Monday, October 26, 2020

108. The Retake

The Retake. Jen Calonita. 2021. [February] 272 pages. [Source: Review Copy]

First sentence: I held my cell phone high in the air to get the optimal angle and snapped a photo of me sticking my tongue out. Then I sent it to my best friend, Laura, pleased that the picture was cropped so tight I wouldn’t give away my surprise. 

Premise/plot: Zoe and Laura are best, best, best friends and always will be...won't they? This middle grade coming of age novel stars Zoe Mitchell. It's the dawn of seventh grade, and things aren't looking the greatest for these bffs. Zoe is worried--and rightly so--that her best friend has moved on during the summer. (Zoe vacationed with her family while Laura starred as Molly in a production of Annie and made a bunch of new friends.) The novel opens with drama...and stays consistently dramatic throughout as Zoe tries again and again and again and again and again--via a time travel app on her phone--to repair the friendship and set things "right." Is this friendship doomed? And will Zoe be able to make peace if it is? Are there other classmates with best friend potential?

My thoughts: I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the premise of this one. I was fascinated with the idea of a time traveling app. (It would be DANGEROUS in real life, I am certain.) This time travel app works through the photos on her photo stream. The app can transport her to (and from) any moment(s) captured in photos. This gives her quite a few possibilities or opportunities to relive experiences and perhaps make changes. But all changes--no matter how small--have consequences. I am really so glad that we travel back to the future each time to see what those consequences are. 

The premise worked for me. I found it fascinating, compelling, and relatable. Who wouldn't want chances to fix the past and "set things right"?!?! This one is focused exclusively on fixing or repairing a friendship that is falling apart.

What I ended up loving even more, however, is the relationship between the two sisters--Zoe and her older sister Taryn. I honestly can't say that family was the main emphasis in this one--but the sister relationship IS key. I loved seeing all the alternate futures where these two are closer...and how in seeking to restore her friendship with Laura...she's learning--albeit unawares--how to repair her friendship with her sister. 

I thought this was a great coming of age story.


© 2020 Becky Laney of Young Readers

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

107. The Hundred and One Dalmatians

The Hundred and One Dalmatians. Adapted by Peter Bently. Based on the novel by Dodie Smith. Illustrated by Steven Lenton. 2019. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Once there were two Dalmatians named Pongo and Missis. They lived with Mr. and Mrs. Dearly in a big house in London.

Premise/plot: Pongo and Missis have fifteen lovable pups. These pups are stolen by the OH SO EVIL Cruella de Vil. Though at first they don't know WHO took their pups or WHY. Pongo and Missis team up with dogs across England to find and rescue their pups. Will they make it back to the Dearlys--with their pups--in time for Christmas?

This picture book is neither the original novel nor the classic Disney animated film. It blends from both but is in some points unique. It condenses and abridges. This is to be expected, of course. But surely it wouldn't have hurt to keep Sergeant Tibs!!!

My thoughts: I liked this one. I didn't love, love, love it. I didn't dislike it--not really. It is NOT the Disney film. It is NOT the book. Once you settle into the fact that Bently is telling the story his way, then it's easier to appreciate. Sadly I don't think any of the dogs--or puppies--gets enough time to shine and stand out as individuals with personalities. This is the case with both the book and the movie. The doggie perspective is in part what makes the original so very charming and lovable. The picture book is a bit more distant and isn't told from any of the dog's perspectives.

I did like the illustrations.  

Text: 3 out of 5

Illustrations: 3 out of 5

Total: 6 out of 10

© 2020 Becky Laney of Young Readers

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

106. The Case of the Disappearing Pets

The Case of the Disappearing Pets (Mina Mistry Investigates) Angie Lake. Illustrated by Ellie O'Shea. 2021. [March] Sweet Cherry. 240 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Like every year, at school the first week of October is Showcase Your Pets week. 

Premise/plot: Mina Snotbridge (aka Mina Mistry) is a young girl who solves mysteries when she's not hanging out with her friends. In this chapter book, Mina is trying to discover WHAT happened to all the pets in town. A handful of her classmates have had pets disappear including her very best friend. (Holly's hamster, Harriet, is MISSING.) Who has taken all the pets? Was there foul play? 

My thoughts: This chapter book for elementary-aged students is a fun and light mystery. The book has a lot of illustrations and uses a fun layout--the chapters are log entries in her case book. 

The book is a little over-the-top at times, but it's all in good fun. (For example, Harriet the Hamster has a LARGE wardrobe with plenty of accessories.) Older readers may wonder why the first thought is that someone has kidnapped the hamster instead of the hamster just escaping from the cage and is now loose in the house. But, of course, that would be a less fun mystery to solve! 

I liked this one well enough.


© 2020 Becky Laney of Young Readers

Friday, October 9, 2020

105. The Starlight Barking

The Starlight Barking. Dodie Smith. 1967. 160 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: Not long ago there lived in Suffolk a hundred and one Dalmatians whose adventures had once thrilled all the dogs of England.

Premise/plot: The Starlight Barking is the sequel to One Hundred and One Dalmatians by Dodie Smith. Pongo plays a starring role in this psychedelic animal fantasy. 

The book opens with Pongo, Missis, Perdita, and Prince realizing that their humans are asleep and won't wake up. They soon realize that it isn't just Mr. and Mrs. Dearly and the other humans at Heaven Hall who won't wake up. After traveling to th19e neighboring farm and visiting the General sheepdog, they realize ALL are asleep excepting dogs.  

This in and of itself would be weird and bizarre. But that's just the tippy-tippy-tip of the iceberg. Soon after arriving at the farm, they receive their first communication from their daughter, Cadpig. Not by twilight bark or starlight bark--or any other time of day bark--but by telepathy. And not only can they send out their thoughts to specific dogs--but to all dogs everywhere. But that's not quite enough. All dogs--at least the dogs that have been updated to their new awesome abilities--can also SWOOSH (Smith's word for fast zooming/flying). They can also group-think. Think DOCTOR STRANGE plus STAR WARS. 

So why out of the blue do dogs have these new powers and abilities? And do these new powers come at a cost?

 My thoughts: I have two questions. That's a lie. I'll start with two questions. Question one: how did this get published in the first place in 1967. Was there already a signed contract with Dodie Smith to write a sequel to 101 Dalmatians? Did someone actually read the manuscript and think it was a great book? Were they under the influence when they read the manuscript? (See I told you more than two questions!)

Question two: How does this book keep getting republished? That is perhaps the more important question. The copy I have is from 1970. But looking at GoodRead's all editions, I see reprints in 1970, 1972, 1976, 1988, 1994, 1996, 1997, 2003, 2006, 2011, 2015, and 2017. The most recent being an audio book. 

 Before I go all spoiler-y, I just want to talk about reader's expectations and SEQUELS. First, authors are under no obligation to the reader--though they may be with the publisher?--to write a sequel in the first place. Second, authors should have the freedom of creativity to write what they want to write and experiment with their style and plot and characters. Maybe Smith really, really, really wanted to try her hand at writing science fiction. BUT. Are sequels the best place to change things up completely and really go all topsy-turvy with content? Shouldn't sequels be somewhat similar to the original? The first book is delightful, charming, packed with adventure, has a cutesy charm. This second book is just...there are no words for how bizarre and crazy it is.


I feel the covers of the book are not HONEST representation of the content. I feel that readers might see the cover and think they're getting one thing when in reality they are getting something else.   

This one comes closest maybe to being honest.

So Smith's book in the end comes with a heavy agenda. 








What follows is very spoiler-y so this is your last chance to avoid spoilers.


The question that Pongo and all the other dogs must face is do they want to stay on Earth with their people, with their humans, with their pets, despite the possible risks because they are man's best friend and super-super-loyal or do they want a guaranteed blissful life on another planet/star with a Being that can use mind-control?

 I am all for being against nuclear war--who isn't?--but the book is just BIZARRE.

© 2020 Becky Laney of Young Readers

104. One Hundred and One Dalmations

One Hundred and One Dalmatians. Dodie Smith. 1956. 199 pages. [Source: Childhood Copy]

First sentence: Not long ago, there lived in London a young married couple of Dalmatian dogs named Pongo and Missis Pongo. (Missis had added Pongo's name to her own on their marriage, but was still called Missis by most people). 

Premise/plot: Pongo and Missis are blessed with a large family: fifteen puppies, and four humans--a married couple, Mr. and Mrs. Dearly, and two Nannies (Nanny Cook and Nanny Butler). But their happiness is interrupted when Cruella de Vil steals the puppies and hides them at her country estate in Suffolk, Hell Hall. Will the Twilight Bark work? Will they ever learn the whereabouts of their puppies? 

I should also mention Perdita. Perdita is a dalmatian dog the Dearlys bring home to help Missis out with the motherly duties of nursing, cleaning, loving. She cares for seven while Missis cares for eight. The three make for one big happy dog family. (Though readers are assured that Pongo only has eyes for Missis and that Perdita is like a sister to him.)

My thoughts: The novel is delightful. There are differences between the classic Disney animated movie and the novel. (The novel came first, of course). Some differences are subtle--others less so. Mr. Dearly, for example, is in finances and is not a song writer--or jingle writer. I've already mentioned the three parents--Pongo, Missis, and Perdita. The names of the pups offer further differences. In the book, there's a pup named Cadpig. Other pups do appear in the movie--Patch, Lucky, Roly-Poly. (In a way, it's sad that the author only names FOUR puppy names when there are fifteen puppies.) But probably the biggest differences are in the rescue and resolution. (AKA the fate of Cruella and how she's taken down.) I can see why some changes were made for the film version.

I definitely enjoyed this one. It was fun. The movie is a favorite. If I read the book, it was in the years before blogging. (Or should that be Years Before Blogging?) I read plenty before 2006!!! I would recommend this one.


© 2020 Becky Laney of Young Readers

Thursday, October 8, 2020

103. Into the Wind

Into the Wind. William Loizeaux. 2021. [March] 192 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: “Hey, kid!” a gravelly voice called from behind me. Startled, I turned from bailing the afternoon’s rain out of my sailboat and saw this creepy old lady about fifteen feet away on the dock, not far from where I’d left my bike. 

Premise/plot: Rusty, the hero of this middle grade coming of age novel, is struggling with making sense of life. His father is trying--trying hard--but he can't be both mother and father. His sister, Lizzy, is just MEAN AND CRUEL according to Rusty. (It would be interesting to get a less biased opinion of her.) His mother is gone--not forever and ever and ever gone. But gone away to a mental health institution. It's summer and he's in summer school. It seems like nothing is going his way...

But life sometimes gives you what you NEED and not exactly what you want. Enter Hazel. Hazel is a senior citizen with a love for sailing and a messy house. When Rusty first meets Hazel, he's frustrated. Why is she--a practical stranger in a wheel chair--badgering him about taking her out in his boat??? Why is she talking to him at all let alone being so pesky about it????

Yet Hazel and Rusty are destined to be friends--at least for that summer. Perhaps his summer won't be wasted after all...

My thoughts: SADS ALERT. I'm tempted to leave it at that. But I won't. I enjoyed this one for the most part. I won't lie there were times I wanted to intervene and tell Rusty something. But that's a good thing, right? That the character feels real enough that I want to give him a talking to??? 

I also take it as a good sign that this one is well written since I have absolutely zero interest in sailing and yet I found it super compelling. The chapter where the two finally go sailing together was wonderful. 


© 2020 Becky Laney of Young Readers

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

102. Apple

Apple. Nikki McClure. (Board Book) 2019/2012. 30 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Fall. Find. Sneak. Hide.

Premise/plot: Originally a picture book, Nikki McClure's Apple is now available in board book format. This simple book--illustrated in red, white, and black--tells the story of the apple's life cycle. Or should I say "story." This isn't so much a story as it is a sparse poem? Each spread has just one word accompanied by an illustration. To connect all the pages into a cohesive traditional story requires much work or effort. But essentially, a young child picks an apple, and then eventually many months later plants the seeds from that apple.

My thoughts: Books are so subjective. Apple illustrates that well. If you happen to love, love, love the illustrations--McClure is a cut-paper artist--then Apple may be appealing. The illustrations use just three colors--red, white, black. They are definitely striking. But just because I can recognize their artistic artiness doesn't mean I'm personally a fan of the art. And as I hinted at above, there just aren't enough words to piece together a "real" story. Again, for some readers the sparseness may be much of the appeal. 

Perhaps if the sparse text was paired with different illustrations--more expressive, capable of telling the story without relying on any text--OR if the illustrations were paired with more text? 

I wanted to enjoy this one. I did. I love, love, love, love eating apples. They are one of my favorite, favorite treats. But for me, this one was an almost.


© 2020 Becky Laney of Young Readers

Thursday, October 1, 2020

101. The Tattle-Tail (The Fabled Stables #2)

The Tattle-Tail (The Fabled Stables #2) Jonathan Auxier. 2021. [May] 96 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: At the top of the world sat an island. At the heart of that island lived a boy named Auggie. Auggie was just like most other boys, except in one way. He had a job. Auggie worked in the Fabled Stables--a magical place full of one-of-a-kind creatures.

Premise/plot: Auggie--joined by an eager Willa (whom we met in book 1) and a reluctant Fen (whom we also met in book 1)--work together to save a town from an invasive and replicating menace: tattle tails. These talking tails literally drive people crazy by their incessant talking or tattling as the case may be! It all started with one person's curiosity...

My thoughts: I really loved the first book in the series. I enjoyed this one too. I'm not sure I would go so far as to say that I loved it absolutely. I love the idea of the series. I love the creativity and humor. And Jonathan Auxier is a great writer. (I definitely have a bias since he's written some of my favorite, favorite, favorite books.) This is his series for young readers. It's an early chapter book with a lot of illustrations. They are ever-so-loosely connected to some of his other books in that they both mention a Professor Cake.


© 2020 Becky Laney of Young Readers

100. No More Naps!

No More Naps! A Story for When You're Wide-Awake And Definitely NOT Tired. Chris Grabenstein. Illustrated by Leo Espinosa. 2020. Random House. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Annalise Devin McFleece did not want to take a nap. She would fuss. She would fume. She would scream. She would shriek. But she would not ever--no, NEVER--take a nap. (Do you know anyone like that?)

Premise/plot: Annalise Devin McFleece stars in this oh-so-relatable picture book. It's a good example of what you see is what you get. When a book is titled NO MORE NAPS! parents know exactly what to expect. The cover pictures a defiant, cranky red-haired baby who looks ready to put up a fight. Nap time will not be easy today! No, today it will be an ordeal of sorts. A trial perhaps that all parents must undergo at some point.

The narrative is complex. This one is quite text-heavy. 

My thoughts: I loved this one. What I loved most about the book were the illustrations. They are perfectly perfectly perfect at capturing the emotions and tension. So much of the story can be communicated without the text just by reading the expressions on the faces of the parents, the baby, and the community! The narrative is complex--as I mentioned earlier--and perhaps a little bit too wordy. But it was still a delight--mostly. Not as magical as Janet Wong's Grump. Not as magical as Finn Throws a Fit. Not as magical as Lauren Child's I Am Not Sleepy and I Will Not Go To Bed. But still a fun treat. 

Text: 4 out of 5

Illustrations: 5 out of 5

Total: 9 out of 10


© 2020 Becky Laney of Young Readers