 2012/2015. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 80 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Curious about polar bears? Especially polar bears in the wild? Have an interest in science? Curious about what it is a scientist actually does day to day? Peter Lourie's The Polar Bear Scientist is a reader-friendly book giving readers a behind-the-scene look at several scientists who study polar bears--who have spent most of their lives studying polar bears.

I loved the photographs I did. Yes, the book is packed with information, but, it was the photographs themselves that held my interest. Personally, I found the layout to be a bit difficult on the eyes. Some pages were black text on top of light photographs--snow mainly--but, plenty were white text on a black background. Not every reader will mind this, but, it was hard on my eyes and probably kept me from fully engaging with this one. 

Polar Bear Scientists is one of the books in the Scientists in the Fields series published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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2. Gingerbread for Liberty (2015)

Gingerbread for Liberty: How A German Baker Helped Win the American Revolution. Mara Rockliff. Illustrated by Vincent X. Kirsch. 2015. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Everyone in Philadelphia knew the gingerbread baker. His honest face...his booming laugh...And, of course, his gingerbread--the best in all the thirteen colonies. His big, floury hands turned out castles and queens, horses and cows and hens--each detail drawn in sweet, buttery icing with the greatest skill and care. And yet, despite his care, there always seemed to be some broken pieces for the hungry children who followed their noses to the spicy-smelling shop. "No empty bellies here!" the baker bellowed. "Not in my America!"

Premise/plot: Gingerbread for Liberty is the untold, near-forgotten story of Christopher Ludwick, a German-born American who loved and served his country during the American Revolution in the best way he knew how: by baking.

My thoughts: I loved, loved, loved, LOVED this one. I loved the end papers which feature a recipe for "Simple Gingerbread." I loved the illustrations. Never has a book's illustrations gone so perfectly-perfectly well with the text. The illustration style is very gingerbread-y. It works more than you think it might. At least in my opinion! I loved the author's note. I did. I loved learning a few more facts about Christopher Ludwick. It left me wanting to know even more. Which I think is a good thing. The book highlights his generosity and compassion as well as his baking talents.

But most of all, I loved the text itself, the writing style. The narrative voice in this one is super-strong. And I love the refrain: Not in MY America!  

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

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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3. The Little Prince (1943)

The Little Prince. Antoine de Saint-Exupery. Translated by Richard Howard. 1943/2013. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 112 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Once when I was six I saw a magnificent picture in a book about the jungle, called True Stories. It showed a boa constrictor swallowing a wild beast... 

I've read Little Prince twice now. I've enjoyed it both times. The book is quirky and at times quite delightful. Its story is definitely unique!

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.


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.”
© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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4. Little Rabbit and the Meanest Mother on Earth

Little Rabbit and the Meanest Mother on Earth. Kate Klise. Illustrated by M. Sarah Klise. 2010/2015. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First Sentence: Little Rabbit heard the drums beating far away. It could mean only one thing.

Premise/plot: Little Rabbit is super-excited that the circus is in town. But because he has a MESSY room and is unwilling to clean it, he's not allowed to go to the circus. In anger, he runs away to JOIN the circus. But the circus doesn't want him, not unless he has something worth seeing. He promises THE MEANEST MOTHER ON EARTH. But can he make good on such a claim?!

My thoughts: This one was cute. I think it worked for me because of the twist. The circus may not be impressed with the boast of the meanest mother on earth...but they will be impressed with another boast of the mother's making.

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

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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5. Return to Gone-Away (1961)

Return to Gone-Away. Elizabeth Enright. 1961/2000. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 224 pages. [Source: Library]

I really enjoyed reading Elizabeth Enright's Gone-Away Lake. I didn't enjoy reading the sequel nearly as much. Was I not in the right mood? Perhaps. I hope it was just a mood thing. It felt like the magic--the energy--was gone.

The book features many of the same characters, and tells of their further adventures in the spring and summer the following year. Their adventures AFTER they have purchased the old-and-crumbling house.

Portia, the heroine, reconnects with Julian, her cousin. Foster, Portia's younger brother, reconnects with the friends he's made in the community. All the children enjoy spending time with Mrs. Cheever and Mr. Payton. Adventures are to be had in their new house that requires fixing-up in every room and then some. Adventures also to be had outside in nature. Each chapter focuses on some mini-adventure that one of the children is having.

While I found myself connecting and caring with the characters in the first book, I didn't with the second.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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6. Board Book: The Doghouse

Board Book: The Doghouse. Jan Thomas. 2008/2015.  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 36 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence:
Kick
Oh no! The ball went into THE DOGHOUSE.
Who will get it out?

Premise/Plot: A cow, a mouse, a duck, and a pig are playing ball together....when....it happens. The ball is kicked into the doghouse. Who is brave? Who is scared? Will they get their ball back? Read and see!

My thoughts: I do love Jan Thomas. And The Doghouse is a great example of just why. The Doghouse is funny, playful, and dramatic. Some drama can help keep read alouds fun and spirited. This one is just predictable enough--repetitive enough--to keep it fun.

The same characters can be found in A Birthday for Cow. (Cows feature into two other Thomas picture books: Let's Sing A Lullaby with the Brave Cowboy and my personal favorite, Is Everyone Ready for Fun?)

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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7. The Case of the Vanishing Emerald (2015)

The Case of the Vanishing Emerald (Maisie Hitchins #2) Holly Webb. 2013/2015. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 176 pages. [Source: Review copy]

I enjoyed reading The Case of the Vanishing Emerald, the second book in the Maisie Hitchins mystery series for very young readers. Both books are set in Victorian London. Maisie, the protagonist, is a girl who really wants to be a detective, and she doesn't want to have to wait until she grows up. The second case she solves is, in my opinion, a much more interesting case: an actress has had a necklace stolen from her dressing room. Maisie is hired to assist her in dressing and everyone is hoping that she will find the necklace and the person who took it. In my review of the first book, I said the book was light on history and light on mystery, and, I suppose that can still be said. But I found the book to be very charming and just a treat to read.

The first book in the series was The Case of The Stolen Sixpence.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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8. Revisiting The Giver

The Giver. Lois Lowry. 1993. Houghton Mifflin. 180 pages. [Source: Library]

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.

My fifth "review" of Lois Lowry's The Giver. What more could I say that I haven't already said several times before? Feel free to read my reviews from 2007, 2011, 2012, and 2014.

Why did I reread The Giver this year? For two reasons. One. I watched the movie adaptation of The Giver. I watched the movie first, and, then started the book soon after. How do the two compare? What did I think of the movie? Well. The two certainly have a few differences. Jonas is much younger and even more innocent in the novel. But there was something about the movie that just worked really well. So I definitely didn't hate it! And I may have even loved it. I would never say I liked it "better" than the book. But on its own, it's a great movie. I loved many things about it. I loved how it was able to perfectly capture a few scenes from the book including the one where Jonas asks his parents if they love him. I also loved Jeff Bridges as The Giver! I love how both the book and the movie are thought-provoking.

Have you seen the movie? What did you think? Do you like the book or movie better? Is it ever fair to compare books and movies?

The second reason I reread The Giver is because I'm participating in the Birthday Month Reading Challenge. Lois Lowry's birthday is in March, so, it seemed a good fit for me! 

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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9. The Life of Trees and the Tree of Life: An Annotated List of Multicultural Non-Fiction Picture Books About Trees

The Life of Trees and the Tree of Life: An MWD Annotated List of Multicultural Non-Fiction Picture Books About Trees

Tree of Life: The Incredible Biodiversity of Life on Earth, written by Rochelle  … <a class=Continue reading ...

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10. Drum Dream Girl (2015)

Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl's Courage Changed Music. Margarita Engle. Illustrated by Rafael Lopez. 2015. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 48 pages. [Source: Review copy]

On an island of music
in a city of drumbeats
the drum dream girl
dreamed
of pounding tall conga drums
tapping small bongo drums
and boom boom booming
with long, loud sticks
on big, round, silvery
moon-bright timbales.

 Margarita Engle's Drum Dream Girl is a picture book biography of Millo Castro Zaldarriaga. Millo and her older sisters formed Cuba's first all-girl dance band. (The historical note adds that she performed at a birthday celebration for FDR.)

She grew up at a time and in a place where women were not allowed to play drums, or professionally play drums. The book highlights her ambitious dreams, her diligence and perseverance. It is a beautifully written biography. I've always been a fan of Margarita Engle's narrative style, her rhythmic way with words. Drum Dream Girl did not disappoint!

I loved the bold, colorful illustrations by Rafael Lopez. This one is easy to recommend!

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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11. The Babies and Doggies Book

Board Book: The Babies and Doggies Book. John Schindel and Molly Woodward. 2015. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 26 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Lots of things babies do, doggies do too. Babies and doggies hide and peek. Babies and doggies like to eat.

Premise/plot: Photos and text reveal just how much babies and doggies have in common. The photos are adorable. If you find babies cute and adorable, you'll like the pictures. If you find dogs cute--especially puppies--then you'll like the pictures. If you like puppies and babies, you'll find the book precious.

My thoughts: I liked it. I did. I loved looking at the photographs. The text was very nice as well. The rhyming worked well and didn't get in the way. 

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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12. Perfect Picture Book Friday - Sheep Go To Sleep

My goodness what a busy week it has been!  I feel like I keep saying that! :)

I already know next week is going to be WAY busier so. . . donations of chocolate will be gratefully accepted :)  (A girl needs fuel!)

(Phyllis says groundhogs also need fuel and she will accept donations of strawberries.)

(And Woolliam (aka Baab) says sheep... oh, never mind, he's asleep.)

As you all know, I am very fond of books about sheep :), and I have the most marvelous new one to share with you today!  It's as perfect as only a Perfect Picture Book can be! :)

Title: Sheep Go To Sleep
Written By: Nancy Shaw
Illustrated By: Margot Apple
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, May, 2015, Fiction

Suitable For Ages: 3-8

Themes/Topics: bedtime, counting, animals, language fun (rhyme)

Opening: "Winking fireflies light the way,
as sheep stroll home to hit the hay.
Five sheep settle in their shed,
using straw to make the bed."

Brief Synopsis: It's time for bed, but the sheep are having a little trouble settling down.  Fortunately a trusty collie knows just what to do to get them all happy and cozy for the night.

Links To Resources: talk about what things you need to go to sleep - are there some things everyone likes to have at bedtime and other things that are more individual?; Sheep Crafts & Activities; 30 Cute Lamb & Sheep Crafts for Kids & Adults; Marshmallow Sheep Recipes

Why I Like This Book: Delightful rhyme, a sweet, fun story, and adorable art - what's not to love? :)  Just like a lot of children I know, the sheep hear some scary noises and feel a little too worried to fall asleep.  Their friend the collie is as wise and understanding as any parent.  He gives one a hug, one a drink, one a blanket until at last everyone is tucked in safe and cozy, sound asleep.  And in the morning, when the sheep wake up, where do you think the collie has gone?  (I'm not telling. You'll have to read to find out :))  A lovely, comforting story (which incorporates some counting along the way for an added bonus :)) that is a perfect addition to any bedtime bookshelf.

For the complete list of books with resources, please visit Perfect Picture Books.

PPBF bloggers please be sure to leave your post-specific link in the list below so we can all come visit you!

Have a wonderful weekend everyone!


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13. Ask Me (2015)

Ask Me. Bernard Waber. Illustrated by Suzy Lee. 2015. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]

 First sentence:
Ask me what I like.
What do you like?
I like dogs.
I like cats.
I like turtles.
I like geese.
Geese in the sky? Or Geese in the water?
I like geese in the sky. No, in the water. I like both. Ask me what else I like.

Premise/plot: A father and daughter enjoy their time together in the evening. The book begins with the two together talking at the park on a lovely fall day. The book ends with him putting her to bed. The book from beginning to end is their conversation together.
Ask me if I like ice cream cones.
Do you like ice cream cones?
No. I love, love, love ice cream cones. 
My thoughts: I really enjoyed reading this one. I think I liked it even better the second or third time. The more attention I gave the illustrations, the better I liked it. The text itself is lovely. But I love, love, love, LOVE the illustrations by Suzy Lee. I am not sure I could pick a favorite spread, but, I've got two that I especially love. I love the one where the little girl is sitting on her father's shoulders and eating an ice cream cone. (They're both eating ice cream.) And I love the next page when they're both stomping or marching through the piles of leaves, and she's holding a red balloon. There is just something joyous about the whole book: the text and the illustrations.

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

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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14. Draw What You See (2015)

Draw What You See: The Life and Art of Benny Andrews. Kathleen Benson. Illustrated by Benny Andrews. 2015. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Benny started to draw when he was three years old. Once he started, he never stopped. At first, he made pictures of the world around him. He drew hot suns and red clay and little wood-frame houses in the middle of cotton fields that stretched as far as he could see. He drew black people at work in the fields.

Premise/plot: Draw What You See is a picture book biography of the artist Benny Andrews. The book is illustrated by Andrews' artwork. Readers thereby get the chance to see his work for themselves and to learn his story: how he came to be an artist, what was important to him, how he saw the world, etc. The book does a great job at making art relevant to life.

My thoughts: I really enjoyed reading Draw What You See. I found the book to be simple and fascinating. This picture book biography is oh-so-easy for me to recommend.

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

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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15. Mortal Heart (2014)

Mortal Heart. Robin LaFevers. 2014. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 464 pages. [Source: Review copy]

I liked it. I did. I really did. But I'm not sure I LOVED it. I do think it met my expectations, however. I expected it to focus on Annith. I expected it to uniquely tell her story, reveal more of who she is, and what makes her strong. And readers definitely get that. How did Annith come to the convict? What was it like for her to spend her entire life at the convent, to not know what life outside was like? What was it like for her to train all those years, to see others come and go? Has she had an easier time of it than Ismae and Sybella? Why is Annith never the one chosen to go on assignment, long-term or short-term assignment? Does not being chosen mean she's too weak or not trustworthy enough in the Abbess' mind? How does she cope with waiting? These questions are all answered in the third book of the trilogy. If you've dared to find Annith boring or obedient in previous books, you'll be challenged.

I did come to like Annith, to appreciate her story. (Sybella's story, I believe, remains my favorite.) And I did like the romance. I don't think I can say one word about the romance. If you haven't read it, then that might make no sense since usually, I don't consider naming a potential love interest a spoiler. But if you have read it, you probably can guess why I'm afraid of spoiling things. I will say I thought it was well done. I wasn't disappointed by it. (I think Sybella and Beast remain my favorite couple, however.)

I also really liked that half the book brings us back into company with Ismae and Duval and Sybella and the Beast. The first half of the book covers almost the same time period as Grave Mercy and Dark Triumph. The last half is more of a sequel, the plot progresses forward. Readers spend time with Duchess Anne and those close to her. What does Brittany's future look like? Will Anne ever have enough military support to hold onto Brittany's independence? Will the French be successful? How many will lose their lives in war to fight for the country they love?

While all three books have teased readers with mythology, with world-building, this one I think does so even more. I solidly like it. I do. I would definitely recommend people finish the series if they've enjoyed the previous books.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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16. Ivan: The Remarkable True Story

Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla. Katherine Applegate. 2014. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 40 pages. [Source: Library]

Ivan's story is told through verse in Katherine Applegate's latest book. Ivan, of course, was the inspiration for her award-winning The One and Only Ivan. It opens beautifully: "In leafy calm, in gentle arms, a gorilla's life began." It closes beautifully: "In leafy calm, in gentle arms, a gorilla's life began again." For most of his life, Ivan was a shopping mall gorilla. His early years of captivity, he spent at the shopping mall and at the home of one of the employees, I believe. He was treated very much as a pet/child. But once he began growing and developing, he lived caged-up at a mall. The book is about his life at the mall, and, how people helped him gain his freedom by writing letters, signing petitions, and holding protests. Eventually, he was moved to a zoo exhibit with other gorillas. He spent the remaining years of his life there, lonely no longer.

I enjoyed this one. I enjoyed the novel too. I think the illustrations by G. Brian Karas were great. I would have loved a few more pictures of the real Ivan, however. But still, the illustrations were well done.
© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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17. Palace of Spies (2013)

Palace of Spies. Sarah Zettel. 2013. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 368 pages. [Source: Library]

Peggy Fitzroy lives with her aunt, uncle, and cousin. She knows she's not wanted, her aunt and uncle have made that clear. But she gets along quite well with her cousin, Olivia. The novel opens with Peggy in a difficult position. Her uncle has arranged a marriage for her. She's not thrilled instead more than a little hesitant. Her hesitation only increases AFTER she meets him at a ball. Her intended isn't the only person she meets there, however. One other mystery man makes her acquaintance. He offers her a way out. He tells her that he knew her mother. He wants to make a deal with her, of sorts. He wants her to spy for him, to impersonate one of the Queen's maids. (Ladies-in-waiting?) He leaves her with his card. She's curious but just as hesitant about that option as well. If only she could have some control over her own future...

With a title like Palace of Spies, it's obvious what her choice was. She will become Lady Francesca Wallingham. Can she learn enough from Mr. Tinderflint and Mr. Peele? Do they know enough about her to tell her everything she needs to know to pass as this lady? Is either man trustworthy? What are their intentions? What will they do with the information she provides? Who can she trust at court? Did Lady Francesca have enemies? How will she be able to discern who her friends were and who her enemies were? Will she fool anyone? Will she fool everyone? Will she ever get a minute to call her own? How long will this deception last?

I enjoyed this one. I think I enjoyed it even more having read Lucy Worsley's The Courtiers: Splendor and Intrigue in the Georgian Court at Kensington Palace earlier this year. I was familiar with several of the characters. It was quite entertaining with a nice balance of danger and romance.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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18. Death Coming Up the Hill

Death Coming Up The Hill. Chris Crowe. 2014. HMH. 208 pages. [Source: Review copy]

At first I was skeptical about Death Coming Up the Hill. A whole verse novel written in haiku?! I struggle with liking verse novels in general. When I do, it is more often an exception than the norm. Why haiku? Why a verse novel? But after reading the author's note, I was a bit more forgiving and appreciative. He shares why he chose to write in haiku. He says he tried writing the story in prose, he tried different things here and there. He liked the characters. He liked the story. But the words, they were stuck. When he tried writing in verse, in haiku, things became unstuck. Furthermore, the number of syllables in Death Coming Up the Hill matches precisely the number of American soldiers killed in Vietnam in 1968. So the author's note did explain the why. That being said, I haven't changed my mind about verse novels.

Death Coming Up the Hill is a coming-of-age love story set in 1968. Ashe is the protagonist. 1968 will bring him joy and sorrow. I'll start with the joy: the new girl in school, Angela Turner, will become his girl; they'll fall madly in love. She will support him. He will support her. Together they have something solid. A further joy, of sorts, is Ashe will get a baby sister, Rosa. Now for the sorrow, Rosa is not his father's child. His mom has had an affair. His parents will split up, and Ashe's family life will go from uncomfortable to unbearable. Plus, there's general angst. Angst about the war in Vietnam. Angst at home in the U.S. His father is at one extreme, his mother at the other. Ashe is growing up and deciding who he is, what he believes, what he wants and needs, what he's willing to do or not do.

As a coming of age novel, it works. As a love story, it works. So in many ways this one works. I personally don't think it's great in terms of poetry and language. But I will be the first to admit that I don't read much poetry, and, that poetry in general is subjective enough to begin with. Do I think that the novel resonates with emotion? Yes. But I don't think it resonates with emotion because of the poetry.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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19. Greenglass House (2014)

Greenglass House. Kate Milford. 2014.  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 384 pages. [Source: Library]

I had very high expectations for Kate Milford's Greenglass House. I loved, loved, LOVED Kate Milford's The Boneshaker. My love for that one hasn't faded a bit since I first read it. (I've reread it at least once or twice since.) Greenglass House is one that I've been looking forward to reading for most of the year. Almost a book I NEEDED to read instead of merely being one I wanted to read. And the opening paragraph was wonderful:
There is a right way to do things and a wrong way, if you're going to run a hotel in a smugglers' town. You shouldn't make it a habit to ask too many questions, for one thing. And you probably shouldn't be in it for the money. Smugglers are always going to be flush with cash as soon as they find a buyer for the eight cartons of fountain pen cartridges that write in illegal shades of green, but they never have money today. You should, if you are going to run a smugglers' hotel, get a big account book and assume that whatever you write in it, the reality is, you're going to get paid in fountain pen cartridges. If you're lucky. You could just as easily get paid with something even more useless. Milo Pine did not run a smugglers' hotel, but his parents did.Unfortunately, for me, the book proved disappointing. However, just because it was an almost for me does not mean that it would prove equally disappointing to other readers. I think it could definitely work for other readers. In fact, the very elements that annoyed me may be what another reader loves best of all about the book.
For a book set during the Christmas holidays, this is a very un-Christmas-y book. Christmas proves to be the last thing on every character's mind. So if you pick up the book thinking, A Christmas book! A Christmas mystery! How delightful! You may be disappointed.

Greenglass House is very much a mystery. It is a puzzle-solving mystery. It is a book that celebrates brainstorming. Milo, our hero, finds a map. He doesn't know anything at all about the map. Just that one of the new guests must have dropped it--either on purpose or by accident--on his/her way into the inn. Perhaps he first becomes curious out of boredom or frustration. It is the holidays. The inn never has--that he can recall--had guests over the winter holidays. So when three or four guests appear within an hour or two of each other, he's annoyed. Guests mean work. If not work for him directly, then work for his parents. And the guests range from slightly eccentric to VERY eccentric.

Greenglass Mystery is more than a mystery. I can't talk about it without spoiling it, however.

So what annoyed me most about the Greenglass House? The game-playing. The introduction of the role-playing game in order to solve the mystery at the inn. All the details--big and small--that come from the game. Including the names. Most of the book, the characters use their game-names (personas) instead of their real names.

There are also elements of a coming-of-age story within Greenglass House. Milo is adopted. He's Chinese. His parents are white. He thinks about being adopted a lot. Plus, I think he's just at that age where one questions their identity and who they are and why they are and what they want to be and where they fit and how they fit.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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20. The Question of Miracles (2015)

The Question of Miracles. Elana K. Arnold. 2015. HMH. 240 pages. [Source: Review copy]


Iris Abernathy has recently moved to Oregon, and she HATES it. Her parents are sympathetic and supportive. (Iris visits a counselor, Dr. Shannon, somewhat regularly. Not because of her angst about the move, but, for other issues.) Iris misses her old life and her old friends. Most particularly she misses her friend Sarah. Part of Iris thinks it would be impossible to ever be happy here,  to ever have another best friend. But this "impossibility" is challenged a bit in The Question of Miracles.

There were a few things that I liked about The Question of Miracles. I liked Iris's new friend, Boris. I liked the slow-and-steady progression of their friendship. I liked getting to know him. I think he was good for Iris. And I think Iris was good for him. I like how their friendship made them both stronger as individuals.

I also liked the families within the novel. I liked getting to know Iris' family and Boris' family. Overall, characterization of even minor characters was well done.

The Question of Miracles is at the very least a sad novel, perhaps a dark one. (By dark, I don't mean as dark as it could possibly be and without any hope or redemption.) How do you move on after losing a best friend? after witnessing her die in the parking lot? Life does go on, but, it feels like it can't, like it shouldn't. The Question of Miracles is about Iris' life after a big loss.

The Question of Miracles is one girl's quest for the answer to all her why questions. Does Iris get her answers? Adults are probably not surprised that she doesn't--not really. But she does come to accept her loss and begin living life again.

I didn't like everything about this one. There were a few things that bothered me--mainly bothered me as a Christian--things that may not bother other readers. (For example, her seeking out a psychic and trying to communicate with her friend's spirit.)

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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21. Xander's Panda Party (2013)

Xander's Panda Party. Linda Sue Park. Illustrated by Matt Phelan. 2013. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 40 pages. [Source: Library]

Xander planned a panda party. Yes, a dandy whoop-de-do! But Xander was the only panda. Just one panda at the zoo. Xander sat and chewed bamboo. He changed his plans and point of view. 

Premise/Plot: Readers meet Xander, a party-planning panda bear, who is struggling with his party plans. At first, he was planning a panda party. He then expands it to include all bears. But one thing after another after another leads him to include ALL the animals at the zoo.

My thoughts: I read this one because I needed an "X" title for my Alphabet Soup challenge. I can't say that I really "liked" Xander's Panda Party. I liked it in places. Some phrases seemed to have a just-right feel to them. For example, "He wasn't sure what he should do. He chewed a slew of new bamboo; he nibbled, gnawed, and thought things through" (11) But in other places, I thought the writing style (the word choice, the rhythm and/or rhyme) were off.  For example, "And he planned a hearty party! 'Fur or hair or hide can come. All the mammals, every one!'" (12). It just wasn't consistently working for me. Because it worked for me some of the time, I wanted it to work for me all the time. That being said, it was a cute enough story about a panda making new friends. I liked that he won't be a lonely panda for long.

I liked the illustrations. I needed repeated readings to fully appreciate them perhaps. For example, readers know that there is just one panda at the zoo, but the illustrations show many, many pandas. The illustration reveals Xander's frantic pacing and rushing about, his emotional distress.  (I'm thinking of page 15 and 19/20.) Amanda Salamander also makes frequent appearances, it took me a second reading to spot her on many of the spreads.

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

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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22. Curious George's Train (2014)

Board Book: Curious George's Train. 2014. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 12 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Choo-choo! Choo-choo! The engine's pulling in. George is so excited for the train ride to begin!

Premise/Plot: George and one of his friends--a boy, not the man in the yellow hat--are going for a train ride. George is excited, of course. Don't expect this curious little monkey to get into trouble during the ride. It doesn't happen. He stays in his seat like a good little monkey. The text is simple; it rhymes. It's okay. Nothing special.

My thoughts: This was an okay book for me. I liked that this book is in the style of the original Curious George. And I do think that there's always, always a demand for more train books. This one works well enough for that need at least. The wheels on the front cover do spin a little. This book like Curious George's Crane features press-out pieces for children to play with.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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23. Curious George's Crane (2014)

Board Book: Curious George's Crane. 2014. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 12 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: One day out his window George looks and sees a bright shiny crane as high as the trees!

Premise/plot: The book is one of four in the "mini-movers-shaped" board book series starring Curious George. There's also a train, a firetruck, and a dump truck.  The arm of the crane is movable. But the wheels are not. The text is simple, as you'd expect, and features George investigating a construction site. What are they building? A playground!

My thoughts: Not particularly thrilling for adults to read. But for a construction-obsessed toddler, this one probably has some appeal. The book also has press-out pieces so kids can play construction on their own. I'm not sure if these pieces would really work and stand up to repeated use. 

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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24. Entangled (2013)

Entangled. Amy Rose Capetta. 2013. HMH. 336 pages. [Source: Library]

On the one hand, I didn't end up connecting with the characters, and, I found much of the book to be confusing and/or too bizarre for my liking. But on the other hand, I found it compelling enough that I wanted to read it through until the end so that I could see if Cade 'finds' her 'entangled' missing half, Xan.

Entangled is YA Science Fiction. It's set several thousand years in the future long after Earth itself has been destroyed--by asteroid, I believe. Humans haven't done a good job colonizing space. In fact, they've done an AWFUL job of it. They're not thriving, and, at best are merely surviving. Humans are the lowest of the lowest of the low. All alien races seem to despise humans as nobodies.

Cade is the book's human narrator. She's a teen musician trying to make sense of her noisy existence. Music is the sole way she copes with her life. Her music seems to help those around her cope better with their own lives too. Even the spacesick humans who have lost their sanity completely. (The spacesick seem to have a need to touch and be touched, to connect with anything and everything outside themselves.)

Soon after the novel opens, Cade is visited by someone--or a remnant of someone. She learns that she is special, that she is 'entangled,' that she has a second-half, Xan, who is in danger, that Xan and Cade together could be the saviors of the human race. It's a lot of information to absorb. But. She takes her visitor seriously and begins a task that seems--at least to her--impossible. Finding a way off the planet and onto a space ship, traveling to the planet, Hades, where Xan is being held prisoner.

It would be a very short and unsatisfying book if Cade didn't find a way off the planet at least. And, as you might have guessed, Cade does in fact make friends with the people she's traveling with. She informs them of her mission, and, they decide to help her. Not that they offer help immediately and without reservation. But. Eventually relationships--friendships--are formed. And Cade begins to feel a little less alone and a little less overwhelmed.

There are a handful of world-building scenes throughout the novel. I'm not sure why they didn't quite work for me. I just failed to engage with this book and the characters within it. I wanted to know what happened. But I didn't necessarily "like" or "enjoy" the characters or the journey. Some characters I liked more than others.

This one may work for you. It didn't quite work for me. But as I said, I at least cared enough to finish it.
© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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25. How To Catch A Bogle (2013)

How To Catch A Bogle. Catherine Jinks. Illustrated by Sarah Watts. 2013. HMH. [Source: Review copy]

  I enjoyed reading How To Catch A Bogle a Victorian fantasy novel by Catherine Jinks. Birdie, the heroine, is an apprentice to Alfred the Bogler. She's bogle bait. Bogles are monsters who consume children. The action begins quickly in this one. Readers soon see Alfred and Birdie hard at work at this one. Birdie sings beautifully, baiting the trap if you will. Alfred carefully waits until just the right moment... Dangerous work it is. Is it too dangerous? One of Birdie's new acquaintances says it is. Miss Eames is something. She is very curious about bogles, about boglers. She wonders about the different types and classes of bogles--monsters or creatures. Where they live, how they live, what they eat, likes and dislikes, etc. She has a different approach than Alfred. Alfred is practical and skilled, but, not curious or scientific. Miss Eames is more interested in his work than he is in her work. She comes to really care for Birdie.

Miss Eames is not the only person interested in bogles. And there is one person whose interest is unethical....

Plenty of action and a bit of mystery!!! I enjoyed this one very much.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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