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1. Seuss on Saturday #13

The Cat In the Hat. Dr. Seuss. 1957. Random House. 61 pages.  [Source: Library]

First sentence:
The sun did not shine. It was too wet to play. So we sat in the house all that cold, cold wet day.
Premise/Plot: Sally and her brother can't find ANYTHING fun to do on a rainy day until a strange cat comes to their house, invites himself in, and turns everything topsy-turvy. This rhyming book also stars a fish, who knows that the Cat in the Hat's fun only leads to trouble, and Thing One and Thing Two.  (One of the games they play is up-up-up with a fish. Another is fun-in-a-box.)

My thoughts: I've read this one dozens of times. It's so familiar, so fun. It's hard for me to imagine what it would be like to read it for the first time. I've also heard the audio book read by Kelsey Grammer. Is this my FAVORITE Seuss book? I'm not sure that it is. But it's so fun and silly.

Have you read The Cat in the Hat? Did you like it? love it? hate it? I'd love to know what you think of it!

If you'd like to join me in reading or reading Dr. Seuss' picture books (chronologically) I'd love to have you join me! The next book I'll be reviewing is The Cat in the Hat Comes Back.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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2. Follow Follow (2013)

Follow  Follow. A Book of Reverso Poems. (Companion to Mirror Mirror) Marilyn Singer. Illustrated by Josee Masse. 2013. Penguin. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

I loved, loved, LOVED reading Marilyn Singer's Follow Follow. If you love fairy tales, you MUST read Follow Follow. If you love good poetry, you MUST read Follow Follow. If you're new to reverso poems, to the concept of this form of poetry, you should really read Follow Follow or its companion Mirror Mirror. I love how the form itself is so engaging. It takes poetry to a whole new level for me! (It may do the same for you. I hope it does!)

Author's note:
The reverso, a form I created, is made up of two poems. Read the first down and it says one thing. Read it back up, with changes only in punctuation and capitalization, and it means something completely different. When you flip the poem, sometimes the same narrator has a different point of view. Other times, there is another narrator all together.
The poems:
  • Your Wish Is My Command (Aladdin)
  • Birthday Suit (The Emperor's New Clothes)
  • Silly Goose (The Golden Goose)
  • Ready, Steady, Go (The Tortoise and the Hare)
  • Will the Real Princess Please Stand Up (The Princess and the Pea)
  • The Little Mermaid's Choice (The Little Mermaid)
  • Panache (Puss in Boots)
  • Follow Follow (The Pied Piper)
  • No Bigger Than Your Thumb (Thumbelina)
  • Can't Blow This House Down (The Three Little Pigs)
  • The Nightingale's Emperor (The Nightingale)
  • On With The Dance (The Twelve Dancing Princesses)
I think I LOVED almost all of the poems. There were a few that I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED however.

The Little Mermaid's Choice

For love,
give up your voice.
Don't
think twice.
On the shore,
be his shadow.
Don't
keep your home
in the unruly sea.
Be docile.
You can't
catch him
playing
"You'll never catch me!"

You'll never catch me
playing
"Catch him."
You can't
be docile
in the unruly sea.
Keep your home.
Don't
be his shadow
on the shore.
Think twice!
Don't
give up your voice
for love.

Reading these poems is just a JOY. I love how engaging it is. How it makes you think and reflect on the familiar stories. I love how the poems play around with voice and perspective!!! So very clever!

Read this book!!!


© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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3. Ella Minnow Pea (2001)

Ella Minnow Pea. Mark Dunn. 2001. Random House. 224 pages. [Source: Library]

It has been years since I first read Ella Minnow Pea. For better or worse, my original review was more of a teaser, I didn't record what I *felt* about the book after reading it. The sad thing is, I was tempted to go that way this time as well. The premise is probably the most interesting thing about the book.

Ella Minnow Pea is set on a fictional island called Nollop located a dozen or so miles off the coast of South Carolina. The people of Nollop supposedly "worship" Nevin Nollop, author of this not-so-little sentence: The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog. When the letter tiles start falling off the statue/memorial, the High Council decide it's a sign from Nollop the Supreme Being. It's oh-so-obvious to them, though not particularly to the average citizen, that Nollop is telling them to STOP using the fallen letter. One by one the tiles fall--over six months or so. The penalties for speaking or writing one of the forbidden letters is severe: a matter of life or death if you persistently rebel. But you don't even have to be defiant or rebellious. A crime is a crime no matter if it's accidental or intentional.

How does this effect life? at school? at home? at work? Will this turn neighbor against neighbor? Or will it somehow bring it closer together?

Readers meet a handful of characters through letters. But characterization isn't one of the novel's strengths, in my opinion. All the characters tended to blend together.

The plot, well, it comes a bit later in the novel. A challenge is issued at some point by the council, if and only if, someone can write a new pangram--a sentence using all twenty-six letters, and for the purposes of this challenge limited to thirty-something letters, then the council will bring back all the forbidden letters and life will go on as it did before. The last third of the book is about trying and failing to write the pangram by the deadline.

The premise is the novel's strength. And depending on your mood, the novel may prove worth reading even if it's just for the premise alone. It is a unique idea, in my opinion. And epistolary novels aren't all that common.

What I didn't comment on in my initial review, so I have no idea if it bothered me then or not, is the WORSHIP aspect of this one. How the island has built a cult, of sorts, around Nollop, and talk as if he is actually a supreme being instead of another human. There are elements of this one that are just so over-the-top. I am not sure if it is innocent humor, or hit-you-over-the-head symbolism.

Did I love it? No. Probably not. Did I like it? Well, I read it twice. And it isn't like anyone forced me to pick it up again. It was a quick read and pleasant enough for the most part.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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4. A Great and Glorious Adventure

A Great and Glorious Adventure: The Hundred Years War and the Birth of Renaissance England. Gordon Corrigan. 2013/2014. Pegasus. 320 pages. [Source: Library]

A Great and Glorious Adventure was a sometimes fascinating read on the Hundred Years war. (Did England have a rightful claim to France? to rule certain domains in France? to the whole country? Corrigan explains why so many monarchs thought they did.)

The opening chapters fill readers in on British History from William the Conqueror to Edward III. However, most of the book focuses on the reigns of Edward III, Richard II, Henry IV, and Henry V. (The author has his favorites.)

I would say a love for British history is an absolute must for this one. That isn't to say that every history lover will love this one. Yes, it's about history, but it's more military history, war, and battles. (So much detail is given for so many different battles and/or conflicts.)

So the book is about England's ongoing conflicts with France, Scotland, and Wales over several centuries. Readers also learn a little bit about the Black Death. (But only a little bit).

It is sometimes fascinating. I won't lie. There were chapters I enjoyed. But it is sometimes less than fascinating. There were chapters I just didn't enjoy all that much.

If you enjoy reading about the War of Roses, and would like a better, stronger foundation for understanding it, then this one would be worth reading.



© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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5. Space Case (2014)

Space Case. Stuart Gibbs. 2014. Simon & Schuster. 352 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Dashiell Gibson lives on the moon with his family. The community on the moon is small--super small. And there are only a handful of kids in the community (Moon Base Alpha). That being just one of a hundred reasons why Dash absolutely hates his life. By the end of the book, readers could list dozens of reasons. The top two would probably be the HORRIBLE food and the HORRIBLE bathroom facilities. Going to the bathroom in space--on the moon--is a nightmare. And eating horrible tasting food that makes you have to go urgently is the WORST. Dash finds himself in a situation in the first chapter putting him in just the right place to overhear something he had no business hearing. Dr. Holtz was also in the bathroom in the wee morning hours. He was talking to someone about a life-changing DRAMATIC revelation. Our hero doesn't hear the details of Holtz's discovery, just the fact that this HUGE announcement will be made at breakfast. But hours before breakfast, Holtz has an accident. Or "accident" as the case may be. Dashiell believes that Dr. Holtz was murdered...but it won't be easy to convince the adults to investigate. Can Dash and his new friend help solve the case?!

Space Case is a middle grade mystery that I definitely enjoyed. I'm not sure I loved it exactly. But I love the idea of loving it. It's one of those potentially satisfying mysteries for younger readers. There are plenty of suspects and plenty of clues. For better or worse, the plot was a bit more developed than the characters. Plenty happens in this one. And it's a very quick read. But the characterization is light, in my opinion.

Space Case is the kind of book I enjoy reading once, but, maybe not one I see myself rereading again and again.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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6. Little Town on the Prairie

Little Town on the Prairie. Laura Ingalls Wilder. Illustrated by Garth Williams. 1941. 374 pages. [Source: Library]

 I enjoyed rereading Little Town on the Prairie. Is it completely perfect in every way? Probably not. (The idea of Pa joining in a minstrel show performance still doesn't sit well with me. Just like I don't like the dialogue of the Native American in The Long Winter--when he warns them of the winter ahead. But other than that, I don't have any real issue with the book). In this book:

  • The family moves back to their homestead for the summer and fall
  • The Ingalls get a cat AFTER Pa's hair is "cut" by mice in the night!
  • Laura gets a job assisting a seamstress
  • Laura and Carrie and Pa go to a fourth of July celebration; lemonade is involved
  • Blackbirds come and threaten numerous crops; some of the corn is saved and will be dried for winter consumption
  • Mary goes away to college
  • The family moves back to the town for the winter
  • Laura and Carrie attend school
  • Nellie Oleson is one of the 'country' girls attending school
  • Nellie becomes teacher's pet; the new teacher is Eliza Jane Wilder
  • Laura gets her first ride behind Almanzo's horses (she's running late for school, she had to order name cards)
  • A Literary Society (of sorts) is formed in town for the winter
  • The book actually covers TWO winters in town, but, we barely learn anything about the spring/summer/and fall in between the winters.
  • Laura attends several revival meetings and Almanzo asks to see her home each night!
  • Almanzo hints that he wants to take her sledding.
  • Laura gets her teaching certificate
Plenty of lovely things happen. I love the progression of the series. This book just makes me smile as I'm reading it. I often forget just how much I like this one since I love, love, love THE LONG WINTER, and I always associate These Happy Golden Years with having THE romance. I don't give this one enough credit for being OH-SO-GOOD.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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7. By The Shores of Silver Lake

By the Shores of Silver Lake. Laura Ingalls Wilder. 1939. HarperCollins. 291 pages. [Source: Library]

As a child, By The Shores of Silver Lake wasn't my favorite of the series. I blame Jack's death for that. But as an adult, I've come to appreciate By The Shores of Silver Lake more, seeing it as more than just a transition between On the Banks of Plum Creek and The Long Winter.

In By the Shores of Silver Lake:
  • Mary goes blind, Laura is "asked" to be her eyes
  • Pa is offered a new job, a job with the railroad, which he takes
  • He goes by wagon, Jack dies BEFORE Pa's departure
  • The rest of the family travels most of the way by train
  • They continue the rest of their journey (a day or two or three) by wagon
  • They settle in for a while, Pa talks about the claim he hopes to claim later that year or whenever his job is finished and he's able to go out seeking a claim of his own
  • Pa's job isn't always safe; he's the paymaster for the railroad, and he has to calm down an angry mob in this one.
  • They meet the Boast family
  • They spend the winter in the 'biggest' house Laura has ever lived in
  • Winter may be lonely (no neighbors, no town) but the spring will see plenty of people come and go. EVERYONE stops at their house on their way west
  • The family learns that there is a school for the blind, they all decide Mary should go there.
  • The family decides to claim land near De Smet, South Dakota
  • Laura catches the tiniest glimpse of Almanzo Wilder's horses
I definitely am enjoying rereading these books. By The Shores of Silver Lake may not be my favorite of the series, but, I'm glad I reread it.
© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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8. Call the Midwife (2002)

Call the Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times. Jennifer Worth. 2002/2009. Penguin. 340 pages. [Source: Library]

I have now read all three of Jennifer Worth's memoirs. Yes, I read the first book in the series last because that's how the library fated it. This actually worked out okay because I was familiar enough with the television adaptation. First, I want to mention that I loved, loved, loved, LOVED the tv show. Did I enjoy the books as much, did I enjoy them equally well? Probably not. I loved the show more, I did. I'll be honest about that from the start.

But did I enjoy the books? Yes. I definitely did. But was the first book my favorite? I can't say that it was. There were things I liked/loved about all three books. And. There were things I didn't quite like about all three books.

What didn't I enjoy? Well. In this first book, for example, there are several chapters where the focus is on prostitution, the focus shifts in the narrative because Jenny Lee has met a pregnant prostitute, Mary, who's trying to escape her pimp and find somewhere (relatively) safe to keep her baby. As you might expect, it's a dark, ugly, nightmarish world she's describing. I don't fault her for being realistic and matter of fact. But the amount of detail involved in the telling is a bit much at times. I think it could have been retold with a little less detail and still conveyed the same impact.

What did I enjoy? Well, there was plenty to enjoy! Most of the chapters were enjoyable enough. Many of these chapters have been adapted as episodes for the show--though not all, I believe. And in some cases, the book presents a much fuller picture.

As far as the trilogy goes, there is in some ways a lot less focus on romance when compared to the adaptation. (Jane's romance being an exception in the second book.) But the trilogy is worth reading, maybe not for ALL fans, but for many fans. (I will say that the book is more graphic in description than the tv show.)

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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9. The Midwife of Hope River (2012)

The Midwife of Hope River. Patricia Harman. 2012. HarperCollins. 382 pages. [Source: Library]

The Midwife of Hope River is probably best classified as an almost love. I did enjoy quite a few things about it. And I'm definitely glad I checked it out from the library and read it. I like trying new-to-me authors, and this one worked for me in many ways.

Patience Murphy is the heroine of The Midwife of Hope River. There are dozens of births recorded--in detail--throughout the novel. So you've been warned! The intimacy of the details is not a bad thing, mind you. It just may not be a perfect match for every single reader.

So. Patience Murphy is the heroine's new name. She has a past--a past that is revealed oh-so-slowly-and-dramatically throughout the novel. But for the most part she's Patience. She's 'inherited' her occupation, in a way, the woman who essentially took her in off the streets and 'saved' her from being a wet nurse (an out-of-work wet nurse) was a midwife. They started working in West Virginia (rural for the most part) together, but, now she's on her own. She varies between super-confident and anxious--how did I ever get started? and WHY do I do this? The book opens in the fall of 1929, and it follows her practice for probably a year or maybe two years.

Patience is poor. She never knows IF she'll be paid for a delivery or not. And if she is paid, it's rarely in cash. More likely it's food or chopped wood. Or promises. So most of the novel keeps it basic: will I have enough to eat today, this week, this month, etc. and will I have enough fuel to keep me warm this winter?

Patience is also emotional and definitely lonely. She doesn't necessarily *show* her emotions. That's not what I meant by emotional. She's got layers to her, and, she hates to be vulnerable. But she's got layers and layers of ISSUES both past and present.

Several big issues are addressed in the book, but, not necessarily in a heavy way. For example, race relations/tensions in the 1930s, abusive relationships, poverty, sexuality/freedom, etc.

I wouldn't say I loved this one. But I did find it at times absorbing and fascinating. Definitely a quick read for me.
© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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10. Seuss on Saturday #11


On Beyond Zebra! Dr. Seuss. 1955. Random House. 64 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence:
Said Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell,
My very young friend who is learning to spell:
"The A is for Ape. And the B is for Bear.
"The C is for Camel. The H is for Hare.
"The M is for Mouse. And the R. is for Rat.
"I know all the twenty-six letters like that...
"...through to Z is for Zebra. I know them all well."
Said Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell.
Premise/Plot: One little boy claims his alphabet starts where other kids' alphabets end. He introduces the letters, "YUZZ," "WUM," "UM," "HUMPF," "FUDDLE," "GLIKK," NUH," "SNEE," "QUAN," "THNAD," "SPAZZ," "FLOOB," "ZATZ," "JOGG," "FLUNN," "ITCH," "YEKK," "VROO," AND "HI!" Of course, there's reasoning behind each new letter. Crazy fun as only Dr. Seuss can do. For example:
Then just one step a step further past Wum is for Wumbus
And there you'll find UM. And the Um is for Umbus
A sort of a Cow, with one head and one tail,
But to milk this great cow you need more than one pail!
She has ninety-eight faucets that give milk quite nicely.
Perhaps ninety-nine. I forget just precisely.
And, boy! She is something most people don't see
Because most people stop at the Z
But not me!
My thoughts: What's not to love?! I'll admit this is the first time I've read On Beyond Zebra! And I'll admit it didn't instantly become my new favorite Seuss book or anything. But is it worth reading? Yes! I like the rhyming and the storytelling. It's a very imaginative book. If you grew up reading and loving There's A Wocket in My Pocket and you haven't read On Beyond Zebra yet, well, I think you'll enjoy it.

Have you read On Beyond Zebra!? Did you like it? love it? hate it? I'd love to know what you think of it! If you'd like to join me in reading or rereading Dr. Seuss (chronologically) I'd love to have you join me!  The next book I'll be reviewing is If I Ran the Circus.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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11. Devil at My Heels (2004)

Devil at My Heels. Louis Zamperini and David Rensin. 1956/2004. Harper Perennial. 292 pages. [Source: Library]

I loved reading Unbroken. As soon as I found out that Louis Zamperini had written an autobiography, I NEEDED to read it. I hoped that it would be equally compelling and just as fascinating. It was. It really was. I honestly don't know if I could pick which one was "better." His story is worth reading no matter the book you choose.

Devil At My Heels is Zamperini's autobiography. In this book, readers learn about his growing up, his delinquent years, how his brother persuaded him to try running track, his early races and training days, how running 'saved' his life and put him on the right track, his 1936 Olympic experience, his college years, his joining the army air force, his war experiences, his surviving a horrible plane crash, how he survived almost fifty days at sea in a raft, his 'resue' from sea by the Japanese, his time in a Japanese POW camp, his return to the U.S, his popularity, his inner struggles, his marriage, his conversion experiences, his days as a speaker, how it was 'easy' for him to forgive the Japanese, how he tried to meet all his former prison guards, etc.

This one fascinates from cover to cover. I liked hearing the story in his own words. Both books are packed with detail, but, the focus isn't always in the same places.


© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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12. The Zoo at the Edge of the World (2014)

The Zoo at the Edge of the World. Eric Kahn Gale. 2014. HarperCollins. 240 pages. [Source: Library]

Marlin is the hero of the Zoo at the Edge of the World. And hero is an interesting word choice in a way. For Marlin doesn't feel like he could even potentially be a hero. He knows how others see him, how *most* others see him, and he's trapped in their opinions, letting it all weigh him down. Marlin is a stutterer, and, for the most part he doesn't speak with others. In part, because few are patient enough to stand and wait for him to finish a complex sentence/thought. In part, because Marlin gives up and gives in. For example, he gets so frustrated with himself, with not being able to get out his thoughts, AND, he sees the other person's response/reaction: their impatience, annoyance, rejection, ridicule, etc. Sometimes, I suppose you could say, he stops trying, and in other cases, he's cut off, and not allowed to finish. So Marlin takes great comfort in the fact that he can talk near-perfectly when he's alone with an animal. It's a good thing his father owns a zoo in South America. So his time with the animals is almost always positive--though not always!!! And his time with his dad is somewhat positive--though not always! But his time with his brother and almost everyone else on the staff is absolutely horrible all the time.

The Zoo at the Edge of the World is about what happens to Marlin when his Dad returns to the zoo with a jaguar. He's given the opportunity to collar it, and, the book turns magical almost from that moment on...

Everything Marlin knows about his life, his family, will be challenged by what the jaguar tells him...

I liked this one. I definitely liked Marlin. I did like the jaguar and some of the other animals. I definitely did not like the snake.

I wouldn't say I *loved* this one, but, I did enjoy it quite a bit.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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13. The Long Winter

The Long Winter. Laura Ingalls Wilder. Illustrated by Garth Williams. 1940. 335 pages. [Source: Library]

Out of all the Little House books, I probably reread the Long Winter most. There is just something about it that I love. The book opens with the Ingalls family preparing reasonably for the coming winter. Their plans don't take into account an early winter, a long winter, and a hard winter. Once there was a touch of winter in October, it was there to stay. The "good" weather being merely not-currently-in-a-four-day-blizzard. Some days the Ingalls and their neighbors are blessed with two days in between blizzards.

So, to begin back at the beginning, the Ingalls family moves to town after the first blizzard in October. It becoming obvious to Ma and Pa that they likely would not survive if they stayed at their claim. They take what provisions they've got, and everyone moves to town. But the provisions that they've got, that they've carefully planned and prepared won't be enough under these conditions. No one foresaw that there would be no trains coming to town during the winter months bringing food and fuel and such. Every person in town feels the stress of it. How will they survive? Will they survive?

This is the book where Laura and Almanzo first meet.

I love the intensity of this one. It's a book you experience. The cold. The hunger. The angst. 

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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14. Seuss on Saturday #12

If I Ran the Circus. Dr. Seuss. 1956. Random House. 58 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence:
"In all the whole town, the most wonderful spot
Is behind Sneelock's Store in the big vacant lot.
It's just the right spot for my wonderful plans,"
Said young Morris McGurk, "...If I clean up the cans."

Premise/Plot: A young boy imagines the circus he could have if only he cleaned up the vacant lot behind his favorite store. What a circus, he'd have. The best, BEST circus ever. He shares his plans for all his sideshow acts and for all the acts under the big tent too. Page after page, readers see one fabulous act after another.

My thoughts: Loved it. I wasn't expecting to love it. No one quite does rhythm and rhyme like Dr. Seuss. His books are fun to read, but, they're even better read aloud. He makes it look so simple and easy. To write in rhyme, to entertain young ones with a fun, imaginative story. But the thing is, it isn't that easy at all. So. I am definitely enjoying reading and rereading Seuss this year! I can't believe I never read this one growing up. But it's NEVER TOO LATE.

Have you read If I Ran the Circus?  Did you like it? love it? hate it? I'd love to know what you think of it!
 
If you'd like to join me in reading or rereading Dr. Seuss (chronologically) I'd love to have you join me! The next book I'll be reviewing is The Cat in the Hat.

Bonus: How The Grinch Stole Christmas was published in 1957. I reviewed this one in December of 2014.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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15. Seuss on Saturday #8

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

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

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

Have you read If I Ran the Zoo? Did you like it? love it? hate it? I'd love to hear what you thought of it.

If you'd like to join me in reading or rereading Dr. Seuss' picture books (chronologically) I'd love to have you join me! The next book I'll be reviewing is Scrambled Eggs Super!

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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16. Revisiting On the Banks of Plum Creek (1937)

On the Banks of Plum Creek. Laura Ingalls Wilder. 1937. 340 pages. [Source: Library]

I love Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House series. I do. And On the Banks of Plum Creek, while not my absolute favorite--that would be The Long Winter or possibly These Happy Golden Years--is worth rereading every few years. One thing I hadn't noticed until this last reread is that the Ingalls' family celebrates three Christmases in this one book!

Plenty of things happen in On The Banks of Plum Creek:
  • the family moves into a sod house
  • the family moves into a wooden house with real glass windows
  • the family gets oxen and horses
  • the girls start school
  • the family attends church
  • crops are planted and lost
  • Pa leaves the family behind twice to go in search of work
  • hard weather is endured
  • Laura gets in and out of trouble (she almost drowns in this one)
The book is enjoyable and satisfying. I love the illustrations by Garth Williams. I remember them just as well as I do the text itself.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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17. Shadow of the Workhouse

Shadows of the Workhouse (Call the Midwife #2) Jennifer Worth. 2005/2008/2013. HarperCollins. 304 pages. [Source: Library]

I still haven't read the first book in the Call the Midwife series, but, I have seen most of series 1 and 2. I love, love, love the show. And I've seen the episodes adapting all these stories found within Shadows of the Workhouse. Do I recommend reading the books? Yes!!!

Shadows of the Workhouse is the second book in Jennifer Worth's memoir trilogy. The first part focuses on Workhouse Children. In this section, two big stories are related. First, readers meet Jane. Her story has a happy ending, but, it's an emotional struggle making the happy ending all that more triumphant. Second, readers meet Peggy and Frank. Again, these two grew up in the Workhouse. Their story is emotional and complex and not nearly as happy. The second part focuses on The Trial of Sister Monica Joan. (She's accused of theft and put on trial.) The third part of the book focuses on 'The Old Soldier.' Readers meet an old man, a lonely man, Joe Collett, whom Jenny treats daily/weekly. The book focuses on telling his story. Again, there is plenty of heartbreak.

I loved Jane's story. I did. I loved, loved, LOVED it. I thought the whole book was wonderful and thoughtful. Would definitely recommend.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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18. Tesla's Attic (2014)

Tesla's Attic.  (Accelerati #1). Neal Shusterman and Eric Elfman. 2014. Disney-Hyperion. 256 pages. [Source: Library]

Nick was hit by a flying toaster.

Tesla's Attic is certainly different. I haven't decided yet if it's different in a good way or a bad way.

On the one hand, I loved the beginning. I thought it was fun, relatively fun anyway. Nick and his family (his dad and younger brother) have recently moved to Colorado. The move happened primarily because of a house-fire, a fire that killed the mom. No one in the family wants to stay and deal with starting over there, so the cross-country move is welcomed by everyone in the family. Nick discovers tons of junk in the attic at their new house. He decides to hold a garage sale. It happens to be raining. He doesn't expect much of a turn out, not with the weather being what it is. But surprisingly, it's a big hit. Not only are people buying things, they're insisting on paying a lot of money. By the end of the day, he's made some money but is feeling like he's in the twilight zone. Something is not right, he knows it. But what? The premise of this book is that the items in the attic were the creations, the inventions, of Nikola Tesla. The "junk" in the attic is not junk at all. It may look it. But each item does something unexpected. Like the reel-to-reel tape recorder that records WHAT YOU'RE REALLY THINKING AND NOT WHAT YOU'RE ACTUALLY SAYING. So recording conversations is interesting to say the least. The premise was unique and relatively satisfying.

On the other hand, I didn't love the ending so much. That is, by the end of the book, there were a handful of things about the book--the plot--that were bothering me. I found myself enjoying it less and less as I continued reading.

Overall, I would say this is a premise-driven novel with some entertaining scenes, but, it isn't wonderful at characterization and having depth and substance. It is an entertaining enough read, but, it isn't a great read.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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19. Her Royal Spyness (2007)

Her Royal Spyness (Her Royal Spyness #1) Rhys Bowen. 2007. Berkley. 336 pages. [Source: Library]

I wanted a quick, light read: light on history, light on mystery. I was satisfied enough with Her Royal Spyness by Rhys Bowen. Why "satisfied enough"? Well, the book moved quickly for me. I was interested in the time period it was set. (England, spring of 1932) I was also curious about the "royal" aspect of it. (The heroine is 34th in line to the throne.)

The premise of this one is simple. Lady Georgiana (Georgie) may be royal, but, she's also young and poor. Being royal makes her eligible for making a good marriage, perhaps, most likely an arranged marriage. But it keeps her from getting a regular job and earning her own way. To escape a social event designed to match her to someone she doesn't want to marry, she lies to her family and arranges to go to London. Her brother is allowing her to stay at his place--the family's residence--but he's not allowing her to take any servants or providing any money to hire her own once there. She'll be completely on her own for however many weeks she chooses to escape. She'll get reacquainted with some people, meet several new people, etc. She'll also socialize with the queen on occasion. (The queen wants her feedback on the married American woman, David is infatuated with.) One of the people she meets is a potential fling. His name is Darcy. The two could have some light fun together. But. She's uncertain about him and if she even wants to have a fling.

So. The mystery. A body is found in the bathtub. A dead body, of course. (I kept thinking of Whose Body? by Dorothy Sayers). She discovers the body, and since it's in her brother's house, well, she fears that everyone will conclude that her brother "Binky" did the crime...

I found it entertaining enough. I didn't find it to be the perfect read, however. In terms of characterization and dialogue and description. It kept me reading at the time, but, I'm not sure it's one that will stick with me.

Still, I think I will read one or two more in the series to see if it improves.

ETA: I have read about three or four chapters in the second book. Enough to know that I don't think it will suit me after all. It's just not a good match for me. 

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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20. What If...? (2014)

What If...? Anthony Browne. 2014. Candlewick. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

Joe was going to his first big party. It was at his friend Tom's house, but Joe had lost the invitation and didn't know the house number. "It's OK, Joe," said Mom. "Tom lives somewhere on this street. We'll find it." So they set off.

Premise/Plot: Joe is anxious about attending his friend's party. Not just anxious about finding his friend's house, but about the party itself. He's worried about who will be there, what kind of food there will be, what games he'll be expected to play, etc. He's not sure if he'll want to actually stay at the party. (If his mom wasn't insistent, Joe might even not go to the party to begin with.)  He is walking to the party with his mom, and, together they are looking into the windows of each house trying to find the party.

What If...? got starred reviews in Kirkus, School Library Journal, and Publisher's Weekly.

My thoughts: I could relate to Joe's anxiety. So I wanted to like the book. But it was just a bit too odd for me to actually like it. What didn't I like? Well, the illustrations. They look into the windows of many houses on the street. These window scenes are illustrated in detail. And the scenes are just weird and slightly disturbing at times. It was hard to take them seriously. And since Joe's anxiety was real, I thought the illustrations were off. (In one scene, there's a man and woman sitting together reading. If you look closely, he's got antennas on his balding head. In another, there's an elephant in the house. In two more scenes, it looks like their are crimes being committed. Since readers are given two glimpses of each house, one from a distance, one up close, one is supposed to conclude that Joe's anxiety is getting the best of him perhaps and his imagination has run away with him. But I'm still not sure. I just don't like the illustrations.

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

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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21. Meet Inspector Barnaby

The Killings At Badger's Drift. (Inspector Barnaby #1) Caroline Graham. 1987/2005. Felony & Mayhem. 272 pages. [Source: Library]

I'm so glad I checked out The Killings at Badger's Drift on a whim!!! It's always a good thing to browse in the library!

The Killings at Badger's Drift is the first book in the Inspector Barnaby mystery series. Readers meet Detective Chief Inspector Barnaby and Sergeant Troy (his assistant). I definitely liked Inspector Barnaby!!!

The first character readers meet is Miss Emily Simpson, a spinster who stumbles upon something she shouldn't see in the woods. That knowledge will lead to her death...readers however are not told exactly what she saw--or WHO she saw...leaving plenty of mystery and suspense for the rest of the book.

Readers next meet another spinster, Miss Lucy Bellringer, Miss Simpson's best, best friend. She is convinced that her friend was MURDERED. And she is seeking out Inspector Barnaby. The doctor may not be convinced that there was a crime, but, she is out to convince Barnaby and Troy to investigate and see for themselves. (They do take the case).

Plenty of characters are introduced and described throughout the book, throughout the investigation. Most, if not all, are potential suspects. Some seem more obvious than others. But. All are flawed in one way or another...making it just plausible enough that they could be guilty...

I definitely enjoyed this one. It was a quick read. I definitely HAD to know what happened.

Death of A Hollow Man. (Inspector Barnaby #2) Caroline Graham. 1989/2006. Felony & Mayhem. 306 pages. [Source: Library]

Death of a Hollow Man is the second book in the Inspector Barnaby series by Caroline Graham. I definitely liked it, even though I had some reservations. Why? Well, I know I'm in the minority, but, I prefer my fiction to be on the clean side. It's not necessarily the content so much as the description involved--if that makes sense. That being said, I liked this one. I never once seriously thought of putting it aside.

Death of a Hollow Man is set in a small-town theatre world. Most of the characters--suspects and victim--are actors for their local theatre. (Inspector Barnaby's wife is among the actors--though not the list of suspects.) Amadeus. That is what they'll be performing. Over half the book occurs BEFORE the crime, setting the stage for the oh-so-dramatic on-stage murder. Lest you think I'm spoiling things dreadfully, it's mentioned on the jacket copy. I won't be mentioning WHO the victim is OR who the top suspects are. That would definitely be spoilerish. After all, I like my mysteries to stay mysteries.

I liked the writing for the most part. There are SO many characters. Some I liked, some I didn't like at all.

My library only has one more book in this series. But I've decided to start watching Midsomer Murders for more Inspector Barnaby fun.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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22. Farewell to the East End

Farewell to the East End. (Call of the Midwife #3) Jennifer Worth. 2009/2013. HarperCollins. 336 pages. [Source: Library]

I still haven't read the first book in the Call The Midwife series by Jennifer Worth, but, I have watched and enjoyed the first two series of the show, an adaptation of the books. I loved the second book, Shadows of the Workhouse. I'm not sure I "loved" the third book, Farewell to the East End. I suppose you could say I found it equally fascinating and disturbing. The stories are definitely darker and heavier--dismal and bleak. Mixed in with stories are a handful of research chapters about various topics.

Highlights (not highlights because of 'hope') include several chapters focused on twins Megan and Mave, several chapters focusing on the Masterson family, several chapters focusing on the Harding family, and several chapters focusing on Chummy.

One of the most haunting stories, in my opinion, is "The Captain's Daughter." Chummy is called aboard a merchant ship to tend a woman with stomach cramps. The woman believes she's just had too many apples. But it soon becomes apparent to Chummy that all is not right. The woman is in fact pregnant and in labor, and, the father could be any of the crew including her own father, the Captain. Chummy learns that she's been on board and servicing the men--keeping them all happy--since the age of fourteen, soon after her mother's death. Chummy is a bit shocked--who wouldn't be--but very practical and down to earth. The birth is challenging and quite memorable.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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23. Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. Rachel Joyce. 2012. Random House. 320 pages. [Source: Library]

The novel opens with Harold Fry receiving a letter in the mail from a former friend, Queenie Hennessy; it is a goodbye letter. Though they haven't seen each other in decades, she wanted to tell him that she was dying of cancer. He's shocked, to put it mildly. Though in all honesty he doesn't think of her all that often, now that her letter is in his hands, he is remembering the woman he once worked with and what she once did for him. He writes a reply and prepares to mail it, but, on his way to the mailbox, it doesn't seem enough, not nearly enough. His reply is so short and inadequate. So after a brief conversation with a stranger about cancer, he decides to have a little faith and embark on a pilgrimage. He will walk to see Queenie in her hospice home. In his mind, logical or not, he's connected the two: walking and healing. He'll do the walking, but will it work?

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is a character-driven, journey-focused read. From start to finish, readers are given a unique opportunity to walk with Harold Fry, to really get inside his head and understand him inside and out. It's a bit of a mystery as well. Since readers learn things about Harold chapter by chapter by chapter. The book is very much about Harold making sense of Harold: that is Harold coming to know himself better, of making peace if you will with the past and present.

I liked the book very much for the chance to get to know Harold and even his wife. (At first, his wife thinks he's CRAZY. Crazy for thinking up the idea, crazier still for acting on it. It just does not make any sense at all to her. WHY WALK OVER 500 MILES TO SEE A FORMER COWORKER YOU HAVEN'T SEEN IN TWO DECADES?!

It was a very pleasant read. Harold meets people every single day of his walk, and the book is a book of conversations.

It is set in England.


© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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24. The Ship of Brides

The Ship of Brides. Jojo Moyes. 2005/2014. Penguin. 464 pages. [Source: Library]

Did I love absolutely everything about Jojo Moyes' The Ship of Brides? No, I can't say that I did. But I enjoyed it enough to read it in two days. I'll start with what I loved.

I loved the subject. I loved the idea of reading about a group of women--war brides--sailing together into the unknown. The book is about a ship full of Australian women--all war brides--sailing to England in 1946. It isn't any ship either. It's an aircraft carrier. The potential to mingle with the navy is definitely there, though obviously discouraged. There are over 600 women on board, though readers only get close to four women who share a room: Jean, Avice, Margaret, and Frances. They are sailing into the unknown in a way because they've never been to England, they've never met their in-laws, and they haven't seen their husbands in months or even years. Take into consideration, that some of these couples only knew each other a few weeks before they got married, and, yes there is plenty of unknown ahead. Even if they felt like they *knew* their husbands when they got married, they don't know how the war has changed them, if the war has changed them. The time on the ship is an in-between time: the first taste of a big change in all their lives. Will they be happy? Will it all work out? Are they still loved? Are they still wanted? Several women receive messages--telegrams, I believe-telling them NOT to come.

I liked the narration, especially of the time on the ship. The days/weeks are chronicled, and, one gets a sense of the experience, of the journey. The anxiety, the awkwardness, the heat, the opportunities, the stresses, etc. I thought the setting was well done, for the most part.

Did I love the characterization? Not as much as I hoped initially. I don't know if there was any one character that I loved. And some of the characterization felt a bit uneven.

What I didn't quite love was the framework. The beginning and ending felt a little off to me. Readers first meet a grandmother and a granddaughter on their trip in India. The two just happen to stumble upon a ship about to become scrap. It is THE ship, and it overwhelms the grandmother to see it. The rest of the book is about the four women--really, just three women if I'm honest--and tries, I suppose, to keep readers guessing which of the three is the grandmother of the future. The ending is part of that framework: readers finally knowing how it all fits together.

I liked it. I'm glad I read it. I am. I'm interested in the subject. I would be happy to read more books like it. But it wasn't love for me.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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25. Seuss on Saturday #10

Horton Hears A Who! Dr. Seuss. 1954. Random House. 64 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence:
On the fifteenth of May, in the Jungle of Nool, in the heat of the day, in the cool of the pool, He was splashing...enjoying the jungle's great joys...When Horton the elephant heard a small noise.
Premise/Plot: Horton hears someone yelling for help from a speck of dust, a tiny someone. But a person's a person, no matter how small. So Horton makes quite the effort to help, to save whoever it is.

My thoughts: I love Horton Hears a Who! I do. Poor Horton has to undergo a lot of torment to protect the Whos in Who-ville. Horton is the only one who hears them. All the other animals think he's making it all up. All the other animals are BULLIES. But Horton is steadfast, and, he'll always do his best to protect this speck of dust resting on a bit of clover. But his best may not be good enough. EVERY Who will need to speak up to be heard when all is said and done.

Have you read Horton Hears A Who! Did you like it? love it? hate it? I'd love to know what you think of it!

If you'd like to join me in reading or rereading Dr. Seuss (chronologically) I'd love to have you join me! The next book I'll be reviewing is On Beyond a Zebra.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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