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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: 2013, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 25 of 133
1. March: Book One

March: Book One. John Lewis, Andrew Aydin. Illustrated by Nate Powell. 2013. 128 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Can you swim? No. Well, neither can I--but we might have to.

Premise/plot: March is the graphic novel autobiography of John Lewis. So far, there are three volumes in this autobiography. Today, I am reviewing book one. Lewis gives us an incredible behind-the-scenes glimpse of the civil rights movement. This one also has a built-in framework: it is set in 2009, and he's reflecting on his life before attending the Inauguration.

My thoughts: Dare I say this one is a must read? I'm tempted, really tempted. (And if you follow me on the blog and know my tastes inside and out, then you know that I don't usually read graphic novels.)

What I like best about this one is that it is engaging, compelling, emotional, personal, and above all else cohesive. It gives you a truer sense of the 'big picture' of the civil rights movement than any other book I've read--that I can remember at least. (When you read 400+ books a year, I'll be the first to admit that you don't necessarily recall most of them with much detail.)

I also love the amount of detail. (For example, that he used to preach to his chickens!)

I've read the first two books now and I'm excited to begin the third.


© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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2. Dog Loves Counting

Dog Loves Counting. Louise Yates. 2013. Random House. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Dog loved books. He loved reading them late into the night and didn't like to leave them for long.

Premise/plot: Dog knows he should go to bed, but, he's having trouble falling to sleep. He decides to count something--not sheep--to help him sleep. So he opens a book, finds himself inside, of course--Dog gets lost in books, becoming part of the action--and starts to find things to count. He makes friends too, of course.

My thoughts: Of the three books, this is my least favorite. I still love Dog as a character. And I can even relate to not wanting to put down his book and go to bed. But as an adult reader, I can't really lose myself in a book that focuses on counting from one to ten and back again. I just can't. For young children, of course, this one is still recommended. But it feels more 'educational' than the previous two in the series.

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

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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3. A Big Fat Crisis

A Big Fat Crisis by Deborah Cohen. 2013. 272 pages. [Source: Library]

I found Deborah A. Cohen's A Big Fat Crisis to be a compelling read. Did I agree with the book? Well, that's another story. First, I want to say that her approach is different from those I've read before, read recently I mean. Her approach is more psychological perhaps.

Cohen basically tries to persuade readers of two things: 1) that people who are obese are victims and they cannot possibly be held responsible for what they consume or how much they consume 2) that people who are obese are obese because of their surrounding environments and that if the environments changed, then, their behavior would most likely change as well as they adapt to a new normal.

Let's look at these individually first.

People are obese because they naturally lack the will power to say no to food that is easily, consistently available; people are obese because of an inability to think things through and make good-for-them-in-the-long-run decisions. Her argument is essentially that people fall victim to their environment, and, they physically--psychologically--can't help succumbing to cues from their environment. People aren't smart enough to 'see through' or 'see beyond' the obvious tricks of the food industry. They are fooled one hundred percent of the time, at least, that is what Cohen argues. She dismisses the third of Americans that are not overweight or obese as almost abnormal, inexplicable phenomenons. (Because their existence disturbs her findings about what is natural for humans, they're largely ignored or dismissed. What could she possibly learn from people who have self-control, when, clearly she argues for hundreds of pages that self-control isn't natural and can't be taught?!)

Let's slow it down. Is this true? Do we want this to be true really? Do we really want to argue that no one is ever responsible for their behavior, and, that they are just following the cues of their environment, and they don't have any other choice but to do what they're led to do? Think about what this argument means for all areas of life where decision making is involved--which is essentially everything.

I don't think this is true. This "excuse" may temporarily give you a "feel good" feeling if you're overweight or obese, but, isn't it also slightly insulting and condescending. At least one or the other. You can't change. You can't do it. You're not capable. It's beyond your ability or capacity. The only way you could ever change is if a lot of other people come together and act on your behalf by changing "the environment" so that you stand a chance. Isn't it better to be honest and say, "You know I understand exactly how difficult and tough it is. BUT. You can do it. It may be hard. It may mean always choosing the more difficult path before you. But you know what, you can do it. Some days will be easier than others. There will be moments of doubt and despair. But it is doable. You'll have to change how you think, how you react, how you cope. You'll have to rewire your brain and change your lifestyle. But it isn't as impossible as it sounds."

What do you think? If you struggle with weight would you rather be told that you're a victim and that it is actually impossible for you to do anything to "fix" the situation yourself OR would you rather be told that you can do something, that you can start taking steps right here, right now to be healthier?! I do want your opinions!

The second half of her argument is that the environment must be changed on behalf of the overweight/obese in society. The environment should be changed through both regulations (I'm assuming legislation?) and voluntary submission to new health guidelines. She's talking about making-over a country so that workplaces, restaurants, supermarkets, and stores of all sorts will no longer prove "a threat" to the nation's health.

Let's look at some of her ideas for restaurants. Standardized/regulated portion sizes across the nation. Most entrees--if not all--should be 700 calories or less. So that no one "accidentally" eats more than a third of their daily calories. Require 10% of a restaurant's menu to be healthy, following current government approved nutrition tips. Train waiters on health and nutrition, so they can warn customers about the risks and dangers of ordering certain things off the menu.

Let's look at some of her ideas for supermarkets. Smaller supermarkets, for one. Fewer choices overall, perhaps. All unhealthy food will be available, but, put in places where you really have to search it out to find it. Stores arranged by meal: a breakfast area, a lunch area, a supper area. If "fruits and vegetables" end up being in two or three places, all the better, in her opinion. Stores should have cooking demonstrations, lots of free samples, give out recipe books, and teach about meal planning.

Essentially, her idea is that if you happen to change the environment so that it is easier to eat healthy and more difficult to eat unhealthy, then health will probably most likely improve because people will always do what is easiest and takes the least amount of thought. Though she admits that she has no idea if changing the environment would actually work and solve the nation's obesity crisis because no one has attempted it yet, not even in a few small, "trial" areas.

Do I agree with the second half of her argument? That's a tough one. Do I think it's a good idea for waiters to start lecturing customers on what they're ordering and telling them that they shouldn't eat that because it will make them fatter?! Of course, that's an exaggeration. Cohen is not arguing for rude behavior. But still.

I do think this half of the argument isn't quite as flawed. I do wish that every restaurant had actually healthy options. Not pretend-healthy options that are slightly healthier by comparison. I do wish that restaurants were perfectly straightforward about what is in each dish and how it's prepared. I do think it's a good idea to portion things better. For example, instead of over-portioning you on carb-heavy items like rice and pasta, they'd give you exactly a serving size: half a cup. Of course, carbs aren't the only things that need to be portioned. (For example, I know a restaurant where the chicken-fried steak meal is TWO battered-and-fried steaks topped with gravy. Two is *the* portion. You have to ask for the "child's plate" or the "senior" plate to receive just ONE steak.) I would REALLY, REALLY love to see vegetable options in restaurants that aren't fried, creamed, covered in gravy, or buttered-to-death. And I would really, really, really love to see fresh fruit as an option in restaurants. I agree with her that I think it is really difficult to stay out of restaurants all together. She mentions work-related and family-related gatherings at restaurants, and, it can be tough to find that "one" healthy option at a restaurant that is doable some of the time.

As for grocery stores, they are in the promoting-and-selling business. And I'm not sure that "free samples" of vegetables are going to sell more vegetables. Though I do believe that vegetables *can* be prepared in yummy, yummy ways. I eat a LOT of vegetables myself. I don't think it's a lost cause, and, that vegetables and fruits should be neglected so scientists can work on futuristic foods that are "healthy and taste good too." (Can you tell I'm still annoyed by reading Stuffed: An Insider's Look at Who's (Really) Making America Fat?!)

One thing that she doesn't really mention needing to change is television. She does mention the Food Network, saying that if grocery stores offered cooking demonstrations and cooking classes then people would benefit after all they love to watch the Food Network. The Food Network is not in the business of creating/teaching healthy recipes designed to help people watch what they eat, to lose weight, to prevent chronic diseases. You hardly ever--if at all--see them caution you against using too much salt, too much cream, too much butter, too much sugar, too much white flour, etc.

Some ideas seemed potentially good--ideal. But I'm not sure all of them are. And even the good ideas seem like it would be an uphill battle to achieve implementation. Not that that reason alone is worth giving the matter all up. But it is asking us to potentially place a lot of trust and power/authority into the government.

Am I convinced that all of society needs to be rebuilt/redesigned with the overweight/obese victim in mind? I found it an engaging read. But it read more like a dystopia to me.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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4. The Truth of Me

The Truth of Me. Patricia MacLachlan. 2013. 128 pages. [Source: Library]

The Truth of Me almost has a melancholy feel to it. Robbie, our narrator, and his dog, Ellie, will be spending summer at his grandmother's house. These two have a special bond. Robbie feels safely and securely loved by his admittedly eccentric grandma, Maddy. He is staying with Grandma Maddy while his parents go on a music tour in Europe.

Robbie doesn't always feel so loved when he lives with his parents. The good news? This isn't one of those melancholy books about parents separating or divorcing. The bad news? His parents don't make time for him--their careers come first, always. And even when they're at home, they're not in the moment WITH Robbie. Sometimes Robbie learns more about his parents by reading newspaper clippings of music reviews and listening to music programs on the radio than by actually observing them and talking with them. This young boy points out to his grandmother that his mother loves her violin more than she loves him. And the grandmother admits that is probably true--for better or worse.

Robbie loves being with Maddy. And Maddy has a way with stories, and, a way with animals. Some people think she's spinning stories, making up all the animal stories she tells. But Robbie believes her. He may just become part of one of her stories when they start to camp together....

It isn't that The Truth of Me lacks a plot; it has one, it's just a melancholy one where even when fun stuff is happening, one never really loses a sense of loss or sadness. It brings to mind when Sadness says, "Remember the funny movie where the dog dies." Now, that was NOT a hint that Ellie dies. The dog's life is never in danger.


© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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5. White Fur Flying

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

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

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

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

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

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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6. Donner Dinner Party

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

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

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

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

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

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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7. Electrical Wizard

Electrical Wizard: How Nikola Tesla Lit Up the World. Elizabeth Rusch. Illustrated by Oliver Dominguez. 2013/2015. Candlewick. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]

It never failed, when I was in school, that one of the year's assignments would be to read a biography and either write a written report or give an oral report. It was a boring assignment, but, it wouldn't have had to be. What did I look for in a biography? First, that it was a SHORT book, meeting the minimum number of required pages certainly, but, not looking to go OVER either. Second, that it had PICTURES. The more illustrations, the better, in my opinion. And if they were COLOR illustrations, it was EVEN better. The subject matter didn't matter as much to me--at least then--as did these two essentials. Electrical Wizard would have been an absolute dream come true to me as a kid. I really don't remember ANY biography coming close in terms of being kid friendly and visually appealing. Children are lucky to have such lovely biographies available today. This one happens to be published by Candlewick.

So, the book is a biography of Nicola Tesla. And Rusch managed quite effortlessly to make electricity easy to understand. And Tesla was quite an interesting--fascinating--man. So this one makes for a delightfully compelling read.

Seven chapters focus on his life. Several more focus on his impact and relevance. For example, "Ahead of His Time," shows the brilliance of Tesla's inventions. And "Tesla Vs. Edison" provides context for understanding/appreciating both men. Also included scientific notes, a time line, source notes, and selected biography.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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8. Nutcracker of Nuremberg

Nutcracker of Nuremberg. Alexandre Dumas. Illustrated by Else Hasselris. Translated by Grace Gingras. 1844/1930/2013. Pook Press. 172 pages. [Source: Bought]

 In the city of Nuremberg lived a much respected Chief Justice called President Silberhaus, which means "house of silver." He had two children, a nine-year-old boy, Fritz, and a daughter Marie who was seven and a half years old. 

I first read E.T.A. Hoffmann's The Nutcracker and the Mouse King (1816) last year. This year I thought I would read Alexandre Dumas' adaptation of The Nutcracker published several decades after the original.

The book opens with a preface, an excuse for the retelling. The author had taken his daughter to a birthday party. During the party, he made his escape and fell asleep in one of the rooms of the house. The children find him asleep and tie him up. To secure his release, he offers several bribes. The first--for candy--is rejected, as is the second--for fireworks in the park. But the third, well, the third is accepted. The children demand a fairy story. He warns that the story he's about to tell is not his own, not of his own making. But they don't care about originality. They want a GOOD, entertaining story.

In three parts, the tale of the Nutcracker is related to his young audience--who had already freed him. The first part introduces readers to Marie and her family. It is Christmas, of course, and she's taken a special interest in a Nutcracker. Her brother took an interest as well which led to the Nutcracker getting broken. Marie takes on the role of nurse, and this role continues even after the rest of the family has gone to bed. She remains behind in the living room (or equivalent) and reality becomes a bit blurred in what follows. It involves the Nutcracker and the rest of the toys coming to life and doing battle with mice led by a Mouse King. What readers learn is that somehow, someway, Marie gets injured--her hand, I believe--by broken glass. Marie remains in bed recuperating for the second and third parts of the story. Her godfather visits her and tells her the story of "The Nut Krakatuk and the Princess Pirlipate." This is a dark fairy tale of a king, queen, and princess cursed by mice seeking revenge, and, of what was done to try to break the curse. The third part of the story focuses once more on Marie, the Nutcracker, and the Mouse King. Several threats are made against the Nutcracker to Marie by the Mouse King, and several times she tries to appease him. For example, she gives in to his demand for all her candy, for all her dolls, etc. But it is inevitable: The Mouse King must do battle once and for all with the Nutcracker, and Marie, I believe, does find a sword for The Nutcracker. After the battle, the Nutcracker takes Marie away with him to a fantasy land where just about anything is possible....

I liked it. I did. But I'm not sure I loved, loved, loved it.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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9. Ding Dong! Gorilla!

Ding Dong! Gorilla! Michelle Robinson. Illustrated by Leonie Lord. 2013. Peachtree. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

I loved, loved, loved Ding Dong! Gorilla! by Michelle Robinson. It reminded me of The Gorilla Did It by Barbara Shook Hazen, it is one of my favorite, favorite picture books. Sadly, I think it is out of print. The book opens with a confession.
You know we ordered a pizza? A great big one with extra cheese? Well, I'm afraid I have some BAD news...
But before he gets to the BAD news, he has a LOT to explain. It all started when he heard the doorbell ring. It was not the pizza delivery boy. No. It was a gorilla. A gorilla who made himself feel quite at home. (Think CAT IN THE HAT.)
So what is the bad news?! Well, he takes his time....that's for sure.

Ding Dong! Gorilla! had me grinning. I just loved it. I thought it was a very funny book. And I adored the illustrations by Leonie Lord.

I definitely recommend this one.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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10. Kitty Cat, Kitty Cat, Are You Going to School?

Kitty Cat, Kitty Cat, Are You Going to School. Bill Martin Jr., and Michael Sampson. Illustrated by Laura J. Bryant. 2013. 13 pages? [Source: Library]

First sentence: Kitty Cat, Kitty Cat, it's time to go to school. What fun, Mother, my teacher is so cool!

Premise/plot: The Kitty-Cat in this one is a BOY, just so you know. Anyway, this book focuses in on ALL the activities at school throughout the day. And this Kitty-Cat is happy and content all day long. No fuss or frustration.

My thoughts: Unlike the previous two books, this one isn't so much a struggle or conflict as it is I'M REALLY EXCITED TO BE OLD ENOUGH TO GO TO SCHOOL AND PLAY AND LEARN ALL DAY. The focus really is on the school setting and all the activities one does all throughout the day. The star of this one is very easy-going and agreeable. Always content to just be a part of it all. Quite a change from the previous books in some ways. Though not all ways :) I like all three books actually.

Text: 4 out of 5
Illustrations: 5 out of 5
Total: 9 out of 10

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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11. Review: How to Love

How to Love by Katie Cotugno. Balzer & Bray. 2013. Review copy from publisher.


The Plot: Three years ago, Sawyer LeGrande ran away, leaving behind family and friends. Leaving Serena Montero, his girlfriend.

His pregnant girlfriend.

Reena has put the pieces of her life back together, including making peace with her disapproving father. Instead of her dreams of college, she's raising a two year old, going to the local college, working. She has a new boyfriend, she has good friends.

And Sawyer comes back to town.

The Good: A romance with a lot of appeal.

The story flips back and forth between Sawyer and Reena's intense, high school love three years ago and the present reality of betrayal, hurt, and attraction. So the reader gets two stories, one of first love and one of second chances.

I liked Reena because, well, she was in a tough place and she did what she had to do. When she got pregnant, and decided to have and keep the baby, she reorganized and adjusted her dreams. Though I kept thinking, if she had had more support from the families, if there was less judging and more compassion -- but there wasn't. And she's at a good place when Sawyer returns.

Sawyer, who by leaving town managed to escape the consequences Reena had to face and had to live with, is back. As I said, this is also a second chances love story, with Sawyer and Reena working through their feelings and family complications, as well as learning about who each other is now, not who they were. Not who they remember them as.

With the ages of the main characters, and the two stories at two time periods, this has appeal for both teen readers and New Adult readers.

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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

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12. Tallulah's Nutcracker

Tallulah's Nutcracker. Marilyn Singer. Illustrated by Alexandra Boiger. 2013. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 48 pages.

First sentence: There was only one Christmas present that Tallulah really wanted. When the phone rang, she was sure her wish had come true--and she was right. 

Premise/plot: Tallulah is super-excited that she will be a mouse in a production of the Nutcracker. She finds out how much work it takes to be involved in the Nutcracker. Will opening night be as wonderful and as thrilling as she hopes?

My thoughts: I love the Nutcracker. And I love Tallulah. So I had high hopes for this one! I definitely enjoyed it. If I liked it a little less than the previous books in the series it might be because there isn't as much of Beckett in it. But still, overall, I would recommend it to anyone who loves happy ballet stories for children.

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

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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13. Tallulah's Toe Shoes

Tallulah's Toe Shoes. Marilyn Singer. Alexandra Boiger. 2013. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 48 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence:  Tallulah could stand like a ballerina. Tallulah could move like a ballerina, too. But Tallulah knew she'd never be a ballerina until she got a pair of pink satin toe shoes.

Premise/plot: Little Tallulah is wanting to grow up a little too fast in this one. She really, really wants to be a 'grown up' ballerina now. She wants toe shoes of her own. Is she ready for toe shoes? Not really. This is a lesson she learns best on her own. And she'll get that chance when she finds a pair of discarded toe shoes in the trash!

My thoughts: Still enjoying the series very much.

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

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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14. She is Mine

She Is Mine: A War Orphans' Incredible Journey of Survival by Stephanie Fast. 2015. Destiny Ministries. 224 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Stephanie Fast's She is Mine is a compelling, unforgettable memoir of a Korean war-orphan.

Her father, whom she never met, was an American soldier. He returned to the U.S. unaware that he was going to be a father. Her mother, ashamed and embarrassed, returned to her family. Initially beloved of her mother, the author was shunned by the rest of the family and shunned by the community in which she spent her early years. Eventually, her mother gave into the family pressure and abandoned her. The author was--at the age of four--put on a train and sent away. Told that "an uncle" would welcome her at the end of the line, the truth was she would never see her family again, never find her way back "home."

She had the clothes on her back, and, a day's worth of food. But how can a four-year-old survive on her own? But survive she did. The book chronicles the years--three or four years, I believe--she spent surviving, leading an uncertain, always desperate existence. Sometimes wandering in the country, in the fields; sometimes wandering into villages and cities. Usually her encounters with other people were negative. It went beyond her early-years experience of name-calling and "shunning." She was beaten. She was tortured. She was left to die. And yet. There were a few people who treated her kindly, with grace, who emphatically declared you must survive.

The memoir goes to really dark, really ugly places. I won't lie. Some of what she endured is horrifying and the fact that she was able to survive is a miracle.

She is Mine is ABOUT adoption, about the need for adoption, about how life-changing and amazing adoption can be. It's about adoption-as-redemption and redemption-as-adoption.

For anyone who enjoys nonfiction, this one is a must read.
© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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15. The 5th Wave (2013)

The 5th Wave. Rick Yancey. 2013. Penguin. 457 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Why reread The 5th Wave? Well, I wanted to reread The 5th Wave before beginning the second book in the series, The Infinite Sea. Also, it made sense to reread it for the Sci-Fi Experience!!!

If you're considering reading it for yourself in the near future, you might want to skip this review. Not because I'm planning on including spoilers. I'm not. But because some books should just be experienced as they are--no expectations, no hype.

So what is it about? Alien invasion. Humanity's fight to survive. It's a sci-fi thriller. It's intense and action-packed. Yet not without heart and soul and substance. It's action-packed and emotional. (Not always easy to balance the two to every reader's satisfaction.)

What else should you expect? Well. It's told through multiple narrators. Cassie, "Zombie," and "Nugget" to name a few. Normally this tends to irritate me. But I actually really enjoyed it in The 5th Wave. Yes, it was a bit disconcerting the first transition or two. But overall, it adds to the suspense and tension. The novel is better because of it.

Choices. To trust or not to trust. That is what The 5th Wave is about. Human survivors forced into difficult situations. Should they trust any survivor they come across? Should they assume the worst, and kill before they can be killed. Kill without question, without thinking, no exceptions. Or should they risk their own lives by clinging to hope that their are other survivors out there--survivors that are very much still human? Misplaced trust could prove deadly after all. But becoming a killer robs you of who you were.
This is what the Others have done to us. You can't band together to fight without trust. And without trust, there was no hope. How do you rid the Earth of humans? Rid the humans of their humanity. 
© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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16. 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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17. 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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18. Meet Kate Shackleton

Dying in the Wool. (Kate Shackleton #1) Frances Brody. 2009/2012. Minotaur Books. 368 pages. [Source: Library]

Did I love Dying in the Wool? No, not really. I had hoped to love it since it's a cozy mystery set in England in the 1920s. But I merely liked it instead of LOVING it.

The novel introduces the private detective, Kate Shackleton. She's a widow; her husband was a soldier who died during the war. Since the war, she's helped--usually without a fee--people find out what happened to their missing loved ones. Her other hobby is photography.

In Dying in the Wool, Kate Shackleton has her first paying case to solve. Her friend--her acquaintance--Tabitha is getting married in a month or two. Her father, a mill owner, disappeared in 1916. Some people strongly feel he's dead--likely suicide. Other people feel strongly that he's just ran off, probably with a woman to start a new life. Tabitha wants answers. Are the people in the village of Bridgestead keeping secrets? And can Kate and her ex-policeman partner (Jim Sykes) get people to talking? Will this case be easy or difficult? Is it dangerous to ask the wrong questions even after all these years?

I liked the setting just fine. I did. I liked Kate Shackleton and her partner, though I wish we'd had more of him. Would I have liked this one more if I'd found more of the characters likable? Perhaps. Probably. I really just felt this one had so many despicable characters in it. I hardly liked anyone! And it is NOT a clean read. I was hoping it would be a bit cleaner. That probably kept me from loving this one too.

Medal for Murder. (Kate Shackleton #2) Frances Brody. 2010/2013. Minotaur Books. 432 pages. [Source: Library]

Did I love Medal for Murder? I think maybe I did. At the very least I liked it so much more than the first book in the series. (I think I might have not been in the right and proper mood to enjoy/appreciate Dying in the Wool.)

Kate Shackleton and Jim Sykes have been asked by a pawn shop owner to investigate a robbery, and to discreetly visit the owners of the stolen (pawned) items. Sykes visits some. Kate visits some.

But Kate's passion isn't with finding missing things, it's finding missing persons. And within a day or two of her arrival, she does indeed have a person to track down.

I may have liked this one more because of its theatrical themes. The missing girl--woman, I should say--is an actress. She disappeared after the last performance of the play at the local theatre. Her disappearance wasn't the only strange and unhappy event that night....

I really did enjoy this one very much. It was a quick read! I really started to like the characters, especially Kate and Jim and Inspector Charles.

Murder in the Afternoon. (Kate Shackleton #3) Frances Brody. 2011/2014. Minotaur Books. 400 pages.  [Source: Library]

I am definitely enjoying this mystery series. I may have started the series hesitant, but, by the third book, it is love. I've enjoyed each book in the series a little bit more.

Mary Jane Armstrong comes to Kate Shackleton early one morning begging her to help find her missing husband. Her daughter, Harriet, had found him dead on Saturday evening. However, by the time she'd returned with an adult--the body was gone. NO ONE in their town/village had believed her. "She's just a girl after all...and everyone knows that girls make up stories for fun." That's the logic that Kate Shackleton is up against. Kate does believe Harriet's story. And though she has the mother's support--seemingly strong support--in the case, she's having a hard time of it since no one in the community wants to talk to her about the supposed crime.

But as readers can imagine, things are not as they appear. Danger remains so long as the murderer remains free.

This one is a nice addition to the series. Readers learn more about Kate's background. And Inspector Charles is definitely coming to be a love interest!

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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19. Entangled (2013)

Entangled. Amy Rose Capetta. 2013. HMH. 336 pages. [Source: Library]

On the one hand, I didn't end up connecting with the characters, and, I found much of the book to be confusing and/or too bizarre for my liking. But on the other hand, I found it compelling enough that I wanted to read it through until the end so that I could see if Cade 'finds' her 'entangled' missing half, Xan.

Entangled is YA Science Fiction. It's set several thousand years in the future long after Earth itself has been destroyed--by asteroid, I believe. Humans haven't done a good job colonizing space. In fact, they've done an AWFUL job of it. They're not thriving, and, at best are merely surviving. Humans are the lowest of the lowest of the low. All alien races seem to despise humans as nobodies.

Cade is the book's human narrator. She's a teen musician trying to make sense of her noisy existence. Music is the sole way she copes with her life. Her music seems to help those around her cope better with their own lives too. Even the spacesick humans who have lost their sanity completely. (The spacesick seem to have a need to touch and be touched, to connect with anything and everything outside themselves.)

Soon after the novel opens, Cade is visited by someone--or a remnant of someone. She learns that she is special, that she is 'entangled,' that she has a second-half, Xan, who is in danger, that Xan and Cade together could be the saviors of the human race. It's a lot of information to absorb. But. She takes her visitor seriously and begins a task that seems--at least to her--impossible. Finding a way off the planet and onto a space ship, traveling to the planet, Hades, where Xan is being held prisoner.

It would be a very short and unsatisfying book if Cade didn't find a way off the planet at least. And, as you might have guessed, Cade does in fact make friends with the people she's traveling with. She informs them of her mission, and, they decide to help her. Not that they offer help immediately and without reservation. But. Eventually relationships--friendships--are formed. And Cade begins to feel a little less alone and a little less overwhelmed.

There are a handful of world-building scenes throughout the novel. I'm not sure why they didn't quite work for me. I just failed to engage with this book and the characters within it. I wanted to know what happened. But I didn't necessarily "like" or "enjoy" the characters or the journey. Some characters I liked more than others.

This one may work for you. It didn't quite work for me. But as I said, I at least cared enough to finish it.
© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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20. How To Catch A Bogle (2013)

How To Catch A Bogle. Catherine Jinks. Illustrated by Sarah Watts. 2013. HMH. [Source: Review copy]

  I enjoyed reading How To Catch A Bogle a Victorian fantasy novel by Catherine Jinks. Birdie, the heroine, is an apprentice to Alfred the Bogler. She's bogle bait. Bogles are monsters who consume children. The action begins quickly in this one. Readers soon see Alfred and Birdie hard at work at this one. Birdie sings beautifully, baiting the trap if you will. Alfred carefully waits until just the right moment... Dangerous work it is. Is it too dangerous? One of Birdie's new acquaintances says it is. Miss Eames is something. She is very curious about bogles, about boglers. She wonders about the different types and classes of bogles--monsters or creatures. Where they live, how they live, what they eat, likes and dislikes, etc. She has a different approach than Alfred. Alfred is practical and skilled, but, not curious or scientific. Miss Eames is more interested in his work than he is in her work. She comes to really care for Birdie.

Miss Eames is not the only person interested in bogles. And there is one person whose interest is unethical....

Plenty of action and a bit of mystery!!! I enjoyed this one very much.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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21. A Great and Glorious Adventure

A Great and Glorious Adventure: The Hundred Years War and the Birth of Renaissance England. Gordon Corrigan. 2013/2014. Pegasus. 320 pages. [Source: Library]

A Great and Glorious Adventure was a sometimes fascinating read on the Hundred Years war. (Did England have a rightful claim to France? to rule certain domains in France? to the whole country? Corrigan explains why so many monarchs thought they did.)

The opening chapters fill readers in on British History from William the Conqueror to Edward III. However, most of the book focuses on the reigns of Edward III, Richard II, Henry IV, and Henry V. (The author has his favorites.)

I would say a love for British history is an absolute must for this one. That isn't to say that every history lover will love this one. Yes, it's about history, but it's more military history, war, and battles. (So much detail is given for so many different battles and/or conflicts.)

So the book is about England's ongoing conflicts with France, Scotland, and Wales over several centuries. Readers also learn a little bit about the Black Death. (But only a little bit).

It is sometimes fascinating. I won't lie. There were chapters I enjoyed. But it is sometimes less than fascinating. There were chapters I just didn't enjoy all that much.

If you enjoy reading about the War of Roses, and would like a better, stronger foundation for understanding it, then this one would be worth reading.



© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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22. Follow Follow (2013)

Follow  Follow. A Book of Reverso Poems. (Companion to Mirror Mirror) Marilyn Singer. Illustrated by Josee Masse. 2013. Penguin. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

I loved, loved, LOVED reading Marilyn Singer's Follow Follow. If you love fairy tales, you MUST read Follow Follow. If you love good poetry, you MUST read Follow Follow. If you're new to reverso poems, to the concept of this form of poetry, you should really read Follow Follow or its companion Mirror Mirror. I love how the form itself is so engaging. It takes poetry to a whole new level for me! (It may do the same for you. I hope it does!)

Author's note:
The reverso, a form I created, is made up of two poems. Read the first down and it says one thing. Read it back up, with changes only in punctuation and capitalization, and it means something completely different. When you flip the poem, sometimes the same narrator has a different point of view. Other times, there is another narrator all together.
The poems:
  • Your Wish Is My Command (Aladdin)
  • Birthday Suit (The Emperor's New Clothes)
  • Silly Goose (The Golden Goose)
  • Ready, Steady, Go (The Tortoise and the Hare)
  • Will the Real Princess Please Stand Up (The Princess and the Pea)
  • The Little Mermaid's Choice (The Little Mermaid)
  • Panache (Puss in Boots)
  • Follow Follow (The Pied Piper)
  • No Bigger Than Your Thumb (Thumbelina)
  • Can't Blow This House Down (The Three Little Pigs)
  • The Nightingale's Emperor (The Nightingale)
  • On With The Dance (The Twelve Dancing Princesses)
I think I LOVED almost all of the poems. There were a few that I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED however.

The Little Mermaid's Choice

For love,
give up your voice.
Don't
think twice.
On the shore,
be his shadow.
Don't
keep your home
in the unruly sea.
Be docile.
You can't
catch him
playing
"You'll never catch me!"

You'll never catch me
playing
"Catch him."
You can't
be docile
in the unruly sea.
Keep your home.
Don't
be his shadow
on the shore.
Think twice!
Don't
give up your voice
for love.

Reading these poems is just a JOY. I love how engaging it is. How it makes you think and reflect on the familiar stories. I love how the poems play around with voice and perspective!!! So very clever!

Read this book!!!


© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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23. Really, I Shouldn't Be Thinking This Much

I have probably mentioned before that I have an interest in books with some kind of weight-related angle. One branch of my family has been...big...for three generations, probably more. While I've only been borderline heavy at times, myself (though I still have time), I've seen what this issue can do to a lot of people. It's something I think about a lot. If my response to Big Fat Manifesto by Susan Vaught a few years ago is any indication, I over think about it.

All the time I was reading 45 Pounds (More or Less) by K.A. Barson, I was over thinking like mad.

One of the things I was over thinking about was how difficult it must be to write a book about being overweight. I definitely accept the value of the material. But can you write about the experience of being overweight without writing an issue/problem book? How can you write about being overweight without that situation being a problem? On the most superficial level, to do that the writer would have to find a way to overcome social attitudes toward the overweight in the world she creates, forget about the practical considerations Anne in 45 Pounds deals with or the health considerations my family members have dealt with. It's hard to see how this can go any other way than a problem story.

So 45 Pounds falls into the problem novel category, covering a multitude of reasons for people finding themselves a size 17, as main character Anne does. She really is hammered with far more reasons to comfort and impulse eat than anyone needs. She's very good at recognizing them. Though that probably makes sense because she's been studying weight loss for a big part of her sixteen years. Anne's big turn around comes from her desire to help someone else, not herself. That's something I could over think about with little effort. Is it better to improve yourself for yourself or for someone else? What does it all mean?

45 Pounds is definitely readable. Far more readable, in fact, than my angsting over the weight issue would lead my readers to believe. After I finished the book and while I was working on this blog post, I happened to read an article by Susan Dunne about artist Nathan Lewis. At the very end, he says, "That's the way we learn stories, through fragments. The narrative happens in our own mind." It immediately made me think of 45 Pounds, though not because its story is fragmented. Not at all. It's all there. But readers like myself, who feel they have a connection to that story, can get trapped in a narrative in our own minds.
 

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24. Wild Boy (2013)

Wild Boy. Rob Lloyd-Jones. 2013. Candlewick Press. 295 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Prologue
Southwark, London, May 1838
That night, the night the showman came, the moon was the color of mud.

Do you love historical mysteries? compelling historical mysteries set in Victorian London?! Wild Boy is definitely one I'd recommend.

This murder-mystery stars two unlikely friends: the Wild Boy, a sideshow "freak," and Clarissa, a young acrobat and the daughter of the circus ringmaster. These two enemies--Wild Boy doesn't really have many friends--are pushed together under some strange circumstances. Wild Boy agrees, for better or worse, to help Clarissa find a rich person to pickpocket. What they pocket isn't money, but, a mysterious note warning someone--but WHO--that his (or her) life is in great danger. Wild Boy, who knows it is oh-so-risky to leave his sideshow "home," decides to brave it. He'll go in search of the would-be recipient. Surely he can figure out who the note was meant for before it's too late...

He does manage to find out WHO, and just in time to witness the crime--the murder. But the murderer was wearing a mask, and, I believe a cape as well. There are a handful of clues for him to work with, however. If he gets the chance. For Wild Boy, within minutes of the crime, becomes the prime suspect. He's an animal, after all, right?!

For Wild Boy to live long enough to solve the mystery, he'll need a little help from others...

I really LOVED Wild Boy. I loved Wild Boy himself. I loved the narrative. He had me hooked from the start. I also loved Clarissa. I thought the way these two were brought together was great. The atmosphere of this one--the setting, the description, the detail--it all worked quite well.

 Have you read Wild Boy? What did you think of it?

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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25. Conjured

Conjured. Sarah Beth Durst. 2013. Walker. 368 pages. [Source: Library]

I definitely found Conjured by Sarah Beth Durst to be a compelling and surprisingly romantic read. What I enjoyed most about this dark YA novel is the mystery. Readers are kept clueless, just as clueless as the heroine herself. Her name, so she's been told, is Eve. What can Eve remember? Not much. And the two people "closest" to her, well, they're odd sorts. One, Malcolm, seems honorable enough, but still crazy mysterious. The other, Nicki, seems mysterious too, but, also antagonistic. Both seem anxious for Eve to recover her memories, but, are trying to pretend that it's no big deal, that the memories will come--or not--as they will. Eve definitely feels PRESSURE from almost everyone in her life.

Eve has, for better or worse, started a job at a library. She meets a boy around her own age, Zach. I would say that he's unlike any other boy she's ever met, but, since Eve has no memories at all of her past, and surprisingly few of her present, that would not be worth much. But Zach is special, and, he thinks Eve is very, very special indeed. Zach isn't the only "young person" she's met since leaving the hospital. She's also met a few others, that are STRANGE, STRANGE, SUPER-STRANGE.

Conjured is a book that celebrates MYSTERY. Eve is on a journey of self-discovery, and, the mystery she's trying to solve is herself...
© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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