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1. 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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2. 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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3. 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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4. 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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5. 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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6. 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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7. 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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8. 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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9. 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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10. 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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11. 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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12. 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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13. 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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14. 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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15. Beezus and Ramona (1955)

Beezus and Ramona. Beverly Cleary. 1955. HarperCollins. 208 pages. [Source: Library]

Unlike other books in the Ramona series, this one is narrated by Beezus. Like all other books in the Ramona series, it has a just-right feel about it. Beverly Cleary's greatest talent may be in her capturing what it feels like to be a kid.

Beezus, as you probably know, is Ramona's big sister. Ramona does steal the show in almost every book in which she appears. There's something unforgettable about her. But though the focus is on Ramona, this is still very much Beezus' book. It captures how she feels about her family, about Ramona.

"Beezus and Her Little Sister." Ramona LOVES, LOVES, LOVES to have The Littlest Steam Shovel read to her. Her parents are unwilling to read it to her--they have come to have no tolerance for it. But Beezus, well, she'll read it to Ramona, not that she likes it, but, she'll give in now and then. She gets the idea to take Ramona to the library to get a brand new book--for two weeks. Ramona picks a new book, but, it is still about steam shovels. She likes it so much, that she does something NAUGHTY so she can keep it for always. What will Beezus do since it was checked out on her card? Just how sympathetic will the librarian be?

"Beezus and Her Imagination" Beezus is in an art class. Ramona isn't supposed to be in the class with her, she's supposed to be playing outside in the sandbox. But on this occasion, Beezus finds Ramona in class with her. Could she get inspired by her sister's imaginary pet?! Could she earn her teacher's attention?!

"Ramona and Ribsy" Beezus invites Henry Huggins (and his dog, Ribsy) to her house to play checkers. It doesn't go well. Both Ribsy and Ramona have fits of sorts. And Ribsy ends up locked in the bathroom?! Beezus wishes Ramona was more like other people's sisters.

"Ramona and the Apples" Beezus is supposed to be watching Ramona while their mother does the grocery shopping. But. Ramona proves too much to handle. She sneaks into the basement and has her way with all the apples...taking one bite and just one bite from each apple. Will Beezus get in trouble? Can anything good come from all those ruined apples?

"A Party at the Quimbys" Ramona decides to have a party and invite other kids over to the house--without permission of course. What will Beezus and their mother do? This one ends in a parade. Among the guests, Howie and Willa Jean.

"Beezus's Birthday" Will Beezus have a cake for her tenth birthday?! It might not be as easy as you might think. Not with Ramona around. But with a little help from Aunt Beatrice, all might be well after all. Hint: If you have a sister like Ramona, don't read the story of Hansel and Gretel to her when your cake is in the oven!

I love the Ramona series. I do. I love, love, love the Ramona books. I think I read them dozens of more times than the Little House books. (I've recently reread these too.) I'm not sure Beezus and Ramona is my favorite of the series, but, it's a great start to a great series.

Do you have a favorite cover?

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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16. Seuss on Saturday #14

The Cat In the Hat Comes Back. Dr. Seuss. 1958. Random House. 63 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence:
This was no time for play.
This was no time for fun.
This was no time for games.
There was work to be done.
All that deep,
deep, deep snow,
All that snow had to go.
When our mother went
Down to the town for the day,
She said, "Somebody has to
Clean all this away.
Somebody, SOMEBODY
has to, you see."
Then she picked out two Somebodies.
Sally and me. 
Premise/plot: It's a sequel to The Cat in the Hat. The two children have learned a lesson or two since the previous book. Do they invite him in? Do they take joy in his arrival? Hardly!!! They are anxious to be rid of him. While they're HARD at work shoveling snow, the cat arrives and enters their house. They don't want him IN the house, they're afraid of what he might do. But despite their good intentions, they might be a little too late. For the Cat in the Hat takes a bath in their tub--while eating cake--and when the water is drained, they notice something awful: A BIG, LONG PINK CAT RING! How will they get rid of this mess that looks like PINK INK?! They know--though the cat obviously doesn't--that it shouldn't involve ANYTHING that belongs to their mother or father. From cover to cover, this one just SATISFIES.

My thoughts: The Cat in the Hat is probably my favorite and best book by Dr. Seuss. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE it. It's just so enjoyable, so satisfying, so funny. And it's also so very quotable!!!

Have you read The Cat in the Hat Comes Back? Did you like it? love it? hate it? I'd love to know what you think of it! Also, how do you think it compares to The Cat in the Hat? Which of the two is your favorite?

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 Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories. 

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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17. Meet Jack Spratt and Mary Mary

Big Over Easy (Nursery Crime #1) Jasper Fforde. 2005. 383 pages. [Source: Library]

I really found myself liking the opening chapters of Jasper Fforde's The Big Over Easy, the first in a series. Inspector Jack Spratt heads the Nursery Crime Division in Reading. He's got a new partner, Sergeant Mary Mary. This case, their first case to work together, is a murder case. Humpty Dumpty has been murdered. Can these two find his killer before he (or she) kills again?! The premise has potential without a doubt. Not this particular case, but, any case. From the start, I found myself liking Jack Spratt and liking Mary Mary. (Though not necessarily liking their scenes together.) I also really liked Jack's mother whom we get to spend just a little time with here and there.
Here's a description of Jack visiting his mother:
She opened the door within two seconds of his pressing the doorbell, letting out a stream of cats that ran around with such rapidity and randomness of motion that they assumed a liquid state of furry purringness. The exact quantity could have been as low as three or as high as one hundred eight; no one could ever tell, as they were all so dangerously hyperactive. (30)
It's a mystery packed with puns and silly twists. While Spratt takes his job seriously, it can be hard for readers to always do the same. The book requires readers to just give into the silliness and the surreal-ness of it all. It's an odd book.

Unfortunately for me, the charm wore off. While I enjoyed the first third of the book, by the end, I was tired of it all. I think if I had read it all in one sitting, if I'd have managed my reading better, it could have worked. But the truth is, I found myself not caring about the characters and not caring about what happened next.

The Fourth Bear (Nursery Crime #2) Jasper Fforde. 2006.  382 pages. [Source: Library]

While I didn't enjoy The Big Over Easy, I definitely enjoyed the second in the Nursery Crimes series, The Fourth Bear. (Though I do wish it had a different title!) The book continues the adventures--or misadventures--of Inspector Jack Spratt, Sergeant Mary Mary, and the alien, Ashley. All three, of course, work for the Nursery Crime Division of Reading. Conditionally at least, when they're not on probation or leave of absence. Jack Spratt is initially disappointed that his boss, Briggs, is not assigning him the BIG, BIG CASE that falls within his jurisdiction: The Gingerbread man has escaped, and he's a serial killer. Though it's obvious that the Gingerbread man is not a "real" person, the NCD does not get the case. Instead, Mary Mary and Jack Spratt are looking into a missing person's case. You can probably guess by the title that it might just have a little something to do with Goldilocks and The Three Bears. Though you should expect a few twists, obviously! Jack Spratt and Mary Mary are kept plenty busy with this case, and it's anything but simple or ordinary! It was fun in places. The writing, obviously, tried to pack in as many puns and jokes as possible. But some of them worked well, in my opinion. For example, the controversy over 'the right to arm bears' movement.

While most of the book does focus on the mystery, readers still get a hint of the personal lives of the main characters. (Jack and his wife, their new neighbors Punch and Judy, their daughter's wedding plans, Mary Mary's date with Ashley, meeting Ashley's family, etc.)

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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18. A Girl from Yamhill (1988)

A Girl from Yamhill. Beverly Cleary. 1988/1996. HarperCollins. 352 pages. [Source: Library]


If you grew up reading Beverly Cleary, you should make time to read her autobiography, A Girl From Yamhill. This first autobiography covers her life from her earliest toddler memories through high school.

In Cleary's books for children, she often focuses on what it's like to BE a kid: to go to school, to spend time with friends, to encounter not-so-friendly kids, to play, to 'get along' or not with your family. But also to THINK like a kid. I thought she was always really good at capturing childhood anxieties and worries. So in A Girl from Yamhill, readers get a chance to find out what Cleary's own childhood was like, what her home life was like, what her school experiences were. Reading A Girl From Yamhill gave me a greater appreciation for the Ramona books. It's not as if you could say that Beverly was Ramona. She wasn't. Though she did play BRICK FACTORY. (Also Beverly had a doll named after a car.) But I could see some correlation between the two certainly. For example, she writes of the financial difficulties, and of the stress her father was under when he was in-between work or out or stuck in a miserable job. So there were certain things that reminded me of the Ramona books. I do feel the Ramona books are timeless.

This one covers so many years. I'm not what the 'perfect' audience age would be. It isn't a light read or a funny one.

So I really enjoyed reading this one. Perhaps I enjoyed it so much because I read and reread Cleary's books so often.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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19. Seraphina (2012)

Seraphina. Rachel Hartman. 2012. Random House. 499 pages. [Source: Library]

 From the prologue:
I remember being born. In fact, I remember a time before that. There was no light, but there was music: joints creaking, blood rushing, the heart's staccato lullaby, a rich symphony of indigestion. Sound enfolded me, and I was safe. Then my world split open, and I was thrust into a cold and silent brightness. I tried to fill the emptiness with my screams, but the space was too vast. I raged, but there was no going back. I remember nothing more; I was a baby, however peculiar. Blood and panic meant little to me. I do not recall the horrified midwife, my father weeping, or the priest's benediction for my mother's soul. My mother left me a complicated and burdensome inheritance.
I loved, loved, LOVED Rachel Hartman's Seraphina. Part of me regrets not having read it before now. The other part is just HAPPY that I don't have to wait for the sequel. Though to be honest, I wouldn't have minded at all rereading this one in 'celebration' of the sequel's release. (If I had read it in 2012, how many times would I have reread it by now?!)

Is Seraphina my favorite dragon fantasy? Perhaps. At least I feel that way now, so soon after reading it.

Can peace be kept in the kingdom between dragons and humans? That is what Seraphina is about, in a way. For forty years, peace has been maintained. That doesn't mean that dragons "like" humans, or, that humans "like" dragons. There's certainly tension--lack of trust--between the two. And it will get worse before it gets better...if it gets better. (I haven't read the sequel yet after all!) Seraphina begins with a funeral--Prince Rufus never returned from the hunt, his decapitated body was found.

But it's also "about" Seraphina coming to terms with WHO she is, the "burdensome inheritance" of her mother.

I love so many things about it. I love the characterization. I love, love, love Seraphina, the heroine. I love the other characters too. Especially Orma and Lucian Kiggs. I love the world-building and the relationship-building. (And I don't just mean romantic relationships). I love the level of suspense and the amount of detail.  


© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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20. Ramona the Pest (1968)

Ramona the Pest. Beverly Cleary. 1968. HarperCollins. 208 pages. [Source: Library]

  Ramona the Pest is the first book in the series from Ramona's own point of view. At last readers get the chance to be inside Ramona's head after witnessing all her pesty ways in previous books. Ramona is in kindergarten. And Ramona's teacher isn't the only one who will find her unforgettable. In my review of Beezus and Ramona, I mentioned how Cleary greatest strength was her ability to capture what it was like to be a kid. That is very true in Ramona the Pest. The writing is PERFECT.
Ramona could not understand why grown-ups always talked about how quickly children grew up. Ramona thought growing up was the slowest thing there was, slower even than waiting for Christmas to come. She had been waiting years just to get to kindergarten, and the last half-hour was the slowest part of all.(7)
"Ramona's Great Day" Ramona's first day of morning kindergarten. Her teacher is Miss Binney. The days has its ups and downs. But Ramona by the end of the day feels good about this thing called school. But will it last?! This is the chapter where Ramona asks Miss Binney HOW DID MIKE MULLIGAN GO TO THE BATHROOM?!
"Boys and girls," she began, and spoke in her clear, distinct way. "The reason the book does not tell us how Mike Mulligan went to the bathroom is that it is not an important part of the story. The story is about digging the basement of the town hall, and that is what the book tells us." Miss Binney spoke as if this explanation ended the matter, but the kindergarten was not convinced. Ramona knew and the rest of the class knew that knowing how to go to the bathroom was important. They were surprised that Miss Binney did not understand, because she had shown them the bathroom the very first thing. Ramona could see there were some things she was not going to learn in school, and along with the rest of the class she stared reproachfully at Miss Binney. (20)
"Show and Tell" Howie and Ramona get into a fight over a ribbon. That's the short version. It's a ribbon that Miss Binney gave Howie for "Howie's bunny" that was really Ramona's bunny. You see, Howie's mom thought Howie was upset that he wasn't bringing anything for show and tell. And Ramona's mother made her go in the house to get something--anything--for Howie to take. She picked a rabbit that was mainly loved by their cat. Ramona thinks it should be HER ribbon because it was tied to her bunny. Howie likes it only because it came from the teacher. That and I think he likes to fight with Ramona. So if she didn't want it, would he?!

"Seatwork" Adventures and misadventures in the classroom. We get lovely descriptions of some of Ramona's classmates. There is Howie, of course, Davy, the boy she chases and tries to kiss, and Susan, her nemesis. This chapter, Ramona decides to go by Ramona Q and decorate the Q like a cat. I love this chapter because we get to overhear Miss Binney interacting with ALL the children.

"Substitute" Ramona is scared of the substitute teacher and doesn't want to be in kindergarten if Miss Binney is absent. She can't go home, or, her mother will know. So where will she go?!

"Ramona's Engagement Ring" This chapter is probably one of my FAVORITE chapters from the whole series. In this chapter, Ramona has issues with her boots. She doesn't want hand-me-down brown "boy" boots. She wants pretty RED boots that are obvious girl boots. She does get them eventually. But can she use them responsibly?! This is the chapter where Henry Huggins becomes Ramona's hero...much to Davy's relief. It has Ramona joyfully shouting that she WILL MARRY HENRY HUGGINS. She has a worm engagement ring and everything.

"The Baddest Witch in the World" The Halloween chapter. Ramona *wants* to be the baddest witch, but, she also wants to be herself. She doesn't want to be unknown. So what will she do when it's costume time?!

"The Day Things Went Wrong" Will Ramona be kicked out of kindergarten because she lacks self-control when it comes to touching or pulling Susan's curly hair?! This one has plenty of drama, including a lost tooth which she leaves at school accidentally.

"Kindergarten Dropout" Ramona still persists that she won't go back to school. Is there anything to be done?!
Ramona despaired. Nobody understood. She wanted to behave herself. Except when banging her heels on the bedroom wall, she had always wanted to behave herself. Why couldn't people understood how she felt? She had only touched Susan's hair in the first place because it was so beautiful, and the last time--well, Susan had been so bossy she deserved to have her hair pulled. (202)
It was a joy to read Ramona the Pest again. 


Do you have a favorite cover?

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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21. Ramona the Brave (1975)

Ramona the Brave. Beverly Cleary. 1975. HarperCollins. 208 pages. [Source: Library]

Ramona the Brave is the third book in the series. I love it. It has some GREAT moments.

"Trouble in the Park" Ramona can't understand why Beezus is angry with HER for standing up to the big, bad bullies at the park who were teasing her (Beezus). Ramona thought that she was loving her sister by speaking up, but, Beezus is too angry to explain. Readers also learn that Ramona and Howie LOVE to play BRICK FACTORY.

"Mrs. Quimby's Secret" Ramona and Beezus learn that they won't have to share a room together anymore. Their parents have decided to add a room to the house. Mrs. Quimby will WORK OUTSIDE THE HOME to help pay for it.

"The Hole in the House" This chapter has a perfect description of Brick Factory.
They were no longer six-year-olds. They were the strongest people in the world. They were giants. When the driveway was thick with red dust, Ramona dragged out the hose and pretended that a terrible flood was washing away the Brick Factory in a stream of red mud. "Run, Howie! Run before it gets you!" screamed Ramona. She was mighty Ramona, brave and strong. Howie's sneakers left red footprints, but he did not really run away. He only ran to the next driveway and back. Then the two began the game all over again.(38)
"The First Day of School" Ramona doesn't have the best first day experience. She wanted to love first grade as much as kindergarten. (Not that she always loved, loved kindergarten, mind you). She wanted to love her first grade teacher, Mrs. Griggs, as much as the wonderful Miss Binney. It doesn't happen. Sometimes teachers are like that, even Beezus can tell you that. Beezus LOVES her teacher. (Ramona ends up liking him too.)

"Owl Trouble" Poor Ramona! Susan and Ramona have ISSUES over their owls at art time. I feel for Ramona in this situation.

"Parents' Night" The owl-drama continues. And Ramona writes the sweetest heart-felt note to her mom. COME HERE MOTHER. COME HERE TO ME. This chapter is just one reason why I love, love, love Cleary's writing. She KNOWS what it feels like to be a kid.

"Alone in the Dark" Ramona doesn't like her new room. She finds it VERY SCARY. Poor Ramona is FRUSTRATED during the day at school, not liking her teacher and some of her classmates, and she's SCARED to be alone in her room at night. So she's not sleeping all that great either. I believe she mentions how as long as she hears her Dad moving about and knows that he's awake somewhere, it's not too bad, but, then when everyone is asleep but her, it's overwhelming.

"Ramona Says A Bad Word" I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this chapter. I do. Ramona's had a horrible time of it throughout the whole book, and, she's had enough of it. She breaks down. She lets loose. GUTS. GUTS. GUTS. GUTS. But why is everyone laughing at her?! She wasn't trying to be funny! She was doing some serious venting!!!
Then Ramona felt her mother's hand on her back. "Ramona," she said gently, "what are we going to do with you?" With red eyes, a swollen face, and a streaming nose, Ramona sat up and glared at her mother. "Love me!" Her voice was fierce with hurt. Shocked at her own words, she buried her face in the pillow. She had no tears left. "Dear heart," said Mrs. Quimby. "We do love you." Ramona sat up and faced her mother, who looked tired, as if she had been through many scenes with Ramona and knew many more lay ahead. "You do not. You love Beezus." There. She had said it right out loud. For years she had wanted to tell her parents how she felt. (140-1)
"Mr. Quimby's Spunky Gal" Ramona encounters a big, bad dog, loses a shoe, and gains a new friend. Ramona makes her own slipper--with a borrowed stapler from Beezus' teacher--and finally feels a little bit brave.

Do you have a favorite cover?

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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22. 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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23. 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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24. 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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25. 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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