Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Top Ten Picks: Favorite Books Read So Far This Year



Random Rambling's topic this week is favorite books that we've read this year. For my own purposes, I'm going to focus on MG/YA books published in 2010.

Smells Like Dog by Suzanne Selfors. I think it would make a WONDERFUL read aloud for the entire family. It's got action, adventure, and humor! It stars a boy named Homer Pudding, and the adventure starts when he receives a gift from his late uncle's estate--this gift is a dog, but he's not really an ordinary dog. Lest you are a worrier, have no fear. There's a note to the reader:

Dear Reader:
The following story is a dog story, but it is not, I repeat, NOT a sad dog story. I hate sad dog stories. I bet you do too.

Countdown by Deborah Wiles. Countdown is the kind of book that I had to pass around to all my friends. I knew from the start that I'd love it. It's historical fiction, set in 1962. Franny Chapman, our eleven-year-old heroine, is my kind of girl. A true kindred spirit. I loved how her older sister phrased her sister's problems: "Franny, you're eleven. That's the problem in a nutshell." She pulls an envelope out of her purse. "Everybody feels persecuted when they're eleven. It will pass."

Out Of My Mind by Sharon Draper. Melody wowed me. This novel is so emotional, so intense. But it's one I'd definitely recommend. It's about a girl with cerebral palsy, though she cannot talk--or walk, or feed herself--she has a brilliant mind, she's trapped in a body that doesn't do what she wants it to.

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood. I loved this one. It was so fun, so clever. I loved Miss Penelope Lumley. And I loved the three children in her care too: Alexander, Beowulf, and Cassiopeia. Who is Miss Penelope? She's a graduate of the Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females. With steady perseverance, ever-present hope, and a lot of love, she's determined that these kids will succeed. And to her credit, they do seem eager to learn, eager to love. But not everyone at Ashton Place wants the children to succeed.

After Ever After by Jordan Sonnenblick. This one is a companion novel to Drums, Girls & Dangerous Pie. Jeffrey, Steven's younger brother, is starting eighth grade, and the year has many struggles with it. But what Jeffrey learns about life, about friendship, about girls, about perseverance will make it all worth it in the end. This book has heart.

For Keeps by Natasha Friend. I loved this one because of the characterization. I thought it was surprisingly, wonderfully complex. So much more than what I was expecting! I loved how human the characters felt, how natural the relationships felt. This book was satisfying.

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver. I'm choosing Before I Fall not because of the blog buzz--this one has been reviewed in so many places--but because of the simple truth that the author made me care. When I started Before I Fall, I hated the characters. I didn't think the main character was a nice person. But the book was so compelling, and by the end I cared so much.

Scarlett Fever by Maureen Johnson. I enjoyed both Suite Scarlett and Scarlett Fever. There is something so fun, so right about the Martin family. I love Scarlett. I love her brother, Spencer. (I really, really love Spencer!!!) I love her other siblings. I love her crazy family, her crazy life, her crazy job. The books are just too much fun!

Grace by Elizabeth Scott. I love Elizabeth Scott. I do. I just love her. She continues to amaze me with each book. She's the author that makes me giddy with her teen romances and leaves me haunted by such books as Grace and Living Dead Girl. (It's not that her romances lack substance or full characterization. All her characters feel human. And all her characters seem to be struggling with something.) Grace is on the list because I don't think I'll be forgetting it any time soon.

Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness. I was actually considering leaving this one off the list. After all, it is the third book in a series. (The first two are Knife of Never Letting Go and The Ask and The Answer.) But. The series as a whole is so strong, and this final book is so amazing. Ness is such a great writer. The characters. The storytelling. The pacing. He doesn't have a weakness. He just doesn't.



© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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June Accomplishments

These are a few of my favorite 'first' lines read in June 2010.

What Homer Pudding didn't know on that breezy Sunday morning, as he carried a pail of fresh goat milk across the yard, was that his life was about to change.

Gramps, who was born in 1990, once told me that when he was my age the only way to wind up in prison in the USSA (back when it had only one S) was to steal something, kill somebody, or use illegal drugs.

A storm is rolling in, and that always makes me a little sad and wistful so I got it in my head to set to paper all these things that have got us this far on our way through this heathen land.

"War," says Mayor Prentiss, his eyes glinting. "At last."

Miss Alexia Tarabotti was not enjoying her evening. Private balls were never more than middling amusements for spinsters, and Miss Tarabotti was not the kind of spinster who could garner even that much pleasure from the event. To put the pudding in the puff: she had retreated to the library, her favorite sanctuary in any house, only to happen upon an unexpected vampire.

Sometimes your life just needs a little jolt. That's what Francesca told me once, and she was right. I mean, she was wrong about practically everything, but she was right about that. Because the more I think about it, the more I look back at all the chaos that happened last fall, it's almost like she rescued me.

June's Top Eight:

The Firefly Letters: A Suffragette's Journey to Cuba. Margarita Engle.
Smells Like Dog. Suzanne Selfors.
Mockingbird. Kathryn Erskine.
The Water Seeker. Kimberly Willis Holt.
Sylvester: Or the Wicked Uncle. Georgette Heyer.
Black Sheep. Georgette Heyer.
Monsters of Men. Patrick Ness.
The Last River Child. Lori Ann Bloomfield.

Number of Board Books: 3

Kisses for Daddy. Frances Watts. Illustrated by David Legge. 2010. April 2010. Simon & Schuster. 26 pages.
Daddy Calls Me Doodlebug. J.D. Lester. Illustrated by Hiroe Nakata. 2010. Random House. 26 pages.
All God's Creatures. Karen Hill. Illustrated by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher. 2010. Simon & Schuster. 16 pages.

Number of Picture Books: 14

Just What Mama Needs. Sharlee Mullins Glenn. Illustrated by Amiko Hirao. 2008. Harcourt. 32 pages.
Dear Teacher. Amy Husband. 2010. July 2010. Sourcebooks. 24 pages.
My Best Friend is as Sharp as a Pencil. Hanoch Piven. 2010. May 2010. Random House. 40 pages.
Barry The Fish With Fingers by Sue Hendra. 2010. June 2010. Random House. 40 pages.
How To Clean Your Room in 10 Easy Steps. Jennifer LaRoue Huget and Edward Koren. 2010. May 2010. Random House. 40 pages.
Toy Story 3: A Limited Collector's Edition Read-Aloud Storybook. Adapted by Christine Peymani. 2010. Random House. 72 pages.
Brand-New Baby Blues by Kathi Appelt. Illustrated by Kelly Murphy. 2009. December 2009. HarperCollins. 32 pages.
Daddy is a Cozy Hug. Rhonda Gowler Greene. Illustrated by Maggie Smith. 2010. May 2010. Walker & Company. 32 pages.
I Love My Dad. Anna Walker. 2010. April 2010. Simon & Schuster. 32 pages.
Daddy Loves His Little Girl. John Carter Cash. Illustrated by Marc Burckhardt. 2010. May 2010. Simon & Schuster. 32 pages.
My Father Knows The Names of Things. Jane Yolen. Illustrated by Stephane Jorisch. 2010. April 2010. Simon & Schuster. 32 pages.
The Fathers Are Coming Home. Margaret Wise Brown. Illustrated by Stephen Savage. 2010. Simon & Schuster. 32 pages.
Daddy's Little Scout. Janet Bingham. Illustrated by Rosalind Beardshaw. 2010. Scholastic. 32 pages.
Dogs Don't Do Ballet. Anna Kemp. Illustrated by Sara Ogilvie. 2010. June 2010. Simon & Schuster. 32 pages.

Number of Children's Books: 12

Benny and Penny in the Toy Breaker.
Geoffrey Hayes. 2010. May 2010. Toon Books. 32 pages.
Zig and Wikki in Something Ate My Homework. Trade Loeffler and Nadja Spiegelman. 2010. April 2010. Toon Books. 40 pages.
The Sign of the Beaver. Elizabeth George Speare. 1983. Random House. 135 pages.
Trapped (The Prometheus Project #1) by Douglas E. Richards. 2010. (May 2010). Paragon Science Fiction. 192 pages.
Captured (Prometheus Project #2) Douglas Richards. Paragon Science Fiction. 256 pages.
The Phoenix and the Carpet. E. Nesbit. 1904. 224 pages.
One False Note. Gordon Korman. 2008. Scholastic. 160 pages.
The Sword Thief (The 39 Clues #3). Peter Lerangis. 2009. March 2009. Scholastic. 160 pages.
House of Dolls. Francesca Lia Block. Illustrated by Barbara McClintock. 2010. June 2010. HarperCollins. 61 pages.
Toy Story 3: The Junior Novelization by Jasmine Jones. 2010. Random House. 128 pages.
Beyond the Grave: The 39 Clues #4. Jude Watson. 2009. Scholastic. 192 pages.
Alvin Ho: Allergic to Birthday Parties, Science Projects, and Other Man-Made Catastrophes. Lenore Look. 2010. September 2010. Random House. 192 pages.

Number of Middle Grade: 9

The Firefly Letters: A Suffragette's Journey to Cuba. Margarita Engle. 2010. Henry Holt. 160 pages.
Keeper. Kathi Appelt. 2010. Simon & Schuster. 399 pages.
Smells Like Dog. Suzanne Selfors. 2010. May 2010. Little, Brown Young Readers. 360 pages.
The Babysitters Club: The Summer Before. Ann M. Martin. 2010. Scholastic. 224 pages.
Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter. R.J. Anderson. 2009. April 2009. HarperCollins. 336 pages.
Wayfarer by R.J. Anderson. 2010. June 2010. HarperCollins. 304 pages.
The Water Seeker. Kimberly Willis Holt. 2010. May 2010. Henry Holt. 320 pages.
Mockingbird. Kathryn Erskine. 2010. April 2010. Penguin. 224 pages.
This Is Me From Now On by Barbara Dee. 2010. Simon & Schuster. (April 2010) 272 pages.

Number of YA: 7

Sisters Red. Jackson Pearce. 2010. June 2010. Little, Brown. 328 pages.
Birthmarked. Caragh M. O'Brien. 2010. March 2010. Roaring Brook Press. 368 pages.
Touch. Francine Prose. 2009. HarperCollins. 272 pages.
The Poison Diaries. Maryrose Wood. 2010. HarperCollins. 288 pages.
The Clearing. Heather Davis. 2010. April 2010. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 212 pages.
Monsters of Men. Patrick Ness. 2010. September 2010. Candlewick Press. 608 pages.
Z for Zachariah. Robert C. O'Brien. 1974. 250 pages.

Number of Adult: 10

The White Queen by Philippa Gregory. 2009. Simon & Schuster. 432 pages.
The Last River Child. Lori Ann Bloomfield. 2010. Second Story Press. 280 pages.
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Anne Bronte. 1848. 496 pages.
Sylvester: Or the Wicked Uncle. Georgette Heyer. 1957/2009. Harlequin. 368 pages.
Soulless by Gail Carriger. 2009. Orbit. 384 pages.
Black Sheep. Georgette Heyer. 1966/2008. Sourcebooks. 280 pages.
These Is My Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine. By Nancy E. Turner. 1998. HarperCollins. 416 pages.
Armadale. Wilkie Collins. 1866. (My edition. Oxford World's Classics.) 880 pages.
Anna Karenina. Leo Tolstoy. Translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. 2004, this translation. Penguin. 864 pages.
Pamela. Samuel Richardson. 1740/1801. (Penguin) 540 pages.

Number of Christian: 9

The Sword. Bryan M. Litfin. 2010. April 2010. Crossway. 412 pages.
A Hopeful Heart. Kim Vogel Sawyer. 2010. June 2010. Bethany House. 352 pages.
Purity: A Godly Woman's Adornment. Lydia Brownback. 2010. May 2010. Crossway Publishers. 136 pages.
A Tailor-Made Bride by Karen Witemeyer. 2010. June 2010. Bethany House. 352 pages.
Love Finds You in Golden, New Mexico by Lena Nelson Dooley. 2010. May 2010. Summerside Press. 320 pages.
Unburdened: The Secret to Letting God Carry The Things That Weigh You Down. Chris Tiegreen. Tyndale. 240 pages.
Maid to Match. Deeanne Gist. 2010. June 2010. Bethany House. 368 pages.
What is the Gospel? by Greg Gilbert. Foreword by D.A. Carson. Crossway. 127 pages.
Simon's Crossing. Charles William Asher. Dennis Patrick Slattery. 2010. January 2010. iUniverse. 172 pages.

Number of Nonfiction: 1

Orangutans Are Ticklish: Fun Facts From an Animal Photographer. Steve Grubman and Jill Davis. 2010. June 2010. Random House. 40 pages.

Number of Graphic Novels: 4

Mercury. Hope Larson. 2010. April 2010. Simon & Schuster. 234 pages.
The Sons of Liberty (#1). Alexander Lagos and Joseph Lagos. 2010. Random House. 176 pages.
Babymouse Burns Rubber #12. Jennifer L. Holm & Matthew Holm. 2010. January 2010. Random House. 96 pages.
Babymouse Cupcake Tycoon (#13) Jennifer L. Holm & Matthew Holm. 2010. September 2010. Random House. 96 pages.

Number of Poetry: 0

Number of Short Story Collections/Anthologies: 0

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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All About the Brontes Completed


All About the Brontes Challenge 2010
January 1, 2010 - June 30, 2010
Challenge Reviews
3 to 6 books (movies, audio books, etc.)

1. The House of Dead Maids by Clare B. Dunkle (prequel to Wuthering Heights)
2. Jane Bites Back by Michael Thomas Ford (Charlotte Bronte is undead.)
3. Emma Brown: A Novel From the Unfinished Manuscript by Charlotte Bronte. Clare Boylan.
4. the Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Pamela


Pamela. Samuel Richardson. 1740/1801. (Penguin) 540 pages.

My dear Father and Mother,
I have great trouble, and some comfort, to acquaint you with.


My introduction states, "When Pamela, Or Virtue Rewarded appeared in two volumes in November 1740 it was soon what we should call a 'best seller', the first example of that phenomenon in the history of English fiction. Everybody read it; there was a 'Pamela' rage, and Pamela motifs appeared on teacups and fans." It goes on to say, "Pamela has never ceased being a controversial work."

Who is Pamela? She's a nobody. She's young. She's beautiful. She's dutiful and virtuous. But socially speaking, she's a nobody. She was a young girl--a teen--taken into a great family out of charity. She was a waiting maid on the mistress of the house. A companion. When the lady dies, Pamela's fate becomes uncertain. For Mr. B, the lady's son, can't quite make up his mind what to do about Pamela. You see, he sees her and he wants her. He lusts after her. He feels he just has to have her. And since she is a nobody, who is really going to care if he takes her. Pamela cares. And, of course, Pamela's parents care. But because they're poor, they're nobodies too. Every attempt Mr. B makes on 'poor' Pamela's virtue fails. She protests. She faints if she must. She begs, she pleads, she falls on her knees, she falls on her face. She must be given her freedom, must be allowed to return home to her parents pure and chaste. Just when she thinks she's been granted this gift, she finds herself kidnapped. Because Mr. B must have his way.


How easy it is to go from bad to worse, when once people give way to vice! (102)

But I am now convinced that wickedness is folly with witness. (102)
Throughout all the drama, Pamela writes--both in her journal in letters home. She gives an account day by day of her ordeal. She finds herself a prisoner at one of Mr. B's estates. She finds all the men and women in the house in his pay. These servants are heartless, actively seeking Pamela harm. Though Pamela tries to find a friendly person to plead her case with, she finds almost everyone unconcerned. It seems the young girl's purity--her virtue--just isn't of much worth in the great scheme of things.

Eventually, Mr. B. himself arrives to see what he can do. Will he have his way with her? Will he be able to trick her into his bed? Or will her virtue be rewarded?

Did I like this one? I certainly found it compelling in places. I wanted to know what happened next. Not so much because I loved the characters, but because I was curious to see just how everything would unfold. Truth be told, I found Pamela difficult at times. Especially when I read that her parents would never ever want to see their daughter again if she lost her virtue.

S
P
O
I
L
E
R

I couldn't resist reading the ending of this one relatively early on. And I was a bit shocked. Why? The thought of Pamela having endured all the nasty attempts on Mr. B's part--all those hateful, cruel words, all those deceitful tricks and pranks--only to have her marry him?! How could the villain turn out to be the hero? He tries to rape her. Again and again. He tries to force her into a sexual relationship against her will. Despite all her protests. Despite all her fainting attempts. Despite all the dramatics. He is holding her against her will. He is controlling every move she makes. He is reading all her letters. He is reading her journals. He is forcing her into a place where she can't have a private thought in her head even. No doubt about it--even if the sexual assaults are just attempts, even if her virtue remains hers--Mr. B is abusive. The fact that he offers her money, offers her parents money, changes nothing. So my thought throughout as I was reading is this: when does Pamela go from seeing Mr. B as a devil-in-disguise, a wicked man who can't be trusted, to him being the love of her life and the man of her dreams? When does she go from seeing his attempts as vile and repulsive to being ever-grateful for his love and affection? To having no will but his?

I found my answer on page 283:
But to be sure, I must own to you, that I shall never be able to think of any body in the world but him! Presumption! you will say; and so it is: but love, I imagine, is not a voluntary thing--Love, did I say! But come, I hope not: at least it is not, I hope, gone so far, as to make me very uneasy: for I know not how it came, nor when it began; but it has crept, crept, like a thief, upon me; and before I knew what was the matter, it looked like love.
We see her on her wedding day:
And thus, my dearest, dear parents, is your happy, happy, thrice happy Pamela, at last married! And to whom? Why to her beloved, gracious master! the lord of her wishes! And thus the dear, once naughty assailer of her innocence, by a blessed turn of Providence is become the kind, the generous protector and rewarder of it. God be ever more blessed and praised! and make me not wholly unworthy of such an honour! And bless and reward the dear, dear man, who has thus exalted his unworthy servant, and given her a place, which the greatest ladies would think themselves happy in! (375)
But not every one is happy about the marriage. Mr. B has a sister, Lady Davers. She is just as cruel, just as abusive--verbally and physically--on Pamela when she drops in unexpectedly soon after the private wedding. The confrontation lasts a good while and is probably one of the most exciting--most dramatic--scenes of the whole novel. There are a few more surprises to be revealed before the book is done.

I thought the relationship between Pamela and Mr. B to be unhealthy. Even after the wedding. When he proceeds on giving her lectures and instructions. The lecture rambles for so long that Pamela ends up making an outline of 48 points to help her remember everything. (Not that Pamela is anything but grateful for these rules.) Mr. B is NOT my ideal by any stretch of the imagination! So as a romance, I found Pamela a bit problematic.

I am looking forward to reading Henry Fielding's Shamela and Joseph Andrews.

Other reviews: Bookphilia, Bibliographing part one, two, three, four.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Anna Karenina


Anna Karenina. Leo Tolstoy. Translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. 2004, this translation. Penguin. 864 pages.

All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

Anna Karenina--big surprise--focuses on several families that are unhappy. These unhappy families are loosely connected with one another--some by marriage, some by friendship. The novel opens with Stepan Oblonsky and his wife, Dolly. Their marriage is in trouble--big trouble. But Stepan's sister, Anna, is coming to visit. She's not happily married either. (But her unhappy marriage is mostly stable. Therefore she is able to "model" how to be a wife.) He is hoping that Anna can talk some sense into Dolly. (She does.) During Anna's visit, she meets Kitty, Dolly's sister, and Alexei Vronsky, Kitty's suitor. Soon after, Vronsky drops Kitty. (Kitty who?!?!) He only has eyes for Anna Karenina. He follows her to Petersburg to pursue her. Kitty, of course, is heartbroken. She's lost Vronsky, someone she never really had in the true sense of the word, and Levin, Stepan's friend, who proposed to Kitty just days before Vronsky showed his true colors. It doesn't take long for these assorted characters to go their separate ways. The novel then takes turn visiting all these characters--all the while introducing new ones.

Anna Karenina is a novel of contrasts.

We've got the breakdown of a marriage as Anna begins an adulterous affair with Vronsky. An affair that destroys her husband and confuses her young son. Anna seeks her happiness in Vronsky, and she succeeds for a time. But it's happiness at a cost, with a sacrifice. She'll lose her son and her husband (not that she wanted him). She'll lose her social standing. She'll lose many of her friends and acquaintances. But she thinks it's worth it. For Vronsky, it's worth it. She loves him. This new relationship isn't perfect as we come to see. Readers will witness its destruction as well.

The relationship between Levin and Kitty, on the other hand, is slowly developed. This marriage, though not perfect, works. Both respect and love one another. Both value the other. The two communicate. They say what they mean, and mean what they say. This healthy relationship contrasts with the dysfunctional relationships of Anna.

To some extent, readers also follow the relationship of Dolly and Stepan. This is an unhappy marriage that--for better or worse--keeps working despite the disappointments and frustrations.

But Anna Karenina isn't just a novel about love, hate, jealousy, marriage, and adultery. It isn't just about dysfunctional families. Just about every subject is covered at one time or another. These characters like to talk. They like to hear themselves talk. They like to argue. They like to debate. (They don't always like to listen to others that well.) They like to talk politics and government. They like to talk religion. They like to talk about social class, gender, and race. They like to talk about education. (Who needs it, who doesn't.) They like to talk about the land too. Almost more than they like to find answers, they like to ask questions. Is it better to be rich or poor? married or single? happy or sad? dead or alive? Is it better to live in the country or in the city? How much should money matter? What society should you keep? When is it acceptable to get divorced? How big a role (or how small a role) should a mother have in the lives of her children? How many children should a woman have? Is it okay to not want to have any more?

I didn't love Anna Karenina. I did like aspects of it. I enjoyed certain chapters more than others. I don't find in-depth explorations of social change in nineteenth century Russia that entertaining. I don't find Levin taking joy in the physical exertion of mowing side by side with the peasants all that thrilling. (Or Levin's hunting adventures.) I did like the writing--at times. When it was more personal, more intimate, more about relationships, it was easy to connect with the story, with the characters. I didn't love the writing--the internal monologues--when it was about issues, when it was about "making statements" and voicing ideologies. It's a sad novel, but it's not without hope.

I read Anna Karenina for the Classic Circuit tour.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Monday, June 28, 2010

BBAW Registration



This year for Book Blogger Appreciation Week, bloggers nominate their own blog and select their own niche category and featured category.

Best Young Adult Book Blog—This blog offers the best consistently excellent reviews, recommendations, analyses, and other content for books written for a young adult audience. [For Niche category awards, 3 posts must be reviews, recommendations, or analyses of a specific title; 2 posts are up to the nominated blogger]

Book Review: Blue Plate Special
Book Review: Grace
Book Review: Before I Fall
Book Review: How To Say Goodbye In Robot
Top Ten Picks: Favorite Young Adult Novels

Best Written Book Blog—This blog is consistently well-written, clear, and engaging, no matter what the subject. [Note that nominated bloggers for this award are required to submit 3 reviews, recommendations, or analyses of a specific title; 2 are up to the nominated blogger.]

Imagine a Blog(ger) Without Guilt
On Following
Book Review: Monsters of Men
Book Review: Million Shades of Gray
Book Review: Into the Wild Nerd Yonder

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Z for Zachariah


Z for Zachariah. Robert C. O'Brien. 1974. 250 pages.

I am afraid.
Someone is coming.
That is, I think someone is coming, though I am not sure, and I pray that I am wrong.


Ann Burden learns that there are some things worse than loneliness in Robert C. O'Brien's Z for Zachariah. It has been almost a year since Ann's world fell apart, since a week-long war destroyed the world as she knew it. Almost a year since she's seen another person. Ann has been living in a valley. For better or worse, this valley, her home, remained untouched by the nuclear disaster that destroyed the surrounding area, killing everyone and everything. Ann has managed to survive just fine on her own. But her strength will be tested now that a stranger is approaching her valley.

It is still hard for me to realize, even after all this time, that I am not going to be anything, not ever have a job or go anywhere or do anything except what I do here. (131)
I enjoyed Z for Zachariah. I wouldn't say I loved it exactly. But I thought it was interesting and I'm glad I read it. I will say that I thought the jacket description revealed way too much.


© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Wilkie Collins Mini-Challenge Completed


I've read two books for the Wilkie Collins mini-challenge.

Man and Wife (1870)
and
Armadale (1866)

I really enjoyed both books though Armadale is the better of the two. I look forward to reading more Collins in the future!

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Sunday, June 27, 2010

Sunday Salon: Reading, Read, To Read #26

Happy Sunday! This has been a week of me exploring books out of my comfort zone. I (accidentally) read and liked a western. Now, would most people consider it a western? I'm not sure. There are wagon trains, Indian attacks, horses, ranches, robbers and other outlaws. It is narrated by a woman, but she's a woman with gumption and spirit. Not afraid to use her gun. The other book I read was a mystery by Josephine Tey. The Man in the Queue. I don't know why I judged mysteries so harshly without ever having given one a proper read. And maybe all mysteries aren't as delightful as this one. (Tey is part of the Golden Age of British crime-writing, says my introduction.) But I am looking forward to reading more! Daughter of Time is next.

What I've Reviewed This Week:

Black Sheep. Georgette Heyer. 1966/2008. Sourcebooks. 280 pages.
These Is My Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine. By Nancy E. Turner. 1998. HarperCollins. 416 pages.
Armadale. Wilkie Collins. 1866. (My edition. Oxford World's Classics.) 880 pages.
Babymouse Burns Rubber #12. Jennifer L. Holm & Matthew Holm. 2010. January 2010. Random House. 96 pages.
Babymouse Cupcake Tycoon (#13) Jennifer L. Holm & Matthew Holm. 2010. September 2010. Random House. 96 pages.
Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter. R.J. Anderson. 2009. April 2009. HarperCollins. 336 pages.
Wayfarer by R.J. Anderson. 2010. June 2010. HarperCollins. 304 pages.
The Water Seeker. Kimberly Willis Holt. 2010. May 2010. Henry Holt. 320 pages.
Mockingbird. Kathryn Erskine. 2010. April 2010. Penguin. 224 pages.
Maid to Match. Deeanne Gist. 2010. June 2010. Bethany House. 368 pages.
What is the Gospel? by Greg Gilbert. Foreword by D.A. Carson. Crossway. 127 pages.
Simon's Crossing. Charles William Asher. Dennis Patrick Slattery. 2010. January 2010. iUniverse. 172 pages.
Daddy is a Cozy Hug. Rhonda Gowler Greene. Illustrated by Maggie Smith. 2010. May 2010. Walker & Company. 32 pages.
I Love My Dad. Anna Walker. 2010. April 2010. Simon & Schuster. 32 pages.
Daddy Loves His Little Girl. John Carter Cash. Illustrated by Marc Burckhardt. 2010. May 2010. Simon & Schuster. 32 pages.
My Father Knows The Names of Things. Jane Yolen. Illustrated by Stephane Jorisch. 2010. April 2010. Simon & Schuster. 32 pages.
The Fathers Are Coming Home. Margaret Wise Brown. Illustrated by Stephen Savage. 2010. Simon & Schuster. 32 pages.
Daddy's Little Scout. Janet Bingham. Illustrated by Rosalind Beardshaw. 2010. Scholastic. 32 pages.
Dogs Don't Do Ballet. Anna Kemp. Illustrated by Sara Ogilvie. 2010. June 2010. Simon & Schuster. 32 pages.

Currently Reading:


Bath Tangle. Georgette Heyer. 1955. Harlequin. 336 pages.



A Crack in the Sky. Mark Peter Hughes. 2010. August 2010. Random House. 416 pages.

What I Hope To Begin/Finish Soon:


A Rose for the Crown. Anne Easter Smith. 2006. Simon & Schuster. 672 pages.


Daughter of Time. Josephine Tey. Simon & Schuster. 208 pages.


The Curse of Chalion. Lois McMaster Bujold. 2002. HarperCollins. 512 pages.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Saturday, June 26, 2010

Top Ten Picks: Favorite Authors


Random Rambling's topic this week--favorite authors.

Anthony Trollope. He's a relatively new favorite of mine. But love is love. And right now, Trollope is the best of the best. I love his characters. I love the complexity of his communities. How he peoples his novels so richly, so diversely. I love his narration. How he at times speaks directly to the readers, addresses the fact that this is a novel and that he is the writer. I love his sense of humor. I love how me makes me smile with his descriptions. His writing is amusing, charming, and oh-so-engaging. What I've read so far: The Warden, Barchester Towers, Doctor Thorne, The Way We Live Now.

Georgette Heyer. I love Heyer's historical romances. I just love them. They are giddy-making. I love her characters. I love her witty dialogue. I love her descriptions. I love how her relationships develop. I love the fact that they're clean romances. I'm reading Bath Tangle now. And I've got The Foundling and Venetia to look forward to next. My goal is to read and review all of her historical romances. What I've read so far: Black Sheep, Sylvester, Cotillion, Lady of Quality, Cousin Kate, Regency Buck, The Reluctant Widow, Charity Girl, Convenient Marriage, Frederica, The Talisman Ring, The Grand Sophy, The Corinthian, Arabella, These Old Shades, Devil's Cub, The Black Moth, The Toll Gate, and Sprig Muslin.

John Steinbeck. I never expected to love Steinbeck. But. I decided to give him a chance and I fell in love. I started with his lesser known works. I still haven't read East of Eden or The Grapes of Wrath. I hope to get to both at some point. What I've read so far: Cannery Row, Sweet Thursday, Tortilla Flat, Travels with Charley, The Moon is Down, The Wayward Bus, Burning Bright, Winter of Our Discontent, To A God Unknown, Of Mice and Men.

L.M. Montgomery: One of the first on this list that I discovered in childhood. A few years ago I started rereading her books so I could blog about them. What I've read so far: The Blue Castle, A Tangled Web, Chronicles of Avonlea, Emily of New Moon, Emily Climbs, Emily's Quest, Anne of Green Gables, Anne of Avonlea, Anne of the Island, Anne of Windy Poplars, Anne's House of Dreams, Anne of Ingleside, Rainbow Valley, Rilla of Ingleside, Kilmeny of the Orchard.


Margaret Peterson Haddix. Haddix writes in a variety of styles, for a variety of audiences--children, middle grade, young adult. She's written science fiction, fantasy, historical fiction, and realistic fiction. There is something thoughtful about all her books. What I've read so far: Just Ella, Turnabout, Shadow Children series--seven books in all, Running Out of Time, Because of Anya, Double Identity, Escape From Memory, Takeoffs and Landings, Found. Sent. Palace of Mirrors. Uprising.

Elizabeth Scott. Scott continues to amaze me. I have followed her from the very, very beginning. And I've yet to be disappointed by one of her books. Bloom had me at hello, and I've been a fan ever since. Grace, Unwritten Rule, Love You Hate You Miss You, Something Maybe, Living Dead Girl, Stealing Heaven, Perfect You, Bloom.

Orson Scott Card. I've loved so many Card novels. (I haven't reviewed all of them yet. But I'd love to as time permits me to reread.) Card is great at characters and great at relationships and communities. (I also love Card's columns.) One of my favorite books that doesn't get as much attention as the rest is The Worthing Saga. What I've read so far: Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus, The Worthing Saga. Empire. Lost Boys; Ender's Game, (Ender's Game), War of Gifts, Ender in Exile, Speaker for the Dead, Xenocide...

Rick Riordan. I love his Percy Jackson series. I do. I read The Lightning Thief two or three times the year it was first released. And I recommended it to everybody. (Made my mom a big fan!) What I've read so far: The Red Pyramid, The Maze of Bones, The Lightning Thief, Sea of Monsters, The Titan's Curse, and The Battle of the Labyrinth. The Last Olympian.

Beverly Cleary. I love Ramona Quimby. I do. I loved her as a kid. I loved her as an adult. What I've read so far: Beezus and Ramona, Ramona the Pest, Ramona the Brave, Ramona and Her Father, Ramona and Her Mother, Ramona Quimby Age 8, Ramona Forever, Ramona's World. Fifteen.

Laura Ingalls Wilder. Are there better books out there than the Little House books? Maybe. But these are books from my childhood that I read and reread every year or so. And I have reread them as an adult. And I still love them. Maybe not equally. But still. My favorite, favorite from this series is The Long Winter. What I've read so far: Little House in the Big Woods; Little House on the Prairie; On the Banks of Plum Creek; By the Shores of Silver Lake; The Long Winter; Little Town on the Prairie; These Happy Golden Years; The First Four Years.


© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Mockingbird (MG)


Mockingbird. Kathryn Erskine. 2010. April 2010. Penguin. 224 pages.

It looks like a one-winged bird crouching in the corner of our living room. Hurt. Trying to fly every time the heat pump turns on with a click and a groan and blows cold air onto the sheet and lifts it up and it flutters for just a moment and then falls down again. Still. Dead.

Caitlin, our heroine, is grieving her older brother, Devon. But it isn't just her grief--it isn't just her father's grief--no, readers see a community grieving. How did Devon die? Perhaps that's best revealed in Caitlin's own words, in her own time.

One person whom Caitlin could always count on to understand her, to accept her, to love her was her brother. The two had an incredible bond. After he's gone, Caitlin decides she needs closure...can Caitlin find a way to do this? Can Caitlin find a way to help her dad too?

Caitlin's grief is complicated by her having Asperger's syndrome. Caitlin struggles with understanding people, reading their expressions (or emotions), relating to others. She has a difficult time empathizing. She knows how to be polite. And she tries her best to make eye contact. At least now and then to make eye contact. But it doesn't mean it's easy for her to make friends. There are so many things in life that are too messy for Caitlin to understand, to appreciate. Like colors. That's why she prefers to keep her drawings in black and white. But with the help of her school counselor, Caitlin is trying her best to cope with life, to cope with loss.

I loved Caitlin. I loved her younger friend, Michael. I loved so many things about this one.

I think Mockingbird is a compelling read, a heartbreaking one at that. It is emotional; it is intense; but it is good.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Friday, June 25, 2010

Babymouse Cupcake Tycoon (#13)


Babymouse Cupcake Tycoon (#13) Jennifer L. Holm & Matthew Holm. 2010. September 2010. Random House. 96 pages.

Poor Babymouse! Her imagination lead to a destructive scene in the library! And now the school has to come up with a way to replace all those books and make other repairs. Could a cupcake fundraiser save the school library? Can Babymouse be the best cupcake seller in the whole world? There is nothing she'd love more than to be the best at selling cupcakes. But it isn't looking so good for Babymouse. It seems she can't make a sell outside her immediate family...what's a mouse to do?

I enjoyed this one. Babymouse is a great heroine.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Library Loot: Fifth Trip in June


New Loot:

The Man in the Queue by Josephine Tey
The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey
Star Begotten by H.G. Wells
We Can Build You by Philip K. Dick
Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos by R.L. LaFevers
Theodosia and the Staff of Osiris by R.L. LaFevers
Peter and the Sword of Mercy by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson

Leftover Loot:

New York by Edward Rutherfurd
The Foundling by Georgette Heyer
Bath Tangle by Georgette Heyer*
A Rose for the Crown by Anne Easter Smith
Sarah's Quilt by Nancy Turner
Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini
Vilette by Charlotte Bronte
The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold**
The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare**
Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

*More than halfway through!
**A few chapters into

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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Babymouse Burns Rubber (#12)


Babymouse Burns Rubber #12. Jennifer L. Holm & Matthew Holm. 2010. January 2010. Random House. 96 pages.

Where will Babymouse's imagination lead her in this next adventure? How much trouble can this little mouse get into?

In Babymouse Burns Rubber, Babymouse becomes excited about entering a local soapbox derby race. Ignoring one of the rules--that she has to build the car herself--she begs and pleads for help from her best friend in the whole world, Wilson. And even after her car is built, she is rushing trying to figure out how to drive it. Wilson is forced to come to her rescue again. And again. And again. But Wilson has his own interest in the race. In fact, this was his project first. The race means even more to him than it does to Babymouse. Can Babymouse learn the true value of friendship?

I love Babymouse. I wasn't sure I would love this one. The premise didn't thrill me. But I must say that I haven't really read a Babymouse that didn't win me over sooner or later. I guess I just can't resist Babymouse's vivid imagination.

My favorite sequence in this graphic novel is when she goes all Star Wars. (Chapter VII A New Cupcake: It is a dark time for the Rebellion. The brave pilot, Babymouse, has badgered her best friend into building her a Soap Box Derby Car. Little does she know that the villainous Chuck E. Cheetah is going to totally mop the floor with her, since he has actually practiced every day for years and she can't avoid crashing into pigpens...)

Can Babymouse use the force and "stay on target"? Read and see for yourself who the winner is!

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Audiobook Week: Favorite Audiobooks


Jen of Devourer of Books is hosting Audiobook Week. She has discussion topics for each day this week. And if you link to your posts on audio books, or your reviews of audio books you could win a prize.

My Recommendations:

Cupid by Julius Lester. Narrated by Stephen McKinley Henderson. 5 hours and 36 minutes.

Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Narrated by Allan Corduner. 14 Hours.

The Teacher's Funeral: A Comedy in Three Parts by Richard Peck. Narrated by Dylan Baker. 4 hours and 40 minutes.

Little House in the Big Woods
, Little House On the Prairie, On the Banks of Plum Creek, By The Shores of Silver Lake, The Long Winter, Little Town on the Prairie, These Happy Golden Years. All read by Cherry Jones.

Sylvester by Georgette Heyer. Narrated by Richard Armitage. 4 hours and 51 minutes.

Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer. Narrated by Emily Bauer. 9 hours and 2 minutes.

The Willoughbys by Lois Lowry. Narrated by Arte Johnson. 2 hours and 55 minutes.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Thursday, June 24, 2010

Audiobook Week: Rash by Pete Hautman


Rash by Pete Hautman. Narrated by Andy Paris. 2006. Recorded Books. 6 hrs. 33 minutes.

First sentence:

Gramps, who was born in 1990, once told me that when he was my age the only way to wind up in prison in the USSA (back when it had only one S) was to steal something, kill somebody, or use illegal drugs.
Synopsis:

Consumption of alcohol: Illegal.

Football and other "violent" sports: Illegal.

Ownership of guns, chain saws, and/or large dogs: Illegal.

Body piercings, tattoos: Illegal.

It's late in the twenty-first century, and the United Safer States of America (USSA) has become a nation obsessed with safety. For Bo Marsten, a teenager who grew up in the USSA, it's all good. He knows the harsh laws were created to protect the people. But when Bo's temper flares out of control and he's sentenced to three years of manual labor, he's not so down with the law anymore.

Bo's forced to live and work in a factory in the Canadian tundra. The warden running the place is totally out of his mind, and cares little for his inmates' safety. Bo will have to decide what's worse: a society that locks people up for road rage, or a prison where the wrong move could make you polar bear food.

A few months before I started blogging, I read Pete Hautman's Rash. I loved it so much that I found myself rereading it a few months later. That was in December of 2006. It took two posts for me to 'properly' convey my enthusiasm. It's been four years since I first read Rash. That is one of the reasons why I wanted to give Rash a listen this week.

What is it about? It's about a teen guy, Bo, who is in trouble with the law. It is set in the future--in the 2070s, I believe--so in trouble with the law means something entirely different. It's a fascinating novel; the little details make it quite a thought-provoking read. The premise being--what would a safer future look like? But just because this is a premise-driven novel doesn't mean that it isn't a compelling read.

The audio book is narrated by Andy Paris. And I think he did a great job with this one. I loved the voices he did for each character. Especially Bork and Gramps. Unfortunately, the audio book of this one is out of print. And it is not available on audible either.

There were several things I noticed this time around.
  • I just now realized that the 'figurative' bear chasing Bo during his track races became all-too-literal once he's imprisoned. And while imagining a bear chasing him helped Bo run a bit faster, it is nothing in comparison to the real thing.
  • The emphasis on sports. When I read the book, it was easy for me to not focus on the sports. Hearing the book, it became more difficult for me to ignore the fact that this is very much a boy book, a sports book.
  • Just how dysfunctional Bo's family is. The strained relationships between members of his family.
  • Though it's set in the future--though so many things are unfamiliar, so strange to modern readers--it is very much a coming of age story. The problems Bo has are universal, timeless.
  • It's a very strange, one-of-a-kind book.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Armadale

Armadale. Wilkie Collins. 1866. (My edition. Oxford World's Classics.) 880 pages.

On a warm May night, in the year eighteen hundred and fifty-one, the Reverend Decimus Brock--at that time a visitor to the Isle of Man--retired to his bedroom, at Castletown, with a serious personal responsibility in close pursuit of him, and with no distinct idea of the means by which he might relieve himself from the pressure of his present circumstances.

Is it possible to summarize Armadale in a sentence or two? In a paragraph or two? Probably not. Wilkie Collins is all about layers. Who else besides Collins would premise a novel with fifty-eight pages of prologue? A prologue that establishes the background of three of his main characters. A foreshadowing prologue that shapes and reshapes the novel. Two men. One name. One dark secret.

Armadale centers around three characters: Allan Armadale, Ozias Midwinter, and Lydia Gwilt. Armadale and Midwinter are best friends. But this friendship is strained at times because Midwinter knows things Armadale doesn't. He knows the dark connection they share. Midwinter learned these secrets through a letter he received when he came of age. His father warned him to never ever have anything to do with Allan Armadale. His father's letter also warned him of a dangerous woman.

Lydia Gwilt, one of our narrators, also enters into the drama. Both Midwinter and Armadale (not to mention the elderly Bashwood) fall in love with Miss Gwilt. But Gwilt is incapable of honesty, and her lies may spin everything out of control.

Armadale is about the struggle of the human soul between good and evil. A novel that asks the question--should children suffer for the sins of their fathers? A novel that explores the idea of Fate and free will.

This is my second Wilkie Collins novel. Last year, I read and reviewed Man and Wife. Armadale is a stronger novel, a better novel. (But it doesn't have a Sir Patrick.) Did I love Armadale? I certainly enjoyed it. I found it difficult to put down. I found myself smiling at Collins descriptions. He could definitely be witty when he wanted to be! I found Armadale to be complex. The characters are drawn from human nature; each of the main characters is flawed. I liked the multiple narrators as well. I was surprised at how much of this story is told from Gwilt's perspective--through letters and diary entries mainly. I thought the pacing was suspenseful, and the last two hundred pages were intense. I would definitely recommend the novel.

'Excuse me,' said the impenetrable Scotchman. 'I beg to suggest that you are losing the thread of the narrative.'
'Nothing more likely,' returned the doctor, recovering his good humour. 'It is in the habit of my nation to be perpetually losing the thread--and it is evidently in the habit of yours, sir, to be perpetually finding it. What an example here of the order of the universe, and the everlasting fitness of things!' (17)


The object of Allan's humane caution was corpulent elderly woman of the type called 'motherly.' Fourteen stairs were all that separated her from the master of the house: she ascended them with fourteen stoppages and fourteen sighs. Nature, various in all things, is infinitely various in the female sex. There are some women whose personal qualities reveal the Loves and the Graces; and there are other women whose personal qualities suggest the Perquisites and the Grease Pot. This was one of the other women. (203)

A young man who plays his part in society by looking on in green spectacles, and listening with a sickly smile, may be a prodigy of intellect and a mine of virtue, but he is hardly, perhaps, the right sort of man to have at a picnic. An old lady afflicted with deafness, whose one inexhaustible subject of interest is the subject of her son, and who (on the happily rare occasions when that son opens his lips) asks everybody eagerly, 'What does my boy say?' is a person to be pitied in respect of her infirmities, and a person to be admired in respect of her maternal devotedness, but not a person, if the thing could possibly be avoided, to take to a picnic. Such a man, nevertheless, was the Reverend Samuel Pentecost, and such a woman was the Reverend Samuel's mother; and in the dearth of any other producible guests, there they were, engaged to eat, drink, and be merry for the day at Mr. Armadale's pleasure-party to the Norfolk Broads. (292)
The age we live in is an age which finds no human creature inexcusable. (374)
'When you say no to a woman, sir,' remarked Pedgift Senior, 'always say it in one word. If you give her your reasons, she invariably believes that you mean Yes.' (439)
The plain fact was, that the music-master attached to the establishment fell in love with Miss Gwilt. He was a respectable middle-aged man, with a wife and family--and finding the circumstances entirely hopeless, he took a pistol, and rashly assuming that he had brains in his head, tried to blow them out. The doctors saved his life, but not his reason--he ended, where he had better have begun, in an asylum. (635)


Other reviews: Shelf Love, Novel Insights, The Curious Reader, Bibliolatry, Savidge Reads,

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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The Water Seeker (MG)


The Water Seeker. Kimberly Willis Holt. 2010. May 2010. Henry Holt. 320 pages.

Jake Kincaid was known as the dowser. With a forked branch, he'd made his way from the Arkansas Territory to Missouri, stopping at farms to find waters for new wells. His plan was to raise enough money so he could do what he wanted and never pick up the branch again. But the dowsing was a gift. And a gift might be abandoned, but it will always be there, waiting to be claimed.

Is there an easy way to describe Kimberly Willis Holt's newest book The Water Seeker? I'll try my best to do it justice. Amos' father, Jake, is a trapper. One year Jake returned to discover that his wife has died, but that he has a son. Jake takes the infant and travels to see his brother (Gil) and sister-in-law (Rebecca). He leaves Amos there with the promise that he'll be back as often as he can. He's not completely turning over the care of his son, but he's a trapper and his life is a traveling life. Delilah, Amos' mother, had a great talent for drawing. Though he never knew his mother, he does have her gift. He also has a gift passed down from his father--the gift of dowsing. But he's embarrassed to let anyone know. After all, his father hates this gift. And would rather do anything but use it. But sometimes a man has no choice. He has to do things he hates in order to support his family.

One year Jake returns--and not alone--to learn that Rebecca has died and that Gil and Amos have moved in with a neighboring family. So Jake decides to take his son--then about six--with him. Jake has married an Indian woman, Blue Owl, and the three will be a real family and start a new life. But life is never that easy. They arrive at Jake's cabin and find that Daisy, Delilah's sister, and Homer, her husband, have been living there. Since Jake knows the family background, he can't knowingly send these two away. So the family expands. And keeps expanding--soon Amos has a cousin, Finn.

America is changing too. Its landscape. Its culture. Its "destiny." As much as Jake would love to keep trapping--that just isn't a possibility these days. So Jake decides to try his hand at scouting. He has been recruited to help lead a wagon west on the Oregon trail. The whole family--Jake, Blue Owl, Amos, Daisy, Homer, Finn--set out on a new adventure together. An exhausting, dangerous journey that will take them from Independence, Missouri, to Willamette Valley in Oregon.

The Water Seeker covers decades of American history, from the 1830s to the 1850s. When Amos begins his journey across America, he is about fourteen, his cousin, Finn, is six. So Amos grows up--in so many ways--during this difficult journey. He learns life lessons, has his first heartache, and learns what true love is all about.

The Water Seeker is a complex novel. The characters--and there are so many!--are all well-developed. I loved getting to know them all. There were so many people that loved Amos through the years, so many people who were part of his family--traditional or not. I loved meeting the different families on the wagon train. I loved the realism of it all. Heading west was not easy. It was dangerous. Bad things happened. They just did. One of the lessons Amos learns is that life may be hard, but it's good too. Some things make the journey worth it.

I really enjoyed The Water Seeker. I think Holt is a good storyteller, a good writer. If you love historical fiction, then this one might be for you. I think it would also appeal to adult readers who love historical fiction. Even if they don't usually read children's books. I think there is enough complexity, enough story, enough heart to satisfy.

Other reviews: Kids Lit,

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

These is My Words


These Is My Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine. By Nancy E. Turner. 1998. HarperCollins. 416 pages.

A storm is rolling in, and that always makes me a little sad and wistful so I got it in my head to set to paper all these things that have got us this far on our way through this heathen land.

These Is My Words is the fictional diary of a young woman, Sarah Prine, living (mostly) in the Arizona Territory in the 1880s and 1890s. Sarah's life is anything but easy.

Readers learn this from the start. Within the first twenty or so pages, Sarah experiences loss after loss after loss. A younger brother dying by snakebite. Another brother being shot and having to have his leg amputated. Indians attacking the wagon train the Prine family is traveling with. With multiple deaths there. Including her father--though his death isn't immediate. Witnessing the brutal rape of a friend. But Sarah isn't weak. She isn't one to give up with a fight. For example, witnessing the rape leads her to sneak away, get her gun, and shoot the attackers dead.

Sarah is an incredibly strong heroine. Circumstances forcing her time and time again to be strong, brave, independent. To think on her feet. To fight for herself. To fight for her family. To fight for her land.

The novel covers twenty years. Readers see Sarah grow and develop. We see her as a daughter, a sister, a wife, a mother, a widow. We see her disappointed with life, with love. We see her courage as she chooses to love again. Sarah is a woman who doesn't give up. She's got plenty of gumption.

There is something raw and spirited about These Is My Words. I found These Is My Words to be compelling.

Here are a few of my favorite passages:

Taking up marriage is a good excuse for taking up cursing, I think. (248)
Children are a burden to a mother, but not the way a heavy box is to a mule. Our children weigh hard on my heart, and thinking about them growing up honest and healthy, or just living to grow up at all, makes a load in my chest that is bigger than the safe at the bank, and more valuable to me than all the gold inside it. (303)
One of my favorite scenes is when Sarah exhausted by her work and her children confronts her soldier husband.
All day long I had been at my wit's end alone with these children, and just barely heated up some scraps of beef from yesterday and put in a little vegetable to make a stew, when here came Jack with Blue Horse and some other soldier I don't even know as company for dinner, and on top of that asked me to cut his hair and draw him a bath as he was too tired to haul the water.
I am ever thankful that soldier took one look at me showing with a baby coming along, with my hair falling down, and the broom lying at a mound of broken glass, and supper boiling over on the stove, April wearing a dirty pinafore screaming for me to hold her, and just then the baby in my arms spit up all over me, and he said, You know, Captain Elliot, I forgot to rub down my horse, but I'd be kindly obliged if you'd let me have supper some other time.
When he left, I turned to Jack Elliot and said, If you are too tired to haul water, you are too tired to bathe in it, and I am fit to be tied. Your supper is on the stove and your children are driving me to distraction and April has lost the scissors under the house through a crack in the floor so there will be no haircut tonight. If that don't please you, then I will put on a uniform and ride out of here tomorrow morning and chase around the countryside and you can wear this apron and tend these crying children and this drafty house from dark to dark and then tell me you think I should haul you a bath.
He looked real startled. It is the first time I have ever just purely lost my temper over anything Jack has done. Blue Horse laughed, but when I frowned at him he quieted real quick. I have just had my fill of men and their ways of ordering people around, lately. (310)
All ends well. With that scene. It actually turns sweet.

While These Is My Words probably isn't for everyone, for readers looking for a book about strong, stubborn pioneering women, this one might make a good fit.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Black Sheep


Black Sheep. Georgette Heyer. 1966/2008. Sourcebooks. 280 pages.

A little before eight o'clock, at the close of a damp autumn day, a post-chaise entered Bath, on the London Road, and presently drew up outside a house in Sydney Place.

Abigail (Abby) Wendover and Selena Wendover are the two aunts responsible for raising their young niece, Fanny, a young lady who is just getting ready to come out in society. When the novel opens, Abby has just returned to Bath from visiting some of her brothers and sisters. So she has missed the early stages of Fanny's young love. Fanny has fallen in forever-and-ever love with Stacy Calverleigh, a man with a bit of a reputation.

While no one can deny that he comes from a good family, it's also undeniable that since Stacy has come of age, the family's financial standing has continued to fall. He desperately needs to marry money if he's going to "save" the family home and keep up appearances--living a certain lifestyle.

Fanny may be young, but she'll inherit a great deal of money when she comes of age. Enough to tempt young Calverleigh. That's how Abby and her brother, James, see it anyway. Selena, well, she's easily charmed. And Stacy has a way of making her think the best of him. Abby fears that Stacy may convince Fanny to elope with him.

Soon after Abby returns home, Miles Calverleigh arrives. He's the "black sheep" of the Calverleigh family. (He's been in India for years.) He has come to Bath quite unaware that his nephew, Stacy, has been there.

Can Abby convince Miles to intervene? Will Miles see his young nephew's affair as being any of his concern? After all, he has never met the boy.

What starts out as "concern" for Fanny and Stacy, develops into something more--much much more. Has Abby found love at last? Will her sister, Selena, let Abby go?

I loved this one. I did. I loved Abby. I loved Miles. I loved the way these two clicked right from the start. I loved the banter the two share. I loved the way that neither really denies the attraction. How Abby doesn't necessarily fight the attraction she feels for Miles. She likes spending time with him. She likes his company. And she isn't one of those to say, well, what will the neighbors think. (Now, Abby, does care a little about what her family thinks.) Miles is unlike so many of the other men that Abby has known. But she likes him just the way he is. I loved how these two accept one another as is. These two are oh-so-compatible.

I would definitely recommend Black Sheep.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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