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Results 1 - 25 of 525
1. The Ostrich Conspiracy (2014)

Platypus Police Squad: The Ostrich Conspiracy. Jarrett J. Krosoczka. 2014. HarperCollins. 240 pages. [Source: Library]

I still like the premise of this mystery-detective series. But I think I liked the first book more than the second. Or else I was just really in the right mood to love the novelty of it, the humor of it. Mood does play a significant part sometimes. That being said, I did like this one. I liked our platypus heroes. I liked Zengo and his partner O'Malley. The book opens with a crime or potential crime. Something goes horribly wrong on the opening night of the new indoor/outdoor amusement park. As horribly wrong as you'd expect a juvenile mystery to get perhaps. Someone tampered with the power, people were stuck on rides for hours, the fireworks went off early and before the roof could be opened up, and the fireworks caused some fires. So not a great opening day but certainly memorable for all the wrong reasons. Zengo and O'Malley decide to take the case and see if it was all deliberate. They have a feeling it was, but, no proof at the beginning. They have strong feelings about some of the people--or should that be ANIMALS--involved. But they have to look for evidence and proof to build a case. Some characters readers met in the first book, but, plenty are new to the second book.

I liked this one. There are a handful of action sequences in it. Those who are looking for ACTION may like it more than the first one.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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2. The Kiss of Deception (2014)

Kiss of Deception. (The Remnant Chronicles #1) Mary E. Pearson. 2014. Henry Holt. 489 pages. [Source: Library]

Kiss of Deception was an excellent fantasy. It is probably one of the best fantasies I've read all year. From start to finish, it held my attention. I really enjoyed the mystery aspect of it that held up for three-quarters of the book. The mystery being who is who.

Kiss of Deception has multiple narrators. Princess Lia is our heroine, our runaway bride. Some chapters are narrated by "The Prince," and other chapters are narrated by "The Assassin." To add to the delight OR possibly add to the confusion, there are chapters narrated by Rafe and Kaden. Readers know that Rafe could be the Prince OR the Assassin. Likewise, readers know that Kaden could be either the Prince or the Assassin. The first third of the novel focuses more on all three being on the go. The Princess has runaway, taking her maid Pauline with her. The Prince is chasing after her. The Assassin is chasing after her too. Of course, he has been hired by someone to kill her. And the Prince's motivations are vague. What happens when these two men find her hiding in a small country town? What happens when she begins to get to know these two men, Rafe and Kaden, over the course of a week or two?

Kiss of Deception was definitely suspenseful in places. There's a bit of an intrigue mixed dangerously OR delightfully with romance. Readers learn that there is so much to learn about the world in which this novel is set. There is a hint of depth to it. I wanted more--in a good way. It wasn't that this novel was inadequate, it was that what we know is so small in comparison to what we don't know. And there's this wanting to see more, know more. If fantasy worlds feel fake, then, the wanting is completely different. It isn't curiosity but frustration.

I felt this novel was well-written. I enjoyed the world-building. I enjoyed the characterization.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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3. The Glass Sentence (2014)

The Glass Sentence. S.E. Grove. 2014. Penguin. 512 pages. [Source: Library]

The Glass Sentence has an intriguing premise with incredible potential. As soon as I heard the premise, I knew I had to read it. And, in many ways, it is a premise-driven novel. And there's nothing at all wrong with that, not when the premise is so unique. What is the premise? A Great Disruption occurs (roughly 1799) which fragments time itself. Continents and countries are displaced in time, if you will. So explorers are not just traveling from place to place, but also time to time. It makes exploring even more dangerous and unpredictable. Some societies want to forbid travel between Ages, want to stop foreigners from coming to their land, want to forbid travelers from leaving.

In The Glass Sentence, readers meet Sophia Tims. Her parents are explorers that have been missing most of her life. She has been raised by her uncle Shadrack, a cartologer. He insisted that her parents leave her behind. She was just three. She loves him, she does, but she misses her parents. She holds onto the hope that they'll come back OR that she'll go off adventuring and find them. Shortly after the novel opens, he begins to teach Sophia what he knows. He begins to share his secrets with her; he tells her that there are many different types of maps. That maps can be written on things besides paper. They can be written on glass, for instance, or even water. She's looking forward to learning...

But. Just when it is getting started, Sophia returns home to learn that her uncle has been kidnapped and that his study has been destroyed. Sophia and a new friend, Theo, a former zoo exhibit, team up to save the day. Can they find her uncle? Can they rescue him? Can the bad guys be defeated?

The world building works. It's an interesting and complex world. And, as I said, the premise has great potential. It's just an exciting sounding premise with plenty of appeal.

I liked it. I did. I didn't quite love it as I was hoping. But it was well worth a read.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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4. A Street Cat Named Bob

A Street Cat Named Bob: And How He Saved My Life. James Bowen. 2013. St. Martin's Press. 279 pages. [Source: Library]

A Street Cat Named Bob is a simple story in many ways. It's the story of one man and his cat: how they found each other, how they changed each other's lives, how they got to be so close, so fast. At the time the book opens, James Bowen was a street musician--a busker--and a recovering drug addict. He had taken steps to get off the street--at one time he was homeless and addicted to drugs--but the road ahead was still long and uncertain. He sees a stray cat, "a ginger tom," near his building, he sees that it could use a little help. He's injured. He's hungry. He decides to take the cat in and nurse him back to health. He didn't know it at the time, but, Bob wouldn't be going anywhere. Bob had found his home.

If Bob had been an ordinary cat, readers would never have heard of him or James Bowen. Bob would not have become a YouTube star. But ordinary doesn't exactly describe Bob.

Bob wasn't content to stay at home and let James go off busking. He wanted to go along. He wanted in on the action. James found that with a cat, he was irresistible, or rather Bob was irresistible. Wherever he and Bob went, Bob got ATTENTION and ADORATION. Busking became a LOT easier for him when Bob was there sitting on his guitar case and looking cute and adorable. People wanted to take Bob's picture. People wanted to take video. People wanted to pet him. People wanted to give him treats. People wanted to KNIT him clothes. But busking was still rough and unpredictable as the book shows. Eventually, James and Bob gave it up and pursued one of the few things possible. He was still on the streets, still out with Bob, but, now he was selling a magazine, Big Issue, instead of a song.

The book, as I mentioned, is in a way simple, a story of man meets cat. Happy cat. Happy man. But it's also got a bit of a message. And by message, I don't mean the preachy kind. It's the story of a man who went from invisible to visible. He talks about how having the cat gave him back his humanity, his dignity. The book, in a way, is about how we see others. Do we see the homeless, the poor? Do we see them or brush them aside?

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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5. Absolutely Almost (2014)

Absolutely Almost. Lisa Graff. 2014. Penguin. 304 pages [Source: Library]

I loved Absolutely Almost. I think I loved it at least as much as Umbrella Summer. Maybe even a little bit more. I don't know. Time will tell. I don't actually have to choose between the two, right?! I can LOVE two GREAT books by one very talented middle grade author, can't I?!

Albie is the protagonist of Absolutely Almost. His narration gives the book a just right feel. It's a satisfying read about a boy who struggles with meeting expectations: his parents, his grandparents, his teachers, his own. He's never good or great, he's always only almost. Almost good at this or that. Almost ready for this or that. And this oppressive almost gets him down now and then. Not always, mind you. I don't want to give the impression that Albie is sad and depressed and unable to cope with life. Albie is more than capable of having a good time, of enjoying life, of appreciating the world around him.

I really appreciated Graff's characterization. Not only do readers come to love (in some cases I imagine love, love, love) Albie, but, all the characters are well written or well developed. Albie's parents at times seem to be disconnected, out of touch with who their son is, what life is like for him, what he wants, what he needs. But just when I get ready to dismiss them as neglectful or clueless, something would happen that would make me pause and reconsider. Readers also get to know several other characters: his nanny, Calista, his math teacher, Mr. Clifton, and his friend, Betsy. For the record, he does have more than one friend. But Betsy is his new friend, his first friend that he makes at his new school. It is their friendship that is put to the test in the novel. It is his relationship with Betsy that allows for him to progress a bit emotionally. If that makes sense. (So yes, I know that his best-best friend is Erlan. But Erlan has been his friend for as long as he can remember, probably since they were toddlers. He's completely comfortable in that friendship. Their friendship does come into the novel here and there. But for me, it wasn't the most interesting aspect of the novel.)

I loved the setting of Absolutely Almost. I loved how we get to spend time with Albie in school and out of school. I loved how we get to see him in and out of his comfort zone. I loved that we got to see his home life. We got to see for ourselves how he interacts with parents. I love how Albie is able to love his parents even if they don't really make him top priority. Especially his Dad. Albie's need for his Dad's attention, the right kind of attention, can be FELT. Albie held onto hope that one day his Dad would find time to spend with him, that one day his Dad would see him--really see him. There were moments that hope lessened a bit as Albie gave into his emotions-of-the-moment. But Albie's love for his dad always won out at the end. His hope would return.

The writing. I loved it. I did. I think the quality of the writing was amazing. There were chapters that just got to me. Their were paragraphs that just resonated with me. The writing just felt TRUE.

Absolutely, Almost is set in New York City.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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6. Actual & Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher

The Actual & Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher. Jessica Lawson. 2014. Simon & Schuster. 224 pages. [Source: Library]

I was surprised by how much I LOVED The Actual & Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher. I think the timing was just right for me to love it.

Becky Thatcher is new in town. Her father is a judge. Her mother is a mess. To be fair, her mother is grieving the loss of her son, Jon. Becky and her father miss him too, of course. But. Her mother is deeply stuck in a very dark and melancholy place. Becky has her own way of dealing with her loss. For one, she likes to put on her brother's clothes, take him with her, if you will, and have lots of adventures. She wants to see everything, do everything, just take in each and every moment. It's not that she is out to break all the rules for the sake of breaking every rule. It's that she doesn't want to stop living and having adventures. So. She's sneaking out of the house and going off exploring and adventuring without the knowledge of either parent. Which means that her neighbor that oh-so-horrible Tom Sawyer can tattle on her often. And he does. He is a big tattle-tale which makes him about the least popular kid in town. If there's one kid you can count on to be far away from trouble, it's Tom Sawyer.

So the novel is her adventures, her coming-of-age story. One of the people she meets is Samuel Clemens. He's a riverboat captain temporarily stranded in their small town. He oversees the adventures and misadventures of all the kids in town.

I liked this one. I think I even LOVED it.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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7. The Girl From The Tar Paper School (2014)

The Girl From the Tar Paper School. Teri Kanefield. 2014. Abrams. 56 pages. [Source: Library]

The Girl From the Tar Paper School: Barbara Rose Johns and the Advent of the Civil Rights Movement is a quick nonfiction read for young(er) readers. Set in 1950-1951 in Farmville, Virginia, the book tells the story of Barbara Rose Johns and the student strike she inspires, perhaps one of the first of its kind. The heroine, Barbara Rose Johns, is tired of the inequality between the white school and the black school. The conditions of the black school are truly pathetic and shocking. Instead of believing that nothing will change, that nothing can change, that this is just how things are and how things will always be, Barbara decides to put her mind to it. Barbara contemplates everything carefully. Once she makes up her mind, she organizes and acts. She finds supporters; she turns reluctant hesitate-to-act listeners into full supporters. By the end, her case is combined with several other cases--all from different states--into Brown v. Board of Education.

I found this an informative, thought-provoking read. I thought it was well-researched. I liked the personal approach. I would definitely recommend this one.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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8. China Dolls (2014)

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

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

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

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

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

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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9. The Auschwitz Escape (2014)

The Auschwitz Escape. Joel C. Rosenberg. 2014. Tyndale. 468 pages. [Source: Library]

The Auschwitz Escape is a compelling historical novel starring two wonderful heroes. Readers meet Jean Luc Leclerc a pastor who follows his heart and sets out to rescue as many Jews as he can. He "rescues" them by providing for the needs of refugees. He takes Jews into his home and hides them, he encourages every one in his town to do so. His rescue work continues for several years before he is arrested by the Nazis and taken to Auschwitz. Readers also meet a young Jewish man named Jacob Weisz. He is part of the Resistance, Belgium Resistance, I believe? He is doing his all to help as well. He too is captured by the Nazis and sent to Auschwitz. However they don't learn his true name for many months. Both men learn the upsetting fate of most Jews upon arrival. Both realize that it is not a work camp, but, instead a death camp. Both men are chosen by others in the camp to be part of an underground resistance. Both are chosen to be part of an escape program. They feel very strongly that several teams of two-men need to escape from the camp and seek not only immediate refuge, but, to be messengers. They feel that if the outside world had even a small clue what was happening, they would act, they would do something, they couldn't not do something, right? So Luc and Jacob are the third or maybe fourth team over a year to attempt to escape. Will their escape succeed? Will they survive? Will they be able to find help? What will happen when they speak the truth?

The Auschwitz Escape is fiction. But there were men who did manage to escape who did carry messages and horrific proof about the camp with them to share with the outside world.

I would definitely recommend this one.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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10. The One (2014)

The One. Kiera Cass. 2014. HarperCollins. 323 pages. [Source: Library]

One thing I can definitely say about all three books in this series is that they are all super-quick reads. Once I start reading, I don't want to stop. That being said, I can't say that I actually think about the books or the characters or the story after I'm done. I don't forget the story or the characters mind you. I've always liked that I can pick up the next book without any worries or confusion. That could be because the books aren't all that complex though.

In the third book, readers spend time with Prince Maxon and America Singer. She's one of four young ladies still in the running to be the next princess. The others are Celeste, Kriss, and Elise. Prince Maxon and America have always, always argued with one another. He brings out the fight in her. And he can't get enough of her honestly. Perhaps because she is so very different than his mother?

America (finally) admits to herself that she is really, truly not-kidding-around in LOVE with Maxon. Does she tell him? Are you kidding? She wouldn't dream of actually communicating with him. She'd rather nag, nag, nag him for keeping the other girls around. His excuse? You never, ever show me how you feel about me, you just yell at me. He has a point. But I suppose she does as well.

Communication is something that America fails at, I have to say. Even though America knows that she doesn't love Aspen anymore in that way, she is not telling him that. And she's not telling Maxon that she loves him. And then she realizes that sooner or later, Maxon may need to be told that at one point in her past, Aspen was a love interest.

The trilogy is definitely predictable and a bit silly. But it's almost an irresistible silly.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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11. Earth Awakens (2014)

Earth Awakens. Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston. 2014. Tor. 400 pages. [Source: Library]

I enjoyed reading Earth Awakens the third in a new series by Orson Scott Card. At first, I had a hard time reconnecting to all the characters because it's been a year since the last book. There are many characters to keep up with after all. But by the time I was halfway through this one, I was hooked once more. I liked the characters. I didn't always like how they acted. But Card can write flawed characters that I actually like.

In this third book, all the characters are trying to fight the Formics. Some are working together officially to defeat the aliens. Others are more on their own with their own plan. For example, some characters are fighting them on earth; other characters are fighting them in space. But by the end of this one, all the characters stories have merged into one which is probably for the best.

Series books are always so difficult to review because to talk about plot reveals spoilers from the other books. But essentially I liked this one. Maybe not love, love, love but a good, solid like.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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12. Sundays with Jane: Two by Cornthwaite

Charity Envieth Not. (George Knightley #1) Barbara Cornthwaite. 2009. CreateSpace. 260 pages. [Source: Library]
and
Lend Me Leave. (George Knightley #2) Barbara Cornthwaite. 2011. CreateSpace. 246 pages. [Source: Library]

I absolutely loved reading Charity Envieth Not and Lend Me Leave. These two books tell the novel Emma through the perspective of George Knightley. I almost wish they were combined into one edition, however. Still, I can't begin to recommend these enough to all Austen fans!!!

I enjoyed many aspects of both books. I really, really loved George Knightley. That in and of itself is far from shocking. Dare I say he's probably the best thing about Austen's novel?! I loved seeing the characters (and/or the community) through his eyes. I loved his involvement in the community. I loved meeting various characters--rich and poor, from all classes or statuses. I especially, especially liked Spencer! I loved getting to know his brother John better. And I liked seeing him in the role of uncle! I liked how wide the perspective is--if that makes sense! Emma, to me, comes across as very self-centered, the world through her eyes seem a bit narrow.

I also appreciate how both books treat the character of Emma. I think to fully appreciate Emma, one HAS to see her AS Knightley sees her. This book accomplishes that! I don't think I've ever seen Emma in such a positive light before. And it made me think a bit, what if Emma is blinded to her strengths JUST as she's blinded to her weaknesses. OR in other words, what if the narration is a bit too close to accurately judge her strengths/weaknesses. Of course, Knightley cannot absolutely read all her motives and intentions, so maybe he's reading more compassion, more tenderness, more generosity than is really truly there. But maybe just maybe Emma's heart is bigger than I have previously thought. And maybe just maybe her mind isn't quite as empty as I thought it. I kept asking myself what does Knightley see in Emma that I don't?

I would recommend it to those who already love Emma, and even to those that don't really like her. Knightley is a great hero! And he's definitely worth reading about!

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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13. The Dog Who Could Fly (2014)

The Dog Who Could Fly: The Incredible True Story of a WWII Airman and the Four-Legged Hero Who Flew At His Side. Damien Lewis. 2014. Simon & Schuster. 304 pages. [Source: Library]

Read this book!!! Read it now! I loved, loved, loved this nonfiction biography. Damien Lewis tells the story of a RAF pilot and his dog in this new book. It is quite a remarkable story! Robert Bozdech fled Czechoslovakia before the Nazis invaded. He first joined the French in fighting the Nazis. During one of his early missions, he and another pilot crash. They seek refuge in an abandoned house. There they find a puppy. Robert didn't exactly plan on adopting this puppy for the duration, in fact, he hoped that the puppy would stay there and allow them to try for safety once darkness came. After all they are in enemy territory or close to it. But the dog had different ideas. They were destined to be together for better or worse...

Robert and Antis (the dog) end up fleeing to England and joining the RAF. Robert was one of many Czech pilots who joined the RAF during the early years of the war. Not all Czech pilots flew with a dog, however.

The book is about his experiences as a pilot, and his experiences as a dog owner. The book is very much focused on Antis! The dog was truly something special.

The story itself is compelling and fascinating. I loved learning about the RAF pilots. I loved the behind the scenes look at some of the missions. There are places this book is very intense!!! I loved the sections that were narrated by Antis. It was a great read.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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14. Beth and Kate's Stories, 1914

Kate's Story, 1914. (Secrets of the Manor #2) Adele Whitby.  2014. Simon & Schuster. 160 pages. [Source: Library]

I ended up reading the second book first in this series, Secrets of the Manor. But I do plan on going ahead and reading Beth's Story, 1914.

Beth and Kate are cousins. Kate is American. Beth is English. Beth is slightly older apparently. On her twelfth birthday, she received a super special heirloom necklace from her great-grandmother, I believe. Kate will be receiving her own super-special necklace on her twelfth birthday. Beth has traveled all the way across the ocean to be there! Well, her visit is to be for six to eight weeks or so. Was. But this is the summer of 1914. And things get tense after the assassination.

This book is all about the two girls, two cousins, meeting each other for the very first time. Kate has been waiting years and years to meet her cousin. She's beyond ecstatic to spend time with her. They've only corresponded before this. Beth seems just as enthusiastic to be best friends.

Secrets. These two thrive on secrets. The whole premise of the series is on secrets!

I liked this one. I will definitely go back and read the first book!

Beth's Story, 1914. (Secrets of the Manor #1) Adele Whitby. 2014. Simon & Schuster. 160 pages. [Source: Library]

Secrets of the Manor is a new historical fiction series by Adele Whitby. The first book in the series is Beth's Story, 1914. The book introduces readers to Beth and her family. Readers learn that Beth is from a well-to-do family. When the novel opens, Beth is several days away from her twelfth birthday. Her twelfth birthday is apparently the most exciting, thrilling, wonderful thing ever. For that is the day she'll receive the Elizabeth necklace, an heirloom necklace worn by every Elizabeth in the family. The is also a Katherine necklace. Beth's cousin Kate, who lives in America, will receive her heirloom necklace on her twelfth birthday in a few months.

For Beth's birthday, her French cousin Gabrielle (15) and her maid Helena come to stay with the family. Beth really really wants her cousin to be a good friend. She's very eager to make a connection with her older cousin. Her older cousin, however, can barely conceal her indifference to Beth. Gabrielle is definitely the villain in this one!

Secrets. Beth discovers that her family has secrets. She takes her first steps to finding out what there is to know. Readers won't learn all the secrets in this first book of course!

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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15. The Heavens Are Empty

The Heavens Are Empty: Discovering the Lost Town of Trochenbrod. Avrom Bendavid-Val. 2010. Pegasus. 256 pages. [Source: Library]

The Heavens Are Empty is a compelling nonfiction read. Avrom Bendavid-Val has approached the subject matter with care and attention. This book is about a town--a village--that existed for a little over hundred years, the Jewish town of Trochenbrod.

Trochenbrod did not vanish slowly but surely over decades, it's death was not natural at all. After sharing his personal story, his behind-the-scenes look at his research process, his motivation for wanting--needing--to know more, he presents his findings in four chapters. The first chapter focuses on "the first hundred years." This is a look, a glimpse, at what life was like in Trochenbrod in the nineteenth century and a little beyond. If this book has a "happy" section, this would be it. The second chapter focuses on the decades between the first world war and the start of the second world war. Again, there are no great indicators of what is to come. The third chapter covers the years 1939-1942, readers see Trochenbrod under Soviet rule and under German rule. The fourth chapter is perhaps the most haunting, the most horrific. The fourth chapter focuses on how an entire village was massacred by the Nazis. This chapter includes three incredible accounts of survivor-witnesses.

The Heavens Are Empty is rich in witness accounts. It's a difficult subject to read about, but important in my opinion.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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16. Reread #22 Greetings From Nowhere

Greetings from Nowhere. Barbara O'Connor. 2008. FSG. 208 pages. [Source: Library]

Greetings From Nowhere is a charming book that I just love! It centers around Sleepy Time Motel in the Great Smoky Mountains. Aggie, the owner, is a widow. She is finding it difficult--really difficult--to keep the motel going. Sometimes months go by between guests. And the last time a guest came, it was by chance they stayed even one night. Financially, it makes sense for Aggie to consider selling. It is what she "needs" to do practically. But is her heart ready to let go of her dream? But this isn't Aggie's story. She is not the protagonist. This book has multiple young narrators. All end up at the Sleepy Time Motel. There is Kirby, the "troubled" boy, who is on his way to reform school; Loretta who is traveling in the Smoky Mountains with her parents; and Willow who has come with her Dad to inspect the motel before buying it. None of the guests are particularly happy-happy-cheerful. Not everyone is equally gloomy either. Every single person in the novel has recently undergone change or is about to undergo change.

Loretta, for example, perhaps the most "happy" of the bunch, has learned that her birth mother has died. She received a charm bracelet in the mail. She still knows so very little about her birth mother. Just the mystery of a bracelet, she's trying to puzzle together who her mother was, what she was like, what she liked, what she did, based on these charms. That is what has fueled this family vacation. They are following the trail of her birth mother.

Willow is perhaps the saddest. Her mother left her and her Dad. Nothing has been the same since she left. Her mother's name isn't allowed to be mentioned. There is something broken about her family. The Dad decides the family needs a HUGE change. Willow doesn't want a huge change; she doesn't even want a tiny change.

Kirby is perhaps the angriest or most hurt depending on your perspective. Does Kirby do bad things for attention? Yes. His mother. His father. His stepfather all seem to reject him, to want to be rid of him, to think that he's a big hopeless mess instead of a growing boy.

I liked this community-focused novel. I definitely recommend it!




I first reviewed Greetings From Nowhere in May 2008.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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17. The Bell Bandit (2012)

The Bell Bandit. Jacqueline Davies. (Lemonade War #3) 2012. HMH. 192 pages. [Source: Library]

The Bell Bandit is the third book in the Lemonade War Series. The novel opens with Evan, Jessie, and their mom going to Grandma's house to celebrate the holidays--New Years, to be precise. In the Lemonade Crime, Davies hinted that Grandma's memory was declining. She sent Jessie two copies of Mark Twain's The Prince and the Pauper. In the subsequent four months or so, things have gotten so much worse! Though I suspect the mom was a bit clueless at how much her mom had lost already.

Jessie and Evan are a bit confused as to WHY their Grandma burned the kitchen down. She'd always been a good cook before. Yet here Grandma was burning holes in walls, ceilings, and floors. And not remembering doing it. Blaming others. But even more disturbing to Evan and Jessie is Grandma forgetting them. Sometimes she remembers Jessie but not Evan. She can be quite cruel and want "that strange boy" to go away, to leave, that she doesn't like him or want him around. Sometimes she forgets Jessie too. Jessie who has always had a hard time reading people, understanding emotions and making solid connections, is truly confused by it all.

By far, this is the most serious the series has gotten. The book deals very honestly with the subject. But. It has its lighter moments. In The Bell Bandit, Jessie teams up with a neighbor, Maxwell (he likes to call himself Maxwell Smart), to solve the mystery of who stole the neighborhood bell. That mystery, of course, is solved by the end.

I continue to like Evan and Jessie. The mom continues to not enter into the story very much. Evan seems to be placed in several awkward moments where he's almost given full responsibility for watching and handling his Grandma. I'm not sure if the mom is truly failing to understand her mom's true condition OR if she's just not very bright. But Evan finds these situations overwhelming because Grandma, as much as he LOVES her, is more than he can handle.
© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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18. Reread #23 11 Birthdays

11 Birthdays. Wendy Mass. 2009. Scholastic. 267 pages. [Source: Library book]

I am so glad I reread 11 Birthdays by Wendy Mass. I had forgotten how lovely this one is. Amanda and Leo share a birthday in June. For ten years, these two kids shared a big birthday party together. For ten years, these two were close friends. But at the tenth birthday party, Amanda overhears Leo's friends asking him WHY he was having a birthday party WITH A GIRL. Leo, wanting to stop the teasing, said something he shouldn't have. He said that he "had" to have a party with Amanda, that he didn't "want" to. Amanda, crushed, fled the party and a great friendship was at an end. The book opens on the day before their eleventh birthday party. For the first time, Amanda and Leo will be having separate parties, for the first time, their classmates, their friends, will have to choose which party to attend. Amanda is not exactly in a happy place when the novel opens...

11 Birthdays is a FUN read about families, friends, and reconciliation. Leo and Amanda celebrate their eleventh birthday eleven times! Yes, Amanda and Leo are caught in a time loop! It will take them working together, speaking together, forgiving one another to break the spell...

I definitely recommend this middle grade novel!

I first reviewed 11 Birthdays in March 2010.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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19. The Lost Sun (2013)

The Lost Sun. (The United States of Asgard #1) Tess Gratton. 2013. Random House. 368 pages. [Source: Library]

My mom used to say that in the United States of Asgard, you can feel the moments when the threads of destiny knot together, to push you or pull you or crush you. But only if you're paying attention.

I found The Lost Sun to be an enjoyable read. I didn't love, love, love it. But all the same, I found it to be a quick and pleasant read for an afternoon. The hero of The Lost Sun is Soren Bearskin. He is "destined" to be a beserker just as his father was. His beserker legacy troubles him greatly. He does not want to give way to it, no matter if it's in his nature or written in his destiny. He does not see anything positive in it. Soren Bearskin falls for the new girl at school, Astrid Glyn. Astrid is a seer; her mother was a very, very famous seer. Early in the novel, something bizarre happens. Baldur the Beautiful, a god who was supposed to resurrect in the springtime, did not appear. He did not come back to life. He did not rejoin the gods. He's completely missing. Astrid and Soren team up to find him. Astrid's dreams and visions offer BIG clues to the pair. Together can they find him and set things right?

For readers who enjoy fantasy quests, The Lost Sun is definitely recommended. Astrid and Sun have a mystery to solve, and they go on a quest together. Along the way, they offer readers a look at a very different alternate vision of the U.S. 

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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20. Leaving China (2014)

Leaving China: An Artist Paints His World War II Childhood. James McMullan. 2014. Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill. 113 pages. [Source: Library]

I liked reading Leaving China: An Artist Paints His World War II Childhood by James McMullan. I liked the format of it especially. Each chapter consists of two pages: one page of text and an accompanying illustration or painting. Because of the format, the style, it isn't your traditional memoir.

I found this one very interesting. James McMullan was born in China in 1934, his parents were in business, his grandparents were missionaries. By providing some background and family history, readers catch a glimpse of China BEFORE the war, before they were invaded by the Japanese, before the conflict became a world war. And, of course, his narrative goes through the war itself. James and his parents managed to go to Shanghai. His father joined the British army. James and his mother traveled to the U.S. and then Canada where they remained for several years. Eventually both would end up back in Asia--first India and then Shanghai.

Each chapter is a memory. I liked how this collection of memories tells a larger story. I like how it is specific and yet universal. These memories focus on his growing up years, his growing pains. Readers see his struggle to find himself, to accept himself. Let's just say that his mother was very opinionated about what kind of person her son should be, and, he didn't live up to her expectations. The book tells in a way his journey to finding the real him.
Throwing A Grape
My earliest memory is of throwing a grape. I was a two-year old playing on the stucco porch of a neighbor's house early one morning. I picked up a grape from a fruit bowl on the breakfast table and threw it for their German shepherd dog to chase. The grape bounced back off the wall and landed near me. The dog and I got to the grape at the same time, but I managed to close my chubby fingers around it just as the dog's jaws were about to claim the prize. The frustrated animal turned on me and bit me on the arm and on the back of the head. I remember in a dreamlike way the shouts and confusion of the adults when they called my parents and drove me to the hospital. It took fourteen stitches to close the gash on my head and six more for the wound on my arm. I don't remember the hospital or the pain, just the grape, the dog, and the chaos. A little patch of hair never grew back on my head.
Looking back, I wonder if the dog attack had anything to do with the nervousness I exhibited during my childhood or whether I was simply destined to be a worried, anxious boy, German shepherd bites or not. I do know that my physical timidity in those early years was a concern to my father and mother and a great disappointment. This story of my peripatetic life during the Second World War, and of my family's beginnings in China, is also a story of that nervous boy gradually finding his strength in art and a way to be in the world that was not his father's or mother's idea of a man's life. (4)

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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21. Frozen in Time (2013)

Frozen in Time. Mitchell Zuckoff. 2013. Harper. 391 pages. [Source: Library]

I absolutely loved Mitchell Zuckoff's Frozen in Time. Nonfiction can be compelling and fascinating and oh-so-intense. True, most people when looking for an engaging, emotional read might tend to think of fiction, but, nonfiction can prove just as addictive, just as satisfying. Such was the case with Frozen In Time. I found this nonfiction book IMPOSSIBLE to put down!

In the first chapter, readers learn how 'obscure' Greenland became suddenly important to the world:
All of that changed on April 9, 1940, when Nazi Germany invaded Denmark. American leaders suddenly looked with fear upon the big island so close to North America. They shuddered at the thought of Hitler building air bases and ports in Greenland, from which they imagined he might strike at Allied planes and ships in the North Atlantic. Even more frightening, Greenland was then six hours by air from New York, well within the range of German bombers. Worst of all was a doomsday scenario under which the island would be used as a Nazi staging area and springboard for a blitzkrieg, or 'lightning war,' with a ground invasion of the United States and Canada.
More immediately, American officials worried that Germany would establish elaborate weather stations in Greenland. The weather in Europe is "made" in Greenland; winds and currents that flow eastward over the island give birth to storms heading toward Great Britain, Norway, and beyond. Whoever knows today's weather in Greenland knows tomorrow's weather in Europe. Allied planners feared that German weather stations in Greenland could guide Luftwaffe bombing runs over Great Britain and the Continent. The battle to control Greenland wasn't a war for territory, one American official said--it was 'a war for weather.'
Concern about Greenland also reflected the fact that some wars are lost not in the field but in the factory. If the Nazis ruled Greenland, Germany would gain control of a rare and unique resource that could help determine the outcome of the war. A mine at Greenland's southwestern coast, in a place called Ivigtut, was the world's only reliable natural source of a milky white mineral called cryolite. Cryolite, a name derived from Greek words meaning "frost stone," was essential to the production of aluminum, and aluminum was essential to the production of warplanes...At less than a mile from the water, the Ivigtut mine was vulnerable to sabotage or attack...(19-20)
That one chapter gives the reader some context for appreciating the whole. The book itself focuses on several plane crashes on Greenland in November 1942. The first plane crash was a C-53 Skytrooper. There were survivors. Radio contact was made. Other planes were sent to search for this missing plane. Unfortunately, one of the planes that went to search for the C-53 also crashed. This second plane crash was a B-17. All nine aboard survived--initially. But their continued survival was always a big question mark. After they finally make radio contact, and after several failed attempts at rescue by other means, another plane is sent to search for the B-17. The good news? They find the B-17! They are able to take two men aboard their plane and take them to safety. They plan to return the next day to rescue more of the men. The bad news? When they return the next day, it's a whole other story. They were not able to rescue more men. On their return flight, this rescue plane crashes. There are no survivors.

The whole book is about survivors and saviors and would-be saviors: lives lost and saved. Just telling the story simply makes for a harsh, intense read. The intensity of the cold and hunger and the physical pain make it so. Not to mention the emotional and psychological effects of being stranded in a very very harsh environment in the middle of winter! These men weren't arctic explorers out for glory and fame, these were soldiers and pilots who were unprepared for this kind of danger.

Half the book focuses on the past, set during the winter of 1942-1943. The other half focuses on the present, a team of men and women searching for the "Grumman Duck" the rescue plane that crashed around Thanksgiving 1942. Their hope was to find it and recover the bodies of the three aboard. Two of the men were from the Coast Guard.

While I found this one to be essentially fascinating from cover to cover, I won't lie and say that the past and present narratives were equally captivating at all times. Part of the present story was chronicling the raising awareness and raising funds, searching for big sponsors, pleading their case to anyone who would listen.

This was a wonderful read! It is not as bleak as you might expect. I would definitely recommend it!!!

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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22. Free To Fall (2014)

Free to Fall. Lauren Miller. 2014. HarperCollins. 480 pages. [Source: Library]

I loved Lauren Miller's Free to Fall. I enjoyed the mystery and conspiracy. I enjoyed the romance. I enjoyed the premise most of all. Is the book absolutely perfect? I wouldn't go that far. I'm not sure enough characters are fully developed to be near perfect. But in my opinion, the premise worked from start to finish. (I'd definitely say this is a plot-driven read.) I also enjoyed the themes and symbols of this one. (Hint: Paradise Lost)

Free to Fall is set circa 2030. Rory Vaughn, our heroine, is super excited to learn that she has been accepted to the oh-so-exclusive Theden Academy. It is only after she's been accepted that her father tells her that her mother also attended Theden Academy. (Theden Academy is a highschool, not a college). Before her mom died, she left something for her daughter. A note and a necklace. (It was conditional upon her going to Theden Academy.) Another girl from Rory's former school has been accepted as well. They will room together for better or worse. Her name is Hershey Clements.

Perhaps the less you know, the better. Since this one is plot-and-premise driven. Since this one is so focused on uncovering a BIG, BIG mystery. But. There is romance. And not the kind of "romance" that involves a love triangle! The hero's name is North, and, I definitely liked him! 

I would definitely recommend this one!

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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23. Reread #27 Umbrella Summer

Umbrella Summer. Lisa Graff. 2009. HarperCollins. 240 pages. [Source: Library]

 I have been wanting to reread Umbrella Summer for several years now. I first reviewed it in October 2009. I remember having a good, strong connection with Annie, the heroine. Every single person in the Richards family is struggling with grief--with the loss of Jared, Annie's older brother. But it is Annie whom we come to know and love throughout the book. We see the parents handling of grief, of moving on or not moving on as the case may be. We see how they parent, if they parent, Annie. All this is seen through Annie's perspective. Annie's perspective is seen through a complex range of emotions: fear, anxiety, sadness, and anger. For example, Annie has a hard time sympathizing with her friend, Rebecca, who has lost her pet hamster. Her response to Rebecca's strong grief is understandable, but, problematic for the friendship. He was just a hamster. It's not like you lost your brother. While the book is very much about grief, it is also a very good book about friendship, about what it means to be a friend, about building new friendships and restoring broken ones.

One of my favorite friendships in Umbrella Summer is Annie's friendship with their new neighbor, Mrs. Finch. Mrs. Finch is no stranger to loss, she has also lost someone close to her, her husband. Mrs. Finch and Annie both feel their losses strongly, yet, by coming together, by being honest with one another, by sharing the best memories, the best qualities about those they have loved and lost, they realize that they are beginning to heal a little, and that is a very good thing.

I also thought it was sweet that Annie and Jared's best friend have a special connection and come together as friends to truly celebrate Jared.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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24. 50 Children (2014)

50 Children: One Ordinary American Couple's Extraordinary Rescue Mission Into the Heart of Nazi Germany. Steven Pressman. 2014. HarperCollins. 320 pages. [Source: Library]

50 Children: One Ordinary American Couple's Extraordinary Rescue Mission Into the Heart of Nazi Germany is a must-read. It is incredibly compelling and, in my opinion, unforgettable. It tells the true story of an American Jewish couple, Gilbert and Eleanor Kraus, and how they diligently worked to save 50 Jewish children from Nazi Germany in 1939. Why 50? Well. They faced obstacles. You might think the biggest obstacles they faced were in Nazi Germany, working with the Nazi regime/government. And no doubt the obstacles they faced when they actually traveled there themselves to do the paperwork and bring over the children were many. But. What might surprise you is how BIG the obstacles were in the United States that they faced. The truth: the United States knew about the ever-increasing risks and dangers facing Jews, they knew that it was a matter of life-and-death, but they did not care. They simply did not care. They did not want Jewish immigrants. Plain and simple. There were laws in place, and those laws were kept strictly, limiting the number of immigrants, of Jewish immigrants. And loopholes had to be found, in a way, to get even those fifty into the United States. Want to know another sad truth? The couple faced opposition from Jewish Americans, from Jewish organizations in America! The book tells how some Jews worried that by bringing MORE Jews into the country, it would increase prejudice and hatred towards them.

The book tells the remarkable story of the men and women involved in this rescue mission. It tells of their determination and stubbornness, their perseverance, how they would not stop until it was accomplished, how they would not quit and say well, we tried, but, there's nothing more we can do. No, they could not turn away from what they knew to be right and good. It's an inspiring, courageous story.

I definitely recommend this one!

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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25. Lost in Shangri-La

Lost in Shangri-La. Mitchell Zuckoff. 2011. HarperCollins. 384 pages. [Source: Library]

After reading Frozen in Time, I knew I wanted to read another by Mitchell Zuckoff. Lost In Shangri-La: A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War II did not disappoint. The two books are similar in that both books are about plane crashes, survivors, and rescue attempts. Also, obviously, both books are set during World War II.

Lost In Shangri-La tells the story of Margaret Hastings, John McCollom, and Kenneth Decker. These three were the survivors of the plane crash. All three were stationed in Dutch New Guinea, all three were taking part in a little sight-seeing holiday. All hoped to see "Shangri-La" safely from above. Twenty-four were on the plane, but after the crash, after the first twenty-four hours, only three remained alive. The three are able to leave the crash site and make their way to a better place, they are hoping to get to where a passing plane, a search plane, can see them.

The book goes on to tell of the men involved in the rescuing. Hastings and Decker were suffering severe injuries and in need of immediate medical attention. A rescue could not be accomplished quickly, in just a day or two. No, it would take time and careful planning...

Survivors. Rescuers. Natives. The book is very interesting. I definitely recommend it!

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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