Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Forget Me Not

Forget Me Not. Ellie Terry. 2017. 336 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: I open my dresser drawers, find them empty, empty, empty.

Premise/plot: Calliope June is the young heroine in Ellie Terry's Forget Me Not. This middle grade novel actually has two narrators. Calli's narrates in verse while Jinsong narrates in prose. Here's what you need to know about Calli: a) she HATES moving; b) she HATES having to introduce herself to her classmates; c) she struggles to make friends; d) she wishes her mom would grow up; e) she has Tourette syndrome. Here's what you need to know about Jinsong: a) he LOVES baseball b) he's popular; c) he like-likes Calli; d) he's afraid to be friends with her in public; e) he cares too much about what others think of him; f) he's self-aware enough to know he's being a big jerk and a coward.

My thoughts: I found this to be a quick, compelling read. I enjoyed the characterization. Readers really only get to know Jinsong and Calli, but, these two are well developed in my opinion. The relationship that tortured me the most was between Calli and her mom. I really wanted Calli's mom to grow up and get the help she needed. I hated that Calli's life was being turned upside down every few months because of her mom's love life. The ending leaves me worried. I think Calli has matured a great deal, but, her mom is still a big, big mess.

Does this one "need" to be a verse novel? I'm not sure it does. The verse isn't spectacular poetry. Calli could have told her story in prose just as well. I am glad Calli's story got told. I like her as a narrator. And being in verse does make it go quicker because there are fewer words.

Do we "need" Jinsong's narration? I'm not sure we do. But I am conflicted on this. His narrative does allow readers to see Calli from a different perspective, an outside perspective. We see most of the bullying from his perspective. He's a mostly silent bystander. He does some much-needed growing up in this one.

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Monday, September 18, 2017

Train I Ride

Train I Ride. Paul Mosier. 2017. HarperCollins. 192 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: The train I ride is sixteen coaches long.

Premise/plot: Rydr is our young heroine. After the death of her grandmother, she finds herself on a train heading east to live with her great uncle. Readers learn what happened before in a series of flashes, memories. The novel ends when she arrives in Chicago; it ends before she meets her new guardian. So readers are left with a bit of uncertainty. Rydr's story is revealed as she interacts with fellow passengers on the train--both children and adults.

My thoughts: I didn't expect to love, love, love this one. But I did. Rydr is a vulnerable young girl with a big heart. Her heart may not be trusting, and, she may have more than a couple of schemes always in place. Yet how could you say she isn't compassionate?! I'm thinking of the scene where she spends what little money she has--five dollars--buying a hand-made bracelet from a young girl who is just as desperate for money as Rydr is. I have many, many favorite scenes in this one. I loved Rydr's friendship with Tenderchucks, a young boy scout. These two are so good for one another. Another relationship I loved to see develop through the course of the novel was that of Rydr and Neal.

What I loved about this one: the writing, the coming-of age elements, the relationship-building, the characterization.

Favorite quotes:
If a poem is using words in a way that isn't quite what you're accustomed to, don't think that there's something wrong with you or your ability to understand them. They're just art objects painted with words. Sometimes they look like things you recognize, and sometimes not. (65)
"We should make a pact," he says. "A non-cruelty pact." "Between us?" "Between us. And everyone we meet. Until it extends to everyone." (93)
The people sitting at the table with me feel like a family. My family. If I could choose my family they'd be just like this. (113)
Carlos folds and unfolds his hands. "The best kind of people are people who feel, and who hold hope in their hearts. Even if it sometimes means being hurt and disappointed. Even if it means always being hurt and disappointed." (161)
© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Sunday, September 17, 2017

Catch-22

Catch-22. Joseph Heller. 1961. 453 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: It was love at first sight. The first time Yossarian saw the chaplain he fell madly in love with him. Yossarian was in the hospital with a pain in his liver that fell just short of being jaundice. The doctors were puzzled by the fact that it wasn't quite jaundice. If it became jaundice they could treat it. If it didn't become jaundice and went away they could discharge him. But this just being short of jaundice all the time confused them.

Premise/plot: Catch-22 is set during the Second World War near the Italian front. Yossarian, our protagonist, is ruled by one thing: the desire to stay alive another day. He doesn't want to be a hero. He doesn't want to do his duty. He doesn't want to be a team-player. He doesn't want to follow orders, not if following orders means dying. He's a terrible, terrible soldier and he knows it.
Yossarian was a lead bombardier who had been demoted because he no longer gave a damn whether he missed or not. He had decided to live forever or die in the attempt, and his only mission each time he went up was to come down alive. (29)
Throughout the novel, the number of flight missions needed to complete the tour of duty keeps increasing. Yossarian didn't mind--quite so much anyway--doing his part if the end was in sight. Say he'd flown 35 out of 40 missions. But to know that no matter how many you fly, your squadron's missions will keep increasing is too much. By the end, I want to say it's eighty missions before you can get sent home. Meanwhile, his friends--some of them his close friends--keep dying.

If I had to sum it up simply I'd say Catch-22 was one man's struggle to stay alive and stay sane in the attempt. Is he successful at the staying sane? You'll have to judge for yourself.

 
My thoughts: I didn't love, love, love everything about this one. It is far from clean in terms of profanity and adult situations. But I really enjoyed the narration. I thought it was a very well-written novel. I found it funny.
"Can't you ground someone who's crazy?" "Oh, sure. I have to. There's a rule saying I have to ground anyone who's crazy." "Then why don't you ground me? I'm crazy. Ask Clevinger." (45)
"Is Orr crazy?" "He sure is," Doc Daneeka said. "Can you ground him?" "I sure can. But first he has to ask me to. That's part of the rule." "Then why doesn't he ask you to?" "Because he's crazy," Doc Daneeka said. "He has to be crazy to keep flying combat missions after all the close calls he's had. Sure, I can ground Orr. But first he has to ask me to." "That's all he has to do to be grounded?" "That's all. Let him ask me." "And then you can ground him?" Yossarian asked. "No. Then I can't ground him." "You mean there's a catch?" "Sure there's a catch," Doc Daneeka replied. "Catch-22. Anyone who wants to get out of combat duty isn't really crazy." (45-6)
There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one's own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions.(46)
History did not demand Yossarian's premature demise, justice could be satisfied without it, progress did not hinge upon it, victory did not depend on it. That men would die was a matter of necessity; which men would die, though, was a matter of circumstance, and Yossarian was willing to be the victim of anything but circumstance. (68)
"The enemy," retorted Yossarian with weighted precision, "is anybody who's going to get you killed, no matter which side he's on, and that includes Colonel Cathcart. And don't you forget that, because the longer you remember it, the longer you might live. (124)
You know, that might be the answer--to act boastfully about something we ought to be ashamed of. That's a trick that never seems to fail. (139)
Something was terribly wrong if everything was all right and they had no excuse for turning back. (140)
It was one thing to maintain liaison with the Lord, and they were all in favor of that; it was something else though to have Him hanging around twenty-four hours a day. (201)
"What in the world are Wisconsin shingles?" asked Yossarian. "That's just what the doctor's wanted to know!" blurted out the chaplain proudly, and burst into laughter. "There's no such thing as Wisconsin shingles. Don't you understand. I lied. I made a deal with the doctors. I promised that I would let them know when my Wisconsin shingles went away if they would promise not to do anything to cure them. (363)



© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Saturday, September 16, 2017

Week in Review: September 10-16

Carrot & Pea. Morag Hood. 2017. HMH. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]
The Cookie Fiasco. Dan Santat (and Mo Willems). 2016. Disney-Hyperion. 64 pages. [Source: Library]
We Are Growing. Laurie Keller (and Mo Willems). 2016. Disney-Hyperion. 64 pages. [Source: Library]
The Good for Nothing Button. (Elephant & Piggie Like Reading #3) Charise Mericle Harper. (Mo Willems). 2017. Disney-Hyperion. 64 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Under Their Skin. (Under Their Skin #1) Margaret Peterson Haddix. 2016. 320 pages. [Source: Library]
In Over Their Heads. (Under Their Skin #2) Margaret Peterson Haddix. 2017. Simon & Schuster. 320 pages. [Source: Library]
 Seeking Mansfield. Kate Watson. 2017. 300 pages. [Source: Library]
The Circular Staircase. Mary Roberts Rinehart. 1908. 197 pages. [Source: Bought]
The Case of the Fiery Fingers. Erle Stanley Gardner. 1951. 192 pages. [Source: Bought]
The Case of the Lucky Loser. Erle Stanley Gardner. 1957. 192 pages. [Source: Bought]
Death of a Cad. M.C. Beaton. 1987. 214 pages. [Source: Library]
 Peck, Peck, Peck. Lucy Cousins. 2013. Candlewick Press. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]
 Impressionism. Florian Heine. 2015. 48 pages. [Source: Library]

Board book: Baby Loves Quantum Physics! Ruth Spiro. Illustrated by Irene Chan. 2017. Charlesbridge. 22 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Board book: Baby Loves Thermodynamics. Ruth Spiro. Illustrated by Irene Chan. 2017. Charlesbridge. 22 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Board book: Charlie Builds. Bob Bianchini. 2017. Harry N. Abrams. 20 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Board book: Changing Faces: Meet Happy Bear. Nathan Thoms. Illustrated by Carles Ballesteros. 2017. Harry N. Abrams. 18 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Chicken in School. Adam Lehrhaupt. Illustrated by Shahar Kober. 2017. 40 pages. [Source: Library]
Chicken In Space. Adam Lehrhaupt. Illustrated by Sharhar Kober. 2016. HarperCollins. 36 pages. [Source: Library]
The Plot Chickens. Mary Jane Auch. Illustrated by Herm Auch. 2009. Holiday House. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

Living Life Backward: How Ecclesiastes Teaches Us To Live in Light of the End. David Gibson. 2017. Crossway. 176 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Beloved Hope. (Heart of the Frontier #2) Tracie Peterson. 2017. Bethany House. 338 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Heart on the Line. (Ladies of Harper's Station #2) Karen Witemeyer. 2017. Bethany House. 329 pages. [Source: Review copy]
My Summer with Psalm 119 #22
My Summer with Psalm 119 #23
My Summer with Psalm 119 #24


© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Seeking Mansfield

Seeking Mansfield. Kate Watson. 2017. 300 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Finley Price was a fool.

Premise/plot: Seeking Mansfield by Kate Watson is a YA adaption of Jane Austen's Mansfield Park. Finley Price lives with the Bertrams, but she's not related to the Bertrams. Finley's father was fraternity brothers with Mr. Bertram, I believe. After her father's death and her mother's breakdown, the Bertrams took her in and raised her as one of her own. Finley is particularly close with the two Bertram sons, Tate and Oliver. There is a sister as well, but, Finley isn't close with her. Finley's one-big-passion is the theatre, and her one-big-dream is to direct. Harlan Crawford, and his sister Emma, come to town. Harlan Crawford is a teen celebrity, as a child actor he worked with Finley's dad. These two start to date just as Emma begins to date Oliver. Does Finley have what it takes to be in the spotlight?

My thoughts: I had a love-hate relationship with this one. It would be a fair question to ask if I have an equally love-hate relationship with the original Austen novel. I think hate is a strong word. It's a complex novel with complex characters. With such complexities, readers can interpret things subjectively.

For example, in the original is Henry Crawford evil incarnate? Was he truly in love with Fanny? Was he manipulated into a compromising situation? There is depth and substance to Austen's work. You can read it several times and still come away with insights--newer, stronger, better. You can respectfully disagree with other readers. You can see things from other perspectives. You can see other points that are valid--just as valid as your own.

Seeking Mansfield lacks complexity. The characterization is superficial. The creativity comes in the details, not the characterization. The novel is rooted in a contemporary setting. Instead of characters being concerned about Fanny borrowing/owning a horse, the matter is should she have her own cell phone. If she does have her own cell phone, should the phone be a hand-me-down phone or a new phone? If she does get her own cell phone, should it be a smart phone? The only meanie the author has left in place is Aunt Nora. Nora hasn't been updated one little bit. And every scene with Nora in it is cringe-worthy. Because she just doesn't belong in this retelling--at least not with a modern update or twist.

Are the characters true to Austen's originals? Not really. I think every single character in Mansfield Park--but especially Fanny, Edmund, Mary, and Henry--is often misunderstood. How you react to the novel--love it, hate it--depends on how you "read" each character and their relationship to all the others.

In Seeking Mansfield, Oliver is madly in love with Finley from start to finish. He doesn't think of her as a sister; he doesn't take her for granted; Finley is never underappreciated by him; he does not begin to neglect her because he's attracted to someone else. In fact, lusty thoughts of Finley play in his mind often. Oliver bears little in resemblance to Edmund Bertram.

I was most disappointed in the character of Harlan. He's just not all that believable as a fleshed-out character. I think when a certain page count was reached, it was like a switch went off--better make him evil incarnate now.
© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Friday, September 15, 2017

Picture Book Check-In

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?
Books Reviewed Since Last Time:

  1. Peck, Peck, Peck. Lucy Cousins. 2013. Candlewick Press. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  2. Carrot & Pea. Morag Hood. 2017. HMH. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  3. Here Comes Teacher Cat. Deborah Underwood. Illustrated by Claudia Rueda. 2017. 88 pages. [Source: Library]  
  4. Sister Day! Lisa Mantchev. Illustrated by Sonia Sanchez. 2017. Simon & Schuster. 32 pages. [Source: Library] 
  5. Charlie & Mouse. (Charlie & Mouse #1) Laurel Snyder. Illustrated by Emily Hughes. 2017. Chronicle Books. 48 pages. [Source: Library]  
  6. This Is How We Do It. Matt LaMothe. 2017. Chronicle. 52 pages. [Source: Library]
  7. Fruits in Suits. Jared Chapman. 2017. Abrams. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  8. Muddle & Mo. Nikki Slade Robinson. 2017. HMH. 32 pages. [Source: Review]   
  9. Wordplay. Adam Lehrhaupt. 2017. Scholastic. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  10. Naptastrophe. Jarret J. Krosoczka. 2017. 32 pages. [Source: Library]
  11. The Marvelous Thing That Came From a Spring. Gilbert Ford. 2016. 40 pages. [Source: Library]
  12. The Sock Thief. Ana Crespo. Illustrated by Nana Gonzales. 2015. 32 pages. [Source: Library]
  13. Cat Dreams. Ursula K. Le Guin. Illustrated by S.D. Schindler. 2009. Scholastic. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
  14. Baby Loves Quantum Physics! Ruth Spiro. Illustrated by Irene Chan. 2017. Charlesbridge. 22 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  15. Charlie Builds. Bob Bianchini. 2017. Harry N. Abrams. 20 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  16. Changing Faces: Meet Happy Bear. Nathan Thoms. Illustrated by Carles Ballesteros. 2017. Harry N. Abrams. 18 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  17. Chicken in School. Adam Lehrhaupt. Illustrated by Shahar Kober. 2017. 40 pages. [Source: Library]
  18. Chicken In Space. Adam Lehrhaupt. Illustrated by Sharhar Kober. 2016. HarperCollins. 36 pages. [Source: Library]
  19. The Plot Chickens. Mary Jane Auch. Illustrated by Herm Auch. 2009. Holiday House. 32 pages. [Source: Library]
  20. The Skunk. Mac Barnett. Illustrated by Patrick McDonnell. 2015. 40 pages. [Source: Library]  
  21. An English Year: Twelve Months in the Life of England's Kids. 2015. 32 pages. [Source: Library]
  22. Bear's House of Books. Poppy Bishop. Illustrated by Alison Egson. 2017. 25 pages. [Source: Library] 
  23. A Fairy Friend. Sue Fliess. Illustrated by Claire Keane. 2016. 32 pages. [Source: Library]
  24. Be Quiet! Ryan T. Higgins. 2017. 40 pages. [Source: Library]
  25. Too Big. Ingri d'Aulaire and Edgar Parin d'Aulaire. 1945/2008. NYR Children's Collection. 40 pages. [Source: Library]
  26. Eight Hands Round: A Patchwork Alphabet. Ann Whitford Paul. 1991. HarperCollins. 32 pages. [Source: Library]
  27. Bulldozer Helps Out. Candace Fleming. Illustrated by Eric Rohmann. 2017. 40 pages. [Source: Library]
  28.  Books! Books! Books! Explore the Amazing Collection of the British Library. Mick Manning. Illustrated by Brita Granstrom. 2017. Candlewick. 48 pages. [Source: Review copy]  
  29.  Plankton is Pushy. Jonathan Fenske. 2017. Scholastic. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  30. Duck & Goose Colors. Tad Hills. 2015. 22 pages. [Source: Review copy]  
  31. Gossie & Friends Say Goodnight. Olivier Dunrea. 2017. HMH. 18 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
  32. Goodnight, Numbers. Danica McKellar. Illustrated by Alicia Padron. 2017. 32 pages. [Source: Library]
  33. Sam Sorts. Marthe Jocelyn. 2017. 32 pages. [Source: Library]
  34. Triangle. Mac Barnett. Illustrated by Jon Klassen. 2017. Candlewick. 48 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  35. I Lost My Sock. P.J. Roberts. Illustrated by Chris Eliopolous. 2017. Abrams. 24 pages. [Source: Review copy]  
  36. The Princess and the Pizza. Mary Jane Auch and Herm Auch. 2002. Holiday House. 32 pages. [Source: Library]
  37. The Three Little Pigs. Michael Robertson, illustrator. 2017. Scholastic. 7 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  38. Trucks. Byron Barton. 1986. 32 pages. [Source: Library]
  39. Where's The Giraffe. Ingela P. Arrhenius. 2017. Candlewick. 10 pages. [Source: Review copy]  
  40. Where's the Ladybug? Ingela P. Arrhenius. 2017. 10 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  41. First Words Baby Signing. 2017. Scholastic. 18 pages. [Source: Review copy]  
  42. I'm Scared (My First Comics #4) Jennifer L. Holm. Illustrated by Matthew Holm. 2017. Random House. 18 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
  43. Sleepy Toes. Kelli McNeil. Illustrated by Cori Doerrfeld. 2017. Scholastic. 26 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  44. Hey Diddle Diddle (Sing Along With Me) Yu-Hsuan Huang. 2017. Candlewick Press. 10 pages. [Source: Review copy]  
  45. Happy Birthday (Sing Along with Me) Yu-Husan Huang. 2017. Candlewick. 10 pages. [Source: Review copy]

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Peck, Peck, Peck

Peck, Peck, Peck. Lucy Cousins. 2013. Candlewick Press. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Today my daddy said to me, "It's time you learned to peck a tree." "Now hold on tight. That's very good. Then peck, peck, peck, peck, peck the wood." Peck peck peck.

Premise/plot: A young woodpecker experiences the joy of pecking for the first time. Not satisfied pecking trees or wooden things, our bird hero has a blast pecking everything.

My thoughts: This book was satisfying to read. Joy can be contagious. It was fun to see what he would peck, peck, peck next. His pecking was a bit out of control, yet he was born to peck! The illustrations are fun to look at with little ones. There's lots of opportunities to engage with the text and illustrations making the book more interactive. (How many holes did he peck on this page? He must have really loved jelly beans! What do you think his favorite flavor was? What will he peck next? Do you think he is getting tired?)

Even if you can't stand Maisy, you should try this book by Lucy Cousins.

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


© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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In Over Their Heads

In Over Their Heads. (Under Their Skin #2) Margaret Peterson Haddix. 2017. Simon & Schuster. 320 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: The warning alarm woke Lida Mae from the deepest of sleep.

Premise/plot: In Over Their Heads is the sequel to Margaret Peterson Haddix' Under Their Skin. Both books are science fiction for the middle grade audience. In the first book, readers met Nick and Eryn, our hero and heroine who made a shocking discovery about the world they live in. In the second book, the adventure continues. Instead of being told solely from Nick and Eryn's perspective, however, the narrative expands to include more points of view: Ava, Jackson, and Lida Mae. As to the action in this one, I can't reveal that without spoiling the first book!

My thoughts: I liked the whole story as contained in both books. Both books read like one good episode of The Twilight Zone. I think young readers who enjoy eery science fiction will enjoy this two-book series. Fans of these novels who haven't watched The Twilight Zone should definitely seek out some episodes!
© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Good for Nothing Button

The Good for Nothing Button. (Elephant & Piggie Like Reading #3) Charise Mericle Harper. (Mo Willems). 2017. Disney-Hyperion. 64 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Hey, look! It's Yellow Bird. Hi, Yellow Bird. Look what I have. WOW! Wowee! Wow! Wow! I cannot believe it! What is it? It is a BUTTON. A red button. Red is my favorite! What does it do? NOTHING! Nothing?

Premise/plot: Gerald and Piggie are getting ready to read another book together: The Good for Nothing Button. (Elephant and Piggie star in the first few pages and the last few pages of this one.) Three birds (Yellow Bird, Blue Bird, Red Bird) try to decide what a button does--if anything. Will these three agree? Will they agree to disagree? Can they ever decide what qualifies as "something" and what qualifies as "nothing"? Will readers?!

My thoughts: I liked it. I really love Gerald and Piggie. I miss them so much. I do wish their series was continuing on. That being said, if I can't have a full early reader book starring my favorite friends, I suppose I'll make do with these teasing intros.

The text was satisfying, but, for me the illustrations were not. The dialogue worked for me--lots of bickering, lots of emotion. The speech bubbles kept the plot moving really quickly.
© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Under Their Skin

Under Their Skin. (Under Their Skin #1) Margaret Peterson Haddix. 2016. 320 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: "You're doing what?" Nick exploded.

Premise/plot: Nick and Eryn are surprised that their mom is getting remarried. They worry that things will change--and not for the better. They are right, in a way, but not in the way you might be thinking. New step-father, new step-sister, new step-brother, new house, new rules, new dynamics. Right?! Not exactly. Their lives will be forever changed though.

My thoughts: I am still irritated at GoodReads for not saving my first review. This second review will be much shorter. And if GoodReads glitches again, the third one will be just a sentence long! It's not fair to Haddix to blame her though. The book is interesting. It's definitely plot-driven, action-driven. The characters aren't horribly developed. But I found it a very quick read--just one sitting. Overall, a satisfying read. I'm not sure I'll remember it as one of Haddix's best novels....I'm not sure I'll remember much of it at all. But that's a consequence of reading a couple hundred middle grade books a year.
© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Wednesday, September 13, 2017

We Are Growing

We Are Growing. Laurie Keller (and Mo Willems). 2016. Disney-Hyperion. 64 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: BOING! What was that? I think I just grew! LOOK! Wow! You did grow! Look at that! I just grew. All by myself. Cool, huh? I know, I know. I made it look EASY. But growing is HARD WORK. In fact--

Premise/plot: Usually when someone says a book is as exciting as watching grass grow it's a bad thing. It means the book is slow, boring. Not so in Laurie Keller's new early reader, We Are Growing. Readers get the chance to watch eight blades of grass grow--each in their own special way at their own special pace. The book is melodramatic--there is even an identity crisis. Is it a little too over the top?

My thoughts: Do books have to have an embedded meaning, a moral lesson, a social message to disperse? Can you overthink a book? At its simplest, Gerald and Piggie are sharing a book together, a book called We Are Growing!

At its most complex, I'm guessing an optimist, a pessimist, and a realist would walk away with a different impression on what it all means.

One possible message of the book is that we're all something special and unique. We all deserve to have an "est" to describe ourselves. Tallest. Curliest. Silliest. Etc. We're equally awesome. Is this message challenged by the end of the book? Should it be challenged?

The twist in this book is the lawn mower. The lawn mower comes--readers can catch the clues well in advance--and suddenly all the leaves of grass are the same height. They've lost their uniqueness. They've lost their bragging rights. They're stripped of their glory, their beauty. The one leaf of grass who was struggling to find himself, to find his "est" is the only one left with an est. He looks around him, sees the mess--the mowed grass, and does something about it. Because he cleans up his mess--and everyone else's mess as well--he's the neatest. I couldn't help noticing that all the other descriptive words were superficial and based on appearances. Only the "neatest" label comes from within.

The blades of grass are silly and not all that smart. They don't see the big picture. They don't see what's coming--the lawn mower. They don't know--without being told--that they'll grow again another day. They're quick to brag and boast though. They're quick to take credit for something that is out of their control--growing. They don't know that all grass share an equal fate--a fate worse than a lawn mower when all is said and done.

The Bible on occasion describes people as being grass.
  • For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits. James 1:11
  • As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; Psalm 103:15
  • The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows on it; surely the people are grass.The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever. Isaiah 40:7-9
I do think its entirely possible to overthink a book. One shouldn't have to discern the meaning of the lawn mower in order to find a powerful message about how to live life.

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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The Circular Staircase

The Circular Staircase. Mary Roberts Rinehart. 1908. 197 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: This is the story of how a middle-aged spinster lost her mind, deserted her domestic gods in the city, took a furnished house for the summer out of town, and found herself involved in one of those mysterious crimes that keep our newspapers and detective agencies happy and prosperous.

Premise/plot: The novel opens with Rachel Innes, "Aunt Ray," deciding to rent a large country house in the summer to share with her niece, Gertrude, and nephew, Halsey. Both are old enough to have courtship and marriage on their minds. Gertrude being madly in love with a Mr. Bailey, and Halsey being mad for a Miss Louise Armstrong. (It is actually the Armstrong's home which they are renting for the summer. Though Aunt Ray isn't aware that her nephew is in love with the wealthy young daughter. The Armstrongs are supposed to be vacationing in California for the summer.) Problems start almost immediately. Faces in the window. Strange noises in the night. Scratches on the staircase that weren't there before. Day by day, night by night it just keeps getting creepier. It's a day or two before the first dead body shows up....

Liddy is the only "servant" from the city accompanying Miss Innes. Servants are hired in the country--and without references too--Miss Innes is so desperate for help. It seems servants--young, old, male and female--are easily frightened by murder and burglary.

My thoughts: I wanted to love this one. I didn't. I liked it here and there. I couldn't decide if Miss Innes was for real. If she was supposed to be taken seriously or not. There were times in her narration where she just seemed to be oh-so-blind to the humanity of those around her. For example,
There was no laudanum, and Liddy made a terrible fuss when I proposed carbolic acid, just because I had put too much on the cotton once and burned her mouth. I’m sure it never did her any permanent harm; indeed, the doctor said afterward that living on liquid diet had been a splendid rest for her stomach. But she would have none of the acid, and she kept me awake groaning, so at last I got up and went to Gertrude’s door. To my surprise, it was locked. 
Or, 
Halsey bought a car, of course, and I learned how to tie over my bonnet a gray baize veil, and, after a time, never to stop to look at the dogs one has run down. People are apt to be so unpleasant about their dogs.
If readers were supposed to find her charming, delightful, lovable, a woman of great intelligence and wit...I wasn't ready to accept her as such.

As for the mystery, I found it very confusing. I didn't find the narration straight-forward enough to help with the clues. Everything was cleared up by the end of the book. I loved, loved, loved the first sentence. The rest, not so much.

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Cookie Fiasco

The Cookie Fiasco. Dan Santat (and Mo Willems). 2016. Disney-Hyperion. 64 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Hey, guys! COOKIE TIME!

Premise/plot: There are FOUR friends and only THREE cookies. Since each believes in EQUAL COOKIES FOR ALL, this is a big, big problem. Can these four solve the problem in a way that's equally agreeable. Each initially has a suggestion, but, all suggestions are not equally fair.

My thoughts: This book is the first in a new series of easy readers: Elephant & Piggie like reading. The book begins and ends with Elephant & Piggie deciding to read Dan Santat's The Cookie Fiasco. Thus this is a book within a book! I have to agree with Gerald, "Good books make me feel big things...."

So what exactly did I feel about The Cookie Fiasco? I liked it. I really liked it. I'm not sure I loved it. I liked the problem-solving. I loved, loved, loved seeing Elephant and Piggie again. But I did not like the illustrations.

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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The Case of the Lucky Loser

The Case of the Lucky Loser. Erle Stanley Gardner. 1957. 192 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: Della Street, Perry Mason's confidential secretary, picked up the telephone and said, "Hello."

Premise/plot: The novel opens with a mystery woman calling to hire Perry Mason to sit in on a trial occurring later that day. Ted Balfour has been charged with manslaughter--a hit and run accident. At the time of this trial, the man hasn't even been identified yet. After the trial--while the jury is debating Mr. Balfour's fate--Mason receives a few more phone calls about the case. He ends up being hired as a replacement lawyer when the jury is hung. The victim is identified after the trial in a shocking way: he was hit with a car and dragged, no doubt, but it was a BULLET in the head that killed him. New trial, new lawyer. Same victim. This novel has dozens of twists and turns.

My thoughts: I remember this episode from the television show. But knowing what was coming didn't rob me of enjoying it thoroughly every step of the way. In fact, I think this might be my favorite Perry Mason novel that I've read this year.
"I have one weapon," Mason said. "It's a powerful weapon. But sometimes it's hard to wield it because you don't know just where to grab hold of it."
"What weapon is that?" Della Street asked.
"The truth," Mason said.
© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Monday, September 11, 2017

Impressionism: 13 Artists Children Should Know

Impressionism. Florian Heine. 2015. 48 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Impressionist is the name we give to a special kind of painter. The Impressionists first began painting in France during the late 19th century. They had new ideas about the way we should paint.

Premise/plot: This is a nonfiction book for children and young adults about the Impressionists. (Let's be honest, it's also for adults who are intimidated by the subject and are looking for an easy introduction.) It introduces readers to thirteen artists. These artists are: Edouard Manet, Claude Monet, Auguste Renoir, Gustave Caillebotte, Edgar Degas, Berthe Morisot, Camille Pissarro, Mary Cassatt, Max Liebermann, Georges Seurat, Childe Hassam, Paul Signac, and John Singer Sargent. Of the thirteen artists, many--but not all--were French OR spent a part of their life living in France. (Paris was quite the place to be.) At least two pages--if not more--are dedicated to each artist. Readers will see at least one--if not more--work from each artist. The author does a great job of representing an artist's uniqueness.

Edouard Manet, "Music in the Tuileries Gardens" (1862); "Bunch of Asparagus" (1880), "Asparagus" (1880)
Claude Monet, "Impression Sunrise" (1872); "Wheat Stacks, Snow Effect, Morning" (1891); "Water Lilies and Japanese Bridge" (1899)
Auguste Renoir, "Dance at the Moulin de la Galette" (1876)
Gustave Caillebotte, "Paris Street, Rainy Day" (1877)
Edgar Degas, "Ballet Dancers/The Star" (1876/77); "Dancers Practicing at the Bar" (1877); "At the Races" (1877/78)
Berthe Morisot, "Butterfly Hunt" (1874); "Hanging the Laundry Out to Dry" (1875)
Camille Pissarro, "Boulevard des Italiens" (1897)
Mary Cassatt, "The Letter" (1891); "The Boating Party" (1893/94)
Max Liebermann, "The Parrot Man" (1902); "Terrasse Restaurant Jacob in Nienstedten/Elbe" (1902/03)
Georges Seurat, "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte" (1884-86)
Childe Hassam, "Church at Old Lyme" (1905); "The Avenue in the Rain" (1917); "Rainy Midnight" (1890)
Paul Signac, "Portrait of M. Felix Feneon" (1890); "Grand Canal (Venice)" (1905)
John Singer Sargent, "The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit" (1882)

My thoughts: I liked it. I'm not sure I loved, loved, loved it because I thought it was a bit uneven at times. It included at least one artist that wasn't an impressionist at all. I think when you look at the whole book, one does get a sense of what made them unique and set them apart from what had gone before. I also liked that it is packed with information about each artist. And the representations of the art is nice. Most of the time, the pictures are big and you get an idea of the magnificence of the original piece.

Personally, I don't understand why some artists get three pictures and other artists get only one. For example, I think the author chose the two asparagus pieces of Manet just to squeeze in an interesting "I-didn't-know-that-fact." I don't think from a representative artistic point of view that asparagus is more thrilling than say Renoir's incredibly beautiful work. I think the book should have been 12 Artists Children Should Know and given more space to Renoir.

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Death of a Cad

Death of a Cad. M.C. Beaton. 1987. 214 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Henry Withering, playwright, slumped down in the passenger seat of the station wago after another bleak look out at the forbidding landscape.

Premise/plot: Death of a Cad is the second mystery in the Hamish Macbeth series by M.C. Beaton. Priscilla Halburton-Smythe has brought her fiance home with her. They'll be a country house party to celebrate their engagement, or, else it's to celebrate his success as a playwright. Most of the invited guests are a pain. Henry included. No wonder Priscilla keeps finding ways to spend time with Hamish MacBeth instead--much to her parents disapproval.

My thoughts: Being a murder mystery, readers can guess that one of the guests at the party will be the victim, and, another guest at the party will be the murderer. And of course, Hamish MacBeth will be the one to solve the crime. I welcome predictability in murder mysteries. I do. If the style of the writer suits the reader, knowing that there are thirty-something books in the series is welcome news. I'd like more of the same, please. My mom has read almost all of the series in about three or four weeks. She can't get enough of Hamish MacBeth. I'm a bit more reluctant, but, I am hoping that if I ever see the television show I'll be won over.

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Sunday, September 10, 2017

Carrot and Pea

Carrot & Pea. Morag Hood. 2017. HMH. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: This is Lee. He is a pea. All of his friends are peas. Except Colin. Colin is not a pea. He is much too tall and much too orange.

Premise/plot: Lee loves his friend Colin. Even though Colin can't roll (like a pea) or bounce (like a pea) and is horrible at hide and seek (he doesn't blend like the other peas!). Colin's differences make him really fun to play with. He's the BEST tower, a great bridge, and a wonderful slide! Lee and the other peas wouldn't have nearly as much fun if Colin were just like them.

My thoughts: This one is a simple book: simple text, simple illustrations. Yet this simple message is compelling and sweet. I like both Lee and Colin. For being vegetables, they both happen to be quite expressive. This one was originally published in the UK.

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

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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The Case of the Fiery Fingers

The Case of the Fiery Fingers. Erle Stanley Gardner. 1951. 192 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: Perry Mason had just returned to the office after a long day in court.

Premise/plot: Perry is far from impressed when Nellie Conway shows up at his office needing his legal advice. (She pays him a dollar.) She is a nurse--a night nurse--working for the Bain family. Mrs. Bain has been seriously injured in a car accident and is estranged from her husband. Nurse Nellie claims that Mr. Bain has offered to pay her money to give his wife "special medicine." Nellie is convinced that the medicine he's given her is really poison. Perry Mason wasn't her first choice; she went to the police first and was laughed out of the building. Mason, well, he's not taking Nurse Conway seriously either. But he does have one of the tablets tested to see what it is, if it is poison. Within days--if not hours--Nurse Conway finds herself in need of a lawyer for another reason altogether. She's been accused of theft by her employer, Mr. Bain. Will Mason represent her? He says yes, but more to annoy other people than to help her out. Mason soon regrets ever hearing the name of Bain....

My thoughts: This murder mystery is enjoyable. It involves TWO trials. Mason has two different clients.
Judge Peabody:
The vice of a leading question, of course, consists in having asked it.
Perry Mason:
A lawyer isn't paid to consider probabilities. He's paid to consider possibilities.
Perry Mason:
A good lawyer must always remember one thing. Never get mad unless someone pays him to do it.
Charlotte Moray:
He likes his pastures while they're green and while they're on the other side of the fence. Give him the key to the gate and it would mean nothing.
Lt. Tragg:
You know lots of things, Mason. Sometimes you amaze me when I find out what you do know, and then again there are times when I am afraid I never do find out what you know. So I have to try to keep you from finding out what I know.
Lt. Tragg:
Winners never explain. Losers always do.


© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Saturday, September 09, 2017

Week in Review: September 3-9

Here Comes Teacher Cat. Deborah Underwood. Illustrated by Claudia Rueda. 2017. 88 pages. [Source: Library]
Sister Day! Lisa Mantchev. Illustrated by Sonia Sanchez. 2017. Simon & Schuster. 32 pages. [Source: Library]
Charlie & Mouse. (Charlie & Mouse #1) Laurel Snyder. Illustrated by Emily Hughes. 2017. Chronicle Books. 48 pages. [Source: Library]
This Is How We Do It. Matt LaMothe. 2017. Chronicle. 52 pages. [Source: Library]
Fruits in Suits. Jared Chapman. 2017. Abrams. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Muddle & Mo. Nikki Slade Robinson. 2017. HMH. 32 pages. [Source: Review] 
Blood, Bullets, and Bones. The Story of Forensic Science from Sherlock Holmes to DNA. Bridget Heos. 2016. 263 pages. [Source: Library]
Espresso Tales (44 Scotland Street #2) Alexander McCall Smith. 2005. 345 pages. [Source: Library]
Heirloom Murders. (Chloe Ellefson Mystery #2) Kathleen Ernst. 2011. 349 pages. [Source: Library]
Light Keeper's Legacy. (Chloe Ellefson Mystery #3) Kathleen Ernst. 2012. 360 pages. [Source: Library]
The Case of the Gilded Lily. (Perry Mason #50) Erle Stanley Gardner. 1956. 188 pages. [Source: Bought]
The Case of the Daring Decoy. (Perry Mason #54) Erle Stanley Gardner. 1957. 198 pages. [Source: Bought] 
The Wife Between Us. Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen. 2018. St. Martin's Press. 352 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Wordplay. Adam Lehrhaupt. 2017. Scholastic. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]
This Little Piggy. An Owner's Manual. Cyndi Marko. 2017. 64 pages. [Source: Library]
Naptastrophe. Jarret J. Krosoczka. 2017. 32 pages. [Source: Library
The Marvelous Thing That Came From a Spring. Gilbert Ford. 2016. 40 pages. [Source: Library]
Peppa Pig Phonics Set. Adapted by Lorraine Gregory. 2017. Scholastic. [Source: Review copy]
The Sock Thief. Ana Crespo. Illustrated by Nana Gonzales. 2015. 32 pages. [Source: Library]
Cat Dreams. Ursula K. Le Guin. Illustrated by S.D. Schindler. 2009. Scholastic. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Learning to Love the Psalms. W. Robert Godfrey. 2017. Reformation Trust. 318 pages. [Source: Review copy]
The Messiah Comes to Middle Earth. Philip Ryken. 2017. Intervarsity Press. 150 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Sing!: How Worship Transforms Your Life, Family, and Church. Keith and Kristyn Getty. 2017. B&H Books. 176 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Psalm 119 #19
Psalm 119 #20
Psalm 119 #21

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Here Comes Teacher Cat

Here Comes Teacher Cat. Deborah Underwood. Illustrated by Claudia Rueda. 2017. 88 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Psst--Cat! I know you're napping, but this is an emergency! Ms. Melba had to go to the doctor! She needs you to teach Kitty School today. Dog is on vacation. And I suspect Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy aren't available either. Yes. There will be kittens there. That's kind of the idea of Kitty School.

Premise/plot: Cat is going to be a substitute teacher for a day. What will Cat teach the kittens?! What will the kittens teach Cat?! What will Ms. Melba think when she returns to her classroom?!

My thoughts: I really LOVED this one. I loved the casual, conversational style. I loved, loved, loved the character of CAT. I thought the sequence of events during the school day was just fun. Overall, I'd definitely recommend it!!!

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

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The Wife Between Us

The Wife Between Us. Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen. 2018. St. Martin's Press. 352 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: She walks briskly down the city sidewalk, her blond hair bouncing against her shoulders, her cheeks flushed, a gym bag looped over her forearm. When she reaches her apartment building, her hand dips into her purse and pulls out her keys. The street is loud and busy, with yellow cabs racing by, commuters returning from work, and shoppers entering the deli on the corner. But my eyes never stray from her.

Premise/plot: Who knew that reading Macy McMillan and the Rainbow Goddess by Shari Green would ultimately help me to review The Wife Between Us?! Shari Green has her character, Macy, thinking:
Why do we think
we can know anything about a person
by how they look
what they can do
what life is like for them now?
Because it turns out
we really can't.
The only way to know that stuff
is if someone
tells you the story.
Which, in my opinion, is a perfect spoiler-free description of the premise/plot of The Wife Between Us. 

My thoughts: Have you ever judged a book by its cover? Be honest. To judge a person--a book--by appearances, by what we think we know--by what we're so sure we know--can be a dangerous thing indeed.

I read The Wife Between Us in three days. In a perfect, perfect world, I would have finished in just one. If I'd ignored eating, sleeping, and other people. (I'm much too fond of all the above these days.) Yet I want to stress that this is a compelling read.

The Wife Between Us is a rare read indeed. Let me explain--or try to explain. To those seeking a thriller, a plot-driven thriller with twists and turns, I can honestly say that The Wife Between Us satisfies. Readers meet a woman--an emotionally distraught woman--and follow her through the darkness, into the darkness, and perhaps out of the darkness too. (Or I could be trying to trick you.) Through this woman's story readers get to know Richard and "the replacement." (One woman is getting replaced by another. One woman has been cast aside. Another has been chosen as the perfect wife.) It's all about the suspense and drama. Who wronged who. Who's telling the truth. Who's lying. Is it a matter of life and death? To those seeking a character-driven novel that is complex and thought-provoking, The Wife Between Us more than satisfies. I can honestly say that to me more than anything it's the CHARACTERS that stand out as unforgettable. It's a rare read because it's both.

I loved the characterization. I loved that the characters lived. I loved the brokenness and vulnerability. I loved the fragility of everything. I loved the writing. There was never a place you "wanted" to stop reading. Because the moment you read the opening sentence of the next chapter, you needed to keep going.

I loved that it would pair so well with many classics I've read and loved in the past. Jane Eyre. Rebecca. To name just two.

I think this could easily be a great movie. But would a movie trailer spoil it all?! Probably. There are three trailers for the book. One. Two. Three.

One of my favorite quotes:
In my marriage, there were three truths, three alternate and sometimes competing realities. There was Richard’s truth. There was my truth. And there was the actual truth, which is always the most elusive to recognize. This could be the case in every relationship, that we think we’ve entered into a union with another person when, in fact, we’ve formed a triangle with one point anchored by a silent but all-seeing judge, the arbiter of reality.

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Friday, September 08, 2017

Sister Day!

Sister Day! Lisa Mantchev. Illustrated by Sonia Sanchez. 2017. Simon & Schuster. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: My big sister, Jane, has the best imagination. She makes up all kinds of things out of her very own head. "Want to dress up and pretend something?" "Not right now, Lizzie," says Jane. "Tell me a story?" I ask. "The one where I'm not really your sister because you found me in the garden under a rock." "I can't," she says. "I'm going to Emma's house for a play date." "When you get home?" I ask. "Maybe when I get home."

Premise/plot: This book celebrates sisters. Specifically, readers meet Jane and Lizzie, the two sisters starring in this lovely new book by Lisa Mantchev. Lizzie misses spending time with Jane, and, so she marks a special day on the calendar to celebrate with her sister. Readers see Lizzie hard at work to make the day super-super special.

My thoughts: I loved this one. Mantchev has mastered the show don't tell philosophy of writing. I can read so many emotions, feelings, and experiences into this one. I'm a younger sister. I wonder if Lisa Mantchev is an Austen fan? If a love for Austen led her to naming the two sisters Jane and Lizzie. And I noticed the friend was named Emma. It could all be coincidence of course.

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

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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The Case of the Daring Decoy

The Case of the Daring Decoy. (Perry Mason #54) Erle Stanley Gardner. 1957. 198 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: Jerry Conway opened the paper to page six. There it was, just as it had been every day for the last week.

Premise/plot: Jerry Conway is a businessman with a big problem: he's trying to prevent a hostile takeover of his business. In a few weeks, the stockholders will be voting and Gifford Farrell has done everything in his power to ruin Conway's chances of holding onto his company. The novel opens with Conway receiving a series of phone calls from a mystery woman; she identifies herself as Rosalind, but both know that's a false name. (Both being Conway and his confidential secretary.) She urges him not to go to the ultra-secret, mostly suspicious meeting they've agreed upon. She smells a TRAP. But he wants to know what she knows that might help him keep control of the California and Texas Global Development and Exploration Company. It only takes ONE chapter in this mystery for the crime to be committed and Perry Mason called.

My thoughts: I really enjoyed The Case of the Daring Decoy. I always enjoy reading Perry Mason, but some are more enjoyable than others. Some are more quotable than others. I love how the novels are full of clues, yet aren't always straightforward to solve.

Perry & Della
"Chief," she said, "what is it? Is it a murder?"
Mason nodded.
"Who found the body?"
"We did."
"That's bad!"
"I know," Mason said, putting his arm around her shoulder and patting her reassuringly. "We always seem to be finding bodies." 
Mason & Conway

"Now, wait a minute," Mason said. "Don't start trying to think out antidotes until we're sure what the poison is and how much of a dose you've had."
Mason & Mrs. Farrell
"Now how about a drink?"
"Well," Mason said, "I could be induced if you twisted my arm."
"Hold it out," she said.
Mrs Farrell took hold of the wrist, held the lawyer's arm tight against her body, gave it a gentle twist.
"Ouch!" Mason said. "I'll take it! I'll take it!"
Perry to Della:
"The trouble with circumstantial evidence isn't with the evidence, but with the reasoning that starts interpreting that evidence....I'm kicking myself over those peas in the dead girl's stomach. There was the most significant clue in the whole case, and damned if I didn't discount it and think it was simply a waiter's mistake."


© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Thursday, September 07, 2017

Muddle & Mo

Muddle & Mo. Nikki Slade Robinson. 2017. HMH. 32 pages. [Source: Review]

First sentence: "Mo?" "Yes, Muddle?" "You're a funny color for a duck!" "Your beak is too hairy." "You should eat worms." "Your wings are on your head."

Premise/plot: Muddle and Mo are best friends. If I had to describe each in just one word, I'd say Muddle was CONFUSED and Mo is PATIENT. Muddle is under the impression that both are ducks. Muddle doesn't know why Mo--being a duck--is such a WEIRD duck. (My favorite line? "Your wings are on your head.") Slowly, it begins to dawn on her that maybe just maybe Mo isn't a duck after all. That Mo is in fact a goat--which would explain so much. But if Mo is a goat, does that mean Muddle is a duck too?!

My thoughts: I thought this one was cute. I know some critics think that "cute" is the worst thing a picture book can be. But I never claimed to be a critic. I happen to really like cute books. This cute book was originally published in New Zealand in 2015. One of my favorite things about it is that all the text--except for "the end"--is dialogue. Another thing that makes this one a bit unique is the way it's illustrated. Mo and Muddle appear on a background of blue.

Text: 4 out of 5
Illustrations: 4 out of 5
Total: 8 out of 10

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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The Case of the Gilded Lily

The Case of the Gilded Lily. (Perry Mason #50) Erle Stanley Gardner. 1956. 188 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: Stewart G. Bedford entered his private office, hung up his hat, walked across to the huge walnut desk which had been a birthday present from his wife a year ago, and eased himself into the swivel chair.

Premise/plot: The first four chapters introduce us to the major players, and in addition gives us a glimpse of the crime scene. Perry Mason enters into the novel in chapter five--after the crime has been committed but before the police have been called.

The basics: Stewart G. Bedford is a happily married man. His wife, Ann Roann, is twenty years younger than him, and incredibly beautiful and a real charmer. His secretary, Elsa Griffin, considers herself an amateur detective. She reads true crime magazines a bit obsessively. So when a man, Binney Denham, comes to Bedford's business to blackmail him, his secretary is FULL of ideas on how to stop him. Her response frightens him a bit. But the problem of blackmail remains. How does a sane, reasonable man respond to the threat of blackmail when he loves his wife and would do anything to protect her from being hurt?

My thoughts: I love reading Perry Mason almost as much as I love watching Perry Mason. It is impossible for me to read Perry Mason and not hear Raymond Burr. That's not a bad thing. If anything it makes for a fun reading experience. I definitely recommend the series, and this one is a nice addition to it.


© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Fruits in Suits

Fruits in Suits. Jared Chapman. 2017. Abrams. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: I wear a suit. You wear a suit. There are all kinds of suits.

Premise/plots: This book is a follow-up to Vegetables in Underwear. This newest book features fruit in suits--swimming suits. One fruit, a grapefruit, first appears in a suit-suit, a business suit. Throughout the book, he appears sour, disgruntled. Eventually, he decides to lighten up a bit and put on a swimming suit instead.

My thoughts: The illustrations are bright, bold, and SILLY. I'd also say expressive. I really liked the strawberry that is pictured with pigtails. (That is her green leaves are styled into pigtails). The text is well-suited to the illustrations. Though I must admit quite dependent on the illustrations. Without the zany illustrations, the text would be a bit dull. I like that this one is not text-heavy. It's a quick read to keep even the shortest attention spans.

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

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Light Keeper's Legacy

Light Keeper's Legacy. (Chloe Ellefson Mystery #3) Kathleen Ernst. 2012. 360 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: "This trip of yours is a very bad idea," Roelke said soberly. Chloe Ellefson sighed. "You sound as if I'm disappearing into some trackless wilderness. Rock Island is a state park, for God's sake."

Premise/plot: Chloe Ellefson is taking a few weeks off from her regular job as a museum curator at Old World Wisconsin; she will spend a few weeks working as a consultant on a historic lighthouse project. Things are off to a rocky start, however, for it isn't long before she discovers a dead body (or two). She finds herself in a very isolated, often dangerous location.

My thoughts: I definitely enjoyed this third novel more. I really got swept up in the secondary story: the one set on the island in the late nineteenth century. I found myself racing through the contemporary (1982) story so I could get back to the other. By the end, I was invested in both stories. I still think this series would make a great television series.
© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Charlie & Mouse

Charlie & Mouse. (Charlie & Mouse #1) Laurel Snyder. Illustrated by Emily Hughes. 2017. Chronicle Books. 48 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Charlie woke up. There was a lump beside him. He poked the lump. The lump moaned. "Are you awake?" Charlie asked. "No," said the lump. "I am sleeping." "How can you be sleeping?" asked Charlie. "You are talking." The lump stopped talking. Charlie poked the lump again. "Get up," he said to the lump. The lump did not get up.

Premise/plot: Charlie & Mouse is a picture book with four chapters: "The Lump," "The Party," "Rocks," and "Bedtime Bananas." Charlie and Mouse are brothers who have adventures together.

My thoughts: I dare you not to LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Charlie and Mouse by the end. As for me, well, I was hooked by the second or third page. What did I love about this one? What did I NOT love? (The endpapers. That's the only thing I can think of that I didn't love.)

I loved, loved, loved the writing, the dialogue. It was this dialogue that had me hooked from the first chapter.
"Mom," said Mouse. "Dad!" He opened a door. He found two lumps. Mouse poked one of the lumps. "Are you awake?" "No," said the lump. "We are sleeping." "How can you be sleeping?" asked Mouse. "You are talking." "I am a mom," said the lump. "I can do what I want."
I loved the stories. The first chapter shows the two brothers at the start of the day. The last chapter shows the two brothers at the end of the day. Thus the book gives us a complete day. I'm not sure I could pick a favorite chapter. I really enjoyed this one cover to cover.

I loved how the end of the book brings us--in a way--back to the beginning.
Charlie thought about Popsicles. He started to feel sleepy. He turned over. There was a lump beside him in the bed. It was really a very nice lump. "Goodnight," Charlie said. He patted the lump. "I'm sleeping," said the lump. "I can't hear you."
I loved the characters. I loved the relationships in this family. Dialogue can reveal so much!
Though it isn't a traditional size for an early chapter book, the amount of text to illustration is definitely makes this more of an early chapter book.


© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Heirloom Murders

Heirloom Murders. (Chloe Ellefson Mystery #2) Kathleen Ernst. 2011. 349 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: "The guy tried using a pistol?" Roelke McKenna asked, as he opened his locker door. It was almost eight in the morning. He was coming on-shift; Skeet Deardorff was going off. Roelke always arrived at the Eagle police station early enough to catch up on news.

Premise/plot: The Heirloom Murders is the second in a mystery series starring Chloe Ellefson. The series is set in Wisconsin in 1982. The heroine, Chloe, is a curator at Old World Wisconsin. This one has at least one murder and several more attempted murders. While most of the book is set in 1982, the book does feature the occasional chapter from 1876.

My thoughts: To be honest, this mystery didn't quite thrill me. I am not sure if that is because it's the second in the series and the series is very much character-driven, or, if the murder mystery aspect just flopped for me. I think the series would be a good television show. I think the book has some dramatic/melodramatic elements to it that would lend itself well to television adaptation. I think it would also allow for the characterization to come through even stronger. I did care enough about the characters to keep reading--but it wasn't because I was loving the plot.

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Monday, September 04, 2017

This Is How We Do It

This Is How We Do It. Matt LaMothe. 2017. Chronicle. 52 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: This is me. Italy. My name is Romeo, and I'm called "Meo." I'm eight years old. Japan. My name is Kei, and I'm called "Kei-chan." I'm nine years old. Uganda. My name is Daphine, and I'm called "Abwooli." I'm seven years old. Russia. My name is Oleg, and I'm called "Olezhka." I'm eight years old. Peru. My name is Ribaldo, and I'm called "Pirineo." I'm eleven years old. India. My name is Ananya, and I'm called "Anu." I'm eight years old. Iran. My name is Kian. I'm seven years old.

Premise/plot: This Is How We Do It is a nonfiction picture book for older readers. The subtitle sums up the premise well: "One Day in the Lives of Seven Kids From Around the World." Simple sentences are fleshed out with detail by seven narrators.

For example, "This is how we learn."
India. We study general awareness and value education as well as subjects like math, Hindi, and English.
Japan. We all wear white indoor slippers and are in charge of cleaning our classroom every day. We study ethics as well as math, science, and Japanese.
Peru. Our school is very small, so the fourteen kids in the fifth and sixth grades study in the same room. We have different subjects each day, and our school ends at one o'clock.
Russia. I study three languages: Russian, English, and Bashkir. I'm in a class with the same kids and the same teacher from first through fourth grades.
Uganda. I study at a private school far from home, so I stay with my grandma, who has a house nearby. There are 69 boys and girls in my class, and we study math, reading, writing, and religion.
Iran. I go to an all-boys school. We study reading and writing in Farsi, math, science, and the Quran.
Italy. We do many activities outside the classroom, like visit parks and forests, go to museums in other cities, and put on a musical at the end of the year. We have school from eight o'clock to four o'clock.
My thoughts: I loved this one. I found it fascinating. And I really loved, loved, loved the ending.
This is my night sky.
LaMothe keeps it simple and yet profound. This one also includes back matter. I loved, loved, loved the opportunity to see photographs of the families. The photographs help you realize that the book is truly nonfiction. These seven narrators aren't composite representations of hundreds of different kids from an outsider perspective. These are real kids from real families who have shared facts and details from their lives. The book also includes a glossary and an author's note.
With the help of friends (and friends of friends of friends) and family, I found seven children who agreed to share their day for this book. I put together a guide with detailed instructions about the photos and information I needed to fill each section of the book. Some of the families didn't speak English, so I enlisted help to translate the instructions into different languages. The families took pictures of their real breakfasts, homes, classrooms, and families. We communicated mostly through email, and sometimes messaging apps. I then used the photos as references to create all the illustrations you see in this book.
See. Fascinating. From cover to cover this one kept me excited!!!

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


© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Espresso Tales

Espresso Tales (44 Scotland Street #2) Alexander McCall Smith. 2005. 345 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: It was summer. The forward movement of the year, so tentative in the early months of spring, now seemed quite relentless.

Premise/plot: Espresso Tales is the sequel to 44 Scotland Street. This novel was originally published serially in The Scotsman. One chapter per day. Imagine a soap opera in print with more wit than skin. I really enjoyed revisiting the characters. Most of the characters--though not all--were first introduced in 44 Scotland Street. There are some new characters introduced in this one.

My thoughts: One of the highlights for me is the character of Bertie. Bertie is being forced by his mother to do many things: saxophone lessons, Italian lessons, therapy sessions, etc. His mother has painted his room pink and insisted that he like it. She also makes him wear "crushed strawberry" colored dungarees. One of the funniest incidences in the book is when Tofu (a boy with vegan parents) offers to trade with Bertie. He really, really, really wants a hot dog. He's really to exchange his jeans for Bertie's awful dungarees. Of course, Bertie accepts that deal. But OH THE SCENE when Irene (his mother) finds out. Readers see a lot more of Bertie's father, Stuart, in this one. In another great scene, we see him put into practice his assertiveness training.

But there are so many characters in this one. I also love Domenica. Here's one of my favorite quotes.

"And what is wrong with being judgmental?" Domenica asked indignantly. "It drives me mad to hear people say: 'Don't be judgmental.' That's moral philosophy at the level of an Australian soap opera. If people weren't judgmental, how could we possibly have a moral viewpoint in society? We wouldn't have the first clue where we were. All rational discourse about what we should do would grind to a halt. No, whatever you do, don't fall for that weak-minded nonsense about not being judgmental. Don't be excessively judgmental, if you like, but always--always--be prepared to make a judgment. Otherwise you'll go through life not really knowing what you mean.

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Sunday, September 03, 2017

Blood, Bullets, and Bones

Blood, Bullets, and Bones. The Story of Forensic Science from Sherlock Holmes to DNA. Bridget Heos. 2016. 263 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Some of the first scientific tests related to murder cases were for poison, and arsenic in particular.

Premise/plot: Love true crime stories? Love history? Love forensic science? I do have a book for you. Blood, Bullets, and Bones is the history of forensic science. Each chapter is dedicated to a specific topic or area of forensics. Chapter one discusses the first poison tests. Chapter two presents the history of medical examiners and autopsies. Chapter three focuses on the first detectives. Chapter four focuses the history of analyzing crime scene evidence. Chapter five focuses on the use of fingerprints as evidence. Chapter six is on the history of firearm analysis. Chapter seven is on analyzing blood patterns. Chapter eight focuses on hidden bodies, hidden graves. Chapter nine is devoted to the subject of forensic anthropology. Chapter ten is all about criminal profilers. The final chapter, chapter eleven, is on the use of DNA evidence. Each chapter is packed with information, packed with case examples. For the most part, the cases come from the UK or from the US--though some are European.

My thoughts: I LOVED this fascinating book. It was so informative; it was really organized. I just found it to be a compelling read. I'm happy to recommend it.
© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Saturday, September 02, 2017

Week in Review: August 27-September 2


The Skunk. Mac Barnett. Illustrated by Patrick McDonnell. 2015. 40 pages. [Source: Library]
The Great American Story of Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and the Peanuts Gang. Chloe Perkins. Illustrated by Scott Burroughs. 2017. 48 pages. [Source: Library]
An English Year: Twelve Months in the Life of England's Kids. 2015. 32 pages. [Source: Library]
Bear's House of Books. Poppy Bishop. Illustrated by Alison Egson. 2017. 25 pages. [Source: Library] 
Macy McMillan and the Rainbow Goddess. Shari Green. 2017. 240 pages. [Source: Library] 
Counting Sheep (Calpurnia Tate #2) Jacqueline Kelly. 2017. 112 pages. [Source: Library]
Yours Sincerely, Giraffe. Megumi Iwasa. Illustrated by Jun Takabatake. 2017. 104 pages. [Source: Library]
Go Down Together. Jeff Guinn. 2008. 468 pages. [Source: Library]

A Fairy Friend. Sue Fliess. Illustrated by Claire Keane. 2016. 32 pages. [Source: Library]
Make and Play: Christmas. Joey Chou, illustrator. 2017. Candlewick. 26 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Simone Biles. Matt Scheff. 2016. [Dec. 2016] Sportzone. 32 pages. [Source: Library] 
Lulu and the Brontosaurus. Judith Viorst. Illustrated by Lane Smith. 2010. 128 pages. [Source: Library]
Lulu Walks the Dogs. Judith Viorst. Illustrated by Lane Smith. 2012. 160 pages. [Source: Library]
Lulu's Mysterious Mission. Judith Viorst. Illustrated by Kevin Cornell. 2014. 185 pages. [Source: Library]
Be Quiet! Ryan T. Higgins. 2017. 40 pages. [Source: Library]
Too Big. Ingri d'Aulaire and Edgar Parin d'Aulaire. 1945/2008. NYR Children's Collection. 40 pages. [Source: Library]

5 Months. 5 Goals. Update the First.
My Summer With Psalm 119 #17
My Summer With Psalm 119 #18
Music Review: God and Creation (Questions with Answers vol. 1) Songs for Saplings. Dana Dirksen. Find out more here.
Music Review: The Fall and Salvation (Questions with Answers volume 2) Songs for Saplings. Dana Dirksen. Find out more here
Music Review: Christ and His Work. (Questions with Answers, volume 3) Songs for Saplings. Dana Dirksen. Find out more here.
Make & Play Nativity. Illustrated by Joey Chou. 2017. Candlewick Press. 26 pages. [Source: Review copy]

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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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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