Thursday, July 31, 2008

Booking Through Thursday

btt button

I had a couple of people (Readerville and Nithin) leave me suggestions in response to last week’s post on Beginnings, but this one was already on its way! I mean, it was the obvious next question….

What are your favourite final sentences from books? Is there a book that you liked specially because of its last sentence? Or a book, perhaps that you didn’t like but still remember simply because of the last line?


This shouldn't surprise too many people. But my answer is once again GWTW related.

 "After all, tomorrow is another day" It may be a bit predictable as a favorite. But there you have it.

My unpredictable response is the last line in Joe Haldeman's The Accidental Time Machine: "In 2072, Jonathan Marsh would be given the Nobel Prize in physics, for discovering a curious kind of time travel." If you haven't read the book, then you'll be clueless as to why this makes for a great last sentence. But trust me, it works when you have!

Going back to predictable, the third book I'll highlight is Their Eyes Were Watching God:

"She called in her soul to come and see." It's pulled from a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful closing paragraph. But I'm pressed for time, so there I'll leave it.

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Carnival Time

The Carnival of Children's Literature is up at Read. Imagine. Talk.

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July Book Blowout Completed!

July Book Blowout. Hosted by Blue Archipelago

  1. From a Distance by Tamera Alexander. 384. 3/5
  2. Suddenly Supernatural by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel. 316. 3/5
  3. Shift by Charlotte Agell. 230. 3/5
  4. Big Fat Manifesto by Susan Vaught. 308. 3.75/5
  5. Appetite for Detention by Sloane Tanen.
  6. The Richest Doll in the World by Polly M. Robertus. 129. 1/5
  7. The Hanging Woods by Scott Loring Sanders. 336. 3.5/5
  8. Geek Magnet by Kieran Scott. 308. 3/5
  9. Planet Pregnancy by Linda Oatman High. 197. 3/5
  10. The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis. 3/5
  11. No Cream Puffs by Karen Day. 209. 4/5
  12. A La Carte by Tanita Davis. 281. 3.75/5
  13. King George What was His Problem by Stephen Sheinkin. 195.
  14. Gem X by Nicky Singer. 311. 2.5/5
  15. Magicians Nephew by C.S. Lewis.
  16. 42 Miles by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer. 73. 4/5
  17. Savannah by Eugenia Price. 595. 4/5
  18. A New Dawn, edited by Ellen Hopkins.
  19. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain. 320. 5/5
  20. Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott. 170. 4.5/5
  21. The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis. 2/5
  22. Paper Towns by John Green. 4/5
  23. Becoming Billie Holiday by Carole Boston Weatherford. 120. 4/5
  24. The Viper Within by Sam Mills. 296. 4/5
  25. Cotillion by Georgette Heyer. 482. 4/5
  26. She Touched the World by Sally Hobart Alexander and Robert Alexander. 100.
  27. Starcross: A Stirring Adventure of Spies, Time Travel, and Curious Hats. by Philip Reeve. 370. 5/5
  28. The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey by Trenton Lee Stewart. 440. 3.5/5
  29. Nothing Pink by Mark Hardy. 109. 3/5
  30. I Need You More Than I Love You and I Love You To Bits by Gunnar Ardelius. 118. 3/5
  31. Everything Beautiful by Simmone Howell. 271. 3/5
© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Everything Beautiful


Howell, Simmone. 2008. (November release). Everything Beautiful.

First sentence: I am the maniac behind the wheel of a stolen dune buggy. Dylan Luck is at my side. We are tearing up the desert, searching for proof of God. My driving experience amounts to a few stuttering laps of the Safeway parking lot. That was supervised--Dad blanching and clutching his seatbelt. This is something else; something beginning with Freedom.

The above is quoted from an ARC, so it's possible that it might be different from the final version which will be released in November of 2008.

Riley Rose is a wild child. Perhaps she hasn't always been a wild child, but the death of her mother--cancer--and the remarriage of her father--to someone named Norma!--and the appearance of her new best friend, Chloe Benson, have all led up to one conclusion. Riley Rose is a bit too wild for her own good, her own safety. The "help" that Riley is about to receive is to be sent for one week to Spirit Ranch, a Christian camp for teenagers. It shouldn't really surprise anyone that Riley is an atheist. An angry atheist who uses her mother's death as proof that God doesn't exist. Do I blame her for being angry that her mother died when she was fourteen? No. Do I blame her for not wanting her father to have moved on and fallen in love with someone else? Not really. No doubt about it, Riley is a hurt soul who uses anger and bitterness as a shield. Oh. I should also mention this. She also uses food. She's 180 pounds and climbing. She does use food to hide herself and numb her feelings.

The camp is a bit much. It has its ridiculous moments. Some stereotypical. Some not. Would I want to be sent to Spirit Ranch? No. So I can't blame her there. If she at first has difficulty liking her roommates, it's understandable. Especially in the case of Fleur. And her camp group, the Honeyeaters, there really aren't many there I'd seek out to make friends with either. There are more than a few that make fun of her. And only a few that don't. And those that don't, well, they're different themselves. There's Dylan. This is his first time back at camp since an accident has left him in a wheel chair. And then there's Bird. A sixteen year old with definite social problems. It's not that he's dumb. He's very intelligent. And he's kind. It's just that he doesn't have much social grace or social skills. Then there's Sarita, her other roommate, who becomes almost her closest friend at camp.

It was interesting to see a few of these friendship develop. And the budding romance between Dylan and Riley was nice. It was nice to see how they could sort-of-melt each other's hardened shields. Neither wanted to be vulnerable. Both were resistant to "authority" and afraid to make friends. It was easier for both to be angry and alone. So it was nice to see them bringing out the best in each other. And in the process, both got to know themselves a bit better than before.

Can a week change a person's life? Maybe or maybe not. But the Riley that leaves camp is a slightly wiser Riley. So it may have been the beginning for a change, a transformation.

Don't read Everything Beautiful expecting a clean read. Language. Sex. Underage drinking. Smoking. Drug use. Some occur with the week at Christian camp, others are just referred to in talking about their pasts, their lives before camp. But the book has its strengths.

Note on the cover. I REALLY REALLY hope that the cover is not supposed to represent fat-girl-Riley, because the cover model is so not fat.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Travel the World: Sweden: I Need You More Than I Love You


Ardelius, Gunnar. 2008. (November release). I Need You More Than I Love You And I Love You To Bits. Translated by Tara Chace. Frontstreet Books.

Not quite poetry, not quite a novel, I NEED YOU MORE THAN I LOVE YOU... is a verse novel of sorts about the joys and sorrows, ups and downs, of young love, of first love. Told from both the male and female perspective, it has a little bit of everything emotionally speaking. It does share quite a bit of the couple's intimate moments, and because of this 'adult nature' of the work, it may not be appropriate for younger teens. But for older teens, it has its rightful place.

Here is the first piece,

Her foot slides over and then back, cautiously
stroking the toes of his left foot. His head quivers
when he glances up and catches her gleaming
eyes, as wide as fie kronor coins. He blushes,
noting the soft tug at his heart.

And here is another a bit further on (p. 37)

My taste has changed. The love songs on the
radio have started describing how everything
really is. I'm not sure I can deal with being
happy, it feels like I'm made out of play dough.
I don't want to be in love like that, like all the
other boring people. Our love is different. It's
about us.

Anyway, it's a nice enough book. These two young lovers are ordinary folks who do ordinary things. They're in and out of love and confused at times. Sometimes they're fighting with their parents. Sometimes they're at odds with the world around them. Sometimes nothing seems to be going right. Sometimes it does.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Starcross


Reeve, Philip. 2007. Starcross: A Stirring Adventure of Spies, Time Travel, and Curious Hats. "Decorated Throughout" by David Wyatt.

Starcross is the sequel to 2006's Larklight: Or the Revenge of the White Spiders!: Or To Saturn’s Rings and Back!: A Rousing Tale of Dauntless Pluck in the Furthest Reaches of Space. While I found the first book fun and silly, I also was just lukewarm about it. I neither loved it nor hated it. I saw the appeal, but didn't share in it exactly. With the second book, Starcross, everything has changed. I loved it. I mean I LOVED it. Still silly? Yes! Still fun? Yes! Still requires the suspension of disbelief? Of course! Maybe it is because I knew what to expect. Maybe the Moobs just make for a more exciting enemy than the space spiders. Who knows. I just know that I can't recommend this one highly enough!!!

Chapter One:

What a fuss! What storms of dust! What cannonades of hammering and what snarling of wood-saws! What quantities of sawdust and shavings heaping up upon the stairs and filling the very air, making the poor hoverhogs sneeze and cough! What endless, topsy-turvy rearrangements of the household furniture! What confusion! In short, we had the decorators in. Larklight, our dear old huse, which has hung in its lonely orbit north of the Moon for goodness knows how long, gathering space dust and barnacles and generally declining into a picturesque decay, was being renovated from top to bottom.
Our two narrators are Art (Arthur) Mumby and his sister Myrtle. The year is 1851. The plot of this one starts off simple--though as readers we know this cannot last long--the Mumby family is going to vacation--they've just received a special invite in the mail--at Starcross a "Resort" hotel "fitted with the very latest Scientific Furnishings, and staffed exclusively by the most tactful auto-servants. Offering, in addition, fine views, healthful air, & the best opportunities for sea bathing in the Solar System." Mom and the two kids will arrive first, Dad will be along after his business is finished.

At Starcross they meet a few new characters, and bump into a few of their old friends. Most notably Jack Havock who is going by the name the Honourable Ignatius Flint these days. (The rest of the crew of the Sophronia is about as well.) Their hotel is most mysterious, and it doesn't take them many days to figure out that something is wrong--very oddly wrong--about the hotel and its guests.

I loved this book. Loved the plot--the twists and turns. Loved the language. Loved the characters. Loved everything about it really.

Definitely recommended.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey


Stewart, Trenton Lee. 2008. The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey. Illustrations by Diana Sukyka.

First sentence: On a bright September morning, when most children his age were in school fretting over fractions and decimal points, a boy named Reynie Muldoon was walking down a dusty road.

Reynie, Sticky, Kate, and Constance are back for their second adventure. It's been a full year since Mr. Benedict has brought down Mr. Curtain and his evil plan for world domination through the Whisperer device. And the four kids--who all became fast friends after much testing in the first book--are celebrating with a reunion and a trip. But would a book about a simple but joyful reunion have the phrase "Perilous Journey" in it? I didn't think so either.

Mr. Benedict and Number Two have been kidnapped by Dr. Curtain, and it is up to these four children--with some adult help along the way--to save him and stop Mr. Curtain's evil scheme from succeeding. What is Mr. Curtain after this time? A plant called Duskwort that could quite possibly be used to cure Narcolepsy...OR even more likely to be misused to drug entire cities to sleep.

I enjoyed this second book. It was fun. It was exciting. It was full of twists and turns. It was a never-ending adventure until the last page. If you enjoyed the first one, chances are you'll like this one as well.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Monday, July 28, 2008

Nonfiction Five Reading Challenge Completed


Hosted by Joy. Read about the challenge here. The challenge goes from May to September 2008. Joy does say that lists can change–added or subtracted, substituted etc. But this is what I’m thinking now.

Nonfiction Five Challenge

Moving Forward by Dave Pelzer (self-help)

Worship Matters by Bob Kauflin (spiritual)

Napoleon's Privates: 2,500 Years of History Unzipped by Tony Perrottet (historical vignettes, informative conversation-starters)

I Am Scout by Charles J. Shields (biography)

She Touched the World by Sally Hobart Alexander and Robert Alexander (biography)

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


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Nonfiction Monday: She Touched the World

Alexander, Sally Hobart and Robert Alexander. 2008. She Touched the World: Laura Bridgman, Deaf-Blind Pioneer.

Introduction:
If you had lived in 1841, the name Laura Bridgman would have echoed through your home, your school, your neighborhood. It would have rung out in the streets of Boston, in the halls of Congress, and across the ocean to England and Europe and beyond. By the time Laura Bridgman was twelve years old, she was that famous.
Like all children, you would have loved and admired her. You would have named your favorite doll after her...and then you would have poked out the doll's eyes.
Did that intro make you as curious as it made me? Laura Bridgman first came to my attention last year. She was mentioned briefly in the oh-so-wonderful-and-amazing Miss Spitfire by Sarah Miller. When I saw her name pop up here, I knew I had to read this one and find out more.

Laura Bridgman was not born deaf nor blind. Both were the result of a childhood illness--well, an illness when she was a toddler. This book is the story of how she learned--with much help--to function and communicate in the world. At this time, there was no "help" to be had. No one had ever successfully taught someone who was both deaf and blind to communicate with others. There was no tried-and-true methodology in place. Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe, a doctor and an educator, saw great potential in Laura Bridgman. While he had tried and failed in other cases (all adult cases I believe), he was ready to try again this time with a much younger student.

The book is well-written, well-researched, and interesting. The attention to detail amazed me--I certainly wasn't expecting that much from the book. And it truly is a fascinating story.

Sarah Miller's review.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Sunday, July 27, 2008

Cotillion

https://www.sourcebooks.com/images/covers/9781402210082.jpg

Heyer, Georgette. 1953 (Reprinted in 2007) Cotillion. Published by Sourcebooks, Inc.

First sentence: The saloon, like every other room in Arnside House, was large and lofty, and had been furnished, possibly some twenty years earlier, in what had then been the first style of elegance.

It may not have you at hello, but this Regency romance is quite satisfying by the end. Quite happy-making actually. Though the first few chapters may take some patience, by the time the action moves to London and out of the country, this book begins to shine. It is the story of a young woman, Kitty, who stands to inherit a bit of money if she will marry one of her "cousins." Mind you, in this situation, the term is used loosely in that Kitty was an orphaned child an old man had taken in and raised. These "cousins" are his great-nephews. There are five: George (who is married so he's ineligible), Hugh, (a clergyman), Foster (the Mama's boy of all Mama's boys), Jack (who doesn't bother to show up because he's too busy gambling and being a Rake) and Freddy. Kitty, who is just a girl of eighteen or nineteen, wants to get out of the house, out of the country, and she sees a sham engagement to Freddy as her way out. If they become engaged, then surely he must take her to London to meet his family. He must. And if she should get some shopping and socializing in--operas and balls and such--then so much the better. Kitty, honest girl that she is, doesn't try to fool him. She's upfront from the start. This "phony" engagement is her idea from start to finish, and Freddy does take some convincing there at the start.

Soon after their arrival in London, Kitty begins her stay with her future-sister-in-law, Meg. Meg is married, but her husband is out of town. Out of the country in fact. And Meg sees Kitty as a way to have a chaperon or companion that isn't all-too-clever in the ways of the ton. Also for Meg taking on Kitty as a project is fun for her. London is a whole new world for Kitty. New places to see, new people to meet, and a few old acquaintances to bump into as well.

Georgette Heyer's Cotillion reads like a cross of Fanny Burney and Jane Austen. In particular, Burney's Camilla and Austen's Emma.

While I found all of the novel to be enjoyable, the last hundred pages were incredibly so. The pace quickens dramatically and everything seems to happen all at once. All the small little details that were introduced one by one in the first half of the novel all begin to come together quite rapidly. The clearer the big picture becomes, the more satisfying it is.

Definitely recommended to historical fiction fans especially if you love Regency Romance.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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The Sunday Salon: Google Group; Challenge Woes


Today I bring you two topics that are barely-related to one another. The first is that I'm announcing (or announcing again) the creation of my google group, Reading With Becky. I did post this earlier in the week, but since TSS *may* bring in a few new readers, I wanted to take this opportunity to promote it. If you've joined, by the way, this is something I encourage. Promote, promote, promote! There is a little box on the right-hand side of the blog that should allow you to join the group--or express interest in joining the group. (It is moderated, so your membership would be pending until I approved.) Or you can email me at and I'll send you an invite.

What is the group? Why should you join? I originally started the group and had it on WordPress as a blog. Participants would join in by commenting. But it wasn't so user-friendly, and it was really really limiting as far as how "group" an activity could be. The google group makes it very user-friendly, and very group-oriented. The new group will be less about me, and more about you! Our August selection is THE ACCIDENTAL TIME MACHINE by Joe Haldeman. And our September/October selection is tentatively The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. This hasn't been put to a final vote yet, but it is the title getting the most attention at the moment. If you like discussing books in a very casual-non-threatening way then you should consider joining. You don't have to participate in every group read in order to join. But you can join in on as many as you like. I mean for the group to be just casual chatter amongst friends.

Now to transition....

Challenges. Reading challenges. I'm addicted. Are you? I've already begun to think about 2009. I'm really trying to figure out the plan. Or perhaps for the melodramatic THE PLAN. You see, I've committed a bit too much in 2008. To the point where I'm beginning to question my sanity. To the point where I'm thinking that I should never be allowed on the computer unguarded. It's too late for 2008. But it's not too late to save myself from this drama in 2009. I'm not saying I'm dropping out of the challenge world. I'm not. Have no fear. But for me to have committed to over seventy challenges in 2008...well...I think we can all agree that wasn't the wisest thing I've ever done.

So here are the rules I'm thinking about implementing for myself.

1) Just because I have an idea for a challenge doesn't mean I have to create and host it.
2) Just because I host a challenge doesn't mean I have to join it.
3) Just because I've found the perfect image to be a challenge button doesn't mean I have to create and host the challenge.
4) Just because a challenge has a cute button doesn't mean I have to join it.
5) I shouldn't join a challenge unless I've already got books that fit the challenge that I was already planning on reading at that time or in the near-future.
6) When I discover a new challenge, I should bookmark it, yes, but not join on the spot. I need to think about it for a few days at least and see if I really, truly need to join it.
7) I should not feel guilty for not joining a challenge even if it is a) hosted by a blogger I love b) a challenge that I've joined in the past c) a challenge hosted by a newbie that is just getting started.
8) Just because I've joined a challenge doesn't mean I need to go overboard with it. If it says six books, then I don't *need* to read twenty.
9) Just because I've joined a challenge doesn't mean I have to finish it.

So last night I was reading and I got distracted by a challenge idea. I went to my computer, went to my favorite imaging site, and created not one but two (or four really) challenge buttons. I then started to write a challenge post. I was almost finished with the post before I realized that I didn't have enough books in my tbr pile to complete the challenge without adding more books to it. And that is the LAST thing I need to do is to go out in search of more books at the library, online, or in the store. So I saved it, but restrained myself. Here are the two buttons I created.



The challenge would be to read a minimum of four--maximum of twelve--books written by women authors 1700-1900 throughout 2009. But most of the books in my TBR pile are for challenges I've committed to reading in 2008, but in all likelihood won't be able to finish. I just don't know if there is enough interest to have a challenge. This is when one and three come into play. Yes, I had an idea. And yes, I did without any extra searching on my part, have two images that make super-cute buttons (in my opinion) but is that really enough to justify giving birth to another reading challenge? If you should happen to like the idea for this one, then let me know.

I'm thinking about setting a horribly strict rule with myself. No more--absolutely no more--than 12 Challenge books per month. For a total commitment of 144 for the year. What that would mean is that I'd be able to a) read more 2009, 2008, and 2007 books. (I'm still playing catch up on 2007.) b) I wouldn't feel obligated to seek out extra books at the library "just because" they'd fit in great with a challenge. It's one thing to read a book because you WANT to read a book. Quite another if you read a book just because you NEED to read a book because it's on your challenge list. I have no problem with adding a few spontaneous (if genuine) reads to the list. Especially if I see books being reviewed on other blogs that I can't help myself with. But I don't like feeling I have to read something no matter what. This new restriction would NOT include group reads for my group.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Viper Within


Mills, Sam. 2008. The Viper Within. (Originally published in Great Britain in 2007 as The Boy Who Saved the World.)

Opening paragraph:

7:00 PM: Two Hours To Go...
In two hours' time I--and the rest of the Brotherhood--will kidnap a terrorist. Our code for this terrorist is SNAKE. By kidnapping SNAKE tonight, we the Brotherhood of the Religion of Hebetheus--will prevent a bomb from going off at St. Sebastian's Secondary School.
Our narrator is teen guy named Jon. (His story is told in first person.) And his story is an intense one. Let me warn you now, it won't be for everyone. Exceedingly well-written, it keeps you hooked from cover to cover. In fact, I would venture a guess that you could open the book to any page, begin reading any paragraph, and within a sentence or two be hooked. And you can't say that lightly. Not many books can make good on such a boast. But this is a rare book.

Snake is a girl, an Indian girl named Padma--a Hindu. And she stands accused by a small group of her peers--her classmates--of being a terrorist, of being a Muslim, of being against 'the West.' This group of guys--Jon, Jeremiah, Martyn, Chris, Thomas, and Raymond--are ready to be prosecutor, judge, and jury. To say much more would risk spoiling it for those brave enough to go where this one goes. But Sarah Miller got it right when she said the book was, "The Patron Saint of Butterflies' evil twin."







© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Weird Reading Moods

All July--really since the 24 Hour Reading Challenge if you want to be nitpicky--I've been in a weird reading mood. It's not that I'm not liking anything. I'm still finding the occasional book that I can't put down. (Living Dead Girl. Paper Towns for example.) But I've also been in a noticeable-to-me funk, this oh-I-have-to-start-reading icky-nagging feeling that is not usually there. I love to read. I have always loved to read. And once I'm actually into a book, then it's not a problem keeping me there. It's just this I don't know quite which book to read, don't know what I'm in the mood for, I really need to read that but I don't really *want* to mood. Do you ever get that feeling? It almost always happens when there are *too many* choices.

Here's a typical night-time ritual:

"Self, what book should I start tonight?"
Go to one of my boxes of 2008 books, shuffle around a few titles. Bring back three or four books.
Sit down on bed.
Pick one up, open it up. Read a few paragraphs.
Put it down.
Pick up another book. Read a few paragraphs.
Put it down.
Pick up another book. Read a few paragraphs.
Put it down.
Pick up all three books, go to box.
Pick up three different books, return to the bed.
"Self, I really *need* to pick a book so I can get it read tonight. Else I won't have anything to review the day-after-tomorrow."
Pick one up, read a few paragraphs.
"Okay, I think this one might work."
Read it through from cover to cover.
Look at clock.
I've got time to start another....what should I read next.
Feel around to see what books are left on bed.
Choose one.
Get disgruntled.
Pick up all the books, return to the boxes.
Look for one that grabs me.
Return with one book.
Read the first two or three chapters.
Decide it's too late to read anymore.
Turn off the light.
Start thinking about what to write in the review for the book I've just finished.
Start thinking about how many books I still have that need to be read and reviewed.
Eventually fall asleep.

If I could just eliminate this new-found indecisiveness, I'd be a lot more productive. And I'd be less frustrated with myself. After all, it's not the fault of the book that I'm in a weird mood. I often go back a day or two or a week later and it is that very book that hooks me.

Still I wish there was something I could do to get out of this odd-little-pattern I've got going and begin to relax more. It's not that I want to read less. It's not that I'm tired of blogging. I still enjoy both. It's the indecisive wondering that occurs between my productive times that is getting to be a dragging and draining recurrence.

So how do YOU deal with these weird reading mood swings and general book-crankiness? Any tips on how to break the cycle?


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Friday, July 25, 2008

Poetry Friday: Review of Becoming Billie Holiday



Weatherford, Carole Boston. 2008. Becoming Billie Holiday. Art by Floyd Cooper. Wordsong publishers. October 2008 Release.

Becoming Billie Holiday is a "fictional verse memoir" that "imagines her legendary life from birth to young adulthood." (This quoted from the author's afterword.) The author notes that she ends the story before "heroin and hard living took their toll." After reading Becoming Billie Holiday, I'd venture to say that not much in her life was easy. The things this child, this teen, this woman endured on a day-to-day basis are in many ways unimaginable to me. Heartbreaking in many many ways. Yet with her voice, she was able to make lemonade with all of life's lemons.

The titles of each poem Weatherford has written are taken from the songs Holiday sang throughout her career. I'm not sure if all readers would have caught on to that--or at which point they would have caught on to that--but I thought I'd point it out. (While I didn't know most of them from exposure to Holiday, I did *know* quite a lot from my exposure to other jazz/swing musicians of the era.)

I Wished On the Moon

I may have been poor,
may have been orphaned
half the time,
but for five cents
I could lose myself
in a bargain matinee.

Sitting front-row center
at the colored theater,
I imagined myself
a damsel in satin,
dripping in diamonds,
safe in the hero's arms.

Those movies
may have been black-and-white,
but my dream was Technicolor.
I left the dark theater,
squinting in broad daylight,
stars in my eyes.

Trav'lin' Light

I toted my songs
like a satchel and felt most
at home when I sang.

The poems are well-written, it's true. But the art by Floyd Cooper is just amazing. It's beyond good.

A note about the art taken straight from the book but found to be ultra-fascinating to me so I thought I'd share: "Floyd Cooper's art for this book was created with a subtractive technique, using erasers to make shapes from a ground of paint. The shapes were then enhanced with mixed media, mostly oil-based, layered in a dry brush fashion."

120 pages.

Round-up this week is at A Year of Reading.

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Nothing Pink

Nothing Pink

Hardy, Mark. 2008. (November release date). Nothing Pink.

First sentence: My father begs people to come down to the altar, to get right with God.

As a preacher's kid, Vincent, has many reasons to feel uncomfortable. Not wanting to bring shame to his father and mother, but wanting to remain true to who he is, he has quite an internal dilemma. You see, he's gay. He's always known he was gay. And though he's never even held hands with a boy, he feels guilty about his homosexuality. In fact, every altar call his father gives, he feels drawn to make the walk down the aisle, to pray once again that he be delivered from this shame, from this sin. Time and time again he's prayed. He's read his Bible, his whole Bible--three times. He knows all the hymns. He's listened to all the sermons. God is never far from his thoughts--not really--and this closeness with God is something he longs to experience. Yet his gayness, his homosexuality, is part of who he is. And it is something that he wrestles with through the book, Nothing Pink, as he experiences his first love with another church-going boy, Robert Ingle. And as he falls in love, he begins to love himself just the way he is. How could loving someone be wrong, he reasons with himself? Vincent's journey is one from self-loathing to self-acceptance. The question for Vincent is simple but profound...can Vincent be a gay man who loves God? Or does accepting his sexuality mean turning his back on God. Both his spirituality and his homosexuality are part of who he is, part of his identity.

Set in the late seventies or possibly even the very early eighties (I'm judging based on cultural references to John Travolta, Barry Manilow, Commodores, The Dating Game, Farrah Fawcett, Wild Wild West, Mork and Mindy, Three's Company, Emergency.) the novel is rich in detail and character development. This is one of the first truly compelling male/male romances I've encountered where it seems authentic and not "issue"y if that makes sense. In other words, this book goes beyond stereotypes and has layer upon layer. It's a very human book. (I'm used to seeing books where there is always a "gay" best friend that plays a very limited role in the book as a whole. They're always stereotypically the same. And always just sidekicks. There for straight-women to confide in, shop with, and have crushes on. This one is a rather refreshing change from all that.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Paper Towns


Green, John. 2008. Paper Towns. October release.

Prologue opening paragraph: The way I figure it, everyone gets a miracle. Like, I will probably never be struck by lightning, or win a Nobel Prize, or become the dictator of a small nation in the Pacific Islands, or contract terminal ear cancer, or spontaneously combust. But if you consider all the unlikely things together, at least one of them will probably happen to each of us. I could have seen it rain frogs. I could have stepped foot on Mars. I could have been eaten by a whale. I could have married the queen of England or survived months at sea. But my miracle was different. My miracle was this: out of all the houses in all the subdivisions in all of Florida, I ended up living next door to Margo Roth Spiegelman.

First sentence: The longest day of my life began tardily.

My favorite quote: I spent the next three hours in classrooms, trying not to look at the clocks above various blackboards, and then looking at the clocks, and then being amazed that only a few minutes had passed since I last looked at the clock. I'd had nearly four years of experience looking at these clocks, but their sluggishness never ceased to surprise. If I am ever told that I have one day to live, I will head straight for the hallowed halls of Winter Park High School, where a day has been known to last a thousand years. (18)

Quentin Jacobsen, our narrator, has been trying to puzzle out the mystery that is Margo for years now. And as their senior year comes to a close, the mystery is only deepening as far as he's concerned. It all starts with a late night visit. Margo appears at his bedroom window asking Quentin to join her in some mischievous revenge--she needs his car, or rather she needs his mom's car. And Quentin, or Q as she calls him, would do anything and everything for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to spend some quality time with the girl of his dreams.

What happens that night and in the following weeks will shape Quentin in ways he never would--never could have--expected.

John Green's first novel, Looking for Alaska, won the Printz award in 2006. Green's second novel, An Abundance of Katherines, earned a Printz honor. And, of course, along the way he's picked up an enormous number of fans both through his books and his vlogging with the Brotherhood 2.0. (And though that's over and done with, more videos and blogging can be seen on the Nerdfighters Ning site.

Note: I'm reviewing an ARC, so keep that in mind when I'm pulling a few quotes out. They may or may not be the same as what makes it into the finished book that will be released in October.

Now for some Weekly Geeks Q&A fun:

Bart's Bookshelf asks, "I've not read any John Green, so have you a favourite quote/line from Paper Towns that best sums up the relationship of the main protagonists?"

I've already quoted a bit of this one. But here are two more that will give you a feel for the book:

"Margo always loved mysteries. And in everything that came afterward, I could never stop thinking that maybe she loved mysteries so much that she became one." (8)

"I smiled. She smiled. I believed the smile. We walked to the stairs and then ran down them. At the bottom of each flight, I jumped off the bottom step and clicked my heels to make her laugh, and she laughed. I thought I was cheering her up. I thought she was cheerable. I thought maybe if I could be confident, something might happen between us. I was wrong." (58)

Jennie asks, "Is Paper Towns everything that we've now come to expect from John Green? Because I'm DYING to read this one!!! Will I just be disappointed, so is my internal hype well-deserved?"

Yes. If you've followed his vlogging and come to love his personality just as much as his fiction, then you won't be disappointed. Green's personality shines through on this one. I haven't read An Abundance of Katherines yet, but this one is just as good as Looking for Alaska.

M. Molly says, "John Green said that Paper Towns was written as a response to Looking for Alaska. Do you see signs of this in PT? Also, does PT break out of JG's "Nerdy boy meets awesome girl who changes his life" equation (not that I mind it...)?"

Yes and no. In some ways the two books are similar. Two guys on the fringe of 'the-in-crowd' find a few wacky friends, two unforgettable girls to dream about and idolize, and thus "come of age". Both have humor and sarcasm in just the right amount. Both have their serious and meaningful layers. Where they differ, in my opinion, is in the mixing. Looking for Alaska is very bittersweet, very contemplative. And Paper Towns has this too. But it's not as bittersweet. It's a bit wackier than Looking for Alaska. Miles and Quentin are not mirror images or anything. Quentin has enough of a personality--as does his friends and dream-girl--to make this one unique. It is not Looking for Alaska part two. But if you boiled it down to the basics, it would have many of the same ingredients, just in different amounts.

Suey says, "I 2nd everything everyone's said about Paper Towns. Dying to know if it's like his others. Better maybe even?"

It's good. It's very good. I won't say I think it's the best, best, best book ever written. But it's definitely one of the better books I've read of YA published in 2008. It would make my top ten list--so far at least--for YA novels published this year. I can't say it's better necessarily. But I can say it met my expectations. I expected really good work, and it delivered. I was surprised by Looking for Alaska. I read it before it was published. It was his first book. I didn't know quite what to expect. And it just blew me away, I thought it was one of the BEST books of the year. So it's hard to match my enthusiasm and passion since with this one I went into with different expectations.

Melissa asks, "Trying to say something different about Paper Towns: how does it compare to his other two? Better? Worse? Different? Do you think that his style works well for the story? (I don't even know the story!)"

I think Green is great at coming-of-age stories about awkward guys who come into their own and get comfortable with who they are and what they want. And he's great at depicting the highs and lows of teen life. The best and worst and most embarrassing. He definitely is a great storyteller.

I haven't read An Abundance of Katherines, but I thought this one was just as good as his first one, Looking for Alaska.

Joy Renee asks, "I'm interested in the technique and art of storytelling itself so anything along that line would interest me. My questions are for any or all of the fiction titles in your list:

How was Point-of-View handled? Was there a single POV character or did it alternate among two or more. Was it always clear whose eyes and mind were filtering?

It was written in first person. And I think this was an effective way to tell a very personal story.

How does the title relate to the story? Was it fitting?" It was very fitting. I can't really go into it all here because it would contain spoilers. I think if you *know* ahead of time what the title is all about, then you might approach the book differently. It's best just to go with it and learn as the character grows.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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BTT: You Had Me At Hello

Suggested by: Nithin

Here’s another idea about memorable first lines from books.

What are your favorite first sentences from books? Is there a book that you liked specially because of its first sentence? Or a book, perhaps that you didn’t like but still remember simply because of the first line?

When I'm reviewing a book, I like to jot down the first sentence or first paragraph (if it's short and relevant) if I remember. This isn't always the case. Sometimes they seem a bit too unremarkable to take notice of. Not that that indicates it's a bad book. It doesn't. Incredible first sentences sometimes means a magical experience is on the way. But not all the time. And I would say more often than not some of my favorite books--books that I loved, loved, loved--didn't have *outstandingly wonderful amazing* first lines to hook me.

That being said, Their Eyes Were Watching God has one of the *best, best, best* first lines of all time:

Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board. For some they come in with the tide. For others they sail forever on the horizon, never out of sight, never landing until the Watcher turns his eyes away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by Time. That is the life of men.

Now women forget all those things they don’t want to remember, and remember everything they don’t want to forget. The dream is the truth. Then they act and do things accordingly. (1)

Gone With The Wind is another one that stands out for me.

Scarlett O'Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were. (5)

I like that one because it shows how from the very beginning the book is way way different than the movie. (The book is better.) I could let that "was not beautiful" resonate with me for a long long time!!!



© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Travel the World: England: Narnia: Last Battle


Lewis, C.S. 1956. The Last Battle.

In the last days of Narnia, far up to the west beyond Lantern Waste and close beside the great waterfall, there lived an Ape. He was so old that no one could remember when he had first come to live in those parts, and he was the cleverest, ugliest, most wrinkled Ape you can imagine. He had a little house, built of wood and thatched with leaves, up in the fork of a great tree, and his name was Shift. There were very few Talking Beasts or Men or Dwarfs, or people of any sort, in that part of the wood, but Shift had one friend and neighbour who was a donkey called Puzzle. At least they both said they were friends, but from the way things went on you might have thought Puzzle was more like Shift's servant than his friend.

The beginning of the end starts with one donkey, one ape, and one lion skin that floats downstream. From that skin an evil plot is born, and from that plot much blood is shed and much harm is done for every living thing (man, animal, tree, etc.) in Narnia. Shift's plot? To have Puzzle wear the lion skin and "be" Aslan for curious persons to gaze upon from a distance. Shift's real plot? To use the name of Aslan to get exactly what he wants.

It has been many generations since King Rilian ruled. Now his descendant, a king named Tirian, reigns. Though his luck seems to change overnight. One day a king, the next a prisoner. And all because "Aslan" has arrived back in Narnia.

Using the famed line "He's not a tame lion" people reason away all the signs that this is NOT Aslan. He commands the destruction of trees with spirits? Not a tame lion. He demands talking beasts to become his slaves? Not a tame lion. Demands servitude and exile from dwarfs? Not a tame lion. It's easy to say from our perspective that these animals, these individuals are a bit too gullible. But when you stop and think about it, the reader knows more, has experienced more. There haven't been any Aslan spottings in hundreds perhaps a thousand years. What the average Narnian knows is just stories passed down generation by generation by generation. Is it really so hard to see that perhaps their faith has more doubt than certainty? The truth is the average Narnian has not had any "use" for Aslan and his stories in their practical lives. So their faith isn't as "active" as it could be, should be perhaps.

King Tirian won't be fooled for long. He starts off highly suspicious and remains so for the most part. Once he's been captured, imprisoned, Tirian starts to think, to really think about Narnia, about Narnian history, about what he knows to be true, to be right. He realizes that humans from another world have always always been a part of the action. That the arrival of humans almost always accompanies these Aslan sightings. There is always a link. So he delivers a heartfelt prayer that these human saviors will come once again and fight for Narnia, to fight for freedom, to fight for right.

His prayer is answered in a way, but not in the way he hoped. I hope this isn't too much of a spoiler for readers. But it is called The Last Battle for a reason. Narnia is coming to an end. The world, the country, is dying. Tirian and the humans who arrive--Jill, Eustace, Lucy, Edmund, Peter, Digory, and Polly--are there to witness the end of Narnia and the beginning of their after lives.

As a child, I enjoyed this one. I would have put it above many of the other books in the series--including Horse and His Boy and Silver Chair--but as an adult I have a new perspective altogether. While some of the aspects of this one work for me, there were quite a few significant problems.

I'm not sure if other readers will share my quibbles or not. They may have different issues than I do. Among one of the reasons why people may find the last one disappointing is that...

S
P
O
I
L
E
R

all the humans die. Jill. Eustace. Peter. Edmund. Lucy. Digory. Polly. Most of them (I think most of them) die as a result of a train accident. (The Pevensie parents die as well but we still don't see them in the book.) I'm not sure if killing off all your characters will leave readers satisfied. Yes, the characters themselves are happy. But the deaths of so many seem tragic to me. Not that death itself is tragic. (Death can be a good thing. It can be a blessing.)

Second. Susan is missing. She's no longer a "friend" of Narnia. This is 'tragic' for several reasons. One is that technically speaking she will have lost her mother, father, two brothers, and a sister. She'll be all alone in the world. Two is the not-so-subtle theme that you can lose your salvation. If being a friend of Narnia translates directly into being a Christian, then Lewis' message seems to be that Susan represents Christians that have fallen from grace and lost their salvation, lost their way. Of course there are some believers who do in fact believe that this is the case. That Christians can un-Christian themselves, un-save themselves, re-damn themselves. I for one am not one of them. Of course, there is the potential that this fictional Susan could regain her friend status later on in life. That she could have another opportunity to believe. But Susan as allegory just doesn't work for me.

The other problems I had with this book were all theological. And they were pretty significant. But this blog isn't the proper place to really get into theological debates.

For those readers who are not approaching these seven novels as a Christian believer, for those that are reading them because they are fantasy--pure and simple and fun fantasy--then The Last Battle is a fitting conclusion.© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

2 Christian Books Q&A for Weekly Geeks

The Light of the World by Katherine Paterson

My review of this one won't be posted on one of my personal blogs for a bit because I've set it to appear on YA Books Central. You can read it there.

Janice of Passionate Pages, asks:

Katherine Paterson the same one who wrote Bridge to Terebithia a long time ago? Usually her books are pretty significant in terms of theme or message for the reader - is The Light of the World one of those serious kinds of books? What's it about?

Yes, it's the same Katherine Paterson. It is a picture book of the life of Jesus. So I'd say it was somewhat serious. It's not taken lightly. But it isn't a dark book at all. The Jesus presented is very gentle, very wise, very non-threatening. He's more of a teacher, a guide than a Savior in this book. I'll leave it up to individual readers to determine if that's a good thing or a bad thing.

Melissa of Book Nut, asks:

I saw The Light of the World over at Brooklyn Arden (I guess Cheryl's the one responsible for it) and it looked good. As a Christian, do you feel it reflects the life of Jesus well? I'd also like to know a bit about the drawings....

Yes and no. There is nothing inaccurate about what is presented. But it's not a complete presentation. As I said earlier, this is a very non-confrontational Jesus. There isn't a gospel message in this one. I suppose one could say that it doesn't have a gospel slant. I could see some happy about this. It's a few facts without any spin on Jesus being the son of God, the Savior, etc. But I can see some folks being disappointed that there wasn't some sort of gospel presented. A presentation of the life of Jesus where it doesn't go into why he died is a bit odd in my opinion. But it's earned three starred reviews in various review journals.

I would say that some Christians would probably be more pleased than others. I've read a few Amazon reviews that noted that Catholics would likely be displeased with it since Paterson took liberties with the Last Supper. Jesus says that the bread is LIKE his body and the wine is LIKE his blood. So it earned a few one and two star reviews.

I didn't have a problem with that so much as that it didn't go into the fact into why Jesus came and why Jesus died.

But to end on a positive note, the illustrations are beautiful. They're very well done.

Safe in the Arms of God by John MacArthur

Book Zombie asks,

My question is about "Safe in the Arms of God"

Do you believe that this book would provide comfort to a parent who has lost a child? Yes. I hope it would. I haven't talked to anyone who has lost a child AND read the book so I can't say for sure. But the message is *meant* to assure parents (and friends and family etc) that their child is in heaven, happy and in peace.

Would this book be just as helpful to a non-religious person?

I'm going to be honest here. Yes and no. MacArthur's teaching--and he does present Biblical reasoning for why he believes this way--is that ALL babies, all children instantly go to heaven when they die. It doesn't matter if they die in or out of the womb. He believes that all babies/young children are welcomed by God into heaven. That's the good news. And that's the news that could potentially comfort everyone.

However, this is where the bad news comes in. While their lost loved ones--their child--might be "safe in the arms of God", to have that happy reunion in heaven with their lost one...they'd need to be a believer. So in that regard, while it assures parents that their child is safe and happy and at peace...it doesn't promise that they will be reunited with that child in heaven. That reunion is dependent on whether the parent(s) are believers. If they're Christians, then they have every assurance. They will spend eternity in heaven praising God alongside their child. However, nonbelievers don't have that assurance. MacArthur even points out that individuals need to be believers--repent, believe, follow--in order to have assurance, that happy reunion day in the future. He even talks about how a loss could motivate folks to get right with God. I don't know that he'd go so far as to say that that was the purpose of the loss, but more that he could take that bad situation and turn into something good in the long run.

Judge for yourself how friendly or not-so-friendly that message is.


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Google Group, Reading With Becky

Everyone is invited to join my new google group, READING WITH BECKY. Please leave your email address in the comments of this post. Or if you’d prefer, email me and I’ll send you an invite. I’m hoping that by taking this extra step–instead of making the group “public”–that I’ll be able to avoid some spam. (I have had spammers sign up to Mr. Linkys before which was just very very weird!) But all book lovers are welcome.

As we transition over from a Wordpress blog to a google group, I would like to place the emphasis on the group. This isn’t “my” group. This is “our” group. You are an important part of the group. Your opinions are valuable; your participation is central. Without your continued time and energy, this would just be me posting about me. And that just isn’t much fun!!!

One of the main reasons I’m happy to make the switch is that I want group members to have the freedom to post as much and as often as they’d like. A chance to lead the discussions. A chance to have a more hands-on experience. Members will have the ability to start new discussions, reply to any discussions, create new pages, and upload files to the group.

I’d also welcome the opportunity if others want to take a turn selecting a book and leading that month’s conversations. I’d still join in most likely (if my library has a copy) but I wouldn’t be *responsible* for the discussion so much.

You do NOT have to participate in every group read to join the group. You can join the group knowing that you’ll be participating in *some* months but not in others. I don’t require a commitment up front on how many you’ll be participating in!

I’m really looking for something casual, not complicated, but fun and inviting. I don’t want this to be “work” to anyone. I want this to be casual chitchat among friends. Conversational rather than formal.

If you have any questions, please contact me.

Also, I'm trying to decide, and this will be put up to a vote by the way...SHOULD AUGUST'S DISCUSSION OF THE ACCIDENTAL TIME MACHINE BY JOE HALDEMAN be done on the wordpress blog OR done via the new google group?

Any thoughts on how to transition gracefully over without causing confusion????

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Living Dead Girl


Scott, Elizabeth. 2008. Living Dead Girl.

Just when you thought Elizabeth Scott was getting to be predictable...along comes LIVING DEAD GIRL. To clarify, I love, love, love Elizabeth Scott. I have happily read and gushed about her first three books: Bloom, Perfect You, and Stealing Heaven.

If I had just a handful of words to describe Living Dead Girl, they'd be: powerful, haunting, and unputdownable.

It is the story of a girl caught in a nightmare. "Alice." A girl who at the age of ten was reborn.

Get up.
Those were the first words I ever heard.
Open my eyes, see a girl, black and blue all over, dried blood along her thighs. Red brown stains smeared across the hairless juncture between.
"Get up and take a bath, Alice," the man in the blue shirt said, and Alice did.
I did.
That's how I was born. Naked, hairless, covered in blood like all babies.
Named, bathed, and then taken out into the world. (20)
Kidnapped by a pedophile during a class field trip, Alice has endured the unthinkable for five years. Now she's fifteen, five foot seven, and a hundred pounds. Her time is running out, she knows this, she wasn't the first Alice. But it is in how she lives--her world, her thoughts, her decisions--that will haunt you most of all. Suspenseful, dark, and very chilling. Definitely not for everyone. But if you can go to the dark side, if you can walk in her shoes for a bit, it is really something.

Scott's writing is incredible. If I were in charge of handing out awards, one would be heading her way. Her book is amazingly haunting. It just resonates with feeling, emotion. The mood might be dark. The ending bittersweet, but oh-what-a-book.

In previous posts, I've compared Elizabeth Scott to Sarah Dessen. She may not realize it, but that is high praise, very high praise coming from me. Some people may think that Stephenie Meyer is the "perfect" writer. But for me, Sarah Dessen, has always provided the most satisfying of reads. But with her fourth novel, Living Dead Girl, new comparisons must be made. Alice Sebold. Nancy Werlin. Gail Giles. Laura Wiess.

I read an ARC of this. It isn't due to be published until September, I believe. As I'm quoting from this ARC, be aware that there could be changes between this and the final published version.

http://www.elizabethwrites.com/
Another review: Reader Rabbit,

If you've read this one, please let me know and I'll add your link to the list.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Monday, July 21, 2008

Bookworms Carnival

The July carnival is up now! Bookworms Carnival--July, theme relationships.

The August 2008 Bookworms Carnival will be hosted by Florinda at The 3 R’s: Reading, ‘Riting, and Randomness. The theme is “You’re Never Too Old - Children’s and Young-Adult Literature.” The guidelines are posted here.

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Adventures of Tom Sawyer

jacket image for The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain - large version

Twain, Mark. 1876. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

It is my hope and prayer that no one is ever assigned Tom Sawyer for "required reading." Why? Because this one is just too much fun to be boiled down to work. That and the fact that Tom himself would hate it. He has no use for school, you see.

In my opinion, Tom Sawyer is one of the best characters ever. He's young. He's playful. He's trouble, it's true, but beneath the surface he is a good boy. I like seeing life through Tom's eyes. I like hanging out with him. He's just a good companion.

Tom Sawyer is proof that Twain is a genius. Plain and simple. Anyone who could write a book as funny and as charming as Tom Sawyer is a genius.

"Monday morning found Tom Sawyer miserable. Monday morning always found him so, because it began another week's slow suffering in school. He generally began that day with wishing he had had no intervening holiday, it made the going into captivity and fetters again so much more odious." (52)

Definitely recommended as proof that classics are NOT boring and are EASILY accessible to the modern reader.

Loved this quote:

"I was rereading Tom Sawyer. I couldn't read it the day before because Mark Twain, like most of my favorite writers, is not thought suitable reading for a Sunday. I've tried to argue with Ma about this.
"When does a person need comfort from a good book more than on a Sunday?" I asked. Beth [his sister] just snorted. Seems all her favorite books are suitable for Sunday reading." From PREACHER'S BOY by Katherine Paterson, p. 24-25

Dewey asks, "Who is your favorite character in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer?"

That would probably be Tom himself. Though I love Becky as well. Their budding relationship is just cute.

Heather asks a series of questions:

1 - Have you read this before? If so, did your opinion of the book vary from last time?

This is actually my second time to read Tom Sawyer. My first experience with this fun-loving rascal of a boy was in the fall of 2003. I must say that it only improved on rereading. My memory isn't always the greatest...so I found the humorous parts to be just as charming, surprising, and delightful as before. The humor is what I loved most. Though this one has a lot of heart too.

2 - Some people complain about the racism in Twain's books. Does the racism of that time period bother you in the same was a modern writer making racist comments would? (I don't know if I'm making sense here ... let me know if you don't get what I'm asking.)

No and yes. I'll explain. I didn't find the use of the n-word to be negative in this book. I didn't think it was used in a negative way. It wasn't a slam or a slur. It wasn't a hate-filled word. Tom was not using it venomously. It was used a handful of times it's true. But it was casual. I think looked at in context, it was just a word that was common, casual, and natural at that time period. It just was.

I think Twain's books both because of the n-word and because of the character of "Injun Joe" should be read thoughtfully by placing the book in context. I'm not sure if kids are as gullible as we sometimes think. Meaning that I think most are smart enough to figure out that just because things used to be a certain way doesn't mean they should still be that way. You can't really see progress, see change, unless you ground everything historically. You need to know about the past so you can see the present clearly and plan on an even better future.

I didn't find Tom Sawyer racist. Not in the same way that other books are. For example, Gone With The Wind is much more racist--openly racist than Tom Sawyer is. And Little House on the Prairie is much more racist than Tom Sawyer is. So when viewed in a spectrum of other literature, I think Tom Sawyer is a fairly safe.

3 - If you have not read other books by Twain, will you? If you have, how does this compare with his other works?

I've read Tom Sawyer twice. Diary of Adam and Eve once. And Huck Finn once, though Huck was required reading in school and thus wasn't much appreciated. Tom Sawyer is probably my favorite. I hope to read more Twain this year or next.

Chris asked, " As an adult, did you find Tom Sawyer to be charming or a brat? "

Well, I felt like a kid when I was reading it. It's one of those that if it was my son or my nephew or my cousin or my student that I'd probably find him to be bratty. If I was in charge of "disciplining" him, he'd be too much to handle. But I just find him so likable. I just genuinely found him to be charming. I think this would be a textbook of hate the sin, love the sinner.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Southern Reading Challenge Completed

1. The Underneath by Kathi Appelt (East Texas/Louisiana; Texan author)
2. Jessie's Mountain by Kerry Madden (North Carolina?)
3. Christy by Catherine Marshall (set in Tennessee/North Carolina)
4. I Am Scout by Charles J. Shields (author is from Virginia; Lee is from Alabama)
5. Savannah by Eugenia Price.

My favorite? It would be hard to choose between Jessie's Mountain and The Underneath. But since Jessie's Mountain is the third in a series, The Underneath is probably the one I'd recommend the most for those looking for something good to read.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Courtesy of Barnes & Noble.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Nonfiction Monday: Yum: Your Ultimate Manual for Good Nutrition


Kalnins, Daina. 2008. Yum: Your Ultimate Manual For Good Nutrition.

This book is geared for the 8 to 13 year crowd. It thoroughly covers the basics of nutrition. Discusses nutrients both macro and micro. Discusses what nutrients our bodies need to be healthy, to grow, to develop, to function. Discusses how our bodies utilizes those nutrients. Discusses what nutrients different foods have. Teaches how to read labels. Teaches how to discern between good and bad choices. Not in a you-can't-ever-eat-candy way, but in a straight-forward way. It's all about fulfilling your body's need in the most efficient way. It offers advice on how to make the right choices for you. The book challenges the reader to become aware, to become involved. It encourages kids to get involved in food preparation and cooking. Even in grocery shopping. By taking those first few steps, then the rest will come easily and almost naturally. It urges kids (and adults) to try new foods, try new recipes, experiment with meals. Find what works for you, what you like. Sample meal plans and recipes are included. Also there is a six month challenge presented. It is a slow-and-steady plan to get to a healthier you in six months. It doesn't try to rush or overwhelm you. It knows that it takes time to break in new habits and break old ones.

Here's the product description from their website:

Many young people are trying to get on the road to good nutrition, or are being encouraged to do so. Chances are they've gotten advice from teachers, parents, doctors, and the media. But how can they use those suggestions to create a plan of action that makes sense for them and their lifestyle? It's time to get real, leave (most of) the junk in the dust, grab the next exit, and let YUM: Your Ultimate Manual for Good Nutrition move readers into the right lane.

YUM gives kids the info they need to get healthy and have fun while they're at it! The author explains how to can get exactly what our bodies need from the foods we eat. Readers will become food label-reading pros, and discover delicious recipes and healthy snack ideas from kids who already make nutrition part of their lives. They'll hear from celebrities dishing on how they eat right. There's even a forward from professional chef, Paul Finkelstein, host of Food Network Canada's "Fink." Readers are sure to be hungry for more, and YUM serves up cool facts like:

  • 100 trillion bugs live in your gut and help keep you healthy

  • leftover hamburger from last night’s supper can be part of a nutritious breakfast

  • there is such a thing as “good fat”

YUM empowers readers with great tools, including an action plan, that will help get them on the road to finding their own healthy body balance.

The Story Behind the Review

This book is one of a handful that are part of Dewey's Weekly Geeks challenge. This week, I asked readers to ask questions about the books I had read.

Dewey asked, "Do you think your nutrition improved after reading Yum? How did your habits change?"

Yes and no. My habits had already begun to change before I picked up the book. But the book definitely did encourage me that I was going in the right direction. Since my interest in changing my diet (and by diet I mean what food I put in) had already started, it's hard to determine how much this book influenced me. But I'd definitely recommend this one. Especially to those who are confused by it all. This one--since it's geared for children--is easy to understand. However, because it's geared for children aged 8 to 13, some of their advice is limited. Meaning that there really aren't any seventy pound adults whose bodies are still in the process of growing and maturing and developing. But most of the advice could be seen as relevant for adults too.

Bybee asked, "Does Yum provide advice and recipes that are easy to incorporate and use on a day-in, day-out basis?"

Yes and yes. It does have plenty on advice, teaching tips, things to learn and incorporate into your life. It also has a recipe section. I haven't tried out any of the recipes yet.

Maree asked, "Is Yum an easy-to-read, practical guide to nutrition or just another diet book on the bandwagon?"

Definitely a practical guide to nutrition. It's not a diet book. It's not trying to sell any one plan of eating. Nothing fad about this one.

Bibliolatrist asked, "What is the single most important piece of advice you've learned from reading YUM?"

Knowledge is power. I know it sounds silly. But the point of the book (as I see it) is to make kids aware. It's all about putting the knowledge into their hands. Involving them in the process of making healthy choices.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Sunday, July 20, 2008

A New Dawn

Hopkins, Ellen. ed., 2008. A New Dawn: Your Favorite Authors on Stephenie Meyer's Twilight Series.

If you're like most Twilight-saga fans, then you're probably counting down the months, weeks, and days until the release of the fourth novel in the series, Breaking Dawn, due out this August. There is a new book, a Borders-exclusive book that just might satisfy you during your wait. It's a fabulous little book entitled A New Dawn: Your Favorite Authors on Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series. It's edited by Ellen Hopkins and features essays by these YA authors: Ellen Hopkins, Susan Vaught, Megan McCafferty, Rosemary Clement-Moore, Anne Ursu, Linda Gerber, Ellen Steiber, K.A. Nuzum, Cara Lockwood, Cassandra Clare, James A. Owen, Robin Brande, Janette Rallison, and Rachel Caine. According to the book's website, it should be available in June at a Borders near you.

Articles range in tone and style. There's the oh-so-fabulous "Edward, Heathcliff, and Our Other Secret Boyfriends" by Robin Brande that I dare you not to think ingenious. In it she compares Edward to classic literary romantic heroes...and perhaps not surprisingly finds Edward better than all the rest. It's funny and witty and just incredibly straightforward. If I didn't already love Robin because of her beautiful first novel Evolution, Me, and Other Freaks of Nature, this would do the trick.

Other gems include "The Good Girl Always Goes for the Bad Boy" by Megan McCafferty and "To Bite, Or Not To Bite; That is the Question" by Janette Rallison, "As Time Goes By" by K.A. Nuzum, and "Tall, Dark, and...Thirsty" by Ellen Steiber. While the book centers on Bella/Edward, Jacob does get some attention, some treatment. Especially in "Dancing With Wolves" by Linda Gerber.

For the most part, the essays are well-written. Some are serious. Some are light-hearted. Some are more formal in nature. Others are like a conversation you'd have with your best friend. Of the fourteen articles/essays included in A New Dawn I feel strongly positive about twelve of them. The other two aren't bad, they're just not quite as wonderful as the other twelve.

I definitely recommend A New Dawn for Twilight fans whether they're on Team Edward or Team Jacob. If you just can't get enough, then A New Dawn will give you food for thought until the big day arrives.


© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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The Sunday Salon: Finding Yourself in Books

I've been back and forth with what to post about today. And I'm hoping this will sound more put together than it is at the moment. But my "topic" of the day is one that I hope everyone can relate to. Finding yourself in books. Making a connection--a lasting yet immediate connection--with a book. Perhaps it's a character. Perhaps it's a quote. Perhaps its the situation or the plot. But I think one of the greatest gifts literature (and by literature I mean all books; or mainly all books) has to offer to readers. The ability to authentically reflect the reader in some way. Many books offer that opportunity. That "me too!" or "I know" connection where you can see yourself, your life, your experiences reflected back at you in the printed word. What does this mean for the reader? It shows that we're not alone. It gives a sense of community. So often in our lives we feel like we're alone, that we're the only ones that have ever felt that way, or the only ones that have gone through this or that. We feel disconnected in a way. But seeing ourselves in a book, having our personalities or experiences or values mirrored back at us just feels good. That's one gift of literature.

The other gift, the equally important gift, is the exact opposite. We read to learn something new, to see the world through new eyes. We read to see the differences. We read to get outside ourselves. To escape our identity and to wear that of another. Diversity is a good thing. An important thing. To learn to value other's experiences, other's perspectives, etc. To learn that all people aren't the same.

Reading can help you learn about yourself, but it can also help you learn about others. It can help you learn about life, about humanity, about what it is that matters to you. Books can help shift the way you think, the way you see yourself, the way you see the world around you.

There are a few things that are so central to my thinking, but I'll share them anyway.

1) Challenging, banning, and censorship is always wrong. I don't believe that anyone should ever have control or be able to dictate what others read. I may not want to read something personally. But who am I to say that another person shouldn't be allowed to do so? That being said, that doesn't mean that all materials are suitable for all ages. (No Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist for fourth graders in other words.)

2) I do believe in diversity. I feel all readers--from kids to adults--should take time to read outside themselves. They should see what the whole world has to offer. Other cultures, other ethnicities, other value systems, other religions, other experiences. That doesn't mean that they have to shed their own culture or religion or whatnot (meaning devalue), but they should be aware of all that the world has to offer. It will only enrich your own life to do so.

3) But readers should be able to find themselves in books. Every person should be able to have the luxury of finding themselves, seeing themselves reflected in literature. No one should be marginalized. No one should be excluded. Everyone should be able to find authentic representation, authentic voice, genuine reflection.

4) Because of this authors, publishers, booksellers, librarians, teachers, parents should be aware and take this into consideration. I'm not sure who is the most responsible for seeing this get done. Perhaps authors are writing what they feel needs to be written, yet the publishers are telling them that there isn't a market, a need. Perhaps publishers want to publish titles yet feel that librarians, teachers, and parents just aren't there to buy them. Maybe librarians aren't aware of what is being published. Or perhaps more likely, librarians just don't have the money to buy everything they'd like to. I could go on and on about how we all share little portions of the blame.

So where do I see a few gaps? Well, they're probably not in places you'd imagine. And in both you'd be able to find a small sampling of books that pass the test. That represent what is possible. So I'm not saying that there is absolutely nothing out there.

What I'd like to see?

1) Positive portrayals of Christianity in fiction. In other words, books where Christians don't play the monsters and villains.

It's typical to see one extreme or another. On the one hand have it be completely new-age and/or universalist (no heaven; no hell; no sin; no right or wrong; all roads lead to one god; God is a god of self-esteem and happy feelings.). On the other hand, have it be extreme fundamentalism where abuse and hate crimes and all sorts of un-Christian behavior are sanctioned by a very authoritarian, overbearing church or disciplinarian father.) In these books, either God is so full of love that there are no other attributes; (especially no wrath, no judgment, no consequences, no need for a Savior in the first place) or God is so full of wrath and judgment and doomsday despair that there is no room for love or grace or mercy, kindness or forgiveness.) Rarely in fiction is Christianity shown to be decent, respectable, or rational.

Christians aren't perfect people. They make mistakes. They sin. They're not always kind. They're not always polite. (Especially when driving or standing in the check out lines!) They're human. Faith is a struggle. Not that faith is a struggle in the believing that God exists way. But in the struggle to be living a faithful life way. It's not easy to be kind and to get along with people. It's not easy to submit to God. It's not easy to follow Him. Every day is a struggle to live a life that is pleasing to God. Every single day is a day that we need grace from God. We are to be dependent on God. Not self-reliant on our own self-righteousness.

Christian characters shouldn't be portrayed as being dinky. (Think the Flanders family on the Simpsons.) I don't want to be portrayed as being cheesy either. One's beliefs shouldn't be condensed down and concentrated into stereotypical mockery.

There are a handful of books that aren't "typical." For example, The Road to Paris by Nikki Grimes is one of those books that is practically perfect in every way. I loved, loved, loved that book. My favorite part? It featured a child, Paris, who comes to faith in God and you see how it changes her but it is not done in an overwhelming, over-the-top way. It just feels right. It's not preachy. It's not didactic. The faith feels natural, feels real. And to a certain extent (although I won't say completely complete) Evolution, Me, and Other Freaks of Nature by Robin Brande would be another example. (I'm not with her on the evolution element.) But I do like that it features a heroine who comes to read and study the Bible herself. Who sees faith as a positive in her life. Who is able to discern in many ways right from wrong. She sees where her parents and their established church have faltered a bit. And she discerns that this isn't a place for her. That something is clearly missing from their gospel message. Yet she doesn't take this disappointment as an excuse to abandon faith, to abandon God, in general.

2) More authentic representations of obese or overweight characters.

With obesity on the rise in America in particular in both kids and adults, it is important to see this reflected in literature. In many types of literature, it is rare to see anything but a perfect heroine. She may be blond, brunette, or redhead. But chances are that she's far from obese. You might have a heroine be a size six or eight and think she's "fat" and have some melodrama thrown in round the lunch table. You might see characters talk about how "awful" their lives are because they're not a size two or a size zero. (I think of the scene in Clueless where one of the characters is bemoaning the fact that she ate a handful of peanut m&ms.) But it's rare to see characters that are really and truly in the overweight category. I hate, hate, hate it when characters make such a big deal about being "fat" when they are anything but. What they are is normal. Size 2? So not normal!

There is the occasional book. And some are well done. Others not so much. When they're good, they're really good. But when they're bad, they're really bad. Stereotypes. Books might fall into the "if only he/she would lose x amount of pounds then their life would be magically better. They'd get the girl/guy. They'd make friends with the popular crowd. They'd have all their dreams come true in an instant. If only they'd lose weight. That's a stereotype for sure borrowed straight out of the real world in that it's easy to forget that the weight is there for a reason. Before you lose any amount of weight (and keep it off) you've got to deal with the bigger picture. You've got to delve into the mental/emotional/psychological/physical issues for why this weight is there, why it works for you in the first place. If you're not really to work it out in your head, then the weight will just continue to come back and come back and come back. Weight in books tend to be about issues. How they need to lose weight. How they need to eat right. How they need to exercise. How they need to do this, that, and the other in order to be happy, in order to be right with the world. In order to not be miserable and depressed and deserving of oh-so-much-pity. Perhaps if love and acceptance and self-worth were taught then they wouldn't be seeking the same out of macaroni and cheese and candy. You've got to love yourself no matter what you weigh. If you don't love yourself, then you'll never even make the effort to change the outside. You can't wait to love yourself, to respect yourself, to value yourself until you've lost the weight. You can't live life saying, I would love myself if I could just lose those twenty pounds or those last ten pounds or whatever. You can't live your life on hold waiting for the day you're perfect.

So what do I want here? I want books where weight is only one of many components that define a person. I'm tired of "fat" being the sole defining factor of characters. Fat equals pity. Fat equals teased. Fat equals miserable. Fat equals worthless. Fat equals invisible. I'm tired of the message that it is only if the fat comes off that the person can become happy and loved and worthwhile. Characters need to be seen as much more than just their outward appearance.

I loved most of Artichoke's Heart. I loved about 85 to 90 percent of it at least. It does show the connection between working through your issues (psychologically/emotionally) and losing weight. But she doesn't go about losing weight in a healthy way. Of course, many people don't go about losing it the right way. You've got so called experts each with their own "right" way to do it. But I think it's authentic enough.

And I loved a good bit of Big Fat Manifesto. I liked that it showed how fine a line there is between being happy with who you are and what you look like and wanting to make a change. I think overweight people are judged enough in this world that you shouldn't have to beat yourself up too. You should be kind to yourself. Love yourself. Value yourself. That doesn't mean you hide your head in the sand and pretend that you're not fat. But you shouldn't loathe yourself, loathe your body. The truth is I think women are taught to always find fault with themselves. No matter what, they're never good enough. There's always something keeping them from being happy, from being content. We've created a society that is concerned more with the outward appearance than the inner self. And I think that is damaging in dozens and dozens of ways. But that's a whole other story.

In conclusion, in all cases of fiction, I want more authenticity and less stereotyping!

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


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