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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: library book, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 25 of 857
1. Alamo All Stars

Alamo All-Stars (Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales #6) 2016. Abrams. 128 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Three hundred families...land grand....Texas...almost home.

Premise/plot: Nathan Hale and his two pals (the hangman and the British Officer) are joined by Juan Seguin and his three executioners (firing squad, I believe?) to tell the story of the Alamo. It doesn't rush into the story of the Alamo though. Readers learn about Mexico declaring its independence from Spain, the setting up and deposing of several Mexican governments, the arrival, with permission, of American settlers (families) into Texas, the clashes and near-clashes of those settlers with the native tribes in Texas (all given names, I won't mention them all here) and with the Mexican government. Not all Mexican leaders welcomed the idea of settlers, some feared that the more settlers there were, the more likely they would rebel and claim Texas for their very own. Readers learn about Stephen F. Austin, Jim Bowie, Sam Houston, Davy Crockett, William Travis, etc. Some of the people we learn about center around the Alamo--lived, fought, and died at the Alamo--some not. The book explores why they were fighting, what they thought they were fighting for, and their strong personalities that certainly didn't always help in their decision making.

My thoughts: Though a Texan, Texas history has not been my strongest subject especially when I was in school! I found this book a lot more interesting than a textbook. It also helps knowing that I'll never be quizzed on the subject again. Quite the difference between reading for the story and reading to remember names, dates, and places.

There were a LOT of characters in this one. It was fun that our familiar gang was joined by four more. Juan Seguin and his executioners added something to the story. I liked how the hangman came to get along with them and wanted to have a sleepover.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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2. The Underground Abductor

The Underground Abductor. (Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales #5) Nathan Hale. 2015. Abrams. 128 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: It is time to hang this spy! Are you sure? Can't we get one more story out of him first?

Premise/plot: Nathan Hale sets out to prove that America isn't perfectly perfect, and, that America has in fact "taken part in some truly horrible, despicable, abominable, atrocious, downright evil acts." He speaks, of course, of slavery. And in this graphic novel, he tells the story of Harriet Tubman (aka Araminta Ross). It's an intense story without a doubt. He speaks of her growing up in slavery, the abuses she faced, the challenges she overcame, her marrying a free man, her decision to run away, her decision to run back into slavery. For it became her mission to travel back and forth between North and South saving slaves--escorting slaves to safety, to Canada, in fact. All via the "underground railroad" of abolitionists. Some of this information I was familiar with, but, some was new to me. For example, I was not aware of her head injury perhaps leading to her narcolepsy. I had no idea of her visions either!

My thoughts: I am so glad I discovered this series. I really have enjoyed reading these books practically back to back. I would definitely recommend all of the books in the series. I hope it is a very LONG series.


© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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3. 23 Minutes

23 Minutes. Vivian Vande Velde. 2016. Boyds Mills Press. 176 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: The story starts with an act of stunning violence.

Premise/plot: Zoe, our heroine, has a superpower of sorts. She has the ability to curl herself up into a ball, say PLAYBACK, and have time reverse itself exactly twenty-three minutes. She can playback one twenty-three segment of time up to ten times...and then whatever the last time was...is forever frozen. So when Zoe witnesses a crime, a bank robbery, and ends up covered in blood, it seems like the natural right thing to do to try to make it better. True, the robber ended up being shot, but, so did Daniel, the super-nice guy who helped pick up all the papers from the folder when she dropped it.

Readers go with Zoe on the journey to try to make things better. But it won't be easy. For Zoe finds the odds are against happy endings in this instance in particular. Some tries result in "just" two to four people being shot. Others result in a LOT more shots being fired. Including shots into the street where a mom has her child in a stroller passing by...unaware of the lurking danger.

What Zoe needs is an ally, and, Daniel may just be her best chance....

My thoughts: This one is PREMISE-driven. One character is definitely explored and that is Zoe herself. One learns what is in the folder she carries, the secrets in the papers she's got with her. And what they reveal about her is interesting in a way. Though I'm not sure they provide a complete picture. Either readers believe Zoe is who she says she is, and she truly has this power. (Which readers don't really have reason to doubt the way the story is presented.) OR readers can choose to doubt Zoe and believe the papers, Zoe being a psychological mess. (I don't think there is enough ambiguity in the text to allow for this interpretation).

There is a lot of ACTION in this one. I found it nearly impossible to put this one down.

If the book has a weakness, it is Zoe's crush on Daniel. I don't think every reader will have trouble believing that a young girl (15) could notice the "cuteness" of a guy regardless of his age. But some will. I think there's a big difference between noticing how cute a guy is, and, seriously believing that a relationship is possible. Zoe doesn't really, truly think Daniel is boyfriend material. But she can't help finding him cute all the same. And for better or worse, readers have to hear Zoe talk about how cute Daniel is again and again. As I said before, this may prove annoying to some readers. But I don't think every reader will react the same way.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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4. Ms. Bixby's Last Day

Ms. Bixby's Last Day. John David Anderson. 2016. 320 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Rebecca Roudabush has cooties.

Premise/plot: Topher, Steve, and Brand are close friends who come together to give Ms. Bixby, their beloved teacher, the last day of her dreams. This middle grade novel is narrated by all three boys in alternating chapters. (Brand may possibly be my favorite. It's hard to say). Several chapters into the book, Ms. Bixby makes an announcement to the class: she has cancer. She'll be leaving within a week or two. They'll have a substitute for the remaining weeks in the year. But she leaves even earlier than intended and is, in fact, hospitalized. Three students take it upon themselves to visit her and bring the 'last day' party to her. True, the class made get well cards. But somehow that doesn't seem like enough. It is Ms. Bixby, after all, only the best teacher in the whole world. The teacher who reads The Hobbit out loud and gives all the different characters voices. The teacher who seems to see and know everything...even to understand everything.

It won't be easy to pull off this last day. All three will have to skip school for starters and pull together all their resources. They want a cheesecake, a bottle of wine, and some McDonald's french fries. And they're relying on many buses to get them there and back again. In some ways they're clueless and foolish. In other ways, just sweet with good intentions.

My thoughts: I really liked this one. I would have loved, loved, loved it but I didn't love all the bathroom 'boy' humor. I do appreciate, in a way, that there are funny parts in this one. I think humor really helps sell kids on reading. So I'd rather the book be 'just right' for kids than 'just right' for me as an adult.

I really enjoyed the characterization. It wasn't rushed and it was complex. The ending was predictable, but just right in a bittersweet way.

My favorite quotes:
"We all have moments when we think nobody really sees us. When we feel like we have to act out or be somebody else just to get noticed. But somebody notices. Topher. Somebody sees. Somebody out there probably thinks you're the greatest thing in the whole world. Don't ever think you're not good enough." (232)

The truth is--the whole truth is--that it's not the last day that matters most. It's the ones in between, the ones you get the chance to look back on. They're the carnation days. They may not stand out the most at first, but they stay with you the longest. (293)

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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5. Salt to the Sea

Salt to the Sea. Ruta Sepetys. 2016. 391 pages. [Source: Library]

First Sentence: Guilt is a hunter.

Premise/plot: Salt to the Sea is a historical novel set during the last part of World War II alternately narrated by four teenagers: Joana, Emelia, Florian, and Alfred. Though the book may seem excessively mysterious and difficult to follow--at the beginning especially--I want to encourage readers to keep going, to keep reading. The BIG PICTURE story of this one is so worth it.

Joana's first sentence: Guilt is a hunter.
Florian's first sentence: Fate is a hunter.
Emilia's first sentence: Shame is a hunter.
Alfred's first sentence: Fear is a hunter.

So what might be nice to know: The end is fast coming. Danger is everywhere--depending on your nationality, your paperwork, your secrets. The 'liberation' coming from the Russian side is just as troubling and disturbing and good cause for fear as accidentally bumping into German Nazis. Three of our four narrators are slowly but surely making their ways to the Baltic Sea, to a port where they may luck into finding an escape aboard a ship. The fourth narrator is already there, a German already assigned to a ship. (That would be Alfred. He will actually be one of the people responsible for registering refugees to the ships and assigning who goes where, who gets on board and who is left behind.) All four seem destined to be aboard Wilhelm Gustloff.

My thoughts: If I had to pick just a handful of words to describe this one: compelling, mysterious, intense, bittersweet. It was a WONDERFUL read. One of those books that remind you WHY you like to read in the first place. I was swept into this story, and, though it took me days to make it through the first fifty or sixty pages, I soon found it impossible to put down. The key to this one, I think, is just going for it: reading it in big chunks. You'll probably still have a few questions here and there, but, just keep going. The more you read, the more will ultimately be revealed.


© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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6. Treaties, Trenches, Mud, and Blood

Treaties, Trenches, Mud, and Blood. (Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales #4) Nathan Hale. 2014. Abrams. 128 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: This prologue is brought to you by E Pluribus Hangman.

Premise/plot: Nathan Hale shares with the British soldier (Provost) and hangman a story of when England and America will no longer be fighting each other but best friends and allies. This graphic novel is about World War I. It selectively, yet descriptively, tells of the war, year by year. It is action-packed, and yet one knows it's not exhaustive in its coverage.

Each country mentioned (both those fighting and those holding onto their neutral status) gets an animal assigned to it. So most of the illustrations are of animals at war with one another. Serbia is a Wolf. The Austro-Hungarian Empire is a Griffin. Russia is a Bear. Germany is an Eagle. France is a Gallic Rooster. Belgium is a Lion. England is a Bulldog (since Lion was already taken). America is a Bunny (since Eagle is already taken). Australia is a Kangaroo. Canada is a Beaver. New Zealand is a Kiwi. India is a Tiger. Ottoman Empire is an Otter. Japan is a Raccoon Dog. Those are the countries I can remember.

World War I is a complex subject, there is a lot to digest. There are hundreds--if not thousands--of books written by adults for adults seeking to explain the war and exhaustively cover every battle, every victory, every loss. So it is an ambitious project to condense the war into a middle grade graphic novel.
Nathan Hale: War is built and controlled by human hands--humans start it, humans stop it.
Hangman: Then WHY DIDN'T THEY STOP IT EARLIER--BEFORE IT KILLED EVERYBODY?! WHY DID THEY LET IT OUT IN THE FIRST PLACE!? THEY SHOULD LOCK IT UP AND NEVER EVER LET IT OUT!!!
Provost: Calm down, Hangman! There are times when war is a necessity. Tell him it is so, Captain Hale.
Nathan Hale: I'm not here to judge which wars were necessary and which wars weren't. I just tell the story. World War I is best summed up by those who experienced it.
All war is a symptom of man's failure as a thinking animal. ~ John Steinbeck
My thoughts: I really thought this book was well done. Yes, it's a bit text heavy. Yes, there is a LOT of information packed into it, perhaps too much information to actually absorb and digest. But it's well-crafted and well-organized. I'm impressed by how Nathan Hale (the author) was able to break down all the information and present it in such a concise way. War is never glorified, yes, the Provost and Hangman sometimes get carried away with BATTLES, but, by the end, Nathan Hale (the spy) has moved them both with his story.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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7. The Circus Mystery

The Circus Mystery (The Whodunit Detective Agency #3) Martin Widmark. Illustrated by Helena Willis. 2003/2015. 80 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: It was summertime in the town of Pleasant Valley. The sun had been shining brightly all day, and a gentle breeze rustled through the leaves of the trees in town.

Premise/plot: Jerry and Maya are two kids with a detective agency. A circus is coming to town. This circus has a bad reputation, however. Whatever towns the circus visits, a series of robberies and thefts occur. They have every reason to believe that their town will be no different, that the thief will rob people in the crowd. The police chief and Jerry and Maya attend both performances of the circus in order to see if they can solve the case.

My thoughts: I like this series well enough. Early chapter books are key in reading development. And who doesn't like a good series? Kids need series books; they need the predictability and the formulaic structure. I would definitely recommend the series.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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8. The Cafe Mystery

The Cafe Mystery (The Whodunit Detective Agency #4) Martin Widmark. Illustrated by Helena Willis. 2003/2015. 80 pages. [Source: Library]

First Sentence: "Mmm, pastries!" said Maya. "Cakes and muffins! Yum," added Jerry. "Can you believe everything that's been happening in there?" asked Maya, gesturing toward Cafe Marzipan, Pleasant Valley's best bakery.

Premise/plot: Jerry and Maya are kid detectives with a new toy: a digital camera. And that camera will come in handy for their next case. The bakery has suffered several robberies in the past year. No one has been able to figure out who the robber is. The robber just happens to hit every time there is a large amount of cash in the cash register. (An event that isn't all that common.) Can Jerry and Maya figure out which of the employees is working with the robber...and why?

My thoughts: I like this series. I do. I am enjoying spending time in Pleasant Valley. Jerry and Maya are very good at what they do.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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9. The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf

The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf. Ambelin Kwaymullina. 2014. Candlewick. 383 pages. [Source: Library]

I loved The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf. I did. (I didn't expect to 'love' it. I didn't know a lot about it going into it, hadn't read a thousand gushing reviews or anything. I would rather be surprised by how good a book is than be disappointed in how bad it is. So my thinking: always try to keep expectations moderately low.)

What you should know: 1) It is YA speculative fiction. I'd say somewhere between dystopian and post-apocalyptic. Post-apocalyptic because it is set hundreds of years after 'the reckoning' that almost destroyed the planet and wiped out humanity. Dystopian because of the ordered--often cruel--society or government that has restructured the world. So if you like or love either genre, then you should pick this one up. 2) It is complex--purposefully, strategically structured to keep you always guessing and a bit unsure. Some people love this, I think; some people don't. I enjoyed it very much! 3) The premise is simple perhaps to make up for the complex storytelling and intense plot. The premise? Well, some people are born with special powers or abilities. These abilities manifest themselves over time, so, you essentially grow into your power/ability. Strength (intensity/power) and control (ability to direct, use at will) vary from person to person. These people are labeled 'illegal' and are targeted by the government. 4) The book is about the conflict between Illegals and the Powers That Be. Questioning Authority and Being True To Yourself are some of the themes explored. 5) I love the world-building. Not everything is explained upfront, and, I love that about it. I don't think everything should be revealed from page one. I like the mystery and suspense and the gradual unfolding of how things are as you orient yourself to Ashala's world. It almost is better because it is slow and gradual. 6) The characterization. Like the world-building, characters aren't nicely introduced in a telling, usual way.

Ashala Wolf is one of the leaders of the tribe, a group of Illegals living in the Firstwood, living on their own as far away from society as they can get. Firstwood is a unique, fantastical setting. I never quite pictured or imagined it fully, but, that didn't stop me from loving this one. It didn't feel "less real" because of that. It almost felt "more real." In the opening chapter, readers learn that she has been captured, perhaps even betrayed by the boy, the young man, that she can't help being drawn to. She's essentially a prisoner at a detention camp, and, because she's a leader, and a defiant leader at that, she most likely is facing torture.

Actually, The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf reminded me of first season Alias. There's intensity, action, and confusion all at the same time. I could just as easily compare it to LOST or Once Upon A Time. You may not know everything you want to know, but, you know just enough to know you want more, more, MORE.


© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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10. What Are The Summer Olympics

What Are The Summer Olympics?  Gail Herman. Illustrated by Stephen Marchesi. 2016. 112 pages. [Source: Library]

I enjoyed reading Gail Herman's What Are the Summer Olympics? This short little nonfiction book for young(er) readers (think elementary school) covers all the basics. It provides a nice, little overview of the Olympics. Readers don't learn all there is to know about any one sport--or event--but readers learn a little bit about many of the most popular events. The chapters are actually arranged decade by decade. Each chapter typically covers two or three sports.

For example, the ninth chapter focuses on the 1980s. That chapter covers the U.S.A's boycott of the 1980 games, introduces readers to Mary Lou Retton (gymnastics), Carl Lewis (track), and Greg Louganis (diving).

Because over a hundred years worth of sports history is covered in this little volume, there isn't a lot of depth and substance. The book is a little over a hundred pages in length. BUT the book has a lot of illustrations.

Is it as FUN as Horrible Histories' Flame?!?! Sadly, no. But the book and song go VERY well together. The book, of course, covers A LOT more than any song parody could ever do it.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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11. The Wildest Race Ever

The Wildest Race Ever. Meghan McCarthy. 2016. Simon & Schuster. 48 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: The first Olympic marathon held in America happened on August 30, 1904, in Saint Louis, Missouri.

Premise/plot: This nonfiction picture book tells the wild-but-true story of the first Olympic marathon. McCarthy introduces us to ten runners out of the thirty-two that started the race. This story has plenty of twists and turns. It's never dull!

My thoughts: I really enjoyed this one. It appears to be well-researched. A select bibliography is included. And a link is provided for a full bibliography. It is well-written in my opinion! The story is lively and fun. I really liked the end papers!

It is probably best suited for slightly older readers. (Elementary perhaps instead of preschool.) It might make for a slightly awkward group read-aloud because there are a lot of sidebars and such in addition to the main narrative.

Text: 5 out of 5
Illustrations: 3 out of 5
Total: 8 out of 10

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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12. Unhooked

Unhooked. Lisa Maxwell. 2016. Simon & Schuster. 342 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Once upon a time, there was a boy not so very far from being a man. He crossed a sea to venture to London, for he wanted to find his brother, who was the bravest of soldiers. He carried with him only a light pack, for he had every intention of returning...

The novel opens with a move. Gwen and her mom have moved...again. Readers are given the impression that this happens a lot. That her mom is very unstable, that the daughter takes care of the mom instead of the other way around. Along for the trip is Gwen's best friend, Olivia. The tone of the novel from the beginning is dark and mysterious. (Readers witness Gwen's mom FREAK out because of a drawing on a nursery wall. On an evening run, this paranoia seems to have spread to Gwen who FREAKS out when she sees her friend talking to a stranger.) Gwen's nerves continue to be frazzled that night. She can't sleep. Then her worst fears come true.
I will never forget how this moment feels. Like I am being pinned down by night itself. I thrash wildly, trying to get away, but the intruder holds me easily, and then, pressing his face into the curve of my neck, he inhales--a sharp intake of breath--like an animal scenting its prey. When he exhales, his host, fetid breath crawls against my skin. Instinctively I jerk back, but his body cages me in, and his scent overwhelms me--he smells like the damp underside of old leaves, early and a little sour from decay. Like hunger and wanting. But as close as he is to my face, I can't make him out. The room has grown so dark, there isn't enough light for me to see him. Without warning, something warm and wet traces the length of my exposed neck with excruciating thoroughness. He's liking me. Tasting me. Bile rises hot and acidic in my throat, and I understand that I am not going to make it out of this untouched. I don't know if I'm going to make it out at all. (34-5)
Gwen is kidnapped--abducted--from her new home and taken....where????? Well, first she wakes up on a ship. And then she spots an island in the distance...and told that it's NEVERLAND.

There is a Captain (named Rowan) at odds with someone calling himself PAN. But forget what you know about Peter Pan and Neverland.

Unhooked is a read that is best described as dark, intense, dangerous, very life-and-death. Nothing trivial or jolly about it.

Is there a love triangle? Perhaps for a chapter or two as Gwen tries to make up her mind who is telling the truth. But for 90% of the book there is not a love triangle to be found.

Is there romance? Yes. While I would not describe it as instant-love, I would say there's some instant-attraction going on. I think there is a decent amount of relationship development occurring throughout considering the circumstances.

What about the characters???? I love the depth of characterization in this one. The villain was fully realized, as was the hero and heroine.

I also really enjoyed the dialogue of this one. Very well done!

One more quote:
"But in the story--"
"Were I you," he says, turning back almost viciously, cutting off my words, "I'd not put my trust in stories. They tend to pass off lies as the truth and hide the truth in their lies." (75)
© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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13. The Thank You Book

The Thank You Book. Mo Willems. 2016. Disney-Hyperion. 64 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: I have a lot to be thankful for...I had better get thanking.

Premise/plot: Piggie is out to thank EVERYONE. But Gerald worries that Piggie will forget someone, someone important, someone REALLY, REALLY important. Readers see Piggie go about thanking various characters including the Pigeon, Brian Bat, the whale, some flies, etc. All the while Gerald gets more and more concerned. Piggie IS forgetting someone important. And Piggie is not taking hints!

My thoughts: I have mixed feelings about The Thank You Book. Part of me would like to put it in the freezer and pretend it simply doesn't exist. Why? It feels very much like THE LAST BOOK IN A SERIES. I do not want it to be the last book, the END. Cue the music. There could be a hundred titles in the series, and I'd still be looking for the release of 101! I haven't processed the loss yet...to there being no more books starring Gerald and Piggie.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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14. Paper Wishes

Paper Wishes. Lois Sepahban. 2016. FSG. 192 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Grandfather says that a man should walk barefoot on the bare earth every day.

Premise/plot: Paper Wishes is a middle grade historical novel set during World War II. Manami, our heroine, soon finds herself ripped away from the life she knows and loves--along with her family, her friends, her neighbors--because she's Japanese-American. Manami's family includes her grandfather, her father, her mother, an older brother (Ron) and an older sister (Keiko). Manami and her grandfather are especially, especially close to their dog Yujiin. So close that Manami tries to sneak the dog onto the bus or train that is taking them away. It does not work. And the dog is taken from her. This traumatic event leaves her without a voice. She does not speak for months--almost the entire book. But just because she isn't speaking doesn't mean she doesn't have a way of expressing herself and finding a voice. She DRAWS. She paints. And she gives some of her drawings to the wind as PAPER WISHES. What does she wish for most of all? HER dog, of course. So she sends along dozens of drawings of Yujiin hoping that somehow these wishes will come true...

My thoughts: I really found this to be an emotionally compelling read. I loved Manami and her family. In particular, I love her, Ron, and the grandfather. (I don't honestly feel I got to know-know her parents. Though I liked them well enough). I really liked getting to know her teacher as well.

Anyone who enjoys character-driven historical novels with a lot of heart will enjoy this one.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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15. One Dead Spy

One Dead Spy (Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales #1) Nathan Hale. 2012. Abrams. 128 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Welcome, one and all! I am the hangman. I am here to hang the man!

Premise/plot: Nathan Hale, the spy, narrates this graphic novel, the first in a new series by Nathan Hale. Readers meet him on the day of his hanging. A slight delay in the process gives him just enough time to practice finding the right last words to say. What he comes up with as his 'last words' are so good, that a giant book--a HISTORY BOOK--comes and swallows him whole. When he 'returns' from the book to the present, he knows the future. He further delays his hanging by telling two people--the hangman and a British officer--entertaining stories. He gets them hooked on history, in a way. The stories in this first volume are of the REVOLUTIONARY WAR. (The second book in the series is focused on the CIVIL WAR.)

My thoughts: It's a graphic novel. I am not a big reader of graphic novels--usually. But I always seem to find a handful of exceptions to the rule to read throughout the year. I enjoyed this one so much, I think I'm going to continue on with the series. I believe there are six so far.

I like the fact that they are packed with history, and the focus is on the STORY of history. The characters--minus the narrator, hangman and British officer--seem to be taken from history and stick relatively close to actual history. (Yes, there was a real Nathan Hale who spied for George Washington, was hung when he was caught, remembered for his last words. But this Nathan Hale seems to be cheating his fate and become a famous storyteller who can foresee America's history.)

At the end of the book, Nathan Hale (the author and illustrator) shares with young readers more biographical and historical information. He also introduces his team of baby researchers who vow that each graphic novel is 76% accurate. If anyone finds flaws in the history, they are to write the CORRECTION BABY. It's an odd way to share research details, perhaps, but definitely unique.

This particular book in the series includes a bonus episode--of a few pages--called CRISPUS ATTACKS: FIRST TO DEFY, FIRST TO DIE!

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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16. The Grand Mosque of Paris

The Grand Mosque of Paris: A Story of How Muslims Saved Jews During the Holocaust. Karen Gray Ruelle. Illustrated by Deborah Durland DeSaix. 2009. Holiday House. 40 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: In 1940 war came to Paris, and life was turned upside down.

Premise/plot: Quite simply this is a picture book for older readers. Dare I say it's even a picture book primarily for adults?! This picture book is definitely text-heavy, and the subject is a heavy one. The book brings to light something you may not know: the North African Muslims of Paris rescued a lot of Jews during World War II. (Others were part of the French Resistance.)

This is not a well-documented, well-known part of history. Rescuing Jews (hiding Jews, creating new identity papers, forging documents, smuggling them out of France) was deadly dangerous. So it makes sense that it was not well-documented, that they did not leave a paper trail to show how many hundreds or thousands they rescued during the war. This is a story of what we do know--a handful of cases, examples, of men, women, and children rescued by Muslims.

My thoughts: This one is packed with information, most of it all new-to-me. Because I am interested in the subject, I found it fascinating. It isn't a storytelling narrative. The text doesn't thrill you with its beauty. But it is dense with information that you probably can't find elsewhere. I can guess why they went with a picture book format. The illustrations are LOVELY and truly complement the text.

Text: 3 out of 5
Illustrations: 4 out of 5
Total: 7 out of 10

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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17. Poems in the Attic

Poems in the Attic. Nikki Grimes. Illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon. 2015. Lee & Low. 48 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Grandma's attic is stacked with secrets.

Premise/plot: Poems in the Attic is a picture book about a seven year old girl who discovers a box of her mother's poems in her grandmother's attic. Her mother started writing poems when she was just seven. Our heroine, the little girl, decides to start writing poems of her own. Readers see these poems--mother and daughter--side by side. The mother's poems are about growing up a 'military brat' moving from place to place every year or so. The daughter's poems are doubly reflective.

My thoughts: I liked this one. I liked the premise of it especially. A girl coming to appreciate her mother in a new light. A girl learning to express herself through poetry. The book celebrates family, poetry, and a sense of life as one big adventure.

That being said, poetry tends to be hit or miss with me. I sometimes enjoy poetry. Sometimes not so much. I didn't love the short poems in this one as much as I wanted. I liked them okay. I just wasn't WOWED by them. I do like the celebration of family. And the illustrations were great. Eleven places were captured in the mother's poems. And the author's note was interesting. So this one is worth your time.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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18. Big Bad Ironclad


Big Bad Ironclad (Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales #2) Nathan Hale. 2012. Harry N. Abrams. 128 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: If you've got a story, you'd better tell it, Nathan Hale. This is a hanging, not a children's story hour.

Premise/plot: Nathan Hale, the spy, continues to outwit the British in this second graphic novel. (The first book in the series is ONE DEAD SPY.) Though he's due to be hanged any minute, his tales from the future (all taken from American History) are so entertaining that the British officer and hangman are delaying a bit. In his conversational style, the focus shifts from the current war (Revolutionary) to the Civil War. These stories concern the NAVY and the Civil War sea battles. Specifically, the race to build the best ironclad ships and create an indestructible navy. The South had the U.S.S. Merrimack. The North had The MONITOR. Of course, it isn't just the two ships that are the subject of this one. So many people are introduced, some of them quite fascinating and 'new to me' at that.

My thoughts: I enjoyed this one even more than the first book in the series. I really found this to be a quick, absorbing read. I may have thought it pushed a little too far to the absurd side when Gustavus Fox was illustrated as a fox to satisfy the whim of the hangman, but, I overlooked that in the end!

Even if you don't "love" graphic novels, if you love history you should give one of the books in the series a try.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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19. The Heir

The Heir. (Selection #4) Kiera Cass. 2015. HarperCollins. 346 pages. [Source: Library]

I have very mixed feelings on The Heir by Kiera Cass. That isn't a huge surprise. I had mixed feelings about the first three books as well. The first three books in the series focused on Princess Eadlyn's parents--America and Maxon. I found the books both silly and irresistible at the same time. If I found the books on the silly, ridiculous, predictable side, why did I care so much about what happened and who ended up together?! That was the question then, and, to some extent that remains the question. The difference being I am less attached to Princess Eadlyn than I was to her father, Prince (now King) Maxon.

So. America and Maxon have four children together: twins Eadlyn and Ahren, and two younger boys that barely enter into the story, or, perhaps are completely forgettable no matter how many times their names are dropped. Eadlyn being born seven minutes before her brother is the heir to the crown. She's about eighteen or so when the story opens. And readers are led to believe that she may become Queen much sooner than anyone thinks. Conveniently perhaps America and Maxon have not aged well it seems. Though young when they married, and though their oldest is just eighteen, they are talked about as if they're closer to sixty or sixty-five than forty! Granted, we don't know for sure how long they waited after marrying to have children, but, even if it was five or six years--they still shouldn't be over forty-five! The fact that they are presented as so decrepit and ancient--their health so fragile--frustrated me. And I did not like the ending at all. Trust me on that.

So is Princess Eadlyn likable? I don't think she's meant to be. I think we're supposed to struggle with liking her perhaps? She struggles with being an actual human being.

So "to save the monarchy" the parents are strongly-strongly encouraging their daughter to hold a Selection and get married. Thirty-five young men will be coming to the palace just for her. One of the selected is not a stranger at all, but, someone she's a little too familiar with on the surface, someone who has grown up in the palace, someone who's always been friendlier with her brother than herself. His name is Kile. And he gets the first kiss, though it is staged. Other men of note, Henri (Swedish cook who needs an interpreter) Eric (the interpreter and not really an option for the selection, at least not officially), and Hale (he doesn't seem as obvious a choice as the others, but, he isn't as forgettable or as obnoxious as the others, so, I wouldn't be surprised if he makes it to the top six or seven at least). Since Eadlyn struggles with, you know, actually being human herself, it's hard for her to talk with others and be herself. I don't know that I have a favorite-favorite, but I'm leaning towards Henri.

The world Cass has created still doesn't seem fully fleshed out and lived in, like it makes sense logically. And the political, social, cultural side of it still seems a bit flimsy, but this book like the other is just oddly readable and entertaining.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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20. White Fur Flying

White Fur Flying. Patricia MacLachlan. 2013. 116 pages. [Source: Library]

I really enjoyed Patricia MacLachlan's White Fur Flying. I loved Zoe and her family. Her mom rescues dogs--Great Pyrenees--fostering them until they can find forever homes. Her dad is a veterinarian, I believe. He brings home a parrot one day that is in need of a home. The parrot was--and this is very surprising to me--one of the highlights of the book. In fact, without the parrot, I don't think this novel would work as well, be as emotionally moving. She has a sister, Alice, who is always talking, telling stories, writing poems and stories, etc. Zoe's own character is revealed slowly throughout the book. Kodi, the other "family member" is a dog--Great Pyrenees, of course. He likes having other dogs around, and doesn't mind them coming and going.

So. The novel opens with the family watching the new neighbors move in. They haven't officially--or even unofficially--met the new family yet. And so some are quite busy making up stories about who they are, and why they're moving. Phillip is a boy around 9 or 10 that is moving in next door. He's the quiet type. The really-super-quiet and choosing-not-to-talk-at-all type. But that doesn't keep Kody and Alice and the other dogs from wanting to make friends with him....

Why is Phillip so silent? Will befriending dogs "save" him and help him reconnect with the world again?

This one is predictable enough--if you're an adult reader especially. I can't say honestly whether or not I would have found it predictable enough as a child. For one thing, if a book had a dog on the cover, I wouldn't read it because I was afraid the dog might die. Even though it might be on the slightly-predictable side. I found it very high on the feel-good side. I liked the way the book made me feel, especially at the end when Alice shares her poem. I think that is worth noting. Predictable does not always equal "bad."

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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21. The Knife of Never Letting Go

The Knife of Never Letting Go. Patrick Ness. 2008. Candlewick. 479 pages. [Source: Library]

I have been meaning to reread Patrick Ness' The Knife of Never Letting Go for a couple of years now. It is the first book in the Chaos Walking series. I really did EXPERIENCE the next two books in the trilogy. (I was going to say enjoy, but, can you ENJOY a book that is so dark and suspenseful and emotional.)

Here are a few things you should know before picking it up.

1) It is science fiction. It is set on another planet, aka "New World." The planet has a handful of small settlements, including Prentisstown, the hometown of our narrator/hero. The planet's biggest settlement is Haven.

2) Todd is our narrator. He is a few weeks away from his thirteenth birthday. He "becomes a Man" on his thirteenth birthday. He is an orphan being raised by two men, Cillian and Ben.

3) There are NO WOMEN in Prentisstown. Todd has been taught all his life that there was a plague or virus that killed all the women of the settlement.

4) A virus (perhaps the same virus that allegedly killed all the women?) has made it so that all the men can hear one another's thoughts all the time. This is called NOISE. It isn't just men, though, they can hear thoughts of animals too. Manchee is Todd's dog. And he's a bit too forthright to say the least!

5) The book is thriller-esque. It's essentially one big action-sequence from cover to cover. Well, perhaps it takes three or four chapters to get him on his way. But once he gets started...he stays going. It's an intense, action-packed book.

6) He doesn't go alone. Manchee, his faithful dog that he once didn't even want, is with him....but more importantly he meets Viola.

7) Viola basically "dropped from the sky" and right into his path. Viola is the sole survivor of the settler's scout ship. Her parents died in the crash. The ships with thousands of more settlers is about seven or so months behind the scout ship. Todd cannot hear Viola's noise. Viola is the first female he can remember seeing--apart from reading the memories of the men in his settlement--which is not the same thing I think you'll agree.

8) Both Viola and Todd are in GREAT DANGER. Why?????? Well, it has to do with SECRETS and SCHEMES and PLOTS. The mayor of Prentisstown is ambitious and manipulative....to pick two of his tamer qualities.

9) Todd has some internal conflict going on inside....he cannot bring himself to kill. So while I might have spent a good deal of time emphasizing the ACTION, ACTION, ACTION aspect of this one, that doesn't mean it is without characterization and complexity.

10) Be warned it doesn't really have an ending.

11) It has profanity. A good deal of profanity. For some people it may be off-putting enough to pass on the book. For others that might be a big non-issue.

12) Poor grammar is part of the world-building. This may or may not bother readers!
Men lie, and they lie to theirselves worst of all. (22)
But a knife ain't just a thing, is it? It's a choice, it's something you do. A knife says yes or no, cut or not, die or don't. A knife takes a decision out of your hand and puts it in the world and it never goes back again. (84)
The knife is alive. As long as I hold it, as long as I use it, the knife lives, lives in order to take life, but it has to be commanded, it has to have me to tell it to kill, and it wants to, it wants to plunge and thrust and cut and stab and gouge, but I have to want it to as well, my will has to join with its will. I'm the one who allows it and I'm the one responsible. But the knife wanting it makes it easier. If it comes to it, will I fail? (341)
"War is a monster. War is the devil. It starts and it consumes and it grows and grows and grows. And otherwise normal men become monsters too." (392)
I can read her. Cuz she's thinking about her own parents also came here with hope like my ma. She's wondering if the hope at the end of our road is just as false as the one that was at the end of my ma's. And she's talking the words of my ma and putting them into the mouths of her own ma and pa and hearing them say that they love her and they miss her and they wish her the world. And she's taking the song of my ma and she's weaving it into everything else till it becomes a sad thing all her own. And it hurts her, but it's an okay hurt, but it hurts still, but it's good, but it hurts. She hurts. I know all this. I know it's true. Cuz I can read her. I can read her Noise even tho she ain't got none. I know who she is. I know Viola Eade. I raise my hands to the side of my head to hold it all in. "Viola," I whisper, my voice shaking. "I know," she says quietly, pulling her arms tight around her, still facing away from me. And I look at her sitting there and she looks across the river and we wait as the dawn fully arrives, each of us knowing. Each of us knowing the other. (420)


© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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22. The Diamond Mystery

Diamond Mystery (The Whodunit Detective Agency #1). Martin Widmark. Illustrated by Helena Willis. 2002/2014. 80 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: The streets were empty in the little town of Pleasant Valley.

Premise/plot: Jerry and Maya are classmates and friends who have opened a detective agency out of Maya's basement. They live in the small, quaint town of Pleasant Valley. The book opens with Mohammed Caret hiring these two child detectives to find out who is stealing diamonds from his shop. Their cover will be that he has hired these two children to do some light cleaning and run a few errands for him. They meet the three employees that work for him. And after a day of close observation, they are ready to solve the case.

My thoughts: I liked this one. I did. It's an early chapter book. I'd say just about right for second graders. It's the first in a mystery series for children. It has been translated into English from the Swedish.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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23. The Hotel Mystery

The Hotel Mystery. (Whodunit Detective Agency #2) Martin Widmark. Illustrated by Helena Willis. 2002/2014. 80 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Every year, on the day before Christmas Eve, nearly everyone in the little town of Pleasant Valley does the same thing: They all head to the holiday buffet at the town's hotel, where they find turkey, ham, roasted carrots, and mashed potatoes and gravy, all served on big platters in the beautiful dining room.

Premise/plot: Jerry and Maya are friends and classmates who formed the Whodunit Detective Agency. Over Christmas vacation, these two are working at the town's hotel. (Jerry's uncle works there.) The hotel is in great excitement because the hotel's best and most expensive suite has been rented out to a family, the Braeburn family. Making the new guests HAPPY is to be their top priority. But their stay is not uneventful, and before the book ends, Jerry and Maya will need to solve a crime.

My thoughts: This is the second book in the Whodunit Detective Agency series. It is an early chapter book with a lot of colorful illustrations. These mysteries are simple and straightforward. The characters aren't exactly complex and intriguing. But. I think for the intended age group, these mysteries are fine reading material.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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24. Between Shades of Gray

Between Shades of Gray. Ruta Sepetys. 2011. Penguin. 352 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: They took me in my nightgown. Thinking back, the signs were there--family photos burned in the fireplace, Mother sewing her best silver and jewelry into the lining of her coat late at night, and Papa not returning from work. My younger brother, Jonas, was asking questions. I asked questions, too, but perhaps I refused to acknowledge the signs. Only later did I realize that Mother and Father intended we escape. We did not escape. We were taken. 

Premise/plot: I'm tempted to not give any premise or plot at all. To just say: READ THIS BOOK. But I'm not sure that's exactly fair. While, I do think this book should be read WIDELY, I think it's only fair to tell you a little bit about what to expect. It's set in 1941 in Lithuania. Lina, the heroine, and her family are in a difficult position. They're trapped between two worst-case-scenarios: Stalin, on one side, and Hitler on the other. No matter which "wins" control over Lithuania, Lina and her family--and so many others--are in great danger.

The book opens with Lina's family being arrested. It doesn't get any cheerier from that point. Lina, her mother, and her brother, Jonas, take the reader on quite an emotional journey. It's an incredible read, partly set in Siberia as well, which is where these 'prisoners' end up.

My thoughts: This was a reread for me. There is a companion book newly released this year starring Lina's cousin Joana. The companion book is set at much closer to the end of World War II. I read Salt to the Sea not really realizing its connection with Between Shades of Gray. It worked. So if you do read the books out of order, that is okay. But definitely I think you'll want to read both books.

I love this one. I do. I love the characterization. I really, really, really love Lina. And I love Andrius as well. Just because there is a tiny bit of romance, don't mistake this one for a proper ROMANCE. It's so much more than that. It's a fight for survival, and, a fight for DIGNITY. It is very bittersweet. But if you're looking for a book you can't put down, this one is it.


© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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25. Donner Dinner Party

Donner Dinner Party. (Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales #3). Nathan Hale. 2013. Harry N. Abrams. 128 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Hear ye! Hear ye! Hear ye!

Premise/plot: Nathan Hale returns for this third hazardous tale in this graphic novel. The story that will prolong his life and delay his hanging is the story of the DONNER PARTY. His immediate audience, of course, is the hangman and a British officer. It's very convenient that since being eaten by the large American History book he can see the future and use the future to tell super-entertaining stories. Readers first meet the Reed family led by James Reed. Other families will be introduced as they journey west and join (and quit) wagon trains. The dangers are MANY. Some dangers are unpredictable and almost unavoidable. Other dangers they walk straight into confidently, sweeping away warnings. Usually if not always, always, it's the MEN making the decisions and the women and children who can do nothing but except the judgement of husbands and fathers. The story is FASCINATING AND HORRIBLE at the same time.

My thoughts: I really enjoyed this one. It is quite a compelling, absorbing read. You wouldn't think there would be a lot of characterization in a graphic novel, but, surprisingly there is. I had read very little if anything about the Donner Party, and, so I found it really interesting. I knew it was a grim story, but, I had not realized there were survivors too. So it wasn't quite as depressing as I first imagined it to be.

I definitely recommend this series of graphic novels. Even if you don't necessarily love reading graphic novels. The focus on history has me hooked. And I've become quite fond of Nathan Hale and his two would-be executioners.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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