Thursday, March 31, 2011

March Reflections

In March, I focused on rereading some of my favorite books. I reread twenty-one books this month! It was a lovely indulgence, I think. Very nourishing. Very satisfying. It was great to reconnect with Sarah Miller's Miss Spitfire, Lois Lowry's The Giver,  and Elizabeth Scott's Bloom. Not to mention, Richard Peck's The Teacher's Funeral! And of course, Susan Beth Pfeffer's Life As We Knew It--and the two companion books. And I read many Beverly Cleary books!!! And reading those just made me want more Ramona!

As far as challenges go, I was able to read at least one book for each of these challenges: New Author Challenge, 2011 TBR Challenge, TBR Pile Challenge, Chunkster Challenge, 42 ChallengeHistorical Fiction, Victorian Literature Challenge, Vintage Mystery Reading Challenge, Cruisin' Thru the Cozies, Spring Reading Thing. I also joined the Once Upon a Time challenge.

This month I read 55 books! My longest book was Charles Dickens' Little Dorrit.  My shortest book--with an adult audience--was The Night Bookmobile by Audrey Niffenegger.

Picture Books: 9; Children's Books: 10; Middle Grade: 5; Young Adult: 9; Adult: 10; Christian Fiction: 7; Christian Nonfiction: 4; Graphic Novel: 1. 

Review Copies: 13; Library Books: 36; Bought-Books: 6.

My favorite first lines of March:

A long time ago, when Time was still winding its watch and Sun was trying to figure out which was east and which was west, there was a king and queen.

Lisa is pregnant

If your teacher has to die, August isn't a bad time of year for it.  

The hot Phoenix sun glared down on the car windowsill where my bare, pallid arm dangled shamelessly. 

"Not again." 

My top five:

Bathsheba. (The Wives of King David #3) Jill Eileen Smith.
The Small House at Allington. Anthony Trollope. 
Mansfield Park. Jane Austen.
Rules of the Road. Joan Bauer.
Miss Spitfire: Reaching Helen Keller. Sarah Miller.

Reviews at Becky's Book Reviews
 
Close to Famous. Joan Bauer. 2011. Penguin. 240 pages.
The Teacher's Funeral. Richard Peck. 2004. Penguin. 208 pages.
Ways to Live Forever. Sally Nicholls. 2008. Scholastic. 224 pages. 
Miss Spitfire: Reaching Helen Keller. Sarah Miller. 2007. Simon & Schuster. 240 pages.
The Giver. Lois Lowry. 1993. Houghton Mifflin. 180 pages.
Come Juneteenth. Ann Rinaldi. 2007. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 256 pages.
Life As We Knew It. Susan Beth Pfeffer. 2006. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 352 pages.
the dead & the gone. Susan Beth Pfeffer. 2008. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 321 pages.
This World We Live In. Susan Beth Pfeffer. 2010. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 239 pages.
Surviving Antarctica: Reality TV 2083. Andrea White. 2005. HarperCollins. 336 pages.
Nightlight: A Parody. The Harvard Lampoon. 2009. Knopf Doubleday. 160 pages.
Cupid. Julius Lester. 2007. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 208 pages.
Bloom. Elizabeth Scott. 2007. Simon & Schuster. 240 pages.
Rules of the Road. Joan Bauer. 1998/2005. Penguin. 208 pages.
Dead Man's Folly. Agatha Christie. 1956/2000. Penguin. 240 pages.
A Man Lay Dead. Ngaio Marsh. 1934/1997. St. Martin's Press. 192 pages.
Face Down in the Marrow-Bone Pie. Kathy Lynn Emerson. 1997. St. Martin's Press. 208 pages.
Framley Parsonage. Anthony Trollope. 1861. 576 pages.
The Night Bookmobile. Audrey Niffenegger. 2010. Harry N. Abrams. 40 pages.  
Jane Goes Batty. Michael Thomas Ford. 2011. Random House. 304 pages.
A Red Herring Without Mustard: A Flavia de Luce Novel. Alan Bradley. 2011. Random House. 399 pages.
The Small House at Allington. Anthony Trollope. 1864. 752 pages.
Little Dorrit. Charles Dickens. 1855-1857. Penguin. 928 pages.
Lovers' Vows. Elizabeth Inchbald.1798/2007. Dodo Press. 84 pages*.
Mansfield Park. Jane Austen. 1814/1998. Norton. 520 pages.



Reviews at Young Readers

Frog and Toad Together. An I Can Read Book. Arnold Lobel. 1971. HarperCollins. 64 pages.
Frog and Toad Are Friends. An I Can Read Book. Arnold Lobel. 1970. HarperCollins. 64 pages.
Frog and Toad All Year. An I Can Read Book. Arnold Lobel. 1976. HarperCollins. 64 pages.
Days with Frog and Toad. An I Can Read Book. Arnold Lobel. 1979. HarperCollins. 64 pages.
Henry Huggins. Beverly Cleary. 1950/2000. HarperCollins. 160 pages
Mary Poppins. P.L. Travers. Illustrated by Mary Shepard. 1934/2006. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 224 pages.
Henry and Beezus. Beverly Cleary. 1952/2002. HarperCollins. 192 pages.
Henry and Ribsy. Beverly Cleary. 1954/1990. HarperCollins. 192 pages.
Henry and the Paper Route. Beverly Cleary. 1957/1990. HarperCollins. 208 pages.
Henry and the Clubhouse. Beverly Cleary. 1962. HarperCollins. 192 pages.
Llama, Llama Red Pajama. Anna Dewdney. 2005. Penguin. 40 pages.
Bedtime for Frances. Russell Hoban. Illustrated by Garth Williams. 1960/1996. HarperCollins. 32 pages.
A Baby Sister for Frances. Russell Hoban. Illustrated by Lillian Hoban. 1964/1992. HarperCollins. 32 pages.
Bread and Jam for Frances. Russell Hoban. Illustrated by Lillian Hoban. 1964/1992. HarperCollins. 32 pages.
A Birthday for Frances. Russell Hoban. Illustrated by Lillian Hoban. 1968/1995. HarperCollins. 32 pages.
Best Friends for Frances. Russell Hoban. Illustrated by Lillian Hoban. 1969/1994. HarperCollins. 32 pages.
A Bargain for Frances. Russell Hoban. Illustrated by Lillian Hoban. 1970/1992. HarperCollins. 64 pages.
Small Saul. Ashley Spires. 2011. March 2011. Kids Can Press. 32 pages.
Mini Racer. Kristy Dempsey. Illustrated by Bridget Strevens-Marzo. 2011. Bloomsbury. 32 pages.




Reviews at Operation Actually Read Bible

A Bond Never Broken. Judith Miller. 2011. Bethany House. 384 pages.
Hearts Aglow. (Striking a Match #2) Tracie Peterson. 2011. Bethany House. 368 pages.
A Heart Most Worthy. Siri Mitchell. 2011. Bethany House. 384 pages.
Pinocchio. Carlo Collodi. Translated by Emma Rose. Illustrated by Sara Fanelli. Candlewick Press. 192 pages. (Collodi's Pinocchio was published in 1883.)
O Love That Will Not Let Me Go: Facing Death With Courageous Confidence in God. Edited by Nancy Guthrie. 2011. February 2011. Crossway Books. 160 pages.
Bathsheba. (The Wives of King David #3) Jill Eileen Smith. 2011. Revell. 350 pages.
The Everlasting Tradition: Jewish Customs, Holidays, and Historical Events That Reveal Biblical Truth. Galen Peterson. 1995. Kregel Publications. 160 pages.
Love Amid the Ashes. Mesu Andrews. 2011. Revell. 411 pages.
Knowing Scripture. R.C. Sproul. 1977/2009. IVP. 152 pages. 
The World Jesus Knew. Anne Punton. 2003. Moody Publishers. 192 pages.
The Big Picture Story Bible. David R. Helm. 2004/2010. Crossway Publishers. 456 pages.

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Sunday, March 27, 2011

Sunday Salon: Week In Review #13

What I Reviewed at Becky's Book Reviews:

Mansfield Park. Jane Austen. 1814/1998. Norton. 520 pages.
A Red Herring Without Mustard: A Flavia de Luce Novel. Alan Bradley. 2011. Random House. 399 pages.
Miss Spitfire: Reaching Helen Keller. Sarah Miller. 2007. Simon & Schuster. 240 pages.
Cupid. Julius Lester. 2007. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 208 pages.
Bloom. Elizabeth Scott. 2007. Simon & Schuster. 240 pages.
Rules of the Road. Joan Bauer. 1998/2005. Penguin. 208 pages.

What I Reviewed at Young Readers:

Small Saul. Ashley Spires. 2011. March 2011. Kids Can Press. 32 pages.
Mini Racer. Kristy Dempsey. Illustrated by Bridget Strevens-Marzo. 2011. Bloomsbury. 32 pages.

What I Reviewed at Operation Actually Read Bible:

Knowing Scripture. R.C. Sproul. 1977/2009. IVP. 152 pages. 
The World Jesus Knew. Anne Punton. 2003. Moody Publishers. 192 pages.
The Big Picture Story Bible. David R. Helm. 2004/2010. Crossway Publishers. 456 pages.

Reminder: I am hosting a New Testament read-a-long/read-a-thon April 11 - April 17! I'd love for you to join me!!!

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Saturday, March 26, 2011

Once Upon a Time V

Carl of Stainless Steel Droppings is hosting his fifth Once Upon a Time challenge.
March 21st through June 20th.
Quest the First. 5 Books. Folklore. Fantasy. Fairy Tales. Mythology.
 
1. The Ropemaker. Peter Dickinson.
2. The Land of the Silver Apples. Nancy Farmer.
3. Inside Grandad. Peter Dickinson.
4. The Spellcoats. Diana Wynne Jones.
5. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. C.S. Lewis
6. The Throne of Fire. Kane Chronicles #2 Rick Riordan. 2011. Hyperion. 464 pages.
7. The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood
8. The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic by Jennifer Trafton
9. The Rumpelstiltskin Problem by Vivian Vande Velde

This is one of my favorite challenges of the year. Mostly because of the great company. But I *do* enjoy focusing on these four genres (or sub-genres).

I don't have time to list *every* book that I *might* read for the challenge.


The Complete Grimm's Fairy Tales.
The Game by Diana Wynne Jones
The Chronicles of Chrestomanci volume 1 by Diana Wynne Jones
Conrad's Fate by Diana Wynne Jones
The Chronicles of Chrestomanci volume 2 by Diana Wynne Jones
The Pinhoe Egg by Diana Wynne Jones
The Spellcoats by Diana Wynne Jones
Drowned Ammet by Diana Wynne Jones
Cart and Cwidder by Diana Wynne Jones
Crown of Dalemark by Diana Wynne Jones
The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan (#1 Heroes of Olympus)
The Throne of Fire. Kane Chronicles #2 Rick Riordan.
The Dragon's Apprentice (#5 in Imaginarium Geographica) by James A. Owen
Theodosia and the Eyes of Horus by R.L. LaFevers
Theodosia and the Last Pharaoh by R.L. LaFevers
I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett
The Necropolis by PJ Hoover
Geek Fantasy Novel by E. Archer
Juniper Berry by M.P. Kozlowsky
The Story of the Amulet. E. Nesbit.
Enchanted Castle. E. Nesbit. 
The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder.

I do have a few books that I'd LOVE, LOVE, LOVE to recommend for you if you're joining this one...

A Tale Dark & Grimm by Adam Gidwitz
The Boneshaker by Kate Milford
Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians by Brandon Sanderson
Pathfinder by Orson Scott Card
Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett
Cloaked in Red by Vivian Vande Velde


© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Library Loot: Fifth Trip in March

New Loot:

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
The Lightning Thief: The Graphic Novel by Rick Riordan. Adapted by Robert Venditti.
What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew From Fox Hunting to Whist: The Facts of Daily Life in Nineteenth Century England by Daniel Pool
Murder at Mansfield Park by Lynn Shepherd
Outside In by Maria V. Snyder
Wither by Laura DeStefano
The Game by Diana Wynne Jones
The Chronicles of Chrestomanci volume 1 by Diana Wynne Jones
Conrad's Fate by Diana Wynne Jones
The Chronicles of Chrestomanci volume 2 by Diana Wynne Jones
The Pinhoe Egg by Diana Wynne Jones

Leftover Loot:

The Complete Grimm's Fairy Tales
Pebble in the Sky by Isaac Asimov
Billie Standish Was Here by Nancy Crocker
Brave New Worlds edited by John Joseph Adams
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Suspense and Sensibility, or, First Impressions Revisited by Carrie Bebris

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire 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.  

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Mansfield Park

Mansfield Park. Jane Austen. 1814/1998. Norton. 520 pages.

About thirty years ago Miss Maria Ward, of Huntingdon, with only seven thousand pounds, had the good luck to captivate Sir Thomas Bertram, of Mansfield Park, in the county of Northampton, and to be thereby raised to the rank of a baronet's lady, with all the comforts and consequences of an handsome house and large income.

What should you know about Mansfield Park? Well, it's not this movie or that movie*. Our heroine is a young woman named Fanny Price. She has been 'adopted' by the Bertram family. She has been "rescued" from poverty by her two aunts and uncle. (Aunt Norris is the most vocal of Fanny's aunts. She HAS opinions and then some!) She has been raised with her cousins--Maria and Julia and Tom and Edmund. The glimpses of joy and happiness in Fanny's life comes through her relationships with the two important men in her life. William, her brother, who comes to visit her at Mansfield Park. And Edmund, of course, the only one of the family to truly love her and accept her and embrace her as part of the family, a valued friend, a trusted companion. It's not a big surprise to learn that Fanny is secretly, deeply in love with Edmund. She lives for him. She treasures every word he's ever spoken to her. It would be impossible for me, as a reader, to love Edmund as much as Fanny does. But she has enough love for the both of us perhaps!

This one will contain a few spoilers. Nothing new if you've seen the movies. But I have to discuss the development of the romances!

So when Mr. Bertram is away on a very extended business trip, the Bertrams become acquainted with two young people new to the neighborhood. (These are half-relations to the Grants, whom the Bertrams already know.) The brother, Henry Crawford, accepts the flirtations of two sisters, Maria and Julia. Both women see him as oh-so-desirable, and who is he to argue? If they want to believe that he is swoon-worthy, he's not going to stop them! So he flirts a little with this one, a little with that one. Fanny is one of the few that see this 'naughty' behavior. What makes things worse, perhaps, is that Maria is to be married to Mr. Rushworth**. (Of course, Henry's sister, Mary, also notices that he is "interested" in both sisters.) So Mary has her own decisions to make. Which brother is the better brother? She soon settles on Edmund even if he is the younger, the poorer. For Mary can't fail to notice that Edmund is absolutely smitten. He's just head over heels in love with her. But Mary's idea of happily ever after is to mold Edmund into her image of the perfect man. Changing everything that makes him Edmund. Mary can't help showing her true colors to Fanny now and then--especially when she writes that horrible, horrible letter! And Edmund has moments where he's rational enough to see that Mary is the wrong woman for him. That she's entirely selfish and greedy and not above showing cruelty. But, as Fanny notices, these moments never last long.

While I have little (if any) sympathy for Mary Crawford, I can't help LOVING Henry Crawford. I don't know why. I see nothing wonderful, nothing redeeming in Frank Churchill, Willoughby, or Wickham. Yet, Henry Crawford, I want to believe that Fanny almost saved him from his dark side. For I can't help believing that Henry Crawford truly--for the very first time--felt love, real love, for Fanny. While Edmund was busy wooing Mary. While Edmund was busy being stupid over Mary, it was Henry that was saying the most wonderful things to Fanny.

So who should readers cheer for? The practically-nearly reformed flirt whose life is beginning to shape up. A man who speaks kind words, loving words. A man who seems devoted, committed. A man with much to offer. A man who has done much for her brother, William. A man who sees her, truly sees her. Not as a poor relation. Not as a nobody. But someone worthy of love, of respect. Someone who could make him happy forever and ever. Or the cousin who has always been kind to Fanny, but a man who has never once thought of loving Fanny in that way. Does he notice her as a woman? A woman fully grown as Tammy would say. A man who speaks only of another woman. Edmund is a fool for Mary. And Fanny is witness to all his silliness. She's been his companion, someone he talks to about his relationship problems.

Could Fanny be happy with Henry? Would she outgrow her feelings for Edmund? If Edmund had married Mary, would Fanny have settled down with Henry? Or would she have remained single? Would Henry be happy with Fanny? I think he would have been happy with Fanny. I think she might have--just by being herself--brought out all the good that was in him. I think that Henry had the potential to be the hero. Would Mary have been happy with Edmund? Would Edmund have been happy with Mary? No and no. I think those two would have been a mess. I do. I think that there would be no improving Mary, no redeeming Mary. I don't think Edmund would have been capable of changing her. And I'm not sure that Mary could have changed him either. I think that they'd have been miserably stuck with each other. I just don't see Mary as being a good wife or mother.

Can you tell how much I connected with these characters? I never expected to find such depth in this Austen novel! I have something to say about almost everyone! Aunt Norris--one you love to hate! So opinionated, so horrible, yet she livens up a conversation! Mr. Bertram, the father, the movie got him all wrong, I think. I saw him as a dear, for the most part. He surprised me the most, perhaps because I'd only seen the movies. Anyway, I am VERY glad I read this one!

On Shakespeare:

But Shakespeare one gets acquainted with without knowing how. It is a part of an Englishman's constitution. His thoughts and beauties are so spread abroad that one touches them every where, one is intimate with him by instinct. No man of any brain can open at a good part of one of his plays, without falling into the flow of his meaning immediately. (229)

Edmund to Fanny:

"He will make you happy, Fanny, I know he will make you happy; but you will make him every thing." (238)

Mary to Fanny:

"If any man ever loved a woman for ever, I think Henry will do as much for you." (246)

Henry to Fanny:

"I know Mansfield, I know its way, I know its faults towards you. I know the danger of you being so far forgotten, as to have your comforts give way to the imaginary convenience of any single being in the family. (279)

Edmund to Fanny:

"I cannot give her up, Fanny. She is the only woman in the world whom I could ever think of as a wife." (286)

About Aunt Norris:

She was regretted by no one at Mansfield. She had never been able to attach even those she loved best, and since Mrs. Rushworth's elopement, her temper had been in a state of such irritation, as to make her every where tormenting. Not even Fanny had tears for aunt Norris--not even when she was gone for ever. (316)

*If I had to choose between the 1999 movie and the 2007 one, I'd choose the 1999 one. Even though the names are the only things that carry over from book to film. I haven't seen the 1983 adaptation yet, so maybe there's hope that someone got it right. I can see myself watching the 1999 one again, but I'll 'never again' the newest one.

 **Readers notice along with Maria and everyone else--even Mr. Bertram--how big a fool Mr. Rushworth is. So it's not like Maria would have had much of a chance at a blissful marriage. She tired of him before they married.

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Friday, March 25, 2011

Rules of the Road (YA)

Rules of the Road. Joan Bauer. 1998/2005. Penguin. 208 pages.

I leaped onto the sliding ladder in the back room of Gladstone's Shoe Store of Chicago, gave it a shove, and glided fast toward the end of the floor to ceiling shelves of shoeboxes.

I love Rules of the Road. I think it is my favorite and best Joan Bauer book. (In case you haven't read her, you should! You really should! She's fabulous!) I read this one in pre-blog days, so this is my first opportunity to gush about how wonderful it is.

Jenna Boller, our heroine, has a part-time job selling shoes. And it's a job that she enjoys very much--especially on days when her drunk father doesn't show up at the store to embarrass her. So Jenna is quite surprised when Mrs. Gladstone, the owner of the Gladstone company, asks her to drive her across country to visit all her stores before the big meeting in August. Surprised because Jenna is relatively a new driver. Surprised because she could have hired anyone, confided in anyone. But these two have a way of bringing out the best in one another. And a wonderfully odd friendship begins. Together these two will cover many, many miles. They'll have many opportunities to discuss the meaning of life. (Not that they'd ever call it that, mind you!) Each woman has their own battle to fight. Mrs. Gladstone struggling to hold onto her company, fighting her greedy son and stockholders. Jenna struggling to deal with her life, her father. Does he have any place in her life? Should she work at forgiving him so she can move on with her life? Is the anger and anxiety worth it? How do you stop worrying though? How do you stop hating? How can you turn your feelings off and on? She has a dad-shaped hole in her life, and it's a hole that is hard to ignore...

I loved this one. I loved the characters. I loved the writing. I would definitely recommend it!

I thought of all the good drivers I'd ever seen, and I couldn't for the life of me figure out what made them that way. They just got behind the wheel, drove, and didn't run into things. The not running into things was important. (25)

Opal couldn't cope with my dateless state and kept trying to fix me up with sub-par guys like Morris, her second cousin twice removed, who, believe me, you want to be removed from at least twice. (31)

My grandma always said that people who snored were sleeping with enthusiasm. I tried to remember this, but there's just so much enthusiasm a person can handle in close quarters. (49)

I learned great road truths that teenagers aren't always exposed to.
Never go into a restaurant with a sign that says GOOD EATS.
Never eat at a place called MOM'S, because it's a safe bet Mom's been dead for years and whoever's in the kitchen didn't have a working relationship with her.
If you see four or more pickups in front of a diner, chances are you'll get a good meal. (113-4)

"I thought people in Texas were laid back," I shouted as two mega-trucks thundered by.
"They are," Mrs. Gladstone said happily, "except on the road." (121)

My grandma always said that God made libraries so that people didn't have any excuse to be stupid. Close to everything a human being needed to know was somewhere in the library. There was plenty I needed to know. (142)

It's the little things, not just in selling, but in life that make the difference. The small moments when you can touch another person. Harry Bender was always looking for them and he found more than any person I'd ever met. (146)

You know the thing about hope, how it sneaks up behind you when you're sure everything's in the toilet, and starts whispering to you that maybe, just maybe, things could turn around. That's the gift Harry gave us that night. Some people, all you have to do is stand next to them and you feel protected. Mrs. Gladstone said he was always like that, too, a presence of hope, even after all he'd been through, able to laugh darkness in the face. I wondered if that came from knowing the darkness so well, he'd figured out how to beat it. (153)

You never know where the road's going to take you. I think sometimes it's less important that you get to your destination than the sidetrips you take along the way. (165)
© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Miss Spitfire (MG)

Miss Spitfire: Reaching Helen Keller. Sarah Miller. 2007. Simon & Schuster. 240 pages.

"Ticket, please."
I wipe at my eyes and thrust the wretched thing at him. I've already had to change trains six times since Boston. On top of that, I have to take this train north to Knoxville to catch yet another train south to Alabama.

I love Miss Spitfire. I just LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Miss Spitfire. It's such a feel-good, oh-so-magical, ultimate-comfort read--at least for me. It's a novel about Annie Sullivan and Helen Keller. A novel about a teacher who wouldn't accept failure, who kept persevering, no matter how big the challenge, no matter how big the tantrum, Sullivan was NOT going to be beaten by a child.

Annie Sullivan is a young woman on a mission. Her job? To teach a child--a six year old child--who is blind, deaf, and dumb. It won't be easy. There has only been one successful case in the past to base their hopes and dreams on: Laura Bridgman. But Annie is strong-minded and determined. She'll need every ounce of stubbornness she has if she's going to master the willfulness of Helen. Used to getting her own way, Helen runs wild. And as Annie soon points out, the family expects better behavior from the dogs than they do their young daughter. Helen has never been disciplined a day in her life--at least since an illness left her blind and deaf. This journey from despair to hope, from chaos to communication, is an important one. It is full of emotion--as day by day Annie struggles to teach and love a child who fails to comprehend the meaning of words altogether. Anger. Frustration. Rage. Joy. Happiness. Fear. Hope. Despair. It's all here. Annie and Helen. This is their story.

If you've seen The Miracle Worker, you'll know the basic plot of this one. But it is Sarah Miller's writing that impressed me the most. I loved how she told this story.

After years of being blind myself, I can understand a mind without pictures, but I can hardly comprehend a mind without words. Words, songs, stories--they were the things I craved most before my sight was restored, for words explained the things my eyes couldn't show me. When I was blind, words were as vital as breath. (7)
"I'm not sure I can do this job. Yet a part of me understands Helen better than she does herself. I'm no stranger to frustration, anger, isolation. I wonder, though, how Helen can be content to deprive herself of my affection? The thought of her indifference makes my throat sting, yet I can't help feeling drawn to her. If I could only touch her heart, I know I could reach her mind. But she won't even let me hold her hand." (43)
"It seems nothing I do comes out right. But in my heart I know what's right for Helen: obedience, love, and language. Come what may and hell to pay, I'll find a way to give her all three." (64)
All these words, do they linger in her fingers after her lessons are through? (125)

And for the record, I loved, loved, loved the ending. It was oh-so-magical.

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Bloom (YA)

Bloom. Elizabeth Scott. 2007. Simon & Schuster. 240 pages.

I guess I kept hoping some kind of miracle would happen.

Little did I know when I first read Bloom almost four years ago that Elizabeth Scott would become one of my favorite, favorite authors. (Her other romances include: The Unwritten Rule, Stealing Heaven, Perfect You, and Something Maybe. Her dramas include: Love You Hate You Miss You, Living Dead Girl, and Grace.) All I knew was that I'd discovered a giddy-making romance that reminded me of Valley Girl. And that was enough, more than enough, to keep me interested, to keep me wanting more.

Lauren, our heroine, is unhappy. She knows she should be happy, be content, with her life. Her boyfriend, Dave, is perfect. Everyone says so, so it must be so. But their romance has no sizzle. It's as exciting as watching grass grow. Remembering their early days, Lauren isn't sure if it was ever love--if there was ever a spark of passion, of love, between them. It was just so new, so exciting, to be wanted by someone, and not just anyone, but someone so popular, so loved.

Katie, her best friend, is someone she doesn't trust to listen to her problems. Perhaps because she knows that Katie's boyfriend is such good friends with Dave. Or perhaps because Katie monopolizes what time they do have together by talking about her boyfriend, her life, her problems. Would Katie listen if Lauren tried to speak up? We'll never know. It's certainly not Katie's fault--as a friend--that Lauren never makes the attempt to be open and honest.

For Lauren is not being open and honest with anyone in her life--not her boyfriend, not her best friend, not her dad. But there is one guy in her life, a new guy who is no stranger, Evan Kirkland. For a few months, these two were childhood friends. He being the son of her father's girlfriend, Mary. But when that relationship fell apart--as all her father's relationships fell apart--the two lost touch. Evan, all grown-up, takes Lauren's breath away. He's swoon-worthy in a non-traditional way. He's someone that for better or worse, Lauren can't help wanting and needing. With him, she can be real, she can be herself, she can be open and honest, she can be vulnerable and needy. Dave and Evan are complete opposites. Only one guy is right for her, but will she be brave enough to make the right choice? Or will she let what 'everyone else thinks' keep her from finding what her heart wants most: unconditional love.

I suddenly realize that he's nervous, just like me, but he went ahead and took a chance. People don't usually do that. I mean, I know people think teenagers hang naked out of cars and whatever, but you know, high school isn't an environment that encourages you to do anything other than exactly what everyone else is doing. (51)

"Are you late to work?" I ask.
"A little. They offered me extra hours this week, and I can take them so..."
"I'm sorry," I say. "You didn't have to drive me home."
"I know. I wanted to."
He wanted to. I may be sitting in his car, but really I'm floating. (56)
I would definitely recommend this one! I'd recommend all of Elizabeth Scott's books!


© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Cupid (YA)

Cupid. Julius Lester. 2007. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 208 pages.

A long time ago, when Time was still winding its watch and Sun was trying to figure out which was east and which was west, there was a king and queen. I don't know what country they were were king and queen of. That information was not in the story when it came down to me. Sometimes, stories don't understand; what may not be important to them is very important to us.
Now I'm sure there are people who can tell this particular story without having a name for the kingdom this king and queen ruled. Jupiter bless them. I guess I'm not that good of a storyteller, because I need a name for the kingdom. I asked the story if it would mind my giving the place a name. It didn't see any harm in it, so I am going to call it the Kingdom-by-the-Great-Blue-Sea.
The story also does not have names for the king and queen. I know they had names, but nobody would say to them, "What's up, Chuck?" or say, "Looky here, Liz," if those happened to be their names. I am in agreement with the story this time. If nobody could use their names, there is no need to have them in the story. As for what the king and queen called each other, they were probably like any other married couple and he called her "Honey" and "Sweetheart," and she called him "Good Lips" and things like that, which we don't need to pursue any further.
The king and queen had three daughters. I know what you are thinking: the daughters didn't have names, either. That is partly true. Two of the girls were name-naked. I'm not even into the story yet and already we have four people that the Internal Revenue Service could not send a letter to. (1-2)
I absolutely LOVE the narrator of Cupid. Lester rewrote this classic tale of Cupid and Psyche (a tale originally found in Apuleius' The Golden Ass) in the voice of a Southern black storyteller. I'm not sure it works for every reader--I've found a handful of negative reviews--but for me it worked well. I just fell in love with it, and stayed in love with it! I would recommend listening to this one--there is a great audio production of it!

I thought the storytelling was lyrical. The story focuses on the not name-naked daughter of the king and queen, Psyche, the most beautiful girl in the world--most beautiful mortal girl anyway.
I tried to write something that would give you an idea of how beautiful she was, but the letters of the alphabet got so confused and jumbled up trying to arrange themselves into words to describe someone for whom there were no words, they ended up crying in frustration. I hate trying to make words out of letters that have been crying and are so wet they can't stay on the page. Later on in the story, after the letters dry off, I'll try again to arrange them into enough words so you'll have some idea of what Psyche looked like. For now you'll just have to believe me when I say she was the most beautiful woman in the world (3).
Who should be jealous of our young princess other than the great goddess of love herself, Venus.

Yes, Venus is jealous. She wants revenge. She wants it now. And who better to deliver it than her winged son, Cupid? Cupid's mission? To make Psyche fall in love with someone she shouldn't. Someone ridiculously ugly or inappropriate. Or some inanimate object, perhaps. Anything to bring shame on the mortal girl will do in Venus' opinion.

Cupid is the story of what happens when this "god of love" falls madly in love himself, falls for the one girl his mother would NEVER approve of! 

Cupid did not understand what had happened to him. If you think about it, that's kind of funny. He was the god of love, but he had never been in love. Love had been a game to him, a game that he controlled with his bow and arrows. But after he saw Psyche, his life would never be again what it had been. (30) 

Like me and like you, Cupid accepted that it was not only possible but rational to love someone to whom he had not spoken--to love someone whose voice he had heard, whose face he had seen for, what? Five minutes? Ten? Certainly no more than that. Yet, this was all it took for him to feel as if he could lift mountains, polish stars, and hold the sun in his hands (35).

But love is never easy. Especially if it's true. One thing is clear. Cupid must choose between his mother and his new love. Who will he choose? What will he do to prove himself to his new love?

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Monday, March 21, 2011

A Red Herring Without Mustard

A Red Herring Without Mustard: A Flavia de Luce Novel. Alan Bradley. 2011. Random House. 399 pages.

"You frighten me," the Gypsy said. "Never have I seen my crystal ball so filled with darkness."

Flavia de Luce stars in her third novel in Alan Bradley's A Red Herring Without Mustard. Her first adventures can be found in Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie and The Weed That Strings The Hangman's Bag. Did I love it? Did I find it delightful? Yes and yes! I am still loving the writing, the characterization, the descriptions, the pacing. There are just so many things to love!

After accidentally setting the gypsy's tent on fire after a fortune-telling reading goes awry, Flavia invites the gypsy woman to camp at the Palings--though she knows her father would disapprove. She does her best to make amends with the woman, but the woman's bad luck continues for someone tries to murder her that very night! Fortunately, Flavia de Luce discovers her in time, but that's only the start of the mysterious doings. Truth is Flavia is finding much to keep her busy. (And when she does have a spare moment or two, she's contemplating revenge on her two older sisters.)

I would definitely recommend this series!

Some of my favorite quotes:

"Spare us the pout. There's enough lip in the world without you adding to it." (27)

I had already learned that sisterhood, like Loch Ness, has things that lurk unseen beneath the surface, but I think it was only now that I realized that of all the invisible strings that tied the three of us together, the dark ones were the strongest. (41)

Alone at last! Whenever I'm with other people, part of me shrinks a little. Only when I am alone can I fully enjoy my own company. (102)

When I come to write my autobiography, I must remember to record the fact that a chicken-wire fence can be scaled by a girl in bare feet, but only by one who is willing to suffer the tortures of the damned to satisfy her curiosity. (142)

I had long ago discovered that when a word or formula refused to come to mind, the best thing for it was to think of something else: tigers, for instance, or oatmeal. Then, when the fugitive word was least expecting it, I would suddenly turn the full blaze of my attention back onto it, catching the culprit in the beam of my mental torch before it could sneak off again into the darkness.
"Thought-stalking," I called the technique, and I was proud of myself for having invented it. (180)

Nursery rhyme riddles had been as much a part of my younger years as they had anyone else's. I suppose it was these little rhymes, learned at an early age, that taught me to be good at puzzles. I've recently come to the conclusion that the nursery rhyme riddle is the most basic form of the detective story. It's mystery stripped of all but the essential facts. (207)



© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Sunday, March 20, 2011

Sunday Salon: Week In Review #12

What I Reviewed at Becky's Book Reviews

Life As We Knew It. Susan Beth Pfeffer. 2006. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 352 pages.
the dead & the gone. Susan Beth Pfeffer. 2008. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 321 pages.
This World We Live In. Susan Beth Pfeffer. 2010. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 239 pages.
Surviving Antarctica: Reality TV 2083. Andrea White. 2005. HarperCollins. 336 pages.
Nightlight: A Parody. The Harvard Lampoon. 2009. Knopf Doubleday. 160 pages.
Ways to Live Forever. Sally Nicholls. 2008. Scholastic. 224 pages.  
Lovers' Vows. Elizabeth Inchbald.1798/2007. Dodo Press. 84 pages*. 
Jane Goes Batty. Michael Thomas Ford. 2011. Random House. 304 pages.

What I Reviewed at Young Readers

Mary Poppins. P.L. Travers. Illustrated by Mary Shepard. 1934/2006. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 224 pages.
Henry and Beezus. Beverly Cleary. 1952/2002. HarperCollins. 192 pages.
Henry and Ribsy. Beverly Cleary. 1954/1990. HarperCollins. 192 pages.
Henry and the Paper Route. Beverly Cleary. 1957/1990. HarperCollins. 208 pages.
Henry and the Clubhouse. Beverly Cleary. 1962. HarperCollins. 192 pages.

What I Reviewed at Operation Actually Read Bible

The Everlasting Tradition: Jewish Customs, Holidays, and Historical Events That Reveal Biblical Truth. Galen Peterson. 1995. Kregel Publications. 160 pages.
Love Amid the Ashes. Mesu Andrews. 2011. Revell. 411 pages.

This week, I made an announcement at Operation Actually Read Bible, that I'll be hosting a New Testament readathon/readalong April 11, 2011 - April 17, 2011. I hope you consider joining me. You can read more about it on the announcement post!

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Spring Reading Thing 2011 -- The List*

Spring Reading Thing 2011
Hosted by Callapidder Days: (Sign Up Post), (Announcement Post), (How-To Post)
Dates: March 20, 2011 - June 20, 2011

This will be my fifth time participating in Katrina's Spring Reading Thing reading challenge! My goal is to read eight to twelve of these books.

1. Mansfield Park. Jane Austen.
2. Jubilee by Margaret Walker
3. Persuasion by Jane Austen
4. Matched. Ally Condie.
5. XVI. Julia Karr.
6. Wither. Laura DeStefano.
7. Elizabeth and the Prince of Spain. Margaret Irwin.
8. Wickham's Diary. Amanda Grange.
9. The Throne of Fire. Kane Chronicles #2 Rick Riordan.
10. Bumped by Megan McCafferty.
11. The Story of Britain From the Norman Conquest to the European Union by Patrick Dillon.
12. The Last Chronicle of Barset by Anthony Trollope
13. Front and Center. Catherine Gilbert Murdock

Classics



Mansfield Park. Jane Austen. 1814/1998. Norton. 520 pages.


Persuasion. Jane Austen 1818/1992. Knopf Doubleday. 304 pages.


Jane Eyre. Charlotte Bronte. 1847. Norton. 552 pages.


The Last Chronicle of Barset. Anthony Trollope. 1867.  928 pages.


Gone With The Wind. Margaret Mitchell. 1936. Simon & Schuster. 1048 pages.

Modern Adaptations/Retellings


Suspense and Sensibility: Or, First Impressions Revisited. Carrie Bebris. 2007. Tor. 304 pages.


Wickham's Diary. Amanda Grange. 2011. Sourcebooks. 208 pages.


Captain Wentworth's Diary by Amanda Grange. 2008. Penguin. 304 pages.


Edmund Bertram's Diary by Amanda Grange. 2008. Penguin. 304 pages.

Children & Young Adult Books



The Complete Grimm's Fairy Tales. 1944/2005. Pantheon/Random House. 880 pages.


The Throne of Fire. Kane Chronicles #2 Rick Riordan. 2011. Hyperion. 464 pages.


The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan (#1 Heroes of Olympus) 2010. Hyperion. 576 pages.

The Dark and Hollow Places by Carrie Ryan. 2011. Random House. 384 pages. 


Wither. Laura DeStefano. 2011. Simon & Schuster. 368 pages.


Bumped by Megan McCafferty. 2011. HarperCollins. 336 pages.



Matched. Ally Condie. 2010. Penguin. 369 pages.


XVI by Julia Karr. 2011. Penguin. 272 pages.


The Summer I Turned Pretty. Jenny Han. 2009. Simon & Schuster. 288 pages.


Front and Center. Catherine Gilbert Murdock. 2009. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 256 pages.


Waiting for Normal. Leslie Connor. 2008. HarperCollins. 304 pages.



The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder. 1966/2007. Simon & Schuster. 224 pages.

Historical Fiction


Jubilee. Margaret Walker. 1966. 512 pages.



A Tree Grows In Brooklyn. Betty Smith. 1943/2006. Harper. 528 pages.




The Sunne in Splendour: "A fascinating portrait of the controversial King Richard III--a monarch betrayed in life by his allies and betrayed in death by history." by Sharon Kay Penman. 1982. 944 pages.

Elizabeth and the Prince of Spain. Margaret Irwin. 1953/2011. Sourcebooks. 336 pages.



Mary of Carisbrooke: The Spellbinding Story of the Imprisoned King Charles and the Girl Who Would Not Betray Him. Margaret Campbell Barnes. 1956/2011. Sourcebooks. 352 pages.

Nonfiction

Flesh and Blood So Cheap: The Triangle Fire and Its Legacy. Albert Marrin. 2011. Random House. 192 pages. 

Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart. Candace Fleming. 2011. Random House. 128 pages.

The Story of Britain From the Norman Conquest to the European Union by Patrick Dillon. 2011. Candlewick Press. 352 pages.

Margaret Mitchell's Gone With The Wind: A Bestseller's Odyssey from Atlanta to Hollywood. Ellen Firsching Brown and John Wiley. 2011. Taylor Trade Publishing. 379 pages.

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Saturday, March 19, 2011

Nightlight: A Parody

Nightlight: A Parody: The Harvard Lampoon. 2009. Knopf Doubleday. 160 pages.

The hot Phoenix sun glared down on the car windowsill where my bare, pallid arm dangled shamelessly. My mom and I were both going to the airport, but only I had a ticket waiting for me, and that ticket was one-way.
I had a dejected, brooding expression on my face, and I could tell from the reflection on the window that it was also an intriguing expression. It seemed out of place, coming from a girl in a sleeveless, lacy top and bell-bottom jeans (stars on the back pockets). But I was that kind of girl--out of place. Then I shifted from that place on the dashboard to a normal position in the seat. Much better.

You'll either love it or hate it. Depending on how you feel about sparkly vampires. If you think of Edward as your ideal match? Probably not so much. But for the rest of us, those that see Twilight as something to be mildly tolerated--at best--to outright ridiculed, well, this is your kind of book.  And I found it to be just the right length. IF this one was as long as Twilight itself, well, it might have become old. But as it is, it's funny enough to entertain you for one afternoon. It's a satisfying read too.

Our narrator, Belle Goose, has just moved to Switchblade, Oregon, to live with her father, who has just gifted her with a U-Haul truck. On her first day of school, she is wowed by Edwart Mullen, a boy more interested in computers than girls. To her delight, this dreamy boy (she's the only one who finds him swoon-worthy) is in her biology class. Here's how she describes him, "I hadn't seen something this beautiful since I was a kid and the Skittles in my sweaty fist turned my hand rainbow." (18) She wants him, but does he want her? How far is she willing to go to get him to notice her? to talk to her? Will he play her games? Will he pretend to be the bossy, controlling vampire that she foolishly imagines him to be? 

I enjoyed Belle Goose. I enjoyed Edwart Mullen. I did. I liked him better than Edward. And I really loved the ending!!! This one had me smiling throughout. When I was looking for what quotes to include, well, I accidentally reread half the book. I think that says something about how well this one works--as a parody, at least. Like how Shamela complements Pamela. When it's done well, you almost wish there were more of these parodies being published.

When I saw him waiting for me outside the terminal, I walked towards him shyly, tripping over a toddler and soaring into a key chain display. Embarrassed, I straightened up and fell down the escalator, somersaulting over the roller luggage inconsiderately placed on the left side. I get my lack of coordination from my dad, who always used to push me down when I was learning how to walk. (5)


"It looks like your first class is English."
"But I've already taken English. A few semesters of it, actually."
"Don't be smart with me, young lady."
So she knew I was smart. Flattered, I conceded.
"You know what?" I said. "I'll go. What the heck, right?"
"Down the hall to your right," she told me. "Room 201."
"Thank you," I said. It wasn't even noon yet, and I'd already made a friend. Was I some kind of people-magnet? (10)

One girl walked with me to the cafeteria for lunch. She had brown bushy hair in a ponytail that was more like a squirrel tail in the context of her beady squirrel eyes. I thought I recognized her from somewhere, but I couldn't place it.
"Hi," she said. "I think I'm in all your classes." So that's why I recognized her. She reminded me of a squirrel I hung out with in Phoenix.
"I'm Belle."
"I know. We've introduced ourselves already. Like, four times."
"Oh, sorry. I have a hard time remembering things that won't be useful to me later." (12)

It was then that I saw him. He was sitting at a table all by himself, not even eating. He had an entire tray of baked potatoes in front of him and still he did not touch a single one. How could a human have his pick of baked potatoes and resist them all? Even odder, he hadn't noticed me, Belle Goose, future Academy Award winner. (13)

First, I told Tom and Lucy that Edwart saved me from a snowball. They weren't impressed. So I started saying Edwart saved me from a rock with snow around it, and, later, I started saying he saved me from an avalanche. One day, I said that Edwart ran with superhuman speed, stopping a car that was about to hit me with his superhuman strength. (33)



© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Weekly Geeks 2011-10 Ten Things

ETA: I forgot to link to Weekly Geeks

1. As much as I love reading new books and new-to-me books, I LOVE rereading books! I do. It is comforting, yes. And satisfying. You might think a book--even a GREAT book--wouldn't be as engaging the second (third, fourth, or even fifth) time around, but I haven't found that to be the case. I think I got more out of North and South the second time around because the characters were already my friends. Because I connected sooner, I was able to notice all the little things that made the story work well.
2. Rereading books is a great way to assess myself as a reader.  Is the book that I loved, loved, loved three years ago really that great? Or did I forget about it three months later? There's no way for me to know if it was infatuation or true love if I never revisit the book. A great book only benefits from a rereading.
3. One bad book can change (forever) how you feel about a series.
4. I never read just one book at a time. I am almost always reading three to five books.
5. I could never commit to reading just one genre.
6. [Bad] Book covers fascinate me. For example, I LOVE looking at old paperback covers. [Dell] [Signet] [Avon] [Bantam] [Ballantine] There are whole decades that I question if there was such a thing as a good book cover!
7. I visit my library regularly.
8. I love reading classics. I especially love bearded Victorians!
9. I never listen to an audio book unless I've read the book. Richard Armitage reading Georgette Heyer makes me giddy!
10. I would rather love a book or hate a book than be left feeling completely indifferent. Because how can you review a book when you feel absolutely nothing?!

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Friday, March 18, 2011

Surviving Antarctica: Reality TV 2083 (MG/YA)

Surviving Antarctica: Reality TV 2083. Andrea White. 2005. HarperCollins. 336 pages.

From the prologue: What chance did Stephen Michael have of winning his Toss? In the year 2080 there were so many fourteen-year-old kids and so few scholarships. And if he lost--he hated to think about his choices then.

From chapter one: THREE YEARS LATER. Andrew Morton was lounging in the soft spot in the tattered couch where he always watched television.

What do Andrew Morton, Polly Pritchard, Robert Johnson, Billy Kanalski, and Grace Untoka have in common with each other? They're all fourteen, and they're all contestants of Historical Survivor, a reality show that 'teaches' by reenactment. This edition of Historical Survivor chronicles the tragic journey of Robert F. Scott and his team. The year? 1912. Their mission? To be the first to reach the South Pole. The Department of Education (DOE) led by Dolly Jabasco (Hot Sauce) will recreate the circumstances faithfully. They will have the tools and resources and supplies that Scott had with him. Can five children succeed where five grown men (experienced explorers) failed? The children, at first, are fearless. They believe that TV is TV. True, there have been a few deaths in past seasons of the show--but those were adults; they're kids. They believe that in a true emergency, the camera crew would be there to save them. Problem is, the camera crew seems to be invisible?! Where are they? How is this show being filmed?!


Told from each teen's perspective and the perspective of one of the editors who chooses to break all the rules, the book is an exciting adventure exploring the ethics and morality of the entertainment industry, society, and the government itself.

Andrea White's novel envisions the world--particularly America in the latter part of the twenty-first century as a shadow of its former self. Having cut all scientific research for economic reasons AND having stopped all public education systems for the same reason. Every household is required to have their children until the age of fourteen watch a certain number of 'educational' programs on TV per week--thirty hours. At the age of 14, each child is given a chance to win a chance at further education (high school, college, etc.) in a roll of the dice type situation. Money is scarce, and society is literally divided into the haves and have-nots.

I loved this one. I would definitely recommend it for fans of The Hunger Games, Divergent, The Maze Runner, and Rash.

Wishes were for people of the twentieth century, not the twenty-first. (10)

She couldn't believe how wrong modern people were. They didn't know that a person's mood came from the inside. (42)

Polly noticed a stack of books on her bedside table. She had read thousands of books on her electronic book card, which she refilled at the computary. But only once had she read a book with an actual cover and pages that turned. It was The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien. She could still remember the pleasant hours she had spent with that book one summer on the steps outside her hut, fanning herself because of the heat. (59)

"Did you know that less than ten percent of the public votes in elections?" Chad said.
"No." Steve wasn't old enough to vote yet. But he knew his mom and dad had never bothered to register.
"Well, the more TV people watch, the less likely they are to vote," Chad said. "Do you understand yet?"
Steve shook his head.
"We're still called a democracy," Jacob broke in. "But only the politicians vote. They control who's in office."
"There's a lot of pressure on the Secretary to keep the ratings up," Chad said.
"The stakes are high. She's got to be always on the lookout for a new gimmick," Jacob added.
The series made more sense now. (83)



© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Thursday, March 17, 2011

Library Loot: Fourth Trip in March

New Loot:

Nightlight: A Parody by The Harvard Lampoon (Thanks Kailana!)
Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Adele by Emma Tennant
Suspense and Sensibility, or, First Impressions Revisited by Carrie Bebris (I am SO SO SO excited my library *finally* got this second book in the series).
Matched by Ally Condie
How Italian Food Conquered the World by John F. Mariani
Margaret Mitchell's Gone With The Wind: A Bestseller's Odyssey from Atlanta to Hollywood by Ellen F. Brown and John Wiley Jr.

Leftover Loot:

The Complete Grimm's Fairy Tales
Persuasion by Jane Austen
Pebble in the Sky by Isaac Asimov
XVI by Julia Karr
Billie Standish Was Here by Nancy Crocker
Brave New Worlds edited by John Joseph Adams
Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire 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.    

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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This World We Live In (YA)

This World We Live In. Susan Beth Pfeffer. 2010. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 239 pages.

I'm shivering, and I can't tell if it's because something strange is going on or because of the dream I had or just because I'm in the kitchen, away from the warmth of the woodstove. It's 1:15AM, the electricity is on, and I'm writing in my diary for the first time in weeks. 

This World We Live In is the sequel to Susan Beth Pfeffer's Life As We Knew It and the dead & the gone. The novel opens at the end of April, it has almost been a full year since the asteroid collided with the moon and life forever changed. In the second novel starring Miranda Evans (and her family), life beyond the sunroom is explored more fully. In Life As We Knew It, there was a routine dullness. Since Miranda, Matt, Jon, and their mom, Laura, rarely ventured out of their two-or-three room sanctuary, there was a sameness to the end of the world. That isn't quite the case with This World We Live In. For this book is ALL about change. Everything is changing--and these changes are coming quite quickly, surprising just about everyone! Soon Miranda's world will include more people--expanding from four to eleven! Among the new people in Miranda's life are Alex and Julie Morales first introduced to readers in the dead & the gone. How will her world change? Will these changes bring hope and love to her bleak life?

This is the second time I've read the novel--the third time if you count listening to the audio book. The first time left me shocked. I couldn't feel satisfied. I couldn't feel hopeful. I couldn't feel much of anything. I needed time and space. I needed to reread the whole trilogy. I needed to see the big picture--to see if there was a big picture.

This World We Live In is a challenging read. It requires readers to care deeply and passionately about these characters, to become a part of their lives, and a part of Pfeffer's strange, cruel world. There is much to contemplate, much to discuss. Particularly when it comes to this ending. I won't go there for this review. I won't. I don't think it's fair to those who have not read the book.

While this one isn't my favorite of the trilogy, I do recommend it.

A year ago I was sixteen years old, a sophomore in high school. Matt was in his freshman year at Cornell and Jon was in middle school. Dad and Lisa had asked me to be godmother to their new baby. Mom was between book projects. I know I've gained a lot in the past year, but I woke up this morning and all I could think about was everything I've lost. No, that's not right. Not everything, everybody. Everything doesn't matter, not really. After a while you get used to being cold, and hungry, and living in the dark. But you can't get used to losing people. Or if you can, I don't want to. So many people in the past year, people I've loved, have vanished from my life. Some have died; others have moved on. It almost doesn't matter. Gone is gone. (61)

If you'd asked me a week ago what it would take for me to feel better, I would've said knowing how Dad and Lisa and the baby were, meeting a boy my own age, and running water.
Now I have all three. I guess I must feel better. (101)

"You don't have to beg here," I said. "We're happy to share."
"No one is happy to share," he said.
Alex looked down then or I looked up. I don't know how it happened, but we made eye contact, and for a moment I was drawn into his soul. I could see everything, the depth of his sorrow, his anger, his despair.
I feel sorrow and anger and despair. I don't think there's a person alive who doesn't. I sometimes feel like my sorrow and anger and despair burn inside me the way the sun used to burn on a hot July day.
But that was nothing compared to what I sensed in Alex. His sorrow, his despair was like a thousand suns, like a galaxy of suns. It physically hurt me to look into his eyes, but I couldn't break away. He turned his head first, and then he apologized, or maybe he thanked me. For Alex I think they're the same thing. (107-8)

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Ways To Live Forever (MG)

Ways to Live Forever. Sally Nicholls. 2008. Scholastic. 224 pages.

List NO. 1 - Five Facts about Me


1. My name is Sam.
2. I am eleven years old.
3. I collect stories and fantastic facts.
4. I have leukemia.
5. By the time you read this, I will probably be dead. 

Sam is dying of leukemia. Sam is also writing a book; a book about himself, a book with stories, a book with lists. One of his lists, for example, is about all the things he'd like to do before he dies. Another lists ways to live forever. Which includes things like "Become a vampire. Hope you don't meet Buffy" and "Find a Greek goddess and make her fall in love with you. Have her get Zeus the king of the gods to make you immortal" (92-93)

Sam isn't facing this alone. He's got his mom and dad, parents who are supportive of him when they're not busy arguing. He's got his sister, Ella, who's nice to be with...some of the time, if only she didn't throw baby tantrums. He's got his best friend, Felix, too. Felix is also dying, though not of leukemia. The two can be oh-so-honest with each other. One of the things they discuss is how Sam's book should end. Since it would be impossible for Sam to write about his own death before it happened. But it's not like they're talking all death, all the time. They enjoy living life too. Like trying to sneak in a cigarette so they know what it's like to smoke. Like trying to watch an R rated movie without getting caught by their parents.

How do you live life knowing your dying? How do you write about it when you're eleven?

This novel is a quick read, but it's a heavy one. It deals with death and dying in a raw, honest way.


© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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The Dead and the Gone (YA)

the dead & the gone. Susan Beth Pfeffer. 2008. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 321 pages.

At the moment when life as he had known it changed forever, Alex Morales was behind the counter at Joey's Pizza, slicing a spinach pesto pie into eight roughly equal pieces.

The dead & the gone is the companion novel to Susan Beth Pfeffer's Life As We Knew It. While Miranda's story--set in Pennsylvania--chronicles her life from May through March of that decisive year, Alex's story--set in New York City--chronicles his life from May through December. Both are family-oriented. Miranda's life being closely tied to her mom and two brothers; Alex's life being closely tied to his two younger sisters, Brianna and Julie. But Alex's story is stronger in many ways. For Alex is the head of the family--for better or worse. Alex is the one making life-and-death decisions. His mom vanished on May 18th--the day the asteroid struck the moon. His dad may or may not have survived the first terrible week. Having been in Puerto Rico for a funeral, he's unable to make contact with his family. And, well, the coasts were hit hard--again and again. So even surviving the first tsunamis might not mean much in the long term. His older brother, Carlos, is in the Marines. He was far from home when it happened, and while he's able to send word--by phone or mail--a few times throughout the book. He's not the one in charge. He's not the one responsible for making the tough decisions on how to best survive. So while Miranda has to grow-up, it is a gradual growing into adulthood. She still has her relaxed moments. There is never one moment for Alex to relax. He carries a heavy weight day and night.

I enjoyed rereading Life As We Knew It and the dead & the gone back to back. There are things I love about both books. Things I appreciate about both books. One thing that makes the dead & the gone a very different story is the focus on faith and community. The dead & the gone is faith-oriented. Alex and his family are Catholics. They all attend Catholic school. They all regularly attend mass. They take their faith, their spirituality, their religion very seriously. The words mean something. The faith means something to them. Something real. Something personal. While each of the siblings has their own reaction--response--to the crisis, none loses their faith, none lose hope completely. I loved seeing this Catholic community in action. I loved seeing the Catholic church reaching out in love and compassion--with great hope and faith--to their community, to their parishioners. There were so many great scenes of this faith-in-action. Where people were responding with their hearts in faith as opposed to acting out of fear and anxiety. It's courageous and wonderful.

The dead & the gone has a broader outlook as well. While the electricity isn't reliable on a day-by-day basis in the dead & the gone, it is certainly more stable than in Life As We Knew It. Alex is connected to the larger world. He hears--for better or worse--more about the world at large. He is more aware of what is going on in other states. While Miranda and her family may go weeks or months without contact to other survivors, Alex is out of the house most days--at least before the flu epidemic comes. He's not as isolated as Miranda. Does not being so isolated help him cope? Maybe. But every day, every week is a struggle. Alex does things he'd NEVER thought he'd be doing.

Is Alex more of a hero than Miranda? I'm not sure that is exactly fair. Miranda has her courageous moments too. (I'm thinking of the woodstove mishap.) But. Alex's story has power no doubt about it.
I would definitely recommend both books.

"Give the scientists some time and they'll figure out what to do."
"This is too big for the scientists," Lorraine said. "Only God can save us now."
"Then He will," Alex said. (13)

God save their souls, Alex prayed. God save ours. It was the only prayer he could think of, no matter how inadequate it might be. It offered him no comfort, but he repeated it unceasingly. As long as he prayed he didn't have to think. He didn't have to remember. He didn't have to decide. He didn't have to acknowledge he was entering a world where no one had laid out the rules for him to follow, a world where there might not be any rules left for any of them to follow. (65)

"She says you've been having bad dreams."
"Aren't you?" Julie asked. "Isn't everyone?"
Alex burst out laughing. "Only sane people," he said. "Okay, maybe not Bri. But everyone else is."
"Are things going to get better?" Julie asked. "Is that why you listen to the news all the time, because someday things are going to get better?"
Alex shook his head. "That's not why I listen," he replied. "That's why I pray but not why I listen."
"Do you think God listens?" she asked.
"Bri thinks so," Alex said. "Father Franco thinks so." (81)

It was hard being alone in the apartment staring at an unringing phone, haunted by the food in the kitchen, which he wouldn't allow himself to touch, haunted even more by the image of his mother drowning in the subway that very first night. He tried reading. He tried praying. He tried push-ups. He tried counting the cans of soup. He listened to the radio, using up the twenty-dollar batteries. The world was coming to an end. Well, that was nothing new. (123)

"And what's so special about you that you deserve compassion?" Father Mulrooney said. "You have shelter. You have food. You have family and friends. I'm supposed to feel pity for you because of a cut cheek?"
"You don't understand at all," Alex said. "I have shelter for as long as no one thinks about it. Once they do, once they realize my father is gone, they can throw us out. I have food only if I get lunch here. We're down to almost nothing at home, and I have to make sure my kid sister eats. She is my family right now, because my parents are both gone and my older brother is in the Marines somewhere and I sent my other sister to live at a convent with strangers. My cheek was cut because I got caught in a food riot, with my kid sister, and we ended up with no food anyway. I'm not asking you to pity me. I pity me enough for the two of us. But when one of your students asks you for food, you shouldn't say no and feel righteous about it. That's not what Christ would have done, and you know it." (133)

"What do you have planned for tomorrow?"
Alex shrugged. "The usual," he said. "Checking on the elderly, studying theology, fighting for survival. Same old, same old." (151)

"I know it's wrong to feel that way about God and I know it's wrong to not feel anything. I hate it. I don't hate God. I hate not loving Him." (184)


© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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