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Results 1 - 25 of 513
1. 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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2. 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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3. 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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4. 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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5. 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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6. 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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7. Iva Honeysuckle Meets Her Match (2013)

Iva Honeysuckle Meets Her Match. Candice F. Ransom. Illustrated by Heather Ross. 2013. Disney-Hyperion. 192 pages. [Source: Library]

Sissy One and Sissy Two are brave in Iva Honeysuckle Meets Her Match. These two sisters head to the beach for a week-long vacation with all six children.

Why brave? Well, Iva and Heaven and Lily Pearl and Howard aren't exactly calm, predictable, obedient children. Though in Howard's defense, he is led by Lily Pearl most of the time. In the first chapter book, Iva Honeysuckle Discovers the World, Lily Pearl was in a witchy phase. (One of her favorite games was playing Naked Witch which involves running wildly around the house: naked, of course.) Howard was a ghost, I believe, in that game. In the second book, Lily Pearl has moved on to playing BRIDE. And Howard, of course, is her victim-playmate. But as it turns out, all six children take a notion to be disobedient and break all the rules set for them by their moms.

Summer vacation. One week. Plenty of adventures and misadventures. They meet new (and interesting) people. They try to manage their own spending money. They try to problem-solve.

Iva, poor dear, has a time of it during vacation! She sees a SEA MONSTER, takes her mom's camera, DROPS it into the ocean, doesn't confess and lets her mother search for it all week long. She feels bad--really bad--so then she starts trying to SOLVE this problem all on her own, how to make restitution AND how to establish proof of the sea monster.

Plenty of action and fun in this one. And the characters, while far from flawless, continue to be entertaining.

I would definitely recommend this one!

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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8. 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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9. 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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10. 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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11. 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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12. 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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13. 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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14. 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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15. Reread #12 Long Way From Chicago

A Long Way From Chicago. Richard Peck. 1998. Penguin. 148 pages. [Source: Library book]

  A Long Way From Chicago has a great premise. Joey Dowdel and his younger sister, Mary Alice, are "forced" to visit their Grandma Dowdel every summer. Each chapter in the novel tells the story of a summer visit. There is a story for 1929, 1930, 1931, 1932, 1933, 1934, 1935, and 1942. The prologue says it all, "As the years went by, though, Mary Alice and I grew up, and though Grandma never changed, we'd seem to see a different woman every summer."

Through the stories, readers catch glimpses of the past. These stories capture family moments. There is plenty of humor and a good bit of heart.

For any reader who enjoys quirky small-town, long-ago, family-based stories from the heart, this one is a must.

I think I prefer Peck's more traditional novels to his stories.


I loved this one the first time I read and reviewed it in 2008

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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16. Seven Wild Sisters (2014)

Seven Wild Sisters: A Modern Fairy Tale. Charles de Lint. Illustrated by Charles Vess. 2014. Little, Brown. 272 pages. [Source: Library]

Seven Wild Sisters is a charming fantasy novel set in the modern world. The novel begins by focusing on the middle daughter, Sarah Jane, but by the end of the novel, all seven sisters have played a role in this delightful fairy fantasy adventure. The story begins, well, one could choose a dozen different "real" beginnings for this one, so I'll merely say the STORY FOR SARAH JANE begins when she befriends "Aunt Lillian." Aunt Lillian lives alone, secluded, near the woods. No electricity, no running water, no "modern" conveniences. No easy life for her. She wouldn't want to really slow down. She lives off the land; she lives for the land. She has almost seen it all. And by all, I mean she has had ENCOUNTERS with faeries and such. She is definitely different and in a way extraordinary. Sarah Jane, of course, LOVES her once she gets to know her, and from the start, Sarah Jane WANTS to get to know her. Sarah Jane's sisters are more reluctant perhaps, but, enter into this big adventure they will nevertheless! The other sisters include: Adie, Laurel and Bess, Elsie, Ruth and Grace.

Sarah Jane's adventures start when despite Aunt Lillian's advice, she finds herself getting involved in "a war" between different faeries. She sees an injured 'Sang man--100 poisoned arrows piercing him--and helps him. The bee faeries are "the enemy" depending on which "side" you find yourself. Lillian KNOWS Sarah Jane put herself--and her family--at risk. But she'll do everything she can to help her out of the mess and into a big adventure she'll never forget.

I liked this one very much. I'm not sure I LOVED it.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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17. William Shakespeare's The Empire Striketh Back (2014)

William Shakespeare's The Empire Striketh Back. (William Shakespeare's Star Wars #2) Ian Doescher. 2014. 176 pages. [Source: Library]

I really enjoyed reading William Shakespeare's Star Wars, Verily A New Hope. It was fun seeing the original movie as a Shakespeare play. I liked seeing the dialogue transformed. I liked finding my favorite lines. It was just a fun treat.

Though I definitely enjoy The Empire Strikes Back as a movie, I can't say that this adaptation did it justice. The balance does not feel quite right, in my opinion. Perhaps it errs too much on the side of Shakespeare? Perhaps the characters have become too in touch with their emotions and feelings, perhaps they are too fond of asides and soliloquies. Perhaps there is too much talking in general? I don't know. It could be as simple as me not being in the just-right mood.

Wampa: You viewers all, whose gentle hearts do fear
The smallest womp rat creeping on the floor,
May now perchance both quake and tremble here,
When wampa through in wildest rage doth roar.
Pray know that I am a wampa simple am,
And take no pleasure in my angry mood.
Though with great force this young one's face I slam,
I prithee know I strike but for my food. (12)

AT-AT 1: My friends, we have had quite enough of talk:
The battle is upon us, let us go.
And ye who doubt, I pray remember this:
Although we are but AT-ATs gray and plain,
We have a noble task to undertake--
Our mighty Emperor's reign to protect,
The great Darth Vader to obey and aid,
And Admiral Piett to serve with pride.
So shall an AT-AT swoon before the fight,
Or should our legs be shaken ere th'assault?
Have we been made to cower? I say nay!
An AT-AT should be made of sterner stuff.

AT-AT 3 [to AT-AT2:] I pray, good walker, is he ever thus?

AT-AT 2: Aye, truly, Sir, I never yet have met
An All Terrain Armored Transport who
Is loftier of mind than this one here.
Indeed, although like us he's made of steel,
He never enters battle zones unless
He hath made some great speech to steel his nerves.
It does no harm.

AT-AT3: No harm, but to mine ears.
I'd rather fight than hear another speech. (45-46)

Exogor: Alas, another meal hath fled and gone,
And in the process I am sorely hurt.
These travelers who have escap'd my reach
Us'd me past the endurance of a block!
My stomach they did injure mightily
With jabs and pricks, as though a needle were
A'bouncing in my belly. O cruel Fate!
To be a space slug is a lonely lot,
With no one on this rock to share my life,
No true companion here to mark my days.
And now my meals do from my body fly--
Was e'er a beast by supper so abus'd?
Was e'er a creature's case so pitiful?
Was e'er an exogorth as sad as I?
Was e'er a tragedy as deep as mine?
I shall with weeping crawl back to my cave,
Which shall, sans food, belike become my grave. (86)

Yoda: Nay, nay! Try thou not.
But do thou or do thou not,
For there is no "try." (98)

Yoda: Warned thee I have--
He a reckless spirit hath.
Now matters are worse.
Obi-Wan: That boy is our first, last, and greatest hope.
Yoda: But nay, 'tis not so.
For another yet there is:
One more hope for us.

O how this plagues me!
The boy for training hath come,
But too soon is fled.

A young bird he is,
Too eager the nest to leave,
Yet trying to fly.

But young birds fly not--
Their wings still too fragile are.
Instead, they do fall.

And fall this one shall.
But how far, how fast, how long?
Time only shall tell.

Little bird, be safe.
If thou the nest seest again
I shall meet thee then. (112)
I'm not saying that there weren't enjoyable scenes in William Shakespeare's The Empire Striketh Back. There were. There always will be when the author sticks close to the inspiration. Luke. Hans. Leia. Yoda. There are characters that you can't help enjoying. (Yoda speaks in haiku in this play). But while I enjoyed the first book cover to cover, while I read it with glee, I can't say the same with this second book. I liked a scene here and there.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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18. The Heir Apparent (2013)

The Heir Apparent: A Life of Edward VII, The Playboy Prince. Jane Ridley. 2013. Random House. 752 pages. [Source: Library]

The Heir Apparent was very fascinating in places. I wouldn't say it was equally fascinating from cover to cover, however. There are high points in this biography, and low points. Low points for me, for example, being chapters that focuses solely on politics, politics, foreign politics, and more politics. High points for me, on the other hand, being chapters that focused on royal dysfunction, family drama, relationships between family members, society-type gossip and scandals and potential scandals. This book is PACKED with detail: that is its greatest strength and biggest weakness.

The book begins, and appropriately so in my opinion, with the reign of George IV. It is only fair to readers to get Queen Victoria's FULL story from birth to death. For I believe it is only in understanding Victoria and Albert that you can begin to make sense of their children's lives. And Bertie's in particular. For example, I think it helps to know that he comes from a LONG LINE of people who are incapable of showing love and kindness and decency to the firstborn heir. Since over half the novel focuses on Bertie's relationship with his parents--particularly his mother, the more you know about Victoria, the better. Queen Victoria is not shown as wonderfully, adoring, kind-hearted, compassionate mother. She was VERY VERY VERY opinionated about her children, about their "weaknesses". She could have a very cruel tongue, to say the least.

For readers who want to know more about Victoria and Albert, about Bertie and his royal brothers and sisters (all who married royalty, I believe, and how Queen Victoria's children and grandchildren effected European politics), about Bertie and his wife, about Bertie and his many mistresses, about Bertie and his habits, about the politics of prime ministers and ministries and cabinets and such, then this is a good place to go.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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19. The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches (2014)

The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches. Alan Bradley. 2014. Random House. 310 pages. [Source: Library]

I haven't loved each and every Flavia de Luce book equally. I definitely enjoy Flavia as a character and narrator even though I can't always relate to her all the time. In this sixth mystery, Flavia's focus is NOT on a current murder mystery. Far from it, even though a murder occurs practically in front of her (at the train station), she can't really be bothered. Why? Well, her mother is coming home...at last. For Flavia, the one de Luce child who CANNOT remember her mother at all, this is just confusing and bittersweet. Is she glad her mother's body has been found? That the body is being returned so it can be properly buried? In a way, perhaps. But. The homecoming is just as bitter as it is sweet. It upsets the family so much, brings so many emotions out in the open where they cannot be ignored. The situation is forcing Flavia outside her comfort zone. If the novel does NOT focus on the current dead body, what does it focus on?! Well, it focuses on the past; it focuses on the years leading up to World War II. It provides context for her mother's life...and death. For Flavia solving this mystery of who her mother was, who she really was, her worth and value, means EVERYTHING. There were quite a few uncomfortable scenes in this one for me. I found the scenes where Flavia is trying to scientifically bring her mother back from the dead (after ten years) to be a bit creepy--she's trying to acquire the right chemicals to resurrect the dead.

Just like the previous book, this one closes with change on the way for Flavia.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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20. Reread #16: A Year Down Yonder

A Year Down Yonder. Richard Peck. 2000. Penguin. 144 pages. [Source: Library]

I loved A Year Down Yonder so much more than Richard Peck's A Long Way From Chicago. And I definitely enjoyed A Long Way From Chicago! While A Long Way From Chicago was told from Joey's point of view, A Year Down Yonder is told from Mary Alice's point of view. Because of the Depression, Mary Alice has been sent by her parents to live with Grandma Dowdel. Mary Alice has spent more than a few summers with her Grandma, alongside her brother, but this time she'll be there all year long, and without her brother.

While A Long Way From Chicago is fun, in many ways, it is a bit disjointed as well. Each chapter tells the story of a summer vacation. In A Year Down Yonder, the plot is more traditional. The book follows the course of an entire year. Readers get a better chance to KNOW the characters, to appreciate the characters and the small town setting. And Mary Alice is a great narrator!!! I loved her story. My favorite chapters were "Rich Chicago Girl," "Vittles and Vengeance," "Heart and Flour," and "A Dangerous Man." I loved the slight traces of romance. 


I would definitely recommend both A Long Way From Chicago and A Year Down Yonder. Both books do stand alone, but, they do go together well.

I first reviewed A Year Down Yonder in May 2008.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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21. Poem Depot: Aisles of Smiles (2014)

Poem Depot: Aisles of Smiles. Douglas Florian. 2014. Penguin. 160 pages. [Source: Library]

I loved, loved, loved Douglas Florian's Poem Depot: Aisles of Smiles. I just LOVED it. After finding five or six poems that I loved, I thought this one would be well worth recommending. But as I kept reading, I kept finding more and more poems to LOVE. This isn't a "good" collection with a handful of poems to love. Generally, that is how I think of poetry books: find one with a handful of poems to LOVE, really LOVE, and you've got yourself a good book worth reading and rereading. To find a poetry book with so very many poems that you love and enjoy--poems with the potential to turn children of all ages into POETRY LOVERS--and you've got something magical, something worth GUSHING about!!! Poem Depot is worth gushing about!!!

Poems I Loved: "Insect Asides," "Driven," "More," "My Closet," "I Hate Broccoli," "Mean Meat Loaf," "Soup of the Day," "Water Water," "What A Monster Ate," "Hair Scare," "This Chair," "Where My Cat Sleeps," "Hold Your Horses," "I Am A Robot," "The Computers Are Down," "Zero," "Alphabetter," and "My Mother Has Two Voices."

Poems I Really Loved: "Train to Nowhere," "Exercise," "Appetite," "Alligator Calculator," "Rome and Room," "The Greatest Invention," and "Windshield Wipers."

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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22. Reread #18 A Teacher's Funeral

The Teacher's Funeral. Richard Peck. 2004. Penguin. 208 pages. [Source: Library]
If your teacher has to die, August isn't a bad time of year for it. You know August. The corn is earring. The tomatoes are ripening on the vine. The clover's in full bloom. There's a little less evening now, and that's a warning. You want to live every day twice over because you'll be back in the jailhouse of school before the end of the month. Then our teacher, Miss Myrt Arbuckle, hauled off and died. It was like a miracle, though she must have been forty. You should have seen my kid brother's face. It looked like Lloyd was hearing the music of the spheres. Being ten that summer, he was even more willing to believe in miracles than I was. 
 The Teacher's Funeral is my favorite, favorite, favorite Richard Peck novel. It is one of my favorite historical fiction books. I loved the humor. I loved the writing--the narration. One humorous incident after another, just more and more to love. I also loved the characters. I loved Russell, the narrator. I loved his sister, Tansy. I loved their Dad who was oh-so-wise. I loved Charlie, Russell's best friend, and it was fun to see Glenn Tarbox as well. I was cheering for him through the book! But one of my FAVORITE, FAVORITE characters, and probably secretly the reason I ADORE the book so very, very much is LITTLE BRITCHES (aka Beulah).

This historical fiction novel is set in 1904. Most of the action occurs in a one room school house. The teacher is Russell's OLDER sister. Russell had been hoping--dreaming really--that since their teacher literally died a day or two before school was to start, that there would be NO MORE SCHOOL. He was dreaming of FREEDOM. What he got, of course, is his sister for a teacher. A sister who could see through him, who knew him backwards and forwards, and could tell when he was TROUBLE. He can do pranks, sure enough, but she always knows it was HIM and she punishes him.

This one has plenty of laugh-out-loud moments. And there is a lovely audio book edition of it as well.


 My first review October 2006. My second review March 2011

Favorite quotes:

This was the night me and Lloyd always went to the crick and camped out. It was a sacred part of our year. After the Case Special came through, we always spent that night at the crick, and hung on till morning, no matter what. It was how we kissed the summer goodbye before the darkness of learning fell about us. (13)
"Who died?" I inquired.
"Take a guess," Charlie said. "Go ahead."
"Somebody we know?"
"You can believe that."
"Somebody old or young?"
"Old," Charlie said, "as the hills."
Lloyd was looking back and forth between us, clutching J.W. He was on the hook again, and I was getting there.
"Old as Old Man Lichtenberger?"
"Nobody's that old," Charlie said.
"Man or woman?"
"That'd be tellin' too much."
"Somebody we like?"
"Not hardly," Charlie said.
"Somebody who's been feeling poorly late?" I was wracking my brains.
Charlie shrugged his big shoulders. "She must of felt pretty poorly tonight. She died."
"So it's a woman!"
"More or less," Charlie said.
The truth burst over me. "You don't mean Miss Myrt Arbuckle!" (24)

Nobody would miss Miss Myrt, so Preacher Parr got them to miss the good old days when the winters were worse and the kids were better. At a funeral you want to miss something. (39)

When Pearl came back, she had a grip on the little kid who didn't want to be anywhere near here. Her bonnet hung by its strings. Her dinner pail scraped the floor. She kept setting her bare heels. "Turn me loose," she squawked. "I don't wanna, and I'm not gonna!"
Pearl pushed her toward Tansy and resumed her seat.
Tansy pulled the small girl's skirttails free of her drawers and settled her skirts for her. But it was too late. Forever more, she was known as "Little Britches." Even unto the distant day of her wedding. Besides, come to find out her real name was Beulah.
"Who are you?" Tansy asked with an arm around her.
"I ain't sayin'," said Little Britches. "I ain't stayin'."
"Then whisper who you are in my ear before you go."
Little Britches whispered. It would turn out that she was a Bradley. They were a family who hadn't had anybody in school for some years. Little Britches was an afterthought. "I'm goin' on home now." She wiggled free of Tansy. "Pleased to meetcha."
"Well, you can go home at noon, Tansy told her. "Till then just wait up there at my desk. You can...help me be teacher." (80-1)

"Tansy, how come the female sex think they know more than the male sex?"
"Because we do. What's the capital of Delaware?"
"I don't know."
"Know by tomorrow," Tansy warned. "I'm the teacher, and I won't have dumb brothers." (107)

I thought we'd need a block and tackle to lift her. But getting Aunt Fanny Hamline out of the ditch became one of Tansy's most famous days of teaching. It was a lesson in engineering too. It should have been studied at Purdue University. (127)

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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23. Reread #19 The Lemonade War

The Lemonade War. Jacqueline Davies. 2007. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 192 pages. [Source: Library]

I enjoyed this book even more the second time around. (I first reviewed it in October 2007). The Lemonade War is the story of two siblings--Evan and Jessie--and their week-long war over who can make the most money selling lemonade. Officially, this war is all about WHO can earn $100 in just five days, the last five days of summer vacation. The winner takes it all. If he wins, he gets to keep his earnings and her earnings. And vice versa. He dreams of an iPod. She dreams of giving money to an animal rescue league.

Until the last week of summer, these two kids had had an enjoyable summer, with plenty of time together and plenty of time to themselves. But when a letter comes from the school alerting the mom to a big change, well, Evan loses it. Evan thought it was bad enough that his sister was skipping a grade, that she would be in the same grade--fourth. NOW he learns that they will be in the same class. (The school has gone from two fourth grade classes to one.) Evan and Jessie react very differently. Evan focuses only on his weaknesses: he's horrible at math, he doesn't want everyone to know that his sister is SMARTER and BETTER than he is. Evan may see Jessie that way, but Jessie sure doesn't see herself that way. Jessie has trouble reading people; she doesn't always connect the dots between what people say and what people mean. Most of her second grade year, she was miserable, absolutely miserable. There was even a "We Hate Jessie" club led by a group of particularly mean girls. Jessie is worried that she'll have just as much trouble in fourth grade socially. Evan, she feels, is oh-so-comfortable and oh-so-confident. He never seems to have trouble talking to anyone. If only she could be like him!!!

One positive thing about this war, in my opinion, is that it challenges both Jessie and Evan to rise above their weaknesses. Evan must face his fear of math, of figuring out HOW to do "story problems" in real life. With Evan, readers get to see the practical side of *why* math is important. Jessie faces her fear of talking to people, of taking the first steps, of making friends. She seeks out girls who will be in her class, and, she makes allies, in a way.

The Lemonade War is, in a way, all about problem-solving, of meeting life's problems with determination. That and it's about love and hate.

I really liked the character of Jessie. I did. I liked how she clings to Charlotte's Web. I liked her spirit, her determination. Not that she was perfect. Not that she didn't make mistakes. But they both made mistakes.

I would definitely recommend this book!

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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24. Tudor (2013)

Tudor: The Family Story. Leanda de Lisle. 2013. Public Affairs. 576 pages. [Source: Library]

Leanda de Lisle's Tudor: The Story of England's Most Notorious Royal Family was a fascinating read. It opens with a queen (Catherine of Valois, the widow of Henry V) marrying a Welsh squire (Owen Tudor); it ends with James VI of Scotland inheriting the throne of England and becoming James I of England. It covers almost (but not quite) two hundred years of English history. Henry VII. Henry VIII. Edward VI. Jane Grey. Bloody Mary. Queen Elizabeth. James I. Not to mention Mary, Queen of Scots. It focuses on the royals who reigned, but, it also pays a good amount of attention to other royals. The sisters of Henry VII. The sisters of Henry VIII. And their offspring, royal cousins. For example, Margaret Douglas and her children and grandchildren. Also Katherine Grey. It focuses on family AND politics AND religion. Also perhaps power and ambition. It avoids as much as possible drawing moral conclusions or judgments about the actions of the royal family. The book urges readers to consider everything in the context of time and culture. Kings and queens eliminated perceived threats via life imprisonment or execution. Emphasis on perceived. Guilt being a matter of perception, not of hard facts and proof.

Overall, I found this book an enjoyable and informative read. I liked the thoroughness, the evenness of the coverage. The information was concise and the narrative was well written. The pacing was well done. I would definitely recommend this one!

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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25. Iva Honeysuckle Discovers the World (2012)

Ivy Honeysuckle Discovers the World. Candice F. Ransom. 2012. Disney-Hyperion. 160 pages. [Source: Library book]

I definitely enjoyed meeting Iva and Heaven Honeycutt. These two are double first cousins. There is a LOT of tension in their relationship. Their mothers (Aunt Sissy and Aunt Sissy Two) wanted to time their pregnancies so that all their children could be best friends with each other. Arden and Lily Pearl are Iva's sisters. Hunter and Howard are Heaven's sister and brother. Ransom does a great job at bringing ALL six children to life in her book. Both families feel completely believable. I also enjoyed the community that this one is set in. Several neighbors enter into the story in lovely ways.

Iva and Heaven are different. Different from one another, yes, but also different from other children their own age. Neither girl truly excels in making and keeping friends.

Heaven loves going to yard sales. She likes buying things for her hope chest. When she's not looking for embroidered pillow cases and other dainty household items, she might be found praying or assisting with vacation church school.

Iva dreams of being an adventurer, she longs to discover something WONDERFUL in her hometown of Uncertain, Virginia. She has a plan. Once this girl has a plan, she likes to STICK to it. But it isn't always easy to stick to plans when plans don't take into account every little thing!

This is a summer adventure. I would definitely recommend this one!

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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