Bud, Not Buddy (MG)

Bud, Not Buddy. Christopher Paul Curtis. 1999. Random House. 245 pages.

Here we go again. We were all standing in line waiting for breakfast when one of the caseworkers came in and tap-tap-tapped down the line. 

Some novels have me at hello. Bud, Not Buddy wasn't like that--for me. It was a novel that had to grow on me. It was a quiet novel, in a way, that in the end proved most satisfying. Chapter by chapter I came to know Bud Caldwell better, and I started to care about him. By the end, the novel felt just right, so perfectly right. It is easy to see why this one won awards!!!

Bud, Not Buddy is set in the 1930s during the Depression. It is set in Flint, Michigan, for the most part. Though this novel will see Bud setting out on quite a journey. He's an orphan, just eleven, in search of one simple thing: a father, a family, he's never known, never hoped to know. So what led him to begin this journey? Well, he had to run away from his last placement in a foster home. The family had a son who was a few years older, and, this boy was cruel and mean, and his parents were stupid enough to believe their son an angel. Could he have gone back to the Home? Maybe, maybe not. But isn't this ending worth it?!

Read Bud, Not Buddy:
  • If you are looking for a historical read with plenty of heart and a good, satisfying ending
  • If you are looking for books set during the Depression that are realistic but not depressing
  • If you are looking to read a great Newbery winner with memorable characters

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Catherine, Called Birdy (MG)

Catherine, Called Birdy. Karen Cushman. 1994. HarperCollins. 212 pages.

September 12,
I am commanded to write an account of my days. I am bit by fleas and plagued by family. That is all there is to say.

This children's book set in 1290 (1291) won a Newbery Honor in 1995.

I wanted to like it more than I did. But. It just didn't quite work for me. Why? Well, I found the heroine, Catherine, annoying. I think readers are supposed to like her for her spunky independence. I think readers are supposed to admire her stubbornness and rebellious attitude.

I am NOT saying that Catherine's arranged marriage to a much, much older man, a man who disgusted her, was a good thing. I am not saying that I wanted her to just mindlessly say yes to the marriage just because it is what her father wanted for her. But I couldn't help finding Catherine just a tiny bit obnoxious. She was just so disrespectful, so disobedient, so strong-willed. It was just so draining to listen to her whine in each and every entry.

I'm also not sure how realistic the novel is. I'm not sure how many daughters were that educated. I'm also not sure how many girls kept diaries during that time period. I'm not saying that it was impossible, just that it was convenient. Speaking of being convenient, the ending, well that was extremely convenient. 

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

The Sunday Salon: Watching The Help

Today I'm sharing with you my thoughts on The Help. I read and absolutely LOVED, LOVED, LOVED the book. (I read it in December). At first I was hesitant to watch the movie. Simply because how it could even come close to getting it right? BUT. I really, really, really enjoyed the movie adaptation. I did. It wasn't the book. It couldn't cover as much of the characters' private lives as the book could. I doubt there is a way it naturally could have fit every single little thing into the film version.

The movie was so compelling, so emotional. It was practically perfect in every way. I mean everything that I loved from the book was still in the movie. The book was absolutely great--I felt so very much while reading it. But the movie wowed me just as much if not more. The end in the book was good--really good. But seeing the end of this movie, well, it had me in tears...and then some. And they're the exact same ending. It's not like the movie changed the ending to be manipulative.

I would definitely recommend the book to those that have seen the movie and enjoyed it. I think you'll discover there is more to the story. And I would also recommend the movie to those that have only read it. Don't expect it to be everything the book was--to capture every little detail of the book. But I think you'll be surprised at how good it actually is.

Watch The Help
  • If you want to watch a really, really good drama set during the Civil Rights movement
  • If you are a fan of the book, The Help
  • If you want to watch an oh-so-amazing movie

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Three 2012 Picture Books

George Washington's Birthday: A Mostly True Tale. Margaret McNamara. Illustrated by Barry Blitt. 2012. Random House. 40 pages.

When George Washington went to sleep Friday night, he was six years old. When he woke up on Saturday, he was seven. It's my birthday, he thought. Happy birthday to me. 

The premise of this fictional picture book starring a young George Washington is simple. It imagines one day in his childhood. It asks two questions: What was George Washington like as a young boy--say, a seven-year-old boy--and what was his home life like, how would his birthday have been remembered?

In this picture book, George Washington gets more than a little grumpy when his family seems to forget his birthday. If only there was a way for everyone to always, always remember it.

Read George Washington's Birthday
  • If you like fictional picture books based on real people (though so much of this one is fictional)
  • If you like historical picture books
  • If you are teaching George Washington in your classroom and other books are too wordy.
10 Hungry Rabbits. Counting & Color Concepts. Anita Lobel. 2012. Random House. 24 pages.

Mama Rabbit was sad. "I have nothing to put in my soup pot for dinner," she sighed. "But. Mama," whined ten little rabbits. "We are very, very, VERY HUNGRY!" "There is the garden," said Papa Rabbit. "You are sure to find good things for Mama's soup pot there." Ten little rabbits agreed, and off they hopped.

This concept book presents colors (purple, white, yellow, red, pink, orange, brown, blue, green, and black) and numbers (one through ten). The "story" in this one is that a family of rabbits is foraging in the garden looking for things to add to the family's soup pot. Each rabbit is successful, though some more successful than others. (I'm not sure I'd personally want to add blueberries to a soup, especially if the soup had cabbage.)

Read 10 Hungry Rabbits
  • If you are looking for a counting concept book to share with young ones
  • If you are looking for a color concept book to share with young ones
  • If you want to encourage a love of vegetables
  • If you like reading bunny stories
Suppose You Meet a Dinosaur: A First Book of Manners. Judy Sierra. Illustrated by Tim Bowers. 2012. Random House. 40 pages

You're shopping at the grocery store.
You see a dinosaur.
This doesn't happen every day.
So, what are you supposed to say?

Hello. I'm pleased to meet you.

Imagine that the dinosaur
Is standing by a bathroom door.
You have to pee! She's in your way.
Quick! What's the proper thing to say?

Excuse me.

Commotion in the produce aisle!
The dinosaur upsets a pile
Of apples, and they roll away.
If you pick them up, what will she say?

Thank you.

This book surprised me. It really, really surprised me. Why? Well, I'm not a big fan of dinosaur books. In fact, I typically avoid reading them completely because I just don't want to bother reading them, and if I read them, I feel like I should say something about them. And also because I'm not a huge fan of Judy Sierra's rhyming. At least I'm usually not. So I liked this one. I really liked it. I'm not saying I love, love, love it or anything. I'm not saying that I could gush about it for hours or anything. But. I liked the narrative format. I liked how it was all pretend: suppose this, suppose that. I liked how it was addressed straight to the reader: what would you do, what would you say, etc. I liked how sometimes readers were asked what they should say, and sometimes asked what the dinosaur should say. It was a playful concept book.

Read Suppose You Meet A Dinosaur
  • If you're a fan of dinosaur books
  • If you're looking for concept books that teach manners
  • If you're a fan of Judy Sierra
  • If you like silly, imaginative stories

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Library Loot: Third Trip in February

New Loot:

Goldilocks and the Three Bears by Lauren Child
A Lifetime of Wisdom by Joni Eareckson Tada
Nerd Camp by Elissa Brent Weissman
Stupid Fast by Geoff Herbach
The Slave Dancer by Paula Fox
The Cult of LEGO by John Baichtal, Joe Meno
Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman by Robert K. Massie
Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West by Dee Brown
Six Days in October: The Stock Market Crash of 1929 by Karen Blumenthal
14 Cows for America by Carmen Agra Deedy in collaboration with Wilson Kimeli Naiyomah
Princess Academy by Shannon Hale
Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler
America's Doll House: The Miniature World of Faith Bradford by William L. Bird, Jr.
Left for Dead: A Young Man's Search for Justice for the USS Indianapolis by Peter Nelson
His Name was Raoul Wallenberg: Courage, Rescue, and Mystery During World War II by Louise Borden
Who Was First? Discovering the Americas by Russell Freedman
The War to End All Wars: World War I by Russell Freedman

Leftover Loot:

Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans words and paintings by Kadir Nelson
The Dark City by Catherine Fisher 
Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson
Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick
Seven Wonders of Sassafras Springs by Betty Birney
Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis
Always Neverland by Zoe Barton
Dragonswood by Janet Lee Carey
The Boneshaker by Kate Milford
Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool
King, Kaiser, Tsar: Three Royal Cousins Who Led the World To War by Catrine Clay

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire and Marg that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries.   

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Alas, Babylon

Alas, Babylon. Pat Frank. 1959/1999. HarperCollins. 325 pages.

In Fort Repose, a river town in Central Florida, it was said that sending a message by Western Union was the same as broadcasting it over the combined networks. This was not entirely true. It was true that Florence Wechek, the manager, gossiped. Yet she judiciously classified the personal intelligence that flowed under her plump fingers, and maintained a prudent censorship over her tongue. The scandalous and the embarrassing she excised from her conversation. Sprightly, trivial, and harmless items she passed on to friends, thus enhancing her status and relieving the tedium of spinsterhood. If your sister was in trouble, and wired for money, the secret was safe with Florence Wechek. But if your sister bore a legitimate baby, its sex and weight would soon be known all over town.

Alas, Babylon was an apocalyptic novel written in 1959 during the Cold War. It imagines the ultimate what-if of the time. What if the USSR used nuclear warfare and took out all our bases and major cities?

Mark Bragg is in the know. He's received just enough warning to send his wife, Helen, his son, Ben Franklin, and his daughter, Peyton, to his brother, Randy, in Fort Repose, Florida. Of course, he doesn't know for sure that Fort Repose will be safe enough, but it has to be safer than Omaha. He knows his own fate all too well. His will be among the first hit--or targeted. This isn't Mark's story. And readers only catch a glimpse of his story through his brief conversation with Randy--and through what Randy chooses to reveal about him. 

Randy Bragg is the hero of Alas, Babylon. He is our narrator. He receives a telegram from his brother that reads "Alas, Babylon" and he knows it's just a matter of time. Will it be today? Will it be tomorrow? How soon is 'the end'? He learns that his brother is sending his family to him, that he is to protect them to the best of his ability. But how do you really, truly prepare for something like this? How can you know exactly what you'll need? He does go to the store, he does go shopping, he does try, but he's just not able to comprehend what the loss of most (if not all) major cities in Florida will mean.  (The loss of electricity, no gasoline deliveries, no food deliveries, no mail, no radio, no television, no newspapers, no way to learn what is happening on any street but you're own). And of course, it's not just Florida. Other states, other cities, will be effected as well.

For an apocalyptic novel, Alas, Babylon is rich in hope. I'm not saying that it's not a serious novel with a serious subject. I'm not saying that it's not bleak either. Bad things do happen. And life does change...seemingly forever. There are no easy answers on what to do next. I'm reminded of a scene from Babylon 5, season two, "Confessions and Lamentations" in which Delenn and Lennier learn that "faith manages." But there is much to admire in Randy Bragg and the other men and women we meet in Pat Frank's Alas, Babylon. Like their courage, their resourcefulness, their determination, etc.

While part of the novel is spent on politics--the right and wrongs of it--and war--the right and wrongs of it--much of the novel is focused on surviving, on moving forward. Part of the novel also has to do with race relations as well. Randy was not elected before "the day" because he was too open-minded and not quite Southern enough. In other words, he was not a racist. In other words, he didn't think integration was the work of the devil. (Half of the characters in Alas, Babylon are black. And I don't think it's unfair to conclude that without the help of his black neighbors, Randy Bragg wouldn't have managed as well).

There were many, many memorable scenes in Alas, Babylon. My personal favorite may just be this commentary from librarian.
Alone of all the people in Fort Repose, Alice continued with her regular work. Every morning she left the Wechek house at seven. Often, ignoring the unpredictable dangers of the road, she did not return until dark. Since The Day, the demand for her services had multiplied. They slowed when they overtook her, shouted a greeting, and waved. She waved back and pedaled on, a small, brave, and busy figure. Watching the car chuff past,  Alice reminded herself that this evening she must bring back new books for Ben Franklin and Peyton. It was a surprise, and a delight, to see children devour books. Without ever knowing it, they were receiving an education. Alice would never admit it aloud, but for the first time in her thirty years as librarian of Fort Repose she felt fulfilled, even important.
It had not been easy or remunerative to persist as librarian in Fort Repose. She recalled how every year for eight years the town council had turned down her annual request for air conditioning. An expensive frill, they'd said. But without air conditioning, how could a library compete? Drugstores, bars, restaurants, movies, the St. Johns Country Club in San Marco, the lobby of the Riverside Inn, theaters, and most homes were air conditioned. You couldn't expect people to sit in a hot library during the humid Florida summer, which began in April and didn't end until October, when they could be sitting in an air-conditioned living room coolly and painlessly absorbing visual pablum on television. Alice had installed a Coke machine and begged old electric fans but it had been a losing battle.
In thirty years her book budget had been raised ten percent but the cost of books had doubled. Her magazine budget was unchanged, but the cost of magazines had tripled. So while Fort Repose grew in population, book borrowings dwindled. There had been so many new distractions, drive-in theaters, dashing off to springs and beaches over the weekends, the mass hypnosis of the young every evening, and finally the craze for boating and water-skiing. Now all this was ended. All entertainment, all amusements, all escape, all information again centered in the library. The fact that the library had no air conditioning made no difference now. There were not enough chairs to accommodate her readers. They sat on the front steps, in the windows, on the floor with backs against walls or stacks. They read everything, even the classics. And the children came to her, when they were free of their chores, and she guided them. And there was useful research to do. Randy and Doctor Gunn didn't know it, but as a result of her research they might eat better thereafter. It was strange, she thought, pedaling steadily, that it should require a holocaust to make her own life worth living. (187-188)

Read Alas, Babylon
  • If you're a fan of apocalyptic fiction
  • If you're a fan of science fiction and are looking for a classic 
  • If you're a fan of survival stories
  • If you're a fan of compelling thrillers
  • If you want to know the fate of armadillos in Florida
© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Balloons Over Broadway

Balloons Over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy's Parade. Melissa Sweet. 2011. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 40 pages.

From the time he was a little boy, Tony Sarg loved to figure out how to make things move. He once said he became a marionette man when he was only six years old. 

Balloons Over Broadway is a picture book biography of Anthony "Tony" Frederick Sarg. Perhaps a more apt description would be a picture book about Tony Sarg and his larger-than-life hobby. True, his hobby of making things move--marionettes especially--didn't start out big or larger-than-life. But by the end, when he was making-designing balloons for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade, well, it doesn't get much bigger than that!!! I found this nonfiction book to be oh-so-fascinating. I just LOVED how detailed it was.

Balloons Over Broadway won the 2012 Sibert Medal and the 2012 Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children.

Read Balloons Over Broadway
  • If you love reading fascinating nonfiction, even in picture book format.
  • If you love picture book biographies or picture books for older readers.
  • If you love watching Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade.
  • If you love history.

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Listen to My Trumpet! (Elephant and Piggie)

Listen to My Trumpet. An Elephant & Piggie Book. Mo Willems. 2012. Hyperion. 64 pages.

Gerald! Sit! Sit! Sit! Do not move! I HAVE A TRUMPET!!! Do you want to listen to my trumpet?

I absolutely love and adore (in every way) Mo Willems' Elephant and Piggie books. I do. (Some people anticipate YA releases, for me, it is all about Mo.) I just love, love, love these two characters. I love Gerald, the elephant. I love Piggie, the pig. I love the way these two animals interact. I love the way their friendship is depicted. I love the humor, the emotion. I love the way the emotion is illustrated--the facial expressions, the body language. I just find this series of books for young readers to be practically perfect in every way. These books are just too much fun to be missed. So the newest release in the series is Listen to My Trumpet! It did not disappoint. I just loved it!!!

In this one, Piggie is oh-so-happy to share her "music" with Gerald. Is Gerald equally happy to hear his friend's "music"? Well, Gerald is tactful, I'd say. (An elephant (or a person) with less restraint might have said much, much more.) And I do like the fact that Gerald doesn't hesitate to be honest with his friend, all the while being thoughtful and considerate. Of course, there's a twist to this one--like so many others in this series--and I won't spoil it for you.

The illustrations are so much fun in this one!!! I mean the text is good; the text is funny. There is much to love about it. But the illustrations really steal the show in this one!!! I just LOVED, LOVED, LOVED all the illustrations of Piggie trying her best to play the trumpet. (For example, page 11 and 16). And I loved the illustrations of Gerald trying to listen to Piggie play her trumpet. (For example, page 20 and 21).

Other books in the series:

I Will Surprise My Friend
Can I Play Too?
Elephants Cannot Dance
I Am Going
Pigs Make Me Sneeze
Watch Me Throw The Ball
Are You Ready to Play Outside
I Love My New Toy
I Am Invited to A Party
My Friend is Sad
Today I Will Fly
There Is A Bird On Your Head
We Are In A Book
I Broke My Trunk!
Should I Share My Ice Cream? 
Happy Pig Day

Read Listen To My Trumpet
  • If you love Mo Willems
  • If you love Gerald and Piggie, if you think Elephant & Piggie is one of the best series ever!
  • If you love elephants or pigs
  • If you are looking for the best of the best in early readers
  • If you like funny books

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Tankborn (YA)

Tankborn. Karen Sandler. 2011. Lee & Low Books. 384 pages.

Kayla hunched on the bank of the Chadi River while below her, Jal, her slender, black-skinned nurture brother, skipped from one deep pool of the river to another, searching for sewer toads. 

What I liked best about Tankborn was the world-building. Sandler challenges readers with it in places, which I thought was a good thing. The society and culture, the vocabulary, it took work. Both to read and to create. But that is one of the more enjoyable elements of speculative fiction (both in science fiction and fantasy) visiting a place--a world--so unlike our own.

Tankborn is set on another planet. And our heroine(s) are two young women that have been genetically engineered. (Their genes have been spliced--animal DNA has been added to human DNA. One of our heroines "sket" is nurturing (I believe the book mentioned this coming from dolphins?) and the other heroine's strength is strength (I can't remember which animal this comes from.) In this society, those that are 'tankborn' are called GEN. The "N" stands for non-human, or does it?! So these GENs aren't even worth being the lowest of the low in the caste system. They're bred--artificially, of course--for servitude, for slavery. They are raised by nurturers. When they're fifteen, each receives an assignment.

Kayla and Mishalla are our two heroines. The story begins with Kayla's story, but soon Mishalla's story becomes an essential element.

I do NOT want to say too much about this one!!! I thought it was a compelling read, and as is often the case with science fiction, it is best to read this one without knowing too much.

Read Tankborn
  • If you're a fan of science fiction, particularly if you're interested in genetic engineering
  • If you're a fan of books set on another planet
  • If you're interested in social development, the development of different cultures, societies, caste systems, etc.
  • If you're a fan of dystopias
  • If you like a little romance with your science fiction (while romance doesn't dominate the story, it is definitely present)
  • If you're looking for multicultural science fiction (POC characters) 
  • If you don't mind new (created) vocabulary in your science fiction

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Rasco and the Rats of NIMH (MG)

Rasco and the Rats of NIMH. Jane Leslie Conly. 1986. HarperCollins. 280 pages.

Mrs. Frisby, a brown field mouse, hummed softly to herself as she folded her son Timothy's clothing: a sweater, a jacket, a red scarf. 

I really LOVED Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. Which is why I was so excited to discover there was a sequel written by the author's daughter. I'm not sure I loved Rasco and the Rats of NIMH more than the original novel--it's been too many years since I first read it. But I definitely loved it. I just LOVE the world she has created. I loved the community--society--they've built in Thorn Valley.

This book just made me happy. It was purely satisfying. Granted, not everything that happens in this one is happy. There is a problem to be solved, a crisis to be averted. It will take a community working together--thinking together--to save Thorn Valley from a very human threat: progress. But. It was just a great little novel to spend an afternoon with.

Read Rasco and the Rats of NIMH
  • If you love animal fantasies
  • If you love stories starring mice and/or rats
  • If you love Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH
  • If you want to revisit the 80s--through a rat's perspective!
  • If you love adventure stories

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Dominic (MG)

Dominic. William Steig. 1972. FSG. 150 pages.

Dominic was a lively one, always up to something. One day, more restless than usual, he decided there wasn't enough going on in his own neighborhood to satisfy his need for adventure. He just had to get away. 
He owned an assortment of hats which he liked to wear, not for warmth or for shade or to shield him from rain, but for their various effects--rakish, dashing, solemn, or martial. He packed them, together with his precious piccolo and a few other things, in a large bandanna which he tied to the end of a stick so it could be carried easily over a shoulder.

Read this book. Trust me. It's worth it. It is such a delightful book. It's got adventure and charm. And it's full of quirky characters. And the writing, well, it's just SO enjoyable! So unique!

Dominic wanted more from life, so this dog sets out to have quite an adventure. He knows he made the right decision when he encounters an alligator-witch soon after leaving home. He does NOT want to have his fortune told to him, however. But he does choose to listen to her advice on taking the road to the left...

Who will he meet on the way? Who doesn't he meet?! This is quite a fun little story. A very quick read that just worked really well for me!

Read Dominic
  • If you love delightful children's books; quirky books with plenty of heart
  • If you love adventure stories
  • If you love animal-fantasies
  • If you love satisfying, feel-good stories
  • If you usually hate dog stories because you're worried that the dog will die
  • If you love books with happy endings

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Tales of Very Picky Eaters

Tales For Very Picky Eaters. Josh Schneider. 2011. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 50 pages.

"I can't eat broccoli," said James. "It's disgusting." 

The hero of this early reader is a young boy named James. He has definite opinions on what he will eat and on what he won't eat. And he won't change his mind...or will he?! In five very short chapters, James is tested. The five chapters are: "Tale of Disgusting Broccoli," "Tale of the Smelly Lasagna," "Tale of the Repulsive Milk," "Tale of the Lumpy Oatmeal," and "Tale of the Slimy Eggs." At least four of the five are silly and over-the-top adventures in eating...or non-eating...as the case may be. How silly is silly?! Well, how about a troll living in the basement that cooks lasagna...or...growing oatmeal that will overrun the house if it doesn't get eaten every day?! Yes, these stories can be very, very silly indeed.

Read Tales for Very Picky Eaters
  • If you have a picky eater of your own
  • If you enjoy sharing early readers with the young ones in your life
  • If you like funny stories

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt

The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt. A Novel in Pictures. Full-Color Vintage Memorabilia On Every Page. Caroline Preston. 2011. HarperCollins. 240 pages.

The Girl Who Wants To Write
A Corona at last --
I've always wanted one!

How this story begins...
Scrapbook was a high school graduation present from mother.
I found Daddy's old Corona portable in the cellar. Mice had chewed the case but it still works.
I sent away for a free instruction booklet on how to type. I will type one page every day.

I don't think I've ever read a novel quite like this one. This 'scrapbook' tells the story of one young woman's life in the 1920s. It starts with her high school graduation and ends with her marriage...almost a decade later. It follows her from her small town to New York...and later Paris. It is a novel about family, friendship, love, and expectations. What does Frankie really want from life? Who does she want to be? What pressures does she face? What obstacles must she overcome...

Read The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt
  • If you're a fan of historical fiction
  • If you're a fan of romance
  • If you're a fan of graphic novels
  • If you're looking for a good, quick read
The book trailer:

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Pink, More Pink, Even More Pink

Pinkalicious. Victoria Kann & Elizabeth Kann. 2006. HarperCollins. 40 pages.

It was a rainy day, too wet to go outside. Mommy said, "Let's make cupcakes! What color do you want?"
"Pink!" I said. "Pink, pink, pink!"
Mommy put in some pink. 
"More!" I cried. "More, more, more!"
I gobbled up a couple of cupcakes while Mommy and I frosted them. They were so yummy--they were Pinkalicious! 

The star of Pinkalicious just LOVES the color pink. And in this first adventure, she is delightfully munching pink cupcakes. To her surprise--to everyone's surprise--eating so many pink cupcakes turns her to varying shades of pink. But when is enough enough?

I liked this book. I did. It was fun. It was clever. And I liked her little brother, Peter, too. I liked this one the best of all the series.

Purplicious. Victoria Kann & Elizabeth Kann. 2007. HarperCollins. 40 pages.

I was in art class, painting a picture.

In Pinkalicious' second adventure, she learns that kids can be very mean and bossy. It's no secret that the star of this book LOVES the color pink. So when the girls in her class tell her that pink is only for babies, well, it upsets her. She just CAN'T like black like all the others. It's black. But after a few days of this nonsense, she feels that pink is a lonely color.  Will the new girl--who loves purple--cheer her up and cure her blues?!

Goldilicious. Victoria Kann. 2009. HarperCollins. 40 pages.

I was putting flowers on the mane of my pet unicorn. "Pinkalicious, why are you dropping flowers on the rug?" asked Mommy. "I'm not dropping flowers. I am getting Goldie ready for the Unicorn Ball," I said, prancing around the room.
"What unicorn? I don't see any unicorn," said Peter.
"She's right here and she's not ANY unicorn, she is my unicorn. Her name is Goldilicious, Goldie for short. Oh, Goldie--you shouldn't have done that on the floor! You know better. Just neigh when you need to go potty. I'm sorry, Peter, but you are stepping right in it," I said.

This is the third picture book starring Pinkalicious. In my opinion, it is probably the weakest of the series. In this adventure, readers learn about Pinkalicious' (imaginary) unicorn, Goldie. Readers see the two have some adventures together. But these adventures aren't without their difficulties. Peter sees to that. (I would have liked this one more if it hadn't talked about wizards, casting spells, and crystal balls.)

Silverlicious. Victoria Kann. 2011. HarperCollins. 40 pages.

I had a wiggly tooth. It had been wiggling for days. 

In this adventure, Pinkalicious loses a tooth. But not just any tooth. She loses her sweet tooth. Ever since she lost this tooth, she's not been able to enjoy anything sweet. Her family has also noticed how losing this tooth has made her CRANKY and ungrateful. Can Pinkalicious learn her lesson and become a sweet little girl again?

I also read three I Can Read books starring Pinkalicious. I read Pinkalicious: Pink Around the Rink, Pinkalicious School Rules!, and Pinkalicious: Pinkie Promise. I found I actually preferred these early readers to some of the picture book sequels. For example, in School Rules! is an early reader about Goldie and Pinkalicious. Having her imaginary unicorn with her during the school day may help her behave herself because she's having to show him all the rules. Pinkie Promise shows Pinkalicious successfully resolving a conflict with her best friend. She promised her friend that she wouldn't use all her pink paint--she was borrowing her friend's paint--but not only did she use all the pink paint, she also used most of the red and white too. But there is hope for the friendship yet... And in Pink Around the Rink, Pinkalicious turns her new boring white ice skates into one-of-a-kind skates with the help of a pink marker...

Read Pinkalicious (and all its sequels)
  • If you are looking for a fun series to read aloud to little girls
  • If you love the color pink, cupcakes, unicorns, etc.
  • If you are looking for sweet picture books with family-friendly messages and themes 
  • If you like enthusiastic narrators
© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Jane Austen Made Me Do It

Jane Austen Made Me Do It. Edited By Laurel Ann Nattress. 2011. Random House. 464 pages. Featuring stories by Lauren Willig • Adriana Trigiani • Jo Beverley • Alexandra Potter • Laurie Viera Rigler • Frank Delaney & Diane Meier • Syrie James • Stephanie Barron • Amanda Grange • Pamela Aidan • Elizabeth Aston • Carrie Bebris • Diana Birchall • Monica Fairview • Janet Mullany • Jane Odiwe • Beth Pattillo • Myretta Robens • Jane Rubino and Caitlen Rubino-Bradway • Maya Slater • Margaret C. Sullivan • and Brenna Aubrey, the winner of a story contest hosted by the Republic of Pemberley

Jane Austen Made Me Do It is a great, great short story collection!!! While I didn't LOVE each and every story in this one--some I merely liked--there were so many good stories in it, that it is definitely worth reading!!! This isn't one of those short story collections with one or two or even three good stories worth your time. No, this collection has MANY good stories to offer Austen fans. Granted, your favorites may not be my favorites, and my favorites may nt be your favorites. There's just enough diversity in these stories to please everyone.

The collection begins strong with Syrie James' Jane Austen's Nightmare. In this story, Jane awakes from a nightmare. She shares it, of course, with her dearest companion. In her dream almost all of her characters were confronting her, challenging her. None of her characters were happy with how they'd been presented. Of course, not all of her characters were complaining--Jane, Elizabeth, Darcy, and Bingley have more than enough reason to thank their creator. But for readers who dare to question the text, this story is playful and fun. Was Jane Austen 'too mean' to some of her characters? Should some of her bad boys have been reformed? Were some of her heroines too good to be true? Did any of her characters deserve different fates?

"Waiting," "Heard of You," and "Love Letter" relate to Persuasion, my favorite Austen novel. "Waiting" by Jane Odiwe stars Anne and Captain Wentworth. "Heard of You" by Margaret C. Sullivan imagines the love story of Wentworth's sister, Sophy, and Admiral Croft. And "Love Letter" by Brenna Aubrey uses a page ripped from a novel--the novel--to reunite a couple after years apart.

"Nothing Less Than Fairy-land"  by Monica Fairview imagines just how tricky a happy marriage might prove to be ffor Emma and Mr. Knightley. How her father won't be the easiest person in the world to live with, and how their happily ever after will have to be fought for day by day, not that it's not possible to love someone, to stay in love with someone. But that it takes work, it isn't effortless by any stretch of the imagination.

"Jane Austen and the Mistletoe Kiss" by Jo Beverley is a nice addition to this collection because for once it is the mother (the widow with grown daughters) who wins the guy...

"Mr. Bennet Meets His Match" by Amanda Grange imagines the courtship of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet.

"Jane Austen's Cat" by Diana Birchall is a quirky story, it's true, it may not be for everyone, but it's fun for cat lovers.

But my favorite story, my FAVORITE, FAVORITE, FAVORITE story from the collection is "Intolerable Stupidity" by Laurie Viera Rigler. This story is amazing, witty, clever, joyful. It is a true must read!!! Every page of has sparkle, has wit. It just begs to be read aloud so the giggles can be shared. In this story, the authors who have dared to touch the Creator's works have been put on trial. For any author who has dared to adapt, retell, modify, etc. This includes those who have filmed adaptations--the wet Mr. Darcy scene, for example. This includes those who have dared to add vampires, zombies, mummies, and sea monsters. To those who have dared enter the bedroom... This is very much a trial--and it features many characters from the novels! Including Mr. and Mrs. Darcy, of course. And Lady Catherine!!! Anyway, it's a true delight!!!! I just LOVED it.

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Tuesdays at The Castle (MG)

Tuesdays at the Castle. Jessica Day George. 2011. Bloomsbury. 254 pages.

Whenever Castle Glower became bored, it would grow a new room or two. It usually happened on Tuesdays, when King Glower was hearing petitions, so it was the duty of the guards at the front gates to tell petitioners the only two rules the Castle seemed to follow. Rule One: the Throne Room was always to the east. No matter where you were in the castle, if you kept heading east you would find the Throne Room eventually. The only trick to this was figuring out which way east was, especially if you found yourself in a windowless corridor. Or the dungeon. This was the reason that most guests stuck with Rule Two: if you turned left three times and climbed through the next window, you'd end up in the kitchens, and one of the staff could lead you to the Throne Room, or wherever you needed to go. Celie only used Rule Two when she wanted to steal a treat from the kitchens, and Rule One when she wanted to watch her father at work. Her father was King Glower the Seventy-Ninth, and like him, Celie always knew which way was east.

I liked Tuesdays at the Castle. I really liked it. It definitely reads like a fairy-tale inspired fantasy novel. Celie, our heroine, is the fourth child of the King and Queen. And she is the one the Castle loves best of all, perhaps. Though the Castle has also chosen preference to the second son, Rolf. The Castle has indicated that Rolf will be the next King.

The novel opens with the children awaiting the return of their parents and oldest brother. Instead of a happy reunion, however, they receive some shocking news. There was an ambush. Their parents are dead. Their brother is dead. Many of the escorts are dead. True their bodies were not found. But it's just a matter of finding them now.

Celie is one of the people who refuses to believe the news and continues to hope. She feels that if her parents were truly dead the Castle itself would know it--and show it. Her parents rooms would have changed, and her brother's room would have changed too.

The Castle DOES want to show her something, but acting on what she's learned will be risky...

Read Tuesdays In The Castle
  • If you're a fan of Jessica Day George's previous novels (Dragon Slippers, Dragon Flight, Dragon Spear, Princess of the Midnight Ball, Princess of Glass, Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow).
  • If you're a fan of Shannon Hale, Gail Carson Levine, or Diana Wynne Jones
  • If you're a fan of fantasy novels for children

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

The Mistress of Nothing

The Mistress of Nothing. Kate Pullinger. 2011. Simon & Schuster. 272 pages.

The truth is that, to her, I was not fully human.

I found The Mistress of Nothing to be a fascinating historical novel. The narrator, a 'spinster' named Sally, serves as lady's maid to Lady Duff Gordon. Lady Duff is dying, but the doctors feel a change in climate might postpone the end a few years at least. So Lady Duff separates herself from her family, her friends, her society--she LOVES to be the center of it all--and heads to Egypt with her maid, Sally Naldrett.

Set, for the most part, in Egypt during Victoria's reign (1860s), this novel is so very, very fascinating. It tells the story of how two English women adapted to Egypt--to a new culture, society, way of life. One of the first things they do is hire a dragoman, Omar. These three become very, very close. But even in their 'close' moments, there is a very real distinction between servant and mistress. Lady Duff may act friendly, but she is above them both. They are her paid servants. They owe their loyalty to her. They almost belong to her--as far as she sees it. Sally forgets this for a time. But she'll have months--if not years--to see the truth of the matter.

So, this novel is about what happens when these two 'servants' fall in love with each other. One a seemingly proper English woman, the other an Egyptian man...

This novel was such a good, quick read. I'm not sure I loved it. But I sure found it hard to put down!

Read The Mistress of Nothing
  • If you love historical fiction
  • If you love novels based on true people and events
  • If you have an interest in Egypt--past or present
  • If you enjoy novels set during the Victorian time period
  • If you enjoy bittersweet romance

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

The Sunday Salon: Watching Pride and Prejudice

Recently I watched the 1940 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. Though adaptation may not be quite the best word for it! This is the second time I've seen this black and white film, and my impressions have changed a bit since the first time. For the better, I think.

I think I'll start with what I didn't like first. The biggest issue I have with this film is the costuming. Elizabeth Bennet and her sisters should not be dressed like Scarlett O'Hara. Pride and Prejudice was published in the Regency period, and it's only natural to imagine Jane, Elizabeth, Mary, Kitty, Lydia, etc. dressing from that time period. (Though I could see if film-makers wanted to set it in the previous decade of the 1790s).The costumes used in this film are lovely--if the film was set a couple of decades later. But these costumes are just 'generic' nineteenth-century.

The music is lovely. The sets are great. The dialogue works, for the most part. While I did notice that this abridgment takes away many, many, many scenes from the book. ( A few of things missing from this adaptation are the visit to Pemberley, Elizabeth meeting with Georgiana, and the letter from Darcy to Elizabeth confessing all.) It adds more than a few new scenes to the story. Like Darcy and Elizabeth doing archery together. Like Darcy's conversation with Lady Catherine. And these scenes, while not original, add something charming to the story. ESPECIALLY Darcy's conversation with his aunt!!!

The pacing. This is a very fast-paced movie! I think it's a purposeful rushing. Take the opening scene where Mrs. Bennet and her daughters are in town shopping when they hear the news that there's a new bachelor in town. The way they all RUSH through their errand and RACE home--actually RACE home in order to get Mr. Bennet to go visiting their new neighbor is just hilarious. I mean, you can see why the Bennet women might be known as being so very, very silly. There are other scenes in the movie that make this more a COMEDY than a drama. The romance is still there--the romance between Elizabeth and Darcy gets ALL the attention. (Jane appears to be only slightly more sensible than her sisters. Then again, Charles Bingley doesn't come across all that sensible either!) There is something to be said for this one as a comedy. I mean that is definitely ONE way the novel could be interpreted. There are some naturally silly things in it.

The characters. Did I like this Elizabeth? Yes, I did. I liked her very much. Did I like this Darcy? Yes! He didn't seem all that moody in this one. His interest was practically evident after their first meeting. And it does look like he purposefully visited his aunt just so he could see Elizabeth again. The romance between these two is evident--in a good way! I mean these two make a great couple together on screen. And so it was enjoyable to see their scenes together.

Now, there are two characters that I just LOVE AND ADORE from this version. One is Mary Bennet. The other is Lady Catherine. Both of these shine and sparkle in this film!!! This version of Mary has to be my absolute favorite Mary ever. And the same goes with Lady Catherine. I just love, love, love her scenes!!! Especially the changes made to her character. Especially her final scene with Darcy!

She is tolerable
Darcy and Elizabeth have some flirting time together before her family's silliness gets in the way
The archery scene
See how tender Darcy is with her, how kind
Darcy's first proposal
Lady Catherine visits Elizabeth

Have you seen this movie? What did you think? Did you like the changes they made to the story and the characters? Or do you think that Austen needs no improving?

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Crow (MG/YA)

Crow. Barbara Wright. 2012. Random House. 304 pages.

The buzzard knew. He gave the first warning. I was playing in the backyard while my grandmother stirred the iron wash pot over the fire. She had gray hair and a bent back. Standing, she looked like the left-hand side of a Y. If she'd been able to straighten her back, she would have been taller than me, but since she couldn't, we were the same height. I called her Boo Nanny. She joked that I should call her Bent Granny. 

Crow by Barbara Wright is a book that I could gush on and on and on about. Because it is just that wonderful. Because the characterization was amazing. Because the narrative voice was so strong. Because the story was incredibly compelling. Because the drama was so intense. Because it is a story that NEEDS to be told. Because it is so heartbreaking. I mean this book just keeps tugging and tugging and tugging at your heart.

Set in 1898 in Wilmington, North Carolina, Crow is a dramatic story of the events leading up to Wilmington Massacre of 1898. (Had you heard of it before? I sure hadn't.) It is narrated by an eleven year old boy, Moses Thomas. He is close to his family--especially his grandmother, Boo Nanny, and his father, whom he admires. (His father is one of four black aldermen in Wilmington; there are ten aldermen all together. His father also works for the Wilmington Daily Record, "the only Negro daily in the South.") Family dynamics feature prominently in this novel. The Thomas family is not presented as perfect--far from it--the tensions between family members, especially between the father and Boo Nanny (his mother-in-law) are fierce. But never for a second, did I doubt how strong and resilient and loving this family could be. Their kindness for one another, their concern for one another, their joy of being together, well, it was something I loved seeing.

So Crow is a novel about race relations, racial tensions between the black and white communities in Wilmington, North Carolina. It is about MORE than that. It is a novel with depth, substance. It is a meaning-of-life kind of novel, I thought. But the subject matter can't be ignored.

One of the big issues of the book is how the editor of the Wilmington Daily Record wrote an editorial in response to something he'd read. A woman who was calling for action, encouraging men to lynch those blacks who dared (or allegedly dared) to be "too forward" with white women. He dared to look at the other side of the issue. What about those white men who forced themselves on black women? What about all the slave owners who became involved with their slaves--with or without consent. What about all the white men that fathered children with their slaves? If interracial involvement was wrong, immoral, dangerous, something to be avoided at any and all costs, shouldn't it work both ways? Much more about this can be found on this website, 1898 Wilmington Debunking the Myths. His editorial made him no friends--only enemies on both sides. For his editorial made the white community angry and aggressive and ready to attack. And the black community did not want to fight this battle--did not want to be the target.

Of course, that isn't the only factor in the novel. It isn't that simple. It's also about Republicans and Democrats. The constitution. The right to vote in elections. It's about justice and equality. Or should that be injustice and inequality? Crow is set during an election year, and politics is VERY important.

Crow isn't just an issue book though. I know it may sound like an "important" book, an "issue" book. But it's also a good book if you're looking for a compelling story with a strong narrative. If you enjoy coming of age stories. If you can appreciate good writing, good characterization, then you'll find something special in Crow.

"There is not one Constitution for white folks and a separate one for black folks. There is one Constitution for all Americans, no matter what the color of their skin, and it promises us the right to vote. This is what we are guaranteed, and we will settle for nothing less." (220) 

Read Crow
  • If you're looking for a great book; strong narrative voice, amazing characterization, memorable characters, great storytelling, great writing.
  • If you're looking for a book set in the American South from an African-American perspective
  • If you're looking for historical fiction set during this time period, 1890s
  • If you're looking for a book with heart and soul, depth and substance
  • If you're looking for historical fiction based on real events (though the Thomas family is fictional, a handful of characters were based on real people, Wright even used their own words.)

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

The Stars My Destination

The Stars My Destination. Alfred Bester. 1956. My edition, published in 1996, has an introduction by Neil Gaiman. Knopf Doubleday. 272 pages.

This was a Golden Age, a time of high adventure, rich living, and hard dying...but nobody thought so. This was a future of fortune and theft, pillage and rapine, culture and vice...but nobody admitted it. This was an age of extremes, a fascinating century of freaks...but nobody loved it. All of the habitable worlds of the solar system were occupied. Three planets and eight satellites and eleven million million people swarmed in one of the most exciting ages ever known, yet minds still yearned for other times, as always. The solar system seethed with activity...fighting, feeding, and breeding, learning the new technologies that spewed forth almost before the old had been mastered, girding itself for the first exploration of the far stars in deep space; but--

The Stars My Destination has a great beginning. The opening had me hooked. After reading The Demolished Man, I knew I wanted to read more Bester, but reading the opening paragraphs of The Stars My Destination made me want to read more Bester now. Unfortunately, for me, by the end of the novel, my excitement had lessened. For me, The Stars My Destination just wasn't as magical, as perfect, a read for me as The Demolished Man. It might be for you though.

The Stars My Destination begs the question how far would you be willing to go for revenge?! The narrator of The Stars My Destination is Gully Foyle. He was the sole survivor of a horrible accident in space. He's trapped in a small compartment of the spaceship for days, weeks, months. When he catches a glimpse of another ship, when he dares to try to catch their attention, he sees that ship purposefully pass him by. He sees a ship that could help him, could save him, willfully leave him there...something in him snaps. His whole life becomes about revenge, about tracking down the men and women on that ship, of learning who gave the order to not help him, of learning everything he can about its crew, its mission. He has to know WHO is to blame, he wants to know WHY they did what they did. So Gully Foyle is a man on a mission, he desperately wants answers.

Gully Foyle isn't exactly a nice guy, a comfortable-to-be-around narrator. His actions are more than a little questionable, ethically speaking. Which makes sense, in a way. Because others haven't treated him all that well either. And there are definitely more than a handful of guys in this novel that are out to get him as much as he's out to get them. So it's mutual--this chasing, this hating, this struggle.

One of the interesting aspects of this science fiction novel was the idea of teleportation. In Demolished Man the focus was on telepathy, on how being able to read people's minds could shape a society, could change the rules up. In The Stars My Destination the idea is about teleporting--the ability to jaunte, to move yourself--by forceful thinking--from one place to another. Some can jaunte fifty miles, others can jaunte a thousand miles. But it's something that is being taught to almost everyone. And this is reshaping society, changing the rules, upsetting things. Not for better or worse exactly. Just making things differently. One of things Bester mentions, for example, is how this effects the social classes. First, the rich cling to their superiority by choosing not to jaunte. The wealthier a person is, the slower their mode of transportation. A truly wealthy person might choose to travel by horse and buggy. Second, this effects security. You don't necessarily want just anyone teleporting themselves into your house or office. Third, and I'm not quite sure why this is, it effects women's place in society. Dramatically. Men lock their women away in doorless, windowless rooms--rooms that only they know how to jaunte to--whether this is to "protect" women from intruders or because they want to have ultimate control over them is debatable.

The Stars My Destination is an intriguing novel. And I am glad I read it. But I didn't exactly feel a personal connection with it.

Read The Stars My Destination
  • If you want to read classic or vintage science fiction from the 1950s
  • If you're a fan of The Demolished Man
  • If you're a fan of science fiction
  • If you like stories about power struggles, politics, wars, and refugees
  • If you like stories about revenge and hate
  • If you don't mind if your narrator is unethical/immoral

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

The Worthing Saga

The Worthing Saga. Orson Scott Card. 1990. Tor. 465 pages.

In many places in the Peopled Worlds, the pain came suddenly in the midst of the day's labor. It was as if an ancient and comfortable presence left them, one that they had never noticed until it was gone, and no one knew what to make of it at first, though all knew at once that something had changed deep at the heart of the world. 

The Worthing Saga is one of my favorite, favorite, favorite books. It's one of the few books that I actually crave. I don't always indulge in a reread, after all it isn't fair to all the other books out there. I can't just read and reread Worthing Saga every time I think of it, every time I remember just how much I love it. I have to show some restraint after all. But it has been a few years since my last reread, and I had to save something truly special for Carl's sci-fi experience, didn't I?

So what do I love about The Worthing Saga? I love the stories, the storytelling, the framework. I love the characters. I LOVE the characterization. Even if I don't exactly "love" (have warm, cozy feelings about) each individual character. I think Card did an amazing job with The Worthing Saga in creating good, memorable characters. These are characters that--at least for me--stay with me always. Characters like Hoom, for example. Each chapter is like an old friend. Well, almost all chapters. There are two or perhaps three stories that I could do without completely. The lifeloop acting chapter, for example, I could do without completely!!!! But I think what I love most about The Worthing Saga is the layering, how it has depth and substance. How it has a definite message, but instead of being annoying, it somehow works all the same. This science fiction book is thought-provoking, challenging. It encourages you to think about deep things, to explore questions like why is there pain? why is there suffering? would the world be a better place without pain, without suffering? Is pain a necessary evil? Do we only feel joy and happiness because we know about pain and sorrow? what makes life beautiful? do we become better people through our struggles with life?

The Worthing Saga is a science fiction novel. It is a novel with a framework. Readers first meet a young boy, Lared, and his sister, Sala, on the day of pain, the day when this planet, this society, first experiences an awareness of pain, suffering, grief. From that day on, pain and death become all-too-real possibilities...for the young and old. From that day on, actions have consequences. Soon after 'the day of pain' two strangers come into their lives, come to their parents inn, Jason and Justice. These two choose Lared to be their scribe, to share with the world, their story. A story that spans many, many, many centuries.

The Worthing Saga is a GREAT book that I just LOVE AND ADORE.

Read The Worthing Saga
  • If you love science fiction
  • If you love science fiction set on multiple planets, science fiction with space travel, science fiction with colonization, science fiction with ethical dilemmas
  • If you love books with great characterization and powerful storytelling
  • If you love books that deal with larger issues in life

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Library Loot: Second Trip in February

New Loot:

Balloons Over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy's Parade by Melissa Sweet
Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans words and paintings by Kadir Nelson
Never Forgotten by Patricia C. McKissack; artwork by Leo & Diane Dillon
Listen to My Trumpet by Mo Willems
Chime by Franny Billingsley
Girl Reading by Katie Ward
Hurricane Dancers: The First Caribbean Pirate Shipwreck by Margarita Engle
The Dark City by Catherine Fisher
The Lost Heiress by Catherine Fisher
The Hidden Coronet by Catherine Fisher
The Margrave by Catherine Fisher
Whittington by Alan Armstrong
Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson
Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick
Surviving the Applewhites by Stephanie S. Tolan
Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
Seven Wonders of Sassafras Springs by Betty Birney
Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis
Always Neverland by Zoe Barton
A Cat of a Different Color by Steven Bauer
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
The Marvelous Land of Oz by L. Frank Baum
Dragonswood by Janet Lee Carey
Circus Galacticus by Deva Fagan
Tankborn by Karen Sandler
Down the Mysterly River by Bill Willingham

Leftover Loot:

The Boneshaker by Kate Milford
Life: An Exploded Diagram by Mal Peet
Fracture by Megan Miranda
Young Fredle by Cynthia Voigt
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor
Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool
The Dark Is Rising, The Complete Sequence by Susan Cooper
The Doll Shop Downstairs by Yona Zeldis McDonough
The Cats in the Doll Shop by Yona Zeldis McDonough
King, Kaiser, Tsar: Three Royal Cousins Who Led the World To War by Catrine Clay
Liesl & Po by Lauren Oliver

Book Trailers for NEW loot:

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire and Marg that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries.   

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

The 2011 Librarians' Choices Have Been Posted!!!

I was so happy to discover (last night) that this year's Librarians' Choices list has been posted!!! This list celebrates 100 great books of 2011. The list serves as a guide for readers from pre-K through high school, covering picture books, poetry books, nonfiction books, and, of course, novels for those ages (lower elementary through high school). Some of these you've probably heard of--may even have read, like Libba Bray's Beauty Queens--but some of these are completely new to me! So I'm excited to see what my library has!!!

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

These Books Came Home

Today was the Friends of the Library book sale at my library. And these are the books I was able to fit into my bag! Not bad for $16!!!
  1. An Assembly Such as This by Pamela Aidan
  2. Duty and Desire by Pamela Aidan
  3. These Three Remain by Pamela Aidan
  4. Rose in Bloom by Louisa May Alcott
  5. The Robe by Lloyd C. Douglas*
  6. The President's Lady by Irving Stone*
  7. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
  8. Amanda/Miranda by Richard Peck*
  9. Miss Pinkerton by Mary Roberts Rinehart*
  10. The BFG by Roald Dahl*
  11. Matilda by Roald Dahl*
  12. Scribbler of Dreams by Mary E. Pearson*
  13. Twelve Impossible Things Before Breakfast by Jane Yolen*
  14. A Regency Trio: Cecily, Georgina, Lydia by Clare Darcy*
  15. Surviving Antarctica: Reality TV 2083 by Andrea White*
  16. Towards Zero by Agatha Christie*
  17. Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne*
  18. Ramona by Helen Hunt Jackson
  19. Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells
  20. Light on Snow by Anita Shreve
  21. Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson
  22. The Shipwreck That Saved Jamestown: The Sea Venture Castaways And the Fate of America by Lorri Glover and Daniel Blake Smith


© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Cleopatra Confesses (YA)

Cleopatra Confesses. Carolyn Meyer. 2011. Simon & Schuster. 304 pages.

From the prologue: My enemy stands at the gates of my city, Alexandria in Egypt. 

From chapter one: I gaze out at the sea and remember a summer day in the reign of my father, King Ptolemy XII. In this memory I am ten years old. It is the season of the Inundation, the time of year when the Nile overflows its banks, flooding the fields and renewing them for planting. 

While Cleopatra Confesses wouldn't be my absolute favorite Carolyn Meyer novel, I can easily say that it was a good book. I found it compelling. True, most readers will know the ultimate fate of Cleopatra. But still, this historical novel for teens focuses on Cleopatra's journey to that event. The novel is divided into sections. We see her as a young child who loves and adores her father. We see her as a young teen who distrusts her older sisters who proclaim themselves queens when their father enters exile. We see her fear for her life, but meet fear with determination, with strength not weakness. We see her happy reunion with her father, we see her share some of the glory with her father, with her brother, as she does become Queen. We see her as she becomes a mature woman who desires love and passion in addition to power. Julius Caesar gets a little attention--a chapter or two. But if you're expecting this to be a love story--though a tragic, slightly unusual love story--between Mark Antony and Cleopatra, you'll be disappointed. Just an epilogue brings readers up to date. I actually was pleased with this. Because the other story has been told again and again and again. But this story that focuses on her early years, on the rivalry between her and her sisters, on her unhappy marriages to her much, much younger brothers, on her early years as Queen, that is the story that is most worth telling. Especially for this audience.

Read Cleopatra Confesses
  • If you're a fan of Carolyn Meyer
  • If you're a fan of historical fiction, particularly historical fiction set in Egypt
  • If you're interested in the Roman Empire
  • If you're a fan of Shakespeare (Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra)
  • If you're interested in politics and power struggles--particularly within families!

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

The Way We Fall (YA)

The Way We Fall. Megan Crewe. 2012. Hyperion. 320 pages.

Sept 2
It's about six hours since you left the island. The way things have been, I know you wouldn't have expected me to come to see you off, but I keep thinking about how you waved and waved from the dock five years ago, when I was leaving for Toronto.

The Way We Fall reminded me of Susan Beth Pfeffer's Life As We Knew It. Not that the catastrophe's are that similar. They're not. (I still haven't decided which is more devastating...) Perhaps it is the personal touch of the narrators that make them similar. Miranda writing a personal journal that might--one day--be shared with others; Kaelyn writing specifically to an ex-best-friend, Leo. (She wanted to be more than friends, he didn't. There was awkwardness, silence, and avoidance.)

So The Way We Fall is set on a small Canadian island. Kaelyn's father is a doctor, a specialist, whose expertise is about to become essential. For there is a virus, a very deadly virus, spreading through the island. Within a week or two the island will be under quarantine to keep people from spreading the virus to the mainland. The survival rate is almost non-existent, out of hundreds of cases, only a handful have survived. (I can't remember if it is five or eight--but it is a SMALL number.) Once people start showing the symptoms, that's it, that's the end of hope and the beginning of misery. Because in the first few days, victims KNOW what's happening, true, they forget by the time the illness has progressed, and by the time it reaches the final stages they're beyond caring, but still, it's NOT a pretty way to go. The dust jacket says it all, "it starts with an itch you just can't shake. Then comes a fever and a tickle in your throat. A few days later, you'll be blabbing your secrets and chatting with strangers like they're old friends. Three more, and the paranoid hallucinations kick in. And then you're dead."

So The Way We Fall is a the personal account of our young heroine, Kaelyn. Through her eyes we witness the best and worst of humanity--as the island's society collapses a bit. As some people in the community go out of control...

Read The Way We Fall
  • If you're a fan of survival stories like Life As We Knew It or Ashfall
  • If you're a fan of dystopias, this one is plague/virus driven

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

The Great Migration

The Great Migration: Journey to the North. Eloise Greenfield. Illustrations by Jan Spivey Gilchrist.  2011. HarperCollins. 26 pages.

Between 1915 and 1930, more than a million African Americans left their homes in the South, the southern part of the United States, and moved to the North. This movement was named "the Great Migration." 

The Great Migration is a poetry book that won a 2012 Coretta Scott King Honor in the author category. What I liked best about this poetry book is the diversity of narrative voices. Greenfield tells the story of the Great Migration through a series of different voices--old, young, man, woman, boy, girl. Some find leaving bittersweet; others can't wait to start a new life. Some are anxious, hesitant. Others are exuberant and confident. All of the poems feel personal.

My favorite may be "IV. Question: Men and Women"

Will I make a good life
for my family,
for myself?
The wheels are singing,
"Yes, you will,
you will, you will!"
I hope they're right.
I think they're right.
I know they're right.
We're going to have
a great life. Got to try it.
Going to do it. Going to
make it. No matter what.

Read The Great Migration
  • If you enjoy poetry written for children
  • If you enjoy poetry with a historical subject
  • If you're interested in this time period, 1915-1930
  • If you are interested in African American history

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

All Good Children (YA)

All Good Children. Catherine Austen. 2011. Orca. 300 pages.

The airport security guard is not amused when I drop my pants in front of her. 

All Good Children is a dystopian novel with a school setting. In this futuristic all-too-troubled society, a town is about to force a change. For the better, they say. But should we trust them?! The members of the school board, the members of the community--the powers that be--feel that some kids are too disruptive. Some 'problem' kids are keeping the majority of other students from learning. Or as learning as much as they potentially could. If, you know, obedience was enforced, and nonconformity not an option. If children would just do as they're told, and only as they're told, wouldn't the lives of teachers and parents go more smoothly? Wouldn't parents and teachers be relieved to see such a dramatic change in their children? No more fighting. No more rebelling. No more nagging. No more drama. Just peace and quiet. But. They're not talking about drugging a few children, targeting the students with obvious behavior issues. Every boy. Every girl. From kindergarten on up. One grade at a time. One school at a time. A whole town is being transformed. No child is left capable of thinking or acting for themselves.  They're mindlessly content to stay on task, mindlessly repeating the rules they've been taught. The hero of All Good Children has escaped this punishment...so far...his mom is a nurse, a nurse in the know, and she was able to prevent her son and his best friend from receiving the shots. (She only pretended.) But they are forced to act mindless all the same. Because they know what will happen if they show some life...so what would you do, where would you go, what kind of escape can be found?

All Good Children had an interesting premise. I'm not sure that I loved it. I have a feeling that I'd have found Maxwell Connors annoying as a narrator if I hadn't been forced to pity him for his situation. Because it is hard for Maxwell to witness this phenomenon.

Read All Good Children
  • If you're looking for a novel with a Twilight-Zone feel to it
  • If you're a fan of dystopias
  • If you're looking for yet another dystopian novel published in 2011 with an educational focus (like Scored, like The Predicted, like The Wikkeling)

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

The Friendship Doll (MG)

The Friendship Doll. Kirby Larson. 2011. Random House. 208 pages.

The old doll-maker Tatsuhiko poured boiling water into the teapot with trembling hands and inhaled deeply. It was the last of his tea. He portioned out his breakfast rice and took a seat on a tatami mat. One of the blessings of growing old was that it did not take much to make his stomach content. And this morning his heart was so full that food seemed trivial.

One Japanese doll, Miss Kanagawa, sent in friendship in 1927, finds herself 'awakened' to the joys and sorrows of humanity in Kirby Larson's The Friendship Doll. Miss Kanagawa will be seen by many, many people in her travels. Especially at the beginning. When she's on display, when she's on tour, with the other friendship dolls. But can a doll touch others--touch human lives--if she herself can't be touched or played with?

The Friendship Doll is historical fiction with a touch of fantasy. (Readers will have to believe that a doll is capable of thinking and loving, etc.) The book is a series of stories, the main connection between the stories being the doll. Each story is set in its own time period. The first is set in 1927; the second in 1933; the third in 1937; the fourth covers a handful of years--1939 to 1941. (There is an epilogue that brings it closer to the present.)

For much of the novel Miss Kanagawa acts as a conscience for a handful of heroines. She does this without saying a word, of course. But Miss Kanagawa is more than just a scolding sort of doll. She becomes more 'alive' with each experience. She has always been observant, but she becomes wiser and more compassionate with each adventure. (More human, less doll-like).

Did I like this one? Yes!!! I definitely liked this one! It was interesting to see the different characters. I think I liked the 1933 and 1937 stories best of all. But I enjoyed all of them.

Read The Friendship Doll
  • If you like stories about dolls. Like Hitty, Her First Hundred Years. Like Miss Hickory. Like The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. Like The Velveteen Rabbit.
  • If you like historical fiction set in the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s.
© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Sylvia & Aki (MG)

Sylvia & Aki. Winifred Conkling. 2011. Random House. 160 pages.

Sylvia Mendez imagined her first day of third grade at Westminster School. She would use her freshly sharpened yellow pencils to write her name in cursive at the top of her worksheets. Her just-out-of-the-shoe-box black Mary Janes would glide across the polished linoleum of the hallway. At the end of the day, she would come home and her father would hug her and ask, "What did you learn today?" Then she would tell him about her teacher and her classmates and everything else.
Sylvia never imagined the one that that actually happened even before her first day of school: she was turned away.

This wonderful little book is based on true events. The main characters Sylvia Mendez and Aki Munemitsu are real people, the novel is based on their experiences during World War II.

Sylvia Mendez and her siblings have been told they cannot attend Westminster School because they are Mexican. They will need to attend the Mexican school in the county. Every Mexican--no matter where they live--are to go to the same school. To say that the two schools are anywhere close to equal would be a joke. But Sylvia's father takes his children's education VERY seriously. And the answer the school board gives him just isn't acceptable to him. What he sees is injustice, and he wants it to end. This fight for justice and equality will end in court. And the chapters focused on this trial are fascinating and disturbing. Those chapters alone would make this one a worthy read.

Aki Munemitsu and her family are one of many families of Japanese descent being deported from California after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Her family is being sent to an internment camp in Arizona. The novel focuses on her experiences during those years.

So how do these two stories connect? Sylvia's father is leasing the farm from Aki's family. Sylvia is living in Aki's house, sleeping in her bedroom. Sylvia discovers Aki's doll, the doll she had to leave behind. Sylvia decides to go with her dad on one of his trips to the internment camp to pay rent. The two girls meet and decide to write one another.

I liked this one. I did. It was a wonderful little novel. I found it informative and fascinating. I learned so much while reading this one. I would definitely recommend it!

Favorite quotes:

After weeks of trying to convince people to sign his letter to the school board stating that Mexican and white children should go to school together, Sylvia's father had collected only eight signatures.
"What are you going to do with the letter?" Sylvia asked her father. She didn't think he would turn it in with so few names.
"I'm going to deliver it," he said. "It would be the right thing to do, even if no one else is willing to sign."
Sylvia rode with her father to the courthouse in Santa Ana on the day he dropped off the letter. Just a couple of blocks from the courthouse Sylvia saw a sign posted in a diner window: NO DOGS OR MEXICANS. The words made her feel sick. She was glad her father had spotted someone he knew on the street and hadn't noticed the sign.
That sign is talking about me, she thought. Dogs and Mexicans and me. The sign gnawed at Sylvia all afternoon and into the evening. Before drifting off to sleep that night, she stared at the ceiling and thought about how those four little words could hurt her so much. Then she recalled the hateful signs she had seen posted in town about the Japanese--hand-lettered signs reading JAPS GO HOME and government-printed notices telling them that they had to go away, to leave their houses, to go to the camps. This made her think of the girl she knew only from a photograph and the few scraps of her life that were left in what was now Sylvia's bedroom.
How did Aki feel when she saw those signs and read those posters? Sylvia wondered. Did Aki feel as hurt as I do now?
Sylvia looked over at her dolls. Carmencita leaned against the corner of one shelf, and Keiko stood in the corner of another.
Sylvia got out of bed and moved Keiko to the shelf next to Carmencita. She placed the dolls side by side, then stood back. How nice they look together--almost like sisters. She rested Keiko's pale china hand in Carmencita's brown cloth one. It seemed right and good to see them so close. I wonder if I will ever meet Aki. Could we ever be friends? (65-6)

Read Sylvia and Aki
  • If you like historical books written for children
  • If you like books written about this time period, the second world war
  • If you like books written about different cultures

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Earth Abides

Earth Abides. George R. Stewart. 1949/2006. (Introduction to this edition by Connie Willis!) Random House. 368 pages.

Just as he pulled himself up to the rock ledge, he heard a sudden rattle, and felt a prick of fangs.

Earth Abides almost leaves me speechless. I almost don't know what I could say about this one. I am definitely glad I read it.

Did I find it thrilling and compelling and wonderful? Sometimes. Maybe not as thrilling as you might expect a futuristic apocalyptic novel to be. Think more along the lines of Robinson Crusoe. Slow and steady with some adventuresome scenes. But mainly a more thoughtful novel.

Ish Williams, our hero, was bitten by a rattle snake. He makes it to his cabin before the sickness completely overwhelms him, and he does what he can to try to survive the snake bite. But nothing is certain, and he knows it. What he didn't expect, what he couldn't possibly have imagined, is that while he's been off camping, off having his nature-inspired adventures, his own brush with death via snake bite, the whole world has changed. The earth's population has dropped to almost nothing. In fact, it takes Ish a couple of chapters, at least, to find another survivor. And several more chapters to find a survivor sober enough, rational enough to want to spend any amount of time with. But Ish is determined and intellectual, a real thinker. He will find some way to go on with life, find some way to build a little pocket of society again.

The novel is broken into several sections. Some sections cover a few months, a few years, and other sections cover twenty or thirty years. Some sections are very detailed, very focused on individuals, others not so much. Some characters are definitely developed well, others not so much. Ish is definitely one of the most developed characters, most introspective and reflective characters that I've encountered in science fiction. (Perhaps not more than Ender or Andrew Wiggin in his Speaker of the Dead status.) That doesn't mean I love him necessarily, but it may mean I remember him.

Earth Abides isn't as emotional as it might have been or could have been. Ish just isn't a show-your-emotions type of guy. He is reflective and intellectual. He's resourceful. He knows a little bit about everything. He's a handy guy to have around. But he's not going to go on and on and on about his feelings. He's not going to weep or go crazy. He's not going to lose it just because the world as he knows it has ended. He's disconnected, in a way, yet his detachment may enable him to survive in this new world.

Read Earth Abides
  • If you're looking to read vintage science fiction, a classic apocalyptic, post-apocalyptic novel
  • If you're interested in survival stories
  • If you're interested in a generational story

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews