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1. 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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2. 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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3. 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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4. 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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5. 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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6. 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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7. Ramona's World (1999)

Ramona's World. Beverly Cleary. 1999. HarperCollins. 240 pages. [Source: Library]

Ramona's World is the last book in the series. Ramona is in fourth grade now. And she's definitely got a big crush on Yard Ape. (There's been no mention at all of Henry Huggins lately or of Mary Jane for that matter.)

"Ramona Spreads the News" Ramona starts fourth grade. She's anxious to spread the news that she's a big sister. Her baby sister, Roberta, is oh-so-cute and oh-so-little. Ramona meets the new girl, Daisy, and hopes that they can become BEST friends.

"The Role Model" Does Ramona like spelling? Does Ramona like teachers that emphasis how important spelling is? Does she like teachers that pick on and point out all her spelling mistakes word by word in front of the whole class? She does not! She is not liking her new teacher very much. But Roberta can make her day better. Roberta copies Ramona and sticks out her tongue and makes cute faces.

"At Daisy's House" Ramona and Daisy get to know each other better and decide to be best friends.

"The Invitation" Beezus has a new best friend, Abby. Abby is having a boy-girl party and invites Beezus, of course. Beezus is excited and anxious and sneaks out to get her ears pierced.

"The Princess and the Witch" Ramona gets into trouble at Daisy's house, but, it isn't her fault, not really.

"The Party" Beezus attends a party, and Ramona goes with her Dad to drop her off. Her Dad has been teaching Beezus how to dance. Does the party go well?

"The Grown-Up Letter" Ramona sends off a letter when she sees something that bothers her in the paper. She impresses her teacher when she gets a reply.

"Peas" Ramona's picture day

"Ramona Sits" Ramona cat-sits Daisy's cat. It is NOT a fun week. Seven days feels like forever. Especially when her Mom leaves her in charge of Roberta too--for a whole FIFTEEN MINUTES.

"The Valentine Box" Valentine's Day. Will she treasure Yard Ape's valentine?

"Birthday Girl" Ramona turns 10, has a party, shares her cake with boys, and learns something surprising about her old nemesis, Susan.

Part of me was sad to see an end to the series. I have loved visiting with Ramona so very much. The series did a good job at aging up the characters, however. Something that you can really appreciate better if you read the series all at once.

Do you have a favorite book in the series? Mine would probably be Ramona the Pest or Ramona the Brave or Ramona Quimby, Age 8.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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8. 17 Carnations (2015)

17 Carnations: The Royals, the Nazis, and the Biggest Cover-Up in History. Andrew Morton. 2015. 384 pages. [Source: Library]

Did I enjoy reading 17 Carnations: The Royals, The Nazis, and the Biggest Cover-Up in History? Yes and no. I enjoyed reading the first half very much. It was fascinating and informative. I couldn't put it down. The second half, however, felt both rushed and prolonged. Rushed in that the last few years of war were covered quite quickly and with no real detail. Prolonged in that the coverage of the "secret files" recovered seemed to go on forever and ever. And at the expense of covering the lives of the Duke and Duchess after the war.

I definitely am glad to have read it. It was my first book about Edward VIII (later Duke of Windsor). And I felt I learned much from reading it. I just wish it had stayed focused more on him and less on decades of cover-up. Or that it had handled the cover-up aspects a bit differently--in a more engaging way.

So the book isn't quite satisfying as a biography or as a "war book." Though it is almost both. I would say the book is definitely rich in detail and provides a unique perspective of the war and the royal family.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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9. Revisiting Lady Thief

Lady Thief. A.C. Gaughen. 2014. Walker Books. 304 pages. [Source: Review copy]

I wanted to reread Scarlet and Lady Thief in anticipation of the release of the third book, Lion Heart, this May. I read Scarlet and Lady Thief last spring and for the most part LOVED them. Particularly Lady Thief.

The heroine of Lady Thief is Marian (aka Scarlet). She's still very much in love with Robin Hood, but, she's been tempted with an offer almost too good to refuse. Her (abusive) husband will annul their marriage and let her go, if and only if, she plays the role of his wife while Prince John and his wife Isabel visit Nottingham. (A new sheriff needs to be appointed.) Also traveling with the royal family: Eleanor of Aquitaine, the queen mother. There's definite risk involved. But the idea of being free from him forever and ever and getting to have a happily ever after ending with her one true love blinds her for a bit. She agrees. What follows is a LOT of drama and angst and heartbreak. It's exciting and intense and emotional.

I love this adaptation of Robin Hood, a young Robin Hood. I love most all the characters. Robin Hood. John Little. Scarlet/Marian. Much. Tuck. And a few new characters as well: particularly Alan a Dale, Winchester, and Eleanor of Aquitaine. It's oh so easy to hate Prince John and Guy Gisbourne.

It's easy to recommend this series. I am eager to read the third book!


© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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10. Gone-Away Lake (1957)

Gone Away Lake. Elizabeth Enright. 1957. 256 pages. [Source: Library]

I enjoyed reading Elizabeth Enright's Gone-Away Lake. I am so glad to be participating in the Newbery Through the Decades reading project. I've been motivated to read many books that I probably never would have read.

Gone-Away Lake tells the summertime adventure of two cousins: Portia and Julian. Early on in the summer these two stumble upon a muddy, dried-up lake. They discover a "ghost town" of sorts--the remnants of a lake resort community. To their great surprise, they discover that it is not as abandoned as it first appeared. Two people still live there. A brother and sister. (They live in separate houses.) Her name is Mrs. Cheever. His name is Mr. Payton. The four become friends--good friends. There are thousands of stories to be shared. Much to explore. Much to do.

I enjoyed this one very much. It's not an action-packed story (though it does have an intense scene or two--at least relatively speaking). It's definitely driven by the interesting characters. (Something I can definitely appreciate!)

Have you read Gone-Away Lake? What did you think? How do you think it compares to Thimble Summer?

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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11. Completely Clementine (2015)

Completely Clementine. Sara Pennypacker. 2015. Disney-Hyperion. 192 pages. [Source: Library]

Completely Clementine is the seventh book in the series. Clementine is just as lovable as in earlier books. I continue to like the series very much. It's interesting to read Clementine so soon after reading all the Ramona books. I definitely love, love, love the Ramona books. But I solidly like the Clementine ones. I think I definitely would have liked them as a kid.

In this book:
  • Clementine struggles with saying goodbye to her favorite teacher
  • Clementine worries about if she's really ready for fourth grade like her teacher, her parents, and her principal say she is
  • Clementine nurtures her anger at her father for not suddenly becoming vegetarian; she refuses to speak to him for most of the book
  • Clementine anxiously waits for the birth of her baby sister
I perhaps could have done without the vegetarian element in the story. I'm not sure it's fair for a child to dictate what her parents eat in their own home. And I think she carries the silent treatment a bit too far.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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12. Meet Phryne Fisher

Cocaine Blues. (Phryne Fisher #1) Kerry Greenwood. 1989/2007. Poisoned Pen Press. 175 pages. [Source: Library]

I wanted to like Cocaine Blues. I did. There were a few things about this mystery that I did enjoy. I enjoyed the setting. Australia in the 1920s. I enjoyed the fact that there were several story lines going on at once: how Phryne Fisher had several cases, or potential cases, that she was looking into. On the surface, at least, these are all unconnected interests. The first is perhaps the least entertaining, the "case" that brought her to Australia to begin with: a concerned father wanting to check up on his daughter. He thinks she's being poisoned. One story, as you might have guessed, is about cocaine. One of Phryne's new acquaintances is searching for 'the king' of cocaine. There's a third story as well, though I hesitate to tell you too much about ANY of the stories. The fact that there were multiple stories to follow or cases to solve helped the book a good deal. I also appreciated getting to know Phyrne's new maid. There were a few minor characters that I just liked almost from the start.

But what I didn't like is the amount of smut. Cocaine Blues is far from "clean" let's just say. There will be plenty of readers who will enjoy ALL the aspects of the mystery, but, I was not one of them.

Flying Too High. Kerry Greenwood. 1990/2006. Poisoned Pen Press. 156 pages. [Source: Library]

Did I enjoy Flying Too High? Yes and no. Once I started, I felt I had to finish it. For better or worse. I'm disappointed with some of the content. I expect certain types of romance novels to have smut, but, I don't like the blending of smut into mysteries. I enjoy mysteries very much, smut not so much. (Some readers probably enjoy both, so this series will probably have fans.)

What I liked most about Flying Too High were the multiple mysteries involved. I liked following all three stories. I liked Phryne best when she was actively working on a case, and keeping her mind focused on the case. Sometimes she got TOO distracted. I thought she acted a bit unprofessional at times too.

I will probably not continue on with the series.


© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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13. Dead Wake (2015)

Dead Wake. Erik Larson. 2015. Crown. 448 pages. [Source: Library]

Did I enjoy reading Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson? I'm not sure "enjoy" is the right word. But I certainly found it absorbing and compelling. It reads quite quickly despite the large cast of narrators and various perspectives. (I didn't miss a central narrator.)

It is abounding in detail: details about the ship, the captain and crew, the passengers, the cargo, about U-boats (submarines), about the war in Europe, about England, about Germany, about the United States.

One thing in particular that I found fascinating was "Room 40" the oh-so-secret British code-breakers that were decoding German transmissions and such. They were able to keep track of so much and make predictions about where the Germans might strike next. (But no warnings were sent to the Lusitania about all the recent activity by German submarines in their path just hours before.)

Another interesting aspect of the book is the focus on President Wilson--his personal private life and his public life. (Though it would be a huge stretch to say it is the most interesting aspect of the book.) Why was America so reluctant to enter the war? Why were they so sure they could avoid it no matter what? Did the loss of American lives really help change the general perception of the war and make the average American ready to enter the war? If it was, why wait almost two years to declare war?

The book definitely provides readers with a rich perspective of the times. It was suspenseful and full of tension in part because of all the questions that have no easy answers.

I would definitely recommend this one.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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14. 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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15. Ramona and Her Father (1977)

Ramona and Her Father. Beverly Cleary. 1977. HarperCollins. 208 pages. [Source: Library]

Ramona and Her Father is the fourth book in the Ramona series. This wonderful, unforgettable series was written over five decades. The first book, Beezus and Ramona was published in 1955! The fourth book in the series was published in 1977! The last book in the series was published in 1999! Many changes occurred throughout the decades, yet, Ramona remains timeless and just-about-perfect.

In Ramona and Her Father, Ramona is in second grade. (Have you noticed how almost all the books start in the late summer or early fall?!) Ramona's worries in this book mainly relate to her father. He loses his job, and, she's worried about him. She's worried for the family too, in a way, but, she's worried about him specifically. How he's coping, how he's handling it. (Not that she uses those words.) She's also worried about his physical health. She's worried that he's killing himself by smoking. And this fear is very real and very strong. She LOVES her Dad and sincerely cares for him.

"Payday" The family learns that Mr. Quimby lost his job.
"Ramona and the Million Dollars" Ramona gets the idea that she can star in commercials and make a lot of money. It gets her into trouble!
"The Night of the Jack-O'Lantern. The family carves a pumpkin only to have the cat ruin it all.
"Ramona to the Rescue" Ramona and Beezus team up to try to convince their dad to stop smoking.
"Beezus's Creative Writing" Ramona accompanies Beezus on a homework assignment, and a new game is discovered.
"The Sheep Suit" Christmas is a coming. Ramona wants to be a sheep. She volunteers her mom to make her a costume. (At least she didn't volunteer her mom to make all three costumes! So it could always be worse!) But will her mom have time to make the costume?! It doesn't look like it! Will Ramona get to be a sheep?
"Ramona and the Three Wise Persons" Pageant night! Ramona may not be wearing a satisfactory costume, but, will she go on and participate anyway? Three older girls filling in for the wise men may help her out! The book which has had its serious moments ends on a joyful tone.

Do you have a favorite cover?

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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16. The Family Under the Bridge (1958)

The Family Under the Bridge. Natalie Savage Carlson. Illustrated by Garth Williams. 1958/1989. HarperCollins. 123 pages.

Once there was an old hobo named Armand who wouldn't have lived anywhere but in Paris. So that is where he lived. Everything that he owned could be pushed around in an old baby buggy without any hood, so he had no worries about rents or burglars. All the ragged clothing he owned was on his back, so he didn't need to bother with trunks or dry-cleaners. It was easy for him to move from  one hidey-hole to another so that is what he was doing one late member in December.

Have you read The Family Under the Bridge?! Why did no one tell me how WONDERFUL it was? I read it and absolutely loved it.

The Family Under the Bridge is set in Paris in December. (So it would be perfect to read around Christmas or New Year's Day). Armand is the hero. As he prepares for winter, he makes plans to go and live under "his" bridge. When he arrives, he discovers that there is a family already living there. At first, he thought he would leave immediately and go find another bridge to live under. But. He lets himself be talked into staying. The family includes two little girls and a little boy and their mother.
"It looks to me like you've already found a new place," said Armand, "and it's my old place. You've put me out of my home just like that landlady did to you."
Suzy was apologetic. She moved the pushcart over and measured Armand with one eye closed. Then she carefully drew a long rectangle on the concrete with a piece of soft coal.
"That's your room," she said. "You can live with us." On second thought, she scrawled a small checkered square at the foot of the rectangle. "There's a window," she said gravely, "so you can look out and see the river."
Armand grumbled to himself and pulled his coat tighter across his chest as if to hide his heart. Oh, this starling was a dangerous one. He'd better move on. Paris was full of bridges, the way the Seine meandered through it. No trouble finding another one. But as he started away, the girl ran over and clutched him by his torn sleeve.
"Please stay," she begged. "We'll pretend you're our grandfather."
Armand snorted. "Little one," he said, "next to a millionaire a grandfather is the last thing I hope to be." But even as he grumbled, he began unpacking his belongings. (11-12)
He claims he doesn't have a heart, and doesn't want a family. But a family is soon what they become...especially when the authorities learn about the children living under the bridge... Can Armand save them all and prevent the family from being split up?!

As I said, I loved, loved, loved this one.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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17. Dragon Slippers

Dragon Slippers. Jessica Day George. 2007. Bloomsbury USA. 324 pages. [Source: Library]


I'm so glad I decided to revisit all three books in Jessica Day George's dragon series. I remember loving these when they first came out, but, I just haven't made time for a reread. Until now!

In Dragon Slippers, readers meet Creel, our heroine. Her aunt wants to "sacrifice" her to the local dragon, so that she can be "rescued" by a hero--hopefully a wealthy hero who will fall madly in love with her and want to marry her and support his wife's family. Creel doesn't particularly want to be left outside the dragon's cave to wait and see if a dragon or a hero comes her way. She wants to be a dressmaker. But if waiting for a dragon is the first step to her new life, well, she'll take it.

So she meets a dragon who gifts her--for better or worse--with a pair of shoes--slippers. They are blue; they are beautiful. She then goes on her way to her country's capital--the royal city. She's going to do her best to find a job in the dressmaking district. On her way there she may just meet another dragon, and, this dragon will become one of her best, best friends. His name is Shardas, and, I have to admit I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE him. His hoard is not shoes--like the previous dragon--it is glass, windows to be precise.

Creel's new life has begun. And it is never dull! On her first day in town, she accidentally meets a foreign princess, and a member of the royal family--though a second son--his name is Luka. Luka and Tobin (his bodyguard) help her find a place to stay and a place to work.

I loved this one. It's a great adventure story with humans and dragons. It was just a joy to rediscover this one.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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18. Red Berries, White Clouds, Blue Sky (2014)

Red Berries, White Clouds, Blue Sky. Sandra Dallas. 2014. Sleeping Bear Press. 216 pages. [Source: Library]

Tomi Itano is the heroine of Red Berries, White Clouds, Blue Sky. Her family is relocated during the war, the spring after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Her father was taken away--imprisoned--before the family was relocated. For Tomi who has always loved, loved, loved being American, this comes as a shock and disappointment. How could anyone not see how patriotic her family is? She adjusts as the whole family is forced to adjust. (The family, I believe, is relocated twice.) Readers meet Tomi, her older brother, her younger brother, and her mother. Readers get a glimpse of what life might have been like day-to-day for these families. The book is about how they all are effected personally and as a family. (It does change the family dynamics in many ways, especially once the father joins them again. For example, he comes home angry and bitter and stubborn. He does not like the fact that the experience has changed his wife, how she works now, how she teaches quilting, how she has a life outside the home.) I liked the book well enough. Part of me wishes, however, that the focus had been on the older brother Roy, or, equally on the older brother. I liked that he had a band. He ended up joining the army, and, his story would have been worth reading too, in my opinion.

Is Red Berries, White Clouds, Blue Sky my *favorite* book on the subject of the Japanese internment (relocation) camps? Probably not. I really love, love, love, Kathryn Fitzmaurice's A Diamond in the Desert. But even though I wouldn't rate it "a" favorite or "the" favorite, doesn't mean it's not worth reading. While both books could appeal to the same reader, that wouldn't always be the case. For example, Red Berries, White Clouds, Blue Sky features quilts.
© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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19. Ramona and Her Mother (1977)

Ramona and Her Mother. Beverly Cleary. 1977. HarperCollins. 224 pages. [Source: Library]

Ramona and Her Mother is the fifth book in the Ramona series by Beverly Cleary. Ramona and Her Father ends with Christmas, Ramona and Her Mother opens with New Year. It's nice, for a change, to get the opportunity to spend a full year with Ramona and the rest of the Quimby family.

"A Present for Willa Jean" The Quimby family hosts a New Year's Day brunch for the neighborhood. While Beezus gets to help serve and host, Ramona's "job" is to entertain Willa Jean. Is Ramona happy about this? Not really! In case you don't remember, Willa Jean is far from Ramona's favorite person. Don't even dream of bringing up any similarities between Ramona and Willa Jean! In this chapter, Ramona gives Willa Jean a box of Kleenex for a present.

"Slacks for Ella Funt" What's the Quimby household like on a Saturday? Well, on this particular Saturday, it's an interesting one. Ramona wants to have a sewing project like Beezus and her mom. She decides that she will make her elephant a pair of pants. Does it go well? Not really. Could she have successfully made a skirt for her elephant? Most likely without any trouble. But stubborn Ramona wanted PANTS. When it doesn't end well, she gets upset, which leads to her doing something very naughty with a tube of toothpaste!
Nobody had to tell Ramona that life was full of disappointments. She already knew. She was disappointed almost every evening because she had to go to bed at eight-thirty and never got to see the end of the eight o'clock movie on television. She had seen many beginnings but no endings. And even though she had outgrown her tricycle, she was still disappointed because she never could find a tricycle license plate with her name printed on it. (40)
As Ramona sat on the hard edge of the tub, feeling sorry for herself and trying to sort out her thoughts, she noticed a brand-new red-white-and-blue tube of toothpaste lying beside the washbasin. How smooth and shiny it looked with only one little dent where someone had squeezed it once. That tube was as good as new, and it was the large economy size. Ramona was suddenly filled with longing. All her life she had wanted to squeeze toothpaste, really squeeze it, not just a little squirt on her toothbrush but a whole tube, a large economy size tube, all at one time just as she had longed to pull out a whole box of Kleenex. I'll give it one little squeeze, thought Ramona. Just one teeny squeeze to make me feel better. She seized the tube. (43)
"Nobody Likes Ramona" Ramona has a bad day at school, and a very bad day at the Kemps after school. Willa Jean won't let Howie and Ramona play checkers. And when Howie and Ramona try to play something else--a big accident happens.

"The Quarrel" The bad day continues for every single member of the Quimby family. It's a HORRIBLE night at home. Ramona and Beezus witness their parents fighting, and, it upsets both of them.

"The Great Hair Argument" Beezus is the star, of sorts, of this chapter. Beezus is getting to be "that age" and a bit difficult for her parents. In this chapter, Beezus is growing out her hair and refusing to let her mom cut it anymore. She wants a REAL hair cut in a real salon by a real stylist. She says all the girls in her class get real hair cuts. Reluctantly, Mrs. Quimby agrees, but, it will be a student stylist. Will Beezus like her new haircut?! Ramona also gets a new haircut in this one.

"Ramona's New Pajamas" Ramona loves, loves, loves her new pajamas. But is it a good idea to wear pajamas under your clothes and go to school?!

"The Telephone Call" Ramona has a fit--though she refrains from yelling guts, guts, guts--and decides to run away from home. Her mom "helps" her pack. Will Ramona really run away?!

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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20. Ramona Quimby, Age 8 (1981)

Ramona Quimby, Age 8. Beverly Cleary. 1981. HarperCollins. 208 pages. [Source: Library]

I really love the Ramona series, and, Ramona Quimby, Age 8 is one of my favorites. Ramona is in third grade in this book. Her father will be working part-time for the market and going to school again so he can be a teacher.

"The First Day of School" Ramona starts third grade, and meets a boy, Danny, she nicknames Yard Ape. Her teacher is Mrs. Whaley, and, like in previous books, it takes Ramona a while to decide if she likes her new teacher, and, if her new teacher actually likes her too. School can be so tricky!

"At Howie's House" Ramona loves Sustained Silent Reading at school, even though she doesn't like calling it D.E.A.R. (Drop Everything And Read). Can she use this trick at the Kemps house after school to avoid playing with Willa Jean? Perhaps. At least some of the time.

"The Hard-Boiled Egg Fad" Ramona regrets following a new fad when her mom grabs an egg from the wrong shelf to send in her lunch. The fad is hard-boiled eggs, and the raw egg makes a horrible mess. Ramona is angry and embarrassed.

"The Quimbys' Quarrel" Ramona and Beezus complain about eating TONGUE. And the parents decide to punish them.

"The Extra-good Sunday" Beezus and Ramona do not get out of their punishment: cooking a meal for the family. What do Ramona and Beezus know how to cook, or to cook well? It will be an experiment for sure.

"Supernuisance" Ramona gets sick at school and throws up in front of the class. She's so embarrassed.

"The Patient" Her mom stays home to take care of her when she's sick. Ramona gets a homework assignment: a book report.

"The Book Report" Ramona has to read The LEFT BEHIND CAT for a book report, but, she doesn't like it. How to make the review entertaining? How about doing her report like a commercial? This is a funny chapter!

"Rainy Sunday" The Quimbys turn a dismal day--everyone's a bit grumpy--around by going to Whopperburger. Ramona orders from the adult menu for the very first time.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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21. Ramona Forever (1984)

Ramona Forever. Beverly Cleary. 1984. HarperCollins. 208 pages. [Source: Library]

Ramona is growing up quickly--depending on your point of view. If you consider that she was four in 1955, and nine in 1984, then, her childhood is taking forever. But when you're happily rushing through the series, it feels like she's growing up so quickly. Ramona Forever is the seventh book in the series. Ramona is still in third grade, I believe.

"The Rich Uncle" Howie and Willa Jean have a rich uncle coming to stay with them. Will Ramona like Howie's uncle? He doesn't make the best first impression. He teases her about his name. He gives Howie and Willa Jean presents. Not that Ramona wanted a present. But. Since Mrs. Kemp BLAMES Ramona when Willa Jean breaks her present, she wishes that the Uncle had not come at all. Why is it HER FAULT?

"Ramona's Problem" Ramona tells her mother that she doesn't want to go to the Kemps anymore. She HATES going there after school, can't her and Beezus come home instead. They'll be really, really good and responsible...

"Being Good" How well are Ramona and Beezus getting along after school on their own?!

"Picky-Picky" Ramona and Beezus find Picky-Picky dead in the basement. Beezus suspects that their mom might be pregnant, and doesn't want to worry or upset her. They decide to bury the cat in their yard on their own.

"It" Beezus was right. Ramona is going to be a big sister. Their mom is going to have a baby in the summer. Is Ramona excited or not?!

"A Surprise, Sort Of" Aunt Beatrice has a big announcement. And why is she bringing Howie's Uncle to dinner?!

"The Chain of Command" Shopping for wedding clothes. Ramona is a thousand times more excited than Howie. Howie does not want to be a ring bearer.

"The Families Get Together" Wedding planning.

"Ramona Saves the Day" The wedding itself. Ramona, you guessed it, saves the day. This one has a very sitcom feel to it.

"Another Big Event" Is Ramona ready to be a big sister?!

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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22. Seuss on Saturday #16

Happy Birthday to You! Dr. Seuss. 1959. Random House. 64 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: I wish we could do what they do in Katroo. They sure know how to say "Happy Birthday to You!"

Premise/Plot: The narrator shares how birthdays are celebrated in Katroo. Every single moment of the day is packed with special fun just for you to celebrate how wonderful and unique you are. It begins with The Great Birthday Bird from the Katroo Happy Birthday Asso-see-eye-ation coming to your house. But his special birthday greeting is just the start.

My thoughts: Happy Birthday to You is not a book I really enjoyed. Oh, I love Dr. Seuss's silly rhymes in general. But I didn't find this one particularly wonderful. I hope other readers appreciate it more than I did.

Have you read Happy Birthday to You! What did you think of it? Did you like it? love it? hate it? Is it one you grew up reading?

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 One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish. 

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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23. Dragon Flight (2008)

Dragon Flight. Jessica Day George. Bloomsbury USA. 272 pages. [Source: Library]

I've spent the last week rereading Jessica Day George's oh-so-lovely dragon series starring Creel, Prince Luka, and their dragon friends.

One war with the dragons is over and done with, but, a second is about to begin. And this time, it may not be an evil human controlling the dragons through alchemy, but, an evil dragon controlling a human king controlling dragons through alchemy. Not that Creel could guess that before she slips off to her second war as a spy. (She doesn't go into enemy territory alone, she takes some of her dragon friends.)

I liked this one. Did I love, love, love it as much as Dragon Slippers? Probably not. But I still really loved it. I loved meeting Shardas' mate--the queen of dragons. I loved spending time with Creel and her friends, her dragon friends, and her human friends. The book has plenty of action and drama. Quite a showdown! But it isn't done without attention to characters. Overall, I definitely recommend this book and this series.
© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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24. Bo at Iditarod Creek (2014)

Bo at Iditarod Creek. Kirkpatrick Hill. Illustrated by LeUyen Pham. 2014. Henry Holt. 288 pages. [Source: Library]

I really did enjoy the first book in the series. And I wanted to love this one just as much. But it was more of an almost book for me.

I still love Bo as a narrator. She still has a very unique voice to her. And the illustrations by LeUyen Pham are oh-so-wonderful which is probably why I like Bo so much.

In this second book in the series, Bo and her new brother, Graf, go with their fathers Jack Jackson and Arvid Ivorsen to a new community: Iditarod Creek. They go where there's work, to keep it simple. So there are new characters to meet, new opportunities and situations. In fact, there might even be a THIRD child added to the family.

The setting is unique, especially for a children's book. Historical fiction set in Alaska in 1929 and 1930. The world Bo is growing up in is probably a strange one to most readers. Bo is a six (or seven) year old girl growing up without many girls her own age, and without many ladies around in general. It's not exactly a "proper" or "traditional" upbringing. But what Bo has in abundance is LOVE and understanding. Both Jack and Arvid take time to talk with Bo, to love her, to teach her.

One word of warning this book has racial slurs, matter-of-fact, this is the way it was language. So if you're reading this aloud to young(er) children, you should know what's coming.


© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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25. Ginger Pye (1950)

Ginger Pye. Eleanor Estes. 1950. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 306 pages. [Source: library]

Ginger Pye is a book that I never would have read as a child. Why? Well, for the simple reason that there is a dog on the cover. Why risk reading a book if there's a chance that the dog could die? Safer to read other books perhaps. Is it for the better that I didn't read this one until I was an adult? Probably. Though I should add that Ginger Pye, the dog on the cover, does NOT die. The book would have been sad enough for me as a child.

As an adult there were quite a few things about the book that I enjoyed. Not that I loved, loved, loved it. Readers meet Rachel Pye and her brother Jerry. Jerry, we learn, really, really, REALLY wants to buy a puppy. He needs a dollar, and he needs it NOW. There is someone else who wants to buy "his" puppy, and, he'll need to hurry to get his pick. Fortunately, at just the right time, he's offered an opportunity to dust the church. What a relief! Rachel helps him clean, and they get there just in time it seems. They buy the dog, name him Ginger, and all is well...or is it?!

For they are not the only ones who think that Ginger is the best dog ever. Never forget that someone else wanted Ginger. (They do forget.)

The book is a bit of a mystery. They're not very good at detecting, however. Readers may guess a long time before they do. Still, this one has a happy enough ending. I am glad I read it.
© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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