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1. The Infinite Sea (2014)

The Infinite Sea (Fifth Wave #2) Rick Yancey. 2014. Penguin. 320 pages. [Source: Library]

I'm so glad I took the time to reread Rick Yancey's The Fifth Wave! I felt ready for the sequel. Of course, I felt ready for the sequel the moment I first finished The Fifth Wave! But I felt prepared to fully appreciate the sequel.

First, you shouldn't read The Infinite Sea until you've read the first book in this alien-invasion series. It does NOT stand alone.

Second, if you've read the first book, and at the very least enjoyed-it-in-the-moment, you should pick up this next book.

Third, if you're looking for a quick, compelling read--perhaps for a read-a-thon--then consider this one. What makes it quick is the fact that, like the first book, it is hard to put this one down!!!

Some time has passed--perhaps a few days, perhaps a week or two--since the ending of The Fifth Wave.

The prologue, "The Wheat," is something. I think it does a great job as prologue--reminding readers of the intensity of the series, of the world as they know it.

Book one, The Problem of Rats, "The world is a clock winding down." This first section is narrated by Ringer. I believe this was the first chance for readers to get her perspective. I was expecting the book to begin with Cassie, I almost saw The Fifth Wave, as being Cassie's book predominantly, and opening with Ringer's thoughts, well, it was a good reminder that the book, the series, is so much more than that.

Book one, The Ripping, "From the time I could barely walk, my father would ask me, Cassie, do you want to fly?" This second section is narrated by Cassie. You'll probably notice--beginning with this section--that the chronology of the narrators is interesting and overlaps and goes back and forth a bit. I didn't mind this actually.

Book one, The Last Star, "As a child, he dreamed of owls." Evan Walker gets his chance to narrate. Readers learn much in this section!!!

Book one, Millions, "The boy stopped talking the summer of the plague." I found this section--short as it was--to be so emotional. I loved gaining more insight on Poundcake.

Book one, The Price. This fifth section is narrated by Cassie. I wouldn't say it's the most action-packed section, but that's because it would be too tough to choose. Has there really been a slow section?! But much does happen, and we see it through her point of view.

Book one, The Trigger. Again. So very short. But oh-so-intense. Another Poundcake section. And I thought "Millions" was emotional!

Book two, The Sum of All Things. Ringer's section. Plenty of this novel is told through her perspective, and, I came to appreciate that in a way. Much is learned in this section certainly, or, perhaps I should say much is explained through dialogue?

Book two, Dubuque. Essentially the conclusion of the book. Cassie's perspective, I believe.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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2. The Art of the English Murder (2014)

The Art of the English Murder. Lucy Worsley. 2014. Pegusus Books. 336 pages. [Source: Library]

I really liked Lucy Worsley's The Art of The English Murder. There were some chapters that I loved, loved, loved. There were some chapters I 'merely' liked. But overall, I found the book to be worth reading and informative. Plenty of "I didn't know that?!?!" facts were included. I always enjoying learning as I read. I believe this is the book companion to a BBC documentary A VERY BRITISH MURDER. I'm curious how the two compare. If it's better to read or watch.

So the premise of this one is simple: how did the British become so interested, so entertained, so fascinated by murder: murder in real life and murder in fiction. It even looks at how real life crimes influences/inspires fictional crimes. (Think Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins to name just two.) So on the one hand, it looks at real cases that got plenty of press, and stayed in the news, cases that became, in a way, part of the culture (think Jack the Ripper), and, on the other hand, it looks at fictional cases. (Think Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, etc.) The last few chapters focus on the "Golden Age" of mystery writers. And the very final chapter, I believe, focuses on Alfred Hitchcock.

As I said, this book has plenty of details. For example, it talks of how puppet shows--for the most part traveling puppet shows--were for adults. Puppet shows often depicted famous murders. So there would be puppets depicting murderers and their victims. And the audience would watch the crime unfold in front of them. The book notes that at times, the murder would be (could be) encored several times. So it does go into 'melodrama' and the theatre. I found the chapter on the stage version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde fascinating!

This book is oh-so-easy to recommend!

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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3. Operation Bunny (Wings & Co. #1)

Operation Bunny. Sally Gardner. Illustrated by David Roberts. 2014. Henry Holt. 192 pages. [Source: Library]

I loved Operation Bunny. I loved it so much more than I thought I would. I loved it because it was just fun. Emily Vole, the heroine, was abandoned as an infant. She was left in a hatbox. She was adopted soon after she was found. (At first, authorities thought she was a bomb. That is they thought the hatbox contained a bomb.) But her adopted parents are truly awful which is somewhat typical in fantasy novels for children! As I was reading, I was reminded again and again of The Willoughbys by Lois Lowry. I LOVED that book. So it was a good sign for me! They were bad parents before the mom found out she was having triplets. After the triplets were born, well, things get strange in a horrid way. (They move her to the laundry room. Her bed is the ironing board.) Emily doesn't go to school. She's too busy earning her keep as a housekeeper. Of course, her mom gets upset that Emily never finishes all the chores on her list. The dad, for once, points out wisely, well, she can't read, dear. But. Things begin to look brighter for "poor Emily" once she meets the neighbor-next-door, Miss String, and the cat-next-door, Fidget. I just want to say that I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Fidget (the talking cat). So this adventure-fantasy properly begins when Emily meets Fidget and Miss String and they learn that there's something very special about Emily! Of course, I could go on to tell of the villain and the evil plot...but I won't. I want you to discover this one yourself!

Operation Bunny is the first in a new series. I loved it and would definitely recommend it.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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4. The Red Pencil (2014)

The Red Pencil. Andrea Davis Pinkney. Illustrated by Shane Evans. 2014. Little, Brown. [Source: Library]

I found The Red Pencil to be a mostly fascinating read, even if it was written in verse. (Do remember that I've said many times that verse novels aren't exactly the best match for me personally). In fact, I found the verse to be strong: that is very well-written. The book itself, though perhaps a tiny bit slow in the first dozen pages or so, was emotional and compelling and hard to put down. The strength of the poetry actually helped me connect with Amira, the twelve-year-old narrator of The Red Pencil. What I didn't enjoy quite as much, perhaps, are the illustrations. Part of me knows that to the character, Amira, drawing is essential. She expresses herself through drawing: she draws with a stick in the sand/on the ground. Throughout the book, this is just an important part of who she is, how she sees her world, how she copes. So I could see why the book is illustrated. But even so, I personally didn't "love" the illustrations.

So. What you should know. The Red Pencil is set in South Darfur, Africa, in 2003/2004. Readers meet Amira, her mom and dad, her sister (Leila), her best friend, her neighbors. (Particularly Old Anwar and Gamal.) One gets a sense of place and community. Readers come to know that what Amira wants, really wants, is an education. To learn to read. To learn to write. Readers also know that her mom is very opposed to the idea. (Her father is not opposed.)

Life does not stay the same for Amira and her family. Upheaval is coming. Her life will be disrupted. Things will be forever changed with the war--the unrest--the coming of the Janjaweed. Soon Amira finds herself a refugee living in a refugee camp....

The Red Pencil is a book to be experienced. I found it to be well-written. Is it as informative and as thorough as a nonfiction book would be on the subject? Probably not. The book focuses on an emotional connection, which I believe is just as important. It gives one a reason to care, a reason to look for more information, seek out more stories.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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5. Dory Fantasmagory (2014)

Dory Fantasmagory. Abby Hanlon. 2014. Penguin. 160 pages. [Source: Library]

First, a definition:
Fantasmagory: a dream-like state where real life and imagination are blurred together. 

From chapter one:
My name is Dory, but everyone calls me Rascal. This is my family. I am the little kid. My sister's name is Violet and my brother's name is Luke. Violet is the oldest. Violet and Luke never want to play with me. They say I'm a baby.
"Mom! Rascal is bothering us!"
"What is she doing?" calls my mother.
"She's looking at us!"
"She's breathing." (1-2)

I loved, loved, LOVED Abby Hanlon's Dory Fantasmagory. I guess I'm not the only one. This one received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, and School Library Journal. I've just read it, and already I can't wait for the next book in the series: Dory and the Real True Friend. (July).

Dory is six. But. She still likes to stay in her nightgown instead of getting dressed. Even winter nightgowns, inside out and backwards in the summer. She has an imaginary friend, Mary, that is her best, best friend. Would Dory play with Luke and Violet if they let her? Sure!!! She'd love to play with either one or both. But. Since they don't want her near them, well, Mary is good and reliable to have around.

There are a few things you should know about Dory. One, Dory has a BIG imagination. She tends to live in a world all her own, a blurred reality, of sorts. Two, Dory's nickname I admit is a good one. Throughout the book she does indeed act like a Rascal. I could see how Dory's behavior could prove problematic for her parents. (Readers do see them getting upset with her, acting frustrated, etc.)

So. One day Luke and Violet decide to "scare" Dory. They tell her about Mrs. Gobble Gracker.... It doesn't take either one long to regret their brief venture into fantasy. They can't win against the force that is their younger sister. Soon Mrs. Gobble Gracker is ALL Dory is talking about. All of her play centers on this imaginary villain.

How far will she take it? You may or may not be surprised! This is one you're going to want to read for yourself.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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6. Seuss on Saturday #4

Horton Hatches An Egg. Dr. Seuss. 1940/1968. Random House. 64 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence:
Sighed Mayzie, a lazy bird hatching an egg:
"I'm tired and I'm bored
And I've kinks in my leg
From sitting, just sitting here day after day.
It's work! How I hate it!
I'd much rather play!
I'd take a vacation, fly off for a rest
If I could find someone to stay on my nest!
If I could find someone, I'd fly away--free..."
Plot/Premise: Mayzie does not want to hatch her own egg. So Horton, the elephant, steps in and does the job for her. It isn't that he loves the work either. But..."an elephant's faithful one-hundred percent!" He said that he'd take care of the egg, and he will. Because he always means what he says and says what he means. He's faithful through and through. What will happen when the egg hatches? Will Horton's steadfastness be rewarded?

My thoughts: I love this one. I do. I have loved this one since childhood. I'm not sure I could choose which Horton book I like best: Horton Hatches an Egg or Horton Hears a Who. Both illustrate great lessons. I don't mind the lessons so much in either one of these!

His previous book, The King's Stilts, was about balancing work and play. And again, we see those themes at work in Horton Hatches An Egg. Mayzie is an incredibly selfish and lazy bird. She tricks the good-hearted Horton into sitting on her nest and hatching her egg. She lies to him as well, promising that she'll only be gone for a short amount of time, she has every intention of coming back soon. Horton is a great contrast. He endures much, suffers much. But he's calm and steadfast. He's diligent and faithful--disciplined.

I love the surprise ending. Do you?

Have you read Horton Hatches An Egg? Did you like it? love it? hate it? Do you prefer it to Horton Hears A Who? Or do you--like me--love both books almost equally? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

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

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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7. Seuss on Saturday #2

The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins. 1938/1965. Random House. 56 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence:
 In the beginning, Bartholomew Cubbins didn't have five hundred hats. He had only one hat. It was an old one that had belonged to his father and his father's father before him. It was probably the oldest and the plainest hat in the whole Kingdom of Didd, where Bartholomew Cubbins lived.
Premise/plot. Bartholomew Cubbins gets into big, big trouble when he "refuses" to remove his hat in the presence of the king. The king gets more and more flustered as he sees the "insolence" of Bartholomew. To Bartholomew's credit, he is trying very hard to remove his hat. But every time he removes a hat, another appears on his head. What is going on?! What will the king do?!

My thoughts: I have only read this one twice. It definitely has more text than And To Think That I Saw it On Mulberry Street. And it also is written in prose. It does not rhyme. The story is just as over-the-top as And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street, but it definitely has a different feel to it. According to Wikipedia, it was received well by reviewers. What did I think? Well, it was silly. I think the key to enjoying it is in focusing on the king and his reaction to the "problem." Seeing the king and those close to him try to solve the problem. For example, at one point he calls in seven black-gowned magicians:
Low and slow, they were chanting words that were strange...
"Dig a hole five furlongs deep,
Down to where the night snakes creep,
Mix and mold the mystic mud,
Malber, Balber, Tidder, Tudd."
In came seven black-gowned magicians, and beside each one stalked a lean black cat. They circled around Bartholomew Cubbins muttering deep and mysterious sounds.
It's never fun to be frustrated yourself. But the king's frustration proves comical. There are no real questions answered in this one.  But the ending proves satisfying enough.

Have you read The 500 Hats of Barthomew Cubbins? Did you like it? love it? hate it? What age do you think it works best for?

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

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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8. Revisiting The Trumpeter of Krakow (1928)

The Trumpeter of Krakow. Eric P. Kelly. 1928. Simon & Schuster. 208 pages. [Source: Library]

It was in late July of the year 1461 that the sun rose one morning red and fiery as if ushering in midsummer's hottest day. His rays fell upon the old city of Krakow and the roads leading up to it, along which rolled and rocked a very caravan of peasants' wagons. 

In the summer of 2011, I read and reviewed Eric P. Kelly's The Trumpeter of Krakow. I remember really enjoying it though I found it plot-driven instead of character driven. Because I had good memories of reading it, I thought I would reread it for Hope Is the Word's Newbery Through the Decades. Unfortunately, I didn't end up enjoying it as much as I did the first time.

I'm not sure if this was because I wasn't in the right mood for this one. Or if it was because since I knew how it ended there just wasn't enough to keep me reading.

The first time I read it: action, mystery, suspense, what will happen next?!

The second time I read it: this is boring, so boring, when will I get to the good part?

I was surprised by my own reaction this time since in my review, I wrote "There is never a dull moment in The Trumpeter of Krakow" and "The novel is exciting."

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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9. Millions of Cats (1928)

Millions of Cats. Wanda Gag. 1928. Penguin. 40 pages. [Source: Library]

Once upon a time there was a very old man and a very old woman. They lived in a nice clean house which had flowers all around it, except where the door was. But they couldn't be happy because they were so very lonely. 
"If we only had a cat!" sighed the very old woman. "A cat?" asked the very old man. "Yes, a sweet little fluffy cat," said the very old woman. "I will get you a cat, my dear," said the very old man.
And he set out over the hills to look for one. 

Millions of Cats is a Newbery Honor book from 1929.

Premise/Plot: A very old man and a very old woman long for a cat. The husband goes on a quest to bring back a "sweet little fluffy cat" to please them both. Is his quest successful? Yes. A little too successful. For in fact he finds
Cats here, cats there,
Cats and kittens everywhere,
Hundreds of cats,
Thousands of cats,
Millions and billions and trillions of cats.
How is he ever to choose just ONE cat from so many?! Especially since as he picks up or pets each one he sees, he finds it to be the prettiest cat. He can't bring himself to leave any of the cats behind. But it isn't practical to bring home hundreds, thousands, millions, billions, and trillions of cats. You can probably guess what his wife's response will be! Surely, they can't keep them all. For better or worse, he lets the cats decide amongst themselves. One scrawny cat remains, but, it may be the best one of all.

My thoughts: I loved this one growing up. I loved the repetition. I thought it was a fun story. I didn't--at the time--take the man's conclusion that the trillions of cats ate each other up literally. Is the book violent? Perhaps. Perhaps not. See for yourself.  "They bit and scratched and clawed each other and made such a great noise that the very old man and the very old woman ran into the house as fast as they could. They did not like such quarreling." This one might pair well with Eugene Field's "The Duel." (The gingham dog and the calico cat).

Have you read Millions of Cats? Did you like it? love it? hate it?

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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10. In The Kingdom of Ice

In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette. Hampton Sides. 2014. 454 pages. [Source: Library]

I enjoy reading nonfiction. I do. The topic is polar exploration--the North Pole to be precise. (I've read more about the South Pole, by the way.) The good news is that In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette is fascinating and thorough. It is detailed and focused on personalities and contexts. (Two of the personalities explored are George Washington De Long and James Gordon Bennett, Jr.)

The trip is presented in great detail. Before the trip: how/when De Long became interested in polar exploration, finding financial backers for the trip, finding THE ship, finding men to go with him, finding resources and materials, doing the research, picking and choosing what research to rely on, planning and organizing, etc. During the trip: before the Jeannette got trapped in ice--what it was like on a day-to-day, week-to-week basis, the dangers, the joys, etc., trapped in the ice on ship--what it was like to spend YEARS (I believe almost two years?) on a ship that's trapped in the ice, what it was like to be stuck with the same people in such close quarters for those years, trapped ON the ice with NO ship--what it was like in the final months as thirty-something men with limited provisions and supplies, men not in the best health, fought to survive and reach land and civilization. After the trip: what it was like for the survivors to encounter land and civilization again, who survived, etc.

Most everything is given context and brought to life. That being said, it doesn't mean every person is likable!

I enjoyed reading this one. I found it to be a quick read--just a day or two at most.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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11. The Castle Behind Thorns (2014)

The Castle Behind Thorns. Merrie Haskell. 2014. HarperCollins. 336 pages. [Source: Library]

Sand woke, curled in the ashes of a great fireplace. Surprised to find himself waking at all, for he had no memory of falling asleep, Sand scrambled to his feet. Soot billowed from him in a cloud and sneaked up his nose. He sneezed four great sneezes that came back in lonely echoes from the vast room beyond the fireplace. Sand had never slept in a fireplace before. He never wanted to again. But he hesitated inside the fireplace, one foot suspended in midair, afraid to leave. In the room beyond, everything was broken. Every single thing.

I loved, loved, loved The Castle Behind Thorns. It is a retelling of Sleeping Beauty, I suppose. It puts a definite spin on it that is completely different from the original, but that is completely fascinating. Sand, the hero, wakes up in a fireplace in a castle that he's only heard stories about. The castle being abandoned quite suddenly when his own father was not yet grown. He finds himself very alone; he's the only living thing in the castle. (No growing plants, no bugs or insects, no birds, no mice, nothing). He keeps the panic to a minimum, in my opinion. Especially considering the situation! He's in an abandoned castle surrounded by hostile, vicious thorns. He explores. He plans. He mends. He learns and adapts. He's hungry and thirsty and tired. He finds a way to survive. In his exploring, he finds the family's crypt. He restores a body that had fallen, placing the young girl's body back gently and carefully.  Several days later, or some time later, readers meet the heroine Perrotte...

The Castle Behind Thorns is a beautiful story with memorable, well-developed characters. I enjoyed every minute of this one! The mystery is quite good! I would definitely recommend this one!

Read the Castle Behind Thorns
  • If you enjoy fairy tale retellings
  • If you enjoy good/great storytelling
  • If you like fantasy novels with a touch of magic
  • If you like mysteries 
  • If you like survival stories

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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12. The Paper Cowboy (2014)

The Paper Cowboy. Kristin Levine. 2014. Penguin. 352 pages. [Source: Library]

"Hands up!"
My best friend, Eddie Sullivan, had a newspaper rolled and pointed at me like a gun. He was only twelve, but over the summer he'd grown so much, he looked big enough to be in high school. 

I've yet to be disappointed by Kristin Levine's fiction. I loved, loved, loved The Best Bad Luck I Ever Had. I loved, loved, loved The Lions of Little Rock. I still would love to find time to reread both books. Her newest book is The Paper Cowboy. The author's note reveals much: The Best Bad Luck I Ever Had is loosely based on her maternal grandfather's memoirs; The Lions of Little Rock was inspired by her mother's childhood in Arkansas. This newest book? Well, it is based on/influenced by her father's childhood. It is set during the McCarthy era, when the threat of communist spies was very strong no matter how big or small the community.

I'm tempted to keep it brief: READ THIS. But would that do it justice? Probably not. But I don't want to give away too much either.

I love The Paper Cowboy for its humanity. It almost aches with its humanity. There's not one perfect, flawless character within. Tommy, the protagonist, is far from perfect. In fact, he's a bit of a bully. But it's almost impossible to keep standing in judgment of Tommy once you get a glimpse of his home life. Time and time again, readers see a powerless Tommy in heartbreaking situations.

I love The Paper Cowboy for its look at family life. Every member of the family is fully developed. (Well, perhaps with the exception of the baby. Tommy's youngest sister is just three months old when the novel opens!!!) But one really gets relationships in this book. Tommy in relationship with his dad, with his mom, with his older sister, with his younger sisters. And the relationships--no matter if they're "good" or "healthy" or not-so-much, the relationships feel completely authentic. The sibling Tommy is closest to is his sister, Mary Lou, who is badly burned--an accident--near the start of the novel.

I love The Paper Cowboy for its sense of community. I loved getting to know folks in his community. Particularly, I loved his developing relationships with several adults within the community: Mr. McKenzie and Mrs Glazov, Mrs. Scully and Pa and Ma Konecky. I just came to CARE for all the characters, no matter how 'minor.' For example, Mrs. Glazov never felt 'minor' to me at all! I just LOVED, LOVED, LOVED her.

I love The Paper Cowboy for its look at friendship and school life and even bullying. I didn't "love" the book because of its examination or treatment on bullying. I wasn't seeking out a book on bullying. I certainly wasn't expecting a book on the subject of bullying told primarily from the bully's point of view. But sometimes a book just finds you, you don't have to seek it out. I do think it's interesting to consider Tommy as a whole person. Yes, at recess at his school, he can pick on his classmates and get away with it because he has a way with his teachers. But the reader sees deeper and sees beneath the surface. Yes, absolutely Tommy's actions are just WRONG. But when a character is fleshed out so completely, so thoroughly that compassion may just come easier than judgment. One friendship comes about so slowly that it deserves attention. I loved the character of Sam McKenzie. 

I love The Paper Cowboy because its one that makes you feel--sometimes so much it leaves you aching. It's an emotionally intense read. There are just some TOUGH moments to witness in this coming-of-age novel.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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13. Xander's Panda Party (2013)

Xander's Panda Party. Linda Sue Park. Illustrated by Matt Phelan. 2013. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 40 pages. [Source: Library]

Xander planned a panda party. Yes, a dandy whoop-de-do! But Xander was the only panda. Just one panda at the zoo. Xander sat and chewed bamboo. He changed his plans and point of view. 

Premise/Plot: Readers meet Xander, a party-planning panda bear, who is struggling with his party plans. At first, he was planning a panda party. He then expands it to include all bears. But one thing after another after another leads him to include ALL the animals at the zoo.

My thoughts: I read this one because I needed an "X" title for my Alphabet Soup challenge. I can't say that I really "liked" Xander's Panda Party. I liked it in places. Some phrases seemed to have a just-right feel to them. For example, "He wasn't sure what he should do. He chewed a slew of new bamboo; he nibbled, gnawed, and thought things through" (11) But in other places, I thought the writing style (the word choice, the rhythm and/or rhyme) were off.  For example, "And he planned a hearty party! 'Fur or hair or hide can come. All the mammals, every one!'" (12). It just wasn't consistently working for me. Because it worked for me some of the time, I wanted it to work for me all the time. That being said, it was a cute enough story about a panda making new friends. I liked that he won't be a lonely panda for long.

I liked the illustrations. I needed repeated readings to fully appreciate them perhaps. For example, readers know that there is just one panda at the zoo, but the illustrations show many, many pandas. The illustration reveals Xander's frantic pacing and rushing about, his emotional distress.  (I'm thinking of page 15 and 19/20.) Amanda Salamander also makes frequent appearances, it took me a second reading to spot her on many of the spreads.

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

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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14. Seuss on Saturday #3

The King's Stilts. Dr. Seuss. 1939/1967. Random House. 56 pages. [Source: Library]

 First sentence:
Naturally, the King never wore his stilts during business hours. When King Birtram worked, he really WORKED, and his stilts stood forgotten in the tall stilt closet in the castle's front hallway.
Setting: The Kingdom of Binn

Premise/Plot. When King Birtram works, he REALLY works, and, when he plays, he REALLY plays. He knows that there is much work to be done in his kingdom. But he also knows that it is important to have fun now and then. This king has fun by walking on stilts. The story is more complex than that, of course. There is the fact that the kingdom is in danger from the sea. The kingdom is protected by the roots of the Dike tree that border the sea. The trees are in danger from the Nizzards--birds that find the tree oh-so-delicious--but the trees are protected from the Nizzards by 1,000 patrol cats. 500 to guard during the day. 500 to guard during the night. The Patrol Cats are essential to the kingdom. And it turns out, the stilts are essential to the king. The book is about what happens when a grinch-like character, Lord Droon, steals the stilts.

My thoughts: This is my very first time reading The King's Stilts. I loved it. I absolutely loved, loved, loved it!!! I love the King. I love Eric, the page boy. And I love the Patrol Cats!!! Yes, the book is text-heavy. So It's definitely a story book, it even has a fairy tale feel to it. But it's oh-so-delightful and rich in detail. It's a good, satisfying story.

Have you read The King's Stilts? What did you think of it? Did you like it? love it? hate it? I'd love to hear what you think of this one!

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

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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15. Brown Girl Dreaming (2014)

Brown Girl Dreaming. Jacqueline Woodson. 2014. Nancy Paulsen Books.  336 pages. [Source: Library]

Brown Girl Dreaming is a lovely, often fascinating, memoir written in verse. "Verse novels" can be tricky for me. Sometimes I love them, sometimes I really don't. But in this case, it works well. The writing is just lovely, for the most part. The book is rich in detail capturing what it was like to grow up in Ohio, South Carolina, and New York in the 1960s and 1970s. The people. The places. The sights, sounds, and tastes. The feelings. It's a book that feels personal: an intimate look at family and friends. I very much enjoyed reading it.

Brown Girl Dreaming is a memoir of an author. So it's no big surprise that the focus of this one is on words and stories and reading and writing, of using words and stories to make sense of the world, or, to make a whole new world. But in addition to being about an author's journey, it is a novel about identity as well: who am I, why am I here, what am I supposed to do, etc.
How can I explain to anyone that stories
are like air to me,
I breathe them in and let them out
over and over again. (247)
© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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16. A Quilt for Christmas (2014)

A Quilt for Christmas. Sandra Dallas. 2014. St. Martin's Press. 256 pages. [Source: Library]

For readers who love to read about quilters or quilts, this one may prove satisfying. Also, this one would be a good match for those who like to read about the Civil War. This one is set in Kansas during the last year of the Civil War. I liked Sandra Dallas' A Quilt for Christmas even though I don't consider myself fitting into the ideal audience. (I don't particularly seek out books about quilts. I don't seek out historical fiction set during the Civil War.)

Eliza Spooner is the heroine. She loves, loves, loves to quilt. She loves to get together with other women in the community. The war has had an effect on the community. Many husbands (and brothers, fathers, sons, etc.) are gone, away fighting for one side or the other. Eliza's husband, Will, is fighting for the Union. The novel opens with Eliza finishing a quilt she's made for her husband. She'll be sending the quilt along with a soldier who is returning to her husband's unit from leave. Her love for her husband is obvious, and, not just because she's spent all this time making a quilt. There are dozens of flashbacks. These flashbacks give readers a chance to get to know the couple. However, I must admit that these flashbacks are confusing at times. They are not really set apart in the text, and the transition from present-day to the past can be sloppy at times.

Readers meet Eliza and her son and daughter. Readers meet men and women of the small community as well. Mainly, readers get to know Missouri Ann and her daughter. When Missouri Ann's husband dies, she takes the opportunity to flee from her abusive in-laws. Eliza opens her home to the pair, and this isn't without some risk. Missouri Ann's in-laws are probably without a doubt the meanest and cruelest in the county--if not the state. But not everyone in the community is as immediately open to including Missouri Ann in their group. Her in-laws have tainted her, a bit, no one wants to get close to someone who would marry into that family.

At one point, at a quilting party of sorts, the discussion of slavery and runaway slaves comes up. Opinions are mixed. Prejudices are voiced. Even though most of the women are for the Union--for the Yankees--most if not all have very strong views about blacks.

Eliza's own views will be tested when she's asked to hide a runaway slave: a woman who murdered her mistress. Will she welcome her home to this slave and put her own life and the lives of her children at risk?

A Quilt for Christmas is an odd book at times. It seems to have a handful of plots and stories, any one could be the MAIN one, but really not one seems to stand out as being the one it's all about. It's definitely NOT a plot-driven book. It's mainly about the lives of women in a particular community during the fall of 1864 and throughout 1865.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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17. Eight More Christmas Books

And Then Comes Christmas. Tom Brenner. Illustrated by Jana Christy. 2014. Candlewick Press. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

With some picture books, you almost have to read them a few times before you decide if you like them or not. Such is the case with Tom Brenner's And Then Comes Christmas.

And Then Comes Christmas is all about establishing atmosphere and celebrating traditions. Atmosphere is established by description and detail. Phrases like "bare branches rake across the sky" and "romp in snow as smooth as bedcovers." Traditions are celebrated: choosing a tree, decorating a tree, making cookies, wrapping presents, reading stories, attending programs, making crafts, seeing Santa at the mall, etc. Some traditions will likely be familiar. Some may not be. Not every child gets to play in the snow before Christmas--or after Christmas, for that matter! But all children could choose to make paper snowflakes to decorate their windows.

It is a book that slowly and gently counts down to Christmas. (Though not with actual numbers.) There is a certain pattern to it...multiple when/then passages.

I think my favorite when/then passage is:
When elves and reindeer appear in stores, and small trains race through toy villages, and piles of presents nestle in cotton drifts...Then hop from foot to foot, waiting to sit on Santa's knee."
I like this one well enough. But I would hate to have to diagram any of these sentences!

How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Dr. Seuss. 1957. Random House. 64 pages. [Source: Review copy]

I love it. Of course I love it. How could I not? Now, I will admit that I didn't read the actual book until I was an adult. It wasn't one of the Seuss books that I owned growing up. But the christmas special--the cartoon--is one I've seen dozens and dozens of times. The book itself is lovely. If you love one, you'll love the other.

So in case you're unfamiliar with the book or special, The Grinch hates Christmas. His neighbors, the Whos in Who-ville, love Christmas. He is super-cranky this year, and, he decides to steal it. He thinks Christmas is all about the stuff. Take the stuff, do away with it altogether, right? Wrong. The Whos in Who-ville teach the Grinch a lesson about joy.

One of my favorite things about it is it's just SO quotable. Here are a few of my favorite lines:
Every who down in Who-ville liked Christmas a lot...But the Grinch, who lived just north of Who-ville, did NOT!
And THEN they'd do something he liked least of all! Every who down in Who-ville, the tall and the small, would stand close together, with Christmas bells ringing. They'd stand hand-in-hand. And the Whos would start singing. They'd sing! And they'd sing! AND they'd SING! SING! SING!
Then he slid down the chimney. A rather tight pinch. But, if Santa could do it, then so could the Grinch.
Then the last thing he took was the log for their fire! Then he went up the chimney, himself, the old liar.
It came without ribbons! It came without tags! It came without packages, boxes, or bags!"

'Twas the Night Before Christmas. Clement C. Moore. Illustrated by Jessie Willcox Smith. 1823/1912. HMH. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

I've read 'Twas the Night Before Christmas plenty of times before. But this is the first time I've read the edition of the poem published as a picture book in 1912 with illustrations by Jessie Willcox Smith.

The poem itself is as delightful as it ever is. I think this is a poem that feels familiar no matter what. You don't have to seek it out year after year. It just finds you and sticks. It's just part of the Christmas culture. (I love the Sesame Street play starring Bert and Ernie as featured in Muppet Family Christmas.)

It was interesting to see the illustrations from this time period. (You may see the illustrations at project gutenberg.) Did I love the illustrations? Not particularly.

The Nutcracker and the Mouse King. E.T.A. Hoffmann. Adapted by Wren Maysen. Illustrated by Gail de Marcken. 2009. 56 pages. [Source: Review copy]

I am not as familiar with the original story (1816) as I am the story of the ballet. (The two are different.) It's an odd book. I'll be honest. It is just as strange as Alice in Wonderland. (Though, of course, The Nutcracker and the Mouse King came decades before Alice.)

Marie Stahlbaum is the heroine of The Nutcracker and the Mouse King. The book opens with Marie and her brother, Fritz, playing together and waiting, waiting, waiting for all the delights of Christmas. They are waiting to enter the large drawing room where the tree is, and where the presents are. Their mother and father are there as well. As is Godfather Drosselmeier. There is a new doll, Clara, for Marie. There are new toy soldiers for Fritz. And there is a lovely toy castle, Marzipan Castle, for them both. The Nutcracker is a gift for the whole family. Marie does take special interest in it, this interest remains despite the fact that Fritz breaks the Nutcracker when he's showing off.

Marie stays up past her bedtime in the drawing room. This is when things get strange: seeing Godfather Drosselmeier on top of the clock, seeing all the mice attack, seeing the Mouse King, etc. She witnesses a battle. Towards the close of that battle, she throws a slipper at the wicked Mouse King.

Marie awakens in bed the next day. Her mother had found her bleeding on the floor near the tree and toy cupboard. She spends the next few days at least in bed. Spending so much time in bed might seem horrible, and, perhaps Marie found it to be so part of the time at least. But her Godfather tells her strange stories which she believes of course.

Plenty of The Nutcracker and the Mouse King is the Godfather's strange, strange story. This story is about "a king, a queen, some mice, and a young princess named Pirlipat." The story is rich in detail:
Princess Pirlipat was very lovely. She had flawless white skin, with bright blue eyes and flowing locks of golden hair. The generals, noblemen, and ministers of the state all told the king and queen that they had never seen a baby like the princess. Not only was the princess beautiful, but she was also born with two perfect rows of teeth!
The queen insisted that Princess Pirlipat's cradle always be guarded. The royal guards were placed at Pirlipat's door, and directly beside her cradle sat six nurses...and with these six nurses sat six big cats. The nurses had strict orders from the queen to keep one cat in each of their laps and pet them all day and all night so that they would never stop purring. This was indeed strange. No one knew why the queen went to such lengths to protect her princess, but still, every night, the sound of purring cats echoed throughout the castle. But the queen had a very good reason to be on guard, for a curse had been placed on her family.
Readers learn of the family curse, of course. And it's something. The story becomes more and more bizarre as it unfolds. But to Marie, it is completely captivating.

Meanwhile, we have not seen the last of the mice or their dreadful King. Marie knows that sooner or later the final battle will come....

There does come a time when the Nutcracker takes Marie to his magical, fantastic home in Toyland.

So readers see Marie awaken again from yet another dream. Will Marie's ultimate dream come true?

This story is so strange and bizarre and rich in detail--pure fantasy.

The Velveteen Rabbit. Margery Williams. Illustrated by William Nicholson. 1922/2014. Random House. 48 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Do you know what it is to be real? One little Christmas bunny will learn this and plenty of other life lessons in Margery Williams' classic tale The Velveteen Rabbit.

The Velveteen Rabbit opens with a young boy receiving a rabbit for a Christmas present. All is lovely for the rabbit that first day. But the toy is quickly forgotten. He becomes one toy of many, many, many toys. He's not exactly special to the boy or the other toys. In fact, I'd say the other toys bully him a bit. All except for the Skin Horse, the oldest toy in the nursery. It is this horse that tells the Rabbit all about being real, what it takes to be real, what it feels like, how it changes you, etc.
"Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real." "Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit. "Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt." "Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?" "It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand." "I suppose you are real?" said the Rabbit. And then he wished he had not said it, for he thought the Skin Horse might be sensitive. But the Skin Horse only smiled. "The Boy's Uncle made me Real," he said. "That was a great many years ago; but once you are Real you can't become unreal again. It lasts for always." (5-8)
The Velveteen Rabbit is one of my favorite Christmas books. I love the nursery magic. I love the ending. It was originally published in 1922. The story and illustrations in this edition are original. This is a beautiful edition of the book. One of the best I've seen.

The Velveteen Rabbit was published several years before A.A. Milne's Winnie the Pooh and House at Pooh Corner. Chances are if you enjoy one, you'll enjoy the other.

Do you have a favorite toy-come-to-life fantasy?

Fancy Nancy: Splendiferous Christmas. Jane O'Connor. Illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser. 2009. HarperCollins. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

I enjoyed reading Fancy Nancy Splendiferous Christmas. This is actually the first Fancy Nancy book I've read, so it served as a good introduction to the series as well. I liked it very much. I love the illustrations. They were a bit busy, perhaps, but that is part of their charm, I think. I love the amount of detail. Every time I read it, I notice something I hadn't noticed before. There is something almost precious about this book--perhaps because of the illustrations, or even the text. But I don't mind that in a picture book now and then.

In this one, Fancy Nancy and her family are decorating the house for Christmas. They are doing plenty of christmas-y things all together as a family. One of things they are doing is waiting. Waiting is a big part of the holiday, in my opinion. They are waiting for the Grandpa to arrive. When he arrives, they can begin to decorate the tree. They always wait for him. And I imagine every year, she gets a bit impatient because she is oh-so-excited. This year, however, her parents allow her to put on the brand-new tree-topper, something that she picked out and bought with her own money--in the summer...I won't spoil this one. But I ended up liking it very much!
What Cats Want for Christmas. Kandy Radzinski. 2007. Sleeping Bear Press. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

For cat-lovers, this is a charming-enough book to read at Christmas time. The premise is simple: if cats could write letters to Santa, what would they ask for. Each spread shows a cat and his/her letter to Santa. The letters are all written in rhyme. The letters are predictable enough, but, the idea I think is original. I do wish there was more variety in what the letters requested, however. And some letters seem a bit dark and twisted.

I really liked the illustrations. I think I liked looking at the various cats better than reading the letters.

 It's Not About You Mr. Santa Claus. Soraya Diase Coffelt. 2014. Morgan James Publishing. 34 pages. [Source: Review copy]

There are plenty of children who write letters to Santa each year. But how many letters to Santa include the gospel message? In this picture book a young boy does just that.
Dear Mr. Santa Claus,
It's me again--a kid. I know I've written lots of letters to you before with long lists of gifts I wanted for Christmas. Well, not this year. This letter is different. I discovered the real meaning of Christmas has nothing to do with you at all. It is about a very special gift. I want to tell you about this gift. By the way, how are you and Mrs. Santa Claus doing? Have you lost any weight? Did your helpers, the elves, grow any taller? Do you still like cookies and milk? Are you still wearing that red, furry outfit? I've always wondered, what do you wear in the summer time?
It's a simple book with a timeless message. Which timeless message? Well, I suppose I could pick one or two that stand out. First, that Christmas is not about Santa and presents and shopping. It is actually about celebrating Jesus. Second, that the gospel is too good to keep to yourself. The gospel is for sharing.
The real Christmas story began a long time ago, when a Roman emperor named Caesar Augustus ordered that a census be taken. A census is when all the people had to be counted. At that time, A man named Joseph and his wife, Mary had to take a long journey to the city of David, known as Bethlehem, for the census. It wasn't an easy journey as Mary was going to have a baby soon.
The focus of this book is on retelling the Christmas story and communicating the gospel message. Probably leanings toward more retelling.

I was pleasantly surprised by the illustrations. I thought they were very nicely done.

Will this book please every single reader? Probably not. It may not be a perfect fit for every family this holiday season. But I think for some it will be a great find.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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18. Wars of the Roses (2014)

The Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors. Dan Jones. 2014. Viking Adult. 416 pages. [Source: Library]

I wouldn't say I'd read just any book on this subject. But I would say I'd read almost any book on this subject. I've read plenty nonfiction and fiction covering these decades of English history. I find it fascinating yet brutal.

The Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors was originally published as The Hollow Crown in the UK. It focuses on the lives of Henry V, Henry VI, Edward IV, Richard III, Henry VII, and Henry VIII. Others come into it as well: men and women who had a role to play in the "Wars of the Roses." I can imagine that if you're completely new to the subject, there would be a lot of names to keep up with, a lot of connections to remember. I didn't find that to be the case, however. I found the story was clearly told, with plenty of detail. It is an engaging read. It can lead you to plenty of "what ifs..." Because the story of how Henry VII came to the throne is just like that. He wasn't a likely candidate, in other words. If there hadn't been decades of distrust and betrayals and executions and battles, he'd never have stood a chance.

The book has plenty of drama, and I'd say it does a good job bringing the subjects to life or revealing their character or personality. I think the book makes an effort to quote what contemporary records had to say about any given king, what reputation they had during their reign and directly afterwards.

I would say that both The Plantagenets and The Wars of the Roses are great at illustrating that all the kings had weaknesses. There was never one completely perfect king. Some kings had more strengths than weaknesses. Some kings had more weaknesses than strengths. Some kings came to reign at exactly the right time when their country needed their strengths and could overlook their weaknesses. Some kings came to reign and didn't have what the country needed--at least not at that time. The books are also a great reminder of how DIFFERENT things were in the past, of how BLOODY and CRUEL politics could be. It wasn't just one king here and there that proved execution-happy or power-hungry, and, it wasn't just English kings either. If you put the times into context, you'll see that's just how things were all over Europe, and probably even broader than that.

For some potential readers, there's only ONE question: Does Dan Jones say that Richard III killed his nephews?! This is what the book says exactly, "All we can be sure of is that the boys were first disinherited, then deprived of their liberty and servants, and that they then disappeared, presumed dead by contemporaries across Europe. And the person who benefited most from their disappearance was Richard III" (278). That is all the book says about WHO might have done it. It does not suggest others who may have had motive and opportunity. But he doesn't spend time elaborating--speculating--on how, when, where, and why Richard did it. That was a big relief to me. Yes, I would have preferred for him to mention OTHER possible murderers, to be completely fair. BUT at least he didn't spend pages and pages building up a case against Richard murdering his nephews in the tower. Those two sentences are it. That is all the time he spends on the subject. So I think it would be overreacting to reject the whole book based on two sentences. The book covers decades of material. It covers the reigns of SIX kings. You can doubt his conclusion, and still benefit from the book as a whole.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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19. When Santa Fell to Earth

When Santa Fell To Earth. Cornelia Funke. Translated by Oliver Latsch. 1994/2006. Scholastic. 167 pages. [Source: Library]

I don't know what I was expecting exactly with Cornelia Funke's When Santa Fell to Earth. Was I disappointed with the reading experience? Not really. Funke's "Santa" may not have matched my expectations, but, once I got used to her take on "Santa" and his "elves," it worked fine for me. This book is certainly creative. It offers readers a) invisible reindeer, b) cursing elves, c) evil Nutcracker goons and d) chocolate santas. It is a very odd book in a way. Almost a Twilight Zone take on Christmas. (Especially about the BOOTS.)

The book begins with a failed escape of sorts. Niklas Goodfellow is a Santa on-the-run. He's been put on trial and unfairly sentenced. He isn't all on his own. There are a few elves and angels on his side in his caravan, a few who still "get" what Christmas is all about. But it's a dangerous time for them all. They may have initially escaped, but, they have crashed. They landed in small neighborhood. They may eventually get away BEFORE they're discovered, but, every day they remain, every day it takes to repair things increases the risk.

Charlotte and Ben are the kid heroes of When Santa Fell To Earth. They are the two that interact with Niklas Goodfellow and his angels and elves. They are the two that find the naughty reindeer, Twinklestar. They are the two that fight alongside Santa and his elves against the oh-so-evil Gerold Geronimus Goblynch.

The book is certainly interesting and entertaining. But it's also ODD.
© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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20. Tumtum & Nutmeg: The Rose Cottage Tales

Tumtum & Nutmeg: The Rose Cottage Tales. Emily Bearn. 2010. Little Brown. 416 pages. [Source: Library]

Tumtum & Nutmeg: The Rose Cottage Tales features three stories starring some of my favorite mice: A Christmas Adventure, A Seaside Surprise, and A Circus Adventure.

In A Christmas Adventure, Tumtum and Nutmeg worry that the Mildew children (Arthur and Lucy) won't have Christmas this year unless they intervene. The mice read their letters to Santa. Arthur wants a toy car. Lucy wants a box of magic tricks. Can two mice give the children a Christmas to remember? Of course! Can two mice make an adventure of Christmas? Yes! Tumtum and Nutmeg seek to find the children presents locally. Baron Toymouse reigns over a nursery at a nearby house. (The children have long since grown up. He rules the former play room.) Baron Toymouse HAS a horrid reputation. But Tumtum and Nutmeg would risk just about anything to help the two children they've come to love so much. (They are more involved in Arthur and Lucy's upbringing then Mr. Mildew.)

In A Seaside Surprise, Tumtum and Nutmeg vacation with Arthur and Lucy (again). General Marchmouse also tags along. The two children are spending their holiday with their uncle or great-uncle. I enjoyed this adventure more than earlier ones, I believe. Or else I've come to appreciate the nonsensical General Marchmouse!

In A Circus Adventure, birthdays are celebrated. General Marchmouse has been invited to dine with Tumtum and Nutmeg. Unfortunately, he doesn't show up at his own party. Why? Well, he spies a present. It was Arthur's birthday as well. His uncle has sent a lovely present. A circus. A circus with a bus. General Marchmouse gives into temptation, he steals the bus and the ringmaster's clothes. He takes the bus for a trip outside and happens upon a circus in the meadow. A mouse circus of sorts. The book presents General Marchmouse at his best and worst. Can Tumtum and Nutmeg intervene and save all concerned?!

I was surprised that I liked/really liked ALL three stories. I was expecting to like one or maybe even two. But I really enjoyed all three stories. I was expecting to like A Circus Adventure the least, and, it may just be my favorite!!!

I would definitely recommend the six books I've read so far.
© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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21. Greenglass House (2014)

Greenglass House. Kate Milford. 2014.  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 384 pages. [Source: Library]

I had very high expectations for Kate Milford's Greenglass House. I loved, loved, LOVED Kate Milford's The Boneshaker. My love for that one hasn't faded a bit since I first read it. (I've reread it at least once or twice since.) Greenglass House is one that I've been looking forward to reading for most of the year. Almost a book I NEEDED to read instead of merely being one I wanted to read. And the opening paragraph was wonderful:
There is a right way to do things and a wrong way, if you're going to run a hotel in a smugglers' town. You shouldn't make it a habit to ask too many questions, for one thing. And you probably shouldn't be in it for the money. Smugglers are always going to be flush with cash as soon as they find a buyer for the eight cartons of fountain pen cartridges that write in illegal shades of green, but they never have money today. You should, if you are going to run a smugglers' hotel, get a big account book and assume that whatever you write in it, the reality is, you're going to get paid in fountain pen cartridges. If you're lucky. You could just as easily get paid with something even more useless. Milo Pine did not run a smugglers' hotel, but his parents did.Unfortunately, for me, the book proved disappointing. However, just because it was an almost for me does not mean that it would prove equally disappointing to other readers. I think it could definitely work for other readers. In fact, the very elements that annoyed me may be what another reader loves best of all about the book.
For a book set during the Christmas holidays, this is a very un-Christmas-y book. Christmas proves to be the last thing on every character's mind. So if you pick up the book thinking, A Christmas book! A Christmas mystery! How delightful! You may be disappointed.

Greenglass House is very much a mystery. It is a puzzle-solving mystery. It is a book that celebrates brainstorming. Milo, our hero, finds a map. He doesn't know anything at all about the map. Just that one of the new guests must have dropped it--either on purpose or by accident--on his/her way into the inn. Perhaps he first becomes curious out of boredom or frustration. It is the holidays. The inn never has--that he can recall--had guests over the winter holidays. So when three or four guests appear within an hour or two of each other, he's annoyed. Guests mean work. If not work for him directly, then work for his parents. And the guests range from slightly eccentric to VERY eccentric.

Greenglass Mystery is more than a mystery. I can't talk about it without spoiling it, however.

So what annoyed me most about the Greenglass House? The game-playing. The introduction of the role-playing game in order to solve the mystery at the inn. All the details--big and small--that come from the game. Including the names. Most of the book, the characters use their game-names (personas) instead of their real names.

There are also elements of a coming-of-age story within Greenglass House. Milo is adopted. He's Chinese. His parents are white. He thinks about being adopted a lot. Plus, I think he's just at that age where one questions their identity and who they are and why they are and what they want to be and where they fit and how they fit.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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22. Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms (2014)

Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms. Katherine Rundell. 2014. Simon & Schuster. 256 pages. [Source: Library] Mild spoilers.

The heroine of Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms is a girl named Will Silver (full name Wilhelmina, don't dare call her Wilhelmina though!). Will loves living on a farm in Zimbabwe. Her father doesn't own the farm--Captain Browne does--but he manages it. She can't remember her mother, but, life there with her father and her friends (mostly farm workers and local boys) and her animals is near perfect. Until her father dies from malaria. Just like her mother.

After his death, Captain Browne is her legal guardian. The problem? Well, this older gentlemen has fallen head over heels in love with a horrible woman with an evil plan. At least that's how Will sees it. Will soon finds herself heading off to England and boarding school. The situation seems bleak. And it is. And I think that's one reason why I didn't exactly love Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms. It is a bleak middle grade read with little hope. I like hope. I need hope. Will finds herself in dozens of desperate situations, and, it doesn't get better, it just ends. True to life? Probably. Is it important to be true to life and authentic? Sure.

Will is displaced. She's out of her element in England and at school. She's never interacted with girls her own age. She's never formally attended school. She's never had to follow rules. So she struggles with EVERYTHING. For example, she struggles with the concept of staying inside, staying inside classrooms and buildings during school, of staying in her room at night and sleeping. She can't understand why no one will let her sleep outside wherever she wants whenever she wants. She can't understand why no one wants to be near her despite the fact that she hasn't changed clothes or taken a bath or washed her hair or even brushed her hair in three weeks or so. She gets angry when people tell her to use a fork and knife to eat. So it's an understatement to say she's out of her element.

The book is interesting enough, I suppose. But I didn't really enjoy it very much.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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23. Seuss on Saturday #1

And to Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street. Dr. Seuss. 1937/1964. Random House. 40 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence:
When I leave home to walk to school, Dad always says to me, "Marco, keep your eyelids up and see what you can see."
Premise/Plot: While Marco is on his way home, he plans what to say to his father when he asks what he's seen. Marco really sees just a horse and wagon. But what he imagines he sees, well, it gets outlandish. What will he end up telling his father? a pack of lies? or the truth?

My thoughts: It's been years since I read this one. And it is a bit dated when you think about it. For example, as Marco gets carried away with his story, he imagines a reindeer pulling a sled. But he stops himself by adding,
Say--anyone could think of that,
Jack or Fred or Joe or Nat--
Say, even Jane could think of that.
Also of note, it includes a "Chinese man who eats with sticks..." and the illustration of course is not ideal. I'm not mentioning these things to say that the book is "bad" and doesn't belong in your child's library. Just noting that times have changed quite a bit since 1937!!!

Overall, I'd say I liked this one. Didn't necessarily "love" it. But I like it. How many picture books from the 1930s are still in print?! Well, I suppose there's The Story of Ferdinand, Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, Madeline, and The Story of Babar. There may be others as well.

Have you read And To Think I Saw It On Mulberry Street? Did you like it? love it? hate it? I'd love to know what you think of it!

If you'd like to join me in reading or rereading Dr. Seuss' picture books (chronologically) I'd love to have you join me! The next book I'll be reviewing is The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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24. Meet Father Christmas

Twelve Drummers Drumming. Father Christmas Mystery #1. C.C. Benison. 2011. Doubleday. 384 pages. [Source: Library]

Twelve Drummers Drumming is the first in the Father Christmas mystery series by C.C. Benison. Tom Christmas, the hero, is a vicar in the village of Thornford Regis. He's a widower with a nine year old daughter, Miranda. Both are still healing and adapting. Tom's wife was murdered. So why settle in Thornford? Tom and his daughter were visiting his sister-in-law and her husband about a year before the novel opens. There was a funeral in the village that day, but, the vicar was missing. Tom Christmas (Father Christmas as people can't help calling him!) stepped in and performed the funeral service. When the position became available, Tom wanted the job for keeps. But village or hamlet life isn't all cozy. There are a few mysteries to be solved. And since Inspector Bliss and Inspector Blessing aren't quick to solve cases, Tom's skills come in handy. Tom is good at observing things, and, it helps that people can't seem to help confiding in him and telling their secrets.

So there are two murders to solve in Twelve Drummers Drumming. I won't say a word about the crimes and the clues. I hate having mysteries spoiled! Just as important as the clues, if not MORE important than the clues are the characters. That I can safely comment on! I really enjoyed the depth of the characters!

Overall, I would say that Twelve Drummers Drumming is an entertaining and satisfying read. I enjoyed spending time with the characters. I would recommend it!

Eleven Piper Piping. Father Christmas Mystery #2. C.C. Benison. 2012. Delacorte. 474 pages. [Source: Library]

I think I enjoyed the second Father Christmas mystery even more than the first. Tom Christmas is the vicar of Thornford Regis. He is also the chaplain to a traditional Scottish pipe band, The Thistle But Mostly Rose South Devon Pipe Band. While Tom's daughter, Miranda, is having a sleepover, and his housekeeper, Madrun, is panicking about a failed yorkshire pudding, Tom Christmas is off--for better or worse--to the Burns Supper. But the weekend is problematic. The horrible weather--the blizzard-like conditions--means that half the band is unable to come, which leaves us with ELEVEN pipers piping. But while half the band is unable to make it through the storm, there is one unexpected guest that shows up at the local hotel where the Burns supper is being held. That guest is Judith Ingley, a retired nurse. Though usually women aren't allowed to attend, they don't turn her away in the storm.

Eleven Pipers Piping IS a murder mystery. So I won't share any details about the crime(s) or victim(s). I will say that the reader gets to spend plenty of time with Father Christmas as he interacts with the whole village before, during, and after the crime. I really enjoyed the setting very much. The characterization didn't disappoint.

Ten Lords A-Leaping. Father Christmas #3. C.C. Benison. 2013. Delacorte. 512 pages. [Source: Library]

I wish I could give a rating for the first half and a rating for the second half.

Ten Lords A-Leaping is the third book in the Father Christmas series. In Eleven Pipers Piping, Father Christmas brings up a fund raiser idea to help pay for repairs on the church building. It involves sky diving. Ten Lords A-Leaping sees the event through. It is NOT set in Thornford Regis, unfortunately. I think I would have enjoyed it more if it had been.

So. The novel opens with the sky diving. In his jump, Tom has a little accident in the landing with his ankle, an accident that changes his plans and prolongs his visit in that part of the country. He is asked to stay over at Eggescombe Park. First, he's stuck there because of his own injury, then, he's stuck there because of a murder.

I really found myself hating the first half of the book. The series has never been squeaky clean, previous titles in the series have had a few words now and then that keep it from being perfectly clean. Still, it wasn't enough to keep me from reading, from wanting to read on in the series. But Ten Lords A-Leaping turns smutty. And smut in a creepy, inappropriate way. To the book's credit, Tom ends up feeling disgusted by the end of the novel with his own experience. But still.

Even though I really disliked much of the beginning and middle, I kept reading. And the mystery aspects of the novel began to grow on me a bit. I can't say that I "liked" it better than the first two in the series. I can't even say that I "liked" the majority of the characters. There were plenty of despicable characters. I'd say there were more despicable characters than nice ones. But. That is part of the genre, I suppose.

I enjoyed this one enough by the end, but, honestly I was a bit disappointed with this one.
© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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25. El Deafo (2014)

El Deafo. Cece Bell. 2014. Harry N. Abrams. 233 pages. [Source: Library]

I put El Deafo on hold at the library not knowing it was a graphic novel. In a way, I'm glad I didn't know. I don' t read many graphic novels, there are, of course, exceptions to every rule. El Deafo is a coming-of-age memoir in graphic novel format. I loved it. I really loved it. It surprised me in all the right ways.

It begins simply, "I was a regular little kid. I played with my mom's stuff. I watched TV with my big brother, Ashley, and my big sister, Sarah. I rode on the back of my father's bicycle. I found caterpillars with my friend Emma. And I sang. 'We all live in a yellow submarine, a yellow submarine--' But then everything changed." A childhood illness at the age of 4--meningitis--leaves her deaf.

The memoir covers many years of her childhood, from the age of four through her sixth grade year in school. In a way it is about her growing up deaf, growing up different. But in many ways, it is about so much more than that: it's about family and friendship and belonging and struggling to belong. It is about her wanting and needing a 'true' friend. It is about her mishaps in friendships. There are a few untrue friends before there is the one that is true. It is very much about identity: how she sees herself, her struggle to be comfortable with herself, to accept and love herself. Another aspect of El Deafo which I very much enjoyed is Cece's first crush.

In her imagination, she's closer to being there, in that place. She imagines that she is a superhero, El Deafo, the super-hero self stands up for herself to her friends AND her family. Her super-hero self lets others know what she's feeling, when she's mad, when her feelings are hurt, etc. Her superhero self is brave and courageous letting others know that she doesn't need people to talk really loudly or really slowly. Her superhero self lets people know that she hates it when they call her "my deaf friend" or "that deaf kid."

El Deafo is set in the 1970s, I believe. There are plenty of cultural references to place it in that decade. I really enjoyed the scenes where she was watching TV.

So, yes, El Deafo is in my opinion about so much more than growing up deaf. This book is easy to love and oh-so-easy to recommend.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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