Friday, November 24, 2017

Far From the Tree

Far from the Tree. Robin Benway. 2017. HarperCollins. 384 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Grace hadn't really thought too much about homecoming.

Premise/plot: Far from the Tree is YA fiction at its best. I'm not the only one who thinks so. It won the National Book Award for Young People's Literature this year. The novel opens with Grace, one of the heroines, giving birth to 'Peach.' She decided to give her baby up for adoption early on in the pregnancy. And she carefully picked out the adoptive parents. But giving up the baby wasn't easy. It was the hardest thing she's ever done. It is as she's on this emotional roller coaster that her parents bring up the fact that she has two siblings, an older brother and a younger sister. Would she like to get to know them? They all live close by. They share a birth mom. Maya is fifteen; Joaquin is seventeen. (Grace is sixteen). Far From The Tree is narrated by all three teens. Each teen is experiencing some drama and hardship. Three main characters, three sets of parents, three sets of friends. This novel has the potential to either be awesome or a HUGE mess.

My thoughts: I loved this one. I didn't expect to love it. It is YA; I'm more a middle grade fan. It uses the f-word quite a bit; this usually keeps me from 'liking' a book let alone loving it. But. The characterization is so good; and characterization is for me the MOST important thing in a book. There's depth and substance to this one. Not just with the three main characters, but with all the characters. In fact, one of my favorite characters was a side character, Rafe. There are certainly romantic elements to this one, but by far it is about family. I loved the story and the storytelling. The dialogue was great.

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Thursday, November 23, 2017

My Father and Atticus Finch

My Father and Atticus Finch: A Lawyer's Fight for Justice in 1930s Alabama. Joseph Madison Beck. 2016. 240 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Judge W.L. Parks began the telephone call to Foster Beck with the customary courtesies, asking first after his father, then about his law practice. Other questions too: about the dry spell, fishing conditions. Finally, in his own good time, the judge said what he was calling about, the rape case there in Troy.

Premise/plot: Was the trial in To Kill A Mockingbird based on a real case? Perhaps. In 1938, Foster Beck defended a black man, Charles White, accused of raping a white girl, Elizabeth Liger. Though he did his best and there was no clear evidence of rape--or attempted rape--he lost his case. My Father and Atticus Finch chronicles the case and provides a behind the scenes glimpse of Southern life in the late 1930s.

My thoughts: This nonfiction book was fascinating. I have loved To Kill a Mockingbird for most of my life, and I did find quite a few similarities. While there is no "proof" that the book was based upon this exact case, if you are drawn into the story of To Kill A Mockingbird, there's a good chance this real-life case will do the same. It is intense and at times heartbreaking.

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Race to the Bottom of the Sea

Race to the Bottom of the Sea. Lindsay Eagar. 2017. Candlewick Press. 432 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: The recipe in Fidelia Quail's observation book was for chum, and at eleven years old, she could recite it by heart.

Premise/plot: Love orphan stories? Love sharks? Love pirates? Love adventure stories? Love non-traditional narratives that jump back and forth in time? Love unhappy endings? Then have I got a book for you: Lindsay Eagar's Race to the Bottom of the Sea. Fidelia Quail is a clever, inventive eleven year old who is kidnapped by pirates just a few weeks after her parents death. Fun times, right? Merrick the Monstrous is on a mission--a quest. He only has a few weeks to live and he needs help reclaiming his greatest treasure--which is at the bottom of the sea. Can he force Fidelia to help him? Will Fidelia figure out how to make her water-eater work so she can breathe under water and dive to the bottom of the sea?

My thoughts: I don't love orphan stories, sharks, pirates, adventure stories, or narratives that jump back and forth in time. The fact that this book is ALL of those things at once didn't work in its favor. I loved Eagar's Hour of the Bees so my expectations were high--too high. I do think for the right reader this one could definitely work.

One problem I had with this one is establishing the world it was in. Was it a fantasy novel with made-up lands and seas, countries and nations? Was it set in the real world? And if so what time period? Whether it was set in a fantasy world or the real world--I had trouble "placing it" in terms of development. Fidelia comes from a science-loving, inventive family. And Fidelia herself made a submarine for her family to use. Her other project is a water-eater which would allow her to breathe under water if she could find a way to filter sea water into breathable oxygen. The diving equipment her family uses seems homemade. Their research however is funded by grants. There were elements that led me to think it was modern, and elements that made me think it wasn't. I spent almost all of the novel confused about very basic things.  

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The War That I Finally Won

The War I Finally Won. (The War That Saved My Life #2) Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. 2017. 400 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: You can know things all you like, but that doesn't mean you believe them.

Premise/plot: The War I Finally Won is the sequel to The War That Saved My Life. The novel opens with Ada, the heroine, in the hospital. She is about to have surgery that will correct her club foot. Susan, her guardian for the war, is by her side. Susan has learned some news--for better or worse. Ada's mother is dead. She and Jamie are orphans. Susan, of course, has plans to adopt them forever and ever. But Ada isn't the trusting, optimistic sort. She has valid reasons; after all, her mother did lock her up and not let her out of the house, and did take out ALL her anger on her. Can Ada learn to love and be loved? Will Ada and Jamie make a new life together with Susan? Who else will join their family?

My thoughts: I loved, loved, loved both of these books. Even though there is a super-strong horse emphasis. Ada still loves Butter and finds riding her the best medicine in the world to heal her mentally, physically, emotionally. This is a fabulous coming-of-age story. And a great story about what makes a family. Ada's friendship with Maggie continues. And readers also meet a young Jewish girl named Ruth.

Definitely recommend both books to anyone and everyone who loves historical fiction.

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Monday, November 20, 2017

The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street

The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street. Karina Yan Glaser. 2017. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 297 pages. [Source:

First sentence: In the middle of a quiet block on 141st Street, inside a brownstone made of deep red shale, the Vanderbeeker family gathered in the living room for a family meeting.

Premise/plot: Meet the Vanderbeeker children: Isa and Jessie, Oliver, and last but not least Hyacinth and Laney. These siblings will team up (mostly) to work for the common good of the family: to change their landlord's mind and to 'save' their home. The novel opens five days before Christmas. The family meeting is about their lease not being renewed. They have to be out of their apartment in the brownstone by January 1. Their landlord is "the Beiderman." He never leaves his apartment, yet without knowing him or his story, the children have judged him a mean, old grouch. They've never gone out of their way to be kind to him before, but, with new motivation they're willing to try anything and everything to get on his good side. (Does he even have a good side they wonder!) The family does not want to leave Harlem.

My thoughts: I really loved this one. What I really enjoyed about this one was the family itself. I loved meeting all the siblings. If I had to pick a favorite it would be OLIVER. But I'm glad I don't have to pick. How much did I love this fictional family? I wouldn't mind a five book series--or more! There is an old-fashioned feel to this one that I also enjoyed. The story itself is more predictable than not. But that isn't necessarily a bad thing. Would I have wanted an unhappy ending? Would I have wanted the Beiderman to stay the GRUMP? Even though I knew exactly where this story was heading, I didn't see the how right away. (I love that the how involves a cute and adorable KITTEN.) I also loved the message of this one. I think Atticus Finch would approve.
© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Review Policy

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

I also review adult books.

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

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

I am especially fond of:

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

I am not a fan of:

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

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

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

You should know several things before you contact me:

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

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

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