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Results 1 - 25 of 681
1. Meet Bess Crawford

A Duty To The Dead. (Bess Crawford #1) Charles Todd. 2009. HarperCollins. 336 pages. [Source: Library]

Bess Crawford is a war nurse during 'the Great War.' One of her dying patients, Arthur Graham, asked her to give a message to his brother, Jonathan. The message made little sense to her personally. Something about him being sorry for having lied, and, how it was to protect their mother. She doesn't know for sure if he'll understand it either, but, a promise is a promise. So several months after his death, and, just a little bit after her own close call--the ship she was on sank--she sets out with her message to visit the Graham family.

I loved, loved, LOVED A Duty to the Dead. I loved it for so many reasons. I think Bess Crawford is a great heroine--narrator. She's sympathetic, patient, and observant. She has a way of seeing right into people, and, not jumping to conclusions in the process. Always one to give the benefit of the doubt, I suppose. She has seen a lot, heard a lot that's for sure. But Bess isn't the only reason I loved the book. Far from it. For having a good "detective" only takes you so far. What I appreciated was the depth of the characterization of the other characters. Primarily of the Graham family, but, also of others in and around that community and her own. We briefly get an idea of what her own family is like. How much she loves her father, and, appreciates a close friend of the family, Simon.

So. The mystery itself I loved. It begins, of course, with her delivering the message to the Graham family. But that is just the start. She doesn't deliver the message and go, no, it turns into an at-times-very-awkward social visit. Soon Bess finds herself piecing together all the clues of a HUGE family secret. And she can't leave it alone because it's so outrageous...

The writing was excellent. I loved the setting and tone. I appreciated the characterization even if some of the characters were super-creepy. It is a great start to a series I'm eager to read all of!!!

Have you met Bess Crawford? I'd love to know what you thought!

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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2. Seuss on Saturday #27

The Foot Book. Dr. Seuss. 1968. Random House. 36 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence:
Left foot
Left foot
Right foot
Right
Feet in the morning
Feet at night
Left foot
Left foot
Left foot
Right
Premise/plot: Does The Foot Book have an actual plot? Probably not. It's a rhyming celebration of all sorts of feet, I suppose.

My thoughts: Probably not my favorite Seuss title. Not that I actively dislike it, mind you. It's just not going to make my top thirty.

Have you read The Foot Book? Did you like it? love it? hate it? I'd love to know what you thought 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 I Can Lick 30 Tigers Today and Other Stories.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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3. Follow Your Gut

Follow Your Gut. Rob Knight with Brendan Buhler. 2015. Simon & Schuster (TED) 128 pages. [Source: Library]

Just how much microscopic life dwells inside you? If we're going by weight, the average adult is carrying about three pounds of microbes.

Follow Your Gut is reader-accessible science. The book is packed with information--what we know for sure, what we think we know, how much we just don't know quite yet, what we still need to spend time researching. The focus of the book is on microbes: the microbes living in us and on us. How every individual has their own unique combination of microbes. Our microbes can tell scientists where we live and how we live. Most of the book focuses on the microbes living in our guts. The book seeks to convey HOW VERY, VERY, VERY important it is to have good microbes in our gut. How essential gut health is to overall health, but, especially brain health.

Table of contents:
  • The body microbial
  • How we get our microbiome
  • In sickness and in health
  • The gut-brain axis
  • Hacking your microbiome
  • Antiobiotics
  • The future 
The book is packed with (basic) information. And I think it's information that should be more well known. I think knowledge is the first step, a good solid step in the right direction. I do wish the book was slightly more practical. Yes, it's good to know what microbes do or might do. But which strains of microbes are best for dealing with specific health issues? And how can one add/change one's microbes?!

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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4. The Great Good Summer (2015)

The Great Good Summer. Liz Garton Scanlon. 2015. Simon & Schuster. 224 pages. [Source: Library]

God is alive and well in Loomer, Texas, so I don't know why Mama had to go all the way to The Great Good Bible Church of Panhandle Florida to find him, or to find herself, either.

The Great Good Summer reminded me, in a way, of Because of Winn Dixie. Ivy Green is almost as lovable a heroine as Opal herself. Her narrative voice is certainly strong throughout. Ivy's narration made the novel work well for me.

So Ivy's story, on the surface, is simple: her mom has recently left them (her and her dad) without a word as to where she's going and if she'll ever be back. Ivy and her Dad struggle with their new reality. Some things remain the same: Ivy's babysitting, weekly attendance at church; but some things are VERY different: her mom being gone, her never-subsiding-ache of wanting her mom back, her new friendship with a boy, Paul Dobbs, who most decidedly does NOT believe in God.

One of the book's greatest strengths is in the writing itself:
But the thing is, ideas are my talent. My only talent, really. My voice isn't right for singing, I freeze up in the spelling bee, and I can't shoot a basket to save my life. If I stop coming up with ideas, I'm not gonna have anything left to do or talk about. (5)
Personally, I think if you're an only child, you should automatically be issued a dog when you're born, as a consolation prize, but my mama and daddy disagree. (6)
"Daddy, what are we gonna say when people ask us about Mama?" I stir my bowl of milk. Daddy's right. I'm dawdling. "The truth, baby. They're church folks. Church folks understand other church folks." (23)
Paul isn't a redhead like his mama and sister, and he isn't exactly distinguished-looking either, but he is nice to look at. For a boy that I'm always getting a little mad at, I mean. (44)
I do find it interesting that faith in God is such a big part of this book. Not every character even believes in God. As I mentioned, Paul doesn't. And he challenges Ivy in several scenes, for better or worse. Why do you believe in a God you can't even see? Why do you think there is a God in the first place? How do you know he's real? Why aren't you more skeptical? But there are a handful of characters that do believe in God that do define themselves by their faith in God. And Ivy herself as emotional as she is, as angry as she becomes, does still believe in God.

Does the book get Christianity right? That's hard to say in a way. If your impression of Christianity is that it is a do religion: a do this, this, this, and that religion--a religion defined by things you do and things you don't do--I'm not sure there is enough gospel, enough grace, in The Great Good Summer to change that impression. If you (rightly) hold that Christianity is a done religion: what Christ has done for us, on our behalf, the price he paid to redeem us, to deliver us, then there aren't any passages that scream out heresy either. Though this passage makes me sad:
I hope you can forgive me sometime, Ivy. In the meantime I have to work on forgiving myself. And then it's up to God. That's the really awful thing about this whole mess--I was just trying to get closer to God, which makes it even bigger shame that I messed up as badly as I did." (183)
There were so many things I wanted to say to them both. Like it isn't about trying: trying to be better, or trying to do more. It's about trusting in what God has already done. It's about trusting that Jesus is enough. That God could not love you more than he already does. That he could not love you less either. That he really and truly has paid it all. 

I didn't quite love, love, love this one. But it certainly was worth reading.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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5. Lost in the Sun (2015)

Lost in the Sun. Lisa Graff. 2015. Penguin. 304 pages. [Source: Library]

It's funny how the simplest thing, like riding your bike to the park the way you've done nearly every summer afternoon since you ditched your training wheels, can suddenly become so complicated. If you let it.  

Lost in the Sun reminded me of Speak in some ways. Trent Zimmerman is a disturbed sixth grader who has trouble dealing with something traumatic that happened in his past. He uses art--a journal--to express his feelings, for art comes easier than words. His art is disturbing, violent. Trent feels undeserving. He doesn't deserve friends, so he thinks. He doesn't deserve to be happy. Which, for Trent, means that he shouldn't be playing sports. He feels he owes it to the past--to what happened--to be miserable and to feel the pain of that moment every moment after. Trent also has some major anger issues with his Dad.

Lost in the Sun is a good read, a serious one. My favorite thing about Lost in the Sun was the friendship between Trent and Fallon Little, 'the girl with the scar.' Fallon and Trent are so good for one another. The movie club was such a cute element of this one. As was his watering plants for the teacher that he hated oh-so-much at the start of this one.

I thought Lost in the Sun was well written. It's a compelling read that felt realistic. I think if you like sports--baseball especially--then this one will have any more appeal. (I'm not a sports fan, but, I enjoyed it anyway).

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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6. Pete The Cat's Train Trip (2015)


Pete The Cat's Train Trip (I Can Read) James Dean. 2015. HarperCollins. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Pete the Cat is going to visit his grandma. He gets to ride on a train. Pete's mom buys three tickets. She gives one to Pete and one to his brother, Bob.

Premise/plot: Pete and his family (his mom and his brother) are on their way to visit Grandma. They are traveling by train, of course. Will Pete have a great time on the train?!

My thoughts: I do love Pete the Cat!!! And train books are always in demand it seems! So the combination should prove appealing. I certainly enjoyed it. Perhaps not as much as Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons or Pete the Cat I Love My White Shoes. This book does not have a song like the earliest Pete the Cat books. But Pete is a lovable character that I still adore.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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7. The Upstairs Room (1972)

The Upstairs Room. Johanna Reiss. 1972.  HarperCollins. 208 pages. [Source: Library]

I am so glad I decided to read Johanna Reiss' The Upstairs Room. This one has been on my list of books I needed to read for quite a while--over a decade at least. It is nonfiction--a biography--set during World War II. The author and her sister were Jews that hid for several years from the Nazis.

Readers meet Annie, the young heroine, and her family. She has several older sisters, a mother and father. The war changes everything for the family. The mother, who was close to death anyway--the Nazis invasion of Holland didn't really change the outcome. The family found hiding places, but, separate hiding places. Annie was placed in a hiding place with one of her sisters. Readers meet the two families that hid the two girls. One family became like a second family to her. I found the book to be a quick read, and quite intense.

The book itself was well-written: both compelling and well-paced. What surprised me a little bit, and what might surprise others as well, is the language. I wasn't expecting (strong) profanity in a Newbery Honor book! I really wasn't. That being said, it wasn't a huge issue for me--as an adult reader. But I could see how it might not work for certain families as a read-aloud choice.


© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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8. The Far Side of Evil

The Far Side of Evil. Sylvia Engdahl. 1971/2003. Penguin. 336 pages. [Source: Library]

The wind is howling through the trees outside, a cold, hateful wind. By standing on the bunk I can just barely reach the window. It's quite dark now, and the stars are brilliant, though they seem terribly far away. They, at least, are familiar and comforting, a reminder of home.
Elana, our heroine, has just graduated from the Federation Anthropological Service Academy. Her first "official" assignment has her going undercover on the youngling planet, Toris. The planet is in the "Critical Stage," and the Federation is sending dozens of agents in undercover. It's an information gathering mission, not one of intervention. The goal: blend in as much as possible with the Younglings, and transmit your observations when possible. It's dangerous because if Toris goes critical--uses nuclear weapons--then all the agents are essentially just as doomed as the younglings themselves. The only other agent Elana knows is another recent graduate. His name is Randil. He's a mess.

Toris has two "warring" governments, which is putting the planet in "Critical Stage." Elana's cover gets blown, and she's captured as a spy. The book is her report of how she become imprisoned and how she's handling the daily torture.

The premise of Far Side of Evil is simple. All civilizations--all planets--evolve through a critical stage, a stage where they choose to use their technology for weapons--nuclear warfare--or they choose to use their technology to go to the stars, to explore and colonize space.

Did I like The Far Side of Evil? Not really. Why? That's a good question. Was it because the chapters were way too long? Perhaps. Was it because it lacked the charm of The Enchantress From the Stars? Perhaps. I will say that Enchantress from the Stars has an almost fairy-tale feel to it in places. It reads like a fantasy book. Was it Randil's fault? Probably. He certainly proves irritating and infuriating. But it wasn't his fault alone. I also found Elana's narration to be less than ideal. I found her to be smug, arrogant, condescending, and repetitive. Why was Elana so likeable in Enchantress from the Stars and so unlikeable in Far Side of Evil? I think in the first book she was more vulnerable, and less confident in her abilities. She wasn't alone. She was acting under the advice of other older-and-wiser Federation agents, including her father. Both books are premise-driven to a certain extent; but Far Side of Evil is only premise-driven, and Enchantress from the Stars is plot-driven and character-driven too.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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9. Seuss on Saturday #24

Fox in Socks. Dr. Seuss. 1965. Random House. 72 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence:
Fox
Socks
Box
Knox
Knox in box.
Fox in socks.
Knox on fox in socks in box. 

Premise/plot: Straight from the cover: This is a book you READ ALOUD to find out just how smart your tongue is. The first time you read it, don't go fast! This Fox is a tricky fox. He'll try to get your tongue in trouble. I couldn't really say it better than that. The main characters are the fox and Mr. Knox. Can Mr. Knox outfox the Fox?!

My thoughts: I love, love, love Fox in Socks. This is one of my favorite Dr. Seuss books. It's just so silly, so over-the-top, so memorable. Do you have a favorite scene or two?
New goo. Blue goo.
Gooey. Gooey.
Blue goo. New goo.
Gluey. Gluey.
Gooey goo
for chewy chewing!
When tweetle beetles fight,
it's called
a tweetle beetle battle.
And when they
battle in a puddle,
it's a tweetle
beetle puddle battle.
AND when tweetle beetles
battle with paddles in a puddle,
they call it a tweetle
beetle puddle paddle battle.
AND...
Those are two of my favorites scenes.

Have you read Fox in Socks? Did you like it? love it? hate it? I'd love to know what you thought 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 I Wish That I Had Duck Feet.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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10. I Will Take A Nap

I Will Take A Nap. Mo Willems. 2015. Hyperion. 64 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: I am tired. And cranky. I will take a nap! I like to nap. I am happier when I am rested.

Premise/plot: Gerald, the elephant, is TIRED and CRANKY. What does Gerald need? A nap, of course! Will Gerald get a nap, a PROPER nap, that is?! Or will Piggie keep him from getting the rest he so desperately needs?!

My thoughts: I liked this one very much. Of course, I always like Gerald and Piggie very much. I adore this series so much. I liked it for all the reasons I like Elephant & Piggie. I like the relationship between Gerald and Piggie, their friendship. I like how these two balance each other out. They just make a great team. I like Gerald. I like Piggie. But together they are better. Together they are perfect. But one of the strongest reasons I like the series so much is how expressive the books are. I love the illustrations. Gerald and Piggie are drawn with such expression--such emotion--on every page. And these expressions are oh-so-easy to relate to! For example, I love Gerald's expression when Piggie wakes him up on page 12! And Gerald's expression when Piggie is doing all the snoring?! Loved it! That one is on page 34.

Have you read I Will Take A Nap? Did you like it? love it?

Do you have a favorite book in the series?


© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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11. Stella by Starlight (2015)

Stella by Starlight. Sharon M. Draper. 2015. Simon & Schuster. 336 pages. [Source: Library]

Nine robed figures dressed all in white. Heads covered with softly pointed hoods. Against the black of night, a single wooden cross blazed. Reflections of peppery-red flames shimmered across the otherwise dark surface of Kilkenny Pond. 

Stella by Starlight is set in Bumblebee, North Carolina, in the fall of 1932. What can I say about this one? I could say many things, but, I'll start with this: I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED IT.

I loved the narration. I loved the heroine, Stella, she makes a remarkable narrator. I loved her voice and her spirit. I loved the characterization--it was rich. I loved meeting Stella and her brother, Jojo. I loved her parents. I loved getting to know her neighbors. I loved that we get a real sense of community and place. It was the kind of novel that is completely absorbing--compelling. I loved the drama and the intensity. Stella by Starlight is what happens in one community after three African-American men decide to register to vote. The book captures why the men chose to act, what voting meant to them, what it represented. The book captures what it meant to their families and the community as well. Stella knows, for example, that it is a courageous act for her father, and, a necessary one as well. She's proud of her father for doing what he feels is right--knows is right. But Stella also knows a healthy-fear of the KKK. The book captures that uncertainty, that fear, it brings the community together as one. I also loved the religious/spiritual aspects of this one: how central the church is, how central the Christian faith is in the community. It celebrates faith, and shows it to be a powerful force. Stella by Starlight is beautifully written. I highly recommend it! 

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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12. Gone Crazy in Alabama (2015)

Gone Crazy in Alabama. Rita Williams-Garcia. 2015. HarperCollins. 304 pages. [Source: Library]

Vonetta, Fern, and I didn't sleep well last night or the night before. There's something about preparing for a trip that draws my sisters and me closer together than we already are. Maybe it's the planning and excitement of going places or seeing who we're going to see. 

Gone Crazy in Alabama is the third novel about the Gaither sisters. The first two are One Crazy Summer and P.S. Be Eleven. I really LOVED both previous books in the series, so my expectations for the third book were HIGH.

In the third book, the three sisters travel on their own to visit relatives in Alabama: they will be visiting their grandma, Big Ma; their great-grandmother, Ma Charles; and their Uncle Varnell, the one who stole from them in P.S. Be Eleven. (Also they will be spending time with Jimmy Trotter their older cousin).

I was not disappointed with Gone Crazy in Alabama. I loved it for much of the same reasons as I loved the previous novels in the series.

I loved the characterization. All three sisters--Delphine, Vonetta, Fern--and their extended family are wonderfully, believably flawed. The tension between the family members feels genuine and not forced. The family from the first book through the third book just feels oh-so-believably-right.

I loved the writing, the storytelling. I loved the dialogue too.

I loved the setting. Gone Crazy in Alabama is set in Alabama in the summer of 1969. Among other things, the book features the family gathering around the television and watching the Apollo 11 moon mission. But the book isn't just about that memorable moment, far from it. Most of the drama in Gone Crazy in Alabama is FAMILY DRAMA. Drama between the sisters' great-aunt and great-grandmother (a family feud) and drama between the three girls themselves. Relationships will be tested...

Gone Crazy in Alabama is a great coming-of-age novel.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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13. Return to Gone-Away (1961)

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

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

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

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

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

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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14. Seuss on Saturday #26

I Had Trouble In Getting to Solla Sollew. Dr. Seuss. 1965. Random House. 59 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence:
I was real happy and carefree and young
And I lived in a place called the Valley of Vung
And nothing, not anything every went wrong
Until...well, one day I was walking along
And I guess I got careless. I guess I got gawking
At daisies and not looking where I was walking...
And that's how it started.

Premise/plot: The narrator tries and tries to avoid having trouble in his life. That is one reason why he is trying to get to Solla Sollew in the first place. He's heard that in the City of Solla Sollew 'they never have troubles, at least very few.' But can he ever get there? He faces one challenge after another in his attempts to get there... If he gets there, will he truly find a trouble-free existence awaits him?

My thoughts: I don't remember ever having read I Had Trouble In Getting to Solla Sollew before. I liked it, I did. It was oh-so-easy to relate to the narrator. And the narrator makes some good observations. For example, "And I learned there are troubles of more than one kind. Some come from ahead and some come from behind." The illustration of our poor narrator trying to look out for trouble in back and in front is something. Did I like the ending? Yes and no. I agree that you do have to face the troubles that come your way, but, the narrator's solution is that all you need to face those troubles is a big bat. (I think it works in his situation especially.)

This one might pair well with Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst which was first published in 1972.   

Have you read I Had Trouble In Getting to Solla Sollew. Did you like it? love it? hate it? I'd love to know what you thought 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 Foot Book.
 
© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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15. Three Tales of My Father's Dragon

Three Tales of My Father's Dragon. Ruth Stiles Gannett. Illustrated by Ruth Chrisman Gannett. 1987. Random House. 242 pages. [Source: Library]

I really enjoyed reading My Father's Dragon (1948), Elmer And the Dragon (1950), and The Dragons of Blueland (1951), all by Ruth Stiles Gannett. (My Father's Dragon was a Newbery Honor book for 1949.) I'd read My Father's Dragon before many years ago--long before I started blogging--but this was my first opportunity, I believe, to read the two sequels.

I loved the way My Father's Dragon opens:
One cold rainy day when my father was a little boy, he met an old alley cat on his street. The cat was very drippy and uncomfortable so my father said, "Wouldn't you like to come home with me?" This surprised the cat--she had never before met anyone who cared about old alley cats--but she said, "I'd be very much obliged if I could sit by a warm furnace, and perhaps have a saucer of milk." "We have a very nice furnace to sit by, said my father, "and I'm sure my mother has an extra saucer of milk." My father and the cat became good friends but my father's mother was very upset about the cat. She hated cats, particularly ugly old alley cats. "Elmer Elevator," she said to my father, "if you think I'm going to give that cat a saucer of milk, you're very wrong. Once you start feeding stray alley cats you might as well expect to feed every stray in town, and I am not going to do it!"
 This opening hooked me. It is through the cat--his cat--that he learns of a baby dragon in desperate need of help. He tells of the Island of Tangerina and Wild Island. He learns about the captive dragon and the dangerous residents of the island. He is determined to help free the dragon. The cat helps him form a plan...

The first book is all about his going to the islands, his adventures and misadventures as he's looking for the dragon--it's a good thing he came to the island well-prepared! Does he find the dragon? You can guess the answer to that. Of course he does!

My Father's Dragon is a delightful fantasy book for very young readers. It's short and quite satisfying.

In Elmer and the Dragon, Elmer starts his journey home--by dragon. His new dragon friend will fly him home. But neither Elmer or the dragon know the way home precisely. Elmer ends up having just as many adventures returning home as he did running away from home. One of the stops along the way is Feather Island, the home of all 'lost' canaries.

In The Dragons of Blueland, the dragon sets off to return to his own family that he hasn't seen since his captivity. He's anxious to be reunited. But when he returns, he learns that his own family--his very large family--has been trapped in their cave. The entrance is guarded by men intent on capturing them or perhaps even killing them. He needs to find a way to help his family! So he seeks out Elmer...

All three books are great. It's oh-so-easy to recommend these.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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16. B is for Betsy (1939)

B is for Betsy. Carolyn Haywood. 1939. 144 pages. [Source: Library]

I enjoyed reading "B" is for Betsy by Carolyn Haywood. It's one I've read before, though I don't remember reading the sequels, or all the sequels in this children's series. (Other books include Betsy and Billy, Back to School With Betsy, and Betsy and the Boys). In the first book, readers meet a young girl, Betsy, who is nervous about starting school. Though her anxiety is relieved after a successful day or two at school. The focus throughout the book is on Betsy's life at school and home. Each chapter has an "adventure" of sorts. Some of the adventures are more of an actual adventure. (For example, there is a chapter where Betsy finds and rescues a neighborhood dog from a pit she had fallen into. It may prove more 'exciting' than the chapter on the class' two pet tadpoles.) The book celebrates childhood, family life, friendship, and community.

It was originally published in 1939. In one of the chapters "How Wiggle and Waggle Grew," the class learns about Indians and makes an Indian village.
They made little wigwams of twigs covered with brown paper. They brought little dolls which they colored with reddish-brown paint. Some they dressed as squaws. Miss Grey had told them that the Indian women were called squaws. Some they dressed as Indian Braves. The Braves were the men who did the hunting and fighting while the squaws stayed home and did the work. Ellen brought a tiny doll which Miss Grey fastened on the back of one of the squaws. It was the squaw's papoose, which is the Indian name for baby. Betsy thought the Indian village was beautiful. (50-1)
So it's definitely a product of its time. For better and for worse. Betsy's world is quite different than ours. In Betsy's world, it's safe to walk everywhere, play anywhere, and every adult is a friend.

I wouldn't say it's a must-read children's classic, but, it is an enjoyable enough read for those looking for an old-fashioned read.


© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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17. Revisiting Princess Academy

Princess Academy. Shannon Hale. 2005. Bloomsbury. 314 pages. [Source: Library]

I enjoyed rereading Shannon Hale's Princess Academy. I wanted to reread both Princess Academy and Palace of Stone before reading the third book out just this year. There isn't always time for me--unfortunately--to reread all the books in a series each time a new book is released, but, I do try to make it a priority when I've loved the author's work in the past. And that is certainly the case with Shannon Hale! 

Miri is the heroine of Princess Academy. She is small, for her age, and is, in a way, kept separate from others her own age for the simple fact that everyone but Miri is already working in the quarry. Miri tends the goats and keeps house for her family: her older sister and father. (Her mother died within a week of giving birth to her.) Her father isn't a man of many words, and, Miri misunderstands much. The community in which she lives is dependent on traders. They work the quarry and mine linder, they trade the precious stone for food and other supplies. It is both an anxious and exciting time for the village. This year is especially so. For this year the trader brings a BIG, BIG message. All the girls of the community--within a certain age, I believe twelve or thirteen to sixteen or so--MUST attend Princess Academy. For the prophets have revealed that Mount Eskel is the home of the future Princess/Queen. The prince heir (Steffan) will visit the academy in one year to choose his bride. All the girls must be trained and educated for any one of the girls could potentially be 'the one'. It is a huge shock to the community. Miri, of course, is one of the girls.

Readers get to know many of the girls at the Princess Academy. Some better than others, of course. Britta and Katar are two girls that get much attention. For very different reasons though. The book chronicles Miri's time at the academy: what she's learning, what they're all learning, what she likes, what she wants, etc. One thing she wants is to be able to go home more frequently and see Peder, the boy she loves and hopes one day to marry.

Another focus of the book is on quarry speech and the magical qualities of linder.

The book celebrates stories and storytelling and the power of words and literacy, the importance of education and knowledge. Miri is wise because she is able to absorb what she's taught and use it to her advantage and to the community's advantage.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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18. Seuss on Saturday #21

Sleep Book. Dr. Seuss. 1962. Random House. 64 pages. [Source: Library]

 First sentence:
The news 
Just came in
From the County of Keck
That a very small bug
By the name of Van Vleck
Is yawning so wide
You can look down his neck.
This may not seem 
Very important, I know.
But it is. So I'm bothering 
Telling you so.

Premise/plot: A book to read at bedtime. It's addressed directly to readers, to you. Readers meet plenty of Seuss creations that are either already asleep or nearly so.

My thoughts: I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Dr. Seuss's Sleep Book. I can't read it--even silently--without yawning. I love so many things about it including...
  • the time for night-brushing of teeth is at hand.
  • the number of sleepers is steadily growing. Bed is where more and more people are going.
  • the Audio-Telly-o-Tally-o Count, a machine that lets us know who is down and who's up
  • They're even asleep in the Zwieback Motel! And people don't usually sleep there too well.
  • moose dreaming of moose juice, goose dreaming of goose juice...
  • Ziffer-Zoof seeds, which nobody wants because nobody needs.
The Sleep Book is one of my favorite books by Dr. Seuss. I love the story, the rhythm and rhyme, the silliness.

Have you read The Sleep Book? 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 Dr. Seuss' ABC.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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19. Revisiting Palace of Stone

Palace of Stone. (Princess Academy #2) Shannon Hale. 2012. Bloomsbury. 323 pages. [Source: Library]

I definitely enjoyed rereading Shannon Hale's Palace of Stone, the sequel to Princess Academy. It was great to read these two books back to back. Having that continuity certainly helped me appreciate it all the more.

Miri is the heroine of Palace of Stone. Princess Academy concludes with Prince Steffan choosing Miri's friend, Britta, to be his wife. Britta and Steffan had known each other before and had fallen in love with each other. But Britta was not from Mount Eskel. Not until her father pushes her into a big deception: she MUST go live a year on Mount Eskel, she must be an orphan sent to live with oh-so-distant relatives on the mountain. She must attend the academy. No one but Miri and Britta and Steffan know the absolute truth. (Well, obviously her ambitious parents know.)

Palace of Stone opens with Miri and a handful of other Princess Academy graduates preparing to go with traders to the capital city. They have all been invited by Britta, they are her ladies. Miri will have an extra privilege as well. She'll be the first person from Mount Eskel to go to university. (Queen's Castle) She is thrilled and anxious and overwhelmed. She really WANTS to learn, to keep on learning, to absorb as much as she possibly can, so she can return to the village she loves and teach others what she's learned in her year away. She is a most eager and motivated student. She's also a great listener. She tries to stay close to Britta and the others, but, it isn't always easy since she's so busy.

And then there is of course her spying. Katar, the representative of Mount Eskel, her former classmate, has begged for Miri's help. She KNOWS that many are discontent and eager for revolution. But she can't seek these 'traitors' out herself and spy for the royal family. But Miri, well, she can be her eyes and ears. She may quite naturally come across these people at university or in the community. (Miri does have greater access, wider access, than some of the other girls.)

Miri learns all about the cause of 'the shoeless.' What she learns about the royal family, what she learns about the nobility, changes her. How can she LIKE such despicable people who are so cruel, so smug, so unfeeling?! She loves Britta, and, she wants to believe that Steffan isn't just like his father, but, she sees the rightness of the cause...

What will Miri do? What can she do? Will revolution come and change the kingdom forever? Or will Miri find a way to save the day?

Readers definitely meet a lot more characters in Palace of Stone. And the book is a quick, satisfying read. Her love of Peder remains strong throughout despite the fact that she's tempted a few times to entertain the attentions of another young man--a fellow student.

The book is beautifully complex in its characterization. It's easy to recommend both books. 

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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20. The Sound of Music Story

The Sound of Music Story: How A Beguiling Young Novice, A Handsome Austrian Captain and Ten Singing von Trapp Children Inspired the Most Beloved Film of All Time. Tom Santopietro. 2015. St. Martin's Press. 324 pages. [Source: Library]

I enjoyed reading Tom Santopietro's The Sound of Music Story. Did I enjoy each chapter equally? Probably not. But what I was interested in, I was REALLY interested in, and, I was fine skimming the rest.

The book focuses on several things: 1) the story of the actual von Trapp family, both before and after the Sound of Music, 2) the Sound of Music on Broadway (its creation, duration, etc.) 3) the filming and reception of The Sound of Music (focus on the directing, producing, filming, acting, costuming, etc.) 4) the legacy of the Sound of Music, five decades worth of trivia on the film and the soundtrack, etc.

I loved reading about the filming of the movie. I did. I loved reading about the filming of particular scenes and particular songs. It was just fun. There were chapters of this one that were just giddy-making.

Not all of the book was equally captivating to me. But I appreciated the thoroughness of it.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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21. A Touch of Stardust (2015)

A Touch of Stardust. Kate Alcott. 2015. Doubleday. 304 pages. [Source: Library]

I enjoyed reading Kate Alcott's A Touch of Stardust. Julie Crawford is the heroine who provides readers with a behind the scenes glimpse into the filming of Gone With The Wind. The setting, of course, is Hollywood in 1939. Julie, soon after we meet her, becomes a personal assistant and friend of actress Carole Lombard, the girlfriend of Clark Gable. So readers get a behind the scenes glimpse of this couple as well--their public and private lives. Julie is dating Andy, David Selznick's assistant. The book is about all the changes and transitions in her life: her move to California, her new job, her dreams of being a screen writer, her love life, the connections she's making, the relationships she's building, etc. A little bit about everything. She oh-so-conveniently is on the set during major scenes of the movie. Not that I minded, but, Julie is always in the right place to get the best story it seems!

One thing I did like about the novel was the context--or perhaps contrast is the better word. The world is at war, horrible things are happening in Europe, and the disinterestedness of America is highlighted. Andy, who is Jewish, is very concerned about what's going on, and what it means, and he's worried about his family--his grandparents especially--still in Germany. Serious things are happening, and, that is contrasted by the superficiality and gossipy nature of Hollywood.

I liked this one. I'm not sure I loved it. But it tempted me. Should I consider rereading Gone With the Wind this year?

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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22. Seuss on Saturday #22

Dr. Seuss's ABC. Dr. Seuss. 1960. Random House. 72 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence:
Big A
Little a
What begins with A?
Aunt Annie's alligator...A...a...A
Premise/plot: An alphabet book. What more can I say? There are silly sentences for each letter of the alphabet. For example, "Four fluffy feathers on a Fiffer-feffer-feff."

My thoughts: I like this one fine. I don't love it. I don't not-love it. Some sentences are funner or funnier to read aloud. Not all letters are equally delightful.

Have you read Dr. Seuss's ABC book? Did you like it? love it? hate it? I'd love to know what you thought 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 Hop on Pop.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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23. Saint Anything (2015)

Saint Anything. Sarah Dessen. 2015. Penguin. 432 pages. [Source: Library]

Saint Anything is the newest YA romance book by Sarah Dessen. I've read almost all of Dessen's novels, and I've enjoyed them all. Some I've LOVED. Some I've merely "really liked." I enjoyed

Sydney is the heroine of Saint Anything. Sydney's year will be one of adjustment. Her brother, Peyton, is newly sentenced to a prison term. (While drunk, he ran over a kid on a bicycle.) Sydney's mom is all about Peyton, for better or worse. It would be one thing if this was a recent development, if her concern, her above-and-beyond concern, was based on his behavior, his great need. But that's the way it's always been, at least according to Sydney. Peyton has always, always been THE ONE her mother has given all her time and attention to. As for Sydney's dad, well, he's not as bad as her mom certainly, but, he's not really giving full emotional support to his wife or his daughter. Then again, he's only human, and he has feelings to process too. I think he's making some effort, but, probably putting his wife's needs first. That being said, did I "like" her parents? Not for the longest time. I thought they were oblivious.

So Sydney decides to change schools and make some new friends. And predictably--for a Dessen novel--these new friends are WONDERFUL and AMAZING and allow Sydney to become comfortable in her own skin for the first time ever. She meets the Chatham family, owners of Seaside Pizza. She becomes best, best friends with Layla Chatham; she falls madly in love with Mac Chatham. (Readers also get to meet the parents, and an older sister, Rose, in addition to Layla's other friends, and Mac's bandmates.)

There are, of course, plenty of dramatic moments. And the romance isn't rushed, which is nice. I love the depth of the characterization. It is what I've come to expect from Sarah Dessen, of course, so no surprises. But it's always wonderful to see a book with human characters, and it's something that should always be mentioned when it's done well.

Saint Anything is predictable in some ways. I can't say that I was surprised by anything in the plot. But that's not a bad thing, or not always a bad thing. It can actually be quite wonderful to come to a book knowing exactly what to expect and knowing that you won't be disappointed.
Saint Anything. I didn't love, love, love it. But it's easy to say that I really liked it.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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24. Meet Professor Moriarty

The Infernal Device. Michael Kurland. 1978. 255 pages. [Source: Library]

I'm caught up on watching Sherlock, but, far from caught up on reading Sherlock--original Sherlock especially. Still when I saw that Moriarty had his own series, well, I had to check it out from the library. In The Infernal Device readers meet Professor Moriarty and his journalist employee, Barnett. (Moriarty having recently "rescued" Barnett from an Eastern prison and certain death--he was framed for murder--he's in Moriarty's debt--or employ--for two years.) How does Barnett like Professor James Moriarty? He admires him, respects him, enjoys his company. Does Barnett see the "real" Moriarty? Or is Moriarty keeping his darker side from his new friend and employee? Certainly Moriarty is aware that there are a handful of people--namely Sherlock Holmes--who thinks Moriarty is pure evil. But convinced, Barnett is not! Holmes does make a handful of appearances in this one. In fact, to solve the mystery, they may have to join together temporarily to save the monarchy.

Readers spend time with both men as the mystery unfolds. The Infernal Device is a mystery with plenty of politics and action.  Did I love it? Well, if I didn't love, love, love it, I certainly LIKED it well enough. 

Death by Gaslight. Michael Kurland. 1982. 279 pages. [Source: Library]

I also enjoyed reading the second in the series, Death by Gaslight. While I didn't rush through it like I did Infernal Device, I found it mostly compelling. It is set two years after The Infernal Device. Barnett has finished--just finished--his "required" time working for him, but, he has no thoughts of leaving Moriarty's service. He's enjoying himself much too much. Life is rarely boring, and, he's even had time to fall in love...

Can Moriarty catch a serial killer? Someone is killing aristocratic gentleman--in their homes, in locked rooms. With only a few clues, can he solve the mystery, find the killer, and see that justice is done? Can he do a better job than the police? a better job than Sherlock Holmes? Perhaps. Especially since Holmes spends nearly the entire book absolutely convinced that Moriarty is behind each and every murder.

I enjoyed this one too. I look forward to reading more books in this series at some point.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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25. Pioneer Girl (2014)

Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography. Laura Ingalls Wilder. Edited by Pamela Smith Hill. 2014. South Dakota State Historical State Society. 400 pages. [Source: Library]
Pioneer Girl is a must-read for anyone who grew up loving, or perhaps, LOVING, Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House books. Pioneer Girl is an annotated autobiography. The book itself is a draft of an autobiography written by Laura Ingalls Wilder circa 1930. Mother and daughter worked with this draft preparing to send it to various publishers (not just book publishers) for a year or two. (There are several draft versions of Pioneer Girl.) Eventually, the focus shifts from writing an adult autobiography to writing a series of historical fiction novels for children. The adult autobiography was "forgotten" as a book itself, and becomes a source--a good source--for mother and daughter to use in their own fiction. I didn't know that Rose Wilder Lane borrowed generously from her mom's autobiography while writing her adult fiction. Lane wrote Free Land and Let the Hurricane Roar (Young Pioneers).

The autobiography shares Laura Ingalls Wilder's earliest memories through her wedding day. (Those earliest memories are of being a toddler in Kansas.) These memories are, of course, in her own words. The writing is natural and casual. Some paragraphs are great at capturing details and specifics of an event. Other paragraphs are more of a rush, a blend, they seem a bit fuzzier, less exact. These are her very personal reflections written first for her daughter, and, then possibly for a larger audience. Wilder has turned reflective. She's older now, feeling that very much. (Her mom died in 1924, her sister, Mary, in 1928. She's wanting to capture these memories, these stories, to hold onto them perhaps.) One also sees the book itself as an act of love, an expression of love, a way of remembering and honoring.

The annotations are wonderful. They provide background and context. The annotations includes notes on a wide variety of subjects a) people b) places c) events d) nature e) culture (songs, dances, fashion), f) writing, editing, and publishing. There are plenty of notes that compare and contrast scenes and events as they appear in Pioneer Girl and as they appear in one of the original novels. Readers see how a memory recorded in Pioneer Girl is shaped and crafted into a finished product with plenty of detail and even dialogue. Readers see how Wilder carefully--oh-so-carefully--crafted the characters of the family. One gets the definite impression that she was purposeful with every scene, every book. It was no accident that Pa is so noble, independent, strong, and bigger-than-life almost.

I learned so much by reading Pioneer Girl. I would definitely recommend it for anyone who has enjoyed spending time with Laura and her family through the years.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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