Tuesday, May 31, 2011

May Reflections

I discovered two great authors this May! I just LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe series. I wish my library had more of his books! I really do. If they had as many Stout books as they did Christie, I'd be very, very happy! Have you read Rex Stout? Are you familiar with Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin? Do you have a favorite novel or novella from this series? 

My other discovery this month is Pearl S. Buck. I read two incredibly wonderful books that I just loved--Kinfolk and East Wind: West Wind. The other Buck novels I read this month--The Good Earth, Sons, A House Divided, and Peony--I had mixed feelings about. But even though I haven't loved every book of hers unconditionally, I'm happy to have discovered her. Have you read Pearl S. Buck? Do you have a favorite? I'd encourage you not to judge her by The Good Earth alone.

While most of this month's reads are older titles--my earliest being 1817--I was able to read thirteen 2011 books. (Including City of Fallen Angels by Cassandra Clare, Stay. Deb Caletti, The Throne of Fire. Kane Chronicles #2 Rick Riordan, What Happened To Goodbye. Sarah Dessen, and Bumped by Megan McCafferty.) I'm hoping to read even more 2011 titles in June and July.

I still haven't found the perfect balance in reading and blogging. But I was able to read this month for each of my blogs.

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, Historical Fiction, Chunkster Challenge, Victorian Literature Challenge, Cruisin' Thru the Cozies. Spring Reading Thing, Once Upon a Time.

This month I read 33 books.

Board Books: 1; Picture Books: 6; Middle Grade: 1; Young Adult: 5; Adult: 14; Christian Nonfiction: 4; Nonfiction 2.

Review Copies: 9; Library Books: 19; Bought Books: 5.

My top five:

Kinfolk. Pearl S. Buck.
Some Buried Caesar. Nero Wolfe Mystery. Rex Stout.
The Virginian. Owen Wister.  
The Last Chronicle of Barset. Anthony Trollope.
What Happened To Goodbye. Sarah Dessen.

Reviews at Becky's Book Reviews

East Wind: West Wind. Pearl S. Buck. 1930/1995. Moyer Bell. 288 pages.
Black Orchids. A Nero Wolfe Mystery. Rex Stout. 1941/1942. Random House. 208 pages.
The Good Earth. Pearl S. Buck. 1931/2004. Simon & Schuster. 368 pages.
Sons. Pearl S. Buck. 1932/2005. Moyer Bell. 320 pages.
Kinfolk. Pearl S. Buck. 1945/2004. Moyer Bell. 408 pages.  
The Silent Speaker. Rex Stout. 1946/1994. Random House. 288 pages.   
Northanger Abbey. Jane Austen. 1817/1992. Everyman's Library. 288 pages.
The Pickwick Papers. Charles Dickens. 1836/1837/1999. Penguin Classics. 810 pages.
Some Buried Caesar. Nero Wolfe Mystery. Rex Stout. 1938. Random House. 288 pages.
The Virginian. Owen Wister. 1902. Penguin Classics. 370 pages.
A House Divided. Pearl S. Buck. 1935/2006. Moyer Bell. 348 pages.
Peony. Pearl S. Buck. 1948/2006. Moyer Bell. 352 pages.
The Penelopiad: The Myth of Penelope and Odysseus. Margaret Atwood. 2005. 220 pages.
The Last Chronicle of Barset. Anthony Trollope. 1867.  928 pages.
The Throne of Fire. Kane Chronicles #2 Rick Riordan. 2011. Hyperion. 464 pages. 
City of Fallen Angels by Cassandra Clare. (Mortal Instruments #4) 2011. Simon & Schuster. 424 pages.
Stay. Deb Caletti. 2011. Simon & Schuster. 320 pages.
Bumped by Megan McCafferty. 2011. HarperCollins. 336 pages.
What Happened To Goodbye. Sarah Dessen. 2011. Penguin. 416 pages.
The Miles Between. Mary E. Pearson. 2009. Henry Holt. 272 pages.  
The Story of Britain From the Norman Conquest to the European Union by Patrick Dillon. 2011. Candlewick Press. 352 pages.

Reviews at Young Readers

Your Mommy Was Just Like You. Kelly Bennett. Illustrated by David Walker. 2011. Penguin. 32 pages.
My Side of the Car. Kate Feiffer. Illustrated by Jules Feiffer. 2011. Candlewick. 32 pages.
Chicken, Chicken, Duck! Nadia Krilanovich. 2011. Random House. 32 pages.
The Boss Baby. Marla Frazee. 2010. Simon & Schuster.  40 pages.
Tweak Tweak by Eve Bunting. Illustrated by Sergio Ruzzier. 2011. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 40 pages.
A Ball for Daisy. Chris Raschka. 2011. Random House. 32 pages.
Everywhere Babies. Susan Meyers. Illustrated by Marla Frazee. 2001/2011. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 30 pages.
The Watcher: Jane Goodall's Life with the Chimps. Jeannette Winter. 2011. Random House. 48 pages. 

Reviews at Operation Actually Read Bible

The Holiness of God. R.C. Spoul. 1985. Tyndale. 280 pages.
Why One Way?: Defending an Exclusive Claim in an Inclusive World. John MacArthur. 2002. Thomas Nelson. 96 pages.
Joni. Joni Eareckson Tada. 1976. 224 pages.
Our Awesome God. John MacArthur. 1993/2001. Crossway Books. 176 pages.

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Monday, May 30, 2011

The Penelopiad

The Penelopiad: The Myth of Penelope and Odysseus. Margaret Atwood. 2005. 220 pages.

Now that I'm dead I know everything. This is what I wished would happen, but like so many of my wishes it failed to come true. I know only a few factoids that I didn't know before. It's much too high a price to pay for the satisfaction of curiosity, needless to say. Since being dead -- since achieving this state of bonelessness, liplessness, breastlessness -- I've learned some things I would rather not know, as one does when listening at windows or opening other people's letters. You think you'd like to read minds? Think again. Down here everyone arrives with a sack, like the sacks used to keep the winds in, but each of these sacks is full of words -- words you've spoken, words you've heard, words that have been said about you. Some sacks are very small, others large; my own is of a reasonable size, though a lot of the words in it concern my eminent husband. What a fool he made of me, some say. He got away with everything, which was another of his specialties: getting away. He was always so plausible...

The Penelopiad is a novel retelling of the Greek myth of Penelope and Odysseus. The story is told essentially from thirteen points-of-view. That is if you count each of the twelve maids as a person, an individual. In alternating chapters, we hear from Penelope, the faithful wife of Odysseus, and from Penelope's twelve maids, beautiful young women who were raped and harassed by Penelope's suitors while her husband was missing in action. While Penelope's voice stays the same throughout the novel, the narration by the maids varies throughout. Almost like a kaleidoscope. These twelve voices are united together as one; they are a chorus begging to be heard, and a chorus demanding justice. I found these chapters to be the most creative. Not that I didn't enjoy Penelope's side of things. I did. How perhaps only in her death did she begin to realize what a jerk Odysseus was. How he had a way of spinning things always to his advantage, a way to make himself appear to be the hero no matter the facts.

I thought The Penelopiad was well-written. It was creative, compelling, and  easy to read. (I'm not so sure you'd even need to be all that familiar with the original myth.) I liked it. I'm very glad I read it. It was definitely an enjoyable way to spend an afternoon. But I'm not sure that I loved it.

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Sunday Salon: Week in Review #22

What I reviewed at Becky's Book Reviews

What Happened To Goodbye. Sarah Dessen. 2011. Penguin. 416 pages.
The Miles Between. Mary E. Pearson. 2009. Henry Holt. 272 pages.  
Some Buried Caesar. Nero Wolfe Mystery. Rex Stout. 1938. Random House. 288 pages.
The Virginian. Owen Wister. 1902. Penguin Classics. 370 pages.
A House Divided. Pearl S. Buck. 1935/2006. Moyer Bell. 348 pages.
Peony. Pearl S. Buck. 1948/2006. Moyer Bell. 352 pages.
The Last Chronicle of Barset. Anthony Trollope. 1867.  928 pages.

What I reviewed at Operation Actually Read Bible

Our Awesome God. John MacArthur. 1993/2001. Crossway Books. 176 pages. 

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Saturday, May 28, 2011

June Reading List

I haven't tried sharing lists of what I'm *hoping* to read lately. So I thought I'd try it for the month of June. Making a list is very fun for me, but I'm not always great at sticking to the lists I make.

I do hope to participate in MotherReader's 48 Hour Reading Challenge next weekend (June 3-5). (I haven't decided if I'll be starting Friday afternoon or Friday evening.) So some of these books I'm "saving" just for that event. Several of the adult books are for blog tours.

Middle Grade/Young Adult

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray
This book begins with a plane crash. 
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness (6/3/2011)
The monster showed up just after midnight. As they do.
As I Wake by Elizabeth Scott (6/4/2011)
Wake up. I'm in bed. Sheets and blankets tucked around me, my legs sprawled out like I've fallen. 
Between Here and Forever by Elizabeth Scott
I lean forward and look at Tess.
Chime by Franny Billingsley

I've confessed to everything and I'd like to be hanged. Now, if you please. I don't mean to be difficult, but I can't bear to tell my story. I can't relive those memories--the touch of the Dead Hand, the smell of eel, the gulp and swallow of the swamp.
Our Only May Amelia by Jennifer L. Holm (6/3/2011)
My brother Wilbert tells me that I was the first ever girl born in Nasel, that I was A Miracle. He tells me this as we stand at the edge of the water, on the Nasel River, watching it rush by crazily. He is trying to cheer me up.
The Trouble with May Amelia by Jennifer L. Holm
My brother Wilbert tells me that I'm like the grain of sand in an oyster. Someday I will be a Pearl, but I will nag and irritate the poor oyster and everyone else up until then. 
Raider's Ransom by Emily Diamand.
Cat puts up his nose to sniff the breath of wind barely filling the sail, and opens his small pink mouth to speak. "Yow yow," he says, and I know what he's thinking: We're nearly there.
Waiting for Normal by Leslie Connor
Maybe Mommers and I shouldn't have been surprised; Dwight had told us it was a trailer even before we'd packed our bags. 
The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han
We'd been driving for about seven thousand years. Or at least that's how it felt.
Theodosia and the Eyes of Horus by R.L. LaFevers
I hate being followed. I especially hate being followed by a bunch of lunatic adults playing at being occultists. 
Theodosia and the Last Pharoah by R.L. LaFevers
Even with the windows closed, the sand still managed to creep into the railway car and find its way into the most inconvenient places. 
The Necropolis by PJ Hoover
Flashing lights inside his brain was not the way Benjamin wanted to start his day--especially when his day was starting at three in the morning. If only he could travel back in time to midnight and sleep for three more hours.
I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett
Why was it, Tiffany Aching wondered, that people liked noise so much? Was was noise so important?
The Dark and Hollow Places by Carrie Ryan
 This city used to be something once. I've seen pictures of the way it gleamed--sun so bright off windows it could burn your eyes. At night, lights shouted from steel like catcalls, loud and lewd, while all day long white-gloved men rushed to open doors for women who tottered about on sky-scraper heels.

Adult

Hope Rekindled by Tracie Peterson (6/2/2011)
"You...you can't marry him," Jake Wythe declared, taking Deborah Vandermark by the arm. 
Lady of Bolton Hill by Elizabeth Camden
"Come on, boy. Your dad needs you."
How Huge the Night by Heather Munn and Lydia Munn
"Isn't that beautiful, Julien?"
The Sweetest Thing by Elizabeth Musser
I met Dobbs on the day my world fell apart.
Pompeii by T.L. Higley
Ariella shoved through the clogged street, defying the mob of frantic citizens.
Martha by Diana Wallis Taylor
Martha watched her father walk slowly up the road as the afternoon shadows appeared, and he was smiling.
Miss Marjoribanks by Margaret Oliphant
Miss Marjoribanks lost her mother when she was only fifteen, and when, to add to the misfortune, she was absent at school, and could not have it in her power to soothe her dear mamma's last moments, as she herself said.
Ruth by Elizabeth Gaskell
There is an assize-town in one of the eastern counties which was much distinguished by the Tudor sovereigns, and, in consequence of their favour and protection, attained a degree of importance that surprises the modern traveller.
The Cat Who Could Read Backwards by Lilian Jackson Braun (6/2/2011)
Jim Qwilleran, whose name had confounded typesetters and proofreaders for two decades, arrived fifteen minutes early for his appointment with the managing editor of the Daily Fluxion. 
True Grit by Charles Portis (6/3/2011)
People do not give it credence that a fourteen-year-old girl could leave home and go off in the wintertime to avenge her father's blood but it did  not seem so strange then, although I will say it did not happen every day.
The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Kay Penman
Richard did not become frightened until darkness began to settle over the woods.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
Serene was a word you could put to Brooklyn, New York. Especially in the summer of 1912. Somber, as a word, was better. But it did not apply to Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Prairie was lovely and Shenandoah had a beautiful sound, but you couldn't fit those words into Brooklyn. Serene was the only word for it; especially on a Saturday afternoon in summer.

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Library Loot: Fourth Trip in May

New Loot:

Under a War-Torn Sky by L.M. Elliott
A Troubled Peace by L.M. Elliott
The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle
The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
The Temple of the Muses (SPQR Mystery #4) by John Maddox Roberts
Daughter of Venice by Donna Jo Napoli
The Year of My Indian Prince by Ella Thorp Ellis
Catnap by Carole Nelson Douglas
Wish You Were Here by Rita Mae Brown & Sneaky Pie Brown
True Grit by Charles Portis
Chime by Franny Billingsley
Our Only May Amelia by Jennifer L. Holm
The Trouble with May Amelia by Jennifer L. Holm
Dickens' Fur Coat and Charlotte's Unanswered Letters by Daniel Pool
The Cat Who Could Read Backwards by Lilian Jackson Braun
The Cat Who Turned On and Off by Lilial Jackson Braun
The Color of Magic by Terry Pratchett
The Light Fantastic by Terry Pratchett
Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett

Leftover Loot:

The Catiline Conspiracy (SPQR Mystery #2) by John Maddox Roberts
The Sacrilege (SPQR Mystery #3) by John Maddox Roberts
Three Complete Novels: A, B, C by Sue Grafton
The Nursing Home Murders by Ngaio Marsh
Death and the Dancing Footman by Ngaio Marsh
Three at Wolfe's Door: A Nero Wolfe Threesome by Rex Stout
Death of a Doxy by Rex Stout

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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The Last Chronicle of Barset

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

'I can never bring myself to believe it, John.' said Mary Walker, the pretty daughter of Mr. George Walker, attorney of Silverbridge. 

I love Anthony Trollope. I do. You know I do. So finishing The Last Chronicle of Barset was bittersweet for me. On the one hand, I loved it. It was such a great book. There are so many old friends to be found within it. So many characters that I've come to know and love through the first five books--The Warden, Barchester Towers, Doctor Thorne, Framley Parsonage. The Small House At Allington. And it was great to visit with them again. To reconnect with them. There were many new characters to love as well. So I loved it cover to cover. On the other hand, perhaps because it was so wonderful, it made it all the more difficult to say goodbye.

When Mr. Crawley, the curate of Hogglestock, is accused of stealing a cheque, everyone in Barsetshire begins to take sides. Some feel that he couldn't possibly have meant to steal the money, there has to be a valid excuse as to why his wife tried to spend another man's cheque to pay her bill. Others feel that he's guilty. What valid excuse could any man have for having another man's cheque in his possession? This Mr. Crawley may be a clergyman, but he also must be a thief. You might think that the church would stand by him. At least until he's been found guilty and punished by the courts. But the bishop and his wife, Mrs. Proudie, are his harshest critics. She is demanding (or should I say commanding) that he resign. She would call for his resignation because he looks guilty. Even if the courts were to clear him, I think she would want him gone. (Not that every clergyman agrees with the bishop and his wife. In fact, some lean more towards believing Crawley to be innocent because Mrs. Proudie is so sure of his guilt. And they wouldn't want to agree with her on any subject.)

Many people are upset by the Crawley's misfortune. Especially Grace Crawley, his beautiful daughter, and her suitor, Major Henry Grantley, the second son of Archdeacon Grantly. His father has been very firm in opposing this match. Yet Major Grantley can't turn his back on the woman he loves. And speak to her he must. If she'll agree to marry him, then he'll be truly happy. Of course, she is refusing to answer yes or no until her father's trial is over. If her father is found guilty, we're led to believe she would never ever consent to be his wife. (One of my favorite scenes in the entire novel is when Archdeacon Grantley goes to visit Grace Crawley. He approaches her full of anger and wrath, determined that he'll speak bluntly and forcefully with her. Yet by the end of the scene who has won the day?!) So I loved this romance, I did.

The other romance--of sorts--is Lily Dale and Johnny Eames, a non-couple we first met in Small House at Allington, he's still madly in love with his Lily. And she's still stubbornly refusing to even hear him speak of love and marriage. She will never, ever, ever, ever, ever marry. He's not convinced that his love is hopeless. And he's not alone in thinking that his romance is hopeless--there are so many supporters on his side, so many hoping that Lily will one day say yes. But who is more stubborn? Readers learn the answer to that in this final volume.

Of course, those are just some of the stories within The Last Chronicle of Barset. I wish I had some quotes to share. But I've probably marked over a hundred pages--and I couldn't begin to pick and choose from that many. But trust me. Trollope is Trollope and his writing is wonderful like always!

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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The Miles Between (YA)

The Miles Between. Mary E. Pearson. 2009. Henry Holt. 272 pages. 

I was seven the first time I was sent away. This raised eyebrows, even among by parent's globe-trotting friends, and I was brought back home in short order. Rumors are embarrassing, you know? A nanny was employed, but that only partially solved their problem. I was still in the house. I was seen and heard. When I turned eight years old, it seemed reasonable enough to send me off again. And they did. They never kept me at any one place for long. 

Des (Destiny) Faraday, our narrator, doesn't have many friends. Then again, she doesn't want any friends. Readers meet her on October 19th, a day that Des has come to dread year after year, though readers aren't quite sure why. Wanting to take control of her life, Des rips the page right off her calendar. Things seem to be off on a shaky start. Until she meets a stranger. Until she asks for one fair day in the universe. Until she finds a car with a running engine. Until she finds three companions that need escape from Hedgebrook Academy--a boarding school--just as much as she does. Can one day of freedom on the road change lives? Perhaps.

I enjoyed The Miles Between. It was emotional--very emotional in places. Though the novel only covers one day, there is so much growth and development. Destiny is changed by this day--and it's a wonderful thing to see. And the writing is lovely. I would compare it to Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta, but I think The Miles Between is an easier read, a less-intimidating read.

There are so many different ways of being good. It's all about perspective. (35)

The world before us is a postcard, and I imagine the story we are writing on it. (45)

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Peony

Peony. Pearl S. Buck. 1948/2006. Moyer Bell. 352 pages.

It was spring in the city of K'aifeng, a late spring in the northern Chinese province of Honan. Behind the high city walls the peach trees, planted in courtyards, bloomed earlier than they did upon the farms spreading over the level plains around the moat. Yet even in such shelter the peach blossoms were still only rosy buds at Passover.

Is it possible to be fascinated by a book that you don't quite like? I think so for I found Peony by Pearl S. Buck to be completely fascinating and compelling and yet not quite to my liking. Narrated by a bondmaid, Peony, readers learn about a Jewish community living within the Chinese city of K'aifeng in the early 19th century. Peony, a Chinese servant who was "bought" as a young child to be a companion to the couple's young son, David, a woman who comes to fall in love with him. It is an all-consuming, sometimes quite manipulative love, a forbidden love, but a forever kind of love nonetheless.

Ezra and Madame Ezra could never accept this servant as a daughter-in-law. But both are fond of her in their own way. As for David, he couldn't imagine life without Peony nearby. He promises that as long as he lives, she'll always always have a place in his home. But does he love her? At the beginning? Not really. Does he even know what love is?!

It is Madame Ezra's greatest desire for her son, David, to marry Leah, the daughter of the rabbi. It is her greatest desire that her son will come to embrace the Jewish faith, study under the rabbi, and maybe just maybe take his place since the rabbi's son, Aaron, is no good. She even invites Leah to live with them in their home. Hoping that Leah will be able to persuade David that he is more Jewish than Chinese. (David's father, Ezra, had a Chinese mother and a Jewish father.)

But. David is more like his father, Ezra, than his mother. David tries to learn about Judaism from the rabbi. He reads what he is supposed to read. He studies what he is supposed to study. But he has a hard time believing that God is real, that his people are chosen, that a wrathful God--a jealous God--could be a good God, a holy God, a just God. Instead, David comes to believe that religions are mostly the same--all man-made and essentially nonsense. He's closer to "accepting" the teachings of Confucius than the teachings of the Torah. He brings the rabbi to despair and breaks his mother's heart--for a time at least.

So his mother is pushing him to marry Leah. And Peony is pushing him to marry a pretty (but mindless) Chinese girl, Kueilan. For she believes that she could get along better with her than Leah. That if he chooses Leah--and the faith--that she'll be pushed out of his life. She even goes so far as to write both sides of their love letters! Peony has flaws--plenty of flaws! And it wasn't easy for me to stay on good terms with her.  

So Peony chronicles the lives of this Jewish family. It examines the tension between being Jewish and being Chinese. It examines how living in China for several centuries--at least--has had an impact on their faith, their culture, their teachings. It explores the decay of this community. How almost each generation weakens the faith, weakens the community. Each generation coming to compromise more and more of their faith.

So I liked elements of this one. I found the story itself to be fascinating. The novel covers several decades--at least--of this Jewish community from the point of view of one prominent family. And the afterword by Wendy R. Abraham was equally fascinating. I learned how much was fact, how much was fiction. How Pearl Buck played with the chronology a bit, but was true enough in some ways to do this community justice. But. I can't say that I "liked" the characters themselves--David and Peony especially. I found my heart breaking--along with his mother's heart--when David rejected faith in the one true God. I found it sad--very sad--to see the decay of the faith. How when the rabbi died there was no one within the community to take his place, there was no one left to carry on his work, his teachings. And Peony? Well. I found her to be selfish and manipulative and deceitful. So I liked some things; didn't like other things.

I did find it to be well-written. I think I liked this one more than the Good Earth trilogy, but I still think Kinfolk is my favorite.

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Friday, May 27, 2011

A House Divided

A House Divided. Pearl S. Buck. 1935/2006. Moyer Bell. 348 pages.  

In this way Wang Yuan, son of Wang the Tiger, entered for the first time in his life the earthen house of his grandfather, Wang Lung.

The third book in Pearl S. Buck's The Good Earth trilogy. (The first two books are The Good Earth and Sons.) Is A House Divided the best of the three? Perhaps if you prefer books where characters actually have names (and some character development).

At the end of Sons, Wang Yuan had returned home to face his father. He'd been sent away to school--to learn how to become a soldier--and now he's returned. In Sons, I didn't quite grasp why he had come home. I knew he was angry--very angry. And I knew his father was shocked--very shocked--by his son's new beliefs, new philosophies. But I didn't know at the time exactly WHAT that meant for them both.

Within a few paragraphs of A House Divided, however, it all became clear. When Yuan came home it was because if he stayed at the school, if he stayed in this new army, this new revolution, it would just be a matter of time before he'd be marching against his father and his father's way of life--against the scattered war lords that dominated the country. And so when it came down to it--he chose his father. Not because he agreed with his father. Not because he wanted to step into his father's place. No, he still rejects almost everything his father stands for. But he's choosing to remove himself from both extremes, he's choosing not to do battle or choose sides at all.

So Yuan cannot--or should I say will not--stay in his father's home. So where can Yuan go? Well, after a very brief stay in his grandfather's hut in the country--Wang Lung--he decides to go to the city to see his half-sister, Ai-lan, and his stepmother. (Is stepmother the right word? His father had two wives. One wife chosen by Wang the Merchant, one wife chosen by Wang the Landlord. I believe he calls her mother but she's not his biological mother.) He remains with them--in the city--for quite a while! In the city, he goes to school--not to learn the art of war, of soldiering--but to pursue his own interests. And he has many interests. He wants to know everything, to learn everything. He wants more, more, more. Part of him is interested in beauty and nature and poetry. And another part of him is interested in agriculture, in farming. He wants to know THE BEST way to work the land. There is a part of him that would love to return to the land and be a farmer, an educated farmer, a farmer who can read and write and philosophize, but a farmer nonetheless. But his life with his half-sister and two cousins Meng and Sheng, leads him into a little trouble. For new ideas abound in the city. And some of these ideas are a little dangerous. There comes a time when his new home is no longer safe...

So Yuan goes to the United States. What will he learn there? Will he be happy? Will he be miserable? Will he hate himself for loving it? Or love himself for hating it? When he returns--how will he see his country? Will he be able to find a place to really belong in China? Will Yuan ever stop over-thinking everything in his life?  

Wang Yuan is SO different from his father, Wang the Tiger. And it was nice to see that change, that contrast. But Yuan's periods of self-doubt and self-loathing--which we see cover to cover--became tiresome. I'm not saying that he wasn't believable as a character, that he wasn't developed enough. It's just that it kept me from liking him as much as I'd hoped at the start. The first third of the book, I thought, held great promise. I was liking Yuan--pleasantly surprised that I was liking him since I hadn't really "liked" Wang Lung or Wang the Tiger--but in the end I didn't really grow to love him.

However, I can say that while I didn't *love* him as a character, I can see how Yuan's inner turmoil matches that of China, that of his generation, those torn between loyalties to the older generation and these new ideas of revolution and freedom. Yuan is not alone in his angst. 

Yuan on his "father's love."

He has never loved me all his life long! He thinks he loves me and that he holds me the only dear thing he has, and yet never once has he asked me what I really want to do, or if he did, it was to refuse me if what I aid was not his wish, so that I always must take thought to say what he wanted and I have had no freedom! (5)

Yuan on why he can't be a soldier:

I cannot kill--I am not brave, I know. The truth is I cannot hate wholly enough to kill a man. I always know how he feels, too. (44)

Yuan on the poor:

At this time of his life Yuan loved pleasure, and he was unwilling to see the poor, and yet he was so shaped within that he saw them all even while he wished he did not. (68)

Yuan on having sons of his own:

Yes, one day he would have sons. But those sons--they should be free--free of any shaping from him who was their father! They should not be made for soldiers, nor shaped for any destiny, nor bound to any family cause. (266)

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Virginian

The Virginian. Owen Wister. 1902. Penguin Classics. 370 pages.

Some notable sight was drawing the passengers, both men and women, to the window; and therefore I rose and crossed the car to see what it was. I saw near the track an enclosure, and round it some laughing men, and inside it some whirling dust, and amid the dust some horses, plunging, huddling, and dodging. They were cow ponies in a corral, and one of them would not be caught, no matter who threw the rope.

I do not read many westerns. (If I remember correctly, this is only my second or third western. Depending on if you count These is My Words by Nancy E. Turner. My first western was Riders of the Purple Sage by Zane Grey.) In fact, I have always believed myself to be completely allergic to the genre. Me? Like a western?! Really?! Well, I did more than like this one. I loved it. I maybe even loved, loved, loved it. While I'm not sure that I can echo what Dolce Bellezza said in her review: "It will definitely be in my top ten list for the year, and quite possibly for my life." I definitely agree that it is worth reading. I was very happy to be so surprised!

The Virginian is a collection of interconnected stories. Some are more "connected" than others. Some of the stories are told through a first person account, a first person narrator, whom we come to know simply as Tenderfoot or The Tenderfoot. He's an Eastern man that has come west to Wyoming territory. And The Virginian, our real hero, is his protector as this newbie is learning his way.
When Judge Henry ascertained that nothing could prevent me from losing myself, that it was not uncommon for me to saunter out after breakfast with a gun and in thirty minutes cease to know north from south, he arranged for my protection. He detailed an escort for me; and the escort was once more the trustworthy man! The poor Virginian was taken from his work and his comrades and set to playing nurse for me. And for a while this humiliation ate into his untamed soul. It was his lugubrious lost to accompany me in my rambles, preside over my blunders, and save me from calamitously passing into the next world. He bore it in courteous silence, except when speaking was necessary. He would show me the lower ford, which I could never find for myself, generally mistaking a quicksand for it. He would tie my horse properly. He would recommend me not to shoot my rifle at a white-tailed deer in the particular moment that the outfit wagon was passing behind the animal on the further side of the brush. There was seldom a day that he was not obliged to hasten and save me from sudden death or from ridicule, which is worse. Yet never once did he lose his patience; and his gentle, slow voice, and apparently lazy manner remained the same, whether we were sitting at lunch together, or up in the mountains during a hunt, or whether he was bringing me back my horse, which had run away again because I had again forgotten to throw the reins over his head and let them trail. (45)
But other stories are told in third person. Through a series of adventures, we get to know The Virginian; we get to know the people close to The Virginian. The men he works with and respects. The men he works with and doesn't respect. His friends. His enemies. My favorite of these may just be the woman, the "school teacher spinster" whom he falls in love with, Miss Molly Wood. 

 I found myself enjoying not just the characters, not just the stories, but the writing style itself. After the clumsiness of Zane Grey (at least in Riders of the Purple Sage) I was happy to see a western written by someone who could really write. There was just something about this one that worked for me. It was dramatic. It was suspenseful. It was humorous. It was emotional. It was romantic--in places. Some of my favorite scenes were the ones between The Virginian and Miss Molly Wood. I loved their courtship. How steady he was, how stubborn she was. How he took the time to read *most* of the books she loaned him. How he was fond of a good book--Shakespeare especially. But how he really didn't get why she loved Jane Austen so much! I liked their conversations on the books he read. I liked his conversations with her in general.

But The Virginian isn't just a romance. I mean there is a happily ever after at the end. But in between all the courting scenes--and there are really only a handful--The Virginian is busy working and riding and managing the Judge's ranch--he's foreman--and generally seeing that justice is done. (Because there are cattle thieves about!) So there is plenty of action and adventure and humor. There's plenty of good fun in this one. But it's not without its darker moments, its life-and-death moments.

Favorite quotes:

The Virginian was grave in bearing and of infrequent speech; but he kept a song going--a matter of some seventy-nine verses. Seventy-eight were quite unprintable, and rejoiced his brother cow-punchers monstrously. (62)

No one of her admirers had ever been like this creature. The fringed leathern chaperreros, the cartridge belt, the flannel shirt, the knotted scarf at the neck, these things were now an old story to her. Since her arrival she had seen young men and old in plenty dressed thus. But worn by the man now standing by her door, they seemed to radiate romance. (83)

Molly Wood was regarding him saucily. "I don't think I like you," said she.
"That's all square enough. You're goin' to love me before we get through. I wish yu'd come a-ridin', ma'am."
"Dear, dear, dear! So I'm going to love you? How will you do it? I know men think that they only need to sit and look strong and make chests at a girl--"
"Goodness gracious! I ain't makin' any chests at yu'!" Laughter overcame him for a moment, and Miss Wood liked his laugh very much. "Please come a-ridin," he urged. "It's the prettiest kind of a day."
She looked at him frankly, and there was a pause. "I will take back two things that I said to you," she then answered him. "I believe that I do like you. And I know that if I went riding with you, I should not have an immature protector." (85)

"And now I'll not see you for quite a while. I am going a long way. But I'll be very busy. And bein' busy always keeps me from grievin' too much about you."
Strange is woman! She would rather have heard some other last remark than this.
"Oh, very well!" she said. "I'll not miss you either."
He smiled at her. "I doubt if yu' can help missin' me," he remarked. And he was gone at once, galloping on his Monte horse. Which of the two won a victory this day? (94)

If words were meant to conceal our thoughts, melody is perhaps still thicker veil for them. (142)




© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Some Buried Caesar

Some Buried Caesar. Nero Wolfe Mystery. Rex Stout. 1938. Random House. 288 pages.

That sunny September day was full of surprises. 

Some Buried Caesar is my third Rex Stout mystery. And I am just LOVING Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin. I am. I can officially call it love now. For Some Buried Caesar may just be my favorite yet. (The other two that I've read are The Silent Speaker and The Black Orchid.)

So Archie Goodwin and Nero Wolfe are "on vacation" you might say. They've taken some of Wolfe's orchids to an exhibition or fair where there will be judged. Many, many things are being judged--including livestock. So on their way, Archie has a car accident. The two decide--after some disagreement--that together they will walk to the nearest house to phone for help. But there's one little problem that becomes a big problem--the two decide to take a short cut through a pasture. Turns out the fence was there for a very good reason. A bull. A bull who sees Nero and Archie as threats? Or maybe just good fun? Anyway, Archie manages to reach the other side of the fence--in time. But Nero is stuck on a big rock--safe enough for the moment. But. Not safe enough to be *really* relaxed. He gets a GOOD LOOK at the bull while he's waiting to be rescued.

Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin just happen to stumble into a controversial mess. The bull in question is a prize bull destined--if all goes according to plan, the plan of his new owner--to be barbecued for a big, big party. An advertising scheme perhaps for this rich restaurant owner? Regardless, there are a handful of people that are very angry--violently angry perhaps?--about the fate of Hickory Caesar Grindon. How far will they go to "protect" this bull?

This may not sound like a great mystery--like a great book. But it is. It really is. I just loved so many things about this one! I loved the narrative voice. I loved the detail. How everything in this story comes together. I loved seeing Nero Wolfe become more involved in this case. We get to see him play  more of a questioning role perhaps? Though Archie Goodwin is still plenty busy! Anyway, I loved seeing the relationship between Archie and Nero. There was just something so delightful, so charming, so satisfying about this one!

I would definitely recommend this one! I think it would be a great place to start!

Archie Goodwin:

No man was ever taken to hell by a woman unless he already had a ticket in his pocket, or at least had been fooling around with timetables. (47)
Lily Rowan to Archie Goodwin:

Lily Rowan said, "Two chicken fricasee with dumplings."
"Wait a minute," I protested. "It says there they have beef pot roast and veal--"
"No." Lily was firm. "The fricassee with dumplings is made by a Mrs. Miller whose husband has left her four times on account of her disposition and returned four times on account of her cooking and is still there. So I was told yesterday by Jimmy Pratt. (79)

Nero Wolfe:

"There is no other form of human activity quite so impertinent as a competent murder investigation, and I fear you're not equipped to tolerate. Abandon the idea. You can mail me a check at your convenience--" 
"I'm going on with it.""Then prepare yourself for annoyance, intrusion, plague, the insolence of publicity--" (95)

Archie Goodwin:

In all ordinary circumstances Wolfe's cocky and unlimited conceit prevents the development of any of the tender sentiments, such as compassion for instance, but that afternoon I felt sorry for him. He was being compelled to break some of his most ironclad rules. He was riding behind strange drivers, walking in crowds, obeying a summons from a prospective client, and calling upon a public official, urged on by his desperate desire to find a decent place to sit down. (96)

Nero Wolfe:

"I am careful with my opinions, sir; they are my bread and butter and the main source of my self-esteem." (105)

Nero Wolfe:

"Tell me anyway. Of course I'm impertinent, but I'll have to decide if I'm also irrelevant." (120)

Lily Rowan to Archie Goodwin:

"Kiss me."
"I can't until I wash my face. Anyway, I told you that wasn't a precedent. I have to be careful. I kissed a girl once in the subway and when she came to she was on top of the Empire State Building. She had floated out through a grating and right on up."
"Goodness. Did you ever send one clear to heaven?"
"The place is full of them." (226)

Archie Goodwin to the local police (or perhaps the district attorney?):

"You have no judgment. It's perfectly true that there are people who can be opened up by making faces at them and talking loud, but if I was one of them how long do you think I'd last as Nero Wolfe's favorite employee, eating with him at his table?" (234)

Barrow to Nero Wolfe:

"Look here, Wolfe," he said in a nasty tone. "I've concluded you're no better than a waste of time, and probably worse." (236)

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Monday, May 23, 2011

What Happened To Goodbye (YA)

What Happened To Goodbye. Sarah Dessen. 2011. Penguin. 416 pages.

The table was sticky, there was a cloudy smudge on my water glass, and we'd been seated for ten minutes with no sign of a waitress. Still, I knew what my dad would say. By this point, it was part of the routine. 

I love Sarah Dessen. I do. I just LOVE, LOVE, LOVE her work. I love her characters, her stories, her writing. I love how easy it is to love her books. She makes it easy to love reading. There's just something wonderful about them. I've never once been disappointed. So it shouldn't really surprise anyone that I loved What Happened to Goodbye.

Mclean Sweet sometimes wishes things could be as simple as loving her dad and hating her mom. Since her parents have divorced, Mclean has had to reinvent herself again and again and again and again. Her dad has a job that requires him to move around a lot. He's been hired by a company to "fix" problem restaurants. (Think Kitchen Nightmares with less yelling!) Sometimes he's able to "save" the restaurant, and they move on to the next place, the next town or state. Sometimes he's not able to save a place--no matter how much time and energy he puts into a place--and they move on. In each town, Mclean gives herself a new name--a new personality, a new identity. Knowing that she can recreate herself into someone new--if only for a few months--gives her a sense of peace. Temporary peace, perhaps, but it helps her cope with what her life has become since the divorce. The divorce that she totally blames her mom for. I mean how could HER mom have an affair with the head coach of her dad's favorite basketball team? How could she become pregnant and leave them both behind? Why doesn't her mom get why she is so angry? Mclean feels she just doesn't belong in this new family with her half-siblings and her stepfather.

But she does find herself belonging here in this town, in this school, with her wonderfully strange friends, with her wonderfully strange neighbor, Dave. For the first time in a long time, Mclean can practice being honest--with herself, with her boyfriend, with her friends, with her dad, with her mom. Perhaps it's just as difficult for her to be honest with her parents as it is to be honest with herself. For in all her inventing, Mclean has lost pieces of herself. She's lost herself and buried her pain deep, deep inside. But it may just be time for Mclean to heal. In Lakeview, she may just find the support she needs.

I enjoyed this one. I liked Mclean. I liked her parents. I liked how complex these relationships are. How life can't be as simple as hating her mom and loving her dad. I liked how challenging these relationships are. I liked how we get Mclean's perspective--but not so blindly that readers can't see things from the other side. And it was great to see her relationship with her dad. How much she loves him and takes care of him. But also how he's there for her when she needs him. He's not perfect, but I do think he cares very much for his daughter. Her friends. I also liked them. Especially Deb and Dave. I love how eccentric yet believable her characters are! And I liked Dave as the love interest!

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Sunday Salon: Week in Review #21

What I Reviewed at Becky's Book Reviews

The Silent Speaker. Rex Stout. 1946/1994. Random House. 288 pages.  
Northanger Abbey. Jane Austen. 1817/1992. Everyman's Library. 288 pages.
The Pickwick Papers. Charles Dickens. 1836/1837/1999. Penguin Classics. 810 pages.
The Throne of Fire. Kane Chronicles #2 Rick Riordan. 2011. Hyperion. 464 pages. 
Bumped by Megan McCafferty. 2011. HarperCollins. 336 pages.

What I Reviewed at Operation Actually Read Bible

Joni. Joni Eareckson Tada. 1976. 224 pages.

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Saturday, May 21, 2011

Library Loot: Third Trip in May

New Loot:

Crocodile on the Sandbank (Amelia Peabody #1) by Elizabeth Peters
The Curse of the Pharaohs (Amelia Peabody #2) by Elizabeth Peters
Lion in the Valley (Amelia Peabody #4) by Elizabeth Peters
The Deeds of the Disturber (Amelia Peabody #5) by Elizabeth Peters
The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood.
The Catiline Conspiracy (SPQR Mystery #2) by John Maddox Roberts
The Sacrilege (SPQR Mystery #3) by John Maddox Roberts
Three Complete Novels: A, B, C by Sue Grafton
The Nursing Home Murders by Ngaio Marsh
Death and the Dancing Footman by Ngaio Marsh
The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom
Passion by Jude Morgan
The Cairo Trilogy by Naguib Mahfouz, translated by William Maynard Hutchins
The Fat Man: A Tale of North Pole Noir by Kenneth Harmon
Mysterious Cat Stories, edited by John Richard Stephens and Kim Smith
The Faerie Hills a Muirteach MacPhee Mystery by Susan McDuffie
The Watery Part of the World by Michael Parker
Death at Dartmoor by Robin Paige
Death at Glamis Castle by Robin Paige
Death at Devil's Bridge by Robin Paige
New York by Edward Rutherfurd

Leftover Loot:

A House Divided by Pearl S. Buck
Peony by Pearl S. Buck
Three at Wolfe's Door: A Nero Wolfe Threesome by Rex Stout
Some Buried Caesar; The Golden Spiders by Rex Stout
Death of a Doxy by Rex Stout
The Mother by Pearl S. Buck
Three Daughters of Madame Liang by Pearl S. Buck
Pavilion of Women by Pearl S. Buck
Riding the Trail of Tears by Blake M. Hausman

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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Meme: A Book Lover's Survey

I saw this one at My Friend Amy; she got it from Rachel Held Evans

Can you name…

1. A book you threw across the room in anger
2. A book in which you underlined nearly every sentence.
3. A book you were surprised to love.
4. A book you can’t wait to read.

1. Have I ever actually thrown a book across the room? No. But I certainly was angry enough to want to do things to Bumped. But it was a library book.
2. I do underline in *some* of the Christian nonfiction books I own--but as a rule, I usually mark passages I love with sticky notes. The last book I underlined in was Why One Way by John MacArthur. The last book I sticky-marked an absurd number of times was Some Buried Caesar by Rex Stout. I am just LOVING Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin. If you haven't read any of these mysteries, you should!
3. I don't know how many readers actually remember that I am allergic to westerns. But. After I read Dolce Bellezza's review of The Virginian, I felt compelled to give it a try myself. I mean she wrote, "It will definitely be in my top ten list for the year, and quite possibly for my life." And you know what? I LOVED it. Yes, it was really love.
4. As I Wake by Elizabeth Scott is one I'm looking forward to reading!

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Friday, May 20, 2011

Bumped (YA/Adult) (Some spoilers)

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

The United States of America once ranked above all industrialized nations in the realm of teen pregnancy. We were the undisputed queens of precocious procreation! We were number one before, and we can be number one again! -- President's State of the Union Address

Jondoe, one of the lust interests in Bumped, thinks he's God's gift to women. In fact, this professional 'breeder' calls himself a missionary. But I'm rushing things, perhaps?

Bumped is a dystopian novel (that I hated). The 'what if' of this one is quite simple. A virus has left almost all women over the age of 18 or 19 infertile. Since couples are unable to have their own children, those that want a family are desperate to adopt. Some couples become very involved in the process. They choose the surrogate mother, they choose the father, they have a contract written up. And of course, a price is agreed upon. The teens that sign a contract are 'professionals.' Of course, there are still plenty of 'amateur' teens--young women getting pregnant with their boyfriends or with random guys they hook up with at wild procreation-themed parties.

Melody Mayflower, our sixteen year old heroine, has been hired by a couple to have a baby. But the couple hasn't decided on the father yet. Melody is still waiting to hear the final details from her agent. And Melody has recently had another surprise. An identical twin sister showing up at her house, a sister who is anxious to get to know her, to bond with her.

Harmony has been raised in a Christian community. Or should I say a "Christian" community? Quite honestly, I'm not sure if Harmony is the best representative of her community. And I'm not sure Harmony's thoughts on her community are true and trustworthy. In other words, I don't trust Harmony even on the tiniest things. She may claim to "have God." But. I reject Harmony as a reliable narrator. I reject Harmony as a witness for anything remotely resembling Christianity. (I've read that some find her too preachy, too fundamental, too judgmental. I have the opposite complaint. I don't find her "faith" to be genuine enough to go beyond mere words. I don't find her faith to be deep enough, real enough. I wanted her to be CLOSER to God. Instead of just claiming to "have God" and vaguely going through the motions. She mentions she has doubts and questions about the faith--about what she's been taught. But. I found her "seeking" to be more about her than God.)

Zen and Jondoe are our 'lust' interests for lack of a better word. Though I must say that what Melody comes to feel for Zen and what Zen feels for Melody goes beyond just lust. I do think that they are falling in love with one another. Even though Melody's contract comes into great conflict with her own potential love life. How do I feel about Zen? Well, it's hard to judge him without comparing him to Jondoe. Compared to Jondoe, Zen is definitely a much better guy, a much better character. This doesn't mean he's perfect or flawless. Or even that he helps redeem the novel. (I don't think he and Melody can. I think Harmony and Jondoe definitely ruin what chance there is to even slightly like this one.)

S
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So who is Jondoe? He's a professional. He's arrogant. He's "the chosen one" hired to impregnate Melody Mayflower. But it isn't Melody who's at risk. No, it's Harmony, the supposed "good girl," who has the most to lose when she accidentally-on-purpose meets him in her sister's place.

Who do I hate more? Jondoe or Harmony?! Harmony who claims to "have God" yet twists Scripture to suit her own lusty desires while fantasizing that Jondoe is the Alpha and Omega and "the Jesus of my dreams" (76, 84). Harmony who sings a "worship" song for Jondoe on the guitar and gets herself all hot and bothered (131). A song supposedly about loving Jesus. (Though I must admit it would make a poor excuse for a worship song. I mean there is nothing of substance in it, it is very generic and meaningless. The kind of song that would get frowned upon in some circles.) But still for Harmony to be FANTASIZING about Jesus like that?! It is beyond offensive and inappropriate; it's just plain wrong. I mean how could you genuinely have faith in Jesus as your Lord and Savior--and--see him in your fantasies like that? I don't think you can.

And then there is Jondoe. Where to start?! Maybe when he claims to be a missionary for God? Or maybe when he starts making these claims as he's getting ready to "witness" to Harmony:

"My partners see the Truth with a capital T. Maybe not before or after, but definitely during." (255)
"I make them see God. Or rather, God, working through me, helps them see God. He gets all the credit. Only our Creator has the power to stir such feelings of ecstasy. Each and every one of my preggs has been touched by His divine hand." (255)
"The more I give to God, the more blessings I'll receive in turn. I'll never be able to outgive Him, but I'm having fun trying." (255)

I found sections of Bumped to be tasteless, offensive, outrageous, twisted, and wrong in oh so many ways. It goes beyond being insensitive. It goes beyond being irritating and annoying. It goes beyond mocking. It goes beyond insulting.

Conclusion:

Bumped had an interesting premise. And there were places where it almost, almost reminded me of Win a Date With Tad Hamilton. Except that Win a Date With Tad Hamilton was cute and charming and had its redeemable moments.

If you're expecting Jondoe OR Zen to be another Marcus Flutie, you'll probably be very disappointed.

I think I almost would have preferred there just to be the one girl, to have this one be (yet) another dystopian novel with a love triangle at the center. If this book had been about Melody trying to decide between following her heart and her own desire (for Zen, her best friend) and honoring her agreement, her contract with the Jaydens. An agreement that involves lots of money! That would have still made for an interesting read. Or if the author really truly thought that Harmony was the stronger character, why not set her story in Goodside and show Harmony's struggle there. Of her trying to decide if she wants an arranged marriage or if she wants to "escape" to the real world and fall in love.

Reading is subjective and while I absolutely hated Bumped, you might feel differently.

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Throne of Fire (MG)

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

Carter here. Look, we don't have time for long introductions. I need to tell this story quickly, or we're all going to die.

The sequel to Rick Riordan's The Red Pyramid. Once again it is narrated by a brother-sister team, Carter (14), and Sadie (13). These two were raised apart and they're only now getting to know one another. But surviving dangerous situations one after another after another has helped these two bond a bit. Though they still bicker over who gets to tell what as the story unfolds. In this adventure, the two are looking to piece together the Book of Ra (it is in three sections, each hidden in a secret location). They're hoping the Book of Ra will help them resurrect Ra, a retired Egyptian god. A god they're hoping will be strong enough to help them defeat Apophis. And to add to the pressure, they only have a week to do it.

I'm not a big fan of how this one is told. Of how the book(s) are being recorded on audio, of how both are hoping that by sharing their stories other magicians will step forth to help the two battle the forces of evil and save the world.

And I'm not a big fan of the alternating narrators. It's not that I dislike either Carter or Sadie. It's just that I feel if it was told by one character, that maybe just maybe I'd connect more with the story? I'm not sure if it's the way the story is told or if it's just the story itself.

While I'm mentioning all the little things I didn't quite love, let me focus on the "romance." For me. It distracts from the story. To have Carter DROP EVERYTHING because he discovers the location of a certain someone?! To leave the saving the world to his sister and her friend just so that he can find her, "save" her, and maybe just maybe see if she feels the same way about him as he does about her?! I mean when I got to that section I was like YOU'RE KIDDING ME?! HE'S REALLY GOING TO DO THAT? And I felt the same way when Sadie left Carter--earlier in the novel--to go London so she could celebrate her birthday party with some friends. I mean the world is ending in less than five days and instead of finding a way to STOP it from ending, you want to party?! And Sadie's interest in Anubis and Walt?! It felt weird to me. Not necessarily her having crushes on them both. But on either one being even remotely interested in her in that way. I mean she *just* turned thirteen. And Walt is sixteen. And Anubis--well he's a god, and she's human. I thought the book had more than enough drama without Carter and Sadie being distracted by puppy love.

So what did I love? Well, I loved how compelling the second half of this novel was. I mean once the action starts, it STARTS. And it's hard to put it down once it starts getting good. Once things start to come together, I wasn't distracted by the things that didn't quite work for me. I just had to keep reading; I had to know what happened next.

The Throne of Fire has action, adventure, and drama. Also mythology--Egyptian mythology--of course.

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Dueling Authors: Jane Austen vs. Charles Dickens

Today I am participating in the Classics Circuit Dueling Author tour. Participants had the option of reading Jane Austen OR reading Charles Dickens OR reading both Dickens and Austen. For this tour, I decided to read Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen and Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens.

I've been a fan of Jane Austen for almost six years now. I've read Persuasion, Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Sense & Sensibility, Mansfield Park, Northanger Abbey, and Lady Susan. (Persuasion is my favorite and best, by the way. Emma is probably my least favorite.)

For many, many years I was decidedly NOT a fan of Dickens. Why?! Well, I had been forced required to read Great Expectations in high school. And it was so traumatic--perhaps--that I blocked it from my memory. Same thing in college when it was once again required. It seemed to me that Great Expectations was the novel that could not--would not--stick in my memory. But my dear, dear friend gently but firmly persuaded me to change my mind. Not all at once. Little by little. And when I finally gave Dickens a chance, when I came to him without prejudice, I found out something about myself. I really do love and adore bearded Victorians. I love Dicken's style. I love his asides, his ramblings, his descriptions. I love his characters. I even love the way he names his characters. I love the complexities of his writing. Sure there might be people out there who don't think Dickens worth their time, worth their effort. But. For me. I couldn't imagine feeling that way. Last fall, I read Bleak House, and this spring, I read Our Mutual Friend and Little Dorrit. Of those three, my favorite and best is Our Mutual Friend.

Northanger Abbey. Jane Austen. 1817/1992. Everyman's Library. 288 pages. 

No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy, would have supposed her born to be an heroine. Her situation in life, the character of her father and mother, her own person and disposition, were all equally against her. 

I love to reread books. And I love to write new reviews of the books I reread. In the case of Northanger Abbey, I get to see how much I've changed as a reader. I can't believe that just a couple of years ago I thought that this Austen book was "just okay" and "not one of my favorites." That I didn't find the romance between Henry Tilney and Catherine Morland to have any spark or sizzle. You can say my opinions on this one have changed considerably!!! For one, Henry Tilney is now one of my favorite, favorite, favorite Austen heroes. And I've come to find the whole novel--not just the first chapter--delightful and charming and delicious and oh-so-satisfying. One of those novels where I could almost open it to any page, start reading, and find myself thinking, "Oh I love that part!"

Our heroine, Catherine Morland, is on vacation with Mr. and Mrs. Allen. They've gone to Bath. And Catherine is longing for something to happen, something exciting, something new, something wonderful. Something worth remembering. At home, well, nothing all that special happens. Certainly nothing as dramatic as what happens in Catherine's favorite novels. There have been no young men, no would-be-heroes, to win her heart. But Mr. and Mrs. Allen aren't the most social of couples. And they don't happen to know any one at Bath when they first arrive. So her adventures are put on hold--for the moment. But when Henry Tilney enters the scene, when the two are introduced, Catherine KNOWS that her life will never be quite the same again. At least not if Tilney is really, truly hero material. And oh how he seems to be!

And then there is the Thorpe family. Isabella Thorpe befriends Catherine quickly and enthusiastically. You'd think they'd been best friends for years and years instead of just ten minutes. There's something almost desperate about how Isabella clings to Catherine at the first. Like she just has to have someone to talk with, to gossip with. And what can I say about her brother John? I truly think that even if he hadn't been a liar, hadn't been so selfish, hadn't been so weird, Catherine would still have never considered him as a love interest. Because. It was always ever Tilney in her thoughts, in her heart. She spent her time with John Thorpe wishing that she was somewhere else, with someone else! Unlike the brother-sister team in Mansfield Park--Mary and Henry Crawford--I feel no sympathy for John Thorpe. He's just not hero material.

The novel focuses on Catherine's adventures and misadventures in the world. Will Catherine meet a true friend that could be closer than a sister? Will Catherine find her hero? Will she live happily ever after? Will real life prove better than any novel?

So the plot of Northanger Abbey is relatively simple. But I found it oh-so-satisfying. Just a joy to read this one.

Favorite quote:
"She had reached the age of seventeen without having seen one amiable youth who could call forth her sensibility; without having inspired one real passion, and without having excited even any admiration but what was very moderate and very transient. This was strange indeed! But strange things may be generally accounted for if their cause be fairly searched out. There was not one lord in the neighborhood; no, not even a baronet. There was not one family among their acquaintances who had reared and supported a boy accidentally found at their door; not one young man whose origin was unknown. Her father had no ward, the the squire of the parish no children. But when a young lady is to be a heroine, the perverseness of forty surrounding families cannot prevent her. Something must and will happen to throw a hero in her way."
 The Pickwick Papers. Charles Dickens. 1836/1837/1999. Penguin Classics. 810 pages.

The first ray of light which illumines the gloom, and converts into a dazzling brilliancy that obscurity in which the earlier history of the public career of the immortal Pickwick would appear to be involved, is derived from the perusal of the following entry in the Transactions of the Pickwick club, which the editor of these papers feels the highest pleasure in laying before his readers, as a proof of the careful attention, indefatigable assiduity, and nice discrimination, with which his search among the multifarious documents confided to him has been conducted.

Did I love Pickwick Papers? Yes. Did I love it as much as Our Mutual Friend or Bleak House? Well, I'm not sure I could honestly say that I love it that much. But the subject matter seems to be much cheerier than his other works. Pickwick Papers focuses on a circle of friends. Mr. Pickwick, of course, is at the center of this circle. Mr. Snodgrass, Mr. Winkle, Mr. Tupman are fellow Pickwickians. They accompany him on some of his journeys. They witness some of these adventures. They lead the group into some trouble, into some fun. Mr. Winkle is probably the most important of his friends.

But the character that I came to love the most--that is if I had to choose just one--would be Sam Weller. Sam Weller is a man we meet in one of the adventures, a man that becomes Mr. Pickwick's valet, a man that becomes a true friend when Mr. Pickwick's life turns a bit topsy-turvy.

Is there ONE central story to The Pickwick Papers? Yes and no. I mean the adventures are very casual, a bit spontaneous. But they're not unrelated. For me, the ONE story is Mr. Pickwick being sued by his former landlady, a widow named Mrs. Bardell. Readers witness what seems to be an insignificant scene, a comical misunderstanding that really only readers understand, a scene that ends with Mrs. Bardell fainting into Mr. Pickwick's arms. Months later Mr. Pickwick learns something startling. He's being sued for breach of promise. Mrs. Bardell is claiming that Mr. Pickwick led her to believe that he was going to marry her. She believes she's entitled to some of his money for the emotional damage he's caused her. He disagrees of course. The thought of his marrying her--of his marrying anyone--never ever ever occurred to him. And he certainly would remember if he ever spoke tenderly, romantically to her. If he ever once said that he cared for her, loved her, wanted to spend the rest of his life with her. No, she's lost it. And come what may, no matter what the court says, he will never ever ever ever give her any money. Not if it costs him his freedom, not if it costs him his reputation. (The court scene had me hooked. From that point on I just couldn't put this one down.)

I enjoyed this one. I enjoyed the characters and character sketches. I didn't love *every* story within The Pickwick Papers. There were some stories, some asides, that just weren't for me. In his adventures, Mr. Pickwick was collecting stories from others, so Mr. Pickwick would meet someone new, and often times, that someone new had a story or two to share with his new friend. Some of the chapters were quite funny. And The Pickwick Papers does have a little bit of romance--just not with Mr. Pickwick in the lead!

For the most part, I enjoyed this one. It made me smile in many, many places. I would recommend it.

Favorite quotes:

There are very few moments in a man's existence, when he experiences so much ludicrous distress, or meets with so little charitable commiseration, as when he is in pursuit of his own hat. (62)

Out came the chaise -- in went the horses -- on sprung the boys -- in got the travellers. (122)

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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