Friday, July 31, 2009

July Accomplishments

July's Top Five:

The Importance of Wings. Robin Friedman.
Three Men In a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome
To Say Nothing of the Dog. Connie Willis.
Clara's War: One Girl's Story of Survival by Clara Kramer.
Max Spaniel: Dinosaur Hunt. David Catrow. 2009. Scholastic.


Number of Picture Books: 11

The Zoo I Drew by Todd H. Doodler. 2009. Random House.
God Found Us You by Lisa Tawn Bergren. 2009. HarperCollins.
How To Make A Cherry Pie and See the U.S.A. by Marjorie Priceman. 2008. Random House.
Norman Rockwell: You're A Grand Old Flag. 2008. Lyrics by George M. Cohan. Art by Norman Rockwell. Simon & Schuster.
My Parents Are Divorced, My Elbows Have Nicknames, And Other Facts About Me. Bill Cochran. Illustrated by Steve Bjorkman. 2009. HarperCollins.
The Grumpy Dump Truck by Brie Spangler. 2009. Random House.
It's A Secret by John Burningham. 2009. Candlewick Press.
How To Get Married by Me The Bride. Sally Lloyd-Jones. 2009. Random House.
Maybe A Bear Ate It by Robie H. Harris. 2008. Scholastic.
Me and You by Genevieve Cote. 2009. Kids Can Press.
The Delicious Bug by Janet Perlman. 2009. Kids Can Press.


Number of Board Books:

Number of Children's Books: 11

Junie B.'s Essential Survival Guide to School by Barbara Park. Random House. 2009.
Jack Russell: Dog Detective: The Mugged Pug. Darrel and Sally Odgers. 2007. Kane/Miller. 76 pages.
Jack Russell: Dog Detective: The Lying Postman. Darrel and Sally Odgers. 2007. Kane/Miller. 80 pages.
Jack Russell: Dog Detective: The Awful Pawful. Darrel and Sally Odgers. 2007. Kane/Miller. 80 pages.
Jack Russell: Dog Detective: The Sausage Situation. Darrel and Sally Odgers. 2007. Kane/Miller. 80 pages.
Pet Vet: The Mare's Tale. Darrel & Sally Odgers. 2009. Kane/Miller. 88 pages.
Jack Russell: Dog Detective: The Buried Biscuits. Darrel and Sally Odgers. 2008. Kane/Miller. 80 pages.
Jack Russell: Dog Detective: The Kitnapped Creature. Darrel and Sally Odgers. 2008. Kane/Miller. 80 pages.
Jack Russell: Dog Detective: The Blue Stealer. Darrel and Sally Odgers. 2009. Kane/Miller. 80 pages.
Family Reminders. Julie Danneberg. Illustrated by John Shelley. Charlesbridge. 2009. 105 pages.
Max Spaniel: Dinosaur Hunt. David Catrow. 2009. Scholastic.

Number of YA Books: 11

Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr. 2007. HarperCollins. 328 pages.
Feed by M.T. Anderson. 2002. Candlewick. 300 pages.
Fragile Eternity by Melissa Marr. 2009. HarperCollins. 389 pages.
Castle in the Air. Diana Wynne Jones. 1990. 383 pages.
House of Many Ways by Diana Wynne Jones. 2008. HarperCollins. 404 pages.
Cart and Cwidder. Diana Wynne Jones. 1975. 214 pages.
Suddenly Supernatural: Scaredy Cat by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel. 2009. Little Brown. 250 pages.
Suddenly Supernatural: The Unhappy Medium. Elizabeth Cody Kimmel. 2009. Little Brown. 277 pages.
The Emerald Tablet. P.J. Hoover. 2008. CBay Books. 288 pages.
The Importance of Wings. Robin Friedman. 2009. Charlesbridge. 170 pages.
I, Lorelei. Yeardley Smith. 2009. HarperCollins. 339 pages.

Number of Christian Books: 2

The Enclave by Karen Hancock. Bethany House. 492 pages.
Offworld by Robin Parrish. Bethany House. 361 pages.

Number of Adult Books: 9

Old Man's War by John Scalzi. 2005. 314 pages.
The Local News by Miriam Gershow. 2009. Spiegel & Grau. 360 pages.
Three Men In a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome. 1889. 144 pages.
Three Men on the Bummel. Jerome K. Jerome. 1900. 168 pages.
The Grand Sophy. Georgette Heyer. 1950/2009. SourceBooks. 372 pages.
The Ghost Brigades. John Scalzi. 2006. 314 pages.
To Say Nothing of the Dog. Connie Willis. 1998. 493 pages.
The Last Colony. John Scalzi. 2007. 320 pages.
The Corinthian by Georgette Heyer. 1940/2009. Sourcebooks. 261 pages.

Number of Verse Novels:

Number of Graphic Novels: 3

Luch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute. By Jarrett J. Krosoczka. 2009. Knopf (Random House)
Lunch Lady and the League of Librarians. By Jarrett J. Krosoczka. 2009. Knopf (Random House)
Binky The Space Cat. Ashley Spires. 2009. Kids Can Press.

Number of Nonfiction: 5

To Be A Slave by Julius Lester. 1968. Penguin. 176 pages.
Go, Go America by Dan Yaccarino. 2008. Scholastic. 80 pages.
Greetings From the 50 States: How They Got Their Names. Sheila Keenan. 2008. 112 pages.
Clara's War: One Girl's Story of Survival by Clara Kramer. 2009. HarperCollins. 352 pages.
100% Pure Fake: Gross Out Your Friends and Family With 25 Special Effects. by Lyn Thomas. 2009. Kids Can Press.

Number of Short Story Collections, Anthologies, Poetry Books: 3

African Acrostics by Avis Harley. Photographs by Deborah Noyes. 2009. Candlewick Press.
The Art of Reading. Forty Illustrators Celebrate RIF's 40th Anniversary. With A Foreword by Leonard Marcus. 2005. Penguin.
A Mirror to Nature. Jane Yolen. 2009. Wordsong.


© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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I, Lorelei (MG)


Smith, Yeardley. 2009. I, Lorelei. HarperCollins. 339 pages.

Dear Mud,
I've decided to start keeping a diary, so that when I become a famous writer/actress/chef I'll remember everything that happened to me. Plus, when I'm dead, and someone wants to write my biography, they won't have to make stuff up about me.


Lorelei would probably tell you that life isn't all that easy when you're eleven. She's got two brothers: one older, Teddy, one younger, Ryan. And her home life is stressed. Her parents are prone to arguing. That is when her father is home and not at work. But all that changes--and for the worse--when her father quits his job unexpectedly. He's going through a mid-life crisis, and it puts his marriage into major crisis, let me tell you. She even catches her dad making out with another woman. Poor Lorelei! Fortunately or unfortunately, she's got the school play to distract her. True, her mom--a former Wendy--is determined that her daughter should get the role of Wendy in the school's production of Peter Pan. But for the most part, the play is a positive experience, a chance for her to grow.

I, Lorelei is written in journal format. Letters to her newly departed cat, Mud. The book depicts the drama--both heavy and light--of being eleven. Family drama. School drama. And friend drama. It's not always easy to have a perfect relationship with her best friend. Fights happen. Especially when they both like the same cute boy.

I liked but didn't love this one. What I did like--for the most part--was the characterization. There were a few minor characters that were more fleshed out that I was expecting. (It's rare to see a family so fleshed out, for example, to have a mom and dad and two brothers actually be real characters. Not to mention some of Lorelei's classmates.) I would have liked to see even more simply because I found them interesting. And the story was enjoyable as well. The drama of the play--everything from auditions, dress rehearsals, and opening night--along with the family drama of a marriage unraveling and a forthcoming divorce make for a nice balance. It's never so heavy that it's unbearable, yet it's never so light that it's shallow and frivolous either. So I have mostly positive things to say, however, there were a few times when I felt the dialogue and narrative was a bit weak.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Library Loot: Last Week of July


I've only got four books (and eight movies) checked out on my card. They are:

Captain Blood by Rafael Sabatini
Mistress Shakespeare by Karen Harper
Swan Maiden by Jules Watson
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

Library Loot round-up is at Reading Adventures this week.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Themed Reading Challenge Completed

For the Themed Reading Challenge, I chose option 2: "Read at least 5 books that share at least TWO themes." My two themes were proper names in the title and classics published before 1920.

1. Emma by Jane Austen
2.Fanny Hill by John Cleland
3. Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
4. Silas Marner by George Eliot
5. The Morgesons by Elizabeth Stoddard


© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Lunch Lady and the League of Librarians (MG)


Krosoczka, Jarret J. 2009. Lunch Lady and the League of Librarians. Random House.

This is the second graphic novel in the series Lunch Lady by Jarret J. Krosoczka. (The first being Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute.) While I liked the first one, I really liked the second one. Could it be that the league of librarians won me over? Hector, Terrence, and Dee have noticed that the school librarians are acting weird. And they're not the only ones to notice this change--Lunch Lady and her sidekick Betty (a fellow lunch lady) have noticed as well. Could this change have something to do with the big countdown to the release of a new video game system? (The X-Station 5000) Or is it just the stress of setting up and managing the book fair? What has got these librarians so cranky? What are they planning? And can Lunch Lady do anything about it?

As I said, I really enjoyed this one. It was fun. It was clever. And I really really liked the 'weapons' these librarians used to carry out their 'evil' plan.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Offworld by Robin Parrish


Parrish, Robin. 2009. Offworld. Bethany House. 361 pages.

Offworld by Robin Parrish has a premise that had me curious. I first read about this one early in the year--January or February--and I knew right away I wanted to read this one. What's the premise? A team of four astronauts return to Earth--after a mission to Mars--to discover that humanity has vanished. Completely vanished. Sounds fun, right? Well, if you like dystopian fiction it does. This mystery starts in space actually. The astronauts lose communication with Earth several months into their return trip. The closer they get the more they realize is missing. There is nothing coming from Earth.

Christopher Burke. Trisha Merriday. Owen Beechum. Terry Kessler. Are these four astronauts all that remain of the human race? Not quite, as we come to find out, the first person they stumble across is a young woman named Mae. She's an odd one. Why should she be--seemingly at least--the only human that survived whatever it was that happened? These four astronauts survived because they were off planet. But why did she? Are there others likes her? Tis a mystery no doubt. But not the main mystery--at least not to our four heroes--they're trying to figure out what this bright light is that is coming from Houston. Is the bright light connected with this disappearance? Will traveling cross country to Houston answer all the unanswerable questions they have? They certainly hope so!

It's a weird road trip. And a dangerous one as well. Are all these close calls a coincidence or is someone trying to send them a message?

S
P
O
I
L
E
R

While the back cover says that this is "not a trick." I have to disagree. At least slightly disagree. I think it is a trick--a dangerous trick, a risky trick--but a trick nonetheless. Someone has plotted this disappearance with the so-called intentions of bringing back the human race after their master plan has been achieved. If that's not a trick--making someone disappear and reappear--I don't know what is.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

What's On Your Nightstand (July)


Cleopatra's Daughter by Michelle Moran. This one is still by my bed. (One of many that seems to have taken up permanent residence.) I *want* to read it soon. As this one is going to be published in September, it's going to get my priority in August.

The Navel of the World by PJ Hoover. This one has only been here a few days--less than a week. I hope to finish it soon. This one is the sequel to The Emerald Tablet which I reviewed this past weekend.

Goth Girl Rising by Barry Lyga. This one is the sequel to The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl. It will be released in October. You have plenty of time to get to the first book.

Five Children and It by E. Nesbit. I am love, love, loving this one. Why didn't anyone ever tell me how great this book is???

Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko. I've been meaning to read this one for ages and ages. Okay, since it was first published in 2004 (isn't that the same thing as ages and ages?) but the upcoming release of a sequel has me wanting to read it NOW.

Tom's Midnight Garden. Another I've been meaning to read for months. This one thanks to Nymeth.

Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell. This one reading for a book club. I'm about ten chapters behind where I'm supposed to be. Oh well. It's not like I haven't read it many, many times.

She by H. Rider Haggard. I'm contemplating abandoning this one. I want to read it. But do I want to read it now? Does it need to be a priority?

June Bug by Chris Fabry. This one is supposed to be a retelling of Les Miserables. I'm curious to see if I like it.

The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. This one is on loan from my cousin. I've been wanting to read it for a long time. (And it'll count for Herding Cats, I think).

Montana Rose by Mary Connealy. One I haven't started yet. But it is by my bed. It is a blog tour book. (August 17th)

The Frontiersman's Daughter by Laura Frantz. Again, one I haven't started. But it has been living by my bed since it arrived a week or so ago. Again, a blog tour book. (August 26th).

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute (MG)


Krosoczka, Jarrett J. 2009. Lunch Lady And the Cyborg Substitute. Random House.

Jarrett J. Krosoczka, author of Punk Farm and Punk Farm On Tour--to name just a few of his books, has created a new graphic novel series called Lunch Lady. (Serving up justice and lunch). It's a fun premise, the "breakfast bunch" (Hector, Dee, and Terrence) become curious about their favorite lunch room lady. They decide to follow her one day to see what kind of life she leads outside the cafeteria. Meanwhile, the readers get a glimpse of two lunch room ladies in action as they suspect the new substitute teacher, Mr. Pasteur, to being up to no good. (The fact that he refuses fresh baked cookies only firms up their suspicions. In fact, he isn't eating anything.) They decide to follow him home--not knowing that they themselves are being followed--and there the action starts.

I'm not all that familiar with graphic novels in general. I just haven't read that many, so I feel unequipped to judge their merit, but I liked this one. It had a fun premise.



© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Monday, July 27, 2009

Clara's War


Kramer, Clara. 2009. Clara's War: One Girl's Story of Survival. HarperCollins. 352 pages.

Loved, loved, loved this Holocaust memoir. If it was up to me, it would be required reading. (Come to think of it, there are a lot of books I'd have as required reading.) This all too true story is haunting and brilliant. Very powerful. Here's the description from the back cover--I've tried and failed to write one of my own, but I kept getting stuck:


Clara Kramer was a typical Polish Jewish teenager from a small town at the outbreak of the Second World War. When the Germans invaded, Clara's family was taken in by the Beck, a Volksdeutsch (ethnically German) family from their town. Mr. Beck was known to be an alcoholic, a womanizer, and a vocal anti-Semite. His wife had worked as Clara's family's housekeeper. But on hearing that Jewish families were being led into the woods and shot, Beck sheltered the Kramers and two other Jewish families.
Eighteen people in all lived in a bunker dug out of Beck's basement. Fifteen-year old Clara kept a diary during the twenty terrifying months she spent in hiding, writing down details of their unpredictable life, from the house's catching fire to Beck's affair with Clara's cousin, from the nightly SS drinking sessions in the room above to the small pleasure of a shared Christmas carp.
Against all odds, Clara lived to tell her story, and her diary is now part of the permanent collection of the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.
What did I love about this one? The honesty and vulnerability of it. It's very straight forward. The truth alone--without embellishment, without drama--is enough to convey the emotional story.

It had come to this for our family. The unthinkable. That some of our family would survive, perhaps not at the expense of the others, but with the knowledge that we couldn't save them.


The only thing that kept me sane was going to school. The churches had large libraries, as did some of the schools. There were also private libraries. Almost every day I made the rounds. The former nuns and Mr. Appel, the old Jewish man who ran the private libraries, expected me and saved books they thought I might like. This was the year of Victor Hugo and Charles Dickens; and of course the great Russian novelists, Tolstoy, Turgenev, Dostoevsky, and Gogel. I picked books by their length and their weight. The longer and heavier the better. More and more, I tried to shut out the world with literature.


In this way we learned that the Pole or Ukrainian who might turn us in would not be a stranger. They would know us. Their children would be our classmates, their fathers would know our fathers, and their grandfathers would have known our grandfathers. I suppose, in the end, it made no difference if you were betrayed by a friend or an enemy. It really only meant that your heart might break a little more in the moment before you felt the bullet.
Obviously, this is a powerful story. It's a story about life and survival. It's a story about humanity--at its best and worst. The portrayal of the Becks--for better or worse--proves just that. What makes a man good? It's an emotional read--no doubt--with just as many losses as triumphs. (In one of the last chapters, the reader learns that of the 5,000 Jews living in Zolkiew, only 50 survived.) But it is a hopeful story as well. One of strength and endurance.


© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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The Importance of Wings (MG)


Friedman, Robin. 2009. The Importance of Wings. Charlesbridge. 166 pages.

It's called the cursed house because something terrible always happens to anyone who lives there. It's not a scary or ugly house, like those haunted houses you see in the movies, but it is different. It's the biggest house on the block, and the only one painted bright pink. And the backyard leads to the woods, which are scary. Nobody else's house leads to the woods.

Roxanne and her sister Gayle (not to mention their taxi-driving father) live next to 'the cursed house.' Their mother is away--she's gone to visit her sister in Israel, care for her sister, I believe--and while the two sometimes cross paths with their father, they feel alone. To hide their alone-ness, the two stay glued to the TV set. Their list of addictions is quite long, everything from The Brady Bunch and Wonder Woman to Little House on the Prairie and Dynasty. Roxanne, in particular, wants to be Wonder Woman. And not to confuse matters any, she wishes her father was more like Mike Brady or Pa Ingalls. There. Listening. Involved.

It's the 1980s and Roxanne is so uncool it's pitiful. At least she thinks so. Her inability to have 'wings'--the super-cool hair style that divides the cool and uncool leads to a bit of an esteem problem. But all that begins to change when someone buys the cursed house. A family moves in. A father, a step-mother (or is it just a girlfriend?), and a daughter. A daughter just around Roxanne's age. And guess what, they're Israeli too. For the first time, Roxanne sees that being Israeli doesn't make you automatically weird or uncool. You can be smart, beautiful, athletic, and Israeli. But the new girl, Liat, isn't a snob. She could have wings--her step-mom showed her how--but she prefers to be herself, to think for herself. And without a doubt, Liat is the best friend these two sisters could have. It isn't just anybody that these two would give up watching Grease for.

"Ta-da!" she announces at last. "I give you: Wings."
I actually gasp. I have wings! Two perfect, glorious wings!
"Wow," I whisper, fingering them delicately.
"They're beautiful."
"Yeah, but look how long it took to make them, Roxanne," Liat replies, checking her watch.
"It's totally worth it," I declare.
Liat looks into my eyes in the mirror's reflection.
"I don't know...some things are more important than wings."
"Nothing's more important than wings," I shoot back.
Liat eyes me intensely. "Really?"
I shut up then. (99)
The Importance of Wings is all about growing up, a coming-of-age story set in New York in the 1980s. It's about growing into yourself, into confidence. It's about learning who you are and deciding who you want to be.

Though Robin Friedman has written several books (Nothing, The Girlfriend Project, The Silent Witness, and How I Survived My Summer Vacation), this was my first opportunity to read one of her books. I just have to say I loved it. It felt so right. I thought it very authentic. I definitely recommend this one!

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Sunday, July 26, 2009

Sunday Salon: Reading, Read, To Read #30

Happy Sunday! There's been plenty to 'inspire' this week, hasn't there? What with the cover controversy of Liar going on. The blog world has been anything but quiet the past few days. (I'm just glad it isn't a blog-angst frenzy this time.) What do you think of this mess?

The book, Liar, by Justine Larbalestier, is quite thought-provoking. The main character, Micah, is a compulsive liar. She challenges readers--constantly--to piece together the narrative. To weigh, to consider fact from fiction. How much of Micah's story is believable? Do you believe any part of what she says?

Personally, I did NOT like the cover. Sure it was fine before I started reading the book. But several chapters into the book, I realized how very wrong this cover is for this book. The cover portrays a white girl with very long hair. The main character of the book is black with very short hair. This cover adds to the puzzle. If the author had intended this, if she approved of it, it would be one thing. But to know that this was not the case, just makes it upsetting all the way around.

I really appreciated this post by A Chair, A Fireplace, & A Tea Cozy called Getting the Books. She mentions two things which I think are key to keep in mind: for reviewers to review a book, they have to know about it (know it exists in the first place) and they have to have access to it. Bringing it into context, for a blog to be multicultural--to have titles representing people of all races and ethnicities, to be diverse, it may require the blogger to do a bit of homework.

This week in movies:

Carefree
Move Over Darling
Prince and the Pauper
The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex
Henry VIII
Some Like It Hot (second time)

What I read in a previous week, but reviewed this week:

Cart and Cwidder. Diana Wynne Jones. 1975. 214 pages.
Pet Vet: The Mare's Tale. Darrel & Sally Odgers. 2009. Kane/Miller. 88 pages.
Jack Russell: Dog Detective: The Buried Biscuits. Darrel and Sally Odgers. 2008. Kane/Miller. 80 pages.
Jack Russell: Dog Detective: The Kitnapped Creature. Darrel and Sally Odgers. 2008. Kane/Miller. 80 pages.

What I read this past week and reviewed:

Jack Russell: Dog Detective: The Blue Stealer. Darrel and Sally Odgers. 2009. Kane/Miller. 80 pages.
Family Reminders. Julie Danneberg. Illustrated by John Shelley. Charlesbridge. 2009. 105 pages.
The Last Colony. John Scalzi. 2007. 320 pages.
The Corinthian by Georgette Heyer. 1940/2009. Sourcebooks. 261 pages.
A Mirror to Nature. Jane Yolen. 2009. Wordsong.
The Enclave by Karen Hancock. Bethany House. 492 pages.
Suddenly Supernatural: Scaredy Cat by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel. 2009. Little Brown. 250 pages.
Suddenly Supernatural: The Unhappy Medium. Elizabeth Cody Kimmel. 2009. Little Brown. 277 pages.
The Emerald Tablet. P.J. Hoover. 2008. CBay Books. 288 pages.

What I read this past week and haven't reviewed yet:

Clara's War: One Girl's Story of Survival by Clara Kramer. 2009. HarperCollins. 352 pages.
Lunch Lady And the Cyborg Substitute by Jarrett J. Krosoczka. 2009. Random House.
Lunch Lady And the League of Librarians by Jarrett J. Krosoczka. 2009. Random House.
The Importance of Wings. Robin Friedman. 2009. Charlesbridge. 170 pages.
I, Lorelei. Yeardley Smith. 2009. HarperCollins. 339 pages.

What I've read and really, really need to review: none!

What I'm currently reading:

Offworld by Robin Parrish
The Navel of the World by P.J. Hoover
The Plight of the Darcy Brothers: Pride and Prejudice Continues: A Tale of The Darcys and The Bingleys by Marsha Altman
Goth Girl Rising by Barry Lyga

What I'm just fooling around that I'm reading:

Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Cleopatra's Daughter by Michelle Moran

She by H. Rider Haggard

What I hope to start reading soon:

Tom's Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce.
Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko.
Five Children and It by E. Nesbit.

What I've abandoned: none this week

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Emerald Tablet (MG)


Hoover, P.J. 2008. The Emerald Tablet. CBAY Books. 304 pages.

When Benjamin Holt saw his mom disappear into a pinprick of light, he shouldn't have been surprised; his life was already weird.

I loved this one. To the point that I wish I could go back in time and make myself read it earlier. Oh well. It's never too late to discover a book. Or to recommend it.

The Emerald Tablet is the first in a new series by P.J. Hoover. Fantasy. (I know some folks--cough, cough--don't need to add new fantasy series to their towering tbr piles and wishlists. But you should consider this one all the same.) Our hero is Benjamin Holt. He's on his way--a big surprise to him, by the way--to a special summer school. While there, he'll have quite the opportunity: saving the world, making friends, you know, the usual.

I knew I was going to like this one from the start. Its playful style--with everything being so matter of fact--charmed me.


Benjamin headed downstairs, dodging toy cars flying through the air. As with any morning, chaos had erupted. Becca, his eight month old sister, was crying, and Derrick and Douglas, his twin five year old brothers, were doing what they always did. Telekinesis. They were always levitating something. Benjamin's homework or Becca's rattle. One time they even levitated eggs. Nobody liked to talk about that. Today it was toy cars--no less than five each--racing around the room. It still irked Benjamin how good they were at telekinesis. When he'd been their age, he'd hardly been able to lift one--and that was on a good day. (4)

After he teleports to camp--to Lemuria--and learns more about being telegen, the adventure begins. But what is an adventure without an alliance of friends? There's no shortage here with Benjamin teaming up with fellow telegens and classmates: Andy, Gary, Iva, and Heidi. (And let's not forget Jack, a Nogical.)

This one is light, fun, and hard to put down.

Other reviews: Shelf Elf, Book Review Maniac and her 10 yr. sister, And Another Book Read, Presenting Lenore, The Book Muncher, The Story Siren.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Friday, July 24, 2009

A Mirror to Nature


Yolen, Jane. 2009. A Mirror To Nature: Poems About Reflection. Photographs by Jason Stemple. Wordsong.

A picture book of nature poems. Yolen has written twelve reflective poems and paired them with some incredible photographs taken by her son, Jason Stemple. Each poem also includes a side note about the animal subject. What kind of animals? Alligators, racoons, deer, snails, frogs, coyotes, and several different species of birds. This one could appeal to animal lovers, nature lovers, environmentalists, and poetry lovers.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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The Last Colony


Scalzi, John. 2007. The Last Colony. 316 pages.

Let me tell you of the worlds I've left behind.

John Perry returns as narrator in this third novel. (Others in the series include Old Man's War and The Ghost Brigades.) When we first meet him--in this novel that is--he is living along with Jane and Zoe on the planet of Huckleberry. (Also part of the package deal are Hickory and Dickory, two obin who love and protect Zoe.) Perry is the village's ombudsman--he hears and judges small disputes between individuals. His wife, Jane, is the constable. They're content with their lives. For the most part. But the Colonial Union isn't quite through with their plans for this couple, this family.

One day General Rybicki appears with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. He wants John and Jane to lead a new colony, the colony of Roanoke to be precise. They accept. But this new colony may just be the death of them all--and not just the new colonists, but for all of humanity as well. You see, the Colonial Union isn't being honest and up front about the situation. This colony isn't about settling a new planet, it's about war. The colony is nothing but a pawn in their newest scheme. They want to test the Conclave's threats. Will the Conclave really stop any non-member planet/species from colonizing? Will they really destroy any new settlements? What can Roanoke do to protect itself from this threat?

My thoughts...

I enjoyed John and Jane. I had missed John's narration from The Ghost Brigades, so I was excited to have him back again. I enjoyed catching up with this family--to see how Jane and Zoe fit into John's life. How Jane settled into the family context since this was not part of her "Special Forces" training and she didn't have the human memories of the realborn to help her out. I wouldn't have minded an easy-going novel set on the planet of Huckleberry, in all honesty, with its relatively mundane problems. But what we have instead is a very exciting, very intense war novel. John and Jane (along with the other colonists) have to puzzle out the situation for themselves. Who can be trusted? Who has humanity's best interest in mind? Are they willing to just be a pawn?

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Corinthian


Heyer, Georgette. 1940/2009. The Corinthian. Sourcebooks. 261 pages.

The Corinthian is one of the funner Georgette Heyer novels I've read in recent months. Heyer is great at writing romantic comedies. True, Heyer isn't always the most original author, her books often follow a handful of different patterns. But they're patterns that work time and again. And there's the difference, in my opinion. There is something satisfying and delightful about her books, her characters. So some plot devices are familiar, that doesn't mean the stories and characters themselves are stale and uninteresting. Far from it actually. Her characters are ones that you want to spend time with.

In The Corinthian, we've got a bachelor, Sir Richard Wyndham, who happens to rescue a damsel in distress, Penelope Creed. Penelope set on running away from her aunt--who is encouraging her into a loveless marriage with her cousin Fred--is disguised as a boy. Richard, while on his way home and a bit drunk at that, sees Pen climbing out her window--by way of her bed sheets of course. He "catches" her just in time. Granted, this "she" is dressed as a he. But there's no fooling Richard. A bit amused at the situation, and wanting to run away himself to avoid an unpleasant appointment the next day, he decides to help out. She wants to escape London--and her aunt--and travel to Bristol (or near Bristol anyway). She's got a childhood friend, Piers, who she fancies herself madly in love with. Five (or so) years ago, these two promised themselves to each other. Hearing this tale, Richard decides to join in the journey and ensure her safety. The two will go together. He will act as her tutor-uncle-cousin and 'protect' her along the way. (Each identity is used on their journey at various stages.) Their journey is rarely boring--they get in and out of trouble along the way.

This one is playful and fun. There's some adventure thrown in as well--and a murder!--but at it's heart this is a romantic comedy.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Enclave


Hancock, Karen. 2009. The Enclave. Bethany House. 492 pages.

Sometimes books arrive that I don't remember requesting. Such is the case with The Enclave by Karen Hancock. The fault, this time at least, is all mine. This is a blog tour book--apparently I signed up in May for it and forgot all about it! As I said I was surprised when it arrived because it's a genre that I don't really read much in. And there's a reason for that. It's a Christian book. (I don't mind those. That's not where I'm nitpicking.) But it's one of those oh-so-modern-thrillers. In The Enclave it is one of those Evil Institution and Mad Scientists type of thriller.

What is The Enclave about? Who are its stars? We've got two Christian scientists: Lacey McHenry and Cameron Reinhardt. Both are employees at Kendall-Jakes, a research institution under the direction of (the tyrannical and so obviously evil) Parker Swain. The list of 'bad guys' is rather long in this one. But essentially there are plenty of scientists more on the mad side of things who are looking for a way to obtain immortality, to conquer death and the like. One of their schemes includes manipulating genes and human cloning. Employees are encouraged to worship their director and give their all for him. He can be very persuasive. Unfortunately, he can also be very dangerous.

Poor Lacey has quite the time of it. There's a weird "anomalous" creature after her, that is stalking her, who turns murderous when she's transferred out of her department. And then there's the sexual harassment from Swain. She's caught the boss' attention, and he'll stop at nothing to make her one of his girls. He has quite the history, you see. Lacey isn't quite open to all this flirting--she's not stupid exactly--but she's not quite closed to it either. She entertains moments where she thinks he might accidentally be sincere. Moments where she considers that he might be good for her. (Granted, Lacey isn't privilege to all the knowledge readers are. But still, there are moments I wanted to slap her!) Lucky for Lacey, there is Cameron to watch out for her and protect her. Cameron seems to be a bit more aware and open to the idea that his boss is pure evil.

Cameron is prone to having flashbacks. It's written into the story that he has Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He ever so conveniently flashes back a dozen or so times. I suppose these chaotic interruptions in the text--the shifting from now to then without a second's notice--is authentic enough. These flashbacks overwhelm the narrator without warning, so why should readers be spared the chaos of being flung through time, the disorientation and discomfort of it. Still it can be frustrating to the careless reader. (I'll admit that I'm careless at times. If your mind skips out on a sentence or two, you can get lost very quickly.)

Part mystery. Part thriller. Part action.

While I didn't particularly "like" this one--just not my genre--I do think some readers might find it worth their time. There is quite the sub-genre for this in Christian fiction. So it must have a steady audience of folks who love suspense-thrillers with a Christian slant.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Decades 09 Challenge Completed

1. Old Friends and New Fancies by Sybil Brinton (1910s)
2. House at Pooh Corner by A.A. Milne (1920s)
3. Tortilla Flat by John Steinbeck (1930s)
4. Pemberley Shades by D.A. Bonavia-Hunt (1940s)
5. Burning Bright by John Steinbeck (1950s)
6. Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck (1960s)
7. Cart and Cwidder by Diana Wynne Jones (1970s)
8. Anubis Gates by Tim Powers (1980s)
9. The Banishment by Marion Chesney (1990s)


© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Suddenly Supernatural: Unhappy Medium (MG)


Kimmel, Elizabeth Cody. 2009. Suddenly Supernatural: Unhappy Medium. Little, Brown. 277 pages.

I daydream a lot, especially during science class. I can dream up the perfect dessert, the perfect day, the perfect slice of pizza, even the perfect boy. But I have to tell you, sleeping or awake I could never have imagined a place that looked like the Whispering Pines Mountain House.

This is the third in the Suddenly Supernatural series by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel. The first was Suddenly Supernatural: School Spirit. The second was Scaredy Kat. This book opens with Kat, Jac, and Jac's mother arriving at Whispering Pines Mountain House. Kat is tagging along on a music convention. Jac is still angsty: hating her mother with all the spirit she can muster, and being here and there again on the cello. One minute wanting to be a musician and the next wanting to never touch her instrument again. (This is an ongoing issue, it being of central focus in the previous two books as well.) This trip isn't all fun and games. Jac's mother is plagued by headaches and nightmares. And Kat's room is haunted by a Victorian medium, a Madame Serena, who is convinced that Kat is from the spirit world. Kat has to figure out how to tell her that she is the dead one, that she is the spirit. Their interactions lend some comedy to the book while her interactions with Jac are of the angsty variety. Big time drama. Part of Kat's time is spent researching spiritualism and the history of mediums.

While this one is a blend of comedy and drama, often engaging and suspenseful, I personally did not like it. Though I'm not sure like is the right word. I found it entertaining. I found myself enjoying it. But at the same time I felt this one was too heavy in spiritualism, in spirit-world-talk. I found the content objectionable on that front. Granted, this is a person-by-person thing. What one person deems objectionable or dangerous, another person will think is perfectly fine and harmless. So I'm not saying that you should find this series objectionable. (You don't have to agree with me.) I would never try to prevent readers from picking it up.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Suddenly Supernatural: Scaredy Kat (MG)


Kimmel, Elizabeth Cody. 2009. Suddenly Supernatural: Scaredy Kat. Little, Brown. 250 pages.

The truth is, I find it very embarrassing when my mother talks to plants. There, I've said it.

This is the second in the Suddenly Supernatural series. The first was Suddenly Supernatural: School Spirit. What I like about this series--and I've read the first three so far--is the writing itself. It's engaging, light, and funny. Kat, our heroine, is a thirteen year old who has just come into her powers, her ghost-whispering spiritualist powers. It's spring break. Her best friend, Jac, is away and she's finding herself a bit bored. Sounds fairly typical right? Well, that's before she notices that the abandoned house next door is haunted by several spirits including that of a little boy named Tank. Can she use her new-found powers to help the spirits next door find some peace? It might be a little easier if she kept her mom in the loop, but that's something she's not going to do. She wants to do everything all on her own. Mostly. But is she strong enough to tackle this one all on her own? Or could she use a little help from friends new and old?

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Monday, July 20, 2009

Cart and Cwidder (MG)


Jones, Diana Wynne. 1975. Cart and Cwidder. 214.

Overall, I liked this one. It was an enjoyable fantasy novel about a young boy coming-of-age and having adventures. Moril has only known one lifestyle. He's eleven (or twelve) and most of his life--for at least as far back as his memory takes him--he's lived a traveling life. His family lives in a cart--they're all minstrel performers--and they travel around and around and around performing in various villages. They're able to share news from one to the other as well as passing along personal messages from one to the other. They live in the country of Dalemark, and it's not as peaceful and free as one would hope. There's strife and division. There is no king. Just different earls or lords ruling over smaller regions. Divided into North versus South at times. In all his years, he never realized just how dangerous and unpredictable life could be. He took for granted that life would treat his family kindly. That things would stay the same. Okay, maybe they're not wealthy. Maybe they're just surviving with the barest of essentials. Maybe there are times when they're hungrier than they would like. When the money for performing isn't coming is as they'd hoped. Their lives are far from grand--or even comfortable. But there's the security of having his father nearby.

Moril begins to notice things a bit more closely when the family takes in Kialan, a young boy they've promised passage North. (Few people are allowed the freedom to travel from district to district or region to region.) And so it begins...these changes aren't necessarily happy ones. But they're life-changing, character-building ones.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Sunday, July 19, 2009

Sunday Salon: Reading, Read, To Read #29

Happy Sunday everyone! I had a great week for movies and for books--though it may not look like it. Three Men on the Bummel was fabulous. Loved it. And I "discovered" Connie Willis' To Say Nothing of the Dog. I really can't recommend that one highly enough!!! It was such a great book. Have you discovered a new favorite this week? A book that you know just has to make your year-end best-of list?

This week in movies:

How To Marry A Millionaire
Barchester Chronicles
Calamity Jane
War of the Worlds
Wife vs. Secretary
Some Like It Hot
Step Lively
It Happened in Brooklyn
That Touch of Mink
Lullaby of Broadway
Roberta
The Awful Truth

What I read in a previous week, but reviewed this week:

The Grumpy Dump Truck by Brie Spangler. 2009. Random House.
It's A Secret by John Burningham. 2009. Candlewick Press.
How To Get Married by Me The Bride. Sally Lloyd-Jones. 2009. Random House.
Maybe A Bear Ate It by Robie H. Harris. 2008. Scholastic.
Junie B.'s Essential Survival Guide to School by Barbara Park. Random House. 2009.
The Art of Reading. Forty Illustrators Celebrate RIF's 40th Anniversary. With A Foreword by Leonard Marcus. 2005. Penguin.

What I read this past week and reviewed:

Jack Russell: Dog Detective: The Mugged Pug. Darrel and Sally Odgers. 2007. Kane/Miller. 76 pages.
Jack Russell: Dog Detective: The Lying Postman. Darrel and Sally Odgers. 2007. Kane/Miller. 80 pages.
Jack Russell: Dog Detective: The Awful Pawful. Darrel and Sally Odgers. 2007. Kane/Miller. 80 pages.
Jack Russell: Dog Detective: The Sausage Situation. Darrel and Sally Odgers. 2007. Kane/Miller. 80 pages.
House of Many Ways by Diana Wynne Jones. 2008. HarperCollins. 404 pages.
Three Men on the Bummel. Jerome K. Jerome. 1900. 168 pages.
The Grand Sophy. Georgette Heyer. 1950/2009. SourceBooks. 372 pages.
The Ghost Brigades. John Scalzi. 2006. 314 pages.
To Say Nothing of the Dog. Connie Willis. 1998. 493 pages.


What I read this past week and haven't reviewed yet:

Pet Vet: The Mare's Tale. Darrel & Sally Odgers. 2009. Kane/Miller. 88 pages.
Jack Russell: Dog Detective: The Buried Biscuits. Darrel and Sally Odgers. 2008. Kane/Miller. 80 pages.
Jack Russell: Dog Detective: The Kitnapped Creature. Darrel and Sally Odgers. 2008. Kane/Miller. 80 pages.
Cart and Cwidder. Diana Wynne Jones. 1975. 214 pages.

What I've read and really really need to review: none

What I'm currently reading:

The Corinthian by Georgette Heyer
The Last Colony by John Scalzi

What I'm just fooling around that I'm reading:

Clara's War: One Girl's Story of Survival by Clara Kramer. 2009. HarperCollins. 352 pages.
Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Cleopatra's Daughter by Michelle Moran

She by H. Rider Haggard

What I hope to start reading soon:

Offworld by Robin Parrish
The Enclave by Karen Hancock

What I've abandoned:

On the Beach by Nevil Shute

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Saturday, July 18, 2009

To Say Nothing of the Dog


Willis, Connie. 1998. To Say Nothing of the Dog. 493 pages. (Hugo Award)

Read this book. That's all I have to say about that. No, not really. I have plenty to say about this one. But I don't think my review will be able to do this one justice. What is To Say Nothing of the Dog? It's a funny sci-fi mystery with a smidgen of romance.

I have a weakness for time travel. I do. And this one is a great example of a time-traveling sci-fi novel that just works really well. It's smart. It's funny. It keeps you reading. It is impossible to put down most of the time. (Trust me on that. Not that I can ever really regret staying up past 3:30AM to finish it, but I do wish I'd started it earlier in the day.)

Our hero is Ned Henry. He's a time traveler. That's his job. (Though I think it would be a cool job to have, Henry seems to find it a bit stressful. And once I got an up close glimpse of his boss, I could see why he feels that way. But still. It's time travel.) Right now his mission is to find out what happened to the bishop's bird stump that disappeared from Coventry Cathedral during the chaos of World War 2. (The church was destroyed during a bombing raid in 1940.) Henry's boss, Lady Schrapnell, is intent on restoring the cathedral down to the last little detail. And she wants this mystery solved. So much that she's hired dozens and dozens and dozens of people to travel back through time trying to find the answer. Was this bishop's bird stump still in the cathedral the day it was bombed? Should it be part of the restored cathedral?

But isn't so much time travel dangerous? Just a wee bit dangerous at least? What if something important is inadvertently changed? True, it's supposed to be self-correcting with built-in security to prevent such events, but still.

The truth of the matter is there are a few problems going on. And no one is quite sure why, they just know that someone, somewhere must have done something. Not very helpful, huh? Henry doesn't think so either. He's a bit disoriented, but he's been instructed to go to 1888 and 'fix' something that's gone wrong. Much of the novel is spent in Victorian England--Henry meets fellow time-traveler, Verity Kindle, there. She's posing as Tocelyn's cousin and hoping to get her hands on Tossie's diary. (Tocelyn is a great-great-great-great-great something or other to Lady Schrapnell. It was by reading this diary that she became inspired to restore the cathedral in the first place.) But when Henry arrives, Tossie is not only not interested in visiting the cathedral, she's flirting with the wrong man. She's "destined" (to our time line at least) to marry a Mr. C. Can Verity and Ned coax her to visit the cathedral in time and meet her future husband?

I definitely recommend this one. It's a funny take on both traditional science fiction novels and traditional mysteries. I think almost anyone would enjoy this one.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Friday, July 17, 2009

The Ghost Brigades


Scalzi, John. 2006. The Ghost Brigades. 314 pages.

No one noticed the rock.
And for a good reason. The rock was nondescript, one of millions of chunks of rock and ice floating in the parabolic orbit of a long-dead short-period comet, looking just like any chunk of that deceased comet might.


The Ghost Brigades is the sequel to Old Man's War. Our hero is not John Perry--which disappointed me slightly, I admit--but a Special Forces soldier named Jared Dirac. This isn't just any Special Forces soldier. No he's a unique individual. Specifically designed to host the consciousness of Charles Boutin. Who is Charles Boutin? A traitor to the human race, a top-level scientist of the CDF--Colonial Defense Forces. When this man's consciousness is found in a machine, the difficult choice is made to create a body for it--part clone, part special forces 'super' soldier. But when this transfer doesn't go quite like planned, he becomes a seemingly ordinary soldier. With his BrainPal, he joins other soldiers and blends in well. Until. Until the day he decides to try black jellybeans.

"It was the black jellybeans that did it." (164)

A taste of this candy triggers a memory--the memory of his daughter Zoe to be precise--but it doesn't stop there. And this change in him doesn't escape notice. Ordinary soldier, no more. A man not quite trusted, a man to be observed and experimented with. And suddenly there's a fight going on within him. He's still Jared, for now at least, but he also finds Charles to be there--his memories, his feelings. As the weeks and months go by, he learns more, feels more. Can Jared be used to puzzle out the mystery of Charles Boutin's betrayal? Is Jared friend or foe to humanity? Is he fated to turn traitor too?

The only familiar face--at least that I can recall--is Jane Sagan, the friend and love interest of John Perry. She's still a soldier. And she plays an important part in this one. Jared is one of "her" soldiers--he's under her command. She's there to watch him, observe him, and see where Jared's loyalties are.

How does this one compare to Old Man's War? Well, I found it more serious (more detail-oriented as well) and less humorous. I miss Perry's sarcasm and wit. The Ghost Brigades is science fiction, a military-oriented space drama. The plot is advanced considerably in The Ghost Brigades, and the stage is being set for a showdown. So in answer, I liked it well enough. But I didn't love it.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Poetry Friday Round-Up

Hi! Welcome to Becky's Book Reviews. I'm happy to be hosting this week's Poetry Friday round-up. Please leave a link in the comments. I'll be rounding up throughout the day.

To get us started, we have Tricia of The Miss Rumphius Effect in with Moonflowers.

At Readertotz, we have Hush You Mice.

Lorie Ann Grover of On Point shares, Andy Warhol Portrait.

Susan Taylor Brown is in with a roundup of 15 words or less poems.

Mary Lee of A Year of Reading is in with Against Travel.

Heidi Mordhorst is sharing her poem Cherry Very.

Jama is in with two poems by William Stafford.

Just One More Book is in with a chat about a rhyming spin on the Twelve Dancing Princesses.

Diane of Random Noodling is in with some William Wordsworth.

Irene is sharing Mary Oliver's The Summer Day.

Kurious Kitty is in with a review of Gallop-o-Gallop.

Laura is in with a story about the ALA Poetry Blast and is featuring two poems.

Linda is in with a review of Sold.

PaperTigers is in with a post on Shakespeare for kids.

The Stenhouse Blog is in with Code Blue by Matt Copeland.

Shelf Elf is in with some e.e. cummings.

The Write Sisters are contributing a poem by Edgar Fawcett, To the Oriole.

Kimberly is also sharing some e.e. cummings this week.

Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast is sharing Mary Oliver's Lilies.

Teaching Authors is in with a post about envelope poems.

Bookie Woogie is in with a review of Flip, Flap, Fly.

Little Willow is in with Silence by D.H. Lawrence at Bildungsroman.

Kelly Fineman is in with The Lady of Shalott by Alfred Tennyson.

Karen is in with an original poem I Know Your Name.

Sarah Miller is encouraging folks to read Once I Ate A Pie.

John Mutford is in with a quote from A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Color Online is sharing A Little Salt by Tara Betts.

Jennie from Biblio File is thinking about King Arthur and sharing The Lady of Shalott.

Sylvia is celebrating her blogaversary and reporting on ALA's Poetry Blast.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Thursday, July 16, 2009

Library Loot: Third Week in July


Leftover Loot:

The Known World by Edward P. Jones
Passion by Jude Morgan
The Last Colony by John Scalzi
Zoe's Tale by John Scalzi
Cup of Gold by John Steinbeck
The Grapes of Wrath and Other Writings by John Steinbeck
Scaramouche: A Romance of the French Revolution by Rafael Sabatini
On the Beach by Nevil Shute
The Android's Dream by John Scalzi

New Loot:
Tom's Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce
Five Children and It by Edith Nesbit
Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko

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

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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The Grand Sophy


Heyer, Georgette. 1950/2009. The Grand Sophy. SourceBooks. 372 pages.

Why couldn't Emma be more like Sophy? When Sophy Stanton-Lucy comes to visit her cousins (and stay with her aunt and uncle), she brings something vitally refreshing to the household. Charles Rivenhall, the 'man' of the household in a way, since he is the one holding the purse strings, is engaged to be married to a prim-and-proper (and-sometimes-meddling) young lady, Eugenia Wraxton. Cecelia Rivenhall is in love with a poet, Augustus Fawnhope. But her parents--and her brother--would much prefer her to marry Lord Charlbury. Unfortunately right after he spoke with her father but before he could present himself to the lady, he came down with the mumps. While he was out of the picture, Mr. Fawnhope stepped in speaking words of love and admiration. It is up to Sophy to puzzle out the ins and outs of this family and play matchmaker extraordinaire. Throw in a couple of her own suitors buzzing around the place--quite a few eccentrics I might add particularly Lord Bromford--and we've got the makings of a great romantic comedy. Sophy is a firecracker of a heroine with a mind of her own and the gumption to say and do what she pleases. But she also has a big heart. Her good intentions sometimes lead her to make 'poor' choices, but Sophy is strong enough and resourceful enough to take care of herself. A fact that just infuriates her cousin Charles.

Jane Austen's Emma may be a matchmaker like Sophy. But poor Emma is hopelessly stupid and selfish in comparison. The joke is always on Emma, everything is funny and charming in a way--but it is at her expense. Sophy is a delightful heroine. Sophy is far from selfish. She's always thinking of others. Wanting others to be happy--to get their happily ever afters. And she's observant as well. I loved Sophy. I did.

This is a fun little novel that I'm happy to recommend.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Three Men on the Bummel

Jerome, Jerome K. 1900. Three Men On the Bummel. 168 pages.

J, George, and Harris are back. The stars of Three Men In A Boat return for a second adventure. This time round they're not boating. No, these three good friends are biking--biking round Germany. This travel-book (that is anything but a 'travel' book) is much too fun to be missed.

Two of the three gentlemen are married. And at first, there is some concern over how to convince their wives that this trip is a good idea. Why these men should leave their wives (and children) behind to go away together. But to their surprise--almost dismay--the wives seem a bit eager for their husbands to go. So the preparations begin. And that's where the fun starts.

How does this one compare with the first? I don't know how to answer that fairly. I loved, loved, loved the first one. And I really loved the second one as well. There is one place in this second book that had me laughing out loud for a good five or ten minutes. I don't know that ANY book has ever had me laughing so hard and so long. It was enjoyable. It was charming.

About bicycle seats:
There may be a better land where bicycle saddles are made out of rainbow, stuffed with cloud; in this world the simplest thing is to get used to something hard. (199)

About "helpful" travel books:

He handed me a small book bound in red cloth. It was a guide to English conversation for the use of German travellers. It commenced “On a Steam-boat,” and terminated “At the Doctor’s”; its longest chapter being devoted to conversation in a railway carriage, among, apparently, a compartment load of quarrelsome and ill-mannered lunatics: “Can you not get further away from me, sir?”—“It is impossible, madam; my neighbour, here, is very stout”—“Shall we not endeavour to arrange our legs?”—“Please have the goodness to keep your elbows down”—“Pray do not inconvenience yourself, madam, if my shoulder is of any accommodation to you,” whether intended to be said sarcastically or not, there was nothing to indicate—“I really must request you to move a little, madam, I can hardly breathe,” the author’s idea being, presumably, that by this time the whole party was mixed up together on the floor. The chapter concluded with the phrase, “Here we are at our destination, God be thanked! (Gott sei dank!)” a pious exclamation, which under the circumstances must have taken the form of a chorus.

At the end of the book was an appendix, giving the German traveller hints concerning the preservation of his health and comfort during his sojourn in English towns, chief among such hints being advice to him to always travel with a supply of disinfectant powder, to always lock his bedroom door at night, and to always carefully count his small change.

“It is not a brilliant publication,” I remarked, handing the book back to George; “it is not a book that personally I would recommend to any German about to visit England; I think it would get him disliked. But I have read books published in London for the use of English travellers abroad every whit as foolish. Some educated idiot, misunderstanding seven languages, would appear to go about writing these books for the misinformation and false guidance of modern Europe.”

“You cannot deny,” said George, “that these books are in large request. They are bought by the thousand, I know. In every town in Europe there must be people going about talking this sort of thing.”

“Maybe,” I replied; “but fortunately nobody understands them. I have noticed, myself, men standing on railway platforms and at street corners reading aloud from such books. Nobody knows what language they are speaking; nobody has the slightest knowledge of what they are saying. This is, perhaps, as well; were they understood they would probably be assaulted.”

George said: “Maybe you are right; my idea is to see what would happen if they were understood. My proposal is to get to London early on Wednesday morning, and spend an hour or two going about and shopping with the aid of this book. There are one or two little things I want—a hat and a pair of bedroom slippers, among other articles. Our boat does not leave Tilbury till twelve, and that just gives us time. I want to try this sort of talk where I can properly judge of its effect. I want to see how the foreigner feels when he is talked to in this way.”

It struck me as a sporting idea. In my enthusiasm I offered to accompany him, and wait outside the shop. I said I thought that Harris would like to be in it, too—or rather outside.

George said that was not quite his scheme. His proposal was that Harris and I should accompany him into the shop. With Harris, who looks formidable, to support him, and myself at the door to call the police if necessary, he said he was willing to adventure the thing.

We walked round to Harris’s, and put the proposal before him. He examined the book, especially the chapters dealing with the purchase of shoes and hats. He said:

“If George talks to any bootmaker or any hatter the things that are put down here, it is not support he will want; it is carrying to the hospital that he will need.”

That made George angry.

“You talk,” said George, “as though I were a foolhardy boy without any sense. I shall select from the more polite and less irritating speeches; the grosser insults I shall avoid.”

This being clearly understood, Harris gave in his adhesion; and our start was fixed for early Wednesday morning. (207-209)

About the teaching of French to English school children:

For they have a way of teaching languages in Germany that is not our way, and the consequence is that when the German youth or maiden leaves the gymnasium or high school at fifteen, “it” (as in Germany one conveniently may say) can understand and speak the tongue it has been learning. In England we have a method that for obtaining the least possible result at the greatest possible expenditure of time and money is perhaps unequalled. An English boy who has been through a good middle-class school in England can talk to a Frenchman, slowly and with difficulty, about female gardeners and aunts; conversation which, to a man possessed perhaps of neither, is liable to pall. Possibly, if he be a bright exception, he may be able to tell the time, or make a few guarded observations concerning the weather. No doubt he could repeat a goodly number of irregular verbs by heart; only, as a matter of fact, few foreigners care to listen to their own irregular verbs, recited by young Englishmen. Likewise he might be able to remember a choice selection of grotesquely involved French idioms, such as no modern Frenchman has ever heard or understands when he does hear.

...

I confine my remarks to French, because that is the only language we attempt to teach our youth. An English boy who could speak German would be looked down upon as unpatriotic. Why we waste time in teaching even French according to this method I have never been able to understand. A perfect unacquaintance with a language is respectable. But putting aside comic journalists and lady novelists, for whom it is a business necessity, this smattering of French which we are so proud to possess only serves to render us ridiculous. (240, 242)



© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

House of Many Ways (MG, YA)


Jones, Diana Wynne. 2008. House of Many Ways. 404 pages.

"Charmain must do it," said Aunt Sempronia.

Who is Charmain? What must she do? Well, she's a young lady who has up til now lived a rather sheltered life. But when she's 'volunteered' by her aunt to look after her Great-Uncle William, who just happens to be a wizard, but not just any old wizard, the Royal Wizard of Norland, she finds herself stepping into a great adventure. William is sick--with what the reader isn't quite sure--and he's off to be healed by the elves. In his absence, Charmain will tend to his house. Of course, Charmain hasn't much experience tending houses--doing dishes, cooking, doing laundry, etc.--and she's even less experienced when it comes to dealing with magic. But William's house is quite magical--with hundreds if not thousands of ongoing charms and spells. Not to mention the large library of magical books. Can Charmain resist experimenting with magic for very long? Charmain, a great lover of books, didn't expect this 'job' to be quite so unusual. But before she even knows what is happening, she finds herself making new friends: there's the playfully mischievous dog, Waif, and the new apprentice Peter...and then there's the royal family itself. You see, tending house isn't quite enough of a job for her...she naively thinks...so she volunteers her services to the royal family as a librarians apprentice. Of course, while there she meets some very interesting characters. (And a few familiar ones as well.)

I liked it. I'm not sure it's quite fair to compare House of Many Ways and Castle in the Air with Howl's Moving Castle. I have found all three to be enjoyable and fun. All are humorously and charmingly written. Of course, the first is probably the most enjoyable. But I enjoy revisiting these characters so much that I'm happy these sequels exist.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Monday, July 13, 2009

The Art of Reading


The Art of Reading: Forty Illustrators Celebrate RIF's 40th Anniversary. With a Foreword by Leonard S. Marcus. 2005. Dutton (Penguin).

This is a book for those with curious minds. It asks forty illustrators to talk about which books in their lives have inspired them. Sounds simple, but how would you choose just one? (That's what I'd like to know.) But what is the book like? Well, each artist is given two pages. One page for an illustration--at times this is an "inspired-by" piece. And a second page for text--a paragraph or two for talking about reading, drawing, and imagination. Who was inspired by The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe? Pat Cummings. Who was inspired by The Wonderful Wizard of Oz? Robert Sabuda. Who was inspired by Harold and the Purple Crayon? That would be Bryan Collier. It was interesting to me--and it may be to you as well--to see that novels (both children's novels and more adult titles even) can inspire potential artists just as much as picture books. (For example, The Outsiders inspired David Diaz; The Martian Chronicles inspired Brian Selznick; 2001 A Space Odyssey inspired David Wiesner.) I also loved that this book conveyed passion and enthusiasm. It was a book that showed people excited about reading, about books.

I also want to mention that this is a great browsing-type book. If you like art--no matter your age--you'll probably enjoy the illustrations in this one. It features artists paying tribute to their favorite books. So you'll see art that is inspired by particular books.

Which books have 'inspired' you in your life?

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Sunday, July 12, 2009

Sunday Salon: Reaing, Read, To Read #28

Happy Sunday everyone! Do you like reading new-to-you authors? I sure do! I've had a great year so far. Who have you discovered this year? Do you have any recommendations for me? (I think it's only fair that now and then you get to make recommendations to me, since I spend so much of my time trying to recommend authors to you!) As for me, this year I've "discovered" John Scalzi, John Steinbeck, Jerome K. Jerome, Anthony Trollope, and Diana Wynne Jones. Just to name a few.

Movies watched this week: Lover Come Back, The Sea Hawk, Jumbo, Bells Are Ringing, Holiday, Charge of the Light Brigade, The Kissing Bandit, Father Goose, Man's Favorite Sport, Marriage On the Rocks, The Tender Trap, The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle, The Bishop's Wife.

"Just in Time" from Bells Are Ringing



"The Tender Trap" from The Tender Trap



What I read in a previous week, but reviewed this week:

Fragile Eternity by Melissa Marr. 2009. HarperCollins. 389 pages.
Old Man's War by John Scalzi. 2005. 314 pages.
The Local News by Miriam Gershow. 2009. Spiegel & Grau. 360 pages.

What I read this past week and reviewed:

My Parents Are Divorced, My Elbows Have Nicknames, And Other Facts About Me. Bill Cochran. Illustrated by Steve Bjorkman. 2009. HarperCollins.
Three Men In a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome. 1889. 144 pages.
Castle in the Air. Diana Wynne Jones. 1990. 383 pages.
Feed by M.T. Anderson. 2002. Candlewick. 300 pages.

What I read this past week and haven't reviewed yet:

Three Men On The Bummel by Jerome K. Jerome
House of Many Ways by Diana Wynne Jones
The Art of Reading. Forty Illustrators Celebrate RIF's 40th Anniversary. With A Foreword by Leonard Marcus. 2005. Penguin.
Junie B. Jone's Essential Survival Guide to School. Barbara Park. 2009.

What I've read and really really need to review: none

What I'm currently reading:

The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer
She by H. Rider Haggard
The Ghost Brigades by John Scalzi

What I'm just fooling around that I'm reading:

Clara's War: One Girl's Story of Survival by Clara Kramer. 2009. HarperCollins. 352 pages.
Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Cleopatra's Daughter by Michelle Moran


What I hope to start reading soon:

The Corinthian by Georgette Heyer

and latest library loot.

What I've abandoned:

A Canticle for Leibowitz. Walter M. Miller, Jr. 1959. 338 pages.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Saturday, July 11, 2009

Feed (YA)


Anderson, M.T. 2002. Feed. Candlewick Press. 300 pages.

We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck.

Feed is both simple and complex; original and unique. Perhaps Titus sums it up best,

"it's about this meg normal guy, who doesn't think about anything until one wacky day, when he meets a dissident with a heart of gold...set against the backdrop of America in its final days, it's the high-spirited story of their love together, it's laugh-out-loud funny, really heartwarming, and a visual feast" (297).
Titus is our narrator and Violet is his love-interest. It all starts during spring break. On the moon. At a club. Titus, Violet, and a handful of other partying teens (mostly Titus' friends and classmates) are 'touched' by an old man. Their feeds--internal feeds--are hacked by this rebel. They broadcast--against their will--a doomsday message:

We enter a time of calamity. Blood on the tarmac. Fingers in the juicer. Towers of air frozen in the lunar wastes. Models dead on the runways, with smiles that can't be undone. Chicken shall rot in the aisles. See the pillars fall. (39)


They are taken into custody. Hospitalized. Examined to make sure that their feeds are fixed before they are fully reactivated. And all seems to be well..at first.

The feeds are responsible for so much. They deliver non-stop entertainment (music, movies, etc), non-stop advertisements and shopping opportunities, and instant connections with the world. Features such as chat and messaging, for example. Of course, with all this built into humanity--right inside the human brain--many things are being lost. Most importantly the ability to think critically, to make observations, to understand and perceive reality.

But as Titus interacts with Violet, he begins to think. And this scares him in a way. Overwhelms him. I'll be honest, Titus isn't always a lovable guy. He can be a real jerk. And Titus and his friends don't keep it clean. (So if 'bad' language offends you, then this is not the book for you.)

I'm not quite sure what to think of Feed. On the one hand, I think it's a smart novel. It challenges readers to think. To perhaps take more of an interest in the world around them. To think about cause and effect. To consider the big picture. Furthermore, it's well-written. Never for a minute do you doubt that this is Titus speaking. That this is Titus's world. The language. The dialogue. The style. Everything helps to establish this world Anderson is creating. But on the other hand, it's a bit of a downer. It's a bit sad, a bit cynical. Did I expect a happy ending? No. Would a happy ending work on this one? Never. I wouldn't think of changing it. This book tells the only story that it can tell.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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