Thursday, March 30, 2017

Wet Cement

Wet Cement. Bob Raczka. 2016. 48 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: I like to think of poems as word paintings. A poet uses words like colors to paint pictures inside your head. In concrete poems, or shape poems, the words also paint pictures on the page.

Premise/plot: Wet Cement is a collection of concrete poems by Bob Raczka. In the author's own words, "In the title of each poem, I've created pictures with letters. In the poems themselves, I've created pictures with words."

My thoughts: I wasn't expecting to love this one. Poetry tends to be hit or miss with me. I either really make a connection, or NOT. I really LOVED, LOVED, LOVED this one. I think my favorite poem is "Dominoes." Both the title and the text of the poem paint the picture of dominoes falling. It's a fun and effective image.
Just one push
here we go
follow through
feel the flow
brace yourself
stay in line
steady now
doing fine
forward march
don't look back
can't stop now
still on track
coming down
single file
do your part
join the pile
tag you're it
falling fast
pass it on
what a blast!
looking good
almost there
stay on course
don't be scared
hang on tight
rock 'n' roll
what are we?

Other poems I enjoyed: "Orbiting," "Corners," "Word Cross," and the opening poem, "Take-off."

This is a poetry book I'm excited to recommend!

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Thomas Edison and His Bright Idea

Thomas Edison and His Bright Idea. Patricia Brennan Demuth. Illustrated by Jez Tuya. 2016. Penguin. 48 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Who was Thomas Edison? He was an inventor. An inventor thinks up new ideas. Thomas had a very bright idea. His idea lit up the world.

Premise/plot: Thomas Edison and His Bright Idea is a "level 3" "transitional" "guided reading level K" biography for young elementary students. (The book is not broken up into chapters.) The book is a basic introduction to Thomas Edison's life and inventions.

My thoughts: Where was this book when I was growing up. Seriously. Not that I was ever-curious about inventors. It just seemed like every single nonfiction biography was dry, wordy, and dusty-smelling. No bright, colorful illustrations. No design love. In some ways, it's more the exception to the rule these days to find unappealing, boring nonfiction. And that's a good thing!

I may be past the recommended age group, but, I'm glad to know that good nonfiction is being published for all ages of readers.

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Share-a-Tea March Check-In

  • What are you currently reading for the challenge? 
  • Have you finished any books for this challenge this month?
  • Is there a book you're looking forward to starting next month?
  • Want to share any favorite quotes? It could be from your current read. It could be about reading. It could be about drinking tea. 
  • What teas have you enjoyed this month? 
  • Do you have a new favorite tea?
I'm currently reading two books for my tea-time: Here I Stand by Roland H. Bainton, a biography of Martin Luther.  But most often, the NIV Pursuit of God (aka "Tozer Bible"). I'm on-again-off-again reading 1984 by George Orwell. I hope to get back to it soon!

The books I've finished and reviewed:
Ugly. Robert Hoge. 2016. 208 pages. [Source: Library]
Bobbs Merril Third Reader. Edited by Clara Belle Baker and Edna Dean Baker. 1924/30/39. 293 pages. [Source: Bought]
A Stolen Heart. Amanda Cabot. 2017. Revell. 352 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Trumpet of the Swan. E.B. White. Illustrated by Fred Marcellino. 1970. 272 pages. [Source: Library] 
Poetry for Cats: The Definitive Anthology of Distinguished Feline Verse. Henry Beard. 1994. 96 pages. [Source: Borrowed.]
French for Cats. Henry N. Beard. 1991. 96 pages. [Borrowed] 
Advanced French for Exceptional Cats. Henry N. Beard. 1992. 96 pages. [Source: Borrowed]
Holy Bible. 21st Century King James Version (KJ21) Edited by William D. Prindle. 1888 pages. [Source: Bought]
The Best Short Stories. Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Translated by David Magarshack. 2001. 320 pages. [Source: Library] 

The books I've finished but reviews aren't posted yet:
  • Stepping Out by Lin Oliver
  • The Dream Keeper and Other Poems by Langston Hughes
  • Wish by Barbara O'Connor
Book(s) I'm looking forward to reading in April:
Haven't planned that far ahead?!

Favorite quotes:

  • The world is full of talkers, but it is rare to find anyone who listens. (E.B. White, Trumpet of the Swan, 50)
  • "Sam, if a man can walk three miles in one hour, how many miles can he walk in four hours?" "It would depend on how tired he got after the first hour," replied Sam. (E.B. White, Trumpet of the Swan, 76)
  • Everyone is entitled to his likes and dislikes and to his prejudices. Come to think of it, I don't care for pistachio ice cream. I don't know why I don't like it, but I don't. (E.B. White, Trumpet of the Swan, 114) 
  • I knew I was ugly. But everyone is uglier than they think. We are all more beautiful too. We all have scars only we can own. (Ugly, Robert Hoge, 200)  
  • Life is sweet even in sorrow. It's good to be alive, however hard life is. (Dostoyevsky, 177)

 What teas have I enjoyed this month?
  • Triple Leaf Tea's White Tea. I love, love, love THIS one. I don't drink it sweetened. I've actually gotten down to just one sweetened tea a day! (That would be my cinnamon tea or my chocolate mint tea). 
  • Stash's English Breakfast Tea. This isn't my tea-time read-a-book tea. This is my first cup of the day, isn't life great with a cup of tea BREAKFAST tea. I don't drink it sweetened.
  • Stash's Fusion White and Green Tea blend. I try to have three cups of green tea a day. And I've been having this one count as one of my green teas! (The green tea I drink is Bigelow).

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


What's On Your Nightstand (March)

The folks at 5 Minutes For Books host What’s On Your Nightstand? the fourth Tuesday of each month in which we can share about the books we have been reading and/or plan to read.

Good news! I finished the KJ21 Bible, Quincunx, Caught in the Revolution, and Confidence. All listed on February's nightstand!

Pursuit of God Bible -- NIV. 2013. 1587 pages. [Source: Gift]

My current Bible is the NIV Tozer Bible. It will be my third Bible to tackle in 2017. (I finished the KJ21 Bible this month!)

An Exposition of Psalm 119. Thomas Manton. 2025 pages. [Source: Bought]

Best seven dollars I ever spent :) Who knew that I would fall so in love with a Puritan?!?!?!

Three Clerks. Anthony Trollope. 1858. 648 pages. [Source: Bought]
 I'm really enjoying this one. (Not a surprise).

Oliver Twist. Charles Dickens.  1838. 425 pages.
This is my Classics Club spin.

Here I Stand: A life of Martin Luther. Roland Bainton. 1950. 336 pages. [Source: Bought]

Really enjoying it.

Gosnell: The Untold Story of America's Most Prolific Serial Killer. 2017. 347 pages. [Source: Library]

Not enjoying it, but I think it's too important to ignore.

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Who Was Laura Ingalls Wilder?

Who Was Laura Ingalls Wilder? Patricia Brennan Demuth. 2013. 112 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: In 1874, two horses slowly pulled a covered wagon across the open prairie. The man with the reins, Charles Ingalls, had twinkly blue eyes and a long curly beard. Inside the wagon were his wife and daughters, plus everything the family owned.

Premise/plot: This early chapter book is a biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder. It is one of many titles in the "Who Was?" series. The biography clarifies for young readers the differences between her real life and the fictional Laura Ingalls that they may have met through either the series of books or the television series.

My thoughts: Would I have read this one as a child? Yes. I'm sure I would have. I was one of those kids who read and reread the Little House series dozens of times. In part because it was one of the series that we owned. We had one bookcase of books. And all of our books were well loved. In part, because I grew up watching the television series. As an adult, I didn't really learn anything new. But is that the standard by which to judge nonfiction written for children? Definitely not. So if you're an adult and have the choice of reading PIONEER GIRL with all its annotations or this children's biography, go with the adult biography. But providing interesting nonfiction books for all readers is important!

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Monday, March 27, 2017

Dr. Seuss: The Great Doodler

Dr. Seuss: The Great Doodler. Kate Klimo. Illustrated by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher. 2016. Random House. 48 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: It is a beautiful day in La Jolla, California. A writer and artist is at work in his studio. A telephone rings. A reporter is calling with big news. The writer has won a big award for his books. It is the Pulitzer Prize. The writer is Ted Geisel, also known as Dr. Seuss.

Premise/plot: This step into reading (level 3) title is a biography of Dr. Seuss. It is beautifully illustrated. There is a lot of text per page, but it is written in an engaging style for the most part.

My thoughts: I thought this shared plenty of details with young readers. For example, did you know his inspiration for And To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street was the droning rhythm of a ship's engine? Did you know that 27 publishers rejected the manuscript?

Other aspects of his life were presented simply. For example his drawings during World War II. In the book, they are presented without question and simply. We were at war or nearly so. He created cartoon drawings and films along with others in Hollywood to "poke fun" of the Germans and Japanese. Some might call it patriotic work, others might call it propaganda.

Today especially out of context, one could say that his work during the war years was racist, offensive, inappropriate. One could conclude that Seuss was a terrible person because at one point in his life he drew these cartoons. How could a man who proclaimed a person is a person no matter how small depict the Japanese the way he did? This book doesn't go there.

The book covers some books, but not all books. Yes to the Lorax and The Butter Battle. You might be surprised that Green Eggs and Ham is not mentioned.

But a couple of things really surprised me. 1) The author makes a BIG mistake. She says he only wrote 44 books. Seriously?! He wrote around sixty books! I should know because I made a yearlong project of reading him chronologically a few years ago. There were plenty of weeks I covered two or three books! 2) She doesn't mention that he wrote under three different names. Why?! How could you write about Dr. Seuss and not mention Theo LeSieg?! I can understand not knowing about Rosetta Stone--the other pseudonym--but the other? Why not include this? It should be common enough knowledge! And if it isn't, it should be! How could you pull together enough research to write the book and not know these two basics?! Did she think it wasn't interesting?

Two of the titles written by LeSieg include Ten Apples Up on Top and I Wish That I Had Duck Feet. The Rosetta Stone title is Because A Little Bug Went Ka-Choo.
© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Sunday, March 26, 2017

Finn Throws A Fit

Finn Throws A Fit. David Elliott. Illustrated by Timothy Basil Ering. 2009. Candlewick. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Finn likes peaches. Usually. But today, Finn doesn't like peaches. Today, Finn doesn't like anything. Today, Finn is cranky. Anything could happen.

Premise/plot: Finn is having a bad day. Perhaps even a terrible, horrible one. No one knows why. Least of all his parents. Elliott writes to parents, and for parents in this one. The narrative is descriptive and practically perfect in every way.
Thunder in the nursery! Lightning in the kitchen!
He cries. The house floods.
He kicks. An earthquake shakes the world.
But I think my absolute favorite part is:
The FIT goes on and on. It lasts until it doesn't.
My thoughts: I love, love, love, LOVE this one. Who hasn't met a Finn? Who hasn't seen a Finn in action? (I know I've seen Finn in a couple of restaurants.) I love the narrative. I love the descriptions. I love how true-to-life it is. I love how it captures the wild, fierceness of emotions. Some times emotions do RAGE out of control. I love how quotable it is. So much can be communicated by these two simple sentences: "Finn likes peaches. Usually;" and "It lasts until it doesn't."

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

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Advanced French for Exceptional Cats

Advanced French for Exceptional Cats. Henry N. Beard. 1992. 96 pages. [Source: Borrowed]

First sentence: The Exceptional Cat Le Chat Exceptionnel

Premise/plot: If you and your cat loved the first book, it's time to expand your knowledge. The phrases taught in this one go above and beyond your basic, practical needs with a few exceptions.
I don't mind Bach and Mozart as long as there is no singing.
Je veux bien ecouter Bach et Mozart pourvu que personne ne chante.
I nap, therefore I am.
Je fais un somme, donc je suis.
In this one the cat travels to France--to Paris--for part of this one. Most of the phrases are complex. There are sections on dining out, philosophy, music, etc.

My thoughts: I liked it. I like both books in the series.

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Saturday, March 25, 2017

Bobbs-Merrill Third Reader

Bobbs Merril Third Reader. Edited by Clara Belle Baker and Edna Dean Baker. 1924/30/39. 293 pages. [Source: Bought]

Premise/plot:This one is a reading/literature textbook from the 1930s. It contains stories and poems mainly. The book is divided into four sections: "Merry Animal Tales," "Folk Fairy Tales and Poems," "Stories of Many Lands," and "Playtime Stories."

My thoughts: My favorite selection from "Merry Animal Tales" was "The Frogs' Travels a Japanese folk tale. There are two frogs: one from a pond near Osaka, the other from a stream in Kioto. Both frogs decide to go traveling. They each reach the top of a mountain. They decide to help each other decide if it's worth continuing the journey on.
"Oh," said the Kioto frog, "we can stand on our hind legs and hold on to each other. Then each can look at the town where he is going."
The foolish frogs forgot that their eyes were in the back of their heads. Though their noses pointed to the places toward which they wanted to go, their eyes beheld the places from which they had come.
My favorite section of the book was "Folk Fairy Tales and Poems." I really loved quite a few of these including: "The Good Husband," "The Glass Hill," "Nail Soup," and "The Twelve Months." This section also includes a version of Hansel and Gretel adapted from the opera.

My favorite selection from "Stories of Many Lands," was "The Goose Boy." This one stars a king--the king of Bavaria--and a goose boy. So one day, a king loses a book beneath a tree. Not wanting to exert himself, he tries to hire a goose boy to go and fetch it for him. The goose boy is skeptical that he can earn a gold piece merely by running a mile to fetch a book! And if he did go, who would watch his geese?! The king says he'd be happy to watch the geese while the boy does his errand. But is the king up to such a task?!?! The boy returns with the book to find his geese gone and the king apologetic. The king helps the boy round up the geese again, and, he reveals that he is in fact the king. The boy, still skeptical, says he doesn't know if that is true enough...but he should definitely not be a gooseherd!

My favorite selection from "Playtime Stories," is Moufflou. This one is about a peasant family with a very well-trained dog that may or may not be the making of their fortune. It's a very charming story set in Italy. 

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Victorian Quarterly Check-In

  • What books for this challenge have you read (or reviewed) recently?
  • What are you currently reading?
  • Are there any quotes you'd like to share?
  • Who would you recommend? Anyone you would NOT recommend?
  • Favorite book you've read so far...
My answers:

✔ 1. A book under 200 pages
The Europeans. Henry James. 1878. 192 pages. [Source: Bought]
✔ 2. A book over 400 pages
The Adolescent. Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky.
✔ 4. A book you REALLY want to reread
Barchester Towers. Anthony Trollope. 1857. 418 pages. [Source: Bought]
✔ 5. A new-to-you book by a FAVORITE author
La Vendee. Anthony Trollope. 1850. 512 pages. [Source: Bought]
✔ 7. A book that was originally published serially
The American. Henry James. 1877. 400 pages. [Source: Bought]
✔ 8. A book published between 1837-1849
The Macdermots of Ballycloran. Anthony Trollope. 1847. 636 pages. [Source: Bought]
✔ 11. A book published between 1871-1880
Confidence. Henry James. 1879. 224 pages. [Source: Bought]
✔ 14. A book published between 1902-1999 with a Victorian setting
The Quincunx by Charles Palliser. 1990. 787 pages. [Source: Library]
✔ 21. A book by a new-to-you male author
Watch and Ward. Henry James. 1871. 128 pages. [Source: Bought]
✔ 23. A book translated into English
The Karamazov Brothers. Fyodor Dostoevsky. Translated by Ignat Avsey. 1880/2008. 1054 pages. [Source: Library]
✔ 24. A fiction or nonfiction book about Queen Victoria
Victoria. Daisy Goodwin. 2016. 404 pages. [Source: Library] 
✔ 25. A book that has been filmed as movie, miniseries, or television show
The Warden. Anthony Trollope. 1855. Oxford World's Classics. 294 pages. [Source: Bought]
✔ 26. A play OR a collection of short stories OR a collection of poems
The Best Short Stories. Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Translated by David Magarshack. 2001. 320 pages. [Source: Library]
✔ 28. Genre or Subgenre of your choice (mystery, suspense, romance, gothic, adventure, western, science fiction, fantasy)
The Time Machine. H.G. Wells. 1895. Penguin. 128 pages. [Source: Bought] 
✔ 29. Book with a name as the title
Roderick Hudson. Henry James. 1875. 398 pages. [Source: Bought]
✔ 30. Book You've Started but Never Finished
The Kellys and the O'Kellys. Anthony Trollope. 1848. 537 pages. [Source: Bought]

 Currently reading:

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
Three Clerks by Anthony Trollope

Quotes to Share:
  • “If pride is a source of information, you must be a prodigy of knowledge!”  Henry James
  • What on earth could be more luxurious than a sofa, a book, and a cup of coffee? Anthony Trollope
  • "There is no way of writing well and also of writing easily." Anthony Trollope
  • "There is no happiness in love, except at the end of an English novel." Anthony Trollope
  • "Let us suppose, gentlemen, that man is not stupid. But if he is not stupid, he is monstrously ungrateful." Fyodor Dostoyevesky
  • "A great thought is most often a feeling that sometimes goes without a definition for too long." Fyodor Dostoyevesky
  • "There are a thousand different ways of being good company." Henry James
  • "She got tired of thinking aright; but there was no serious harm in it, as she got equally tired of thinking wrong." Henry James
  • "You will experience much grief, and in grief you will find happiness. Here is my commandment to you: seek happiness in grief." Fyodor Dostoyevesky
  • "I think that everyone should, above all else on this earth, love life." Fyodor Dostoyevesky
  • "The curious thing is that the more the mind takes in, the more it has space for, and that all one’s ideas are like the Irish people at home who live in the different corners of a room, and take boarders." Henry James
  • “But the great trial in this world is to behave well and becomingly in spite of oppressive thoughts: and it always takes a struggle to do that, and that struggle you’ve made. I hope it may lead you to feel that you may be contented and in comfort without having everything which you think necessary to your happiness. I’m sure I looked forward to this week as one of unmixed trouble and torment; but I was very wrong to do so. It has given me a great deal of unmixed satisfaction.” Anthony Trollope
  • "Face this world. Learn its ways, watch it, be careful of too hasty guesses at its meaning. In the end you will find clues to it all. " H.G. Wells
  • "When I read a novel my imagination starts off at a gallop and leaves the narrator hidden in a cloud of dust; I have to come jogging twenty miles back to the denouement." Henry James
  • "When once the gate is opened to self-torture, the whole army of fiends files in." Henry James
  • “Nonsense, man; — how can you say you are not going to lie, when you know you’ve a lie in your mouth at the moment.”  Anthony Trollope
  •  “Nobody and everybody are always very kind, but unfortunately are generally very wrong.” Anthony Trollope
  • The public is defrauded when it is purposely misled. Poor public! how often is it misled! against what a world of fraud has it to contend! Anthony Trollope

I am really enjoying alternating Anthony Trollope and Henry James. Anthony Trollope has long been a favorite. Henry James is a new-to-me this year author. I haven't loved all of James' novels equally.
But I generally only read British classics. So it's been very interesting to read an American author too.

Another new-to-me author is Fyodor Dostoevsky. I've read three books so far!!!

 Favorite book I've read so far...

New to me:
The Karamazov Brothers. Fyodor Dostoevsky. Translated by Ignat Avsey. 1880/2008. 1054 pages. [Source: Library]

Favorite reread:
Barchester Towers. Anthony Trollope. 1857. 418 pages. [Source: Bought]

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Wolf's Story

Wolf's Story. Toby Forward. Illustrated by Izhar Cohen. 2005. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: No, please. Look at me. Would I lie to you? It was the old woman who started it. I did nothing wrong. Would I? We hit it off from the beginning. Not everyone likes a wolf, do they? Look at you. You're not certain. Would you like to come and sit a little closer while I tell you about the kid? I don't bite. No? Sure? Okay. Up to you.

Premise/plot: The wolf from Little Red Riding Hood is sharing HIS side of the story with you, the reader. Will you believe his story? Is it convincing? Or is there still reasonable doubt?!

My thoughts: I really enjoyed this one. I'm not sure if it's "really really liked" or "loved." But I though the narrative was strong. I loved the wolf's voice. His perspective was fun to see. We get this perspective both from the art--the illustrations--and the text itself. I loved how conversational it was. The Wolf was trying his best to charm the reader. Now, is this charming story the whole truth, the real story? Or is he trying to con readers for his own purposes? That's up to the reader to decide HOW close they want to get to the wolf as he tells his story.

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

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Friday, March 24, 2017

Diary of a Beautiful Disaster

Diary of a Beautiful Disaster. Kristin Bartzokis. 2017. KiCam Projects. 162 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence:  My name is Kristin. Some people call me Kris, KB, Bart, or the girl who can do no-handed cartwheels. After all, I was a champion gymnast. Unfortunately, I was born with a facial deformity, a problem that seems to define the person I am no matter what else I might accomplish in life.

Premise/plot: The book is a memoir. From the preface, "These pages tell the story of my life, the life of a woman in her early thirties who is afflicted with an unusual facial anomaly known as Treacher Collins syndrome." There are two narrative styles--techniques--in this one. Some chapters read like journal entries. These chapters are dated and focus on specific surgeries. They're meant to be give an intimate behind-the-scenes look at what it's like--for parent and child--to be hospitalized and endure such physical and emotional pain. (Physical and perhaps emotional for Kristin, and emotional for the parents.) Other chapters cover more time, and are more general while still being reflective.

My thoughts: It was a compelling, engaging read. If there's a lesson to be learned, it is never make assumptions. For example, never assume that because a person looks different that they are "special needs" or "disabled" or "mentally challenged." Don't assume that because a person looks different that they are friendless loners in need of pity and a reassuring "Jesus Loves You." Bartzokis writes from the heart in this one.

Each person has their story to tell. And each person who looks "different" has their own story to tell. It is a balancing act in this one. Tension between making it very personal, this is what it was like for me, and speaking up as a representative of the syndrome, giving voice to others. Too much on one side or the other could weaken the narrative perhaps. 

  • My flaws make me noticeable, but my strength makes me memorable. (5)
  • One day in middle school, I sat at the mall food court with a friend. A woman came up to us as we ate our Chinese food, looked me straight in the eyes, and proclaimed, "Jesus loves you." Then she disappeared as quickly as she came. She never acknowledged my friend, never said, "Hello" or "Have a nice day." She simply ruined my meal with a solitary phrase. Apparently she felt I needed to know that the Lord still loved me even with my imperfections, which gave me no comfort at all. Let me say this to anyone who agrees with this woman's actions: Singling someone out because of her uniqueness, even if doing so is well intended, is not an appropriate act. It does not promote self-love and acceptance; instead, it fosters feelings of self-doubt and isolation. Having a stranger single me out in a crowded establishment made me even more aware of my flaws. It was like tunnel vision. When she spoke, it was only she and I in the moment. The world around me had faded to black, and her eyes bore into me. That occurrence, that single phrase, scarred me. It serves as a reminder that some people will always see me as flawed or damaged. Or perhaps, it's something deeper. Maybe it's a reminder that I will always see myself as flawed or damaged. (21)
  • But what others need to understand is that for people like me, pain, whether physical or emotional, is a way of life. It is an everyday, every-hour, every-minute occurrence. If I let every instance of pain get to me, I'd be in tears all day long...So the way I deal with pain is to make it my enemy, to fight it, to not let it rule my life. (31)
  • Over the years, especially when I was younger, I received many inquisitions of, "What happened to your face?" (93)
  • My story might be unique to me, but my struggle with confidence is universal. (142)
  • It is time for me to recognize that I am more than just a beautiful disaster. I am beautiful. (162)

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Thursday, March 23, 2017

Trumpet of the Swan

Trumpet of the Swan. E.B. White. Illustrated by Fred Marcellino. 1970. 272 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Walking back to camp through the swamp, Sam wondered whether to tell his father what he had seen.

Premise/plot: Louis is a trumpeter swan who can't trumpet. But with the help of his human friend, Sam, and his father (a cob) who steals a trumpet from a music store, his handicap is overcome. Sam helps him by taking him to school, to his public school and enrolling him in first grade. He learns to read and write. When he returns to his family it is with slate and slate pencil. His father thinking of his future happiness--how can he woo a mate without a voice of his own--steals a trumpet. Louis practices on his own before turning to Sam for advice and help. At this time Sam teaches him about money and working to earn it. Louis feels guilty that his trumpet is stolen and not paid for. Until this wrong has been righted, Louis is very active with the human world around him. He becomes a musician with an agent taking jobs in Boston and Philadelphia. But it is freedom and love he longs for most. Will Serena ever be his?!

My thoughts: I first read this one the summer before sixth grade. It was a great read. I don't know why it's taken me so long to reread it. Loved Sam and Louis. Louis's father was very amusing in his pontificating.

Curiosity is celebrated throughout the book. Sam is a curious person. Because of this quality he becomes a good friend and even at times a hero. He discovers his life's calling as well. Life is wonder-filled to him. He treasures what he sees and hears. His observations are kept in a daily journal. Seeing the world through the eyes of both Sam and Louis is a treat.

  • The world is full of talkers, but it is rare to find anyone who listens. (50)
  • "Great Caesar's ghost!" cried the teacher. "Look at those wings! Well, his name is Louis--that's for sure. All right, Louis, you may join the class. Stand right here by the blackboard. And don't mess up the room, either! If you need to go outdoors for any reason, raise one wing." (71)
  • "Sam, if a man can walk three miles in one hour, how many miles can he walk in four hours?" "It would depend on how tired he got after the first hour," replied Sam. (76)
  • Everyone is entitled to his likes and dislikes and to his prejudices. Come to think of it, I don't care for pistachio ice cream. I don't know why I don't like it, but I don't. (114) 

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Wednesday, March 22, 2017


Horizon #1. Scott Westerfeld. 2017. Scholastic. 256 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: "Next question," Molly said. "How many miles of wire are in this airplane?"

Premise/plot: A plane is on its way to Japan and goes down over the Arctic circle. There are survivors--eight, I believe. But of the survivors, none are adults. Four of the survivors are the members of a school team on its way to a robots competition. The others are strangers to Molly, Javi, Anna, and Oliver. Yoshi is on his way home to his father. He doesn't really get along with either parent. And the fact that he's returning something--a sword--he stole from his father's house during the last visit doesn't make him that thrilled to be on the plane. Caleb is the odd one out. Two young girls, two sisters, speak Japanese and French but no English: Kira and Akiko. The other passengers--hundreds of them--were sucked out of the plane--seats and all, I believe--when the ceiling was ripped open. The crash site is strange. It's a JUNGLE, a jungle with strange animals and plants. Within hours of the crash, the kids stumble across a remote control device with alien-like symbols. This remote control does strange things to the law of nature. For example: changes the law of gravity.

My thoughts: In some ways it's all action and mystery and science fiction. In other words, a lot like LOST. (Well, if you switch out the fog monster with killer birds and killer vines. Also no flashbacks so far!!!) But this place is strange and unpredictable. It is a place that invites millions of questions but provides very few--if any--answers.

There is a game--an app, I believe, for readers who get really invested in this survivor story.

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Tuesday, March 21, 2017


Ugly. Robert Hoge. 2016. 208 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Imagine you're in art class. The teacher drops a lump of wet, sticky clay on the bench in front of you. "You've got thirty minutes to sculpt a newborn baby's face," she says.

Premise/plot: Ugly is a memoir by Robert Hoge. This very personal story is about growing up 'ugly' or 'different' in Australia in the 1970s and 80s. Readers learn about his life at home and at school. The focus is on his family, his friends, his classmates and teachers. Not everyone was nice....or accepting. But. He made a way, found a way, to be comfortable in his own skin. His journey included some surgeries, but, not as many as you might expect. (I loved, loved, LOVED the ending.) His journey also included sports. 

Perhaps readers have heard the phrase, "He has a face only a mother could love..." Well, in Hoge's case, his mother had a hard time accepting him--and his face--at first. For the first month of his life, she refused to take him home from the hospital and didn't want anything to do with him. She later became loving and accepting--a true supporter--but at first she struggled.

My thoughts: What I appreciate most about it is its warmth AND truth. He tackles a subject that could be very melodramatic and emotional, perhaps even manipulative. You'll be moved, but not with pity. At least I was. I loved, loved, loved the writing. He has a way with words that won me over from the start.

Favorite quotes:
I'm the ugliest person you've never met. (3)
I knew I was ugly. But everyone is uglier than they think. We are all more beautiful too. We all have scars only we can own. (200)

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Monday, March 20, 2017

Strega Nona

Strega Nona. Tomie dePaola. 1975. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: In a town in Calabria, a long time ago, there lived an old lady everyone called Strega Nona, which meant "Grandma Witch."

Premise/plot: When Strega Nona hires Big Anthony to help out, she warns him NOT to touch the pasta pot. Human nature being what it is, Big Anthony instantly NEEDS to get a hold of that pot. He watches Strega Nona while she's using the pasta pot. He thinks he knows its secret. That's only partially true. When she leaves town for a few days, he brags all about this pot and what it can do. Which leads to TROUBLE. Will Big Anthony regret his disobedience and his boasting?

My thoughts: HOW VERY FUN! I can't believe I am only now discovering this one. I loved the pasta pot. And seeing pasta practically take over the town was awesome! I would pity Big Anthony his tummy ache, but, he did have no business meddling with magic.

Text: 4 out of 5
Illustrations: 4 out of 5
Total: 8 out of 10
© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Norse Mythology

Norse Mythology. Neil Gaiman. 2017. Norton. 299 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Many gods and goddesses are named in Norse mythology. You will meet quite a few of them in these pages. Most of the stories we have, however, concern two gods, Odin and his son Thor, and Odin's blood brother, a giant's son called Loki, who lives with the Aesir in Asgard.

Premise/plot: Norse Mythology is a collection of fifteen stories starring Norse gods and goddesses. These are traditional stories lovingly crafted by Gaiman for ultimate enjoyment. The stories are: "Before the Beginning, and After," "Yggdrasil and the Nine Worlds," "Mimir's Head and Odin's Eye," "The Treasures of the Gods," "The Master Builder," "The Children of Loki," "Freya's Unusual Wedding," "The Mead of Poets," "Thor's Journey to the Land of the Giants," "The Apples of Immortality," "The Story of Gerd and Frey," "Hymir and Thor's Fishing Expedition," "The Death of Balder," "The Last Days of Loki," and "Ragnarok: The Final Destiny of the Gods."

From "Before the Beginning, and After"
Before the beginning there was nothing--no earth, no heavens, no stars, no sky: only the mist world, formless and shapeless, and the fire world, always burning. (29)
From "The Mead of Poets"
Do you wonder where poetry comes from? Where we get the songs we sing and the tales we tell? Do you ever ask yourself how it is that some people can dream great, wise, beautiful dreams and pass those dreams on as poetry to the world, to be sung and retold as long as the sun rises and sets, as long as the moon will wax and wane? Have you ever wondered why some people make beautiful songs and poems and tales, and some of us do not? It is a long story, and it does not credit to anyone: there is murder in it, and trickery, lies and foolishness, seduction and pursuit. Listen. (127) 
From "Ragnarok: The Final Destiny of the Gods"
Until now I have told you of things that have happened in the past--things that happened a long time ago. Now I shall tell you of the days to come. I shall tell you how it will end, and then how it will begin once more. These are dark days I will tell you of, dark days and hidden things, concerning the ends of the earth and the death of the gods. Listen, and you will learn. (269)
My thoughts: I loved, loved, LOVED this one. I loved the storytelling. I loved the drama, the action, the humor. I loved the characters. I loved Thor and Loki. They are so different from one another. Without Loki would the stories be as entertaining?! Yet Thor and the others are needed to keep Loki under control!!! My top three were "The Treasures of the Gods," "Freya's Unusual Wedding," and "Thor's Journey to the Land of the Giants." All of the stories were good. I loved, loved, LOVED some of them and merely loved others. But all are worth reading and rereading.

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Sunday, March 19, 2017

A Cat Named Swan

A Cat Named Swan. Holly Hobbie. 2017. Random House. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Then he was alone. Where was his mother? What had happened to his brothers and sisters? They were gone. The streets were a place of constant danger. Yet day by day, he found enough food to eat. Day by day, he managed to elude the threats that surrounded him. He survived. One morning, though, he did not escape the peril that came down on him.

Premise/plot: A kitten from the streets is taken to a shelter and then adopted by a loving family.
After many days had passed, he learned that the house was his house, the yard was his yard. He learned that the people were his people and he was theirs. He belonged to them and they belonged to him.
My thoughts: A Cat Named Swan is a sweet picture book about a family adopting a cat. It is a story of belonging and family. The text is just as adorable as the illustrations. I love, love, love the illustrations. My favorite illustration was the last one. Swan all nestled up in a bowl.

Text: 4.5 out of 5
Illustrations: 4.5 out of 5
Total: 9 out of 10

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


French for Cats

French for Cats. Henry N. Beard. 1991. 96 pages. [Borrowed]

First sentence: The Cat Le Chat

Premise/plot: Love cats? Want to learn French? Want to remember the French you learned in school? French for Cats is a phrase book for cat lovers. It is an illustrated phrase book with clever moments.

I meow
Je miaule
I purr
Je Ron Ronnie
I sleep
Je dors
Some phrases are short and very practical. Others are much more complex.
I wish that the lawn mower would run over the neighbor's cat.
Je voudrais que la tondeuse a Gabon ecrase le chat du voisin.
My thoughts: I like this one. I do. I had French in high school and college, but it's been twenty years. This book is a quick, cute read!

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Saturday, March 18, 2017

Helen's Big World

Helen's Big World. Doreen Rappaport. Illustrated by Matt Tavares. 2012. 48 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Helen gurgled and giggled in her crib. At six months, she crawled and said, "How-d'ye," and "wah-wah," for water. When she was one, she ran after a ray of sunshine. she loved the mockingbird's song and the sweet smell of climbing roses. But best of all was being on her father's laps and in her mother's arms.

Premise/plot: Helen's Big World is a picture book biography of Helen Keller. Nearly every spread in this picture book includes a quote from Helen Keller herself. The narrative moves swiftly and is just beautiful.

My thoughts: Oh how I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED this one!!!! I grew up LOVING the movie The Miracle Worker. And I've always been interested in Helen and Annie's lives. This one was a PERFECT match for me. The illustrations are BEAUTIFUL AND AMAZING. The quotes almost leave me speechless. This one was my favorite:
I have the advantage of a mind trained to think, and that is the difference between myself and most people, not my blindness and their sight.

I also love this one:
I do not like the world as it is; so I am trying to make it a little more as I would like it.

Text: 5 out of 5
Illustrations: 5 out of 5
Total: 10 out of 10
© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Pancakes, Pancakes!

Pancakes, Pancakes! Eric Carle. 1970. 36 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Kee-ke-ri-kee crowed the rooster. Jack woke up, looked out the window and thought, "I'd like to have a big pancake for breakfast."

Premise/plot: Jack wants a pancake--a BIG pancake. His mom tells him he'll have to help her if he wants a pancake. This help will include cutting wheat, taking it to the miller in town, having it ground into flour, gathering an egg from a hen, milking a cow, churning butter, and getting a jar of jam from the cellar. Some of these tasks take time--a good deal of time--and effort. Will Jack enjoy the pancakes more for all the work he invested in it?!

My thoughts: I like this one. I like the text more than the illustrations. The book is a very old-fashioned look at how we "get" our food. Flour, eggs, and milk don't come from the store. Pancakes don't come from a mix or restaurant.

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

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Friday, March 17, 2017

Board Book: Charlie Rides

Board book: Charlie Rides. Bob Bianchini. 2017. Abrams. 20 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: This is Charlie and he loves to ride.......bikes with Dad when it's sunny outside, soapbox cars in a downhill race, a rocket ship to outer space,

Premise/plot: Charlie Rides: Planes, Trains, Bikes, & More is a board book about a father and son who enjoy spending time together riding. (The rocket ship to outerspace is an amusement park ride.) By the end of this one, readers learn what Charlie's favorite, favorite thing to ride is.

My thoughts: I really like this one. I'm not sure if there truly is an imbalance of representation between mothers in literature and fathers in literature, but, this one is certainly a good example of a father being there and being an important part of his family. It is also one of the funner transportation-themed books.

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

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews



Need. Joelle Charbonneau. 2015. HMH. 335 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Want: A desire to possess or do something, a wish. Need: Something required because it is essential. Something very important that you cannot live without. What do you need?
"See Kaylee. It's fascinating, right?" Nate swivels in my desk chair and grins, showing off the braces he will finally get removed next week.

Premise/plot: Kaylee, the heroine of NEED, is caught up in life-or-death mystery because she signs up for a new social media account without reading the terms and conditions. I exaggerate slightly. The point being, NEED, is a local, experimental social media experience. The experiment base is just her high school. Each user is assigned an ID, use of their real names is prohibited. The site asks each high school student: WHAT DO YOU NEED? They answer, and, their needs are processed and granted. But the creators of the site are more than immoral and dangerous, they're out to test how quick and easy they can turn a normal teen into a criminal.

My thoughts: If you're looking for a mindless read, something to be consumed and quickly forgotten, then NEED might work for you. This isn't an intellectual read that holds up to analysis. In fact, the more you question the characters, the motivation of each character, the premise, one sees that it's like a dream. It makes its own crazy sense while you're asleep, but, as soon as you wake up you're like WHAT?!

NEED has at least half a dozen narrators. Each is a teen who has signed up for NEED. Each has put in his/her own request. Almost all have been asked to do something in response to signing up. For some, it's merely giving email addresses and inviting others to join. For others, it's bizarre requests. [SPOILER: Deliver a box. Leave a note on someone's porch. But soon those requests are out of control. Switch out the Tylenol pills for these pills. Dig a grave in a neighbor's yard. Tie up your friend and leave him/her in this abandoned building.]

In NEED few--if any--characters question the morality of their individual actions OR question the consequences of their actions. Kaylee is really the only character that asks WHY? And is curious enough to want to know HOW everything is connected.

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Thursday, March 16, 2017

Caught in the Revolution

Caught in the Revolution. Helen Rappaport. 2017. 464 pages. [Source: Review copy]

From the prologue: Petrograd was a brooding, beleaguered city that last desperate winter before the revolution broke; a snowbound city of ice-locked canals and looming squares.

Premise/plot: Caught in the Revolution by Helen Rappaport uses primary sources--first-hand accounts of men and women who were witnesses--to piece together the events of the 1917 Russian Revolution.

The prologue, I believe, gives a background focusing on the December and January leading up to the February Revolution. It introduces readers to the key witnesses as well: the English Ambassador (Sir George Buchanan), the American Ambassador (David Rowland Francis), the French Ambassador (Maurice Paléologue), newspaper reporters and photographers from various countries, women nurses working at a war hospital, etc.

What was the city like BEFORE the revolution? How had two years of war changed the city? Were there indicators of trouble ahead? What was the general mood of the city? And how much of that mood related directly to class?

Chapter one begins in February and recounts the days leading up to the Revolution. Most of the book focuses on 1917, concentrating on the two revolutions--February and October. In between there is an interim government of sorts. But essentially the entire year is a MESS politically, economically. No law. No order. No justice. Most people starving AND freezing. A collision of strong ideas, horrible weather, and desperation. The last chapter is Postscript. It serves as a conclusion. Readers learn what happened Russia...and what happened next to all the many, many key witnesses we've spent time getting to know. In some cases, Rappaport was simply unable to find out what happened to various reporters after the war, after they returned home. But she also lists what books were written and published about the Revolution by these witnesses.

My thoughts: This book is fascinating. Also intense and compelling. It describes nearly every level of society. Sometimes the book is very graphic in terms of violence. What including ALL those primary accounts does is give modern readers a sense of being there, of experiencing what it was like day by day, night by night. Sights. Sounds. Smells.

One thing that struck me was how different people reacted. For example, for some people the early days were a mere inconvenience. The 'revolution' to them meant a longer detour to their party destination. They were still having parties and balls and get-togethers. They were still attending ballets and operas. They were still carrying on as if nothing at all of importance was happening.

Of course, that wasn't the typical reaction. This book is a treat for readers.

From the grandest mansion to the shivering bread queues, one topic of conversation prevailed: the Empress’s relationship with Grigory Rasputin. Against all the objections of the imperial family, Nicholas and Alexandra had stubbornly refused to remove him from his favoured position, and had made matters worse by appointing a series of increasingly reactionary ministers. With Nicholas away at army HQ, Alexandra was left alone, alienated from the Russian court and most of her relatives, and relying ever more heavily on their ‘friend’.
By February the daily consignment of flour to Petrograd had dropped to just twenty-one wagonloads, instead of the normal 120 needed.What white bread there was ‘had become greyer and greyer until it was uneatable’, due to excessive adulteration. Official mismanagement, corruption and wastage of supplies were prodigious, made worse by a crippled rail network that was unable to transport food efficiently from the provinces –where it was still plentiful –to the cities that most needed it. People were incensed to discover that, due to the hikes in the price of oats and hay, much of the black bread –the staple diet of the poor –was being fed to the capital’s 80,000 horses to keep them alive: ‘every horse was eating up the black bread allowance of ten men’
For fully three weeks the average daily temperature had been -13.44 degrees Centigrade and there had been heavy falls of snow. Walking on the Liteiny Prospekt on the morning of 22 February, Paléologue was struck by ‘the sinister expression on the faces of the poor folk’ who had been standing wearily all night waiting for bread.The public mood was shifting from stoicism to anger; many women were spending forty hours or more a week like this and, in indignation, some of them had thrown stones at the bakers’ windows that day.
Hundreds of them –peasants, factory workers, students, nurses, teachers, wives whose husbands were at the front, and even a few ladies from the upper classes –came out onto the streets. Although some carried banners with traditional suffrage slogans, such as ‘Hail, women fighters for freedom’ and ‘A place for women in the Constituent Assembly’, others bore improvised placards referring to the food crisis: ‘Increase rations for soldiers’ families’, or even more openly revolutionary calls for an end to the war –and the monarchy. But food was, fundamentally, what they all called out for that day: ‘There is no bread,’ they shouted as they marched, ‘our husbands have no work.’
A few of the women began singing the Marseillaise. ‘It was a queer Russian version that one couldn’t quite recognize at first,’ recalled Harper. ‘I have heard the “Marseillaise” sung many times, but that day for the first time I heard it sung as it should be.’ This was because, she asserted, ‘the people there were of the same classes and were singing it for the same reason as the French who first sang it over a hundred years ago.’14 As the crowd moved off, heading for the Nevsky, ‘a tram came swinging round the corner’. They forced it to stop, took the control handle and ‘threw it away in a snowbank’. The same happened to a second, third and fourth tram, ‘until the blocked cars extended all the way along the Sadovaya to the Nevsky Prospekt’.15 One tram full of wounded soldiers in the care of nurses even joined in, as the crowd, now numbering about five hundred, surged forward, still singing the Marseillaise, the women holding boldly to the centre of the Nevsky as the men took to the pavements.
So long as they only asked for bread, the Cossacks told the marchers, they would not be on the receiving end of gunfire. There were, inevitably, many agents provocateurs in their midst, eager to turn the protest into a violent one, but for the most part the crowd remained ‘good tempered’, as Arthur Ransome noted in that day’s despatch to the Daily News. He hoped there would be no serious conflict.‘The general character of excitement,’ he concluded was, for now, ‘vague and artificial’ and without political focus.
Throughout the night of the 24th there were occasional volleys of firing; and yet, astonishingly, the social life of the city continued. The Alexandrinsky Theatre was packed that evening for a performance of Gogol’s The Government Inspector. Indeed, the audience had been ‘in a lively humour at this satire on the political weaknesses of the mid-nineteenth century’. Few seemed willing to believe that a ‘greater drama was at that moment unfolding in real life throughout the capital’.
It seemed as though the whole city was out of doors that morning, and on foot –for there were no trams or cabs. People seemed determined to get to church as usual or simply enjoy the fine weather for a promenade along the Nevsky. Couples were pushing their babies in prams, just like any ordinary Sunday; children were skating on the ice rink in the Admiralty Gardens.
Right in front of their eyes they had seen a little girl hit in the throat by gunfire, and a well-dressed woman standing near them had collapsed with a scream as her knee was shattered by a bullet. After crawling back out into the street, Thompson and Harper were once more thrown to the ground by rifle fire coming from the police on the Anichkov Bridge. All around people lay dead and dying in the snow –Thompson counted twelve dead soldiers, Harper noted far more women and children than men: thirty dead in all. The two reporters lay there in the snow for more than an hour, numb with cold, but too frightened to move. Harper ‘had a vague idea that I was freezing to death’; she wanted to cry. And then the ambulances appeared and started collecting the dead and wounded and they decided this was fortuitous: they could pretend they were wounded and be picked up and taken to safety.
At the House of Preliminary Detention on Shpalernaya, 958 prisoners were set free; others from the Litovsky prison near the Mariinsky Theatre were liberated the following day. All of the political prisoners were cheered; those who had been imprisoned for a criminal offence in some cases ‘were thrashed and told they would forfeit their lives if they were caught again’. There were, however, some prisoners who could not be reached, as Bousfield Swan Lombard noted,‘because in many cases the inmates of prisons were locked in underground cells and in the confusion the keys were lost’; with the prisons then being set on fire, ‘most of them were roasted alive before it was possible to liberate them’. Those who did emerge had ‘hardly anything on, in the way of clothes’. The crowd took pity on these ‘wrecks of humanity’ and they were ‘accommodated with the most amazing assortment of garments. Little men were dressed up in very long trousers and an enormous man might be seen struggling into a coat and waistcoat much too small.’
It became a common sight to see policemen being attacked and finished off out of hand –shot, bayoneted, clubbed to death –on the street, their dead bodies left untouched. ‘Food for the dogs,’ some Russians called it. ‘There was no hope for them unless they surrendered,’ recalled Dr Joseph Clare, ‘and even then not much hope, for I know a place where thirty or forty policemen were pushed through a hole in the ice without as much as a stunning tap on the head –drowned like rats.’
Philip Chadbourn had become fearful for the safety of his wife and three-week-old baby son and had gratefully accepted an offer to stay with friends on the French Embankment.But there were no cabs to be had;Esther Chadbourn was still weak, and two friends had to assist her in walking into the city, with her husband leading the way with the baby in his arms. As they emerged into the street, his wife took one look at the crowds and the barricades and field artillery and her nerves totally gave way.‘Each time a shot rang out,’ Philip remembered, ‘she would call ahead to me, “Don’t let them kill my baby, my baby!”, while passers-by stopped and stared at her, their eyes full of tears.’ Once safely installed in their friends’ house, the couple ‘watched the progress of the revolution from the front windows’ commanding the quayside, as one continual procession of motor cars roared past, loudly tooting their horns. On the streets it was the same jubilant crowds as the previous day, trashing the police stations and ‘throwing armfuls of records out of windows onto blazing street bonfires’ with a ‘righteous zest’.
Luckily the cold had preserved the many un-coffined bodies she saw, but it had also left them in grotesque, contorted positions. Along three sides of the shack, Harper saw piles of rigid, muddy and blood-soaked bodies that had been thrown in ‘as they had been picked up’, some doubled up, others outstretched –men, women and children. Next to that shack was another, and then another with even more. In a big shed opposite she found another 150 bodies piled up. People were pulling at them, searching for loved ones, trying to identify them. ‘One in the uniform of the police was beyond recognition,’ she noted, ‘he had literally been beaten to a pulp.’ Very few of the corpses had any boots on –for these were a valuable commodity in wartime and were the first things to be stolen from the dead. With so many to be buried, coffins were scarce and so, once people identified their dead, they would pin a note on them, giving the name and asking for money to help bury them. People visiting these makeshift morgues would throw a few kopeks on the corpses. It was only later, visiting another hospital morgue where the bodies had been properly washed and laid out like wax figures, that Harper finally took in the grim horror of so many deaths.
Throughout the ‘July Days’, as they became known, Donald Thompson had been out with his camera and tripod, sometimes on foot, but often racing up and down the streets in a hired car with the ‘camera sticking up in the tonneau’, looking ‘not unlike a new kind of gun’, as Florence Harper recalled.‘In fact it looked so dangerous that it gave us a clear passage up the Nevsky.’ With reckless abandon, Thompson had set up his camera at every opportunity ‘and proceeded to crank’. But late that afternoon he had witnessed a final, sickening demonstration of mob savagery reminiscent of the February days, which he did not record on film. Out at the Tauride Palace he had seen three revolutionists dressed as sailors fire from a motor car on a group of officers on the steps of the building, after which they had driven away at speed, only to be stopped soon afterwards by a motor truck that blocked the road. The men had been dragged from the car and promptly lynched by the crowd that had gathered. It was a new kind of savagery that he hadn’t seen before: ‘they stretched them up to the cross arm of a telegraph pole, and didn’t tie their hands. Then they drew them off the ground about three feet. All three of them as they were hanging tried to hold on to each other, but the mob knocked their hands away and they slowly strangled to death.’ Hardly the most comforting story with which to conclude a letter to his wife Dot, back home in Kansas.
© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Wednesday, March 15, 2017

That's Me Loving You

That's Me Loving You. Amy Krouse Rosenthal. Illustrated by Teagan White. 2016. [December] 40 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Wherever you are, wherever you go, Always remember and always know...That shimmering star? That's me winking at you. That drifting cloud? That's me thinking of you. That inviting ocean? That's me waving at you.

Premise/plot: This book is openly and unashamedly sentimental. But don't discount it because it's about LOVE. A parent loving their child fiercely. Picture books about love are everywhere. That's true enough. But this one has its quirky humor too: "That persistent mosquito? That's me bugging you."

My thoughts: I picked this one up at the library a day or two after Rosenthal died of ovarian cancer. I think reading the book in light of this fact makes it poignant and ultimately beautiful. Yes, every parent loves their child and wants to comfort their child. Yes, this book could be read by parents to children struggling with separation anxiety. But it could have a much deeper meaning, a life-long meaning, as well. This book was dedicated--is dedicated--to her three children. And it's a wonderful goodbye-and-hello.

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

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Picture Book Parade

Option 1:
  • What picture books did you read this month?
  • Which squares did you fill?
  • Which squares are you having trouble with?
  • How many until you bingo?
  • Do you have suggestions for other participants?

Option 2:
  • What picture books did you read this month?
  • Which categories did you check off your list?
  • What is your goal? How close are you to meeting that goal?
  • Which categories are you having trouble with?
  • Do you have suggestions for other participants?

Option 3:
  • What picture books did you read this month?
  • Which letters have you read?
  • How many more to go until you've read the alphabet?
  • Which letters are you having trouble with? 
  • Do you have suggestions for other participants?
What I've reviewed since last time:
  1. Stop Stop. Edith Thacher Hurd. Illustrated by Clement Hurd. 1961. 64 pages. [Source: Bought]
  2. Quiet! There's A Canary in the Library. Don Freeman. 1969. 48 pages. [Source: Library]
  3. Caps for Sale. Esphyr Slobodkina. 1938. 48 pages. [Source: Library]
  4. Runaway Bunny. Margaret Wise Brown. Illustrated by Clement Hurd. 1942. 48 pages. [Source: Library]
  5. Round. Joyce Sidman. 2017. HMH. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  6. Pancakes for Breakfast. Tomie dePaola. 1978. 32 pages. [Source: Library]
  7. ABC Bunny. Wanda Gag. 1933. 40 pages. [Source: Library]
  8. A Piece of Cake. LeUyen Pham. 2014. 40 pages. [Source: Library]
  9. Swap. Steve Light. 2016. Candlewick. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  10. Board book: Tinyville Town: I'm A Librarian. Brian Biggs. 2017. Abrams. 22 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  11. Dorothea Lange: The Photographer Who Found the Faces of The Depression. Carole Boston Weatherford. Illustrated by Sarah Green. 2017. 32 pages. [Source: Library]
  12. Just a Lucky So and So. Lesa Cline-Ransome. Illustrated by James Ransome. 2016. Holiday House. 32 pages. [Source: Library]
  13. When Jackie Saved Grand Central. Natasha Wing. 2017. HMH. 48 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  14. Chicken Story Time. Sandy Asher. Illustrated by Mark Fearing. 2016. (Dec) 40 pages. [Source: Library]  
  15. Penguin Day. Nic Bishop. 2017. Scholastic. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
  16. Hats Off To You. Karen Beaumont. Illustrated by LeUyen Pham. 2017. Scholastic. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy] 

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews



The Quincunx by Charles Palliser. 1990. 787 pages. [Source: Library]
First sentence: It must have been late autumn of that year, and probably it was towards dusk for the sake of being less conspicuous. And yet a meeting between two professional gentlemen representing the chief branches of the law should surely not need to be concealed.

Premise/plot: For readers who have read every Dickens novel a couple of times apiece, Charles Palliser's The Quincunx may hold great appeal. It is historical fiction set in Victorian England. The hero is a young boy--who becomes a young man by the time this CHUNKSTER is finished--who may or may not be heir to a very large estate. The estate is in the hands of a chancery suit. There's a codicil to a will that may change things to his benefit. Also a second will--a later will--that would do away with the codicil, but still leave him the heir. Regardless, he seems to be entitled to the estate. But there are people--adults with a lot of money and to some degree power--that would do ANYTHING and EVERYTHING to keep him from coming forward and being proclaimed heir. These evil agents have dozens if not hundreds of minions working against the poor boy. So much so that anytime John talked to anyone--family friend, complete stranger--you wouldn't be amiss to cry out: DON'T DO IT. DON'T TRUST THAT PERSON. By the end of the book, you can easily see why total depravity of the human race makes sense.

My thoughts: I wanted to enjoy this one. I did. And to a certain degree, I did. I enjoyed meeting some of the characters. (My favorite may have been Johnny and his great-aunt Lydia.) I think this one is realistically bleak. Most of the characters we meet are living in poverty or extreme poverty. Justice is hard to come by. You could have a strong work ethic and be willing to do anything and everything that doesn't violate your conscience, and still end up bad. There is no getting ahead or beating the system. The wealthy are depicted--for the most part--as selfish, proud, corrupt, eager to take every advantage of the poor and weak. One or two even have murder on their minds--a lot! Though you don't have to be rich to be corrupt! The character of Bellringer proves that sure enough.

Throughout the novel, there is a slight hint that a romance might blossom between Johnny and Henrietta when they're grown. But Henrietta seems to be going the way of Miss Havisham as the novel concludes. I thought that after 750 pages of misery and danger, there'd be a more traditional happy ending. I wasn't strongly attached to Henrietta. But I don't think any woman deserves madness as an epilogue.

What strikes me most about this one is SADNESS and MISERY and MADNESS. If you find the book of Ecclesiastes too short, then this one might also be just right for you.   

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Piecing Me Together

Piecing Me Together. Renee Watson. 2017. Bloomsbury. 272 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: I am learning to speak. To give myself a way out. A way in. When I learned the Spanish word for succeed [tener exito], I thought it was kind of ironic that the word exit is embedded in it. Like the universe was telling me that in order for me to make something of my life, I'd have to leave home, my neighborhood, my friends.

Premise/plot: Jade, the heroine of Piecing Me Together, is starting her junior year of high school. She has mixed feelings about attending St. Francis. On the one hand, none of her friends go there. The school is mostly white. And most of the students are not attending on scholarship but come from really wealthy families. Jade is on scholarship. She's been a student there for two years and has yet to make a real friend.

On the other hand, the junior year offers the opportunity--the possibility--to travel abroad. And there are other benefits and opportunities as well. Like the Woman to Woman mentorship program, twelve African American students from Portland are chosen for the two year program. Those who complete it and keep up their grades, receive a scholarship to any Oregon college. Jade is chosen. She's excited about the idea of a scholarship to college. But less excited about being perceived as needing to be mentored. Jade is an artist working with mixed media making collages. She's also super-smart. In fact, she tutors other students at St. Francis. Why does she "need" to be fixed by a mentorship program?!

Her mother begs her to make friends this year. And it seems, at last, this might be a possibility. Sam is not from a wealthy family. She lives in a "not nice" part of the city. She's white, but poor. They seem to have a few things in common. But. Sam is far from perfect. She "doesn't get" many things about Jade. She witnesses a couple of instances where Jade is treated unfairly. Jade says it's because she's black. Sam is less sure that's the case and says so. This causes a lot of friction between the two. One instance: the two are shopping together. The salesclerk is rude to Jade several times: telling her that loitering is not allowed, that she can wait for her friend outside, and finally, that if she's going to wait inside that she needs to leave her purse/bag behind the counter. The second instance: the lunchroom lady is rude to Jade yelling at her that she's holding up the line, taking too long. Jade tells her that it's her holding up the line by arguing with her, that she just wants to dip up whatever it is and move along. Another girl, a white girl, makes a rude comment about the lunchroom lady, Jade laughs at her joke. Jade is pulled out of line, marched to the counselor's office, and threatened. Sam's response is that Jade was disrespectful. She shouldn't have laughed. She shouldn't have talked back. These instances and others like them make Jade feel alone and misunderstood.

It's not just Sam giving Jade a headache. Maxine, her mentor, is far from perfect. Is Jade expecting too much of this soon to be college graduate? Or is Maxine too irresponsible to be a mentor in the program? Maxine does seem to see Jade as someone to be fixed. Readers see--Jade sees--that Maxine is struggling with her own life choices.

The message of this one is: To err is human. No one is perfect. Just because someone isn't perfect doesn't make them evil. Show some grace, you yourself are not perfect. Be true to yourself, speak up for yourself. TALK, TALK, TALK IT OUT.

My thoughts: I was tempted just to say: "read this book." I think the strongest compliment I can give this one is that none of the characters are perfect, they're all deliciously flawed. This is a very human book. And that's what I love about any book. Characters need to be that human. I also loved seeing the relationships between characters. Jade and her Mom, Jade and Maxine, Maxine and Jade's Mom, Sam and Jade, Jade and Lee Lee--these relationships are complex. One of my favorite scenes was when the Mom invited Maxine for dinner, and when she realized Maxine was clueless in the kitchen, offered to teach her how to cook, included her in meal preparation. For months, there had been tension in the house. The mom feeling that Maxine was an intrusion in their lives. Maxine always buying her daughter things--art supplies, books, meals--taking her daughter places--museums, symphonies, etc. Yet when Jade talked bad about Maxine, she'd get mad saying that this opportunity was too great, too big to be ungrateful, to be angry that Maxine was all-too-human. This scene was just satisfying.

It was also nice, in a way, to see Jade love her body just as it is. She's large, or, "thick." But she doesn't see that as a problem to be fixed either. She doesn't see that as something hindering her or holding her back. So what that she doesn't get to shop in stores for skinny white women?! So what that she doesn't look like most of her classmates?! She's beautiful. She's talented. She's smart. So what that some random guys at Dairy Queen thinks she's fat?

If this is a "problem novel" it's a multi-problem book. It has layers; it's complex. It's not a simple book with cardboard characters banging you over the head with an IMPORTANT MESSAGE. Yes, the characters have opinions--strong opinions--about anything and everything. But that just makes them human. Show me a person with no opinions?!  

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Stop Stop

Stop Stop. Edith Thacher Hurd. Illustrated by Clement Hurd. 1961. 64 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: It was Saturday. Suzie's mother and Suzie's father had gone away.

Premise/plot: Miss Mugs is Suzie's babysitter for the day. She is very particular. Everything--everyone--must be very, very clean. Before the two can go to the zoo, everything has to meet her approval. (Even the curtains!) This critical eye continues at the zoo. But some animals don't appreciate her outspoken opinions! One animal has a way of getting back at her!

My thoughts: I grew up with this one. It is fun! I loved the 'justice' of this one. I've always loved elephants. Miss Mugs did need a reminder of what matters most. As an adult, I wonder if the parents picked her BECAUSE she would clean the house top to bottom. I would choose Miss Mugs rather than Amelia Bedelia to babysit.

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Quiet! There's A Canary in the Library

Quiet! There's A Canary in the Library. Don Freeman. 1969. 48 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Every Saturday morning a girl named Cary went to the library. Before selecting a book, Cary always had a chat with Mrs. Curtis the librarian.

Premise/plot: Cary, the heroine, has an active imagination. One Saturday morning, as she's reading a book about the zoo, her imagination runs wild. If she were a librarian, she "would have a special day when ONLY animals and birds would be allowed to come in and browse."  She has it all organized in her mind. Most of the book is spent in her imagination as she greets and welcomes each animal to her library.
Oh my! A giraffe! I hadn't planned on you popping in so soon. You'll find some tall tales up there on the top shelf. Do help yourself.
But there's one thing she forgot to do. Shut the door so MICE don't run in and scare the other animals--like the elephant. It won't stay quiet in her library for long!!! No, soon it becomes quite wild...

My thoughts: I like the text very much. I do. I love how behind the little girl's proper and precise behavior, there's a passionate enthusiasm for life--for books--for birds. I love how she's swept away by this story, and probably EVERY story she picks up. But as much as I do really really like the text. It's the illustrations that I adore about this one. Especially of Cary. I love her red hair. I love her pig tails. I love the illustration of her skipping out the library door with book in hand.

What is odd, is how the illustrations of Cary are not exactly consistent. On some pages she has red hair. Other pages she has blond hair. And in some spreads she has both red-and-blond hair. Likewise, in some she appears to be wearing pig tails. But in others, she's got pigtails AND a bun. I think I've puzzled out WHY the bun. In her imagination, she's an adult librarian. And these fantasy spreads, she's got both bun and pigtails. In the present day, just pig-tails. Still haven't puzzled out the hair color though!!!!

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

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


How To Steal A Dog

How To Steal A Dog. Barbara O'Connor. 2007. 170 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: The day I decided to steal a dog was the same day my best friend, Luanne Godfrey, found out I lived in a car.

Premise/plot: Georgina and her brother, Toby, decide to steal a dog early in the novel. Why? Because she spots a missing dog poster offering a $500 reward. Since the three of them--her mother, her brother, herself--are living in a car, they need money anyway they can get it. First she'll steal a dog, a well-loved dog, a dog with wealthy-looking owners. Second, she'll wait until she sees missing posters up in the neighborhood. Third, she'll return the dog to the owner and get MONEY. She'll give the money to her mom, of course, and that money will help find them a place to live. That's the plan, but, does she have what it takes to carry it through?!

My thoughts: I really loved Barbara O'Connor's novel. I loved the strong narrative voice of Georgina. Our flawed heroine is easy to sympathize with most of the time. This was a quick and easy read with plenty of emotion. For a book with a dog on the cover, it proved surprisingly satisfying. NO DOGS DIE in this one.

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Monday, March 13, 2017

Caps for Sale

Caps for Sale. Esphyr Slobodkina. 1938. 48 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Once there was a peddler who sold caps. But he was not like an ordinary peddler carrying his wares on his back. He carried them on top of his head. First he had on his own checked cap, then a bunch of gray caps, then a bunch of brown caps, then a bunch of blue caps, and on the very top a bunch of red caps.

Premise/plot: One morning--after having no luck selling his caps--he decides to take a detour, a walk in the country. This leads to a nap, of course! While under a tree--sleeping--some naughty monkeys steal almost all of his caps!!! Can the peddler outsmart the monkeys?

My thoughts: My mom loved to read this one aloud!!! She did a great job voicing the angry peddler yelling at the monkeys! It's a fun book and very silly.

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

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Runaway Bunny

Runaway Bunny. Margaret Wise Brown. Illustrated by Clement Hurd. 1942. 48 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Once there was a little bunny who wanted to run away. So he said to his mother, "I am running away." "If you run away," said his mother, "I will run after you. For you are my little bunny." "If you run after me," said the little bunny, "I will become a fish in a trout stream and I will swim away from you." "If you become a fish in a trout stream," said his mother, "I will become a fisherman and I will fish for you."

Premise/plot: Will the little bunny run away from his home? Will his mother let him go? Just how much does she love her little bunny?

My thoughts: I like this one. I don't know that I love, love, love it. But it's a very sweet story starring bunnies. It blends black and white illustrations with color illustrations. This one was first published in 1942.

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

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Review Policy

I am interested in reviewing books and audio books. This blog focuses on books written for middle grade on up (essentially 10 to a 110). I review middle grade fiction and young adult fiction (aka tween and teen).

I also review adult books.

I read in a variety of genres including realistic fiction, historical fiction, mystery, romance, science fiction, fantasy, literary fiction, and chick lit. (I've read one western to date.)

I read a few poetry books, a few short story collections, a few graphic novels, a few nonfiction books.

I am especially fond of:

  • Regency romances (including Austen prequels/sequels)
  • Historical fiction set in the Tudor dynasty
  • Historical fiction and nonfiction set during World War II
  • Jewish fiction/nonfiction
  • dystopias
  • apocalyptic fiction
  • science fiction (especially if it involves time travel and alternate realities)
  • fantasy
  • multicultural books and international books

I am not a fan of:

  • sports books
  • horse books
  • dog books if the dog dies (same goes with most pets actually except maybe fish)
  • westerns (if it's a pioneer story with women and children, then maybe)
  • extremely violent books with blood, blood, and more blood

I am more interested in strong characters, well-written, fleshed-out, human characters. Plot is secondary to me in a way. I have to care about the characters in order to care about the plot. That being said, compelling storytelling is something that I love. I love to become absorbed in what I'm reading.

If you're interested in sending me a review copy of your book, I'm happy to hear from you. Email me at laney_po AT yahoo DOT com.

You should know several things before you contact me:

1) I do not guarantee a review of your book. I am just agreeing to consider it for review.
2) I give all books at least fifty pages.
3) I am not promising anyone (author or publisher) a positive review in exchange for a review copy. That's not how I work.
4) In all of my reviews I strive for honesty. My reviews are my opinions--so yes, they are subjective--you should know my blog will feature both negative and positive reviews.
5) I do not guarantee that I will get to your book immediately. I've got so many books I'm trying to read and review, I can't promise to get to any one book in a given time frame.
6) Emailing me every other week to see if I've read your book won't help me get to it any faster. Though if you want to email me to check and see if it arrived safely, then that's fine!

Authors, publishers. I am interested in interviewing authors and participating in blog tours. (All I ask is that I receive a review copy of the author's latest book beforehand so the interview will be productive. If the book is part of a series, I'd like to review the whole series.) Contact me if you're interested.

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