Monday, July 31, 2017

July Reflections

Favorite picture book published in 2017:  Counting with Tiny Cat. Viviane Schwarz. 2017. Candlewick. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Favorite picture book biography:  I am Jim Henson. Brad Meltzer. Illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos. 2017. 40 pages. [Source: Library]
Favorite graphic novel:  Real Friends. Shannon Hale. 2017. 214 pages. [Source: Library]
Favorite short story collection:  The Doorman's Repose. Chris Raschka. 2017. 184 pages. [Source: Library]
Favorite classic:  Camille. Alexandre Dumas, fils. 1848. Translated by Edmund Gosse. 254 pages. [Source: Library]

Board books and picture books:

  1. Trains Don't Sleep. Andria Warmflash Rosenbaum. Illustrated by Deidre Gill. 2017. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  2. Counting with Tiny Cat. Viviane Schwarz. 2017. Candlewick. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  3. Bird, Balloon, Bear. Il Sung Na. 2017. Random House. 32 pages. [Source: Library] 
  4. I am Jim Henson. Brad Meltzer. Illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos. 2017. 40 pages. [Source: Library]
  5. John Ronald's Dragons: The Story of J.R.R. Tolkien. Caroline McAlister. Illustrated by Eliza Wheeler. 2017. 48 pages. [Source: Library]
  6. Prickly Jenny. Sibylle Delacroix. 2015. 32 pages. [Source: Library]
  7. Tea with Grandpa. Barney Saltzberg. 2014. 40 pages. [Source: Library]
  8. How to Babysit a Grandpa. Jean Reagan. Illustrated by Lee Wildish. 2012. 32 pages. [Source: Library]
  9. How to Track a Truck. Jason Carter Eaton. Illustrated by John Rocco. 2016. Candlewick Press. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  10. Mouse Paint. Ellen Stoll Walsh. 1989. 32 pages. [Source: Library]
  11. Extremely Cute Animals Operating Heavy Machinery. David Gordon. 2016. 48 pages. [Source: Library]
  12. Amazing Grace. Mary Hoffman. Illustrated by Caroline Binch. 1991. 32 pages. [Source: Library]
  13. Dogzilla. Dav Pilkey. 1993. 32 pages. [Source: Bought]
  14. Kat Kong. Dav Pilkey. 1993. 29 pages. [Source: Bought]
  15. Each Peach Pear Plum. Janet and Allan Ahlberg. 1978. 32 pages. [Source: Library]
  16. Dog Days of School. Kelly DiPucchio and Brian Biggs. 2014. 40 pages. [Source: Library]
  17. Board book:Peppa's First Pet (Peppa Pig) 2015. Scholastic. 16 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  18. Maisy Goes Swimming. Lucy Cousins. 2017. Candlewick. 16 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  19. Board book: Pug in a Truck. Nancy Coffelt. 2006/2015. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  20. Board book: Hush, Little Horsie. Jane Yolen. Illustrated by Ruth Sanderson. 2010. Random House. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  21. Board book: Good Night, Peppa. (Peppa Pig) 2015. Scholastic. 16 pages. [Source: Board book]
  22. Board book: The Goodnight Train. June Sobel. Illustrated by Laura Huliska-Beith. 2006/2012. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 30 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  23. Board book: Time for Bed. Petr Horacek. 2014. Candlewick Press. 16 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Early readers and early chapter books:
  1. Miffy at the Library. Maggie Testa. 2017. Simon & Schuster. 32 pages. [Source: Library]
  2. Skunked. (Calpurnia Tate, Girl Vet #1) Jacqueline Kelly. 2016. 106 pages. [Source: Library]
  3. If You Lived In Colonial Times. Ann McGovern. 1964. 80 pages. [Source: Bought]
Contemporary (general/realistic) fiction, all ages:
  1. Real Friends. Shannon Hale. 2017. 214 pages. [Source: Library]
  2. Big & Little Questions (According to Wren Jo Byrd). Julie Bowe. 2017. 240 pages. [Source: Library]
  3. The Doorman's Repose. Chris Raschka. 2017. 184 pages. [Source: Library]
  4. 44 Scotland Street. Alexander McCall Smith. 2005. 325 pages. [Source: Library]
Speculative Fiction (fantasy, science fiction, etc.) all ages:
  1. How To Train Your Dragon. Cressida Cowell. 2003. 214 pages. [Source: Library]
  2. The Doorman's Repose. Chris Raschka. 2017. 184 pages. [Source: Library]
Historical fiction, all ages:
  1. Skunked. (Calpurnia Tate, Girl Vet #1) Jacqueline Kelly. 2016. 106 pages. [Source: Library]
  2. Funeral in Blue. (William Monk #12) Anne Perry. 2001. 352 pages. [Source: Library]
  3. Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers. Deborah Heiligman. 2017. 464 pages. [Source: Library]
Mysteries, all ages:
  1. Funeral in Blue. (William Monk #12) Anne Perry. 2001. 352 pages. [Source: Library]
Classics, all ages:
  1. Camille: A Play in Five Acts. Alexandre Dumas, fils. Translated by Matilda Heron. 1852. 72 pages. [Source: Library]
  2. Camille. Alexandre Dumas, fils. 1848. Translated by Edmund Gosse. 254 pages. [Source: Library]
Nonfiction, all ages:
  1. John Ronald's Dragons: The Story of J.R.R. Tolkien. Caroline McAlister. Illustrated by Eliza Wheeler. 2017. 48 pages. [Source: Library]
  2. I am Jim Henson. Brad Meltzer. Illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos. 2017. 40 pages. [Source: Library] 
  3. Anne of Green Gables Treasury. Carolyn Strom Collins and Christina Wyss Eriksson. 1991. 208 pages. [Source: Bought]
  4. The Novel of the Century. David Bellos. 2017. 320 pages. [Source: Library]
  5. When Your Child Has Food Allergies. Mireille Schwartz. 2017. 240 pages. [Source: Library]
  6. Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers. Deborah Heiligman. 2017. 464 pages. [Source: Library]
  7. If You Lived In Colonial Times. Ann McGovern. 1964. 80 pages. [Source: Bought]
Christian fiction: 0
Christian nonfiction:   

  1. Embodied Hope: A Theological Meditation on Pain and Suffering. Kelly M. Kapic. 2017. IVP. 197 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
  2. How Does Sanctification Work. David Powlison. 2017. Crossway. 128 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  3. Matthew: All Authority in Heaven and On Earth. Douglas Sean O'Donnell. 2013. Crossway. 1090 pages. [Source: Bought]
  4. The Wisdom of God: Letting His Truth and Goodness Direct Your Steps. A.W. Tozer. Edited by James L. Snyder. 2017. Bethany House. 190 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  5. The Legacy of Luther. R.C. Sproul, editor. 2016. Reformation Trust. 308 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  6. A Description of Christ. Richard Sibbes. (1577-1635, Sibbes lifespan). 29 pages. [Source:Bought]
  7. Lifted: Experiencing the Resurrection Life. Sam Alberry. 2010/2012. P&R. 142 pages. [Source: Borrowed]
  8. RSV Bible. 1977. Oxford University Press. 1904 pages. [Source: Gift]
  9. A Survey of Church History, Part One: A.D. 100-600.  W. Robert Godfrey. Twelve 23-Minute Messages. [Source: Gift]
  10. A Survey of Church History, Part Two: A.D. 500-1500.  W. Robert Godfrey. Thirteen 23-Minute Messages. [Source: Gift]
  11. A Survey of Church History, Part Three: A.D. 1500-1620.  W. Robert Godfrey. Twelve 23-Minute Messages. [Source: Gift]
  12. A Survey of Church History, Part Four: A.D. 1600-1800.  W. Robert Godfrey. Twelve 23-Minute Messages. [Source: Gift] 
  13. A Survey of Church History, Part Five: A.D. 1800-1900.  W. Robert Godfrey. Twelve 23-Minute Messages. [Source: Gift]
  14. A Survey of Church History, Part Six: A.D. 1900-2000.  W. Robert Godfrey. Twelve 23-Minute Messages. [Source: Gift]
© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Novel of the Century

The Novel of the Century. David Bellos. 2017. 320 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence from chapter one: Victor-Marie Hugo was born in 1802 in the garrison twon of Besancon, where his father was stationed.

Premise/plot: The Novel of the Century tells the story of Les Miserables. It seeks to do two things, really: 1) It tells how Victor Hugo came to write, edit, and publish Les Miserables; 2) It discusses the impact of the novel since its publication to the present day. It is a book for literature majors and/or history majors, especially. It is simply packed with information.

Did you know that...
  • Victor Hugo lived in exile for decades; France's most popular, much-beloved writer was exiled with the new regime that came into power in the mid 1840s.
  • Victor Hugo started the novel in the 1840s, but, it wasn't finished and published until the 1860s.
  • Worried that the book might be banned and/or destroyed, NO review copies were sent out before its publication, and the contents of the book were kept very secret. Still the book needed to be promoted, so they used BILLBOARDS of some of the interior illustrations to advertise.
  • The book was released in five parts of two volumes each, I believe.
My thoughts: I am so happy and so thankful that I got a chance to review this. Les Miserables has been one of my favorite books since I first read it in 1997. I had not heard the often dramatic story of how the novel came to be. This one isn't so much a biography of Victor Hugo's whole life or career as it is finely focused on his years writing, editing, publishing this one novel of his. The chapters vary between an entertaining narrative style that just about anyone can understand and appreciate and a more technical, scholarly style which may or may not hold every reader's interest. I really found many of the 'interludes' to be fascinating.

For example, "Reading novels as historical resources is not a way of paying attention to what the author meant to say, but a matter of identifying what was once so obvious that it didn't need to be said."



© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Saturday, July 29, 2017

Tea with Grandpa

Tea with Grandpa. Barney Saltzberg. 2014. 40 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Every day at half past three...Me and Grandpa. Time for Tea. I can pour so carefully. Grandpa holds his cup for me.

Premise/plot: What you see is what you get...or is it?! Every day a little girl and her grandpa have tea together. The book shares what they do every day at tea time: tell stories, laugh and joke, sing and dance. What the book waits a while to reveal....is....that the grandpa and the little girl are not "together" for tea time. They are communicating via computer.

My thoughts: I enjoyed this one. I love the illustrations. So simple yet so emotionally genuine or expressive. I like the message that you don't have to be in the same room with someone to be with them in spirit. There are many ways to stay in touch with your loved ones. This tea-time ritual being one way to stay connected.

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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Friday, July 28, 2017

Bird, Balloon, Bear

Bird, Balloon, Bear. Il Sung Na. 2017. Random House. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: It was Bird's first day in a new forest, and he was looking for a friend. It wasn't long before he spotted someone! But Bird was too shy to say hello. When he finally felt brave enough...

Premise/plot: Will Bear and Bird ever become friends? What is the fate of the red balloon? Essentially, Bird is very shy, and, while he really, really, really wants to make a friend and have a friend, he's a bit hesitant to make the first step. Bear is a great character who is very easy to be with. These two seem destined to watch a lot of sunsets together.

My thoughts: I like this one. I'm not sure I love, love, love it. But I do love the illustrations. They pair well with the simple story.

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

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Share-a-Tea July 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?
What I'm currently reading for the challenge:

ESV Reformation Study Bible. Edited by R.C. Sproul. Reformation Trust. 2560 pages. [Source: Gift/Bought]

MEV Thinline. Passio. 2014. 1184 pages. [Source: Bought]

The Wretched (Les Miserables) Victor Hugo. Translated by Christine Donougher. 1862/2013. 1456 pages. [Source: Bought]

Great Expectations. Charles Dickens. 1860/2016. Macmillan Collector's Library. 640 pages. [Source: Library]


Books I've Finished This Month:


RSV Bible. 1977. Oxford University Press. 1904 pages. [Source: Gift]

Looking forward to...:
  • Finishing Les Miserables
  • Finishing Great Expectations
Favorite quotes:

From Les Miserables
  • True or false, what is said about men often figures as large in their lives, and above all in the fate that befalls them, as what they do.
  • Man exists in the flesh, which is at once his burden and his temptation. He drags it around with him and gives in to it.
  • To sin as little as possible, that is the law of mankind. Not to sin at all is the angel’s dream. Everything earthly is subject to sin. Sin is a gravitational force.
  • Let us fear ourselves. Prejudices are the real robbers. Vices are the real murderers. The great dangers are within us. Never mind what endangers our life or our purse! Let’s be mindful only of what endangers our soul.
  • To put an end to abuses is not enough, attitudes must change.
  • He did not study God, he yielded to the radiance of God.
  • But it is no more possible to pray too much than it is to love too much;
  • ‘You didn’t have to tell me who you were. This isn’t my house, it’s the house of Jesus Christ. This door does not ask whoever enters whether he has a name but whether he is in distress. You’re in distress, you’re hungry and thirsty: you’re welcome here. And don’t thank me, don’t say I’m inviting you into my home. No one is at home here except whoever needs a refuge. I tell you, a passing visitor, this is your home more than mine. Everything here is yours. Why should I need to know your name? Besides, even before you told me, I already knew your name.’ The man eyes widened in astonishment. ‘Really? You knew me by name?’ ‘Yes,’ replied the bishop, ‘by the name of “Brother”.’
  • The good Lord has given indigestion the task of teaching our stomachs a lesson. And remember this: every one of our passions, even love, has a stomach that mustn’t be overfed.
  • The supreme happiness of life is the conviction that you are loved, loved for yourself, better still, loved despite yourself.
  • The mind is no more to be prevented from returning to an idea than the sea from returning to the shore. For the sailor, this is called the tide. For the guilty man, it is called remorse. God stirs the soul as he causes the ocean to swell.
  • Diamonds are found only in the darkness of the earth. Truths are found only in the depths of the mind. It seemed to him that having descended into those depths, having long groped in the pitch-black of that darkness, he had at last found one of those diamonds, one of those truths, and he now held it in his hand. And he was dazzled by the sight of it.
  • Every event is a bend in the road. And all of a sudden you are old.
  • If you want to understand what revolution is, call it Progress. And if you want to understand what progress is, call it Tomorrow. Tomorrow comes into effect irresistibly, and does so even today. It always achieves its end by strange means.
  • The best of us are not exempt from a selfish way of thinking.
  • Before you grasp a thorny stick, you put on gloves.
  • This book is a drama whose main character is the infinite. Man is the secondary character.
  • Facts, however, are not easy to confound, and they remain obstinate.
  • Man lives by affirmation much more than by bread.
  • To be lost in thought is not to be idle. There is visible work and invisible work.

From Great Expectations:
  • Some medical beast had revived Tar-water in those days as a fine medicine, and Mrs. Joe always kept a supply of it in the cupboard; having a belief in its virtues correspondent to its nastiness. At the best of times, so much of this elixir was administered to me as a choice restorative, that I was conscious of going about, smelling like a new fence. On this particular evening the urgency of my case demanded a pint of this mixture, which was poured down my throat, for my greater comfort, while Mrs. Joe held my head under her arm, as a boot would be held in a bootjack.
  • Joe's station and influence were something feebler (if possible) when there was company than when there was none. But he always aided and comforted me when he could, in some way of his own, and he always did so at dinner-time by giving me gravy, if there were any. There being plenty of gravy to-day, Joe spooned into my plate, at this point, about half a pint.
  • Neither were my notions of the theological positions to which my Catechism bound me, at all accurate; for, I have a lively remembrance that I supposed my declaration that I was to "walk in the same all the days of my life," laid me under an obligation always to go through the village from our house in one particular direction, and never to vary it by turning down by the wheelwright's or up by the mill
  • In the little world in which children have their existence whosoever brings them up, there is nothing so finely perceived and so finely felt as injustice.
  • "There's one thing you may be sure of, Pip," said Joe, after some rumination, "namely, that lies is lies. Howsever they come, they didn't ought to come, and they come from the father of lies, and work round to the same. Don't you tell no more of 'em, Pip. That ain't the way to get out of being common, old chap. And as to being common, I don't make it out at all clear. You are oncommon in some things. You're oncommon small. Likewise you're a oncommon scholar."
  • If you can't get to be oncommon through going straight, you'll never get to do it through going crooked. So don't tell no more on 'em, Pip, and live well and die happy."
  • That was a memorable day to me, for it made great changes in me. But it is the same with any life. Imagine one selected day struck out of it, and think how different its course would have been. Pause you who read this, and think for a moment of the long chain of iron or gold, of thorns or flowers, that would never have bound you, but for the formation of the first link on one memorable day.
  • Heaven knows we need never be ashamed of our tears, for they are rain upon the blinding dust of earth, overlying our hard hearts.
This month's teas:
  • English Breakfast
  • White Tea
  • Earl Grey (Black/Green Organic)
  • Peppermint
  • Candy Cane Lane
  • Sweet Harvest Pumpkin

New teas:
I tried Peppermint tea and loved it. I tried Oolong tea, but, I'm not sure if I like it or not. It may take another cup or two before I make up my mind.



© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Thursday, July 27, 2017

Amazing Grace

Amazing Grace. Mary Hoffman. Illustrated by Caroline Binch. 1991. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Grace was a girl who loved stories. She didn't mind if they were read to her or told to her or made up in her own head.

Premise/plot: Grace, the heroine, loves stories. She loves acting out stories. She does it all the time. So when her class performs Peter Pan, she knows exactly what part she wants--that of Peter Pan. Her classmates, at first, tell her she can't be Peter Pan. She's a girl. She's black. She just doesn't look the part. But Grace knows different. She's been raised to believe that she can be anything she wants. She proves that she can be an amazing Peter Pan.

My thoughts: I liked this one very much. I think Grace is adorable. The kind of girl you'd really love to be friends with in real life.

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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Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Ninotchka

Ninotchka. Directed by Ernst Lubitsch. 1939. 110 minutes. [Source: Library]

Three Russian 'comrades' come to Paris with the purpose to sell the imperial jewels. The Grand Duchess, who is living in exile in Paris, feels the jewels are rightly hers and begins a tedious legal action to try to stall the sell. The three Russians become carried away by the good life in Paris--with a little help from the Duchess' boyfriend, Count Leon d'Algout. Another Russian is sent to get the job done right. Enter Greta Garbo in the role of Ninotchka. She's devoted to the communist cause, stern, serious, always on-task, always putting others before herself.

First and foremost, this is a ROMANCE. It's a charming, thoughtful, beautiful ROMANCE. I loved it almost start to finish. I'll be honest, the first part of the movie was a little slow. But when Ninotchka meets Count Leon, I became hooked. I didn't find Camille to be a particularly good movie. It was okay. But not gush-worthy. This on the other hand was LOVELY. I enjoyed the characters very much. And I really, really, really LOVED the ending. I liked Iranoff, Buljanoff, and Kopalski so much by the end of the movie!


© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Trains Don't Sleep

Trains Don't Sleep. Andria Warmflash Rosenbaum. Illustrated by Deidre Gill. 2017. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Trains are humming, coming near, coupled cars from front to rear. Rumbling, grumbling, screech and squeal, rolling, trolling wheels on steel.

Premise/plot: Do you have a little one with a one-track mind? If you have a train-loving little one, this is a must. I wouldn't go so far as to say it is exactly a day-in-the-life of a train. But. It comes close to being just that. The book begins and ends with dawn approaching.

My thoughts: This train book reads like a poem. And I mean that in the best possible way! Trains and rhythm almost go together naturally you might say. This one certainly captures a beautiful rhythm which makes it a great read aloud choice.
Puffing, chuffing, never yawning, climbing hills as day is dawning.
Sky-high trestle, canyon sights. Trains are not afraid of heights.
This one includes a glossary which illustrates and defines elements of the story.
Reefer: a refrigerated boxcar that keeps food cold.
Speaking of the illustrations, they are BEAUTIFUL. I loved, loved, loved them.

I will warn you: THERE IS A PICTURE OF A CLOWN within this book. But even so, I LOVED this one and highly 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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Tuesday, July 25, 2017

What's On Your Nightstand (July)

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.

The Wretched. Victor Hugo. Translated by Christine Donougher. 1862/2013. 1456 pages. [Source: Bought]

This is actually Les Miserables. I've been reading this one all month for Paris in July. I had hoped to finish it this month. But. It's not looking likely. I am 44% done. I do LOVE the book.

The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 1/4 Years Old. Hendrik Groen. Translated by Hester Velmans. 2014/2017. 384 pages. [Source: Library]

This one had me at hello: "Another year, and I still don't like old people. Their walker shuffle, their unreasonable impatience, their endless complaints, their tea and cookies, their bellyaching. Me? I am eighty-three years old." I'm 39% done.

The Wooden Prince. (Out of Abaton #1) John Claude Bemis. 2016. 312 pages. [Source: Library]

This is a Pinocchio retelling in a fascinating fantasy world.  I am 86% done.

It Can't Happen Here. Sinclair Lewis. 1935/2005. 400 pages. [Source: Library]

Ever wondered what would happen if a racist, sexist, egotistical man was elected to the office of President of the United States? This dystopia was written in 1935. It was set in 1936. And Lewis' novel featured real people and fictional people. I am 56% done.

Great Expectations. Charles Dickens. 1860/2016. Macmillan Collector's Library. 640 pages. [Source: Library]

I am enjoying it so far! 46% done.


Learning to Love the Psalms. W. Robert Godfrey. 2017. Reformation Trust. 318 pages. [Source: Review copy]

I spent a week listening to W. Robert Godfrey's teaching series on Church History. I was so excited to get the chance to review his newest book. And it's on the PSALMS! (I am 13% done.)

An Exposition of Psalm 119. Thomas Manton. 2025 pages. [Source: Bought]
I have been LOVING this one. I don't always do a great job in reading a sermon or two a week, but I am 28% done. My next sermon will be on Psalm 119:39, "Sermon 44."

City of God. Augustine. 1097 pages. [Source: Bought]

I started reading this one in February, took several months off, and then started reading it again this July. I am 57% done. I'm about to start book 15.




© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Miffy at the Library

Miffy at the Library. Maggie Testa. 2017. Simon & Schuster. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Miffy and Grunty are going to the library. Aunt Alice is helping out at the library.

Premise/plot: Miffy and Grunty "help" Aunt Alice with her library work. First they help by stamping books, and then they help by shelving books. In Dick Bruna's world apparently books are shelved by the color of the book cover. Great fun is had by all.

My thoughts: Miffy is a new discovery of mine. I love the theme song of the new Nickelodeon show. I wanted to see if my local library had any books. They had one--this one. I liked it even if the shelving system is a bit quirky.
© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Monday, July 24, 2017

Funeral in Blue

Funeral in Blue. (William Monk #12) Anne Perry. 2001. 352 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: The operating room was silent except for the deep, regular breathing of the gaunt young woman who lay on the table, the immense bulge of her stomach laid bare.

Premise/plot: The twelfth novel in the William Monk series focuses on Dr. Kristian Beck. This surgeon has appeared briefly in several other novels in this mystery series. In this one, he's the prime suspect for his wife's murder. (There are two murders actually, and both murders occurred at an artist's studio.) Lady Callandra wants Monk and Hester to become involved in the case, to try to protect Beck if they can.

My thoughts: I really enjoyed this one. You wouldn't think that Monk trying to work together with Runcorn would be one of the novel's greatest strengths, but, for me it was. I really loved getting to see the vulnerable Runcorn taking a chance on Monk and the two essentially starting over again. Of course, there is plenty of Hester as well.

Monk travels to Austria in this one to do some background work. And that was fun as well.

Readers also get a chance to further know Hester's brother and sister-in-law. I haven't decided if their presence near the scene of the crime was too big a coincidence for me...or not. But right now I'm just so happy with the series that I don't mind.

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Sunday, July 23, 2017

How To Train Your Dragon

How To Train Your Dragon. Cressida Cowell. 2003. 214 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: A Note from the Author: There were dragons when I was a boy.

Premise/plot: Hiccup Horrendous Haddock the Third is the 'hero' of Cressida Cowell's How To Train Your Dragon. He's the son of a chief, a viking, but among his peers--among anyone really--he's not the strongest, brightest, best. The novel opens with him hoping that he can manage to steal a baby dragon--any kind of dragon. He ends up with the smallest dragon anyone has ever seen. And the training manual isn't all that helpful. The book merely says: YELL AT YOUR DRAGON. THE END. Is there a better way? Will Hiccup get thrown out of his clan?

My thoughts: The book is nothing like the movie of the same name. NOTHING. I was actually disappointed that the book is so very different from the movie. (I really liked the characters from the movie and the premise of the movie.) That being said, I did like it. There were a few scenes that were enjoyable. I wish I'd not had the movie to compare it to.

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Saturday, July 22, 2017

How To Babysit a Grandpa

How to Babysit a Grandpa. Jean Reagan. Illustrated by Lee Wildish. 2012. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Babysitting a grandpa is fun--if you know how.

Premise/plot: A grandson shares all his personal how-to tips for babysitting his grandpa. Some of his tips include what to feed a Grandpa, what to play with Grandpa, how to entertain a Grandpa, how to get a Grandpa to take a nap, etc.

My thoughts: I liked it okay. I did. I have a feeling that there are millions of ways to babysit a Grandpa, and that each grandchild has their own unique way of doing so. This book is universal by no means. (Though hopefully LOVING to spend time with your Grandpa is universal.) I love, love, love the end papers of this picture book. I love the kid drawings.

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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Friday, July 21, 2017

How to Track a Truck

How to Track a Truck. Jason Carter Eaton. Illustrated by John Rocco. 2016. Candlewick Press. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: If you want a pet truck--and who doesn't?--you've come to the right person! I've got two dump trucks and a fire engine myself. I think everyone should have one! And that's why I wrote this book. By the time you're done, you'll know everything you need in order to track, catch, and tame your very own pet truck.

Premise/plot: How To Track a Truck is a follow-up to How To Train a Train. This book is all about TRUCKS. The premise is that you--that everyone--really, really wants a truck for a pet. The story is wonderfully absurd. If you enjoyed the first book, then this one might be worth your time!

My thoughts: I liked it. I didn't LOVE, LOVE, LOVE it like How to Train a Train. But it is fun and crazy and unique. Here's one of my favorite parts:
Now the fun part: catching it. Wait until the truck notices you, and then lay down a trail of orange cones. Trucks can't help following orange cones.
Text: 4 out of 5
Illustrations: 3 out of 5
Total: 7 out of 10


© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Thursday, July 20, 2017

Skunked

Skunked. (Calpurnia Tate, Girl Vet #1) Jacqueline Kelly. 2016. 106 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: None of the terrible things that happened need have happened at all if the skunk hadn't drawn attention to itself by ripping up our garden and stealing a bunch of vegetables. And if Father hadn't told the hired man to set a trap and kill it. And if the skunk hadn't turned out to be a mother with a baby hidden in a den nearby. And if my younger brother Travis hadn't heard the hungry baby crying and stopped to investigate.

Premise/plot: Calpurnia Tate stars in a new series of early readers. (This is not a younger Calpurnia Tate.) Callie LOVES science, her grandpa, and her younger brother, Travis. In this one, Calpurnia and Travis find an orphaned baby skunk. Together they will "save" it. But their rescue mission isn't without challenges!

My thoughts: I enjoyed this one. I like Callie as a character. (Callie also stars in The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate and The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate.) The two previous books are for older readers. I'm not sure why the switch in audience, but, I don't mind it particularly. I like the Texas setting. I love historical fiction. The family atmosphere is great.


© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Movie Review: Camille (1984)

Camille. Directed by Desmond Davis. 1984. 100 minutes. [Source: Library]

Marguerite Gautier is played by Greta Scacchi. Armand Duval is played by Colin Firth. Duval (Armand's father) is played by Ben Kingsley. Prudence is played by Billie Whitelaw. Count de Noilly is played by Denholm Elliott. Gaston is played by Patrick Ryecart.

This was a made-for-television adaptation of Alexandre Dumas fils' novel/play Camille. There's a great line of dialogue in this one: "Love me less, or understand me better." It's something that Marguerite is saying to Armand. That simple phrase says so much about this story.

The movie opens with a plea of sorts: a dying Marguerite is writing in her journal, confessing everything to Armand, pleading with him to understand her.

One of the first scenes of the movie shows Marguerite with her abusive father. At the very least he is verbally abusive, but, I lean more towards physical abuse as well. Regardless the movie opens with a very young Marguerite deciding to LEAVE HOME--for better or worse. She makes her way to Paris with just the clothes on her back. No money, no food, no place to stay, no plan on how to survive. She's desperate. Perhaps sensing her desperation, an older man, an Impressionist painter, offers to pay for a meal if she'll sit and pose for him. She eagerly accepts. In fact, she devours the food as if she hasn't eaten in days. But the painter has more than a sketch in mind. To be blunt--and this takes place offscreen fortunately--he rapes her. At first she scorns the idea of staying with him, she looks at him with hatred and disgust. But she realizes that her body is her commodity. With it, she has a way to get food, wine, clothes, jewelry, a place to stay. She still doesn't like him--but she realizes that they can use each other for a while. She'll hopefully find someone richer, someone better to take his place. She's definitely on the look out. She's "discovered" by the Duke de Charles. He finds that she looks like his now-deceased daughter. He is looking for her to take the place of his daughter. He wants her off the street; he wants her cleaned up; he wants her to stop selling herself to men. He's willing to treat her like a princess, gifts of money and jewels, an unlimited amount of credit it seems. But there are strings attached. She's to be a good girl.

Armand Duval is introduced early in this adaptation. Viewers first see him with his father and his sister celebrating life. His father seems to be encouraging his son to be YOUNG and to LIVE IT UP in Paris while he can. Armand becomes close friends with the wealthy Gaston. And the two seem to like women and booze. Like might not be a strong enough word. Let's just say the two are lusty young men.

So how do these two meet in this adaptation? Prudence spots Gaston at the theatre. Gaston tells Armand that Prudence was his first lover, that as an older, much-experienced woman she was a great teacher. Gaston and Armand go home with Prudence that night. Prudence is Marguerite's neighbor. When Marguerite invites Prudence over, she says she has two guests. Marguerite says COME WITH YOUR GUESTS AND RESCUE ME FROM THIS SUPREME BORE, the Count. For Armand, if you believe in such things, it's love at first sight. For Marguerite, however, she's not wanting to fall in love with any young man. Especially a poor one.

The rest of the story follows the other adaptations for the most part. Though Armand seems very much a jerk in this one. For example, his father tells him: do you know that by being with her you are ruining your sister's chance for marriage? Do you know that her wedding could be called off? And he's like MY SISTER LOVES ME AND I'M SURE SHE'D RATHER SEE ME BE HAPPY. Also, there were a few times at least when Armand crossed the line into abuse--in my humble opinion. He tells her IT'S ONLY BECAUSE I LOVE YOU SO MUCH THAT I ACT THIS WAY. And her response is: LOVE ME LESS OR UNDERSTAND ME BETTER. I think those are wise words indeed under the circumstances.

The characters are oh-so-human in this adaptation. Neither comes across as a saint.

Overall, I am definitely glad I watched this one. It is more of an interpretation of Dumas' work than an adaptation of it.

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Les Miserables 10th Anniversary Concert

Les Miserables: 10 Anniversary Concert at London's Royal Albert Hall. Directed by John Caird and Gavin Taylor. 148 minutes. [Source: Library]

Features Colm Wilkinson as Jean Valjean, Philip Quast as Javert, Ruthie Henshall as Fantine, Jenny Galloway as Madame Thenardier, Alun Armstrong as Thenardier, Lea Salonga as Eponine, Michael Ball as Marius, Judy Kuhn as Cosette, Michael Maguire as Enjolras....

Premise/plot: This film is not a production of the musical itself but a concert featuring the music from the musical. One disc is the concert. The other disc is the special features. The special features include two documentaries that are well worth watching.

My thoughts: I have seen the 2012 film adaptation of the musical. I have very mixed feelings about the film. I really do. I think it is almost torturous to watch in places. It definitely is not a film that I'd ever say "again, again, again" after viewing.

I LOVE the book. It's one of my FAVORITE books of all time. I think the musical only makes sense if you've read the book OR if you've watched a better film adaptation.

So what did I think of this concert? Well, I found myself liking it much more than I thought I would. I liked the concert aspect of it--especially seeing the orchestra behind them and the ensemble cast. The ensemble cast wore Les Miserables t-shirts. The main characters were in costume.  (Probably two dozen or so were in costume.) Valjean and Eponine were my FAVORITES.

I though the singing was EXCELLENT for the most part. I also love watching orchestras.

My favorite songs:

I Dreamed a Dream, Fantine
Who Am I, Valjean
Fantine's Death, Fantine and Valjean
One Day More, Valjean, Marius, Cosette, Eponine, Enjolras
On My Own, Eponine
Bring Him Home, Valjean
Epilogue (Finale), Valjean, Fantine, Cosette and Marius, Ensemble



© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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When Your Child Has Food Allergies

When Your Child Has Food Allergies. Mireille Schwartz. 2017. 240 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: This is a book written by a parent, for parents. So it is full of practical, honest, first hand information about how to cope, and thrive, with a child who has a chronic food allergy.

Premise/plot: Who is the book for? Parents, primarily. But also grandparents, aunts and uncles, teachers, and dare I say food service workers? What is it about? Food allergies. Specifically it is about how to create safe environments for children with food allergies. It deals with home environments--going beyond just the kitchen. It deals with school environments. It deals with eating out at restaurants, going to holiday or birthday parties, going on vacation, flying on airplanes, etc. It teaches parents how to be advocates and protect their children from allergens. It isn't always going to work, however, so each and every chapter--in reality more like every few pages--the message is always, always, always have an epi-pen with you; always contact 911 and get help if you're having a reaction.

The book is divided into four sections: "What You Need to Know," "Ways You Can Offer Support," "How Your Child Can Live Fully and Safely," and "Ways You Can Protect Your Child."

The big eight are: milk, eggs, finned fish, crustacean shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, and soy.

The book contains several lists: "Mild Early Warning Signs," "General Symptoms of Food Allergies," "When to Call an Ambulance," "Symptoms of Anaphylaxis," and "Symptoms of Eosinophilic Esophagitis."

My thoughts: I thought this one was packed with a lot of information. It covers every area--at least every area that I can think of. It deals with diagnosis, symptoms, medical treatments, emergency care, emergency preparedness. It deals with how to talk with your child, with family members, with friends, with parents of your child's friends, with teachers, with principals, with school nurses, with waiters, with chefs, with babysitters, with anyone and everyone that might come into contact with your child. Don't keep your child's allergies private, tell anyone and everyone. You never know.

I thought the book was thorough. I had heard of cross-contamination. But I'd not thought of how this might involve pets and pet food. I had heard of the Big 8--the eight foods that are the most common allergens. But I'd not thought of looking for the big eight outside of food. For example, some inks contain soy!

This book definitely drives home the message that everything--every little thing, every big thing--takes deliberate thought and planning once someone in your home has an allergy. The book mainly deals with severe allergies which are a matter of life and death. The book mentions in passing milder allergies which are not life threatening but are still uncomfortable and best avoided. For example, a severe allergy reaction would lead to a person not being able to breathe. A milder allergic reaction might be breaking out in hives. You won't die from hives, but, certainly you don't want to purposefully expose yourself to anything that will lead to them!!!

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Counting with Tiny Cat

Counting with Tiny Cat. Viviane Schwarz. 2017. Candlewick. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: None. One. Two. Three. Four. More. Even More. About a dozen. Lots.

Premise/plot: Tiny Cat is counting his (or her) balls of yarn. At first this is easy for tiny cat. But it doesn't stay easy. What comes after four?! Tiny Cat's not exactly sure. But that doesn't stop her from having FUN counting.

My thoughts: I really, really, really LOVED this one. I love the expressiveness of Tiny Cat. In particular. I love the expression for "lots" "some extra" "too much" and "enough." The story is told with just a few words. These words--like the number words--might be familiar to preschoolers. And I wouldn't be surprised if little ones end up memorizing this one and reading it themselves. I think one can definitely read the story based on the pictures alone.

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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Monday, July 17, 2017

Camille: A Play in Five Acts

Camille: A Play in Five Acts. Alexandre Dumas, fils. Translated by Matilda Heron. 1852. 72 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Some one has rung the bell.

Premiseplot: Alexandre Dumas fils adapted his novel, Camille, into a five act play. There are just eleven characters: Armand Duval, Camille, Count de Varville, Nichette, Gustave, Olimpe, Gaston, Prudence, Nanine, and Monsieur Duval (Armand's father).

How does the play differ from the novel? The play removes the framework. The novel begins after Camille, our heroine, has died. Readers of the novel first meet a grief-stricken lover, Armand, who only slowly reveals the details of their romance. The play begins by introducing Camille's close circle of friends. Are all the people in this play her friends? Maybe, maybe not. Certainly most of them are. But a few do seem to be using Camille to their own advantage. Prudence, for example, stands out as someone taking full advantage of Camille. Olimpe is a rival of hers, so their friendship is more "friendship." Readers--viewers--watch the romance blossom, grow, mature in the play. Quite a difference emotionally, I believe.

 My thoughts: I really loved the play. I enjoyed the novel very much. I didn't think the story could be improved upon. But I'm glad that Dumas also gave us the play version. By simplifying the story, I feel we get a better impression of who the characters are.

Quotes:
Armand: Will you be loved?
Camille: For how long?
Armand: For eternity!
Camille: Alas! my life may yet be happy--it cannot be long--and short as it may be, it may outlive your promise.
Armand: Now, who is melancholy?
Camille: Not I. The weight that chained me to her throne's removed, and all around breathes ecstasy! But it grows late, and you must away.
Armand: When shall I see you again?
Camille: [Giving him a Camelia] When this little flower is faded, bring it to me again.
Armand: Ah, Camille, you have made me blessed.
Camille: It is a strange flower, Armand--pale, scentless, cold; but sensitive as purity itself. Cherish it, and its beauty will excel the loveliest flower that grows; but wound it with a single touch, you never can recall its bloom, or wipe away the stain. Take it, and remember me. Now go.
Armand: Adieu! (19)

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Sunday, July 16, 2017

Camille and Moulin Rouge

Camille. Directed by George Cukor. 1936. 109 minutes. [Source: Library]

Camille is based on the play/novel by Alexandre Dumas, fils. This adaptation was released in the 1930s. (There have been other adaptations.)

Greta Garbo plays Camille and Robert Taylor plays Armand Duval. These two are destined to come together and be torn apart. She's a Parisian courtesan who--for better or worse--falls in love for the first time. Her true love isn't exactly penniless, but, he's not wealthy either. He loves her, he claims, no matter her past. He swears that his jealousy will not get the better of him and drive him mad. But is he capable of keeping that promise?

These two have three lovely months in the country together. But at the end of that time, choices must be made. I will just say that the movie is DIFFERENT from the novel and play. In both the movie and the novel, Duval's father pleads with her to "do the right thing." But the novel and play give a different reason, perhaps a better reason, for his pleading. The movie, despite setting up things nicely to go in the same direction, gives a much weaker excuse. Camille's sacrifice, therefore, doesn't seem as noble perhaps.

Love is anything but easy and comfortable in this black and white classic film.... I will say that this movie stars Laura Hope Crews as Prudence. I recognized her as dear old 'Aunt' Pittypat' from Gone With the Wind.

Moulin Rouge. Directed by Baz Luhrmann. 2001. 127 minutes. [Source: Own]

Like Camille, Moulin Rouge is about a Parisian courtesan falling in love for the first time. Another similarity is their tragic endings: both Camille and Satine die of consumption minutes after being reunited with their one true loves.

But the two films have little else in common. Moulin Rouge makes no apologies and doesn't pretty up the situation to make it classy or tasteful. Nothing subtle in this one....for better or worse.

Christian is the young man--the young writer--who falls in love with Satine quite by accident. These two do have their moments of pure happiness as they prepare for the big show. (She's the lead actress; he's the writer.) But fate intervenes in their happily ever after. The Duke is paying for the show and for HER. She is to be his exclusively. But more importantly, she is dying of consumption. Before Christian ever sings her one line, she is dying. Of course, she may not realize how short her time is. But the clues are there from the start.

What sets Moulin Rouge apart is its music. It is a musical. It is a one-of-a-kind musical in a way. I adore Ewan McGregor.

Is Moulin Rouge based on Dumas' Camille? Yes and no. It is based on Verdi's opera La Traviata. La Traviata is based on Dumas' Camille.

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Saturday, July 15, 2017

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?
Books reviewed since last time:
  1. Welcome: A Mo Willems Guide for New Arrivals. Mo Willems. 2017. 30 pages. [Source: Library] 
  2. Buy My Hats. Dave Horowitz. 2010. 32 pages. [Source: Library]
  3. Hat. Paul Hoppe. 2009. 32 pages. [Source: Library]
  4. A Good Day for A Hat. T. Nat Fuller. Illustrated by Rob Hodgson. 2017. Abrams. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  5. Extremely Cute Animals Operating Heavy Machinery. David Gordon. 2016. 48 pages. [Source: Library]
  6. John Ronald's Dragons: The Story of J.R.R. Tolkien. Caroline McAlister. Illustrated by Eliza Wheeler. 2017. 48 pages. [Source: Library]
  7. Kat Kong. Dav Pilkey. 1993. 29 pages. [Source: Bought]
  8. Dogzilla. Dav Pilkey. 1993. 32 pages. [Source: Bought]
  9. Mouse Paint. Ellen Stoll Walsh. 1989. 32 pages. [Source: Library]
  10. Prickly Jenny. Sibylle Delacroix. 2015. 32 pages. [Source: Library]
  11. I am Jim Henson. Brad Meltzer. Illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos. 2017. 40 pages. [Source: Library]
    Dog Days of School. Kelly DiPucchio and Brian Biggs. 2014. 40 pages. [Source: Library]
  12. Each Peach Pear Plum. Janet and Allan Ahlberg. 1978. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Big & Little Questions

Big & Little Questions (According to Wren Jo Byrd). Julie Bowe. 2017. 240 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Lots of things have changed since my last first week of school.

Premise/plot: Wren Jo Byrd is the heroine of Julie Bowe's newest book, Big & Little Questions. She has had a whole summer to get used to the idea of her parents getting a divorce, but, she hasn't really accepted it and is not willing to talk about it. She's spent most of the summer out of town, and, she hasn't spoken to--or texted--her best, best friend, Amber. Wren wants to reconnect with Amber now that school has started, but, Amber isn't making it easy for her. Why didn't Wren call? text? send a postcard? write a letter? Why didn't she come to her birthday party? Why didn't she let her know she wasn't going to be in town? Why the silent treatment? Wren has questions of her own. BIG and LITTLE questions as you might have gathered. Why did Amber replace her so quickly with the new girl? Why is Amber's new best friend, Marianna, so mean? Why does Marianna tell lies and bully people? Why can't things be the way they used to be?

Complicating matters of friendship is the divorce. Wren still doesn't want Amber to know about it. Wren is hiding the fact that she spends the weekends--Friday afternoon through Sunday afternoon--with her father in his new place. Wren finds herself lying to her friends almost daily. She doesn't like it, but, once she gets started, she doesn't know how to stop. Yet Wren doesn't see herself as a liar, Marianna is the liar, after all.

Marianna and Wren spend time together throughout the week after school, Marianna walks her to the library--where her mother works--and often they do homework together. (Marianna is being raised by her stepfather. Her mother hasn't made the move yet.) Readers see the 'real' Marianna before Wren does, in my opinion.

My thoughts: I am a big fan of Julie Bowe. I've loved her work in the past. This one isn't an exception. I like the characters very much. I must admit I really liked Marianna and was hoping that Wren and her would get to be friends and come to a real understanding. The character I know least is perhaps Amber. I thought the characterization was very good, very strong. I definitely liked getting to know both her Mom and her Dad.


© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Friday, July 14, 2017

The Doorman's Repose

The Doorman's Repose. Chris Raschka. 2017. 184 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: On his first day as the new doorman at 777 Garden Avenue, Mr. Bunchley was a little nervous.

Premise/plot: The Doorman's Repose is a collection of short stories set at an apartment building in New York City. The stories are "The Doorman," "Fred and the Pigeons," "The Opera Singer Inspection," "The Forgotten Room," "Mouse Exchange," "Otis," "Anna and Pee Wee," "The Boiler," "Hot Water," and "The Doorman's Repose." Two of the stories star mice, the rest star human characters of all ages. Each story offers readers something unique. Perhaps not every reader will love every story. But I think there's enough variety that everyone will find at least one story to LOVE, LOVE, LOVE. And the good thing about a story collection is that if you're not enjoying one story, you can just skip to the next.

My thoughts: I really enjoyed this one. I think my favorite stories were "Otis" and "The Opera Singer Inspection." I also enjoyed "The Doorman," "Fred and the Pigeons," and "Anna and Pee Wee." I liked the unique perspective of Otis. The story isn't told exclusively from the point of view of the elevator, but, it is a main character. I liked that this story--like a few others--has a touch of romance in it. "The Opera Singer Inspection" just delighted me start to finish. I found it amusing.
© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Thursday, July 13, 2017

DVD Review: Vincent Van Gogh A New Way of Seeing

Exhibition on Screen: Vincent Van Gogh. Directed by David Bickerstaff. 2015. 90 minutes. [Source: Library]

I recently watched a documentary on Vincent Van Gogh. It was great. I loved the balance. It focused both on the art and the artist. Viewers got the chance to see his works, an overview of most of what he painted and drew. But perhaps more importantly, viewers got a chance to know the artist--the man--behind those works. It was the story of his life--from childhood to death, essentially. Viewers learned of the relationships that mattered most to him--particularly his brother, Theo, but also to some extent his friends and fellow artists. It followed the journey of his life. How did he come to be an artist? Was he ever passionate about anything else? I found his story both fascinating and heartbreaking, in a way. Without a doubt, some of his works are beautiful, amazing even. But his personal life was very troubled, disturbed. Emotionally, mentally, even physically, he was a mess. This is one of the best documentaries I've seen this year.

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Real Friends

Real Friends. Shannon Hale. 2017. 214 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: When I was little, I didn't worry about friends. After all, I had Mom.

Premise/plot: Shannon Hale has written a memoir of her early school years in graphic novel format; the novel covers kindergarten through fifth grade. It is illustrated by LeUyen Pham. The graphic-novel-memoir opens in Salt Lake City, Utah, in the fall of 1979. Throughout the book, readers see Little Shannon struggle at school and at home. At home, Shannon doesn't always, always, always get along with her sister, Wendy. (I believe Shannon's name is the only one that was not changed?) At school, Shannon struggles with distinguishing real friends from dare I say it here-today-gone-tomorrow friends. (You know friends that laugh with you one minute, and another minute are laughing at you. Or, you know friends that talk about you behind your back. Friends that leave you questioning where you stand with them. Is this a day they'll like you or hate you?!?!)

One thing that I loved throughout the book was Shannon's creativity and individuality. I loved seeing her imagination at work. I loved that she was never bored, but, was always inventing something new and wonderful to play. I also loved that storytelling was always involved whether it was acting out a story with friends or writing down a story. I also love that Hale didn't create a perfectly-perfectly-perfect heroine. Little Shannon struggles with anxiety and some OCD tendencies.

The novel covers the joys and sorrows of growing up. There are plenty of good and happy times depicted. But there are also other emotions as well. The book feels genuine, authentic, easy to relate to.

My thoughts: I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this one. Shannon Hale is a great writer, I think this may be my favorite so far. (She has written plenty of fantasy novels for various age groups.) I love LeUyen Pham. She is one of my favorite illustrators. I adore her work. Though graphic novels aren't usually something I gush like crazy about, I just have to say this one was wonderful. I would definitely recommend it!

I think it needs a NEWBERY.

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Paris in July: Les Miserables on Ice

'I Dreamed A Dream'
Ekaterina Gordeeva 2015
Zijun LI 2014 
Niki Monazzam 2013
Galya Davis 2012 

'On My Own'
Katarina Witt (year?)
Michelle Kwan 1998  
Midori Ito 1992
Caroline Zhang

Bring Him Home
Kurt Browning 1990
Paul Wylie 
Jeremy Abbott 2012


Medley
Kim Yuna 2013
Chock Bates 2014 
Min-Jeong Kwak 2010 
Quing Pan Jian Tong 2013-2014
Alexei Bychenko 2016
Laetitia Hubert 1994 
Brittney McConn 1998 
Hough and Ladret 1992
Karen Chen 2015

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Each Peach Pear Plum

Each Peach Pear Plum. Janet and Allan Ahlberg. 1978. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: In this book with your little eye take a look and play 'I spy.' Each Peach Pear Plum I spy Tom Thumb. Tom Thumb in the cupboard I spy Mother Hubbard. Mother Hubbard down the cellar I spy Cinderella. Cinderella on the stairs I spy the Three Bears.

Premise/plot: This "I spy" book is nursery-rhyme, nursery-tale inspired poem for parents to share with little ones. Not every single page reveals a nursery rhyme character. I was surprised to see Robin Hood and the Wicked Witch, for example. But many were. By the end, all the characters were brought together by, you guessed it, a PIE.

My thoughts: I liked this one. I'd have to ask my mom if she ever read it to me as a child--as a library book. I know I didn't own this one! But until I learn otherwise, I'm counting it as a book I discovered as an adult! I'm not a big fan of 'I spy' books in general, but, this one worked for me probably because of the Mother Goose connection, the story book connection.

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

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Dog Days of School

Dog Days of School. Kelly DiPucchio and Brian Biggs. 2014. 40 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Charlie did not like going to school.

Premise/plot: Charlie is a boy who does NOT like going to school. One night Charlie makes a wish--he wishes he was a dog. The next morning, Charlie IS the dog. He's switched places with his dog, Norman. Norman now goes to school, and Charlie stays at home. But is a dog's life all he imagined it to be? Will he ever wish to be himself again?

My thoughts: I liked this one. I did. It's meant to be a comical read-aloud. I think one 'shocking' moment is when Charlie drinks from the toilet. Readers see Norman at school trying to be a normal boy, and, readers also see Charlie trying to be a normal dog. I'm not sure what 'lesson' Norman learns, but, Charlie he definitely learns to be careful what he wishes for!

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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Monday, July 10, 2017

DVD Review: The Impressionists: The Other French Revolution

The Impressionists: The Other French Revolution. Bruce Alfred (director, producer, writer). 2001. 200 minutes. [Source: Library]

What should you know? It's a documentary. There are two episodes. Each episode is about ninety minutes or so. (90 minutes of documentary not counting the credits.) The documentary focuses on the lives of five artists: Claude Monet, Auguste Renoir, Edgar Degas, Camille Pissarro, Berthe Morisot. But in reality, it focuses on more than just those five. So many artists, so many pieces of art, are discussed/presented. (For example, Edouard Manet, Mary Cassatt, and Georges Seurat just to name a few.) Also viewers learn about their wives, mistresses, models, patrons, supporters, doubters, haters. The whole film really gives you a big-picture context for the movement. 

The first documentary tells of the beginnings of the artists. The 'revolutionary' aspects of their art that made them unique but unsuccessful. How they chose different subjects for their works. How they chose different color palettes. How their brushstrokes were different, and how their works tended to look unpolished or half-done. Their non-stop financial struggles. Their difficulties getting their works in the salon. How they were viewed as REBELS. 

The second documentary starts in the early 1870s. The Impressionists had decided to come together as a group and have their own gallery or exhibit since their work wasn't "accepted" by the established salon. It wasn't that things were automatically easier from this time on, but, things had turned a corner. Some were now selling pieces at least some of the time. And they'd gotten a new supporter (or two or three) on their side. (For example, Durand-Ruel.) This second episode follows each artist to the very end of their lives. (Morisot was the first of the five to die. Monet the last in 1926.)

I loved seeing all the art. I loved learning more about each artist. Also the soundtrack to this one is lovely! Definitely recommended!

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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44 Scotland Street

44 Scotland Street. Alexander McCall Smith. 2005. 325 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Pat stood before the door at the bottom of the stair, reading the names underneath the buttons.

Premise/plot: 44 Scotland Street is a fictional serial set in Edinburgh, Scotland. Most of the characters live, you guessed it, at 44 Scotland Street in an apartment building. Most of the characters--though not all, by any means--are neighbors. (Other characters are connected through jobs or other common interests.)

The character readers meet first is Pat. She's a college-aged student having her second "gap year." She's recently become employed at an art gallery. Her boss is Matthew. Her new roommate is Bruce. Pat becomes very good friends with her neighbor, a widow, Domenica. The most entertaining characters, however, may be Irene, Stuart, and their child, Bertie. Entertaining, however, might not be the best word. Poor Bertie!

My thoughts: Does anything much happen in this serialized novel? Not really. Sure, there's a bit of a misunderstanding about a painting at the gallery. And this misunderstanding moves the plot forward a bit--in awkward and sometimes charming ways. But more than anything it's about the ordinary moments lived by ordinary people. The writing is engaging enough, but, not in your face LITERARY PROSE. I had three favorite characters: Angus Lordie, Domenica, and Bertie.

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Sunday, July 09, 2017

I am Jim Henson

I am Jim Henson. Brad Meltzer. Illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos. 2017. 40 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: I am Jim Henson. Oh, good. You're here. What's the fun of a story if you don't have anyone to share it with?

Premise/plot: I am Jim Henson is a picture book biography of Jim Henson. It begins in his childhood where readers learn that he loves laughing and playing pretend. He also loves "kooky" words. By the time he was a young teenager, Jim knew one thing: he wanted--he needed--to work in television. The rest of the book follows that dream. The book keeps things big picture, at least in terms of text. The details are found mainly--if not exclusively--in the illustrations.
In my life, I loved to create. But the secret behind my best creations wasn't a strong hand, or a catchy song, or even a funny voice. It was a simple idea: There's good in all of us. Sure, we're all different. Some of us have beards, or no hair, or blue fur, or green flippers. But goodness lives within each of us. That's an idea that should never get old. Believe in the good of the world. Create something new. Share what you love. And find others who believe in those favorite things you dream about.
My thoughts: It had me at hello. It opens with Statler and Waldorf talking.
"I like the book fine so far." "It hasn't started yet." "That's what I like about it." 
I also loved it start to finish. It ends with Animal being Animal!
BOOK OVER! GO HOME! GO HOME! BYE-BYE
I like that the book provides some context for understanding his life. Jim spent his childhood listening to the radio, going to movies, acting out and pretending with his friends. He was a teenager before he saw a television. Every day was full of opportunities to create, to imagine, to pretend, to invite others into your world. There's a definite sense of WONDER. How different from the modern screen-filled world that children are born into now. A world were you don't seek to create necessarily but to be entertained. A world that you don't find wondrous and magical--at least not as is.

But what I really loved are the layers of embedded memory. Here's where adult readers are likely to differ greatly from young children. The illustrator is inviting you, the adult reader, to walk down memory lane and soak up all the happiness.

Four pages are dedicated to Sesame Street. (Five if you count the page showing the conversation about a new concept for a children's show.) The illustrations don't cover any particular year or even decade. (Though young readers may ask where Elmo is. My favorite response, "he wasn't born yet.")

I love that this first spread includes MR. HOOPER, Big Bird, Prairie Dawn, Bob, Maria and Luis, the Count, Susan, Gordon, Barkley, Kermit, Grover, Bert and Ernie, Harry Monster, Cookie Monster, etc. The human characters don't particularly resemble those they're supposed to resemble. I used a best-guess approach. I will say this, the text gets a bit wrong. "Then we added a grouchy green monster named Osc--" He was NOT green to begin with!!!

The second spread uses smaller panels of illustration to give adult readers plenty to think about. Cookie singing C is for Cookie. The count singing about numbers. Ernie and his rubber duckie. The yip-yip martians, Bert's pigeons, Oscar in his trashcan. And best of all Kermit singing IT'S NOT EASY BEIN' GREEN.

There are also two spreads dedicated to The Muppet Show and/or The Muppet Movie. The second spread has the muppets singing some of the lyrics to the Finale/Magic Store.
Life's like a movie
Write your own ending
Keep believing
Keep pretending
We done just what we set out to do
And if that was all, it might just be enough. But the fun doesn't end there. There are several more pages wrapping up his oh-so-magical career. One seems to be set in a museum, and I find this page magical. There's an Emmet Otter poster. There are exhibits for the Mahna Mahna skit, Bert and Ernie, Kermit, and some of the Fraggle Rock gang.

One of the last pages shows Jim Henson SURROUNDED on all sides by his creations. I still don't know if I love it because of all the memories it brings back to me. OR if the text itself is lovable.

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



© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Saturday, July 08, 2017

Camille: The Lady of the Camellias

Camille. Alexandre Dumas, fils. 1848. Translated by Edmund Gosse. 254 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: In my opinion, it is impossible to create characters until one has spent a long time studying men, as it is impossible to speak a language until it has been seriously acquired.

Premise/plot: The narrator learns of the death of a famous Parisian courtesan, Marguerite Gautier, and decides to attend her estate sale where he purchases a book with a personal dedication. Some time later, he meets a young man named Armand Duval, Marguerite's lover, who asks for the book back. The narrator is happy to comply, and the two become friends. The narrator learns the whole story of their passionate but tragic love story directly from him.

My thoughts: I really enjoyed this one very much. If one can "enjoy" a tragic love story. It reminded me very much of the musical Moulin Rouge. (Except I think it was a lot less flashy.) The heroine was based on a real person who died about a year before this book was published. The author, I believe, was one of the men madly in love with this celebrity courtesan. (Her name was changed for the book. The name of the real courtesan was Marie Duplessis.) This heroine has been the subject of plays, movies, and operas. Verdi was inspired by Dumas' play and book to write La traviata.

Favorite quotes:
I must tell you the whole story; you will make a book out of it; no one will believe it, but it will perhaps be interesting to do.
How many ways does the heart take, how many reasons does it invent for itself, in order to arrive at what it wants.
The story of Marguerite is an exception, I repeat had it not been an exception, it would not have been worth the trouble of writing it.
© 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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